Jacob has twelve sons; six from his wife Leah, two from his wife Rachel and two each with his concubines. We know little about the four sons of the concubines and the latter two from Leah. In this complex blended family there is a fraternal conflict over the Blessing of Abraham in which the protagonists are Judah, the youngest (and fourth) of Leah’s first group of children and Joseph, the eldest of Rachel.
Joseph’s mother, Rachel was the only one of the four women with whom Jacob fathered children whom he loved, and she had been barren for many years before she bore him a child. By that time Jacob had ten sons and one named daughter. Even before his birth his mother – and probably his father as well – must have fantasized about him. He would be the prince of the family. Rachel was loved by Jacob and Leah was not, so Rachel’s child would be beloved above his brothers. Although Joseph had eleven older half-siblings, he was his mother’s only child. It is likely that he was indulged and spoilt and his parent’s had exaggerated expectations of him. Rachel named him Joseph, which means - ‘may God add another son for me’ (30:24). Despite Joseph being a prince, his name hints at a lack of completion, a void. His mother tells him he is an insufficient prince. He will dream about being a sufficient Prince and accomplish it, but at enormous cost both to him and the family. When Benjamin is born, Rachel dies, a tragic and ironic end. While we never hear from the silent Benjamin in the text (even when he is accused by his full brother Joseph of stealing his cup), he is the most fertile of his brothers with ten sons (46:21). 2
When he was still at the tender age Joseph’s mother, died, leaving an infant Benjamin in her stead. 3 Joseph must have been psychologically damaged by the sudden loss of his loving mother. Jacob’s buried his beloved wife where she died, rather taking her to the family burial cave at Hebron. The text does not tell us of his mourning, but it tells us he raised a monument over her grave. 4
Jacob moved out of the family compound and became a distant father to all except his favorite Joseph. Thereafter the family descends into chaos. Leah is never again mentioned; mothers and wives no longer have a role. Reuben sleeps with his father’s concubine Bilah, Rachel’s servant, and probably the caregiver for Joseph and Benjamin, (25:21), an act of rebellion and attempted successorship. 5 Just before Rachel’s death Simeon and Levi committed violence against the people of Shechem against their father’s wishes. The young Joseph must have felt very vulnerable amongst his grown up and aggressive half-brothers.
As the story of the twelve brothers is to unfold Joseph will become one of two protagonists, the other being Judah who was Leah’s fourth child and for many years her youngest until the arrival, later in her life of two more sons and a daughter. The other three children of Leah - Reuben, Simon and Levi - play the role of aggressors. Their names suggest Jacob’s dislike of their mother Leah. With the birth of Judah, Leah gives up and simply appeals to God, naming Judah ‘now I will praise the Lord’ (29:32-34). He is not named for the conflict between the parents, but can create his own identity and has his own relationship to God. His name includes the Tetragrammaton – YHVH.
Of these two Joseph is to become the Viceroy of Egypt, the most powerful nation on earth at the time, a prototypical Majestic Man, perhaps the most Majestic Man in the Bible. 6 The story of Joseph is perhaps the most `secular' story in the Pentateuch. God never does speaks to Joseph, in stark comparison to his father, grandfather and great-grandfather, nor is their any mention of Joseph’s ever praying to God.7 Once he takes an oath `By the life of Pharaoh’ (Gen.: 42:16). An oath to Pharaoh! He is the servant of Pharaoh and proud of it. Two verses later he says `Do this and you will live' (Gen. 42:18). Moses, the servant of God and the paradigm of the Man of Faith says in the name of God `choose life'. A servant of God is inherently a servant of no man. 8 Joseph, acting as the paradigm of the Majestic Man, believes he can subdue and dominate others in his own name.9 Joseph indeed acts as if he were God's personal representative.
Judah is ultimately the Man of Faith in his generation. Joseph dreams of becoming his father’s master, while Judah comes to serve his father. When Joseph's brothers plan to kill him Judah is instrumental in saving his life by suggesting that they take him out of the pit where he will surely die and selling him. This may be the best he can do, given his brothers' hatred of Joseph. 10 He pledges his own life to his father to bring Benjamin back from Egypt. In a very powerful and emotional speech to the Viceroy he makes sympathy for his father the key to defeating Joseph.
JOSEPH AND HIS BROTHERS - THE EARLY YEARS
There is a recurring theme in Genesis of a preference for a younger son over the elder.
It begins with Abel over Cain. It is followed with Isaac over Ishmael and Jacob over Esau. Are they following God's preference? God, presumably favored the 'Man of Faith' created him second to the Majestic Man. Jacob continues this favoring Joseph. When Jacob believes that Joseph is dead he transfers his love to Benjamin, his twelfth son and later he favors Joseph's younger son Ephraim. Jacob dislikes his older children's aggressiveness (Reuben, Simon and Levi) and probably his older brother Esau. We see this in their lifetimes and in the blessings Jacob gives at the end of his life.
The story of Joseph and his brothers begins with a verse that is ambiguous, confusing and very telling, with four clauses that can be read in different ways (Gen. 37:2). The verse is recited by the narrator. The first clause is linguistically straightforward. `These are the generations of Jacob, Joseph was seventeen years old'. Jacob, of course, has thirteen children, but only Joseph is named as `the generations of Jacob'. Joseph is intended as the spiritual heir to Jacob as we will see. 11 The second clause is usually translated as 'he was shepherding the flock with his brothers'. But that is not how the Hebrew reads; the word order reads `he was shepherding his brothers with the flock'. The suggestion could be made that he, a seventeen year old boy is the leader of his years older brothers alluding to them as sheep.
The third clause reads 'And he was young and the sons of Bilah and the sons of Zilpah the wives of his father'. There are several problems with this clause. First a verb is missing in this clause. Secondly Bilah and Zilpah are not his father's wives, but his concubines; nowhere but here are they called Jacob's wives. Thirdly there is no mention of Leah’s children, his other half-brothers. The Hebrew word young `na'ar' is spelt `nun' `ayin' `resh'. Might it be that the original letter `nun' was a `gimel' and an error in transcription occurred?12 The letter `nun' and `gimel' are only slightly different in shape in the Hebrew alphabet (both current and ancient). If the word were originally `ga'ar’ instead of `na'ar’ then the sentence would read: `And he rebuked the son's of Bilah and the son's of Zilpah sons of his father wives.' If that reading is correct then the narrator is particularly critical by calling the rebuked children’s sons of their father's wives. By leaving out Leah, his father’s wife, the narrator allows us to speculate that Joseph felt superior to the concubines children but not necessarily to Leah’s children. After his mother’s death it is likely Bilah, cared for him and his infant brother Benjamin.
The last clause may confirm this reading of rebuking. `And Joseph brought their father their evil reports'. `[T]heir evil reports' is unclear - is he, Joseph referring to Leah's children or the sons of the concubines? Since the previous clause was referring to the children of the concubines, it is more reasonable to assume Joseph said, the sons of Bilah and Zilpah were saying evil things about their father. He was belittling the son's of his father's concubines. But the narrator by calling them Jacob's wives, is being particularly scathing toward Joseph. He chose not to write that Joseph `rebuked' the children of his father's concubines, but the children of his father's wives. We do not now when Leah died, but apparently she no longer matters - if she ever did - to her husband, Jacob.
The next verse tells us Joseph is Israel's favorite `Israel loved Joseph more than all his children because he was the son of his old age' (37:3). 13 In fact Benjamin is the youngest son. It would be difficult for Jacob to love his son Benjamin more than Joseph since in his birth his beloved wife died. From the day of Joseph's birth, Rachel's first-born son conceived after thirteen years of barrenness (and twenty years after they first met and fell in love with each other), was `royally' raised. Leah and her children, as well as Bilah and Zilpah and their children could only resent that situation.
The children of Jacob knew full well of the `blessing' passed from Abraham to Isaac to Jacob. They knew that the blessing had to be passed to one of his sons. Did Reuben, assume as the first born, it would be his or did he remember that Isaac was the second born to Abraham and Jacob the second born to Isaac? (Isaac had chosen Esau; it was Rebekah who successfully chose Jacob.) Did Jacob believe that one only of his sons could receive the blessing? Would there never be a point when the blessing could be shared? If one who would he choose? He had two wives who were in turn sisters, were both of the blessed family as was his wife Rebekah. Would Jacob’s love for Rachel lead him to choose Joseph? How is Jacob/Israel to choose? Jacob then gives Joseph the `tunic of many colors'. This royal tunic is the promise of the `blessing'. 14 In fact Jacob at the end of his life realizes that the parts of the ‘blessing’ must go to all his sons. None get exiled from Jewish history as was true of Ishmael and Esau. Joseph’s conflict with his brothers is not over ‘the blessing’, but his desire to be the next patriarch. 15 It is the next stage in the history of Israel - the history of salvation and no longer of survival. If Joseph had indeed received the blessing he would have had to be Moses, the redeemer, but in that he failed.
Joseph’s family background (assuming he knew of it) would have been significant. His great grandfather Abraham came as an immigrant to Canaan and managed to become a rich man. The conflict between his great grandmother Sarah and Abraham’s other wife Hagar, the akeda of his grandfather Isaac and the trauma he suffered. His grandfather was damaged by his father’s almost sacrificing him. His father’s, twin, Esau was a very masculine man while his own father a mother’s boy. Did he know of the conflict over the blessing between his grandfather Isaac and his grandmother Rebekah. His other grandfather (Laban) had tricked his father into marrying the older of two sisters whom he did not love. His mother although competing with her sister was a loved wife, which the mother of most of his brothers was not. But she was also frustrated being barren for thirteen years of marriage. He might have witnessed the conflicts between his mother and Aunt Leah, the frictions between his father and his grandfather Laban over the flocks, herds and the stolen teraphim. He might have seen his father’s fear of Uncle Esau, his father’s limping and Esau’s generosity toward his brother Jacob.
He grew up in a closer and loved environment than his brothers. His brother’s probably made fun of him especially after his mother’s death and her overprotection. He was known as the pretty boy. His only real boyhood friend was his younger full brother Benjamin. He also must have resented Benjamin as the cause of his mother’s death. He must have felt superior and favored as well as vulnerable. His father although he had left grandfather Laban many years ago only recently finally settled in his father’s place and Isaac died.
