This week we are going to switch it up a little and look at the Old Testament. In particular, Chapter 38 in Genesis. The chapter is about one of Jacob’s 12 sons — Judah. You remember those sons — the ones who sent Joseph off to Egypt. Let’s see if we can condense the first part of the story.
Judah has three sons. He hooks up Son #1 with a woman named Tamar. Son #1 dies. He hooks up Son #2 with Tamar. Son #2 dies (there’s an embedded story in there about coitus interruptus as birth control). There is still Son #3, but neither he nor Judah are feeling real good about the pattern going on here. So while Judah is thinking about it, he takes off on a buddy’s trip to “shear the sheep.” Really. That’s what they called it in Genesis. It was a thing. And while he goes off with the sheep, he tells Tamar to go live with her father … indefinitely.
But Tamar is having none of that. She sees where this is going. So here’s the plan: She dresses up like a prostitute with a veil, and positions herself along the road she knows Judah will take on his way back from “sheep shearing.” They negotiate a deal (this must not have been Judah’s first rodeo). where she comes away with his signet, cord, and staff. Tamar becomes pregnant. And Judah accuses her of being a prostitute (she must have kept the veil on). As Judah is about to burn her at the stake, she pulls out the signet, cord, and staff. Oooops.
What makes this more interesting. Tamar goes on to have two sons, and is listed in the direct genealogy line of Jesus in Matthew’s first chapter. The 3BT interns searched for possible Christian interpretations for this story. The best we got was this metaphysical interpretation: In the journey from sense to Spirit the soul passes through many phases, misdirects its faculties, and practices multitudinous forms of dissipation or waste.
Sure. That pretty much sums up a great story about patriarchy, misogyny, and human frailties. And we’re pretty sure that Mrs. Wilson, our 6th grade Sunday School teacher, would never have touched it.
We got inspired to tackle this story when we ran across a YouTube lecture on Genesis 38 over on the Patheos website. It was entertaining and thought-provoking; two concepts we embrace here at 3BT. Here’s the link if you want to hear about it first-hand (with even more sarcasm than here).
Let’s continue with Joseph and his tenure in Egypt. In earlier posts we talked about Joseph’s experience with an Egyptian Mrs. Robinson, and how he avoided a long prison sentence through some nifty dream interpretations.
One of these dream interpretations is done for the Pharaoh himself. It’s about having seven good harvest years followed by seven years of famine. And while he’s on a roll, Joseph plants the seed that he would be just the right guy to be put in charge of this food distribution. Because … y’know … he’s great at interpreting dreams.
The seven good years happen. Things are pretty easy. Joseph gets to ride around in Pharaoh’s chariot. He’s given a wife (nameless as usual, but the father’s name is suspiciously close to Potiphar). And pretty much does nothing else. Then the famine happens. Joseph gets a side hustle going selling the excess grain back to the Egyptian people. He makes a ton of money. And apparently has no conscience.
Let’s go metaphysical here. We can see the obvious parallels between Joseph’s comeback from being sold into slavery and Jesus’ resurrection. But 3BT Staff looked into some of the other metaphysical interpretations of the Joseph story. One article said that Joseph’s prediction of the famine is equivalent to Christ “taking pity on the hungers of the world by opening the granaries of divine mysteries that would nourish mankind.” OK, sure. But why leave out the symbolism of Joseph working the cash register selling grain back to the people who had produced the surplus in the first place?
This is a fun story to examine when we can step back from the sanitized summary we got back in Sunday School. There’s a lot more going on with Joseph than we might think. Next time we’ll bring in the brothers (including Judah — the one who went off with the sheep) and the others who sold Joseph into slavery.
This week we wrap up the story of Joseph and the family in Egypt. In the last few chapters of Genesis Jacob finally makes his way to Egypt to join the rest of the family. Side-note: Jacob is also called Israel, and both names are used interchangeably throughout the text. Confusing? Yes. Helpful? No.
Joseph is still in charge of food distribution in the famine. And he’s pretty ruthless. First, the poor people of Egypt give all their money to the rich to buy food. When the money runs out, Joseph makes them give up their livestock. When that runs out Joseph makes them give up their land. Eventually Joseph arranges to provide seed to the people, but takes a 20% cut from the crop yield. Funny how we did not get that part of the story in Sunday School.
In case you were wondering, Joseph and the family are just fine. So are the religious leaders.
Finally, it is time for Jacob to die. He is 147 years old, and the 22nd oldest person in the Bible. In chapter 49, he calls out each of his sons for a final word. Not all the sons get accolades.
He curses the eldest son Reuben for ‘doing it’ with one of Jacob’s concubines on Jacob’s couch. That was 40 years ago.
He also curses two other brothers (Simeon and Levi) for a a combination of forced circumcision followed by an immediate attack on a village back in Canaan. The other nine sons get various levels of blessing.
Who are these people?
And an entourage of 70 people make the journey back to Canaan to bury Jacob. Pharaoh sends several representatives too. It is unclear if that was meant as a tribute to Jacob, or whether he just wanted to keep an eye on Joseph, his best government administrator.
On the way back, the brothers ‘find’ a letter from Jacob clearly instructing Joseph to forgive his brothers for any past transgressions. Evidently, Joseph bought it because that’s where Genesis ends. As an endnote to the book, God said that he would help Joseph and the family leave this place and return to “the promised land.” God is silent on how long it’s gonna take.
We acknowledge Hemant Mehta over at TheFriendlyAtheist.com for his comprehensive, pithy, and entertaining YouTube series on Joseph.
