Friday, 24 May 2013

Joseph's Story - Genesis: 37-50:1-26

This post is a continuation of the previous post which discussed the dreams within Joseph's story. I have already discussed the beginning section up until Joseph has advised Pharaoh on how to survive the upcoming famine. 
Pharaoh puts his faith in Joseph and allows him to take charge in managing the grain supply, ensuring that there will be surplus for the years of famine to come. Famine doesn't just strike Egypt, but surrounding areas too and thus due to the surplus grain that Egypt has now saved, it is relied upon by the starving foreigners, Joseph's family included. His brothers come to ask for food and do not recognise the new Egyptian Joseph.

To cut the story short, as you yourself can read it in full, Joseph toys with his brothers in revenge for the cruel way they had treated him. He even accuses them of stealing his divination cup which he planted in their sack (a divination cup, may I emphasise).

After the stress he puts his brothers through he eventually reveals himself and makes amendments with his brothers.

45:5 "' not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.'"

Now there are easy criticisms for this story: If God made his brothers sell him so he could save Egypt, are they guiltless? Did they not have freewill? And furthermore, why did God send the famine in the first place? Why did Joseph need to save these people from it?

As I have mentioned before, the default answer given is always, 'We cannot know God's ways...' 

With this put aside for now, the crux of this story is that Joseph's suffering was necessary in order for him to receive his bounty and happiness, and to enact God's will in saving people from famine. We must often suffer in order to receive.

Joseph's story concludes with a great migration of the Hebrew's into Egypt to the area of Goshen. If wikipedia is anything to go by, E.H. Naville believed Goshen to be the 20th nome of Egypt, in the Eastern desert at the time of the 26th Dynasty 672-525BC.

As a side note, Joseph's brothers had been unable to recognise him, as he he had been fully Egyptianised. Whilst his montheistic belief may not have left him (he was afterall, guided by Yahweh this whole time) he certainly embraced the Egyptian polytheistic culture who has taken care of him, including marrying an Egyptian woman, dressing as an Egyptian, possibly speaking Egyptian and even being mummified - which was not the Hebrew way.

50:2-3 "So the physicians embalmed him, taking a full forty days, for that was the time required for embalming. And the Egyptians mourned for him seventy days." 

This funerary process undoubtedly would have had Pagan influences, yet is not condemned in this Bible story, which is interesting to me. It is also interesting, as mentioned in the previous post, that God wanted to save the polytheistic people and communicated with polytheistic Egyptians through dreams. He does not appear to discriminate here.

Joseph's Dreams - Genesis: 37:1-36; 39-41

This is a famous story and tells us that divine messages can be sent to us in dreams, for us to interpret. The story also tells that there are certain people who are skilled in interpreting these dreams, such as Joseph; this is an idea that is commonly found in cultures around the world and acknowledged by modern Pagans today.
I find these dreams and interpretations of interest so I will include them all here

37:5-7 "Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of corn out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered round mine and bowed down to it."

His brothers are angered by this assuming that it means he wants to rule over them. Corn is being used as a metaphor for Joseph and his brothers probably because crops were a staple of the economy and the wealthy would have a higher status. Then Joseph had another dream.

37:9 "I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me."

This aroused jealousy in his brothers and rebuke from his father as, naturally it is does sounds rather arrogant. But, arrogance or not this was a message from the Divine and this jealousy would be what manifested the dream itself (as will be discussed in the next post). Joseph is then sold by his brothers to an Egyptian slaver, who trick their father into believing that he has been killed by wild animals.

The story is interrupted by another, which I shall talk about after this one.

So Joseph is taken to Egypt as a slave as as the story goes, his married mistress tries to seduce him. In her humiliation after being rejected he is accused of attacking her and sent to prison where he meets 'the cupbearer and the baker'. These two men both had dreams for Joseph to interpret. 

40:8 "'We both had dreams,' they answered, 'but there is no-one to interpret them. Then Joseph said to them, 'Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams.'"

The cupbearer's dream is as follows, with interpretation:

40:9-15 "'In my dream I saw a vine in front of me, and on the vine were three branches. As soon as it budded, it blossomed, and its clusters ripened into grapes. Pharaoh's cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes, squeezed them into Pharaoh's cup and put the cup in his hand.'
'The three branches are three days. Within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your position, and you will put the Pharaoh's cup in his hand, just as you used to when you were his cupbearer.'"

The baker's dream is as follows, with interpretation:

40:16-19 "'I too had a dream: On my head were three baskets of bread. In the top  basket were all kinds of baked goods for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating them out of the basket on my head.'
'The three baskets are three days. within three days Pharaoh will lift off your head and hang you on a tree. And the birds will eat away your flesh.'"

In both of these dreams, as with Joseph's, the subject matter is relevant to the life of the dreamer, corn, cups, and bread; these are dreams sent to these people in their own language of understanding. The dreams come true as Joseph had interpreted, acting as a form of divining the future - later in the Bible said to be sinful. Joseph also interprets Pharaoh's dreams and earns his freedom in doing so.

Pharaoh's dreams and interpretations is as follows:

41:1-4 Dream 1: "He was standing by the Nile, when out of the river there came up seven cows, sleek and fat, and they grazed among the reeds. After them, seven other cows, ugly and gaunt, came up out of the Nile and stood beside those on the riverbank. And the cows that were ugly and gaunt ate up the seven sleek, fat cows.
41:5-7 Dream 2: "Seven ears of corn, healthy and good  were growing on a single stalk. After them, seven other ears of corn sprouted - thin and scorched by the east wind. the thin ears of corn swallowed up the seven healthy, full ears."
41:25-32 Interpretation: "Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, 'The dreams of Pharaoh are one and the same. God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. The seven good cows are seven years, and theseven good ears of corn are seven years; it is one and the same dream. The seven lean ugly cows that came up afterwards are seven years, and so are the seven worthless ears of corn scorched by the east wind: They are seven years of famine."