Joseph's was brought up with unconditional love with few boundaries set, first by his mother in his first five years and then his father. To Jacob, he was not only the favorite son of the `true' 16 but dead wife, but is in some ways as a substitute love object for Rachel. Being royally raised by his father, Joseph grows up in an exaggerated sense of grandeur and of entitlement. He is also isolated and alienated from his brothers. Jacob acts as if the family existence is dependent on Joseph. It would be difficult for Joseph not to grow up arrogant, insensitive and ignorant of others feelings. 17 His sense of entitlement makes him oblivious to the impact of his actions on his brothers. This leads him into severe errors of judgment. Jacob’s actions and Joseph’s arrogance initiates his conflict with his brothers of three different mothers.
In the verse before Joseph tells his brothers of his dreams, we are told that they had a troubled relationship, ‘they hated him and could not speak with peace to him’ (37:4). His ten brothers of three different mothers could only unite in despising Joseph. Immediately after this text Joseph tells his brothers of his first dream. The brothers are binding sheaves of wheat and the brother's sheaves bow down to Joseph's sheaf. How could his brothers, all but one older than he, react to this dream of Joseph being their Lord and Master? The brothers’ reaction to Joseph's first dream was only to be expected ‘shall you reign over us’ (37:8). If Joseph did not understand his brothers reaction to him before how could he avoid understanding their reaction now, after the first dream? Then (we do not know how long) he tells them of his second dream.
In the second dream eleven stars, the sun and moon bowed down directly to Joseph. 18 Even his deceased mother is to recognize his superiority. In the first dream Joseph had a sheaf to represent himself. In this second dream he himself is not represented, his father and mother are represented by the sun and moon. He resurrected his mother as the moon. He does not place himself as the sun, but he personally is in the cosmos symbolically as a God. Joseph’s dreams are about domination and submission and he fantasizes that his family will worship him as the son of the universe. 19 While in his real life he is weak and vulnerable in his dream he is all powerful. He dreams of narcissistic grandiosity. This personality that sees itself in the center of many persons has the potential becoming a tyrant. 20
Joseph’s father and great grandfather had visions and dreams involving God. Joseph’s dreams can be compared to his father’s dream of angels going up from heaven and down to earth on a ladder. Joseph also dreams of earth (the stalks of wheat) and the heavens (the sun, moon and stars). In Jacob’s dream they are connected. In Joseph dreams they remain are separate. ‘In Jacob’s dream, God and the angels are at its center; in Joseph’s dream, he is at the center. If dreams represent the unconscious God is absent from Joseph. He wishes dominion on earth and even in the heavenly cosmos. 21
This stupefied even his Father. `Shall I and your [dead] mother and your brothers indeed bow down to you' (37:10)? This is a succession story, told in a dream to the father and brothers (37:10). This may be the first time in his seventeen years that his father criticized him. Ironically he knew that his father and previously his mother did in fact, worship him. His whole upbringing created a narcissistic personality. Joseph was criticized by his doting father for the first time in his life. This may be his second narcissistic injury; the first being his mother’s death. He experiences ‘only . . . himself, his needs, his feelings, his thoughts and everything pertaining to him are experienced as fully real’. 22 He is majestic, grandiose, self- absorbed and expects special treatment. This leads him into severe errors in judgment.
His brothers held this against him, and ‘his father observed the words' (37:11). What does this cryptic statement by his father mean? Did he understand his other sons anger? Was he proud of his arrogant son? Did Jacob believe in the dreams? Did the brothers believe that the dream came from God? Or did they believe Joseph had arrogantly invented it? 23 Indeed did Joseph himself believe in his own dreams? Did he really expect his brothers and his father to literally bow down to him? What role in life did he envisage for himself that would make that happen? What we know for certain is that Jacob loved Joseph too much and his bothers hated him (37:4,5,8,11).
At the time of his dreams it is noted that he is seventeen years of age. It is not known how old Joseph was when he lost his mother. He might have been as young as five years old, but various midrashim suggest that he may been a boy of eight, nine, or twelve, or even a youth of sixteen. If we was an adolescent, the emotional damage may have been all the greater. 24 If his beloved and worshipping mother died the year before or even as he entered his teenage years the narcissistic injury would have been much greater and the lack of ego strength more difficult to overcome.
In the next verse, the brothers have taken the flocks to Shechem. Jacob/Israel says why don't you go see if they are well. And Joseph goes. Was not Jacob or Joseph concerned about the brother’s anger? We just read of Jacob's concern. Joseph, in his self-absorbed arrogance, may easily have overlooked and been insensitive to his brother's anger, but what of Jacob? Did Jacob believe that Joseph could reconcile himself to his brothers as he had with his brother? But Jacob and Esau were adults, with much life experience before they could reconcile. Joseph is a young, immature lad meeting brothers who hate him. 25 If Jacob thought that Joseph could by himself reconcile with his brothers he was being most naive. Could he have so misjudged Joseph and his other sons? Could he be as insensitive as Joseph? It is hard to understand Jacob's not seeing the danger in sending Joseph a substantial distance to see his brothers.
Joseph reaches Shechem - the place where Simon and Levi enacted their form of justice on the people of Shechem for the rape of Dinah – but the brothers had left. An unnamed `man’ tells him they have moved on to Dothan. Jewish commentators suggest that the `man’ was an angel warning Joseph of his future. The name `Dothan’ can come from the word `dath' meaning justice or law. 26 Is Joseph being summoned to his brother's justice? Joseph, the one who interprets dreams and later tells us he is `a reader of omens' (Gen. 44:15), did not read these omens. He does not suspect that the `man’ was trying to tell him something.
Joseph walks approximately eighty kilometers to his brother wearing the tunic of many colors. Is it not odd that for a long walk to his brothers in the heat of Canaan he would wear his special cloak? When his brothers see him in his many colored tunic they want to kill him in a fit of rage. Reuben, the displaced older brother, attempts to save Joseph by having him cast into a pit alive. Reuben goes off intending to return and rescue Joseph. Judah realizing the potential death sentence of the pit says 'he is our brother, and our own flesh', we cannot let him die (Gen. 37:27). Judah persuades them to sell him to the Ishmaelites 27 – passing by - the people of their great-uncle. Just as Ishmael was banished into exile from the family so, suggests Judah, Joseph should be banished. (Ishmael not only is banished but marries an Egyptian woman as will Joseph.)
The brothers tear his tunic, dip it in blood and bring it to their father who believes his beloved Joseph has been attacked by some beast and is dead. 'My son's tunic' (Gen. 37:32) screams Jacob. He draws his own conclusions. That is the brothers’ intent, for their father to realize it was his giving of the tunic that created this problem. 28 The tunic which (according to one midrash) was from Rachel’s’ wedding dress is bloodied symbolized all the favoritism Jacob gave to Joseph and the pain he caused his other children. They returned the pain to him in kind, by making his favorite disappear. 29
Jacob, who took advantage of his father Isaac's dimness, the result of his Akeda, is now abused – has his own akeda - by his own children because of his own `blindness’, his favoritism to Joseph. He repeats his mother Rebecca's error in giving him special affection and his father's error in giving special affection to his brother Esau. Did it represent to Jacob another mourning for his dead wife? Did Joseph represent her reincarnation seeing her bloodied wedding dress? Jacob’s screamed that ‘I will go down to Sheol (underground place for the dead) in mourning and join my son’ (37:35). He tells his sons, once again, that they are irrelevant to his life. Can be seen as a plea for death? We did not hear this at the death of his beloved wife; perhaps then he had Joseph, now he only has Benjamin, and he is not sufficient. He can never be Joseph.
Can Jacob's loss of Joseph be seen as divine retribution for his deceit of his own father? Did he in fact conceive of Joseph's disappearance as a form of akeda, like his father? 30 But his grandfather, Abraham was given the choice whether to sacrifice his son, Isaac, he was not. His grandfather had the choice of obeying God or not, of losing the blessing or not. His grandfather could not conceive of not obeying God and therefore did not understand how he would keep the blessing. Did Jacob believe that the blessing was broken when his son to whom he had promised the blessing disappeared? The issue of the blessing is never raised during the next twenty years of Joseph’s disappearance.
Did Jacob not suspect that his children were capable of doing harm to Joseph? Did he ever confront them or did he fear confronting them? Apparently he feared the answer. Like Oedipus he would rather be blind than recognize the reality of his tortured life. His father Isaac was blinded by his father – Jacob blinded himself. Did he ever tell them he had send Joseph to them? Years later, after his children’s first return from Egypt, Jacob says to them 'You are robbing me of my children; Joseph is no more; Simon is no more' (42:36). Simon is then in Joseph, the Viceroy of Egypt's hostage and in his jail. This is the first and only time that Jacob seems to blame his other children for Joseph's disappearance. Does he feel any sense of guilt for sending Joseph to the hands of his brothers’. Perhaps this is Jacob's weakness, his failure to recognize his contribution to the sibling rivalry of his children. Just as his mother Rebecca and his father Isaac (although less so) were responsible for the fraternal discord between himself and his brother Esau, so he was responsible for the fraternal discord between Joseph and his brothers. Rebecca lost her beloved son Jacob for many years (in fact she appears to have died before Jacob ever came home) so similarly Jacob is estranged from his favorite son Joseph for many years. Israel erred in loving his son of power and he has temporarily lost his redemption. 'I shall go down in mourning to sheol' (37:35) to hell instead of paradise.
He forgot the power of faith. He did yet not realize that he had a son who was a 'Man of Faith' an Adam Two.
JUDAH AND TAMAR
Judah and Tamar by Ferdinand Bol
Suddenly the text switches from the story of Joseph to the tale of Judah and Tamar.
Judah, perhaps recognizing that he and his brothers had done wrong, left his brothers and `went down’ (Gen. 38:1) to Adullam and marries a Canaanite woman (like his Uncle Esau). Perhaps his father’s excessive mourning (given his feelings of guilt) was more than he could bear. He becomes the father of three sons. The eldest Er 31 marries Tamar, but God makes him die for an unstated offense. Then Judah has his second son Onan 32 marry Tamar as is his duty under ancient and Jewish law to his brother’s childless widow. `But Onan, knowing that the line would not count as his, spilled his seed on the ground every time he slept with his brother's wife to avoid providing offspring for his brother’ (38:9) a dereliction of family duty. God then makes him die. Nothing is said of Judah mourning these sons – perhaps a reaction to his own father’s excessive mourning for the loss of his beloved son. He is however protective of his youngest and last remaining son, Shelah. Judah, leery of Tamar, suggests that she wait to marry the third son until Shelah, a young boy, matures. Tamar understands why Onan died and perhaps also why Er died, but out of respect for Judah does not tell him. Thus she allows him to believe the deaths are her fault and not his children’s. Judah sends her home to her father.
