There’s Something About Mary (Sidney)
Before the year 1611, many different translations of the bible existed, but none were very consistent. At this time, at the command of King James the First, forty-seven scholars from various theological and educational backgrounds, separated into six individual groups, completed the task of translating the bible from the original Hebrew manuscripts and existing English documents. Mary Sidney would have been very familiar with the resulting King James Version of the bible, as would have been any other educated person in eighteenth-century England. In her paraphrase of “Psalm 139,” it appears as though Sidney does not feel as though the King James Version adequately expresses her innermost thoughts. The Psalms in the bible are a production of a number of authors, the most prominent of these being David. While David’s Psalms contain his most intimate thoughts about God, Sidney frequently takes these thoughts and develops them further. At times, she seems to display more confidence than David does, yet at others, she appears more docile and reserved. Though she eloquently paraphrases David’s work in beautiful verse, she lacks consistency, and her overall credibility suffers for it.One of the most obvious differences between the King James Version of “Psalm 139,” and Mary Sidney’s version is style. Though the Psalms are traditionally known to be songs written by David, “Psalm 139” does not seem to be very structured in the King James Version. It is made up of twenty-four verses that roughly consist of two iambic pentameter lines each. However, verse one only has one line, and verses twelve, fourteen, fifteen, and sixteen contain three lines each. Though it appears that the author attempted to form each line with ten beats, they range from six to twelve beats, and are not necessarily made up of even feet. Often, this leaves one feeling awkward, as the reader expects there to be one more beat in the line in order for it to sound complete. The second line in verse six exemplifies this dilemma: “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;/ it is high, I cannot attain unto it.” One would expect that the first line of this verse requires an equally formally constructed follow up, yet the reader is left with a sense of incompletion. This makes sense, however, as the translators were likely trying to keep the text as true to the original as possible, which decreased the importance of stylistic devices such as rhyme and meter. Sidney chooses to approach “Psalm 139” more poetically. She writes thirteen stanzas, which each contain seven meticulously crafted lines in iambic tetrameter. In each stanza, Sidney does not deviate from an ABCCBAB rhyme scheme, which is extremely difficult to adhere to, especially when one is translating. Her ability to do this alone highlights Sidney’s poetic prowess. However, Sidney had substantially more freedom to make use of poetic devices than did the writers of the King James version, resulting in stanzas that seem fluid and natural. What at one time was “Thou hast beset me behind and before,/ and laid thine hand upon me/ Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;/ it is high, I cannot attain unto it” (KJV v. 5-6), gracefully metamorphoses into “If forth I march, thou goest before,/ If back I turn, thou com’st behind:/ So forth nor back/ Thy guard I lack,/ Nay on me too thy hand I find./ Well I thy wisdom may adore,/ But never reach with earthly mind” (Sidney, l. 15-21).The way in which Sidney paraphrases “Psalm 139” reveals much about her feelings and attitudes regarding God. She seems to feel closer to God than the translators of the King James Version will allow. While David states that God “knowest my downsitting and mine uprising;/ thou knowest my thought afar off” (KJV v. 2), Sidney is not content to simply believe that God knows her actions and understands her thoughts from afar. To her, God takes a much more active interest in her daily activities: “For when I sit/ Thou markest it;/ No less thou notest when I rise;/ Yea, closest closet of my thought/ Hath open windows to thine eyes” (l. 3-7). God not only knows about her daily activities, but also makes note of them. God does not simply observe her thoughts from Heaven, but witnesses the “closest closet” of her mind. Though David is often described as “a man after God’s own heart,” Sidney certainly seems to feel a closer emotional bond with God than he does. Sidney continues this sense of closeness throughout the poem. David feels that God directs his footsteps, but Sidney actually feels God walking with her (l. 8). She goes on to say that she feels God’s presence everywhere she goes, while David refrains from making this claim. There is nothing to prove he does not feel God’s omnipresence, but it is Sidney who vocalises this concept. Perhaps this can be explained by Sidney’s relatively carefree life. While David is forced to run from a crazed, jealous king, and witnesses the incestuous rape of his daughter and violent death of his son, Sidney had only critics to worry about. Perhaps it is not so surprising that she feels more content in God’s shelter than does David. It is curious, then, that Sidney should personify night as a pro-active villain, whereas David simply refers to it as “darkness.” Sidney challenges night to “Do thou thy best… / In sable veil to cover me:/ Thy sable veil/ Shall vainly fail” (l. 36-39). David simply states that “If I say, surely the darkness shall cover me;/ even the night shall be light about me” (v. 11). Though David has faced many more adversities in his life than Sidney has, and does not appear to feel as close to God as Sidney does, he does not seem to fear attack to the same extent that Sidney does. Sidney’s defiant challenge to night reveals that although she is confident that God can overcome and defeat darkness, she still worries about that same darkness. She sees night as an opposing force that has somehow singled her out, whereas David simply acknowledges darkness as an entity with which God will deal. This is a strange phenomenon, because in reality, David has much more to worry about than Sidney does, yet she seems to obsess about her safety. One could argue that David is not concerned about darkness because he has had the opportunity to witness God’s power first hand, whereas Sidney lives a relatively sheltered lifestyle. Sidney continues to take David’s thoughts one step further in line forty-three. David tells God that He is in control of his life, and has “possessed [his] reigns” (v. 13). This implies that David retains possession of his person, but has relinquished all governance of himself to God. Sidney tells God that “Each inmost piece in me is thine” (l. 43). She is not only giving control of her independent life to God, but is in fact giving every part of herself to Him. As anyone who has ridden horses knows, sometimes simply holding on to the reigns is not enough to control a strong-willed animal. This is especially true with David. Though he willingly gives God the “reigns” to his life, he can, and does choose to commit abominable crimes in God’s sight. He has Bathsheeba’s husband, Uriah, killed so that he can take her as his wife (2 Samuel, ch. 11. KJV). He knows this is wrong at the time, yet fiercely fights against God’s control of his life. Like a belligerent horse, reigns mean nothing to him. In this light, it appears as though Sidney is attempting to release herself from free-choice, as she knows that left to her own devices, she too, will rebel against God’s will. Though Sidney appears to be completely comfortable in her faith, at one point, she seems to contradict herself. She states “My God, how I these studies prize,/ That do thy hidden workings show” (l. 64-65), implying that when God makes His thoughts known to her, he also reveals His secrets. However, in lines twenty and twenty-one, she states “Well I thy wisdom may adore,/ But never reach with earthly mind.” David appears to be more humble in this matter, and simply says, “How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God” (v. 17). He does not make any lofty claims of understanding God or his “hidden workings.” He is content to simply hear God’s voice, and does not attempt to decipher His thoughts. Though Sidney certainly does not claim to know all of God’s secrets, to profess to know even some of them borders on conceit.This conceit is also evident in other lines of Sidney’s paraphrase. David places God first in all of his collected thoughts. Even if he flees from God, he knows that God must necessarily be before him. He writes, “If I take the wings of the morning,/ and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;/ even there shall thy hand lead me,/ and thy right hand shall hold me” (v. 10-11). David knows that God’s hands lead him, and is therefore at all times in front of him. Sidney does not seem to share this sentiment. She states, “I could flee,/ As far as thee the ev’ning brings:/ Even led to west he would me catch” (l. 32-34). For God to be able to catch her implies that He is behind her, which means that Sidney has the ability to temporarily escape God and be in front of Him. This is very curious coming from one whom alleges, “each inmost piece in me is [God’s]” (l. 43). Though it may seem trivial to note such a seemingly small matter in her poem, it is not as unimportant as it might first appear. Sidney is a brilliant poet, and chooses her words very carefully. She purposely changes David’s assertion that God always leads him, to one in which she is capable of leading God, if even for a very short period of time. God will catch her, but first he must follow her. Sidney is interesting in that she seems extraordinarily confident at some times, and hesitant and timid at others. In verse nineteen, David confidently proclaims “Surely thou wilt slay the wicked, O God:/ depart from me therefore, ye bloody men.” He knows without any doubt that God will destroy those whom oppose Him. David does not question God’s ability to do so, and boldly tells those whom threaten him to depart immediately. Sidney is not so brave. She hesitantly petitions God: “if thou but one wouldst kill,/ Then straight would leave my further chase/ This cursed brood” (l. 71-73). She almost appears to be begging God to remove these obstacles from her path, and only half believes that He will do so. She does not address her actual assailants as David does, for she is not convinced of God’s desire or ability to rescue her. Instead, she quietly asks God for help, and attempts to avoid further provocation of her enemies. Although