Review of Article on Coat of Many Colors

My review of Jordan B. Peterson, lecture #16 titled “The Psychological Significance of the Biblical Stories: Genesis”, from the story in Genesis 37:3 in the Bible, "the Coat of Many Colors".

THE FIRST THING that came to my mind in this lecture, was the statement “coat of many colors" which is -- as only a few might be aware -- totally misunderstood.

I learned many years ago that this is the English wrong translation of the original Hebrew word used in the text. Yet in spite of that, the whole lecture is built on the “colors” that might symbolize a certain psychological direction.

I always say that Peterson's work is phenomenal when it comes to psychology. However, in general it is not so theologically. And certainly not indicative of a Christian standpoint.

The verse in Genesis 37:3, “Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colours” is not rightly translated in terms of “coat of many colours” from the original Hebrew text.

The Hebrew word comes from the Strong Exhaustive Concordance, H6446, “pas”, which refers to a length that reaches to the palm of the hand or the sole of the foot, as opposed to the shorter robe or tunic commonly worn. This would be known to the Hebrew speaking population of the time. The root word is from H6461, meaning – to cease, to leave off – as in “unlike the normally worn shorter and sleeveless tunic of the common people. This type of robe would be used for people of higher class or positions.

The Complete Jewish Bible published by Hendrickson Publishers, translates it more accurately as “... and he made him a long-sleeved robe.”

It is used in five scriptures in the Bible:

Genesis 37:3
“Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colours.” (Strong's #H6446 in all cases).

The Complete Jewish Bible: Now Isra’el loved Yosef the most of all his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a long-sleeved robe.”

Genesis 37:23
“And it came to pass, when Joseph was come unto his brethren, that they stript Joseph out of his coat, his coat of many colours that was on him;”

The Complete Jewish Bible: “So it was that when Yosef arrived to be with his brothers, they stripped off his robe, the long-sleeved robe he was wearing.”

Genesis 37:32
“And they sent the coat of many colours, and they brought it to their father; and said, This have we found: know now whether it be thy son's coat or no.”

The Complete Jewish Bible: “Then they sent the long-sleeved robe and brought it to their father, saying, “We found this. Do you know if it’s your son’s robe or not?

2 Samuel 13:18
“And she had a garment of divers colours upon her: for with such robes were the king's daughters that were virgins apparelled. Then his servant brought her out, and bolted the door after her.”

The Complete Jewish Bible: “She was wearing a long-sleeved robe (this was how they used to dress the king’s daughters who were virgins). His servant took her out and locked the door after her.”

2 Samuel 13:19
“And Tamar put ashes on her head, and rent her garment of divers colours that was on her, and laid her hand on her head, and went on crying.

The Complete Jewish Bible: “Tamar put ashes on her head, tore her long-sleeved robe that she was wearing, laid her hand on her head and went off, crying aloud as she went.”

From the Gesenius' Hebrew-Chaldee Lexiconr we read this:


Image from, with permission.

Today we can see that this was prophetic because Joseph later became a "prince among his brothers."

Surprisingly, Peterson's lecture is totally focused on “the many colors”, based on the incorrect English translation of the original text, rendering a false narrative of the proper biblical meaning. It may be a great psychological lecture on the management of human emotions, but it has nothing to do with the biblical meaning of the delivered Word of God.

Then he goes on to enlarge on the “meaning of many colors" encompassing the gamut of human possibilities...

After a long psychological lecture of personal behaviors people might have or struggle with, etc... Peterson returns to the matter of the "many colors" as being a picture of someone having the ability to be many things to many people...

... saying (and this is transcribed verbatim as close as I could get it),

"the idea about having a coat of many colors would be that the person who is the appropriate leader, because remember – or the proper person which would be the same thing – one of the things that these old stories are trying to express and figure out is 'how is it that you should act?' which is the same as 'what constitutes the ideal' – those are the same question, and the hint here with Joseph is, “well you should wear a coat of many colors which means that you should be able to go have a drink in the pub with the guys who were, you know, dry-walling your house and you should be able to have a sophisticated conversation with someone who is more educated in an abstract way, and may be you should be equally comfortable in both situations... right, because you might think well there's more.

"One of the indications that there's more to you is that you can be put to more places and function properly, and that would be a good thing to aim at because, here's the other issues, you know perfectly well that the fundamental tragedies of life and your exposure to malevolence in the course of that life -- so those being the worse things -- there's not a lot you can do to altar that fundamentally because they're conditions of existence, you're going to be subject to your vulnerability and you're going to be subject to malevolence, that's that, and you can't hide from it 'cause it actually makes it worse, so you're stuck with it.

"So then the question is, well what are your options and one option is to curse the structure of being for being malevolent and tragic – fair enough – and another is to make yourself so damn differentiated and dynamic and able that you're more than a match for that, now that's not an easy thing but it doesn't matter 'cause, like, what's the alternative – there's no good alternative and that's all for worth knowing.”

Then Peterson goes on to illustrate a cartoon or something like it, that shows a light in the heavenly darkness not unlike the nativity light, etc... as a transition to another negative-to-positive emotional experience in the lives of people as they seek to reach their goals... and so on...

Up to here, this takes up only 32 minutes into the 2 hours, 44 minutes and 23 seconds lecture titled “The Psychological Significance of the Biblical Stories: Genesis.”

And this is exactly where my point comes in -- or at least one of my points on the work of Jordan B. Peterson --  and that is that just because he (or anyone else) uses Biblical stories or references, it does not mean they are Christians. I'm amazed at how many Christians can't see this.

There is a spot just prior to the above discourse where Peterson himself calls the teaching he is about to present in these lectures using Biblical narratives as “symbolic”.

I'm glad the title of this lecture has in it the words “The Psychological Significance”, because that's what his phenomenal talks are about: Psychological. But not theological.

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Watch for more of my reviews coming up....