An Interpretation of Verse 20 of the Chapter of Joseph
وَشَرَوْهُ بِثَمَنٍ بَخْسٍ دَرَاهِمَ مَعْدُودَةٍ وَكَانُوا فِيهِ مِنَ الزَّاهِدِينَ (20)And they sold him for a low price, a few silver coins, and they were disinterested in keeping him (20).
Note that the words شَرَوْهُ “they sold him,” كَانُوا “they were,” and الزَّاهِدِينَ “disinterested in keeping” refer to the same plural pronoun implied in the verbs أَرْسَلُوا “ [they] sent,” أَسَرُّوهُ “they concealed him,” and يَعْمَلُونَ “they were doing” in the previous verse. Since the selling of Joseph occurred in Egypt, as we will see when we study the next verse, it is obvious that the sellers must have been the travelers not Joseph’s brothers. This confirms my comments on the previous verse that it was caravanners not Joseph’s brothers who concealed Joseph with their goods.
There are three opinions about the meaning of the adjective بَخْسٍ “bakhsin,” which I have translated as “low.” The first two indicate that “ bakhsin” means “unjust” and “forbidden,” respectively. The third and most common view suggests that this word means “undervalued.” In the latter case, describing the price as “undervalued” may indicate that it was below the average price of a slave at the time. It is more likely, however, that the meaning is that any fee that the travelers would receive for Joseph would be “low,” because anyone who would sell Joseph would inevitably be a loser, for giving away this noble servant of Allah for money. Support for this interpretation of the meaning of “ bakhsin” could be seen in the phrase “a few silver coins,” which emphasizes the cheapness of the price for which Joseph was sold, and the clause “and they were disinterested in keeping him,” which stresses the sellers’ ignorance of Joseph’s status.
Allah then states that this low price was “a few silver coins.” The term دَرَاهِمَ “coins” refers to whatever currency was in use at the time. Some exegetes have pointed out that the adjective مَعْدُودَةٍ “ ma‘dúdatin,” which means literally “countable,” means “few.” They suggest that coins were weighed when they were many but counted when there was only a few of them as they would be easy to count. It seems that the caravanners sold Joseph for a few coins because he had not cost them any money. They had not bought him as a slave, so any money they would take would have been a net profit.
Allah ends this verse by emphasizing that the caravanners’ treatment of Joseph, selling him for money, reflects their disinterest in him: “and they were disinterested in keeping him.” This underlines their ignorance of Joseph’s real status and their failure to treat him as he deserves. This emphasis on the caravanners’ ignorance of Joseph’s status is an indirect reference to Joseph’s great status in the sight of Allah.
There is a great lesson in Allah’s test of Joseph, who is noble in His sight, with that temporary state of humiliation in this transient world.
Copyright © 2008 Louay Fatoohi
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