Sidney frequently attempts to surpass David’s heartfelt confessions, sometimes her narrow-mindedness becomes apparent. David is “grieved with those that rise up against [God]” (v. 21), whereas Sidney simply hates them: “Detest I not,/ The cankered knot,/ Whom I against thee banded see?” (l. 80-82). David’s reactive emotions are much more complex than are Sidney’s. According to the Gage Canadian Dictionary, grief is “deep sadness caused by trouble or loss; heavy sorrow,” and to detest is to “dislike very much.” David does not simply dislike those whom oppose God, but is instead filled with feelings of great sorrow. He could be upset that there are people that could possibly hate the loving God that he knows. He could also feel sorrow for those people who do not know the peace and safety that David knows through his relationship with God. Whatever the case may be, hate has given rise to other emotions within him. For Sidney, the situation is much different. She simply hates those whom oppose God, and feels nothing more. She does not think any more about the motives or consequences of her enemy’s actions, as David does. It seems as though David would prefer to have his adversaries on his side, whereas Sidney simply wants them eradicated. Another one of Sidney’s weaknesses is that she does not seem to fully grasp the concept of God’s grace. David beseeches God to “search me… and know my heart:/ try me, and know my thoughts:/ and see if there be any wicked way in me,/ and lead me in the way everlasting” (v. 23-24). Sidney’s version is quite different: “Search me, my God, and prove my heart,/ examine me, and try my thought;/ And mark in me/ If ought there be/ That hath with cause their anger wrought./ If not (as not) my life’s each part,/ Lord safely guide from danger brought” (l. 85-91). David encourages God to know, or become intimate, with his heart. He wants God to point out not only those things that anger his adversaries, but all things in him that are wicked. He realizes, though, that it is impossible to be entirely without sin, so he asks God to lead him “in the way everlasting” with no provisions attached. Sidney, however, only asks God to mark those things in her that bring anger to her enemies. It also appears as though she believes that she has the ability to be without sin. She does not ask God to simply know her heart, but solicits him to prove it. In other words, she wants God to examine her heart, and proclaim that there is nothing evil about it. At the end of the poem, she requests that God deliver her from danger only if He finds her heart completely without fault. Though David knows this is impossible, Sidney evidentially does not share his belief. One of the most interesting contrasts between the King James Version of “Psalm 139” and Sidney’s paraphrase exists in the last line of each poem. David asks God to lead him in the “way everlasting,” while Sidney implores God to safely guide her away from danger. Because David mentions the everlasting, he apparently believes in Heaven, and believes that he is destined to reside there. However, the reader cannot be so certain of Sidney’s belief. She does not mention Heaven throughout her poem, although David mentions it twice. Her final request to God does not even indicate a belief of the afterlife. Does Sidney even have faith in life after death? Does she believe in predestination, and is therefore not certain of her salvation, causing her to avoid confidently proclaiming her eternal safety? Either explanation is entirely possible, but unfortunately, the text is ambiguous in this regard, and it is up to the reader to decide why Sidney would purposely leave out references to Heaven.Overall, Sidney certainly seems to feel close to God, and does not hesitate to extol his knowledge and power. However, she seems to lack the same unfailing confidence in God’s wisdom and capabilities that David possesses. Whether she actually is as uncertain of God’s might as she appears, or if she is simply limited by the daunting task of paraphrasing a well-known psalm into a formal style, is inconsequential. Her weaknesses may show, but if her goal was to create a poem unparalleled in structure and beauty, she succeeded. Works CitedAvis, Walter S., et al. Gage Canadian Dictionary. Toronto: Gage Publishing Limited, 1983.The Holy Bible: The Authorized King James Version. Cleveland: The World Press Company, 1945.Sidney, Mary. “Psalm 139.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Seventh Edition, Volume One. Ed. M.H. Abrams et al. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2000. 961-964.
Sexual Relations in Genesis: The Rape of Dinah and the story of Tamar and Judah
While Genesis, the first book of the Bible, seems to follow a distinct (male-dominated) pattern of history in the story it relates, tracing first Adam and Eve and their sons and then Abraham, his son Isaac, Isaac’s son Jacob, and Jacob’s son Joseph, it digresses often to tell smaller vignettes, often focusing on the home. The authors of Genesis share this common literary technique with Homer. Two particularly interesting stories in Genesis that digress distinctly from the main story are the rape of Dinah in chapter 34 and the story of Tamar and Judah in chapter 38. These domestic stories relate ideas surrounding women, sex, and their roles in biblical society, in addition to the common themes in Genesis (and common Homeric themes as well) of family, lineage, cultural identity, disguise, and honor or kleos.Dinah is Jacob’s only daughter in addition to his twelve sons, conceived with his wife Rachel’s sister Leah, who is actually also his wife, though it is clearly stated that Jacob “loved Rachel more than Leah.” (29:30) At the beginning of chapter 34, Dinah goes “out to visit the women of the region.” (34:1) It is unclear exactly what this means, although it could mean that Dinah is engaging in some sort of sinful or sexual activity, unescorted and unprotected by men, especially her twelve brothers. This might be looked upon as provoking the rape by Shechem in the next verse. But after the rape, Shechem’s “soul was drawn to Dinah daughter of Jacob; he loved the girl, and spoke tenderly to her.” (34:3) This love felt for the victim by the rapist is unsettling; he never actually apologizes or expresses any remorse for his vulgar actions, but appears to view rape as his method of wooing and staking claim to the woman he loves, the woman whom he wishes to marry. It is also unsettling that Jacob, Dinah’s father, remains silent despite having knowledge of his daughter’s traumatic experience: Now Jacob heard that Shechem had defiled his daughter Dinah; but his sons were with his cattle in the field, so Jacob held his peace until they came. (34:5)The message here is that Jacob is an underconfident male figure, who does not take action to protect his daughter either because he values his sons over his daughter or his sons’ opinions over his own. His sons then take the lead in arranging for the circumcision of the males in Hamor’s tribe, though the Bible states explicitly that this was done “deceitfully.” They later slaughter Hamor’s men, capture their women, children, and sheep, and return with Dinah. Perhaps their rage comes from their guilt over letting Dinah go into town unescorted, or from being the sons of the less-favored Leah. Nonetheless they let domestic tensions escalate into antagonism against all of Shechem’s people. It is unsettling that Jacob does not castigate them for their violent actions, but rather for the new possibility of being attacked in revenge by the other people of Shechem. “I shall be destroyed, both I and my household,” he says in 34:30. The focus is not on protecting Dinah but on protecting himself and his sons and his name. A finally unsettling aspect of this story is that Dinah’s voice is never once heard, nor is the voice of God. The story of Tamar and Judah is equally unsettling in many ways. It begins with Onan, the brother of Tamar’s deceased husband Er, being asked to father her children. This sounds strange, but is in fact biblical law:When brothers reside together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the deceased shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her, taking her in marriage, and performing the duty of a husband’s brother to her, and the firstborn whom she bears shall succeed to the name of the deceased brother, so that his name may not be blotted out of Israel. (Deuteronomy 25:5-6)Tamar agrees to do this to in order to provide an heir for her dead husband, but it is Onan who is uncomfortable with the idea and “spills his semen on the ground whenever he went into his brother’s wife.” (38:9) Onan does not take his responsibility seriously; he uses Tamar for sexual pleasure only, because he does not want to raise a child who will bear not his name but his brother’s and whom he will have to support. Onan’s sense of pride and continuation of his particular lineage again take precedent over a woman in his family, much like Jacob in the situation with Dinah. Judah then deals unfairly with Tamar by not offering his son Shelah to her, even though it was not she who sinned in either of the instances to cause her husbands’ deaths; it was his own sons. Tamar is left to face life without a husband or sons. Yet unlike Dinah, Tamar is shrewd; she deftly lays a trap for Judah that he falls into; she disguises herself in order to have sex with him and conceive a son. She even vindicates herself against the charges of being a prostitute in verse 25 by displaying Judah’s signet and cord and staff; Judah is just as guilty as she is: “She is more in the right than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” (38:26) As in the story of Dinah, God never intervenes. His role in the lives of these women is very unclear. Equality of the sexes in general in the Bible is not fully there, ever since Eve ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in Genesis chapter 3. Eve’s bringing sin into the world led to the creation of the patriarchal structures that come to characterize the relationships between men and women in Genesis. Women are still important in the Bible; Sarah and Hagar are key to the development of the story of Abraham and his family; Rebekah is key to God’s plan for the choice of Jacob; Leah and Rachel bear twelve sons that go on to lead the twelve tribes of Israel. But even from these examples, it is clear that the most important themes in the Genesis continue to be those of family, lineage, and kleos, and the quest to attain these, despite any effects on women and sometimes others in general.