After 'a long time passed' (38:12) Judah's wife died. During this long time Judah had not sent Shelah to marry Tamar. She became concerned that Judah did not intend to fulfill his requirement to give her a husband to father a child, his grandchild. Does Judah consider her a black widow? Will she accept being a barren woman, powerless in a patriarchal society? Tamar masqueraded as a prostitute stands in a place called ‘enaim’, the opening of the eyes. Judah does not see that it is Tamar. She seduces him. Judah said he did not have the money to pay her and gave her his seal, cord and staff (the equivalent of his credit card) as ransom until he would return to pay for her services. 33 As Gunn and Fewell note the Hebrew words are all wordplays; ‘hotamka coming from ‘father-in-law, ‘petileka’ coming from ‘peti’ a simpleton and ‘matteh’ staff in many languages a sexual euphemism. 34 Later he sent his friend to retrieve his seal, cord and staff, but the woman had disappeared.
Three months later Tamar is discovered to be pregnant. She is sentenced to death as a prostitute by Judah. She requests to speak to Judah. She tells him that she has been impregnated by the owner of the seal, cord and staff. She does not embarrass him by telling anyone who the father is, but allows Judah to respond. Judah says ‘She has been more right than I, since I did not give her my son Shelah’ (38:26). 35 Are we intended to compare an over cautious father (Judah) with his risk taking father (Jacob) sending Joseph to his brothers? 36 She followed the Levirate law and protected the survival of Judah’s family line. Judah then marries her. Judah recognizes his error and corrects it. Would this also remind Judah of another injustice he and his brothers had done to their father. She asks him ‘Haker na ha’hotemet’ (is this your seal). Did Judah remember that his father was asked ‘Haker na ha’kutonet’ (is this your tunic). 37
Tamar gives birth to twin sons, like Rebekah.38 Tamar’s sons, again like Rebekah struggle in the womb to be firstborn. (Like Rebekah Tamar wears a veil (Gen. 28:15 and 24:64.)) The hand of one emerges from the womb and a scarlet thread is placed on his wrist, but his twin brother struggles and succeeds to be born first. He is named Peretz and the one with the scarlet thread is named Zerah. The one who is supposed to come first has a scarlet thread put on his wrist - similar to Esau, who has red hair. But this time the younger twin Peretz, manages to achieve what Jacob did not achieve - emerge first from the womb. Peretz we are told in the Book of Ruth is the ancestor David, the messianic model (Ruth 4:18-22). 39 Peretz becomes the ancestor of David, the Messianic king. 40 Zerah, the one with the scarlet thread (like Esau) is never heard of by name again. Judah as opposed to the aggressive behavior of Joseph (and some of his elder brothers) accepts life and what it brings. He even accepts the death of two sons, a characteristic of Adam Two.
The two non-Jewish female ancestors of David noted in the Bible are Tamar and Ruth. The Book of Ruth is read on Shavuot (the holiday of Pentecost), but we have only this short story of Tamar.41 Both Ruth and Tamar are in fact very strong women, who decided they must join the Jewish people. Both use their female wiles to get their men. Tamar is more explicit in her sexual pursuit. . She decides to be part of the `blessed' people and succeeds. She saves the blessing for Judah. Thus despite the unnatural and illegal act (according to Leviticus) of seducing her father-in-law she followed the obligation of insuring the eldest son’s line. If this thought is true she is a truly fascinating person and more could be written about her. She had forced Judah to take parental responsibility for his children. From this he will take responsibility for his own brothers.
The text then returns to the story of Joseph. 42
JOSEPH IN EGYPT
‘Someone must have lied about Joseph K, for without having done anything wrong, he was arrested one fine morning’. (Franz Kafka, The Trial)
Joseph is carried off to Egypt by the Ishmaelites 43 to be sold there as a slave. He might have informed his capturers of his father's wealth. His father would certainly pay a handsome ransom fee for his favorite son’s return. Could Joseph have thought that his father was a collaborator in a family conspiracy. His father's display of deep explicit love for him would seem to belie such an explanation, but it was his father's who sent him off alone to his brothers, knowing how enraged they were by his dreams. Why did his father, who must have recognized his brothers anger, send him days away where they could do anything to him? Joseph, having already suffered two narcissistic injuries - his mother's death - and then his father’s criticism of his second dream. He might now suppose his father was part of the conspiracy to rid the family of him. Alternatively if Joseph believed in his dreams, as God inspired, he may have believed that going to Egypt was where his destiny would be fulfilled.
In Egypt Joseph is sold to Potiphar, commander of Pharaoh’s guard. He proves so competent as an administrator, that he becomes the trusted steward of all Potiphar’s property. Potiphar's wife attempts to seduce Joseph and when he honorably refuses her she reverses the guilt and accuses him of attempted rape, 44 a charge she supports by grabbing his cloak and offering it as evidence. 45 He Is imprisoned. 46
In the prison Joseph after arising quickly to be a prison administrator, he interprets the dreams of two imprisoned stewards of Pharaoh, chief butler and chief baker. Joseph correctly interprets for each - the baker fated to die - and the butler to be saved. Joseph asks the butler to remember him, when he returns to the Pharaoh's house but he does not. It is only in this section (chapter 39) that the narrator tells us several times that ‘God was with Joseph’ (39:2,5,5,21,23). This refers to his success in Potiphar’s house and in the prison. Just as Joseph is favored over his brothers, he is favored over other slaves and other prisoners.
Two years later the Pharaoh is visited by two haunting dreams about thin cows devouring fat cows and thin grain devouring fat grain. The butler remembers Joseph's ability to correctly interpret dreams. He providentially forgot for two years until exactly the right moment. He now tells the Pharaoh of the dream interpreter he met in prison. Joseph is released from prison and interprets the Pharaoh's dream. Joseph tells Pharaoh that the dreams are an omen predicting seven years of agricultural plenty and seven years of famine. 47 Joseph then suggests, overstepping the bounds of his dream interpretation task, that the Pharaoh ought to locate a wise man to administer the allocation of grain during the years of plenty and drought. The 'Majestic Man' spots a window of opportunity and seizes upon it. Naturally Joseph is chosen to oversee the enormous task as the wise administrator. Pharaoh makes him Viceroy of all Egypt; Pharaoh gives him his signet ring and his gold chain and garments of fine linen making him second only to the King (41:41-43).
Joseph who revealed his two dreams to his brothers causing their hostility, meets two servants of the Pharaoh who have two dreams that need interpreting. After two years the Pharaoh has two dreams that Joseph interprets successfully. Again the two dreams become reality, again suggesting that Joseph’s original dreams will become reality. The two represents the two models of man of which Joseph epitomizes one. He is to meet the other, his brother Judah, the epitome of the other, in his generation, in his role as Viceroy of Egypt.
JOSEPH AND HIS BROTHERS
The regional famine comes. After two years of drought, Jacob sends his ten sons, all but Benjamin, to Egypt where food can purchased.48 It is twenty years since Joseph’s disappearance, but Joseph is always on Jacob’s mind. We are told that `Jacob did not send Joseph’s brother Benjamin, with his brothers, (42:4) not his youngest son, but Joseph’s brother. He will not risk Rachel’s remaining child. As they go to Egypt do they remember Joseph and his being send towards Egypt? Do they think about it, discuss it? 49 They are brought to the Viceroy. Joseph recognizes his brothers. Why are they brought to him; are all who come to purchase food taken to the Viceroy? Or did he tell the border guards to review a large family that may come from Canaan and send them to him? 50 His brothers do not recognize him since he is dressed in his capacity as the Viceroy. It is ironic how Isaac did not recognize Jacob disguised as Esau and Jacob on his wedding night, did not recognize Leah disguised as Rachel and now Jacob's children do not recognize their brother Joseph. But Jacob was not Esau and Leah was not Rachel. Is Joseph, the Viceroy any longer Joseph, the brother or has the reality of being the Viceroy altered him? Joseph wore a mask to hide himself and take on an identity of his own. For years he had figuratively worn a mask, to hid himself and taken on a new identity. Was he still the son of Jacob, the brother of his brothers? Which was his identity (or ego) and which was his alter identity (or shadow 51)? What happened to Joseph’s identity when he knew who they were? Twenty years have elapsed, the handsome young boy has not only aged but is now dressed royally. Joseph, on the other hand, knew them.
The text tells us Joseph remembered his dreams and he questions them harshly. Without directly asking he discovers that his father is still alive. His brothers tell him they had another brother who is missing and presumed dead and one who is left at home. Joseph accuses them of being spies and imprisons them. The Viceroy sets a test for his brothers; they must prove their honesty by bringing their youngest brother to him. Reuben understands and says it is because we sinned against Joseph. (42:22). He sends them home imprisoning only Simon, the leader of the Shechem massacre. He makes Simon's release dependant on Benjamin's arrival. What does Benjamin’s return have to do with the brothers being accused of spies? (The word in Hebrew used by Joseph is ‘to see the nakedness of the land’ (42:9). Did Joseph remember that they took of his colored cloak and made him naked in the pit?) Joseph remembers his dream of power that his eleven brothers’ sheaves will bow to him. His ten brothers have bowed to him when they come to purchase wheat - the sheaves in the dream. And therefore he awaits Benjamin, the eleventh brother.
Why Simon? Simon was the leader of the brothers who wanted to kill Joseph. Simon and Levi are berated by their father for the Shechem massacre. Moses at the end of his life blesses all the tribes except Simon. Simon is missing in the list of tribes. Why is Simon left out? Jewish tradition views him as the leader of those who wanted to kill Joseph and the brother who never repented. 52
Joseph sends his brothers (excluding Simon) home with provisions and returns their money hidden in their bags. Is this to remind them of the blood money they received from the Ishmaelites for selling him?
