Tuesday, January 16, 2007


The Joseph Story: Genesis 37-50
There has been a great deal of literature on the Jospeh Narrative (as it is usually called) published in recent years.. Most of it has focused on either the literary structure of the material or the literary artistry of the narrative. Much of the latter perhaps springs from Robert Alter's The Art of Biblical Narrative (1981) of which chapter 8 (155-77): "Narration and Knowledge" deals exclusively with the Joseph story. In addition, the story comes in for discussion in numerous other places in the same book. The index references 19 other places in the book that deal with the Joseph story. This is probably the most accessible treatment of the artistic issues, though of course the discussion has moved a long way in 26 years. A much more recent work deals primarily with structural, as opposed to artistic issues. "The Literary Genius of the Joseph Narrative," by Dr. William D. Rainey (2004). I downloaded this from www.inthebeginning.org.

As useful and helpful as these studies are, however, they do not deal with the theological aspects of the story. They can't be faulted for this, since it isn't their aim. But unless the theology of the text is brought to bear upon us, then these investigations are nothing more than exercises in intellectual curiosity, on the level of "An Analysis of the Personal Names in Dickens' Fiction and Their Purposes in His Narrative Concerns." So the next several notes, as the reading moves through the Joseph story, will focus on this neglected aspect. Those interested in more of this can refer to George Lawson's Lectures on Joseph.

At the end of Genesis 36:43, we are told that those aforementioned chiefs of Edom according to "their dwellings in the land of their possession," and that Esau is the father of Edom. This is immediately contrasted with the statement (Gen 37:1) "Jacob dwelt in the land of the sojournings of his father." Esau (Edom) has a settled possession, while Jacob has only a place in the land where his father sojourned. This makes clear the point brought out by the author of Hebrews that the patriarchs were looking for a home beyond this world (Heb 11:10-22). The remainder of Genesis shows how Jacob is removed even from that toehold in the land.

Chapter 38 has often created a problem for those who study the Joseph story, because it seems to break the continuity of the narrative. Consider however, that Judah (the subject of ch 38) was the chief instigator against Joseph in ch 37. By his humbling in ch 38, God works in him to make him ready to be the chief protector for Benjamin when the brethren go down to Egypt the second time.

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