Words, Wind and Import: Speech in the Book of Job
An emphasis on the relationship between speech and sin is present from the inception of the test of Job’s virtue. Satan challenges God that, if misfortune befell Job, he would “curse [him] to [his] face,” making Job’s sin not a psychological or physical one, but rather verbal in nature (1:11). This equation of sin with discourse is fleshed out by the remainder of the text. By general consensus, the mouth is a den of iniquity; Job’s friend Zophar explicates this idea through metaphor over four verses, saying that the godless “hold [wickedness] in their mouths . . . It is the venom of asps within them” (20:13-14). These verses are full of imagery which construes wicked mouths as roiling with this venom and a perverse enjoyment. They seem intended to connote decadence, as though the godless relish, however briefly, the spoils of sin, misperceiving poison to be pleasurable. Their mouths are presented as the location and crux of their sin.Job, in pleading the case for his righteousness, says, “I have not let my mouth sin by asking for their lives with a curse” (31:30). Here as elsewhere, it is clear that the act of speech itself is not sinful, but that sin instead resides in the meaning of spoken words. This idea is iterated, in slightly varied forms, several times throughout the Book of Job. When Job describes wicked people, he lists the actions which characterize them and thensums up their sins: “They say to God, ‘Leave us alone!'” (21:14). Perhaps this statement is implicit in their actions, or perhaps Job means that the wicked literally say that, but in either case, this statement is the focal point of sin. During his theophany at the end of the text, God construes verbal sin differently; he says that its essence is words spoken without knowledge (38:2). This is a specific reaction to the speeches of Job’s friends, which misrepresent the nature of God. What unites these definitions of verbal sin is the fact that each statement betrays its speaker’s flawed relationship with God. Job cursing other people would be unkind and would constitute taking advantage of his position, the sinful people he describes distance themselves from God, and his friends pass off their speculations and rationalizations about divine truth as fact.Rife with complexities and contradictions, the Book of Job makes two notable arguments against the equation of sin and speech. The first occurs when Job addresses God, making the case for his innocence. “If I sin,” he says, “you watch me,” and since one watches actions and hears discourse, this verb choice and the contradiction it creates seems, at first glance, inexplicable (10:14). However, actions can be said to “speak”, and perhaps Job is referring to this form of speech. It could also be that this is a slight, off-hand expansion of the definition of sin beyond speech acts, not intended to blend completely with the message of the rest of the book, but in either case, the issue is sufficiently resolved. The second argument is found in the institution of prayer, and its role in the verbal relationship between humans and the divine. While the sin of Job’s friends is the words they speak, their salvation comes from speech as well. God demands that as recompense for their sins, “Job will pray for [them], and I will accept his prayer”(42:8). Prayer is a considered, formal variant of everyday speech, and this may be its chief virtue. In contrast with the speeches of Zophar, Eliphaz, and Bildad, prayer assumes nothing of God but his existence. The ritualistic nature of prayer, as well as the fact that it traditionally subjugates the person offering it before God, distinguishes it from ordinary and potentially wicked speech. While these arguments serve to complicate the equation of sin and speech, they by no means undermine it.Though the content of speech, not speech itself, is construed as sin, silence is always represented as virtue. This idea, though finally confirmed by God, is expressed throughout the bulk of the text by Job alone. He articulates it on four separate occasions. The first, and necessarily the most lengthy of these instances, is an explication in the form of a criticism of his three friends. “If you would only keep silent, that would be your wisdom!” Job tells them, and then goes on to explain that each word spoken of God risks offending him through deceit or over-partiality (13:5). “Your maxims are proverbs of ashes,” he concludes, metaphorically reducing their speech to a fragile construction of dust (13:12). Job later uses his own situation as an exemplary tale: “Look at me, and be appalled, and lay your hand upon your mouth” (21:5). While on the surface this is directed at the three friends, it is in fact intended for the reader of the text as well, and could indeed be taken as the central message that this book is intended to communicate to believers. The final iteration of this idea occurs near the end of the text, and neatly concludes Job’s argument. Now espousing near-total silence in the presence of the Lord, he says, “I have spoken once, and I will not answer twice, but proceed no further” (40:4-5). His position validated, he can lapse out of discourse into observation of a code of virtuous silence.Silence is a human virtue only. “[God’s] voice roars; he thunders with his majestic voice and he does not restrain the lightnings when his voice is heard” (37:4). There is a consensus throughout the book that God’s voice is not only sound but sound so powerful that its ramifications on the physical world are both spectacular and destructive. The speech itself is usually equated with thunder, and during the theophany, God describes a sea monster called Leviathan that can be read as a metaphor for God and God’s power. This creature’s mouth is represented as a pit of fire, and its every breath is accompanied by flame (41:21). The choice of fire – and of thunder, which is closely related to it – as the physical corollary for God’s voice is an interesting one, since humans both need fire for survival and fear it as an agent of destruction. The fire metaphor seems carefully chosen to explicate by way of connotation the proper relationship of humans with God, at least as the Book of Job defines it: it should be an intimate one simultaneously characterized by both fear of and subservience to the divine will.The meaning of God’s words also have a direct impact on the world. God uses his voice, rather than an unspoken will, to bring things into being. It is his verbal command that brings about snow, rain, wind and icy weather (37:6, 9). The text construes God’s power as almost entirely grounded in his speech; for example, at the beginning of his theophany, God describes his creation of the oceans, initially with verbs like “shut in” and “prescribed bounds,” but in the summary at 38:11, the binding of theocean is represented as a speech act, when God commands the ocean directly: “Here shall your proud waves be stopped.” If speech is not the source of God’s power, then it is certainly the vehicle of that power.For all of its fiery magnificence and import, the human characters in the Book of Job seem to conceptualize the voice of God, as well as his words, at least partially as tools of instruction. The first notable evidence of this is when Zophar is criticizing what he takes to be Job’s impiety and sin. He says to Job, “O that God would speak, and open his lips to you, and that he would tell you the secrets of wisdom!” (11:5-6). It is not only the sinful friends who advance this conceptualization, since Job himself agrees with them when he says “I would learn what [God] would answer me, and understand what he would say to me” (23:5). Verbal, discursive teaching is integrally a speech act; it is the passing of concrete knowledge between minds on a bridge built with words. Teaching in this sense also seems to necessarily involve humans, since if it can be said that the Lord teaches Satan of the righteousness of Job, it is certain that Satan required a physical test rather than a simple lecture. By contrast, the men in Job attempt to teach one another through words, and God will eventually echo their approach, in effect joining their theological debate, albeit with a more certain perspective.However, if it stood alone, this viewpoint on the nature of God’s speech would seem to locate the divine and the human much too close on the rhetorical spectrum. God asks Job, “can you thunder with a voice like [mine]?” and the question clearly separates divine speech from the human equivalent (40:9). Elihu suggests some of the elements of God’s voice that are neglected in a purely instructional conceptualization. Indeed, heignores teaching altogether, and postulates that “God speaks in one way, and in two, though people do not perceive it” (33:14). The two ways he goes on to name and explicate are speech through dreams and through punishment, deprivation and pain. Elihu’s suggestions, perhaps representative of the younger generation, are much more indirect; they suggest that the Lord speaks through metaphor and encourage believers to read events as omens and representations of divine speech. Earlier in the Book of Job, Eliphaz postulates a similar idea, saying that “those who plow iniquity . . . by the breath of God they perish” (4:8-9). However, God never confirms these ideas, and in fact the very actualities of the situation seem to deny its truth. Job’s misfortunes are not the voice of God embodied but are rather random cruelties achieved at the hand of Satan. These erroneous speculations probably join much of the rest of Eliphaz’s and Elihu’s discourse as the body of their sin.Though speech, silence and the voice of God are facets of the verbal relationship between the divine and the human, nowhere is this more directly expressed than in the human desire to speak with God. Elihu defines the