They tell their tale to Jacob but he rejects the idea of sending Benjamin to Egypt. He has lost his beloved wife Rachel 'on the road', in fact she was buried 'on the road'. Joseph was lost 'on the road' out of his presence when he disappeared. He cannot allow the only remaining son of Rachel to be 'on the road'. The road is a metaphor for exile; Jacob spent twenty years on the road, in exile. It is only at home when he returned to his father's home that he was not in exile. 53 Benjamin has become a surrogate Joseph to Jacob, another replacement for Rachel. Jacob when he tells Reuben why he cannot send Benjamin to Egypt says if he does not return I will go to Sheol, the land of the dead, (Gen. 42:38), the same term - Sheol - he used when he was led to believe Joseph was dead (Gen. 37:35).
Reuben then tells his father that his - Reuben's - two sons can be hostage to their father if he does not bring back Benjamin. 'You may put my two sons to death if I do not bring him [Benjamin] back to you' (42:37). This is a very bizarre suggestion - for the grandfather to kill his own grandchildren. Is this Reuben’s feeling of guilt about allowing Joseph to be lost? Or is it recognition of Benjamin’s favorite position and understanding by Reuben that his two sons are simply not as valuable as Benjamin. When Reuben had tried to save Joseph he had said to himself that he had to ‘restore him to his father’ (37:23). Jacob then says to Reuben that ‘he [Benjamin] is the only one left’ (42:38). Abraham faced the possibility of losing two sons and Rebekah was concerned about losing her two sons (27:45). Judah actually lost two sons and Reuben volunteers to lose two sons.
After some time the food purchased from Egypt is used up and hunger befalls them again. Jacob tells his sons to return to Egypt and procure provisions. Judah reminds his father they cannot return unless they bring Benjamin. Judah says 'you can hold me responsible for Benjamin' (43:9). Judah himself having lost two children has learnt about survival and he already regrets the supposed killing of Joseph. Reuben’s offer was to kill two other children. Israel responds 'Take your brother, and go back to the man' (43:13). What impels Jacob to change his mind? Why does he reject Reuben's surety but accept Judah's? During the conversation with Reuben, the text refers to Jacob as Jacob; in his personality as the Man of Faith. During the conversation with Judah Jacob is referred to as `Israel’. He speaks as Israel, the Majestic Man. Reuben aggressively offers his two sons as surety for Benjamin, Jacob recognizes that a Majestic Man meeting with another Majestic Man will conflict and Reuben will fail. Perhaps a Man of Faith can succeed.
Judah says to him 'Send the boy with me, and let us be off and go, if we are to survive and not die, we, you and our dependents' (43:8). Survival of the family is more important than the risk to Benjamin. Jacob recognizes the argument of survival - we must all live - having rejected the argument of death given by Reuben. Judah, who has lost two children, understands the anguish of death. His Akeda was worse than his great-grandfather; he indeed lost two sons. And he remembered hearing of the anguish of his grandfather. He simply will not let that happen to his father. Furthermore Jacob senses that if they are led by Judah, the reconciler (characteristic of a Man of Faith), they may succeed in bringing back both food, Benjamin and Simon; if they are led by the aggressive Reuben, they will fail.
The brothers tell Joseph's steward that by some error their money was returned the last time they came. They are told that the returned money was not Joseph's. `Your God and the God of your father’ returned it to you (Gen. 43:23).54 That is clearly a lie, told to the steward by Joseph to relate to his brothers. Why does Joseph use God’s name to lie to his brothers? He could have told the steward to say he did not know anything about the money and it was not Joseph’s. The steward takes them to Joseph’s home (not his official palace as before). The brothers meet Joseph again and they still do not recognize him. The Viceroy asks pleasantly is your father well and alive? I see your brother Benjamin is with you and he blesses him (Gen. 43:27-29).
The Viceroy of Egypt (Joseph) after not seeing them for many months or years -they are presumably one of thousands of groups seeking food - remembers their father and recognizes the missing brother whom the brothers assume, he has never met. Joseph then rushed out to a private room to cry. Judah, no doubt noted the emotional impact on asking about their father and his seeing Benjamin.
Joseph then invites his brothers to dine with him. To their amazement they are then seated for dinner in the exact order of their birth. How does the Viceroy know their birth order? Benjamin is fed with five times the amounts of his brothers; he is treated as the guest of honor. Just as he Joseph was treated with favoritism by being given the special coat, so he favors Benjamin by feeding him in a special way. Then they are given Simon and told they may leave.
The eleven brothers, with fresh provisions, are sent off home. But again Joseph had their money secretly placed in their sacks, and has his own silver goblet placed in Benjamin’s sack. He sends his steward to overtake them and, to accuse them of stealing the goblet, which they find in Benjamin's sack. The steward gives then Joseph’s cynical message, he will enslave the thief, Benjamin for stealing. The rest of you can go home in 'peace' (Gen. 44:17). How could they go home in peace without Benjamin? Jacob used the same term ‘peace’ (37:13) when he suggested that Joseph seek with his brothers’ peace when they went to feed the sheep, when he was kidnapped. Despite the kidnapping it is Joseph who had destroyed the ‘shalom’ - the wholeness - of the family, from his telling of tales, to telling of his dreams (even If he believed them to be true), to his kidnapping of Simon, his not telling his father he is alive and then his attempted kidnapping of Benjamin. Has Joseph no empathy for his doting father who considered him his only remaining child? They refuse to leave Benjamin and return to the Viceroy.
When they are brought to the Viceroy, the role Judah is to play is foreshadowed: 'Judah and his brothers arrived at Joseph's house' (44:14). Judah stands at the head of the brothers. 55 The speech he addresses to the Viceroy – whom he now knows is Joseph - is one of the most passionate and emotional in the Bible.
He tells Joseph the story of Jacob's love for Rachel and of Joseph's presumed death. He stated that Benjamin's failure to return home will be a death sentence on their father. He assumed personal responsibility for Benjamin's life. He actually says to Joseph 'my father had a wife and she bore him two children and one left . . . and never was seen again' (44:27-28) and Benjamin is what is left to our father. If I do not return with Benjamin, my father will blame me forever. Jacob had said `his brother is dead and he is left alone,' (Gen. 42:38) implying that his father has no other children and Benjamin no other brothers. Judah, the son of Leah, sitting with his five other full brothers (all sons of Leah), and four half brothers (from Bilah and Zilpah) tell the Viceroy of Egypt that his father had one wife and her name was Rachel. He is not deceiving Joseph, he has told him they are all his brothers or half brothers. He reflects on his father's truth - his father considered Rachel to be his only wife and, painful as it may be, she is not Judah's mother Leah. In the genealogy of Jacob Rachel is his wife while Leah is simply the daughter of Laban (Gen. 46:18-19).
Judah cannot tell Joseph the unvarnished truth, that he knows that the Viceroy has lied and arranged this conspiracy. Judah decides to tell his father's truth. He has realized that the Viceroy is Joseph. Directly prior to his speech Judah reviews in his own mind the strange events that have occurred to him and his brothers. First they are arbitrarily accused of being spies, of uncovering the nakedness of the land (42:9,12). This odd term `nakedness’ is used twice. His brothers took away his many colored tunic, made him naked and now he is hidden from them. Then Joseph says I will keep all of you until your youngest brother is brought to me. What does this have to do with their being accused of being spies? He then turns aside and wept and then said I will keep Simon and await your return with Benjamin. What is the relationship between Benjamin and the accusation that they are spies? If they are thought to be spies why are they all but one released? Judah noted his weeping and then changing his mind about keeping all and instead keeps only one, Simon? Why does the Egyptian servant say the money is not Joseph’s? Why did this Egyptian pagan refer to `I fear God’ (42:18) and then have his servant refer to `your God and the God of your father’ (43:23). The Viceroy of Egypt has them taken to his house and after not seeing them for many months remembers their father and recognizes the missing brother. Joseph then rushed out to a private room to cry. Judah, no doubt noted the emotional impact on asking about their father and his seeing full brother Benjamin. Joseph then invites his brothers to dine with him. To their amazement they are then seated for diner in the exact order of their birth. How does Joseph know their birth order? Benjamin is fed with five times larger amounts than his other brothers. He understands as noted by Sternberg, that Joseph was testing whether the brothers had ‘come to terms with the father’s preference . . . rubbing it in through the contrast with the order of natural seniority in which he has taken care to seat them’. 56
Then they leave and are intercepted with the money and Joseph's cup in their Benjamin's possession. Judah knew that Benjamin could not have been guilty and thus Joseph set up the whole conflict. If Judah suspected that Benjamin had stolen the cup, he would simply have said that he, Judah, stole it and put in Benjamin's baggage. 57 Then Benjamin would have been freed and Judah would have become a slave (as his brother Joseph became), but he would have accomplished what he promised his father. Judah knew it was Joseph he was addressing, and this tactic would therefore fail. Thus instead of addressing the issue of Benjamin, the alleged thief, he emphasized in his speech, his father’s love for Joseph above all his children and Joseph's mother Rachel as his only wife. Would Joseph take revenge against his brothers or feel compassion for their father? Instead of talking about the theft of the cup, Judah counters him with the agony of his father. He mentioned his father fourteen times in his extraordinary speech. That is the basis of Judah's speech. When Judah says (in the prologue to his speech) 'God himself, has uncovered your servant’s guilt' (Gen. 44:16), Judah is not responding to the cup he knows was never stolen, but apologizing to his brother Joseph for their selling him. Judah by telling Joseph God knows our guilt (Gen. 44:16), is also telling him he, Joseph and God know that Benjamin is not guilty.
In Judah's speech he reiterates the previous events of Joseph’s interrogation of the family (Gen. 44:19-24). Without explicitly asking Judah is questioning ‘why this interrogation'? He understood that something was amiss! He, Judah, sarcastically says to Joseph that Benjamin’s brother is dead (44:20). He had previously said his brother was missing (42:1). He then says to Joseph my father said `one of them left [Joseph], I supposed that he must have been torn to pieces' (Gen. 44:28).
A Midrash tells as that Judah is angry – so angry that in ‘extraordinary surrealistic image’ his ‘hairs protrude erect from his chest and pierce his clothes’. 58 The Midrash does not tell us why Judah is so angry. Is it not that he now understands that the Viceroy is Joseph? In the Midrash Joseph concedes not because of emotion but due to Judah’s power.
