Genesis 37 through 39 - The Story of Joseph

It seems that the post I did last week I posted in a different place, so there is a little gap here for chapters 34 through 36. The post I made (wherever it was) can be found at the following place on the QuakerQuaker blog:

If there are any new people who trip upon all this bible stuff, you can go back to any of the posts and read what was said or the comments that were made. The plan is to pretty much go through the main thread of the biblical narrative, seeing what might be found in it and just helping some who have never read it through so it a little bit at a time and engage in conversation about what it means or meant to Friends and to us personally.


Gen. 37 - The story of Joseph opens when Joseph is 17.  If Jacob spent 20 years in Haran and married Leah and Rachel after 7 years there, then Reuben must have been 13 or 14 when they returned to Canaan.  We see here that Joseph’s poor relations with his brothers derives not solely from his dreams, but from other things as well.  He gives “bad reports” to his father of them (37:2) and his father favors him because of his mother; so even before his dreams, his relations with them are laden with anger and jealousy.  Also his dreams not only seem to put his brothers down, but also his father and mother (deceased). The second one has the “sun and moon” also bowing down to him. 


The story starts when Joseph is sent north to find his brothers who are shepherding in the region of Shechem and Dothan (way north of Hebron). The plot hatched against him is not attributed to any one of the brothers but a few of their particular responses to it are noted.  Reuben (37:21) objects to killing him outright; he suggests that they just leave him in a pit to die.  It is in the Elohist source that Reuben is presented as the one who tries to save Joseph.  In the Yahwist source, the good guy is Judah. It is Judah’s plan to sell him rather than leaving him to die.  It is pretty clear that they do not tell Reuben that they are going to do this, because Reuben discovers that Joseph is not in the well and is surprised. They try to make Jacob think he has been killed though.


Interesting to note is that Reuben’s role here requires he be rehabilitated to some degree because he will be important later in the redemption genealogy.


Joseph is finally sold for “twenty pieces of silver” to the Ishmaelites, and they sell him to Potiphar, chief steward of the Egyptian Pharaoh.


Gen. 38 - Judah marries Shua (a Canaanite) and has three sons: Er, Onan and Shelah. Er is then married to Tamar but dies with no heir; so Onan is asked to fill his role (with Tamar) and give Er sons, but he dies too after “wasting” his seed in his intercourse with her.  Tamar then engages in trickery when the time for her to get Shelah comes and goes with no intervention from Judah.  She pretends to be a cult prostitute, sits herself by the road and when Judah comes along she convinces him to have intercourse with her.  The result is twins: Perez and Zerah.  The reason the story is important is because Perez is part of the genealogy of King David.  Tamar is one of three women mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy too (Matt 1).  Also Judah’s repentance to Tamar is part of his rehabilitation.


Gen. 39 - Returning to the Joseph story (of the Yahwist source—36, 37, and 40 having been Elohist), we see Joseph has been sold to Potifar, chief steward of the Pharaoh.  Everything he touches turns to gold.  He ends up in charge of everything.  When the wife tries to seduce him, Joseph sees it as a grave threat to the trust placed in him and a great potential wrong.  So he refuses her and she finally accuses him of threatening to violate her and is thrown into the jail of the chief steward.  But there too he rises to the top, ends up being put in charge of everything.  He simply cannot escape his destiny (the idea that character is destiny is strong here).

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Comment by Forrest Curo on 9th mo. 15, 2011 at 5:13pm

Ah, Gertrude Stein's parrot 'Onan,' "who spilled his seed upon the ground." Onan's unmentioned angle here is that if he produces offspring to carry on his brother's line-- they will be entitled to his brother's share of the inheritance.


A really interesting feature of Joseph's story-- His foresight leads to Pharaoh being able to sell grain to desperate Egyptian farmers at prices that make Pharaoh owner of all the land in Egypt. While (in actuality) Pharaoh's 'ownership' of Egypt was probably taken for granted long before this bit of folklore about Joseph-- This also sets the stage for Israel and his descendents becoming enslaved to the Egyptian monarchy (as a direct result of selling their little brother into slavery.) And for all that follows.


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