human relationship to God’s commands verbally, metaphorically equating listening with obedience and “open[ing] their ears” with instilling belief (36:10-11). Despite his strong impulse to request this close verbal interaction, Job at first doubts its practicability. “How then can I answer him,” he asks, “choosing my words with him . . . Though I am innocent, my own mouth would condemn me” (9:14, 20). Indeed, the gap between the human and the divine seems too great to bridge with words. This frustration does not destroy the impulse to speak with God, especially for the characters like Elihu, who do not perceive it. Job, who has asense of the divine both more accurate and more nuanced, simply begins to request a formalization of the discussion: the forum of the legal court. He constructs the court as a point of verbal exchange: “I would lay my case before him, and fill my mouth with arguments. I would learn what he would answer me, and understand what he would say to me” (23:4-5). Job’s interest is not in receiving justice so much as in receiving instruction. This formal version of interaction with God is acceptable, in Job’s mind, in much the same way that prayer is acceptable; since he lays out only conditional arguments before the court, as he would lay out only requests in prayer, and then passively awaits a divine response.If divine speech in irrefutably good, human speech is not so privileged. “Your words have supported those who were stumbling, and you have made firm the feeble knees,” says Eliphaz to Job at 4:4. The implication of this statement and the following argument, however, is that Job’s words, once so powerful, are now as feeble as the knees they used to strengthen. Over the course of their speeches, Job’s friends imbue his speech with less and less import, referring to it instead as “unprofitable talk” (15:3). This decay of confidence in the significance and impact of speech – and therefore in the efficacy of speech acts – is mirrored in the rest of the Book of Job as well. God’s momentous decision to allow Satan to taunt the most righteous of men potentially undermines much of the Judeo-Christian tradition’s understanding of its deity as a rational and loving entity. It might also begin to undermine the power of speech to deal with such apparently irrational events, which are so far removed from the sphere of human power. If the system in which sin begets punishment and virtue earns reward in which the culture is soinvested is to hold true, Job’s words must lose their truth and power, since they directly contradict it. Therefore, his friends preface each of their rebuttals with an indictment of the verity of Job’s words, saying that “the words of [his] mouth [are] a great wind” (8:2). They thereby reconcile what they are witnessing with what they formerly held to be true.Job himself also begins to doubt the power of speech, especially as his prayers go unanswered. “If I speak,” he says, “my pain is not assuaged” (16:6). In this case it seems the import of the words was couched in his expectation that they would have a perceptible effect, rather than in the achievement of that effect. For some time he was willing to suspend disbelief, to simply wait for God to act, but as a response seems less likely, he gives up belief in the power of prayer. While these dismissals of the power of speech may seem to be exceptions to the general rule, they are confirmed, oddly enough, at the conclusion of the Book of Job. In his final speech, Job admits to God that “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; and therefore I despise myself” (42:5-6). This statement, which passes without comment, construes the entire verbal relationship between God and humans as penultimate, and enthrones direct contact as the preferred method of learning holiness. These two modes of interaction are by no means mutually exclusive, since even in the first of the speech acts mentioned in Job – Satan’s challenge that Job will “curse [God] to [his] face” – seems to imply some sort of physical presence as well (1:11).Verbal interaction is, therefore, presented by the Book of Job as a necessary component of the human relationship with God. This implies not only the direct discussion that Job is privileged to receive but also the more indirect implications ofignorant speech pregnant with sin, and worshipful silence. The Book of Job serves to define some formal modes of proper verbal interaction with God, such as prayer. For all that it questions, complicates and contradicts, the heavy textual emphasis on speech and speech acts confirms their central role. The Bible is, after all, thought by the Judeo-Christian tradition to be the authorized word of God. Job accuses God of “writ[ing] bitter things against [him],” equating the written word with action (13:26). Given this, the Book of Job constitutes nothing less than a set of codes for believers’ verbal interaction with their god.
Noah and The Bible
The Bible builds its literary foundations upon the themes of Knowledge and Sin, two topoi that are reflected again and again in various parables, allegories, and tales found within this sacred text. Genesis 9:20-27 exemplifies the synthesis of these ideas, the relatively short tale of Noah¹s drunkenness revealing a profound exploration of the underpinning Biblical themes. And yet while being a perfectly self-contained passage, the story of Noah incorporates other parts of Genesis within its ideological framework, creating a multi-leveled structure that is both autonomous of and indebted to its greater context.Both the structure of the passage and its concepts explore the Biblical theme of knowledge, making Noah¹s story a literal meditation on the idea, within a humanistic setting. The distinction of Noah being a ³man of the soil² is important within this context, because Adam and Eve dealt with the theme of Knowledge as well, but within a more supernatural, Godly environment (9:20). Thus the story of Noah is meant not as an etiological tale, but more as a morally-based allegory meant to render the concept of Knowledge more intimately understandable to the average person of faith. Noah¹s drunkenness from his wine leads to him laying ³uncovered in his tent,² a state of being that recalls Edenic associations with nakedness and Knowledge, reaffirming the connection between this passage and its place in Genesis (9:22). The climax of the scene comes when Ham ³[sees] the nakedness of his father, and [tells] his two brothers outside² (9:23). This moment, the second that Ham gains the knowledge of his father¹s naked figure, is pivotal in understanding the meaning of this passage. It illustrates not only the greater concept of Knowledge, but also outlines societal rules and norms regarding the interaction between father and son. The word ³saw² in the passage alone carries many levels of meaning, its usage an intrinsic allusion to when Adam and Eve ate from the tree of Knowledge and saw each other¹s nakedness for the first time. Thus this word, and its application, reveal to us that nakedness is a shameful thing, and thus Ham¹s knowledge of his father¹s nakedness is, in fact, a horrible thing, for the relationship between father and son should be one of respect, not of shame.The actions of Shem and Japheth also tells us that this event is shamefulto dress their father, they ³[take] a garment, la[y] it on both their shoulders, and [walk] backward and [cover] the nakedness of their father; their faces [are] turned away, and they [do] not see their father¹s nakedness² (9:23). This blatant avoidance of the knowledge of nakedness illustrates to the reader how one should act in such a situation, for Noah¹s ultimate reaction to his sons reveals the merit of Shem and Japheth¹s actionsNoah blesses them with good fortune, while Canaan, the son of Ham, is cursed to slavery. This punishment of the son reflects the generational tendencies of The Bible, and reveals once again the relation to Adam and Eve, and the cursed nature of their offspring, namely humanity.Sin is also a hugely important aspect of this passage, incorporated into the theme of Knowledge yet independent from it, in that sin is a later addition to Genesis in terms of thematic vocabulary. The idea of sin is a Christian element of the Bible, yet one cannot read it as a piece of literature without understanding the echoes of its fundamental effect upon its literary interpretation. Such word usage as ³cursed,² enforces the mental association with sin, as our cultural lexicon has created an undeniable like between those two ideas (9:25). The passage as a whole illustrates in a relatively simple way the sin of indulgence, as Noah¹s drunkenness creates terrible consequences, and Ham¹s knowledge forever wrecks his offspring. This allegorical passage is meant to both instruct and warn the reader, as many levels of sin are exposed. The selection works around the juxtapositions of images and words, as the voyeurism of Ham is offset by the exaggerated unseeing actions of Shem and Japheth, and the curse laid on Canaan is juxtaposed by the blessings given to his uncles. These independent sections of the passage work together to create a powerful tale of human behavior, one that is linked together with the Creation story, but provides more moralization than explanation.Thus both knowledge and sin are invoked as thematic directives behind this seemingly simple passage of Genesis, resulting in a deeply probing allegory of human society and family. The tale of Adam and Eve is referenced many times within the selection, from the description of Noah as ³a man of the soil,² to the more obvious allusions with the issue of nakedness (9:20). Thus this small passage is extremely significant to the Bible as a whole, tackling social custom and repeating biblical motifs to reveal a depth of meaning that parallels that of any other ³known² passage of the Bible.
