Joseph and the Technicolor Out-of-Place Story (Gen. 37-50)

The Book of Genesis all seems to clip along at rather the same pace — sure, Abraham gets more space than Lot, or even Moses, and many years and generations pass by fairly quickly, but for the most part (aside from issues we have already explored here) the narrative feels mostly coherent. Of course, this is far from the truth, as Genesis was composed over many years and by a few distinct authors. There is no more glaring example of this, however, than that of Joseph’s story.

There’s a reason why Andrew Lloyd Weber made Joseph’s story into a musical — and why he never followed it up with a prequel called “Jacob and the Technicolor Goat Skin Sleeves.” Joseph’s story is just that: a heroic man unfairly cast out by his evil brothers; a slave who rises to the heights of a powerful empire; and then there’s that love/sex/mystery/forgiveness/redemption. It’s quite a yarn.

And that’s why it makes no sense that it’s in Genesis.

The story is by far more detailed than anything else in the book — it takes up 13 chapters! — and stylistically it seems quite different than anything that came before it. I mean, it has a climax: when Joseph finally reveals to his brothers that it’s him. This isn’t the stock retelling of the life of a historic figure. It’s an adventure story. A perfect adventure story.

Too perfect, in fact.

So what to make of it, then? Today, many scholars believe that, based on the way the tale doesn’t fit into Genesis, it was originally a fictional story, or at least one that enjoyed significant popularity (perhaps originally based on something true) and was then appropriated into the Bible. The names were changed to include the right people, it has been suggested. There is a multitude of evidence that supports some bizarre holes in the story:

  • First, Joseph is supposedly loved “because he was the son of [Jacob’s] old age” (Gen. 37:3) — but Joseph is not the youngest son (Benjamin is). So why then did Jacob really love Joseph? It wasn’t because he was the baby, as the text asserts. If it was because he was the son of Jacob’s “old age,” Jacob should love Benjamin just as much, if not more.
  • Second, Joseph has a prophetic dream that includes his mother (specifically, a symbol for his mother). So Jacob, interpreting the dream, asks Joseph if he (Jacob) and Joseph’s mother and brothers should come to bow before him (Gen. 37:9). There’s just one problem: Joseph’s mother is already dead. So why do Jacob and Joseph talk/dream about her as if she is still alive? To scholars, this little bit shows that some details of the story were changed to fit Jacob’s family, while others were missed.
  • As well, a couple of the brothers appear and reappear without explanation (the names seem to change, in other words.) It’s like a novelist’s first draft, this story’s replete with tiny errors.
  • There are other issues, and there are many more facets worth exploring in Joseph’s story, but for today I’ll leave you with this: there are many holes in the story, which point to the likelihood (beyond the fact that it’s essential an all-too perfect story that’s unlike anything else in Genesis) that it is fictional. But it did make for a good musical.

    This entry was posted in Blog Post and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

    Comments are closed.