An Interpretation of Verse 19 of the Chapter of Joseph
وَجَاءَتْ سَيَّارَةٌ فَأَرْسَلُوا وَارِدَهُمْ فَأَدْلَى دَلْوَهُ قَالَ يَا بُشْرَى هَذَا غُلاَمٌ وَأَسَرُّوهُ بِضَاعَةً وَاللَّهُ عَلِيمٌ بِمَا يَعْمَلُونَ (19)And there came a caravan.1 They [the caravanners] sent someone to draw some water, and he let down his bucket; he said: “O good news! Here is a young boy”; and they concealed him as an article of merchandise, and Allah was aware of what they were doing (19).
1 The word سَيَّارَةٌ “sayyara” is derived from سَيْر “sayr” which means “movement,” “travel” …etc. Some exegetes have suggested that the word “sayyara” means pedestrian travelers. This opinion could be supported by the fact that the Qur’an uses the word عِيرُ “‘ir” for traveling caravans of camels in three verses of the sura of Joseph (70, 82, and 94).
وَاسْأَلْ الْقَرْيَةَ الَّتِي كُنَّا فِيهَا وَالْعِيرَ الَّتِي أَقْبَلْنَا فِيهَا (يوسف: 82)And ask in the town in which we were and the caravan with which we came (from 12.84).
وَلَمَّا فَصَلَتْ الْعِيرُ (يوسف: 94)
And when the caravan had departed (from 12.94).
Then there is the verse أَيَّتُهَا الْعِيرُ إِنَّكُمْ لَسَارِقُونَ “O caravanners! You are certainly thieves” (from 12.70). The word عِيرُ “‘ir” is first used as meaning the feminine “caravan,” as obvious from the attached, feminine pronoun in أَيَّتُهَا “O you!“. It is then used to mean “caravanners” in إِنَّكُمْ لَسَارِقُونَ “you are certainly thieves.”
Thus, the two sentences وَجَاءَتْ سَيَّارَةٌ فَأَرْسَلُوا وَارِدَهُمْ “and there came a caravan and they sent their water drawer” and أَيَّتُهَا الْعِيرُ إِنَّكُمْ لَسَارِقُونَ “O caravanners! You are certainly thieves” have exactly the same structure as far as the use of the two words سَيَّارَةٌ “sayyara” and عِيرُ “‘ir” is concerned.
2 It is possible that this verse refers to one particular group of the caravanners, not all of them, who sent one of them to get water for them. In other words, the caravan consisted of more than one group of travelers. It was common for different groups of travelers with the same route to travel as one caravan for a number of reasons, such as safety. Perhaps, those travelers hid Joseph with their goods so that no other travelers would claim to have a share in him. It is also possible that the group who found Joseph would have to pay extra fees for any additional traveler; this explains why they hid him as “an article of merchandise.” Another possible reason for the travelers hiding Joseph is so that his family would not find him, if they were looking for him, so they can sell him later on as an article of merchandise. The reason could also be none of these, as it is not possible to verify any of these hypotheses.
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