Bibles & Beer 02.11: Joseph the Trickster
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Well, hello, hello, hello, everyone, welcome to Wednesday night Bible study. It’s time yet for another update, a twist on the Wednesday night Bible study that you may have grown up with today. Reverend Dr. David Breeden will offer readings from the Hebrew and Christian scriptures that make up the Bible. We’ll cover some of the Christian basics, explore the Bible’s themes, contradictions, curiosities. Tonight, we’re going to start talking about a little bit about that trickster, Joseph. But, you know, hey, it’s St. Patty’s Day. We got to do it right. We got to have you got to have a drink. Got to have your pot burger. You got to have it. Everything all laid out. What do we got on tap, David?
Ok, I’m going to stay local tonight, even though I do have an Ouda pills mug. Here I am drinking summit ale in celebration of the Old World tonight. So a summit. I’ll stick into the Twin Cities. So it’s good. Good stuff for St. Patty’s Day.
Well, I have to throw out the rest of the audience. What are you doing here? If you have any things that you’re doing for St. Patty’s Day, throw it up in the chat and tell us what you’re drinking tonight, even if it’s a bike for myself. Just a little bit of SodaStream. I think we’re pretty good with some water. So what do we got? You ready to get kicked off on this?
I’m ready. You ready? Let’s do it. All right. Well, let’s do let’s take a peek here and and talk a little bit about Joseph the Trickster. Now, I talked a little bit about him last week, and we looked at how Jacob, also known as Israel, his dad was a trickster. Then Joseph becomes a trickster as well. And I did mention that this is the largest part of Genesis he takes on reflection, it takes about two chapters to destroy the whole human race with Noah and the flood. It takes a couple of chapters to invent the entire universe. But then we get from chapter thirty seven all the way to fifty about Joseph. So a fairly important guy in the in the ideas of the ancient Hebrews SASO. The Sons of Jacob are twelve. That becomes the twelve tribes of Israel. Very important to understand as background for this, because any time you’re talking in Hebrew scripture about these different forebears, patriarchs and you name them, everyone in the ancient audience would have known where they fit into this particular idea. And so here is Jacob’s family that I discussed last week. And as you know from your patriarchal Bible study, Jacob has two wives. Leah, the older sister of Rachel, is married off first, and she has most of the children, the oldest son, Reuben, who would normally be there for the coming patriarch. But he’s not. And there are some, you know, some tension going on here.
And we all go on down here is Levi, who is going to be the father of the temple priests going forward. And Judah, now, Judah is going to be the progenitor of King David. And that important strain also, Judah will be the name of the country that is to the south of Israel. The ten tribes are in the north and then the tribe of Judah is in the south. And then you have the other tribe, Levi, who have priests and don’t own land. They’re part of the temple system. So that’s where we are. Judah will give us the name of Judea and also will give us the term Jewish eventually. So that’s that side of the family. Then we have Zalba here called Leah’s servant. She’s also a concubine, a dad. She has two kids, Asher and Gad. Then we have Rachel, the favorite wife of Jacob, and we have Joseph in his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat there, and his little brother Benjamin, his beloved brother Benjamin, who figures into the story. And then Rachel’s servant, another concubine of Jacob Bella, who is the mother of Dan and Neftali. So those are the twelve tribes of Israel that will be divided up the land of Canaan eventually. And so this is a family drama that has all kinds of outcomes way down the road, a couple of thousand years on down the road.
So the Joseph Stasiak in that it’s much more complex and literary than the rest of Genesis, as I mentioned again, thirty seven to fifty in terms of chapters, just to talk about Joseph. And it took us just a couple of chapters to wipe out the human race though there’s. Still, clearly in this mix of techs, there are at least three different strains of techs with Scribe’s adding pieces in. It’s not nearly in the mess that a lot of Genesis is when we talked about the creation story. For example, I talked about how the the two there are two creation stories that are just essentially jammed together. And then after they’re jammed together, they’re jumbled along. So Joseph is a particular story and it’s very, very well defined and told. And so you can even you know, here’s a nice Sunday school look, Josefsson of Israel, part one. And you get all of these stories. And as you will see as we go through, there are lots of online pictures that I was very it was very easy to find and to tell the story. So as you remember from last week, Joseph receives a special garment from his father, Jacob, also known as Israel. We call it the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, even a Broadway musical. But in actuality, that’s a mistranslation. And it meant a coat with long sleeves, but it was still a very special coat. And the the implication of the text itself is that Joseph is the favorite son of Jacob and is getting preferential treatment.