The Scope of Wisdom: An Examination of Proverbs 20 and Ecclesiastes 1
Ecclesiastes and Proverbs both strive to examine wisdom and faith but approach these subjects on varying levels of existence. The individual person is approached differently in the two books, which enter into a dynamic discourse on the pursuit of understanding. Proverbs strives to instruct God’s creations, human beings, as they dwell on earth. But Ecclesiastes expands its scope to eradicate details like individual people. As though it is responding to the clunky instruction-book quality of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes poetically dismisses the insignificant concerns of mortal man. Its fatalistic, frustrated pondering is often in direct opposition to Proverbs hopeful warnings and calm faith. Proverbs is occupied by common, daily acts. Its subjects are earthbound and the language has a kind of familiar physicality that makes it accessible and penetrable. Ecclesiastes, on the other hand, dedicates itself to larger spaces with sweeping generalizations and all-encompassing terms. It is as though Ecclesiastes addresses the framework containing the subjects of Proverbs. This framework is the web of eternity, operating in cycles that consume the brief linear existences of Proverbs’ individual subjects. The linearity of Proverbs provides its logical reasoning, a manner of thinking that posits rational cause and effect. But the flowing, circular space of Ecclesiastes makes such logic seem oversimplified and basic. Side by side, Proverbs 20 and Ecclesiastes 1 (RSV) provide many examples of the contrasting nature of the two books. They propose different kinds of wisdom: wisdom that informs average daily life and wisdom that occupies impossibly lofty realms, where questions do not have answers and the terms are effectively intangible.A difference in scope is clearly established through the language of the two texts. The basic aspect of vocabulary, of word choice, is already one area of discrepancy. The terminology is simply different. The sense that Proverbs is more grounded in human experience is derived from references to objects and actions that consume average daily life. This is intended for those who ‘plow’ and ‘harvest’ (20:4), those who are subject to ‘a king who sits on a throne,’ (20:8) and those who are familiar with ‘weights,’ ‘scales,’ (20:23) and ‘wheel[s]’ (20:26). These physical references contribute to a sense of familiarity and physicality. Proverbs dwells in the active, working person, concerning itself with their every move. Ecclesiastes is not built on these kind of references. Instead, its vocabulary is one of a grander scale, full of untouchable and massive forces. Its objects are ‘the sun,’ (1:5) ‘the wind,’ (1:6) and ‘heaven’ (1:14). These are not places where the daily activities of Proverbs are a concern. They hover high above such tangible details and eradicate the simple human subject. The human becomes small and unworthy in the face of such sweeping terms. Ecclesiastes communicates a distinct impatience with the measly, earthbound individual, as though the human form is limiting in its corporeality. This is just the opposite of Proverbs, which continually identifies this body as its subject. Where the text of Proverbs is content to state ‘The hearing ear and the seeing eye/the LORD has made them both,’ (20:12) Ecclesiastes looks beyond the mere physical wonderment of this fact and complains ‘the eye is not satisfied with seeing,/nor the ear filled with hearing² (1:8). It is moments like these that truly set the two texts apart in terms of scope, even pitting them against each other. Ecclesiastes does not have the patience for the simple and obvious physical statements that characterize the language in Proverbs.Ecclesiastes soars above the grounded Proverbs in other qualities of the language. Another dissimilarity between the two sections is the use of metaphor. Proverbs 20 makes extensive use of metaphor, an aspect that seems essentially absent in Ecclesiastes 1. Again, this creates a sense of dwelling in heavy detail and attempting to connect with a living, breathing, and working audience. Metaphors like ‘The dread wrath of a king is like the growling of a lion,’ (20:2) and ‘The purpose in a man’s mind is like deep water,’ (20:5) are making use of concrete and identifiable imagery to make a point. They reach out with distinct and identifiable things lifted from the real world. The average reader can use these references as tools to penetrate meaning. Ecclesiastes does not furnish its points with accessible terms. In its more ethereal and vague tone, it does not clarify with metaphors. Instead, imagery suggests deeper meaning without spelling it out. ‘All streams run to the sea,/but the sea is not full,’ (1:7) is certainly not simply about the geography of actual streams, but the infinite quality of time. The speaker creates a sense of eternity without specifying. This is one of many aspects making Ecclesiastes seem loftier, and thus less accessible than Proverbs. Instead of localizing the references, this speaker expands them until they are distinctly unspecific. The terms grow enough to become absolute and all-encompassing. For example, the word ‘All’ occurs constantly in Ecclesiastes 20. The chapter is characterized by phrases like ‘All is vanity,’ (1:2) ‘All streams run to the sea,’ (1:7) ‘All things are full of weariness,’ (1:8) ‘all that is done under heaven,’ (1:13) and ‘all who were over Jerusalem before me’ (1:16). By using referencing this totality, Ecclesiastes establishes a much grander scale for its subject. Details are eradicated by the sheer power of its questions and breadth of its scope. It refuses to attach specific meaning to specific things, or even narrow its subject down to the tangible world. The alternate title of ‘The Preacher’ is an apt description of Ecclesiastes authorial stance. While ‘Proverbs’ is a democratic set of ideas, placed deliberately among the people with the people as its subject, Ecclesiastes seems perched above and calling down from the pulpit.The individual human being is thus embraced by Proverbs and diminished by Ecclesiastes. Where Proverbs probes differences between individuals, Ecclesiastes eradicates differences through generalization. Proverbs makes distinctions between different types of people, building its small cast of characters. These include ‘king,’ (20:2) ‘fool,’ (20:3) ‘sluggard,’ (20:4) ‘child’ (20:11) and ‘stranger’ (20:16). It is not only in the list of types that individuality is lauded, but in the presence of variation among characters. Adjectives are used to classify varying kinds of men among the many, driving home the idea that humanity is a diverse and complex gathering of solitary creatures. We encounter ‘a man of understanding’ (20:5), ‘a faithful man,’ (20:6) ‘a righteous man,’ (20:7) and see a comparison between ‘young’ and ‘old’ men (20:29). By alluding to possibilities of personality, the philosophy of Proverbs is embracing the individual. The polar opposite of this attention is very clearly stated in Ecclesiastes. Human lives are not worthy of attention in a worldview that reminds us ‘A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever,’ (1:4) disposing in its opening lines of any concern for the singular human experience.The mortal world of Proverbs and the all-encompassing universal dilemmas of Ecclesiastes make use of dissimilar modes of reason and logic. In the metaphors of Proverbs, there is a characteristic rationality that is missing in the questions of Ecclesiastes. The concept of cause and effect is crucial in both the message and form of Proverbs. The rhythm of the book moves forward in a distinctly linear description of action and consequence, whether positive or negative. One such moral process is contained in ‘Bread gained by deceit is sweet to a man, but afterward his mouth will be full of gravel’ (20:17). This plots an event along an obvious line. There are specific and logistical warnings such as ‘The sluggard does not plow in the autumn; he will seek at harvest and have nothing’ (20:4). This idea contains the framework of seasonal time to ground it, and a distinct cause and effect that lends an accessible clarity to its point. Ecclesiastes throws a wrench in this clear line of thought, demanding ‘What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?’ (1:3). Ecclesiastes also directly counters the scheme of forward-moving linear time in its emphasis on cycles. There is no simple beginning and ending in descriptions like ‘The sun rises and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises’ (1:5). In statements like these, the sentence carefully returns to the beginning instead of moving to a conclusion at the end. The form of the language mimics the circles it is describing. The entire book is woven of these overlapping cycles, operating outside of man’s empirical reasoning.The glorious scope and lofty subject matter of Ecclesiastes does not mean it reigns above Proverbs. Although the poetic flow of cycles in the universe is engaging and beautiful, the accessibility of Proverbs’ mortal concerns renders it an extremely powerful book. Proverbs is able to apply the ethereal and vague concept of ‘wisdom’ to action. This is a necessary entrance-point into the teachings of the Bible. Unlike The Preacher’s stance assumed by Ecclesiastes, the instructions of Proverbs put faith directly into the hands of the people. The inclusion of the individual human as a worthy subject sends a crucial message. Proverbs, through careful instruction and calm warning, suggests that there is hope for the person who acts in a certain way. But Ecclesiastes’ schema is a fatalistic and hopeless one, where the subject is simply left to ponder. The individual in search of wisdom lives by Proverbs and thinks by Ecclesiastes, turning inward through the teachings of one and gazing upward by grace of the other.
