Joseph and the Totally Justified Comeuppance

Ah the story of Joseph, the young whippersnapper who turns lemons into lemonade, and is a snappy dresser to boot. I’m looking forward to revisiting this story because it was everywhere in the Christian culture in which I grew up (Picture Bible, Veggie Tales, and so on, it’s a story that lends itself to cartoon-bastardization), and indeed it is even ubiquitous in mainstream pop culture. Thanks Broadway!

Joseph is seventeen years old when the story starts, and the first thing we learn about him is that he’s a obsequious little rat, squealing on his brothers when they do anything “evil.” Jacob openly favors Joseph over all of his other sons “for he is a son of his old age,” (who knows why that would matter) and he makes Joseph the famous douche-coat of douchery to let all his other sons know that they are in a lesser caste. Fathers are fucking assholes in the Bible.

Joseph is also completely clueless or a pretentious, unctuous prick. He really lays it on thick. Not satisfied with being his father’s favorite, and with his brothers knowing the hierarchy, he tells them that he had a dream in which

we are binding bundles in the midst of the field, and lo, my bundle hath arisen, and hath also stood up, and lo, your bundles are round about, and bow themselves to my bundle.

Dreams have started to gain significance in the Bible since Jacob’s God/heavenly messenger dreams. Either the dreamer or the omnipotent narrator generally attributes the dream directly to God, as a divine revelation. Whether or not Joseph actually had the dream, he’s obviously suggesting that he has a divine right to upend the natural social order. Which is a dickish thing to do. And his brothers let him know that he’s being a dick:

And his brethren say to him, `Dost thou certainly reign over us? dost thou certainly rule over us?’ and they add still more to hate him, for his dreams, and for his words.

But that doesn’t slow him down. He dreams another dream and despite the lackluster reception last time, decides to tell his brothers about it again:

And he dreameth yet another dream, and recounteth it to his brethren, and saith, `Lo, I have dreamed a dream again, and lo, the sun and the moon, and eleven stars, are bowing themselves to me.’

Whatever gifts this kid has, social skills and situational awareness is not among them. The next time they go out to tend their flocks, the brothers conspire to kill him. There’s a small but important note that I never noticed before. The text says that Jacob was aware of how Joseph’s brothers felt about him:

11 and his brethren are zealous against him, and his father hath watched the matter.

But the next time they go out into the fields, he sends Joseph out there anyway:

12 And his brethren go to feed the flock of their father in Shechem,

13 and Israel saith unto Joseph, `Are not thy brethren feeding in Shechem? come, and I send thee unto them;’ and he saith to him, `Here [am] I;’

That seems remarkably stupid, unless Jacob was trying to get Joseph killed. He was definitely asking for it.

The brothers’ scheming is pretty funny actually, they basically say “here comes dream boy, let’s kill him and throw him into a pit and see what kind of dreams he fucking dreams then” (Verses 19-20). Reuben prevails upon them to take the slightly more reasonable course of just throwing him into the pit and taking his jacket. It gets a bit strange then. A convoy of Ishmaelite merchants comes through and Judah suggests they sell Joseph to them. But then there’s a strange discontinuity, and somehow that transaction is left hanging and Midianites end up finding him in the pit and selling him to the Ishmaelites. Then, even though it seemed like they all agreed to sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites, and that’s what in fact happened (although at the hands of the the Midianites, not the brothers) Reuben is horrified when he returns to the pit and finds Joseph gone.

They cover their tracks by throwing goat blood on the jacket and bringing it to Jacob. They actually don’t suggest that it was an animal that killed him, they just bring it and ask if it’s Joseph’s coat. Jacob prematurely jumps to the conclusion that it was a “wild beast, ” even though it’s far more likely it was his angry sons who murdered Joseph. Also, he doesn’t ask them any questions about what happened, and he never tries to actually go out and look for Joseph. A bit strange.

Jacob mourns for a while and we have the first mention of any sort of afterlife: sheol.

35 and all his sons and all his daughters rise to comfort him, and he refuseth to comfort himself, and saith, `For — I go down mourning unto my son, to Sheol,’ and his father weepeth for him.

The reference seems undeveloped and out-of-place. No one, including God, has said anything about an afterlife, and Jacob doesn’t explain his concept of the afterlife. Neither has the omnipotent narrator expounded at all on the disposition of anyone who has died so far. There is also no suggestion that there is a good place and a bad place to go after death.

Finally, the chapter ends with a note that the Midianites (who are now inexplicably called Medanites) sold Joseph to Potiphar “a eunuch of Pharaoh, head of the executioners.” That part about Potiphar being a eunuch is new to me, and explains a lot of the events that will transpire in the next couple chapters.

P.S. There’s nothing at all about the coat being “technicolor” whatever the fuck that means. Stupid musicals.