And that makes the other brothers irritated, shall we say. Now, I mentioned last week that Joseph relates a dream that clearly indicates that he feels he’s superior to his brothers. It’s about a about these wheat stocks and the 11 are bowing down to his shif. And this dream clearly indicating that he thinks he’s the big dude in the room and the others should be in some way subservient to him. Guess how that goes over with the brothers, especially the oldest one ruban. So the brothers discuss killing Joseph. They do throw him in a pit. They say now, yeah, I guess we shouldn’t kill the guy, but we’re going to throw him in a pit and let them starve to death if no one comes along and finds them. So not a good way to go. But as they are still hanging out around the pit, along comes the caravan and they decide to sell him into slavery. So why not get some cash out of the brother that you want to dispose of and sell off? Goes Joseph into Egypt as a slave, as a boat person, a very common in the in the biblical times that we’re talking about. So and then they report to their father that he has been killed by wild animals. Joseph has been killed by wild animals.
They bring the Technicolor Dreamcoat back. They have judiciously spread animal blood around on the coat to indicate that the animals had killed Joseph. They said, Dad, sorry about this, Jacob, but guess what? Your favorite son is dead. In actuality, he is on a caravan heading for Egypt. Now, Joseph is when he gets to Egypt, purchased by an Egyptian administrator named Potiphar. Now, again, you can see how I’m finding all of these illustrations because this is a very popular story. It goes down well in Sunday school tellings because it does have a plot that makes sense, more or less. So part of a an administrator, a chief administrator buys Joseph to work in his house. And alas, one of the first turns of the trickster gets tricked. Potter, for his wife, tries to seduce Joseph. And when he says no, because he’s a good guy and a good employee, he says no, absolutely not. She falsely accuses Joseph of assaulting her. And guess how that’s going to sit with Potiphar, who is going to believe the wife instead of Joseph? And so Joseph is thrown into prison. How much worse can it get? Well, let’s what’s happened here? OK, so first off, he gets thrown in a pit, then he’s sold into slavery and now he gets thrown into prison for the rest of his life. Not a real good way to start out being one of the great patriarchs of Israel.
So what’s going to happen now? How is the fortunes going to change? How is he going to get from the bottom of the wheel back up to the top of the wheel of Fate? Well, while he’s in prison, Joseph gains a reputation among the fellow prisoners for interpreting dreams. This was considered a special skill in those days. The dreams were considered messages from the beyond, from the gods that needed interpreting in some way, and but they did require a sort of professional to do that. The person having the dreams wouldn’t have understood what they meant because these are messages from the beyond. So here is this guy who is able to do that. And one of the things he tells is the chief baker for four Fabro. Hey, guess what? You are going to be is they’re going to realize that you didn’t do it. Everything is going to be restored to you. You are going to be right back in Pharaoh’s house one more time. Remember me when you get there. And so, by golly, Pharaoh has a bad dream. And it does happen, as Joseph was hoping I would do. Want to read a little bit of the text just so that you can get the flavor of what’s going on. This is chapter forty one of Genesis. After two whole years, Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing by the Nile and there came.
This is two whole years as Joseph’s been sitting in prison, by the way, I should say Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing by the Nile and there came up out of the Nile, seven sleek and fat cows and they grazed in the grass. Then seven other cows, ugly and thin, came up out of the Nile after them and stood by the other cows on the Bank of the Nile. The ugly and thin cows ate up the seven sleek and fat cows and pharaoh. OK. Oh my gosh, what an ugly dream. Then he falls asleep and he dreams a second time. Seven ears of grain, plump and good are growing on one stock, then seven ears thin and blinded by the East. When sprouted after them, the thin air swallowed up the seven plump and full ears. Pharaoh awoke and it was a dream. In the morning his spirit was troubled. So he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was no one who could interpret them to Pharaoh. Now, those of you who have been following Bibles and beer know that this has happened before. This also happens to Daniel later in the Bible story that we have to he has to interpret the handwriting on the wall, remember? So it’s the same kind of thing. He, too, is being called into the very seats of power.
So one of Pharaoh’s servants was in prison with Joseph and he says, guess what? I know this Hebrew guy. He always gets those dreams just right. Pharaoh, why don’t you give him a call? And so Pharaoh does. And Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dreams, counsels Pharaoh to prepare for the film fulfillment of his dreams. And the dreams mean this dream. No one Egypt will have in seven years of bountiful harvest and dream. Number two, Egypt will have seven years of famine. So seven years about bounty are going to have those big fat cows going to have those big fat ears of corn. And then seven years of lean times, skinny cows, skinny corn. Well, that sounds right to Pharaoh. And so he says, dude, you are promoted to Deputy Pharaoh. You are so smart. We just got to have you in the service to Egypt here. And so off he goes in charge of storing the grain and the food for during these seven good years so that they will have grain and food coming up later. So that’s the setup here. And you see how this is Wheel of Fate keeps bringing him back up. Right. Which is another aspect of the trickster characters. They always come out on top, no matter how bad it looks for them. By golly, they always dust themselves off and come right back. So it gets out of the pit, goes into slavery, but it doesn’t starve to death in the pit.