The Book of Matthew, the first of the Gospels in the New Testament, appears to be directed towards the Hebrews to compel them to accept Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah. As a result, the Book of Matthew is in many ways seemingly continuous of the Hebrew Scriptures. When reading the Book of Matthew, one immediately notices the lengthy recount of genealogy of “Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” (Matthew 1:1) starting from Abraham: “Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob…” (Matthew 1:2) and ending with Jesus Christ: “…and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah” (Matthew 1:16) It is quite interesting how the Gospel according to Matthew approaches the issue of Christ with the retracing of birth and paternity of forty-two generations: “So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations” (Matthew 1:17). Jesus Christ is not related by blood to Joseph, and hence is not related by blood to David or Abraham. However, he is nevertheless referred to as “the son of David, the son of Abraham” in because the Book of Matthew attempts to establish continuity with the Old Testament. First, this serves to convince the Hebrews that the Messiah is, like them, a descendant of Abraham, the progenitor of the Hebrews. It also shows that Jesus is a descendant of royalty, David, as prophesized in the Old Testament “…a child has been born for us, a son given to us…his authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom.” (Isaiah 9:6-7) Matthew reminds us of this many times throughout the Book, for example: “…two blind men followed him, crying loudly, ‘Have mercy on us, Son of David'” (9:27), and “all the crowds were amazed and said, ‘Can this be the Son of David?'” (12:23) Other fulfillments of Old Testament prophecies are common in the Book of Matthew. One such is the conception and subsequent naming of Christ: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel” (Matthew 1:23) prophesized by Isaiah “…the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14) And in Hosea, a part of the history of the Jews, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son” (Hosea 11.1), which refers to Exodus “thus says the Lord: Israel is my firstborn son” (Exodus 4:22), is recapitulated when Joseph, following the instructions of an angel of God, brought Jesus and Mary out of Egypt. Jesus taught the crowds with parables, and fulfilled the prophecy “I will open my mouth in a parable” (Psalms 78:2). Jesus Christ told the crowds that John the Baptist was prophesized to be the return of the prophet Elijah: “For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John came; and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.” (Matthew 11:13-14) Isaiah also prophesized a Messiah who “borne our infirmities and carried our diseases” (Isaiah 53:4). Jesus Christ was known for healing the sick. Chapters Eight and Nine of the Book of Matthew detail his many miracles. This brings up another major topic in both Matthew and the Old Testament Scriptures: miracles. In Exodus, God commanded Moses repeatedly to bring down harm against the Pharaoh and the Egyptians. For example, God said to Moses “…present yourself before Pharaoh…and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord: Let my people go, so that they may worship me. For if you will not let my people go, I will send swarms of flies on you, your officials, and your people…” (Exodus 8:20-21) God, here seems to have Moses perform these miracles to prove his power: “You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go out of his land. But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and I will multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt. When Pharaoh does not listen to you, I will lay my hand upon Egypt and bring my people the Israelites, company by company, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment. The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord…” (Exodus 7:2-5) In Matthew, God again performs great miracles, this time through Jesus the Messiah in his ability to heal: “…a leper…knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.’ He stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I do choose. Be made clean.” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed” (Matthew 8:2-3). God’s miracles in the New Testament, while they still serve to prove his greatness, are no longer vengeful, but compassionate (healing the sick, feeding the hungry, exorcising demons). God’s ways have undoubtedly changed in the Book of Matthew. This is not to say that Jesus wished for his followers to reject the ways of the past: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” (Matthew 5:17) He goes on to elaborate upon the old laws of the Hebrews: “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times…But I say to you…” He refers back repeatedly to the Ten Commandments given to Moses (in Exodus Chapter 20) to establish connections with the past.God continued to test faith in the Book of Matthew as he did in the Hebrew Scriptures. God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac: “Take your son, your only son Isaac…and offer his there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” (Genesis 22:2) When God was sure that Abraham is a true follower, God stops Abraham from killing his son: “for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” (Genesis 22:12) In Job, Satan (meaning “the accuser”), because he cannot battle with God directly, can tamper with God’s creation, namely man, and in this case, the righteous and faultless Job. Satan attempts to alienate God from man by accusing Job of being the worst of sinners because he worships God for self-serving reasons. God allows Satan to test Job by removing every indication that Job has God’s favor. Job does not curse God, but he is hurt because he feels that God has abandoned him. God eventually restores all that belonged to Job, and the Tempter Satan is silenced. Satan similarly tests Jesus in the desert: “If you are the Son of God…” (Matthew 4:3) but Jesus, like Job, remained steadfast: “Away with you Satan! For it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” Then the devil left him” (Matthew 4:10-11). Jesus, also like Job, at one point on the crucifix felt that God has abandoned him: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)Many aspects of the Book of Matthew suggest that Jesus is presented as the new and greater Moses. Moses was very important to the Hebrews. He was deliverer of his people, lawgiver, and attributed to writing the first five books of the Old Testament. Jesus was teacher, lawgiver and judge, but most importantly the faithful Son of God, while Moses was only the faithful servant of God. Both Moses and Jesus dealt with the subject of redemption. God instructed Moses to say to the Israelites: “I am the Lord, and will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians and deliver you from slavery to them. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment” (Exodus 6:6) Redemption is mentioned again: “In your steadfast love you led the people whom you redeemed; you guided them by your strength to your holy abode.” (Exodus 15:13) But seemingly crucial to this idea of redemption is the adherence to God’s laws that were delivered to the people. God expected the laws to be obeyed and himself to be feared. Jesus, too, gives laws (in Matthew Chapters 5 and 6) but the purpose of his laws, and consequently, the idea of salvation, is different from that of the Hebrews. Jesus, because he is the Son of God, can forgive sins and acts as a direct agent of salvation. Obeisance of his laws is a testament of faith in God “whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me” (Matthew 10:40). If one loves Jesus, one will obey his laws, and Jesus will act on his behalf to attain salvation and reach “the kingdom of heaven.” This idea is further supported when after the resurrection of Christ, he appears to his disciples and says: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:18-20) The last line of Matthew represents the compassion and timelessness crucial to the idea of Christ: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)The Book of Matthew has more references to the Old Testament Scriptures than any other book of the New Testament. The Book of Matthew seems very concerned with fulfilling prophesies from the Old Testament, which suggests that it was written towards a Jewish audience. The Old Testament again and again prophesized the advent of a Messiah who will save Israel and its people, and Jesus fulfills these prophesies in Matthew. The attempt of Matthew to establish itself in continuity with the Hebrew Scriptures (through the prophesies and recurring themes found in both the Old and New Testaments (tests of faith, salvation)) is in effect an attempt to convincingly introduce the idea of Jesus Christ to the Hebrews.
The Subtle Hand of God and the Female Archetype in the Book of Esther
Introduction: The Multi-Faceted Appeal of the Book of EstherThe book of Esther is one of the greatest pieces of literature in the Hebrew Bible. Its narrative is intricate, inventive, and colored with complex characters. It is the basis for the celebration of Purim and is highly popular, well loved by the devout, the scholarly, and the literate alike. But Esther is also one of the most contested books in the Hebrew Bible because of the two norms from which it deviates: the absence of God as a defined, active presence and the portrayal of a clever, industrious woman as the savior of the Jewish people. The additions in the Septuagint, which rescind or lessen aspects of these deviations, reveal interesting aspects of the anxiety the Hebrew Esther created among some Jewish (and, later, some Christian) readers. Here, in this beautiful and unique book, we see the most clear representation of God as truly an unconscious presence-never mentioned, but always there, guiding the actions of individuals and the Jewish people as a whole. We are given a female heroine, one who is an archetype of her own as she bends and challenges the female characters who have come before her. But even more profound then the book itself, perhaps, is the anxiety it causes. In the Greek book of Esther, God is added at every turn, and the role of Mordecai is conflated, revealing a certain discomfort by the revisers with the indistinct presence of God and a strong female heroine. However, these qualities make Esther one of the most intriguing texts for a psychoanalytic study of Jewish mythology.I. The Hidden God of EstherFrom a strictly narrative point of view, one of the driving forces of action in the Hebrew Esther is chance, or coincidence. If one reads Esther from a religious perspective, however, it is assumed that all of these coincidences are the work of divine providence and part of God’s ultimate plan, even though he is never mentioned in the Hebrew. At the crucial turning point of the narrative, Mordecai suggests to Esther, “Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just a time as this” (Esth 4.14). Later, his life is spared when the king’s insomnia leads him to happen, by chance, upon the mention of Mordecai saving his life he had forgotten (also by chance). Furthermore, it is implied that, even under the threat of the king’s decree, the Jewish people will be delivered: Haman’s wife warns him that his downfall is connected to the reward of Mordecai “the Jew” (Esth 6:13), and the lots Haman casts give him the month of Adar, the month in which Moses died. Haman takes this as a sign of favor on his part, while not realizing that it is also the month