Last time we left Joseph working the cash register during the famine in Egypt. We now bring in the brothers. You remember … the ones who sold him into slavery a few years earlier. They are now at home with Dad (Jacob) in Canaan. Things are not going well there … because there’s a famine. And the brothers take off for Egypt to see if they can get some help. Dad and the youngest brother Benjamin stay home. Dad must have been suspicious about the last time he sent out one of the youngest brothers with the older ones.
The brothers appear before Jacob. This is where the charades begin. How could all 10 brothers not recognize Joseph? And when they leave to go back to Canaan the first time, how could they not know their sacks were filled with silver? And once they got back to Canaan (with a ton of food) why did they sit around for a year or so eating that food while one of the brothers was being held as a hostage back in Egypt?
Joseph finally makes the big reveal when the brothers return. But he says everything’s OK between them because it was God who made all this happen. No hard feelings. OK? But Joseph does rub it in a little when he tells them to go back and tell Dad which brother was the biggest success in the family. And still there’s no explanation for all the charades, the hostage taking, and the trips back and forth to Canaan.
Searching for reasons. The Chief Editor will likely never fully embrace metaphysical thinking on these stories. Nevertheless, we had the interns dig out some of the more interesting metaphysical interpretations from the Unity playbook.
What does Joseph represent? The highest perception of Truth, expressing through the imaging faculty in physical consciousness (Egypt), is represented by Joseph.
Why the multiple trips to Egypt by the brothers?The first trip was in preparation for the final reconciliation that was to take place between the intellect and the body. We cannot have a joyous reunion of soul and body unless we are willing let the higher thoughts (Joseph) descend into the subconsciousness (Egypt).
What does the “land of Egypt” represent?Metaphysically, the “land of Egypt” represents the subconscious mind. It is the realm of substance and life in body consciousness.
OMG. We know some of our readers love this metaphysical stuff. And we’re pretty sure our outside metaphysical consultant will be drafting a strongly worded email to the Chief Editor later this morning. But the Chief Editor just does not get it.
We had a lot of fun two weeks ago with Judah, sheep shearing, and the Tamar sex scandal. Staff voted this week to carry on with a similar theme in the next chapter in Genesis. While Judah is back home in Canaan with his brothers, Tamar, and the sheep, the youngest brother Joseph has been sold into slavery in Egypt. This is when things get interesting.
Joseph the Pool Boy. First, Joseph finds himself as an over-seer in the house of a high Egyptian official named Potiphar. According to Genesis 39, Potiphar’s wife attempts to seduce him (think Mrs. Robinson). And just like Dustin Hoffman, Joseph takes off, unfortunately leaving his cloak in her bedroom. Accusations follow. And Joseph lands in prison.
Joseph makes a comeback. Joseph gets out of prison after some impressive dream interpretations in front of the Pharaoh. A couple of chapters later, Pharaoh marries Joseph off to the daughter of an Egyptian aristocrat to a) keep Joseph happy and b) to maintain political stability. And the name of the aristocratic father of the daughter? Potiphera. That sure sounds a lot like Potiphar
Did something happen to Potiphar? The 3BT research staff ran across Talmud commentary this week that adds a lot of intrigue to this story. According to the commentary, Potiphar originally bought Joseph for sexual purposes. This brought down the wrath of the angel Gabriel, who decided this sex/slave stuff was not appropriate and decided to castrate him. Subsequently he changed his name (or more likely, someone changed it for him) from Potiphar to the more feminine Potiphera. This might explain a lot of things, including why Potiphar’s wife was after Joseph in the first place.
Soooo, justice is served on Potiphar. And he can’t even hold a grudge against Joseph because Joseph is his son-in-law.
Last week we reached out to New Testament scholar, Bart Ehrman, to get his take on the Cana wedding story and whether it had anything to do with the mythological god of wine Dionysius. He responded!!! Dr. Ehrman said that he has seen that comparison before. And the wine analogy is pretty good. But he said there are many other parts of John’s gospel that are not consistent with the Greek god. So he gives it very little credence.
Poop. We still think it’s a fun idea.
This week let’s do a little genealogy, specifically in the first chapter of Matthew. This is also from Dr. Ehrman’s blog posts this week (we were there anyway, exchanging notes on Dionysius).
Ends at Joseph. Matthew (written after Mark and before Luke) starts off with a lengthy genealogy of Jesus. The genealogy contains most of the prominent Jewish leaders of the past, including Abraham and King David. It’s really long. No one reads it. But it is interesting that it ends at Joseph, who Matthew says was Mary’s husband. Ummm, but Mary was a virgin according to Matthew. So what’s the point of ending at Joseph? Moving on.
Fun with numerology. Matthew also points out that there were 14 generations between Abraham and David, 14 more to the deportation to Babylon, and 14 more to get to the birth of Jesus. But don’t go in and count the generations in Matthew’s list, because they don’t add up to 14. And some of the genealogy links do not match the father/son genealogies in the Old Testament. Matthew evidently needed a quality assurance department. What was significant about 14? In ancient Israel, 7 was the perfect number. It represented the divinity. And what could be better than 7? 2×7 = 14.
Sex and the City. Matthew’s genealogy is also interesting because it contains four women — very unusual in a male-dominated society. The names: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. All four women were Gentiles, not Jews. And all four women were involved in sex scandals (a couple of prostitutes, adultery, etc). But all their stories ultimately turned out to be in line with God’s will. One theory here is that Matthew was trying to draw a parallel between these historic women and skepticism over Mary’s virgin status.