The Joseph Epic-Genesis 40

“And they said to him, ‘We each have had a dream, and there is no interpreter of it.’ So Joseph said to them, ‘Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell them to me, please'” (Genesis 40:8).

This is the theological heart of chapter 40.  Dream interpretation was crucial to Egyptian magic.  See here.

” If one wished to communicate with the gods via dreams, a
ritual in the god’s honor would be performed.  This may
include fasting and abstaining from any type of social interaction.A clean piece of linen would be written upon with specially made ink.  It would indicate which god was called upon and what the dreamer desired from the god. The piece of
linen would then be rolled up and used as a wick in a lamp.
The lamp would be lit while the dreamer recited a special
prayer to the god.  The dreamer would then go to sleep,
careful to have writing material by his side to record the
message.  The message would most likely be coded and
require interpretation by a priest or a professional
dream interpreter.”

Oneiromancy is the fancy name for this.  When the butler and the baker say that there is no interpreter, they mean that in prison they have no access to a professional priest/magician to interpret their dreams.

Joseph says that dreams and their interpretation do not belong to the magically credentialed, but come from God.  His father, Jacob, had significant dreams that pointed to the destiny of the nation.  But the dreams of the butler and the baker predict their personal fates.

Still, even these personal dreams depend upon God and not Egyptian magic.  The Israelites had a different view of divination than the peoples around them.  Even when they used ritual objects like the Urim and the Thummim (Ezra 2:63), these could not force God to reveal anything.   Magic practices could not force God to tell you the future.  A revelation from God was an act of God’s freedom.  No magic formula entitled you to a revelation.

In magic you are trying to control events.  When dealing with the God of Israel, there is no question of control.

This story is dramatic in that the Pharaoh fulfilled Joseph’s interpretation by using his birthday party to put the baker to death (compare with the New Testament story of Herod’s birthday party and John the Baptist’s execution).  That Joseph had predicted this was certainly something that would be remembered–and it ultimately led to Joseph’s rise to power in Egypt.

Today dream interpretation gets associated with Jungian psychology and New Age woo.  I do not know that any of us today can get back to the biblical idea that a dream is not something in your head, but may represent an objective reality given to you during sleep.  My Old Testament professor in seminary used to say that if you told an ancient Israelite that his dream was in his head, he would not understand how a ladder to heaven or cups or cakes or birds could fit in his head.  Your statement would make no sense to him.

About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
This entry was posted in Ancient Israel, Genesis, Theology and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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