in which Moses was born. Finally, the conflict between Haman and Mordecai, while it begins as a clash of wills, can be traced back to Mordecai’s ancestor Kish and Haman’s ancestor Agag, symbolic of the statement that “the Lord will have war with Amalekites from generation to generation” (Ex 17.16). In fact, there are very few instances of deliberate action at all in the first half of the story. Everything is assumed, implicitly, to be guided by the hand of God.The presentation of these events wholly without mention of God himself, however, is what has made Esther so troubling to Jewish, and later Christian, readers: the Greek Esther that appears in the Septuagint, which will be discussed in-depth in the third section, attempts to modify the apparent absence of God. However, reading Esther through the lens of psychoanalysis, it becomes the primary book in the Hebrew Bible in which the nature of God as the unconscious is most explicit. Mordecai cryptically refers to an “other quarter,” interpreted by readers as God, but in highly peculiar language suggestive of a power waiting to be discovered and connected to (Esth 4.14). If one concedes to the idea that all coincidental occurrences and ironic rewards or punishments are the work of a divine plan, then, assuming the divine is a metaphor for the unconscious, the book of Esther shows how the characters therein are guided, redeemed, and destroyed by what Freud would consider their unconscious drives. Haman overestimates his own worth and his importance to the king, and for it, meets a bitter end of his own design. The king is almost comically forgetful, oblivious, and fickle, allowing himself to be manipulated by both Haman and Esther. And Esther, who is assumed in legend to be a symbol of the “hester panim” (the hiding of the divine’s face), can be seen both as the ego of the narrative, but also as the persona of God/the unconscious mind. Assuming Esther as the ego of the book, one could begin to attempt to construct an idea of her subconscious. Her self-image is that of a modest but beautiful young woman who begins the story as a mostly obedient and pious Jew (despite her neglect of Jewish Law, which is never addressed). Her Jewish identity would seem primarily secular or ethnic, except that one would assume that the religiosity of her “Jewishness” is the presence of God as her unconscious mind. In her subconscious, one might also find the king (her husband) and Haman, an adversary (and therefore, perhaps, a complex). There is also the shadow figure of Vashti, the openly rebellious queen whom Esther has replaced, and, of course, her uncle Mordecai. Esther and Mordecai can also be seen as anima and animus to each other. This is most obvious in the reverse of gender roles that occurs in the fourth chapter. Until this point, Esther had been subservient to her guardian and relied on him for aid and assistance, but when it becomes obvious that Esther is the only person who can sway the mind of the king, it is Mordecai who must depend on her and follow her orders. Esther’s transformation in this occurrence is only one of the intriguing shifts in gender distinct to the book of Esther.II. Esther and the Female ArchetypeEsther finds herself in a peculiar position in the Biblical cannon. Neither a clear-cut example of the “temptress” archetype of Eve, Delilah and Jezebel, nor the “good wife” of Sarah, Rebecca, and Ruth, she is a unique figure. Only the characterization of Judith–another stunningly beautiful, pious woman who delivers her people with her cunning intellect–owes much to Esther, and it is not surprising that both books have been challenged (the book of Judith is also considered apocrypha outside of Catholic traditions). Technically, Esther is primarily a symbol herself-an iconic heroine to the Jewish people-and her status as a person is secondary to this, but her character is still rich and well rounded, incorporating many different aspects of the women who have come before her. While Esther is the heroine of the story, the influence of the Eve archetype is still evident. Like Judith, Esther’s power lies in her beauty and her ability to manipulate the king through, it is implied, sexual tension. She wins her place as his wife, and later an important conference with him, through her remarkable beauty (unaided by cosmetic treatment, which highlights her exceptional temptress potential, but also her pious modesty) and instigates the defeat of Haman by arousing the King’s suspicion and jealousy. It is also important to note the relationship between Esther and the exiled queen, Vashti. Vashti is also assumed to be beautiful and dignified. However, it is her modesty (if one interprets Esth 1.11 as only the “royal crown”), or her pride, that cause her to fall out of favor with the king. While Esther’s manipulation is, like the workings of God, subtle and cunning, Vashti’s open rebellion ruins her. Esther’s cleverness also shows how very different she is from Eve, who is easily led, though makes her surprisingly like Delilah, who is also able to manipulate her husband but for sinister ends. It is most likely this quality of Esther’s heroism, combined with her gender and the ambiguity of the presence of God, that made the book so frightening to some, and therefore made the later additions seem necessary.III. The Underlying Anxiety in the Greek EstherIn addition to avoiding discussion of God directly, the Hebrew version of Esther also causes some distress by neglecting discussion of Jewish Law. Mordecai and Esther especially are portrayed as good, pious Jews, but food laws are ignored and the Sabbath is not kept, even though these practices were still important to Jews in exile. The additions to the Greek version attempt to address these issues in various ways, from small adjustments (Esther mentions not eating at the king’s table, God “[changes] the spirit of the king” [Add Esth 15.8]) and large ones (Mordecai is given a vision about the events to come, Esther and Mordecai offer long prayers to God). Mordecai is given a more central role with his dream as the first chapter and a more complex subplot involving the assassination attempt on the king. With these updates, two of the most unique and potentially offensive aspects of the Hebrew Esther are lessened. It should not go without saying, however, that the estimated date of the additions is relevant. It is assumed the additions date around 150-100 B.C.E., during the time of the Macabees, when the Jewish people were once again hoping to be delivered from oppression. Decrees issued in the king’s name are printed in their entirety (to add historical credence to the work), and the “otherness” of the Gentiles is amplified. The increased presence of God and the decrease in the ferocity of Jewish vengeance in chapter nine of the Hebrew reveal the feelings of desperation from a suffering people waiting for the aid of their god. It is telling, however, that the additions are ultimately not included in the Hebrew cannon.Conclusion: Esther and the Human ExperienceDespite all of the challenges and controversy surrounding Esther, it remains an intriguing book to scholars, and Purim, a celebration of life and victory, is one of the most light-hearted Jewish holidays. So what does this book, its intricacies, eccentricities, revisions and restorations tell us about the psychology of the Jewish people? The fact that the Hebrew canon preserved the “hidden miracle” of the original text, even with the difficulties it presents, reveals not only a profound trust in the divine, but a belief that human action is often necessary, especially when the face of God appears to be turned away. The actual nature of fate seems to transform once the protagonists, especially Esther, choose to become active. In this way, we see Esther and the Jewish people as a whole in the process of individuation. The book of Esther is not unlike a game of connect-the-dots: seemingly random occurrences mapped out before hand by a distant, all-knowing force, waiting for the player to take the initiative, pick up her pen, and see the larger picture emerge.
The Language of the Bible
“It is done! I am the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”Revelation 21:6From the opening words of the Bible (Revised Standard Version) to its closing ‘Amen,’ the power of language is highlighted as a central aspect of the text. Among the many narrators and across both Old and New Testaments remain the words of God. Necessary to receive these words and therefore intrinsically tied in a kind of listening covenant, are God’s followers. The words of God become speech acts bearing awesome powers. Perhaps the greatest of these is the power to create. Moments of creation provide especially important forays into the world of words. The notion that a speech can not only be but make concrete reality is one of the Bible’s strongest selling points. After all, the Bible is a linguistic vehicle for spirituality, a space where words must create realities of their own, albeit less concrete than the world itself. In the narrative path of the Bible, the focus on God’s words moves away from their power to create concrete objects. This is replaced by an intense attention to the words themselves, to the beauty of hearing them spoken, and the importance of finding salvation through them. The power of God’s words is in their potential for eternal meaning as much as their ability to create through speech acts. The ensuing discussion of language will focus on the opening chapters of Genesis to the closing chapters of the Book of Revelation, the literal ‘first and the last, the beginning and the end.’ (Rev. 5:6). These two sections are not only relevant to a discussion of language because they begin and end the book, but because the book begins and ends by hailing the power of words.From the outset, the creation story in Genesis establishes a unique and amazing power in God’s words. The reader participates in the gradual building of the world, word for word. It seems that God speaks as soon as he possibly can. The sequence of events in these beginning moments sets the foundation for an emphasis on God’s voice. It is an important first step that ‘In the beginning, God’ did not speak, but ‘created the heavens and the earth’ (Genesis 1:1) The book does not start with a speech act, but a silent act of creation. Every creation that follows this one, including Adam, will be produced by God’s words. But for now, the silence continues, eerily visualized in the image of ‘The earth…without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep’ (Gen. 1:2). The ‘void,’ ‘darkness,’ and ‘deep’ paint a kind of echoing cave of nothingness. This is a space poised for the entrance of a voice that will fill it with both sound and form, simultaneously. This grants the speech act its stage. A list of creations begins with the now familiar ‘And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light’ (Genesis 1:3). The speech act establishes its pure, even obvious power in the simple structure of this sentence. The words of God stand parallel the enactment of those words, separated by the semicolon. This is an almost mathematical equation, a kind of perfect symmetry of words to the life they create.The outcome of this equation is a stunning revelation. God’s words = life. This conclusion will be firmly entrenched in the mind of the reader after the many repetitions of its equation fill the chapter with more new words, the earth with more new life. Even though God had ‘created the heavens and the earth’ in Genesis I:I, it should be noted that it was only after his speech act has been repeated many times