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The Posuk says (Genesis 42:8):

וַיַּכֵּר יוֹסֵף אֶת אֶחָיו וְהֵם לֹא הִכִּרֻהוּ

Translated as:

Now Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him

The question is: How did they miss all the signs that were there:

  1. In Posuk 42:18 he says "אֶת הָאֱ־לֹהִים אֲנִי יָרֵא", "I fear GOD".
  2. And if you take the Gemara in Chulin 91a on a pshat level, he Shechted (ritually slaughtered) the animal and removed the Gid Hanashe (did Nikur). After seeing this, how did they not recognize him as Yosef their brother?
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It's the beard... big shaggy, hiding the face beard. –  avi Dec 21 '11 at 9:23
    
@avi The ancient Egyptians were clean shaven. The Hebrews had beards. (This actually appears to be a machloket among the meforshim, but archaeology has conclusively proven one side right.) –  Shmuel Dec 21 '11 at 10:02
    
Yosef was born with a beard :) Also. touregypt.net/featurestories/beards.htm –  avi Dec 21 '11 at 10:04
    
Compare to Sumerian and Canaanite facial hair: 1.bp.blogspot.com/_lhsj81o0Z0c/S3CJDqRYaBI/AAAAAAAAAPk/… –  Shmuel Dec 21 '11 at 10:12
    
This question is even stronger according to Rashi. Rashi (Bereshit 37:3) says that Yosef looked like Yaakov. If so, why didn't the brothers recognize him. chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/8232/showrashi/true#v3 –  Menachem Dec 27 '11 at 20:21

3 Answers 3

  1. It had been decades (22 years, IIRC) since they had last seen him. When they had last seen him, he had been a teenager, and now he was an adult. Peoples' appearances and mannerisms change over time.
  2. Yosef, in his position of power, dressed and acted like an Egyptian, and not like a Hebrew. (As noted by the mefarshim, different clothes, hairstyles, grooming methods, etc, all combined to completely change his appearance. See Rashbam and Chizkuni on that verse.)
  3. Since they had sold him as a slave, it would have been inconcievable to them that the man before them, viceroy and second to the king, was their brother.
  4. Yosef intentionally used an interpreter instead of talking in Hebrew to them, and actively tried to hide his identity. (See verses 7 and 23.)
  5. Yosef treated them harshly. Would they have expected their brother to treat his family so?
  6. Note that when he finally does reveal himself, they're shocked into silence. Implies that he was unrecognizable.

In response to your arguments:

Genesis 42:18

  1. האלוהים could have referred to an Egyptian god. (Unlikely, but possible.)
  2. Even referring to the Jewish god, the brothers most likely understood his statement as one of tolerance and respect for their god, not that the viceroy was a monotheist and actively worshipped only their god. In which case, it would not have been odd, and maybe even expected, for them to hear such a statement.
  3. האלוהים is a general term for a higher authority, and the statement merely means that he's honest and ethical. (Note that "אלוהים" is used in Chumash to refer to Beit Din.)

Gemara Chullin

  1. Is not included in the actual text of the story, and as such, cannot be used to raised questions on that which is present in the actual text.
  2. Yosef slaughtered and prepared the food according to their customs in order to be respectful and hospitable. Like any good host, he made sure the food was to his guests' satisfaction. (Thanks to @avi)

Thus, it is impossible to conclude from his actions that he was one of them.

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Great overall answer bu I am looking for an answer when the gemara is accepted on the Pshat level –  simchastorah Dec 21 '11 at 13:04

The brothers did not recognize him because Hashem withheld that ability from them. Hakol bechazkas sumin ad she'hskadosh Baruch Hu Meir es einayhem. A person is blind unless Hashem opens his eyes to see what has been hidden. I believe Rav Bloch gives this answer.

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Rb. Chadash, thank you for your answer and welcome to the site! I hope you stick around and enjoy it. You might wish to register your username: this will afford you a better site experience. –  msh210 Dec 25 '11 at 4:15

Yonatan ben Uziel says in gen 42:8 that he recognized them because they had beards at the time they sold him, but they did not recognize him because he did not have a beard at the time of the sale, but he had one now.

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This doesn't appear to answer the question –  Shmuel Brin Dec 16 '13 at 21:37
    
Why not? The only reason i can think of is that it doesn't address his points that him knowing about slaughter and the hip tendon or him saying that he fears Gd preclude him being anything other than their brother. Neither of those arguments are sound, in my mind. Did Eliezer Avrahams servant not know halacha? Did everyone in Shem and Ever not know halacha? And regardlessm, Yonatan ben Uziel clearly disregards his points as well because he says that this was the reason, implying that it is the only reason that is needed. –  user4634 Dec 17 '13 at 3:22

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