So, you know, it’s not that bad. And then he gets into a pretty good digs here, loses his job because he is very honest and doesn’t want to sleep with a lot of his wife. And then bang, he gets goes to prison and out he comes out of the pit prison again. And now he is deputy pharaoh. Doesn’t get a whole lot better than that in Pharaonic Egypt, since Pharaoh is considered to be a God. And so he is in charge of storing food for those bad times. He gets a blank check, do whatever you need to do in order to save us from the starvation that we clearly are facing. Because you, dear Joseph, know exactly how to interpret dreams. Now, I do want to stop just a second here because the rest of the story will take us back until into the family situation. But at. See if there’s any any kind of ideas that you’re having so far. Yeah, you know, it seems a little far fetched, but over and over and over in chapters thirty seven through 50 in Genesis, it says again and again and again. And the Lord loved or favor Joseph and the Lord favored Joseph and the Lord. And so that’s the reason, according to Genesis, that things are always coming out creampie with Joseph. So.
There you have it. Any ideas so far and get a little bit of your green beer there.
A lot of green beer this time, but you know where we’re hitting on to these stories and we’re hitting into the understanding of Genesis. It’s always quite remarkable. How people will use the description of Joseph, that has to be a true story, and I heard a lot as a kid of archeology based around the story of Joseph trying to look for peace and famine, things along those lines within the Egyptian coast. There’s even a period of time when people believe that there was a coin that had Joseph’s signature on it. Oh, well, yeah, there’s a lot of claims it was from actually in Islam archeologist that was trying to use that and stuff. But a lot of people make a lot of connotations and clarifications for it.
And so as we tie into understanding the stories as the narrative, what what is the narrative of what we’ve heard so far? Because as a kid, I was taught this was history. But what is this is what is just coming from.
Well, you know, this you know, as we’ve mentioned before, most of the biblical texts were written down in text form during the Babylonian captivity or immediately thereafter. So we’re talking about a thousand and some years after these events were purportedly occurring. And so really what people are doing and as I mentioned this once about one of the stories, that it was a real estate dispute, which brother would get the would get the land because we have 12 tribes and we have 10 tribes to the north and then we have little Judit to the south. It’s only one tribe. And the ten tribes are later going to become the northern kingdom. It’s going to be called. The only leftover of that was Samaria, which becomes the bad Samaritans in when we study the Jesus story. But that’s the up north way of seeing it. So what we’re really doing is we’re talking about how the family of of tribes should be getting along. They were always a fractious bunch. This one thought this this one thought that this one was getting invaded from over here saying, hey, come save me rest of the tribes and that kind of thing. So it was family dynamics, family dynamics, but it was tribal family dynamics talking about by using these stories of the of the good old days. So Joseph is coming out of the family that’s going to be part of the northern kingdom. Josiah King of the Northern Kingdom is going to be a direct heir of his.
And most people think that it’s just Josiah who says, right, that story. And I make my six great grandfather a good guy, loved by God. So that’s probably why why it happens that way. You know, it’s a I guess it’s it’s a bit of a disappointment to see it that way, that way. But these stories were floating around. But as I’ve mentioned before, there’s no indication that there was any Hebrew tribe ever in Egypt. There’s no indication that any of the book, the next book, Exodus, there’s no indication that any of those plagues occurred. There’s no indication that a huge tribe of people left the country. And so those just don’t seem to be true, you know, wandering in the desert for 40 years as they were going to do. And, you know, in the next story, there’s no indication, I mean, people that many people wandering around the desert for 40 years would throw stuff away, you know, you know, where’s their dove soap bottles, you know, or whatever. You know, there’s nothing out there. And so they weren’t there. It just, you know, it’s really pretty simple. But again, that is a very rationalist humanist way of looking at it. And, you know, they’re going to go to Mount Sinai and get those Ten Commandments. They’re going to build themselves a tabernacle. That’s a tent that they’re going to carry around with them that your way goes into and hangs out in. And eventually they’re going to build that temple.
But it’s it’s.