This entire incident is reminiscent of Kafka's 'The Trial'. In that modern novel, the protagonist (named Joseph K), imprisoned, strives to ascertain the crime for which he is accused, but he cannot succeed. But his guilt, we are told is certain. In our tale the crime is known, the stealing of the silver cup, guilt is certain, but the cup was not stolen. Thus, there was no crime. But the brothers and Joseph know of another crime, the sale of Joseph and the deception of Jacob. During their first imprisonment, when they were accused of being spies the brothers speak to each other of this crime incorrectly assuming the Viceroy would not understand their Hebrew (Gen. 42:21). Joseph accusing them of being spies and demanding Benjamin’s return as his test in another kafkaesque incident. Did Judah also remember his judging Tamar when he was the guilty party?
Judah's long tale of his father ignited compassion in Joseph. Judah tells of the pain Jacob suffered in the 'death' of Joseph. And how he would surely die if Benjamin is not returned to him. Judah accepts the responsibility for his brother Benjamin, as he told his father he would do. By stating that He is willing to become a slave to Joseph as he and his brothers had enslaved Joseph, he is also repenting for what they did to Joseph. Joseph then breaks down and tells his brothers that ‘I am Joseph your brother, is my father still alive’ (45:3). He knows his father is alive, but he responds emotionally about his father as Judah had planned.
The speech shatters Joseph’s mask. He tries to conceal his emotions but fails. ‘His loud weeping was heard by the Egyptians and even in the house of Pharaoh’ (45:2). Judah deceived the deceiver, just as his mother Leah deceived their deceiving father. Judah understood that Joseph has single handedly fractured the family peace by demanding Benjamin's presence after first imprisoning Simon. Judah redeemed the entire family and particularly restored Joseph to it.
Joseph tells his brothers that God ordained their selling him so as to save their lives. 'It was not you who send me here, but God' (45:5-8). Why then, did Joseph deceive his brothers by hiding his silver cup in Benjamin's sack? Why did he not tell them when they first brought Benjamin or even in the first meeting who he was? He has, in effect, tormented his brothers. 'He acted like a stranger towards them and spoke harshly to them' (42:7). And more importantly he tormented his father. His father, an old man, might have died during the interim (perhaps two years) of the two visits. The brothers had told Joseph that bringing Benjamin to Egypt would endanger Jacob’s life. “And harm shall come to him, and you shall bring down my gray hairs in sorrow to sheol’ (44:29). Despite this clear warning Joseph disregarding their statement, and insisted that they bring Benjamin. (44:22-23). He must have known ‘what his request will mean to his father; it will be a crushing blow, and yet he did it coolly with no apparent remorse’ 59 He clearly played with his father’s death. 60 When Joseph finally disclosed his identity and asks ‘is my father still alive?’ they, in fact cannot properly respond. They have left many weeks ago. The pain of Benjamin’s having gone may have killed him. Joseph’s response comes immediately after Judah talks of their father’s potential death. Did Joseph believe that demanding Benjamin would require his father to come down to Egypt and therefore maybe his father had died? 61 Can the brother’s silence after Joseph’s identifying himself be their recognition of what the favorite son may have done to their father?(45:3) 62
Joseph’s dreams of grandeur turn out to be true. But did Joseph need to tell his brothers of the dreams? Could he not have waiting for God to implement them? Do the bothers actions - selling him - if in fact God’s actions - sending him - justify his actions in taking vengeance of his brothers? If it was divinely inspired why take vengeance? And if his taking vengeance is only ‘normal’ why torment his father? Is this the only way his mission of saving the world could be implemented? Could he not have told his father and brothers as soon as he became Viceroy about the years of plenty and the years of famine?
Could Joseph have believed his father was part of the conspiracy to rid him of all the problems he created? After the second dream his father criticized him, perhaps for the first time. When he tells his father that he, the father, and the mother, will bow to him his father sends him to Shechem to meet his brothers. His father knew his brothers were angry and `hated’ him. He meets a messenger (from his father?) who tells him to go to Dothan where his brothers sell him. Joseph may well have believed that his father was part of the conspiracy to rid them of him. Else why did he not tell those Midianites to take him to his rich father for ransom. Joseph may have suffered his first narcissistic injury, when his mother died leaving him. Then he faces his father's first rejection of him. His brothers had already rejected him.
When Joseph hears Judah saying in the name of his father ‘And the one went out from me, and I said, surely he is torn in pieces; and I saw him not since’. (44:28) he may realized that his father never told his sons that he send Joseph out and has felt guilt since them. And that the sons never told their father what had happened. And when Jacob said ‘I saw him not since’ not that he died - did Jacob ever expect to see Joseph again? Did Joseph ever expect to see his father again? All this is new information for Joseph to absorb. That Joseph was surprised we can take from his first response to his brothers. ‘Is my father still alive’? (45:3) He knows his father is still alive but mentioning his father’s name confirms Judah’s speech that Jacob is the key to this whole drama. Given the early death of his mother Joseph’s central identity is tied up with his father whose favorite he was. And his father’s life is tied up with him. Judah has told Joseph about their father’s life. ‘His life is tied into his life’ (44:30). The omission of proper names in this phrase suggests that their lives are inextricably tied together. Given that Benjamin is a surrogate for Joseph the relationship between Joseph and Jacob are inextricably bound. Joseph also learnt from this speech that Judah (if not the other brothers as well) had reconciled themselves to Jacob’s favoritism. Jacob’s life, the old man, is worth more to Judah than his own. He has truly transformed himself from the man willing to sell his brother to being his father’s servant. Can Joseph still be reconciled to his father and his brothers? Did he know of the reconciliation that had occurred between his father and his Uncle Esau?
The only time Joseph expresses his emotions is when he named his children. His first son's name Manasseh means 'to forget my hardship and my parental home' (41:51). Why does he name his eldest to the God who has helped me 'completely forget my hardships and my parental home'? If he believes it was God who sent him there why does he celebrate forgetting 'my parental home'? Like the other Adam One's, Ishmael and Esau, despite the love they received there, they leave their father's home to forget it. They had too much trouble at that home - Ishmael with Sarah, Esau with Rebecca and Joseph with his brothers. His trouble, regardless of his blame, is the nightmare of his brothers threatening to kill him and finally selling him into eventual slavery.
His grandfather Isaac reacted to his father’s abuse by withdrawing from the world. Joseph reacted to his brother’s abuse by taking power. His grandfather was a passive Man of Faith, Joseph is an aggressive Majestic Man. He names his second 'Ephraim' after his fertility in my land of affliction. Is it necessary for him to leave home and his father's home specifically to gain fertility, creativity and power? He recognizes his familial loneliness even when he is Viceroy of Egypt.
Joseph has a narcissistic personality, a type requiring control and a personality suspicious of conspiracies around them. `Narcissists need to be in control. ... [They have] a driving need to be desired and appreciated, and the narcissist becomes easily injured, insulted and outraged’. 63 Joseph was outraged by all of his family 64 and consequently he never told his father that he was alive and where he was. Joseph could have believed that his father was part of a conspiracy to eliminate him. Perhaps not until Judah's speech does he realize his father's anguish at his apparent death (Gen. 44:27-29), and thus his father's innocence in the conspiracy. People with a narcissistic injury have a pattern of distance ‘from becoming too close when intimacy and exposure is a danger, and too far away when separation runs the risk of precipitating personality disorganization and subsequent flooding with anxiety and shame’. They create rigid defensive systems. 65 This might help explain Joseph's distancing his brothers but trying to bring his only full brother, Benjamin, who was not part of the conspiracy, to be with him, and similarly his intimacy and then distancing of his father.
But none of this justifies Joseph’s behavior; his torturous trial of his brothers and his father. Unlike our previous Majestic Men (Ishmael and Esau) he is boastful and insulting to his brothers and his father. After a separation of twenty two years he torments his brothers by accusing them of being spies. We know and he knows that his brothers regret what they did (42:20). He left them leave after imprisoning Simon, but more importantly does not tell them or his father he is still alive. After he has revealed himself he says ‘Return quickly to your father and tell him, your son Joseph’ (45:9) is alive. Since he first met them two years have passed and his father could have died of old age if not of hunger, never knowing that Joseph was alive. How could he do that to his father? How could he torment his only full brother Benjamin by bringing him to Egypt. Why does he not demand Jacob come with Benjamin? He talks of God, but in fact God never spoke to him. He does all for his own reasons. He is still the spoiled child he was twenty years earlier. He is a manipulator making himself the dictator of Egypt, his brothers and his father. Compare that to Esau’s filial behavior towards his father Isaac and his forgiveness of his brother Jacob.
Do the brothers ever reconcile to Joseph? Do they accept that his is divine favoritism?
They are silent at the end of his proclamation that God ordained it all.
The brothers report that Jacob instructed them to tell Joseph to forgive them (50:15-17), and then they offer to be his slaves (50:18), precisely what he had dreamed. We do not know if Jacob told his children to approach the Viceroy, but it is clear that they feared him. Why did not Jacob tell Joseph himself? Did he too fear Joseph? Joseph once again talks about God, specifically stated ‘Am I in place of God?’ (50:19) the very same words Jacob used in responding to Rachel’s pleading for a child (30:2); a child she finally bore, Joseph. This seemed like the last opportunity for a real reconciliation; by reminding his brothers of God Joseph – once again – refused his brothers ambiguous plea for a reconciliation. The conspiracy of silence will continue.
Judah, the 'Man of Faith' defeats Joseph the 'Majestic Man'. Judah, the Adam Two of Jacob's children, takes his father's fractured family and does a tikkun (Hebrew for making whole) as he had previously done with his own family by accepting responsibility for his relationship with Tamar. Because of these his father as we shall see, gives him the redemptive blessing.
Joseph is in some ways the most controversial figure among ancient commentators. He is called ‘Joseph the Righteous’, because he rejects Potiphar’s wife. This is found in
IV Maccabees (2:2), in the Qumran texts, the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs and in the Talmud. 66 At the same time he is accused of enticing or at least not discouraging Potiphar’s wife. Some of the sages even suggest that he went into Potiphar’s house ‘to do his work’ (39:11) means ‘to satisfy his desires’. While this seems an odd interpretation it is related to Joseph’s already knowing of her desires on him as noted earlier (39:7), nonetheless he goes into the house when no men are there. It is for this reason that Rashi, the well renown medieval commentator, suggest that Joseph is not an innocent lamb in this regard.
Ancient commentators criticize his being a teller of tales and his making no attempt to contact his father. 67 There is another comment found in ancient texts that suggest that he is a narcissist and that concept comes from the text itself. The text tells us that Joseph ‘was pretty person and pretty to look at’ (39:6). The exact words in Hebrew are only used one other time in the Bible regarding his mother Rachel. A Midrash says of Joseph that after he was promoted by Potiphar he said ‘Now I have to admit I’m doing fine’. 68 The same midrash then says that Joseph ‘became pretty [not was pretty] . . . was like a man sitting in the market place daubing his eyes and smoothing back his hair . . . and saying ‘I am quite the man’. In the Testament of Joseph he states ‘and He [God] gave me also beauty as a flower, beyond the beautiful ones of Israel’. 69 One Targum’s translation of Jacob’s confusing deathbed blessing of Joseph (49:22), is ‘And when [the Egyptian sages] praised you [Joseph], the daughters of the rulers [of Egypt] would walk along the walls and cast down in front of you bracelets and golden ornaments so that you might look at them’. 70 All these ancient texts suggest that Joseph was quite aware of his beauty and in some that he enhanced his looks. That is precisely the ancient meaning of narcissism, 71 which we defined in more modern terms.
There are two sections where Joseph refers to the theology justifying his actions. When he reveals himself to his brothers he tells them ‘I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt . . . God sent me before you to preserve your remnant on earth and to save your lives. . . God set me up as a father to Pharaoh, as lord of his household and ruler of all of Egypt’ (45:5,7-8). Here Joseph ascribes to God his coming to Egypt, and not his brothers. He also distinctions himself from them; God sent him to preserve them, he, Joseph, God had already saved. Joseph continues and tells then to all come and live in Goshen he says ‘I shall provide for you . . . I am who I say I am’ (45:11-12). In a subtle counterpoint Judah tells his father they must take Benjamin to Egypt ‘that we may live and not die . . .you and also our little ones’ (43:8-10) and Joseph says to his brothers after their father’s death ‘I will provide for you and your little ones. (50:30-21) 72
If God sent Joseph to preserve the patriarchal family he could have accomplished that mission as soon as his brothers first came to Egypt by identifying himself. But he acts as if he seeks vengeance against his family for allowing him to be enslaved and to have his dreams fulfilled. At the same time he links himself to Benjamin. Just as his being the favorite resulted in his being enslaved and becoming their lord, he insists that Benjamin is equally favored. Is this Joseph’s insistence on his brothers acknowledging the favorite position of himself and Benjamin and their mother, Rachel? As we have seen in Judah’s speech, Judah does acknowledge Joseph and Benjamin’s favorite position and consequently the brothers’ subservience. But acknowledgement is not the equivalent of acceptance.
The second issue of theology involves the Viceroy administering the collection of food during the years of plenty and the people having food during the seven years of drought. During his years as Viceroy he pauperized and enslaved the Egyptian people (Gen. 47:13-26). At the price of the food they needed, first he took their money, then their livestock and then their land, making them serfs to the crown, to him - all the land passed into Pharaoh’s possession. He changed a relatively (for the ancient times) free economy into a centralized economy controlled by the Pharaoh and his chief Viceroy. Joseph enslaved the Egyptians (Ex. 47:21). They say to Joseph ‘Why should we die before your eyes . . . But us and our lands for food and we . . . will be slaves’ (47:18-19). The Egyptians cry of ‘death or slavery’. 73 Was this the only choices available to Joseph; their death or subservience for survival?
When Joseph first related the dream interpretation to Pharaoh he says’ impose a tax of one fifth on Egypt during the good years of plenty. They will collect all the food produced during these years that are coming, and store the grain . . . The food will form a reserve for the country against the seven years of famine’ (41:34-36). Does the original plan approved by the Pharaoh ‘mention selling the grain back to the Egyptians’ . . . increasing Pharaoh’s power . . . or uprooting the people from the land’? 74 Joseph takes all of the money and the animals (47:18), land (47:20) and takes all the people as slaves (47:25). Is this part of the divine plan? Or part of Joseph’s narcissistic dream of domination?
Is this God’s theology or Joseph’s? One may wonder whether the God Joseph uses to justify his acts, the God who tells us to do justice and to protect the poor, would justify this kind of action? Can the God who in His first commandment said ‘I am YHVH your God who brought you out of Egypt where you were slaves’ (Ex. 20:1) approve of Joseph’s enslaving the people of Egypt? If what was done to Joseph - enslaving - was ‘evil’ (50:20) how can Joseph doing the same - enslaving the people of Egypt - become ‘good’ (50:20). Is it not more likely that his self-absorbed narcissism did not connect the evil done to him, being enslaved, to his enslaving others? His dream of domination and grandeur of his brothers expanded to the world. And he justified this by his God ordained rationale. Even if one accepts his Viceroy-hood as saving the world, a form of salvation, it does not justify his actions toward his brothers and his father.
Joseph describes as ‘evil’ his brothers selling him as a slave (50:20) and God made him a lord (45:5). Is it not equally evil to enslave the Egyptians? Furthermore did his dream require him to enslave his brothers and the Egyptians? If he is made lord, someone has to be subservient to him.’ 75 He asks his brothers ‘am I in the place of God’ (50:20); he had earlier suggested he was (45:5). Several verses later in describing his relation to Pharaoh he says ‘God . . . has set me up as a father to Pharaoh’ (45:8). He calls himself Pharaoh’s - the leader of the world - a man called god by his people - father. He truly believes in his own dream of grandeur.
If Joseph were convinced of his own theory would he name his eldest son Manasseh - 'God has made me forget my hardship and my father’s home' (41:51). But his attempt to forget his past fails. And his second son Ephraim is named not only for his creativity but also Egypt as a ‘land of affliction’ (41:52). This is not the first or last time Joseph uses God’s name. Why would God make him forget, when according to Joseph God’s whole intention was to save Joseph’s family, the family of his father’s home. (45:7-10). 76
Joseph, once the favorite son was enslaved, chooses to become the enslaver of the now favorite son, Benjamin. Judah saved Joseph from death for slavery and later Judah offered his own slavery instead of his father’s death. By returning Benjamin to his father, Judah is reversing his previous role, the victimizer becoming the victim. 77 Joseph had already reversed his role as the victim to become the victimizer.
Are the years of plenty and the years of famine natural events? Is Joseph God’s messenger in foretelling the events and allowing Joseph to help both the Egyptians and Jacob’s family to survive? We do not have God’s voice only Joseph’s. ‘Then Joseph said to Pharaoh. . . God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do . . . God has shown to Pharaoh what he is about to do . . .the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly do it. (41:21,28,32). According to Joseph God has decided that there will be seven years of excellent harvests and then seven years of famine. This fourteen year period is not a natural phenomena, but according to Joseph God’s will. Joseph could have simply interpreted the dream that about seven years of plenty and seven years of famine without making the events dependant on God. According to Joseph ‘God sent me before you to preserve your remnant on earth and to save your lives’ (45:7) and many others (45:5,7; 50:20). But again according to Joseph God created the famine intentionally. And since no sin is mentioned is this not a contradiction? 78 There are other occasions of famine in the Bible, either naturally or imposed by God. In the days of Abram and in the days of Isaac and later in the days Ruth famine occurred (Gen. 12:10; 26:1; Ruth 1:1) from natural purposes. In Isaiah (14:30; 51:19), Jeremiah (11:22; 14:12) and Ezekiel (5:12; 7:15; 14:13) famine comes from God as punishment. Some have claimed that the famine is a natural disaster, but this seems to contradict Joseph. 79 If it is a punishment 80 the sin is unstated. How can one learn from an unstated sin?
Those who suffered most are the people of Egypt. What did they do to earn this punishment? Perhaps they are pagans and idolaters? But if so they are not so accused in the text? And the world was full of idolaters. Are they being punished to satisfy Joseph’s need for grandeur? What seems most likely is that Joseph is not being truthful about God’s role in the years of plenty and famine. He is using God to enhance his own power. His claim that God decided the feast and famine enhances his own power.
Immediately before and immediately after the verses where Joseph enslaved the Egyptians we are told Joseph nourished his family (Gen. 47:12,27). Aggressiveness has two sides - positive and negative. One wonders whether the Egyptians who oppressed the Hebrews later learned this from Joseph or were revenging themselves on him and his family. What is clear is that the system of state serfdom imposed by Joseph on the Egyptians endured for centuries, and eventually the Israelites themselves were caught up in it and that required God intervention through Moses to free them.
What does Jacob think of his favorite Joseph who hid his very existence from his father for two decades? The Joseph who needed his brothers to give their father ‘a full report of all my splendor in Egypt’ (45:13). We know how he reacted to Joseph’s being alive. ‘I must go see him before I die’ (45:28). He repeats this to Joseph: ‘Now I can die, now that I have seen you alive’ (46:30). When he realized that Joseph was not dead how did he act to his sons who had deceived him? And did he ever ask Joseph why he did not contact him during the many years he Viceroy of Egypt? When Jacob finally meets Joseph does he bow to his son, the Viceroy or does the Joseph bow to his father? After Joseph swore to bury his father in the family gravesite Jacob ‘bowed down on the head of the bed’ (47:31). Joseph’s dream of power, even over his father, has finally been fulfilled.
Before Jacob blesses his children, Israel adopts and blesses his grandchildren from Joseph and thereby enrolls them among the tribes of Israel. By making Joseph’s two children tribes of Israel he has given him double the portion of the inheritance – two tribes. Jacob substitutes Ephraim and Manasseh for Reuben and Simon, the eldest two of Leah’s children.