over and thus given life to his creation that the ‘heavens and earth were finished’ (Genesis I:2). The silent birth of the same heavens and the same earth was not enough. It was God’s words, and thus God’s creations, that completed the universe. A privileged relationship is established between God, his words, and their products. God’s words deliver life and his creations provide the ears. Those who listen do not only hear God’s voice, but find redemption when encountering the force that gave them life. These listeners will become churchgoers and Bible-readers for centuries to come. In order to qualify the words when spoken by a mere mortal, or printed on a flimsy page, the establishment of God’s voice must go through a transformation that will adequately glorify his words.In Revelation, this transformation from voice to words has been completed. The book reminds the reader in its own opening phrases that ‘Blessed is he who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear’ (Revelation, I:3). This idea of an exchange of words and willing ears between God and his blessed creations is therefore a common thread between these two books. In these opening lines from Revelation, the presence of a reader as opposed to God speaking represents a shift from the booming voice of God to the words themselves. The words without the actual voice of God retain the power of blessing through speech. The words themselves, even those that are ‘written’ (Rev, 1:3) have become an equally crucial force for deliverance. The phrase ‘He who has an ear,’ (Rev. 2:17, 3:22, 13:9) is repeated enough to remind that the speaking and hearing of God’s word is a blessed exchange. The voice of God is by no means less powerful. God is still absolutely present and central in Revelation. But the importance of his words has been increased. This must have something to do with the form of the Bible itself. Outside of the few mortals who actually speak with God, such as prophets and saints, a reader of the bible will have only God’s words to carry them and inspire life in them with their power.This subtle shift from the voice to God’s words was already beginning in Genesis. The process of naming is as much of the work of early Genesis as the speech act. To emphasize naming is to highlight the importance of the way God chooses to call his creatures, in other words, the original words of God. The formula for the speech act comes to include this naming moment, which is repeated methodically with each creation. We see how what ‘God called’ something must be included to make the world complete. After separating the light from the darkness, ‘God called the light Day and the darkness he called Night’ (Gen.1:5). It is only after God has named the light and the darkness that it passes. This first naming is therefore a kind of speech act, as just afterward the first night and morning actually pass with ‘there was evening and there was morning, one day’ (Gen 1:5). As Genesis continues, the presence of naming does not diminish, and contributes to the progress of language as a central theme. Interestingly, when God decides to ‘make a helper’ for Adam and forms ‘every beast of the field and every bird of the air,’ he brings Adam forth to do the naming. This can be seen as an early instance of the burden, or blessing of words being placed into the hands of man. It is the very beginnings of a tradition that allows the Bible to exist by defending the right of humans to create foundational words (under God’s supervision, of course). Adam then ‘[gives] names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field’ (Gen. 2:20). Note that when it is not God speaking, the details of what these names are become suddenly less important and are not included. This is a subtle reminder that although man can appropriate the act of speaking and naming, he is by no means the equivalent of the voice of God.Revelation shows the conclusion of the language development to be a state wedded to the words of God as much as his voice. The word ‘words’ appears often, usually from the mouth of God himself, in reminders of just how important these words are. God says ‘Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true,’ (Gen.21:5) and the importance of the word takes on the aspect of writing. In this vein, ‘the words of the prophecy of this book,’ (Rev.22:7) is a phrase that becomes central to Revelation. The phrase is never simply ‘the prophecy of this book’ but always specifies ‘the words.’ This process becomes even more specifically focused on words in the end of Revelation. In a kind of security procedure, some of the final moments represent a kind of Biblical copyright. There is a warning to ‘every one who hears the words of the prophecy of this book,’ (Rev. 22:18) bringing back this privileged relationship between the words and those who hear them. The narration distinctly protects the exact words of this prophecy, warning ‘if any one adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if any one takes away from the words of the book of prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book’ (Rev. 22:18). Clearly, the bible represents one giant perfect statement, impossible to revise. Here, the addition of ‘described in this book’ reminds readers that the important words of the world are contained here, where they have been recorded from God’s mouth, the source of all life.Revelation itself is a word that belongs to the bible, which reveals the supposed explanation for the way the world functions. From its very beginnings, the world was incomplete without a linguistic explanation. In Genesis, this explanation was the voice of God as he named his creatures. The Bible accounts for all those who will not hear the voice of God. It extracts his words, and inhabits this role. From Genesis forward, the words of God spark the words of the Bible. There is a long and detailed process in the development of the language theme that comes to a satisfying closure as the book gets near its end. By the closing of Revelation, the Bible has thoroughly entrenched itself as a set of words as divine as the words of God. This is a book that claims to be the linguistic explanation for the world. Revelation does crucial promotional work for the rest of the Bible by firmly entrenching the reign of language. Even in this defense of the written prophecy, there is a powerful reminder of God’s voice and God’s totality. His powerful claim to be ‘the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end,’ puts him into every word we have read, every inch of this book. As it draws to a close, this is a beautiful way of imbuing the written word with that original power of God’s voice, which never lost and will never lose its majesty.
Book of Exodus: Message, Themes, Characters, and New Testament Context
Part 1: The Book of Exodus and its MessageIn his theory of forms, the philosopher Plato proposes that the objects and situations encountered in the mundane world are often indicative of a higher and fuller reality. While Plato did not have the Old Testament in mind when he wrote “The Republic”, his concept of reality speaks to the relationship between the highlight of Jewish scripture, Ve-eleh Shemoth, better known as “Exodus”, and the events that would eventually become the focus of Christianity. In many ways, the Exodus is the thematic well from which the rest of the Bible draws. In its pages, one finds the departure of Israel from slavery in Egypt, the revelation of the Law on Mount Sinai, the journey towards Canaan, and the beginnings of Judaic religious practice. As the cornerstone of Old Testament soteriology, Yahweh’s deliverance of His people from Egypt is a pivotal event in the unfolding of God’s covenant with Israel, as well as the theological archetype in which Christianity is rooted. Furthermore, the events of the Exodus precipitate the creation of the Torah, or Teaching, and thus can be viewed as the direct antecedent of later Jewish customs.The story of the Exodus is well-known, having been the subject of numerous films and books, but its causes reach deep into the narratives of the first book of the Torah, bere-sit, or “Genesis”, as it is called in the Pentateuch. There, Yahweh blesses Abraham with the promise that Abraham’s offspring will inherit the land of Canaan, establishing a nation through which the entire Earth will be blessed. This forms the bedrock of the covenant relationship between God and Abraham’s descendents, the children of Israel. Genesis 15, however, contains a more foreboding prophecy:13 And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not their’s, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; 14 And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance.Thus, it was known as early as the time of the Patriarchs that Israel would endure a period of bondage in a foreign land before the covenant came to its fruition. The groundwork for this event is laid in Genesis 45, when Joseph moves the progenitors of the twelve tribes of Israel into Egypt, where they make their home in the northern region of Goshen. Over time, this small ethnic enclave grew to become a potential threat to Egyptian sovereignty. In order to allay his fears that the Israelites would betray Egypt in the event of a war, the Pharaoh of Exodus imposed the implacable chains of slavery on Joseph’s descendants, effectively preventing them from rebellion. When servitude proved ineffective, the Pharaoh added genocide to his program, ordering that all newborn Jewish males be slaughtered to prevent population growth amongst the Israelites. Placing an exact date on these events has proven futile, but most scholars believe that the Exodus took place during the first half of the 13th century, B.C. (LaSor, 59). Since the Biblical text does not explicitly mention the year in which the departure from Egypt took place, such exegesis has relied heavily on extra-biblical sources, as well as clues found in the text itself. Exodus 1:11 informs the reader that the Israelite slaves were responsible for the construction of the cities Pithom and Raameses (or Pi-Rameses), which were built sometime after 1290 B.C (LaSor, 59). This dating is further attested to by the “Israel Stele” (see Figure 1): a limestone monument erected c.1209 B.C. by Pharaoh Merneptah, which was unearthed in Thebes in 1896 (Wood). The stele, which boasts of the Pharaoh’s military victories in Canaan, includes the phrase: “Israel is wasted, bare of seed” (Dunn). Aside from being the earliest non-Biblical reference to the name “Israel”, the Stele demonstrates that the Israelites were established in the land of Canaan by 1209 B.C. (LaSor, 59). If this is true, then the Exodus would have taken place at least 40 years earlier, placing it in mid-1300s B.C. While this dating of the Exodus is still debated amongst scholars, it places the Exodus about two hundred years after the Hyksos period: a time when Egypt was dominated by foreign Semitic kings. The resulting xenophobia may account for the Pharaoh’s suspicion of the teeming Hebrew population.In the midst of this milieu, the Bible reports, God raised up the deliverer Moses to bring the Israelites out of bondage and lead them into the land of Canaan. Central to these events are the ten ominous plagues that Moses sends upon Egypt, which increase in severity as Pharaoh’s heart hardens. As William Sanford LaSor describes on pages 68 and 70 of Old Testament Survey, the literary form used in describing the plagues is to break them down into three groups of three. They follow this pattern: Before the first plague, Moses confronts Pharaoh by the river at dawn. Before the second plague, