The Joseph Epic-Genesis 43

One of the reasons critical scholars look for sources behind the Joseph story is that the motivations of the characters don’t always make sense.  In chapter 37, is Joseph’s dream the reason for his brothers hostility?  Is it that he made a bad report about them to his father?  Or is it the fancy cloak his father gave him?  Of course, as the story stands now. it is all of them.  You could argue that the piling up of these motives is the literary technique of a single author.

It is not so easy in chapter 43.  Here Joseph’s brothers make a second trip to Egypt. The stated motive is desperation for food because of continued famine.  But in chapter 42, they have left their brother, Simeon, in Egypt as a hostage.  Joseph has told them to get Benjamin and come back.  So you really do not need the famine as a motive for this trip.  And Jacob sends the brothers back with gifts of the best produce of the land (v. 11).  That seems a little odd if Jacob’s household is starving.

So it looks like a story woven out of more than one source.  Only one of the sources seems to have known about Simeon’s plight.  And in one of the sources  the famine may have passed.  The seven-year famine is a well-known literary device in several ancient near eastern stories.  So it is unlikely to be precisely historical.  But that a famine occurred and a desert sheik like Jacob sent sons to Egypt to buy food is quite likely.

Folks who complain about critical scholars picking apart the text in this fashion have a point.  The text as it now stands does an excellent job of weaving it all together.

Chapter 43 is a literary masterpiece that seems to resolve the tensions of the story so far, only to have the tension heightened in chapter 44.  In 43 the brothers who have returned start out suspicious but become more and more relaxed about Joseph.  In fact, they are drinking wine and very relaxed at the end.

Joseph, on the other hand, becomes more and more emotional and agitated.  Seeing his brother by the same mother, Benjamin, sets him off.  He has to go some place private to get control of himself.  The brothers remain oblivious to this.

Verse 32 is a bit of a puzzle.  Joseph and the Egyptians have to eat at separate tables from the 11 brothers due to Egyptian exclusiveness.  If Joseph had risen up in Egypt during the Hyksos period, ritual separation between two Semitic races, Hyksos and Hebrew, seems harder to explain.  Of course, Arabs and Israelis today are two Semitic races.  So who knows?  But even if the Egyptians of Joseph’s time were actual ancient Egyptians, we have no record outside Genesis of the custom that would require separate tables.

Over all that happens arches the providence of Israel’s God.  Even Joseph’s steward assures the brothers that “the God of your fathers” guides these events (v. 23). And all the while, waiting at home is Jacob thinking that only the mercy of God stands between him and utter loss.

“And may God Almighty give you mercy when you see the man so that he will free your other brother and Benjamin. As for me, if I am bereaved, I am bereaved” (v. 14).

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About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
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