While admonishing his son Joseph, Lehi told him of a prophecy uttered by their ancestor Joseph of Egypt, who had foreseen that the Egyptians would bring the Israelites into bondage. Part of that prophecy spoke of "Moses, whom I [the Lord] have said I would raise up unto you, to deliver my people, O house of Israel. And Moses will I raise up, to deliver thy people out of the land of Egypt" (2 Nephi 3:910).
Joseph further declared: "And the Lord hath said: I will raise up a Moses; and I will give power unto him in a rod; and I will give judgment unto him in writing. Yet I will not loose his tongue, that he shall speak much, for I will not make him mighty in speaking. But I will write unto him my law, by the finger of mine own hand; and I will make a spokesman for him" (2 Nephi 3:17). This prophecy is also found in Genesis 50:29, 3435 of the Joseph Smith Translation, which adds that the name of the spokesman would be Aaron.
Joseph's prophecy of Moses is confirmed in Jewish tradition, notably in two of the second-century-A.D. targumim, or translations of the Bible into Aramaic.1 In a lengthy addition to Genesis 40:12 in Targum Neofiti, Joseph interprets the three branches of the butler's dream as representing "Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the sons of whose sons are to be enslaved in the slavery of the land of Egypt and are to be delivered by the hands of three faithful leaders: Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, who are to be likened to the clusters of grapes."2 Similarly, in the Talmud, Rabbi Joshua interpreted the three branches as representing Moses, Aaron, and Miriam (Babylonian Talmud, Hullin 92a).
From the standard account in Genesis 50:2425, it is clear that Joseph was aware that the Israelites would someday leave Egypt, though he says nothing about the bondage they would endure in the meanwhile. But Pirqe de Rabbi Eliezer 48 cites the passage from Genesis and includes Joseph's prophecy of the bondage and deliverance of the Israelites.3 In Targum Pseudo-Jonathan of Genesis 50:24, Joseph tells his family, "Behold you will be enslaved in Egypt, but do not make plans to go up out of Egypt until the time that two deliverers come and say to you, 'The Lord surely remembers you.'"4 This suggests that Joseph knew about the coming of Moses and Aaron to liberate Israel and confirms Joseph Smith's addition to that very place in the Genesis account.
Though the Jewish tradition regarding Joseph of Egypt's prophecy about Moses and Aaron can be traced to the second century A.D., the relevant texts were not available to Joseph Smith. The existence of that prophecy in both the Book of Mormon and the Joseph Smith Translation of Genesis provides evidence for the historicity of the account.
1. The Hebrew word targum means "translation" and refers to the Aramaic translations of the Bible made after the Jews adopted Aramaic instead of Hebrew as their native tongue during the Babylonian captivity.
3. Rabbi Eliezer lived during the latter part of the first century A.D., but most scholars believe that the text was actually written in the eighth century A.D. It nevertheless reflects an ancient tradition.
By John Tvedtnes