Evidence #274 | November 22, 2021

Joseph’s Garment

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Scripture Central


Elements of the story of Joseph’s garment told by Captain Moroni can be found in post-biblical traditions about the Patriarchs.

Book of Mormon

Captain Moroni and the Title of Liberty, by Jody Livingston

During a time of dissension and rebellion among the people of Nephi, the chief captain Moroni rent his garment and took a piece of it and wrote a motto upon it which he used as a standard to rally his troops against the rebels (Alma 46:12). Those who joined him in turn rent their own garments and entered into a covenant to defend the liberty of the people (Alma 46:21). They then cast their own garments at the feet of Moroni and said, “We covenant with our God, that we shall be destroyed, even as our brethren in the land northward, if we should fall into transgression; yea, he may cast us at the feet of our enemies, even as we have cast our garments at thy feet to be trodden under foot, if we should fall into transgression” (Alma 46:22).

Moroni then rehearsed to those who entered into the covenant, the story of Joseph’s garment which was rent by his brethren into many pieces and cited the words of Joseph’s father Jacob who “before his death … saw that a part of the remnant of the coat of Joseph was preserved and had not decayed. And he said—Even as this remnant of garment of my son hath been preserved, so shall a remnant of the seed of my son be preserved by the hand of God and be taken unto himself” (Alma 46:24).

According to the Biblical account when Joseph’s brothers sold him into Egypt, “they took Joseph’s coat, and killed a kid of the goats, and dipped the coat in the blood” (Genesis 37:31). They then brought the coat to their father who concluded with sorrow that “an evil beast hath devoured him; Joseph is without a doubt rent in pieces” (Genesis 37:33). The words of Jacob recited by Moroni are not found in the Bible but were presumably known to the Nephites from the plates of brass or oral tradition. Remarkably, some of the non-biblical elements of the story of Joseph’s garment known to the Nephites can be found in later Jewish and Muslim traditions.

The Preservation of Joseph’s Garment

Some of these traditions describe Jacob mourning for many years after the loss of Joseph. In the Syriac History of Joseph, Benjamin tells Joseph that Jacob still mourned for him. “And he wails and laments over him just as though he had died today. And he will not stop, my lord, because he sees the coat spattered with blood laid out before him.”1 This story indicates that Joseph’s rent garment was indeed preserved and became a momento of great significance for Jacob.

Jacob rending his coat at the sight of Joseph's garment. Painting by Wilhelm von Schadow.

According to the eleventh-century writer Muhammad ʾal Kisāʾi, when Benjamin accompanied his older brothers to Egypt he wore the very shirt which Jacob had given to Joseph, “the one that had been brought to him spattered with blood.”2 In this account, Benjamin told Joseph in Egypt, “I had a brother, but I do not know what happened to him—except that he went out to the pasture-land with these my brethren, and they said a wolf devoured him. They brought back his shirt, which I am now wearing, spattered with blood. My father Jacob’s eyes have become dim from weeping over him.”3 While the story does not make reference to a part of the garment having decayed, it does suggest, like the History of Joseph, that Joseph’s garment had been “preserved” until shortly before Jacob’s death in Egypt, as the Book of Mormon suggests (Alma 46:24).

Trodden Under Foot

In the biblical story of Joseph’s garment, the tearing of Joseph’s coat is not stated explicitly. It is only vaguely implied by Jacob’s surmise that Joseph was “without doubt rent in pieces” (Genesis 37:33). The Jewish Book of Jasher (not to be confused with the work mentioned in the Old Testament) was a 13th-century collection of Jewish stories from an earlier period.4 In this work the text specifically says that Joseph’s brothers “took his coat and tore it.”5 More significantly, this same work relates that after they tore it and dipped it in blood, they also “trampled it in the dust and sent it to their father.”6

Joseph's brothers about to take his cloak and sell him as a slave. Image via 

In the Book of Mormon, where the Nephite covenant of liberty is associated with Joseph’s story, the people cast their own garments at the feet of Moroni and said, “We covenant with our God, that we shall be destroyed, even as our brethren in the land northward, if we should fall into transgression; yea, he may cast us at the feet of our enemies, even as we have cast our garments at thy feet to be trodden under foot, if we should fall into transgression” (Alma 46:22).

The rending of garments in the Joseph story known to the Nephites was ritually reenacted by them as they made their covenant. The imagery of being trodden under foot, which is found in the medieval Jewish account, suggests that the people were evoking a version of the Joseph story which contained that element as well, although not found in the biblical account. The Book of Jasher, however, in which that element is found, was not published in English until 1840, ten years after the publication of the Book of Mormon.7


Post-biblical Jewish and Muslim traditions have several correlations with the Book of Mormon story of Joseph’s garment and the associated covenant administered by Captain Moroni in Alma 46. While these traditions are preserved in documents that post-date the Bible, their ultimate origins remain unknown. Thus, they can be plausibly seen as traces of earlier traditions about the story of Joseph that were also preserved in the scriptural heritage of Lehi’s people. Importantly, English translations of these Jewish and Muslim traditions were unavailable in English in 1829, making it unlikely that Joseph Smith would have been aware of them when translating the Book of Mormon.

Matthew Roper, “Joseph’s Coat and the Covenant of Liberty,” Insights: A Window on the Ancient World  22, no. 10 (2002): 2.

Brian M. Hauglid, “Garment of Joseph: An Update,” FARMS Occasional Papers 4 (2003): 25–29.

John A. Tvedtnes, Ancient Texts in Support of the Book of Mormon,” in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, ed. Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson and John W. Welch (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2002), 236–238.

Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1988), 211–213.

BibleGenesis 37:31Genesis 37:33Book of MormonAlma 46:12Alma 46:21Alma 46:22Alma 46:24–26


Genesis 37:31

Genesis 37:33

Book of Mormon

Alma 46:12

Alma 46:21

Alma 46:22

Alma 46:24–26

  • 1 Kristian S. Heal, “The Syriac History of Joseph: A New Translation and Introduction,” in Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scriptures, ed. Richard Bauckham, James R. Davila, Alexander Panayotov (Grand Rapids, MI, Cambridge, UK.: William B. Eerdmans, 2013), 112.
  • 2 W. M. Thackston, trans., The Tales of the Prophets of al-Kisai (Boston, MA: Twayne, 1978), 182.
  • 3 Thackston, The Tales of the Prophets of al-Kisai, 182–183.
  • 4 The Book of Jasher (New York, NY: M.M. Noah and A.S. Gould, 1840). For an overview of the Book of Jasher see Edward J. Brandt, “The Book of Jasher and the Latter-day Saints,” in Apocryphal Writings and the Latter-day Saints, ed. C. Wilfred Griggs (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1986), 297–318.
  • 5 The Book of Jasher, 125, emphasis added.
  • 6 The Book of Jasher, 125, emphasis added.
  • 7 Brandt, “The Book of Jasher and the Latter-day Saints,” 301.
Joseph's Garment
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