When Joseph saw that his father was placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head, he thought it wrong; so he took hold of his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s. ‘Not so, father’, Joseph said to his father, ‘for the other is the first born; place your right hand on his head’.” (Genesis 48-17-18)

In this resplendent canvas painting, Jacob blesses Joseph’s two sons Ephraim and Manasseh before his death. As in the biblical rendition, Jacob crosses his hands, giving the primary blessing to the younger son Ephraim. This is the final example of the reversal of primogeniture, a recurrent theme in Genesis. Unlike the biblical rendition, Joseph does not interrupt Jacob by attempting to place his right hand on the head of the elder son Manasseh. Joseph and his wife Asnath have an air of serenity and contentment.

Dr. Bryna Jocheved Levy

Photo courtesy of Gemaldegalerie, Kassel.