Genesis 39: In which Joseph is much favoured by God

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After a brief interlude, we’re back to the story of Joseph.

Joseph succeeds

Joseph was bought from the Ishmaelites (or possibly the Midianites, who knows?) by Potiphar, captain of the pharaoh’s guard. “The Lord was with Joseph” (Gen. 39:2), so everything he touches prospers. Potiphar sees this and puts Joseph in charge of the whole household.

Joseph with Potiphar's wife by Hendrick van Balen

Joseph with Potiphar’s wife by Hendrick van Balen

Everything is going swimmingly and everyone’s happy, until Potiphar’s wife goes all cougar on Joseph’s “handsome and good-looking” (Gen. 39:6) self. Day after day, she propositions him, but Joseph always refuses.

One day, she grabs him by his clothes and asks him again to have sex with her. In a move that would make a Hollywood RomCom proud, he jumps out of his clothes and runs away, leaving this poor desperate housewife alone with her love’s clothes in her hand. Comedy gold.

Having just been dissed, Potiphar’s wife gets her revenge by telling everyone that Joseph came in to rape her, but she screamed and he ran away. She uses the clothes he left behind as proof. Potiphar is enraged and has him put in the king’s prison.

This story is remarkably similar to an Egyptian story, referred to as the “Tale of Two Brothers.” It’s not far-fetched to imagine that two cultures might have independently come up with the same plotline, but it’s also possible that some Jews were once living in Egypt or traded with Egyptians and incorporated the myth into their own canon.

Joseph fails, but succeeds anyway

Despite being in jail, Joseph still manages to get on everyone’s good side (this guy is the ultimate Gary Stu). The jailer hands over the managing of all the other prisoners to Joseph.

David Plotz, over at Blogging the Bible, points out that Joseph is the first man in the Bible to resist sexual temptation.

Genesis describes straight rape, attempted gay rape, father-daughter incest, coitus interruptus with dead brother’s wife, sex with wife, sex with wrong wife, sex with concubine, sex with dad’s concubine, sex with prostitute who is also daughter-in-law. In any situation in which sex is available, men seize it. What’s remarkable about Joseph? He’s the first person to resist sexual temptation.

Genesis 37: Joseph is sold into slavery

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We’re getting back into the Sunday School ready stories here.

The story begins when Joseph is 17 years old. Israel/ Jacob (whose name switches back and fourth throughout the chapter) felt that using his other sons as a meatshield for Joseph wasn’t quite clear enough. In his infinite wisdom as patriarch of the Bible, he also decides to dress Joseph better than all his brothers, giving him a long robe with sleeves (which was a whole lot more material than each of the other sons got) so that his favouritism could be rubbed into everyone’s faces every day.

The Dreams

The Dreams of Joseph by Raphael, 1518-1519

The Dreams of Joseph by Raphael, 1518-1519

Joseph has a dream that he and his brothers were binding sheaves in the field when, suddenly, his sheaf rose and stood upright. The other sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to his sheaf.

The meatshield and robe incidents didn’t quite hammer things home enough. So Joseph decides to tell his brother all about his less-than-ambiguous dream. Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t endear him to them.

Not content to leave it at that, Joseph has another dream in which the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to him. This time, even Israel/Jacob is rather peeved. “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?” (Gen. 37:10). Keep in mind that his mother died in Genesis 35. But I guess that they needed someone to be the sun and/or moon, so she gets to zombie-grovel.

Whoop, down the well!

Joseph’s brothers are all out tending dad’s flocks and Israel/Jacob asks him to go out and find them, then report back. We aren’t told Joseph is hanging around at home while all his brothers are working…

Then we get a totally weird and unnecessary detail: Joseph expects his brothers to be in Shechem, but when he gets there he’s told that they’ve moved on to Dothan. So Joseph continues on his way. This is not in any way important to the plot.

His brothers, who are pretty miffed by now, see Joseph coming and start talking about killing him. “We shall say that a wild beast has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams” (Gen. 37:20). Nyaaah, I’ll kill him, see? The ol’ dreamer won’t be dreamin’ no more, see?

But Reuben, Leah’s eldest, suggestions that they just dump him into a pit rather than kill him. Secretly, he’s thinking that he’ll come back later and save him once the other brothers aren’t looking.

The brothers agree and, when Joseph arrives, take off his robe (the fancy one, with sleeves) and dump him in the pit.

Sold into slavery

Joseph’s brothers are sitting around having a meal when they see an Ishmaelite caravan going by, selling stuff between Gilead and Egypt (and, of course, we need a list of the stuff they’re selling). Judah speaks up, asking: “What profit is it if we slay our brother and conceal his blood?” (Gen. 37:26). Never mind that Reuben already convinced them not to kill Joseph…

Judah’s big idea is that they sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites.

Suddenly, the Ishmaelites miraculously turned into Midianite traders! It’s a miracle! Or a mistake! One or the other, anyway. It’s not really important who they sell Joseph to…

Point is, they pull him out of the pit and sell him to the Ishmaelite (wait, we’re back to Ishmaelites now?). Because we must keep a running account book of possessions, Joseph is sold for twenty shekels of silver.

And frankly, who hasn’t thought of selling a sibling to Ishmaelites? If Shel Silverstein is any kind of authority, I hear that this is rather common among kids burdened with live-in siblings.

And that is how Joseph ends up in Egypt.

Breaking the news

Reuben, who was apparently somewhere else while his brothers were earning their silver, arrives at the pit and sees that Joseph is gone. He’s rather nettled that his plan has been foiled.

They then decide to kill a goat (which I could have sworn was a sheep in my Sunday school lessons) and dip Joseph’s robe in its blood. They bring the bloodied robe to Israel/Jacob and tell him that a wild beast has eaten Joseph. Jacob apparently doesn’t notice that the robe is perfectly intact and yet somehow drenched in blood. Apparently, the wild beasts around Dothan aim exclusively for the head.

In response, Israel/Jacob decides to put sackcloth around his “loins.” He’s so upset that he says he will never recover, and will instead: “go down to Sheol to my son, mourning” (Gen. 37:35). Little point of fact, this is the first mention of any kind of afterlife. Notice that it isn’t heaven or hell, but rather a place where the dead go as shadows. It’s similar to the concept of Hades – a dreary, dark place where the dead live. It’s interesting to see the evolution of afterlife theology…

Back to the story, we’re told that the Midianites sold Joseph to the Egyptian pharaoh’s captain of the guard, Potiphar. The Ishmaelites have apparently disappeared once again.