The Butler, the Baker, and the Buzzkill Genesis 40

While Joseph is chillaxing in the executioner’s dungeon, soaking up God’s awesome blessings, Pharaoh’s butler and baker somehow offend “their lord” and get chucked into the same dungeon. The already overly-contrived story then turns the corner into farce when the men start having “Christmas Carol” style nocturnal revelations.

They each have a dream and wake up pensive. Joseph notices their demeanor in the morning and asks “why the long face, fellas?” They announce that they’ve had dreams and don’t understand what they mean.

8And they say unto him, `A dream we have dreamed, and there is no interpreter of it;’ and Joseph saith unto them, `Are not interpretations with God? recount, I pray you, to me.’

It looks to me like Joseph either considers himself God or thinks that he has special access to God’s mind. Good to see he’s still an egotistical asshole. Apparently he didn’t learn his lesson last time he went around claiming to have special God privileges.

Anyway, the butler recounts that he dreamed about a grape vine with three branches, and he took the grapes and squeezed them into a cup for Pharaoh. Joseph immediately undertakes an interpretation of the dream, without consulting God, which supports the “he thinks he has innate supernatural powers” theory.

Joseph claims that the dream means that Pharaoh will restore the butler to his position in Pharaoh’s court within three days. Then he appends to the interpretation his sob story about being stolen from “the land of the Hebrews” and asks him to put in a good word with the big man once he gets out.

The baker then recounts his dream of carrying three baskets of bread which birds are eating. Joseph, completely unsympathetic and tactless, responds:

19 within three days doth Pharaoh lift up thy head from off thee, and hath hanged thee on a tree, and the birds have eaten thy flesh from off thee.’

I’m relatively certain the baker would have preferred “umm, it doesn’t look good for you.” Three days later, Pharaoh throws himself a birthday party and restores the butler and hangs the baker. Tada! We’re supposed to be amazed at Joseph’s dream-interpreting powers. Like dream-reading is still a totally legitimate and highly-valued skill to possess, not just a throwback to a superstitious, pagan past.

Besides that, (and with the obvious caveat that this is a plainly-concocted work of fiction), it looks like Joseph probably just engaged in some moderately clever social engineering. He knew when Pharaoh’s birthday was, because it was certainly a national holiday, and he accurately guessed that Pharaoh would need his butler for the banquet and festivities. He also would have had some inside information never provided to the reader that about the offenses that got them imprisoned.

It would be a lot less impressive if we knew, for example, that the butler had paired the wrong wine with Pharaoh’s food while the baker had attempted to foment a violent overthrow. That scenario seems even more likely in conjunction with the verse that closes the chapter:

23 and the chief of the butlers hath not remembered Joseph, but forgetteth him.

He was not impressed. I’m pretty sure magical dream-interpretation and bonafide fortune-telling would have made a bigger impression on him.

GENESIS 40

1 And it cometh to pass, after these things — the butler of the king of Egypt and the baker have sinned against their lord, against the king of Egypt;

and Pharaoh is wroth against his two eunuchs, against the chief of the butlers, and against the chief of the bakers,

and giveth them in charge in the house of the chief of the executioners, unto the round-house, the place where Joseph [is] a prisoner,

and the chief of the executioners chargeth Joseph with them, and he serveth them; and they are days in charge.

And they dream a dream both of them, each his dream in one night, each according to the interpretation of his dream, the butler and the baker whom the king of Egypt hath, who [are] prisoners in the round-house.

And Joseph cometh in unto them in the morning, and seeth them, and lo, they [are] morose;

and he asketh Pharaoh’s eunuchs who [are] with him in charge in the house of his lord, saying, `Wherefore [are] your faces sad to-day?’

And they say unto him, `A dream we have dreamed, and there is no interpreter of it;’ and Joseph saith unto them, `Are not interpretations with God? recount, I pray you, to me.’

And the chief of the butlers recounteth his dream to Joseph, and saith to him, `In my dream, then lo, a vine [is] before me!

10 and in the vine [are] three branches, and it [is] as it were flourishing; gone up hath its blossom, its clusters have ripened grapes;

11 and Pharaoh’s cup [is] in my hand, and I take the grapes and press them into the cup of Pharaoh, and I give the cup into the hand of Pharaoh.’

12 And Joseph saith to him, `This [is] its interpretation: the three branches are three days;

13 yet, within three days doth Pharaoh lift up thy head, and hath put thee back on thy station, and thou hast given the cup of Pharaoh into his hand, according to the former custom when thou wast his butler.

14 `Surely if thou hast remembered me with thee, when it is well with thee, and hast done (I pray thee) kindness with me, and hast made mention of me unto Pharaoh, then hast thou brought me out from this house,

15 for I was really stolen from the land of the Hebrews; and here also have I done nothing that they have put me in the pit.’

16 And the chief of the bakers seeth that he hath interpreted good, and he saith unto Joseph, `I also [am] in a dream, and lo, three baskets of white bread [are] on my head,

17 and in the uppermost basket [are] of all [kinds] of Pharaoh’s food, work of a baker; and the birds are eating them out of the basket, from off my head.’

18 And Joseph answereth and saith, `This [is] its interpretation: the three baskets are three days;

19 yet, within three days doth Pharaoh lift up thy head from off thee, and hath hanged thee on a tree, and the birds have eaten thy flesh from off thee.’

20 And it cometh to pass, on the third day, Pharaoh’s birthday, that he maketh a banquet to all his servants, and lifteth up the head of the chief of the butlers, and the head of the chief of the bakers among his servants,

21 and he putteth back the chief of the butlers to his butlership, and he giveth the cup into the hand of Pharaoh;

22 and the chief of the bakers he hath hanged, as Joseph hath interpreted to them;

23 and the chief of the butlers hath not remembered Joseph, but forgetteth him.

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