This adoption by Jacob of his grandchildren is the consolation prize given that Joseph cannot get the spiritual blessing. 81 By this is in some ways brilliant move. Jacob hoped, this would guarantee that Joseph would be reconciled to his brothers, a concern to the brothers after their father’s death. 82 But this cannot be a substitute for a real reconciliation. In fact Jacob does again what he has done before; makes Joseph his only beloved child. (Joseph, the father to Pharaoh, does not become the father of a tribe of Israel, he will remain the favorite son.) Israel is by now blind like his father. When Joseph brings his sons to his father Israel the latter asks 'who are these' (48:8)? He, Israel, having taken Esau's blessing and a second name is like his father blind in front of a new Adam One, Joseph. Does he then pass the Adam One blessing directly onto Ephraim, the younger of Joseph's children? When Joseph objects to his father blessing Ephraim with priority Israel with his Adam One name says "The younger will be greater" (48:19). (Instead of the son deceiving the father, the grandfather deceives the son/father. Judah becomes the grandfather of his own children - Perez and Zerah who belong from a levirate perspective to Er - so Jacob, the grandfather of Ephraim and Manasseh, becomes their father.) Just as Isaac had priority over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau and Judah (the younger of Leah’s first children) over Joseph Jacob consciously gives Ephraim, the younger, the blessing he had to steal from his brother and his father. Jacob states that ‘truly his younger brother shall be greater’ (48:19). But does he? The blessing then stated is ‘In you shall Israel bless saying make you as Ephraim and as Manasseh’ (48:20). The blessing is the same despite Ephraim being placed first. The two blessing Isaac gave to his two sons were as we noted earlier also the same. Jacob received it first, but Esau received the priority when they buried their father. .
According to Jewish Midrashim the children of Ephraim were impatient with waiting for God to release them from bondage in Egypt. They gathered their tribe together and went to war with Pharaoh. They were defeated and 300,000 of them died. The Midrash goes on to explain that despite the tribe of Ephraim's impatience, God avenged their deaths through the plague of the death of the first born. It is clear that Jacob blessed Ephraim with the aggressiveness of Adam One (like Ishmael, Esau and Joseph).
In Deuteronomy we are told the following law. ‘If a man has two wives, one beloved and another hated, and they born him children . . .he may not give preference to the son of the beloved wife, over the son of the hated wife who is the firstborn, but he shall acknowledge the son of the hated for the firstborn’. (Deut. 21:16-17) Given the unlikely events described one wonders is this is not a direct criticism of Jacob and his relation to Rachel and Leah and their children.
After adopting Joseph’s sons Jacob is about to die seventeen years after arriving in Egypt. We are being reminded that Joseph was seventeen years old when his father sent him to his brothers and he was lost for twenty years. Jacob called his sons to bless them and tell them of the ‘last of days’ - their future. (49:1) Rashi, (on 47:28; 49:1) the Midrash 83 and the Talmud 84 all tell us that something blocked Jacob’s telling – the Spirit of God left him’. 85 They all suggest the children were not worthy of the knowledge. I would suggest that Jacob was not worthy of telling them since he never reconciled his children’s problems and never accepted responsibility for his part in this dysfunctional family.
Jacob's blessing of his children confirms our earlier impression that Judah, who remained with his father and unmasked Joseph, receives the true, the redemptive blessing. Jacob says "your father's sons will do you homage . . . The scepter shall not pass from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from his feet, until tribute be brought to him" (49:8,10). Despite all the brother’s bowing to Joseph, all, including Joseph will bow to Judah. And from Judah through Tamar, the Canaanite and Ruth, the Moabite, will come King David, the Messianic model. Thus Judah gets the blessing of faith. Finally Jacob recognizes that Joseph is not the Man of Faith, not the son of the promise.
Joseph receives a blessing as well but it is a different blessing. "Archers in their hostility drew their bows and attacked him. But their bows were broken by a might One . . . El Shaddai who blesses you . . .may they descend on Joseph's head, on the crown of the one dedicated from among his brothers" (49:23-24,26). He will also be crowned, but his kingdom will be one of aggressiveness. Joseph, the Majestic Man, gets a worldly blessing, not the blessing of faith. Joseph’s blessing is like his granduncle Ishmael’s blessed to become an archer (Gen. 21:21) and his uncle Esau’s to live by the sword (Gen. 27:40).
After the Exodus and the settlement in the Land of Canaan, Judah becomes the dominant tribe of the United Kingdom and after the separation Ephraim becomes the dominant tribe of the Kingdom of Israel. In Jewish tradition the two brothers will represent the two Messianic kingdoms, one warrior like - Joseph - and the other spiritual like - Judah. In Jewish tradition the son of David is the spiritual Messiah while the son of Joseph and Ephraim is the warrior Messiah. The Messiah ben Joseph, the elder Messiah (the oldest of Rachel’s children) must die before the younger Messiah ben David (the youngest of Leah’s first group of four children) can arrive. Is this a punishment for those of an aggressive behavior and of Joseph specifically? Even David, the younger and final Messianic figure cannot build God's house, the Temple, because he has blood on his hands. When David declares his wish to build the house of the Lord, God says to him "You must not build a house for my name, for you have been a man of war and have shed blood." (1 Chron. 28:3) His shedding blood, even in God's name, disqualifies him from building the Temple.
1 Babylonian. Talmud. Ber. 55b.
2 Thus including Joseph’s two sons Rachel has twelve grandsons, a magical number; Ishmael, Esau and Jacob each had twelve sons.
3 Rachel in her agony of knowing she was about to die named her new born son Benoni, the son of my grief. Jacob aware that such a name would remind him and his son of his mother's death renamed him Benjamin, son of my power. All of Jacob’s children are named by his wives, Leah and Rachel.
4 Jacob cursed who ever stole Laban’s ‘teraphim’ (31:32). It was Rachel and she hid them under her cushion and did not get up for her father, claiming she was ‘as woman are’. The usual assumption is she was menstruating. Was she in fact pregnant with Benjamin and did Jacob’s curse killed her? Did Jacob realize that his curse killed his only beloved wife? This possibility was related to me by my friend and yeshiva-mate Irving Welfeld.
5 When Abner, Saul’s military commander sleeps with Rizpah (Saul’s concubine) it is considered an act of rebellion. Similarly when Absalom sleeps with David’s ten concubines and when Adinojah wishes to sleep with Abishag, David’s unconsummated concubine.
6 Other obvious candidates are Mordecai of Persia from the Book of Esther and Daniel of Babylon.
7 Joseph, however uses God as a justification of his action (Gen. 40:8, 45:5-8 and 50:20)
8 Note the contrast to Joseph’s successor Moses in the next chapter, who fights Pharaoh over God’s sovereign power.
9 Aaron Wildavsky points out that Joseph who grows up as Hebrew chose to become an Egyptian, while Moses who grows up as an Egyptian chose to become a Hebrew. Joseph brought the Hebrews into the Egyptian exile while Moses brought them out of the Egyptian exile into the borders of the promised land. Wildavsky, Aaron, Assimilation versus Separation, (Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick, U.S.A., 1993) Pg. 1. The almost secular story of Joseph is an odd bridge between the Abrahamic family and the Mosaic exodus.
10 Reuben, Judah’s eldest brother also tried to save Joseph.
11 In Genesis 25:19 we have the statement `This is the story of Isaac, Abraham beget Isaac'. The text then goes on to tell of Isaac. There is no mention of Ishmael or Keturah's (the wife Abraham married after the death of Sarah) children. The only relevant child is the heir. This implies that Joseph is the intended spiritual heir to Jacob.
12 I would like to thank Danielle Krause (who is a linguist and family therapist) for pointing out to the similarity of `gimel' and `nun', and for psychological insights into the personality of Joseph.
13 Jacob is called Israel here as compared to Jacob in verse 1-2. Israel is his majestic name (Gen. 35:10), the name he received as part of his reconciliation scene with his brother Esau when Jacob finally adds the Majestic Man persona, his life long dream, to his persona named Jacob, as a Man of Faith.
14 According to one Jewish midrash (Sefer Ha'Yashar) Reuben had the tunic and when he slept with Bilah, his father's concubine, Jacob removed it from him. (Who told Jacob of Reuben's indiscretion - was it Joseph?) When Joseph grew up he gave it to him, thus confirming the blessing going to Joseph. Cohen, Norman, Self Struggle And Change (Jewish Lights Publication, Vermont, 1996) Pg. 153. Another Midrash tells us the tunic was made of Rachel’s bridal gown. The Hebrew word for the many colored tunic `ketonet passim’ is used as a tunic worn by virgin daughters of a king (2 Sam. 13:18).
15 Samuels, M., Certain People of the Book, (Knopf, N.Y., 1967) pgs. 300-301.
16 In the genealogy of Jacob, Rachel is listed as Jacob's wife, while Leah is noted as Laban’s daughter (Gen 46:15,19).
17 '[The Narcissist] search for the missing entitlement and ... the sense of being the `chosen one’. Lachkar, J., The Narcissistic/Borderline Couple, (Brunner/Mazel, N.Y., 1992) pg. 1.
18 In neither of this two dreams nor in the other dreams Joseph interprets (the baker’s, the butler’s or Pharaoh’s) does the text tell us the dreams were from God. When Abimelech dreams about protecting Abram and Laban about protecting Jacob we are told the dreams come from God. When Daniel, another `Majestic Man’ in the Bible is favored we are told specifically that it is God who protects him. When he learns in a vision how to interpret the King’s dream he immediately thanks God for the interpretation (Dan. 2:19). Joseph never thanks God for his help. He seems to assume it is all his own doing.
19 Miller, D.L., ed., Jung And The Interpretation Of The Bible’ (Continuum, N.Y., 1995) by Trevor Watt, pg. 56.
20 Watt, pg. 60-61.
21 Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, Jerusalem Post, December 29, 2000, pg. B9.
22 Fromm, E., Anatomy of Human Destructiveness’, quoted in European Judaism, Vol. 22, No. 2, Winter 89, Spring 90, Irene Bloomfield, A Therapist’s View of Some Biblical Characters, Saul and Samuel, David and Jonathan, pg. 37..
23 Rabbi Yaacov ben Asher in Rabbi Monk, Elie, Bereshit, (Masorah Publications, Brooklyn, N.Y., 1994) Pg. 500.
24 Lowenthal, E.I., The Joseph Narrative In Genesis, (Ktav Publishing House, N.Y., 1973) pgs.
25 When Jacob’s brother Esau wanted to do harm to him his mother Rebecca protected him by sending him into exile. Rachel was dead and Jacob did not protect Joseph. But both Jacob and his son Joseph went into exile penniless and through their wisdom or wiles became rich and powerful.
