Monday, 12 August 2013

Reading the Bible 30: Genesis 37 – Joseph the Tattler

The tale of Joseph has so much that is important – parents having favourites, those of us of a certain age can hear the echo to Tommy Smothers plaintive cry, ‘mom always liked you best’ – joseph and the technicolour dream coat – Joseph the dreamer – Joseph’s chickens coming home to roost and being sold into slavery.

For me the beginning of the story of Joseph is important - as it is with all well-told tales – as it gives a clue to what will follow.  In effect Joseph is a spoiled brat.  He is his father’s favourite and he knows it.  He lords it over them with his coat of many colours and his dreams surprisingly seem to confirm his favoured status.  His brothers bow down to him symbolically in his dreams.  There is a hint in the fall to come as one dream presents his father bowing down to him as well which does not please Jacob and his indulgence is stretched somewhat but is still intact.  How many of us who have siblings long for place of the favourite in our parent’s eyes?  Of course we often secretly believe that we hold that position but don’t give voice to it.

Joseph’s problem is that he truly is his father’s favourite and throws it in his brothers’ faces.  Well the inevitable happens.  Sometimes bad things do happen to good people but seemingly here there is no question in our minds that Joseph deserved what he got.  Well the reaction of the brothers is rather severe and even being sold into slavery is extreme no to mention being left to die in a dark pit.  However, it is easy to understand the motivation of the brothers. 
We are faced with the question and mystery of evil.  The other side of all this is the question about how do we judge what happens to others and ourselves.  What seems to be bad or even evil may not in the end turn out that way.  This is certainly the case with Joseph which we will see in the later parts of the story.  However, there is no question that no matter what perspective will have on some events there is no way to see the good intended.  Good may be a byproduct as with heroic acts of people who risk all to save others form evil al la Raoul Wallenberg but we fail to see that these acts heroic as they are can be a reason for the holocaust.  As I have just been reading in Religion and the Unconscious by Ann and Barry   Ulinov we need to stop treating evil as a problem to be solved and treat it as a mystery which is destined to remain as such no matter how we try to solve it. 

However, in the case of Joseph God’s hand seems to be guiding all the events including the dreams that Joseph is sent and even the way Joseph seems to misunderstand them.  In the end they turn out to be prophetic and part of God’s plan for all concerned – at least for God’s chosen ones.  But that too is not the view the Egyptians would take, is it?

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