 

GENESIS 37

1 And Jacob dwelleth in the land of his father’s sojournings — in the land of Canaan.

These [are] births of Jacob: Joseph, a son of seventeen years, hath been enjoying himself with his brethren among the flock, (and he [is] a youth,) with the sons of Bilhah, and with the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and Joseph bringeth in an account of their evil unto their father.

And Israel hath loved Joseph more than any of his sons, for he [is] a son of his old age, and hath made for him a long coat;

and his brethren see that their father hath loved him more than any of his brethren, and they hate him, and have not been able to speak [to] him peaceably.

And Joseph dreameth a dream, and declareth to his brethren, and they add still more to hate him.

And he saith unto them, `Hear ye, I pray you, this dream which I have dreamed:

that, lo, we are binding bundles in the midst of the field, and lo, my bundle hath arisen, and hath also stood up, and lo, your bundles are round about, and bow themselves to my bundle.’

And his brethren say to him, `Dost thou certainly reign over us? dost thou certainly rule over us?’ and they add still more to hate him, for his dreams, and for his words.

And he dreameth yet another dream, and recounteth it to his brethren, and saith, `Lo, I have dreamed a dream again, and lo, the sun and the moon, and eleven stars, are bowing themselves to me.’

10 And he recounteth unto his father, and unto his brethren; and his father pusheth against him, and saith to him, `What [is] this dream which thou hast dreamt? do we certainly come — I, and thy mother, and thy brethren — to bow ourselves to thee, to the earth?’

11 and his brethren are zealous against him, and his father hath watched the matter.

12 And his brethren go to feed the flock of their father in Shechem,

13 and Israel saith unto Joseph, `Are not thy brethren feeding in Shechem? come, and I send thee unto them;’ and he saith to him, `Here [am] I;’

14 and he saith to him, `Go, I pray thee, see the peace of thy brethren, and the peace of the flock, and bring me back word;’ and he sendeth him from the valley of Hebron, and he cometh to Shechem.

15 And a man findeth him, and lo, he is wandering in the field, and the man asketh him, saying, `What seekest thou?’

16 and he saith, `My brethren I am seeking, declare to me, I pray thee, where they are feeding?’

17 And the man saith, `They have journeyed from this, for I have heard some saying, Let us go to Dothan,’ and Joseph goeth after his brethren, and findeth them in Dothan.

18 And they see him from afar, even before he draweth near unto them, and they conspire against him to put him to death.

19 And they say one unto another, `Lo, this man of the dreams cometh;

20 and now, come, and we slay him, and cast him into one of the pits, and have said, An evil beast hath devoured him; and we see what his dreams are.’

21 And Reuben heareth, and delivereth him out of their hand, and saith, `Let us not smite the life;’

22 and Reuben saith unto them, `Shed no blood; cast him into this pit which [is] in the wilderness, and put not forth a hand upon him,’ — in order to deliver him out of their hand, to bring him back unto his father.

23 And it cometh to pass, when Joseph hath come unto his brethren, that they strip Joseph of his coat, the long coat which [is] upon him,

24 and take him and cast him into the pit, and the pit [is] empty, there is no water in it.

25 And they sit down to eat bread, and they lift up their eyes, and look, and lo, a company of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, and their camels bearing spices, and balm, and myrrh, going to take [them] down to Egypt.

26 And Judah saith unto his brethren, `What gain when we slay our brother, and have concealed his blood?

27 Come, and we sell him to the Ishmaelites, and our hands are not on him, for he [is] our brother — our flesh;’ and his brethren hearken.

28 And Midianite merchantmen pass by and they draw out and bring up Joseph out of the pit, and sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty silverlings, and they bring Joseph into Egypt.

29 And Reuben returneth unto the pit, and lo, Joseph is not in the pit, and he rendeth his garments,

30 and he returneth unto his brethren, and saith, `The lad is not, and I — whither am I going?’

31 And they take the coat of Joseph, and slaughter a kid of the goats, and dip the coat in the blood,

32 and send the long coat, and they bring [it] in unto their father, and say, `This have we found; discern, we pray thee, whether it [is] thy son’s coat or not?’

33 And he discerneth it, and saith, `My son’s coat! an evil beast hath devoured him; torn — torn is Joseph!’

34 And Jacob rendeth his raiment, and putteth sackcloth on his loins, and becometh a mourner for his son many days,

35 and all his sons and all his daughters rise to comfort him, and he refuseth to comfort himself, and saith, `For — I go down mourning unto my son, to Sheol,’ and his father weepeth for him.

36 And the Medanites have sold him unto Egypt, to Potiphar, a eunuch of Pharaoh, head of the executioners.

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One thought on “Joseph and the Totally Justified Comeuppance

  1. Funny old story, isn’t it? The favouritism Jacob shows and his lack of interest in what his children are getting up to are appalling when you think about it, but the main message I take away from the whole thing is that God really likes tactless, sanctimonious, jumped-up little shits. Maybe that explains a lot.

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