26 Under Jewish Kabbalistic tradition God created the world under two modes `law' and 'mercy'. `Dath' the basis of the word Dothan is the mode of law as against mercy. A midrash states that the brothers legally judged him and found him a ‘rodef’; for which the punishment is death. The name `Dothan' repeats itself again in the life of Moses. He is a rebel against Moses and God's law. When he suggests to Moses that we are all holy people, he is rebelling against God's law and suggesting that all holy people can create their own law; a form of anarchy. Joseph will shortly face a law not of God's, when his brothers consider killing him.
27 Ishmaelites and Midianites are both mentioned in the text.
28 Zorenberg, Genesis, Pg. 266.
29 Maimonides tells us that favoring one child over others is a sin.
30 Elie Wiesel suggests that Jacob wished, perhaps unconsciously, to re-enact his father’s akeda, by sacrificing his favorite son. Wiesel, E., Messengers of God, (Random House, N.Y., 1976) pg. 165.
31 Er is an odd Hebrew name, perhaps meaning its opposite; ‘Re’ meaning an evil person. In Bal, M.. Anti-Covenant, (JSOT, Vol. 81, Sheffield University Press) article by Van Dijk-Hemner, entitled Tamar, pg. 141.
32 Onan has come to mean in English, one who masturbates.
33 Judah goes with his friend Hirah (38:12) to the festivities of the shearing of his sheep. That he nor his friend would not have money when they are going to meet with friends and servants shearing his sheep seems is at the least surprising. The next incidence regarding Joseph after ‘his [being] taken down (39:1) is about his refusing to have sexual relations with the wife of his master, Potiphar. While most commentators find Joseph’s role commendable, some as we shall see, regard it as part of his narcissism.
34 Gunn and Fewell, pg. 40.
35 Another translation of the Hebrew is `she has been more right, I am he’, meaning I am the father of the child.
36 Later on in the story David, Amnon and Tamar, we will compare David and Judah both losing oldest sons. Both protect a son (Shilah and Amnon) at the loss or potential loss of a daughter or daughter-in-law (Tamar). Amnon raped and threw his sister Tamar away and Judah despite his own sexual peccadilloes wanted to burn his daughter-in-law for being illegitimately pregnant.
37 Cohen, Self pg. 166.
38 Was this to replace the two sons of Judah who died?
39 It worth noting that two of David's female non-Jewish ancestors, Tamar and Ruth use their feminine guile to seduce a man. Ruth seduces Boaz under her mother-in-law’s orchestration. Naomi, the mother-in-law lost two sons who are replaced by one, the child of Boaz and Ruth, Naomi adopts and nurses her surrogate grandson Obed, the father of Jesse. (Ruth 4:16)
40 Lot’s daughters believe they can only look forward to barrenness and death or sleeping with their father and continuing life. They thought that as God had once destroyed the world through a flood he had no destroyed in by fire. They bear from their father Moab and Ammon. There is a connection to Tamar and Judah. Tamar’s life was to end with no child. She decided to seduce her father-in-law for the sake of survival. Their is a connection between Tamar and the Moabite Ruth (daughters of Lot; they are ancestresses of David.
41 Thomas Mann writes an imaginative Midrash about Tamar in his book ‘Joseph and His Brothers’.
42 There are many connections between the story of Judah and Joseph. Tamar dresses up as a prostitute and Joseph dresses his part as a Viceroy. Neither is recognized. Joseph who has lost his special tunic leaves his tunic in Potiphar’s wife’s hand. Judah leaves the symbols of his power with Tamar. Judah reconciles himself with Tamar, his daughter-in-law. Joseph is unsuccessful with Potiphar’s wife and end in jail. But he later marries her daughter, thus she becomes his mother-in-law.
43 Whether it is Ishmaelites or the Midianites who took Joseph and then sold him is confusing in the text.
44 This is the primary reason the Talmud calls Joseph, the righteous one. Some commentators (Rashi) and Midrashim do not consider Joseph blameless in this affair. The story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife comes immediately after the Judah Tamar story. Joseph refuses to be seduced and Judah allows himself to be seduced. But Tamar, the seducer is right and as a result of her seduction gives birth to the ancestor of the messiah.
45 Cloaks are very important to Joseph’s story. His father gives him a special cloak, Potiphar gave him one and Pharaoh will give him one; each is a father figure.
46 Did Potiphar suspect his wife as the seducer and therefore only imprison Joseph? Joseph was not executed as an attempted rapist, a more usual punishment than jailing. This is especially true if he accept the translation of Potiphar’s position as the captain of ‘ha’tabakhim’ - the executioners. Joseph succeeds well in prison, also unusual for a rapist. Would not Potiphar, an important Egyptian administrator, told the prison administrators to handle him harshly? Could it be that Potiphar did not believe his wife that Joseph attempted to rape, but suspected that she attempted to seduce him and he refused? But had little choice given her accusation. Joseph later marries a woman named Potiphera. Jewish Midrashim suggest he married the daughter of the woman who falsely accused him of rape.
47 Jacob had worked seven easy years for Rachel, but got Leah and then worked seven hard years with Leah getting him Rachel. James Nohrenberg in Rosenblatt, Not In Heaven, pg. 80-81.
48 Jacob keeps Benjamin home to protect him as Judah kept Shelah home to protect him (Gen. 38:11; 42:4).
49 One midrash tells that there was discussion amongst the brothers to try to find and ransom Joseph. Reuben and Judah vowed to fight for him if necessary. Cohen, Self pg. 172.
50 From Thomas Mann, Joseph and his Brothers,
51 See Jung, K., Collected Works, (Routledge, London) Vol. 9, Part II, pg. 8.
52 Moses may not only have remembered this history, but had his own problems with the children of Simon. It is the Simonite Zimri who makes love to a foreign women in front of the mishkan. Phineas, the Priest killed him. This is considered the first act of Zealotry and creates for the Talmud the tangled question of whether and when zealotry is a justified act.
53 Rachel, buried 'on the road', becomes the metaphor for the exiled Jewish tribes. 'A cry is heard in Ramah - wailing, bitter weeping - Rachel weeping for her children. She refuses to be comforted for her children who are gone'. Her children biologically and symbolically are the ten lost tribes. Jer. 31:15, quoted in Gottlieb Zorenberg, Pg. 304.
54 Underline added. The God of your father, would seem odd to Judah.
55 Benjamin, an adult with ten children (Gen, 46:19) is silent during all the conflict about his alleged thievery.
56 Sternberg, Poetics, pg. 161,303, quoted in Fong, Yiu-Wing, Victim and Victimizer, (JSOT, 308, Sheffield, 2000) pg. 176-177.
57 After the author lectured on this Patricia Berlyn, in the audience and an associate editor of The Jewish Bible Quarterly, noted that she had suggested this in an article entitled `His Brother's Keeper' in The Jewish Bible Quarterly, Vol. XXVI:2 (102) April-June 1998.
58 Zorenberg, Genesis, pg. 320
59 Herbert, Joseph and the Surprising Choice of God, quoted in Fong, pg. 176.
60 Turner, L.A., Announcement of Plot in Genesis, (JSOT, 96, Sheffield, 1990) pg. 162.
61 Turner, Announcement, pg. 162.
62 O’Brien, The Contribution of Judah’s Speech to the Characterization of Joseph, CBQ, Vol. 59, #3, July 1997, pg. 445.
63 Lachkar, The Narcissistic, Pg. 2.
64 As noted above Joseph names his first child Manasseh means 'to forget my hardship and my parental home' (41:51). He names his second 'Ephraim' after my fertility in my land of affliction.
65 Jacobson, N.S. and Gurman, A.S. eds. Clinical Handbook of Marital Therapy (The Guilford Press, N.Y., 1986), in a chapter on Marital Therapy for Narcissistic Disorders, by Melvin R. Lansky, Pg. 559. This might help explain Joseph's distancing his brothers but trying to bring his only full brother, Benjamin, who was not part of the conspiracy, to be with him. And similarly his intimacy and then distancing of his father.
66 Quoted by James Kugel in ‘The Case Against Joseph, Abusch, T., Huehnergard, J., and Steinkeller, P., eds. Lingering Over Words, Scholars Press, Atlanta, 1990) pg. 271-272.
67 The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs and Midrash Genesis Rabbah, Kugel, pg. 276.
68 Midrash Genesis Rabba 87:4.
69 Testament of Joseph (18:4), quoted in Kugel, Tradition, pg. 69. In Islamic tradition Joseph and Ms. Potiphar named Zulaykha, is a perennial love story. During marriage ceremonies the story of love and beauty represented by Joseph and Zulayka is seen as divinely inspired. Even today Joseph is a great prophetic hero in Egypt.
70 Targum Jonathan, quoted in Kugel, pg.281.
71 The Greek god-like narcissus looked at himself in the mirror of a river and fell in self absorbed love with his own beauty.
72 Fung, Yiu-Wung, Victim and Victimizer, (Sheffield Academic Press, Sheffield, 2000) pg. 197.
73 Fung, pg. 35.
74 Lerner, Joseph the Unrighteous, pg. 278-279, quoted in Fang, pg. 71.
75 Fung, pg. 49.
76 The text does not tell us whether Manasseh and Ephraim were circumcised, although apparently circumcision done in Egypt .
77 Fung, pg. 91.
78 Fung pg. 112.
79 Westermann, Joseph, pg. vii, quoted in Fung, pg. 115.
80 Brueggemann, Genesis, pg. 323-331, quoted in Fung, pg. 116.
81 They are the only Jewish tribes who, born of an Egyptian mother, are not, from the perspective of Jewish law, Jewish. Jacob is thus the father and grandfather of his two adopted children as Judah is the father and grandfather of his two children. Jacob lost a son (Joseph) and had two returned, Judah lost two sons and two returned.
82 It gives Joseph a double portion of the inheritance as a first born, according to the Book of Chronicles (I Chron. 5:1-2). Oddly enough instead of Jacob saying they will be like you, he says ‘they shall be mine as Reuben and Simeon’, Reuben, the failed oldest son ‘unstable as water’ (49:4) and Simeon, the ‘instrument of cruelty’ (49:5) - what a comparison.
83 Bereshit Rabba, Vol. II, pg. 947.
84 BT Pes. 56a.
85 Related by Rachel Adelman in a lecture on December 17, 2002.