Fiction, not historical fiction, is is really, I guess, the way to go. Yeah, yeah. Well, let’s go back and see because we do this does have a tie in to how this story is going to go. So Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt and they bowed down asking for food. He acts like a tough guy for a while. Then he says, hey, where’s my dad? Where’s you’ve got to go back and get well, where’s Jacob? Where’s your dad? You got to go back and get him. I’m going to hold this Benjamin brother hostage and I’ll slit his throat if you don’t come back. Oh, what a hard, tough guy.
They go and they bring dad back into Egypt. So Joseph’s dream, that one about that he had right back there with the Technicolor Dreamcoat, this is now come true. All right. So it again, he’s a guy who understands his dreams. And it did come true so that the that the family is reunited, including Jacob. Now in the story, how this story is going to be told is that they came down to Egypt and they were saved in Egypt from the forces that would have destroyed the Hebrew people during this time period, during this famine. That’s the driving force of this story. So you started thinking about people in the Bible who go to down to Egypt and so is down to Egypt or or up to Canaan. And so Abraham and Sarah Rêve, Wendy Drome told you of that story about Abraham pretends that Sarah is a sister so that you know and does some kind of fast dealing there to save his own own backside. So they go down to Egypt and also Jesus and Mary and Joseph will go down to Egypt in some of the Bible stories and not others of the gospels. But so there’s a whole Egyptian mythology that’s built into the Bible as this place where you go for refuge, although also it is the the bad anti your way people as well. But it goes back and forth by that like that. But generally, Egypt is is considered favorably because they do step in with military alliances to protect the Canaanite people, the the the the Hebrews living in Palestine. So there’s a little bit of that going on in the story.
So the family is reunited, including Jacob, and here they are, Israel, Israel and his 12 sons. So Israel and the twelve tribes are now in the land of Egypt.
And very interesting and clever way of ending this. The Book of Genesis goes like this. The Egyptians considered shepherding disgusting. So the Hebrews, who were a pastoral people and raised sheep and goats, become the shepherds in Egypt.
According to this way of seeing things, it says in Genesis. Forty six thy servants trade have been about cattle. That’s just animals. Cattle was used in general for four four footed meat animals in those days, cattle from our youth, even until now, both we and also our fathers that that you may dwell in the land of Goche and Gorshin being another name for Egypt for every shepherd is an abomination and to the Egyptians. And so some things are set up at the end of Genesis to make sure that the story will continue. One is that the Hebrews are given a job. They are pastoralists and they’re going to do something the that the Egyptians don’t want to do. They’re going to raise the sheep in Egypt. Also, the genesis mentions that the Egyptians like them fine, but they won’t eat with them. Now, this is part of a Hebrew tradition as having special dietary kosher laws and that kind of thing. So they very adamantly say that these two groups can’t eat together and also that they don’t intermarry a little more a little more ugly spin on things, but that the Hebrew people are not interbred into the Egyptian people, but rather are their own tribe that exist in this family line. So we’re not going to have to argue about who is actually Egyptian and who is not. And so that’s where we leave this story then. So Genesis has this ark. It goes all the way from Adam and Eve, all the way fifty chapters ago. And we have we have the destruction by flood.
Then we have the. Tower of Babel, so that people take off across the planet, people sing it with all kinds of different languages, and then we we focus in suddenly on this one family with Abraham and then we watch the patriarchs develop and then we leave them in Egypt. And then they’re going to be they are going to in Egypt, have a whole lot of babies and they’re going to create a nation in Egypt that is then going to leave. Leave. You can see how that story may be a little too clean-Cut for it to be clear cut, for it to really be true. But that is the story that they told. So that’s it for my story today with Joesph. And one thing to to to think about on in this is why doesn’t Joseph get revenge? If I had been thrown in a pit and then sold into slavery, if I had had my nice Technicolor Dreamcoat all messed up, if I had been treated as they as they treated me, I think I would want revenge for that. I think I would have for his head on a platter for throwing me in prison for two years when he wouldn’t believe me about something I didn’t do. But Joseph, doesn’t in the story ever seek out any kind of revenge within this within his rights in this patriarchal time to to do that? And so part of what we’re saying here, I think, is that forgiveness within families is a good thing, as would be then forgiveness between the tribes that make up Israel.
So, yes, the prophecy says that the Messiah would come out of Egypt. So Mary and Joseph had to go there to defend it. Yes, this is very true. That’s very true.
Absolutely. So they have to come up out of Egypt. They have to Jesus has to be born in Bethlehem. So the early Christians are going down this list. That’s mostly and Isaiah is saying that the Messiah is going to do this and this and this and this and. Absolutely. So. Exactly.
