The Story of Joseph

Background: Generations of the third son of Cain and Abel, Seth. Noah had three sons--one of them, Shem, is the ancestor of the Semitic peoples, including the Hebrews. Abraham was a descendent of Shem--settles in Palestine, the home of the Jewish people. This is the journey of the Patriarchal Hebrew hero out of Mesopotamia to the Levant. Abraham's grandson, Jacob, has 12 sons, one of which is his favorite--Joseph.

The Story of Joseph is historically plausible answering the question of how the Israelites came to settle in Egypt. However recent archaeology refutes the Bible's claim to history. The generally accepted idea: the Israelites started out as a nomadic band somewhere in the vicinity of Mesopotamia and migrated first into Palestine and then into Egypt. After many years, the Pharaoh will begin to oppress these people--they escape / flee from Egypt (Exodus) led by the prophet Moses. The seven plagues includes the rain of frogs. Did you see the film Magnolia? This narrative is no longer regarded as history--archaeologists now believe that the Israelites were an indigenous culture that developed west of the Jordan River around 1200 B. C. or so asserts Daniel Lazare in his article "False Testament" published in the March 2002 edition of Harper's.

As a mythic hero, Joseph lives out the same heroic pattern of departure/fulfillment/ and return--the Hero's journey-- as witnessed in The Epic of Gilgamesh and The Odyssey, epic stories which end with the king's return to his kingdom where he claims his rightful place as ruler. In the story of Joseph, we have a forced heroic journey or departure (into a foreign land), but the "return" is a reunion of family and father in Egypt. The last book of the Pentateuch--Exodus--fulfills the last part of the heroic cycle--the return to the promised land.

Opening setting:

What is the genealogy here?

What is the significance of the coat of many colors?

What is significant about dreams and their interpretation? (Divination)

Why did his brothers hate Joseph?

What is his relationship with his father like? Explain Succession Mythology here.

Joseph's father sends him out into the open country, the frontier. So the dramatic action begins out there in the desert. What do you make of this element of setting given all that we have read so far? (Rite of passage, 17 years old)

Conspiracy: a process whereby the brothers go from deciding to kill him to selling him into slavery. Two brothers play key roles: Judah and Rueben.

What is the father's reaction to the conspiracy?

Any similarities between his act of mourning and Gilgamesh's?

In Egypt:

Who is Potiphar?

Potiphar sees the "lord" in Him. What does this mean?

Joseph becomes overseer of his house.

Potiphar's wife: what is the role of women in this story?

She says "Lie with me." Is this a question?

Why doesn't Joseph obey?

Is this similar to modern day situations? Can you think of an equivalent?

Joseph in Prison:

Joseph still prospers. Two officers are jailed: the baker and the butler.

Joseph interprets their dreams. He is the first dream therapist.

What happens?

Two more years in prison until Pharaoh has a dream. Troubled the Pharaoh calls upon the magicians to interpret his dreams and they cannot.


Who brings the Pharaoh's attention toward the Hebrew in prison?

What does Joseph do before he is brought before the Pharaoh?

What happens in the land of Egypt and what is Joseph's role?

The Hebrews come to Egypt:

Jacob sends his sons all to Egypt except one?

Joseph remains in disguise. Dolos. He even uses an interpreter. Odysseus-like. He accuses them of being spies and plots to have Benjamin brought to Egypt.

What happens? Why are the brothers afraid? Should they be?

Why do you think Joseph put the Silver Cup in Ben's sack?

When Joseph says that Benjamin must remain in Egypt, What does Judah tell Joseph and what is the result? Recognition scene.

What, then, is "the great deliverance"?

Why isn't Joseph angry with his brothers for what they did to him?

What is God's promise in Jacob's dream?

What do you take away from the story?

In depth Discussion

Reversal, blessing is a curse: charm, divination, you can't always get there from here. Are one's gifts ever a curse? When?

What is the nature of forgiveness in the story?

Does the success story of Joseph differ in any way from a modern counterpart story of an underdog making good?

Seven Deadly Sins: Pride (hubris): Avarice; Envy; Wrath; Lust; Gluttony; and Sloth.

What are the opposites: Humility; Generosity; Love: Kindness; self-control; temperance; and zeal.

How does Joseph score on the seven deadly sins? Examples?

Dante (1265-1321) : In "Purgatorio" Dante places each of the seven sins on a level 1-7 with the higher levels closer to paradise and the lower ones closer to Hell. Paradise: Lust, Gluttony, Avarice, Sloth, Wrath, Envy, Pride; Hell.

Dante place sin in relationship to love:

Perverted Love: Pride, Envy, Wrath

Insufficient Love: Sloth

Excessive Love (of earthly delights): Avarice, Gluttony, and Lust

The Bible seems to be the source of defining sin, but they never appear in a formal list.

MTV did a special in August of 1993 on the Seven Deadly Sins which involved interviewing well-known entertainers from the music and television industry. The response was that the list was numb. Are these really vices? What do you think?