He goes on to explain clearly what will unfold: There will be seven years of abundance in Egypt, which will be forgotten as seven years of famine will follow. "'The reason two dreams were given to Pharaoh in two forms is that the matter has been firmly decided by God, and God will do it soon.'"

What I see here is that clearly God is sending help to the polytheist king in order to help him and his people. This is supposedly before the Hebrew's migrated to Egypt, and so He is helping these people because he loves them too. I don't believe he is helping them just so Joseph can fulfill his own dream and destiny. God can and does send his help and dreams to 'non-believers' as well. He sent Joseph to help these people.

This story tells readers of the Torah and Bible that dreams can be sent from God for us to interpret. I don't know if one exists, but a Bible dream interpretation book would certainly be very interesting to look through. This resonates with me as it is something the Abrahamic faiths and Pagan belief systems have in common.

Joseph own dream will be manifested later in the story as he continues to advise Pharaoh on how to handle this famine successfully.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Blessings and Jacob's Story - Genesis 27:1-40; 27-36

There are two parts to this post as I am retrospectively adding in more details.


In this section the Old Testament reveals that not only God can bless us, but we can bestow blessings upon one another. In the story Jacob gets Isaac's blessing by tricking the blind old man that he is his elder brother Esau. The definition of blessing is 'God's favour and protection', and so in giving a blessing to someone else you are asking God to do so and believing He will.

27:12 "What if my father touches me? I would appear to be tricking him and would bring down a curse on myself rather than a blessing."

The definition of a curse is 'A solemn utterance to invoke a supernatural power to inflict harm or punishment on someone or something.' This line reveals that we are also able to curse one another, asking God to do so. Jacob does indeed receive his father's blessing, but under a falsehood and so in reality it is possible that God did not respond to this requested blessing, although later in the story it seems like he is in Divine favour.

The blessing is as follows:

27:27-29 "Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed. May God give you of heaven's dew and of earth's richness - an abundance of grain and new wine. May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you. May those who curse you be cursed and those who bless you be blessed."

Now either Isaac had prepared what he was going to say, or he genuinely smelt the blessing of the Lord radiating from Jacob? So is he truly blessed by God? After this an angry Esau walks in and him and his father realised what had happened. It is said that Jacob took Esau's blessing and that no more are left for him. He gives him a blessing anyway which actually is no blessing at all.

27:39-40 "Your dwelling will be away from the earth's richness. away from the dew of the heavens above. You will live by the sword and you will serve your brother. But you will grow restless, you will throw his yoke from off your neck."

This blessing really just says what will come about rather than bestowing the Lord's favour. These blessings appear to be ones that bestow human permissions and favour upon another, rather than Divine favours.

Jacob's Story

I do not want to go into too much detail here as you can read the story yourself, but I did want to comment of some points of interest. I have read the Red Tent by Anita Diamant and so was inspired to re-read the original Genesis version of the story.
To sum, Jacob flees from his brother's anger and arrives in Paddam Aram. Here he meets Rachel and asked her father Laban for her hand in marriage. This is agreed upon on the condition that Jacob serves Laban for seven years; but Jacob is tricked into marrying Rachel's sister Leah:

29: 23 "But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and gave her to Jacob, and Jacob lay with her."

Jacob awakes to angrily discover he was tricked - although it is unclear how this trickery actually happened (possibly the bride was veiled at the wedding, but she woudn't have been at night time...). So Jacob agrees to work another seven years for Rachel. There are children being born of Jacob and his wives and his family prospers. Jacob tricks Laban into giving his the best of his flock and understandably Laban gets jealous over Jacob's success, so Jacob flees.

Rachel steals Laban's household gods as they go causing Laban to come after them. What I found interesting here was that when Laban enters Rachel's tent to find the gods she cannot rise as she is menstruating. Diamant suggests that the gods are placed underneath her, hidden from Laban. The text does not confirm this, but I wonder why the story would deem it necessary to even mention her cycle otherwise. It is also of interest that both Laban and Rachel appear to be Pagan's, attaching value to these 'teraphim'. And so the story continues until the next point of particular interest.

Originally I had skimmed past the part about Dinah. In this story Dinah (the only daughter of Jacob) is raped by Shechem, son of King Hamor. The king and his son try to barter for Dinah's hand in marriage and eventually an agreement is made for their whole people to be circumcised. They agree to this and do so, but in the days of their painful recovery Jacob and his sons attack the city and monarch, killing every male in revenge and taking Dinah home. Jacob scolds them for bringing trouble on their family but the brothers reply:

33:31 "...Should we have treated our sister like a prostitute?"

This is the last we hear about the situation and Dinah. Diamant creates a story where the rape of Dinah was actually consensual love, which may explain Shechem's willingness to circumcise his people for to marry her; Diamant also explains the discontent of Jacob's sons was out of jealousy of Hamor's family, fearing that their own family glory will dissolve to Hamor's. Jacob and his sons are shown in a very bad light, as murderers. Jacob even changes his name to Israel on God's orders; Jacob means 'he grasps the heel', which my Bible tells me means 'deceives'; Israel means 'he struggles with God'. Nevertheless, other than the name change, that story is not what is written and so we should still refer to the original text. Jacob's story is completed through his son Joseph, to be covered next.