Yeah. So it’s interesting how family blood is such a key to much of what’s in the Bible. Right. We have a historical narrative made. And, you know, I mean, the date of the earth was figured out or quote unquote figured out from the concept of the genealogies and following and making sure that the stories fit perfectly within the narrative so people could at least look at it even if it wasn’t with a skeptical eye and buy it.
Right. Right. Well, and we get where you are conveniently given the age of all the patriarchs when they die. So it is mathematically possible, if you believe this, to begin to add things up.
Joseph lives very specifically one hundred and ten years. So one hundred, ten years. So you can add that on this list and and get your four thousand four B.C., as was the Victorian era number for how old when the planet was was invented. So. Yeah, and and also there’s a they also have to explain why Jacob is buried by by Abraham and Sarah.
You remember if you’ve seen my previous Bibles and beer, it’s a very specific tomb and part of the purchase of that tomb was laying claim to this land as belonging to us. And so it’s very specific at the end of Genesis that that pharaoh says dudes do that go now up to Kaiden and bury your father, Jacob. And so there’s this whole army of Egyptians who go up there and bury him. So because we have to explain why is the body how come the body ends up in Canaan? So and that’s the explanation. Not not a likely explanation either. But he does Jacob and Joseph specifically are both mentioned that they get this. The ancient Hebrews knew that they were good with these these mummy things. Right. They were good at embalming. And so both of them are embalmed by by the Egyptians, according to this story. So, yeah. Yeah, there’s some interesting details of that sort.
Yeah, I mean, there’s definitely you know, I remember hearing about the possible digging up of Joseph back in the day again, that a lot of things are very speculative. Whenever you start getting into some of this historical stuff, the narrative doesn’t match or fit. But even if it doesn’t. Right, the goal again was you had them trying to lay claim not only to the land that they were in, but to lay claim to the story that shows that they who they were and their past so that that would then lead to it. As someone who was a former Christian, I could look back at the Bible. And when I was in that camp, understanding the story of Joseph, you’re really just retrofitting the story to fit your narrative. And so the concept that you had a God that was going to do everything he could to use Joseph, who was not the firstborn, who was not the one that everyone thought should be the person to be in charge, who made mistakes, who was a trickster, who did break some of many of God’s laws in many aspects and use him to create that benefit. And so you get that whole story from Abraham. He screwed up to Isaac. You screwed up to Jacob, who screwed up to Joseph, who screwed up. But God still use them to lay the claim into the story. And when you think about, you know, as you just said. Right. You know, as you’re dealing with the Babylonian captivity, bringing that all together, you’re telling a story of people can come back and get connected. Right.
Right. Well, yes, it’s it’s a usable story to talk about how you can mess up and then and then make it right, for example. And yes. That God uses fallible people. It is interesting to reflect the difference between Christian attitudes about how people should be right and and how the ancient Hebrews thought people should be and their very different ways of being right. The ancient Hebrews, these people were people. Now, you know, they they did have moral morality and ethics, like Joseph running away from poverty for his wife. But they also have lost they also have greed, they also want revenge. Well, you know, we we talked about Samson. I mean, there’s nothing good about Samson, you know, but he’s an instrument of God, even though he’s a totally is quite, quite a loser. You know, him him ham fisted, you know, kind of Luddite. But there he goes. He’s he does the he does the bidding of God. So it’s a very different attitude. You don’t have to be a saint in Hebrew scripture as you do in Christian scripture. Right.
So. Right. Yeah. Well, we’re getting close to the end of our time today. I will have to definitely say thank you all for joining us. And I look forward to getting together next week as it you are one day next week. I can’t remember off the top.
My head is going to be Rev Wendy next week or next Wednesday night. And I sure I’m sure that she will once again share some very current biblical scholarship with us. Always absolutely fascinating. She is the Bible scholar of First Unitarian Society and always comes up with some very interesting things to talk about.
So absolutely. Absolutely. And if any of you are curious, I’ve gone ahead and thrown into the chat, our podcast for Bibles and beer. If you miss it, go ahead and you can subscribe to Apple iTunes podcast for Bibles and beer. And take a listen. I get this released about within the next hour after the episode in the show. Well, I think that brings us all to a close. We aren’t all the way down. We do have our after party. I’ve gone ahead and thrown the zoom link into chat, and I hope to see you all there. Is there anything you want to close out with, David?
Well, thanks a lot. And don’t miss our coffee and wisdom programing as well. Tomorrow we will once again be talking. We’ve been looking this week at some of the ideas about the chapel pearlescent, all theory and legends and how that goes into neo shamanism. And we’ll be talking a little bit about neo shamanism tomorrow. So tune in. Bye bye. Bye, everybody.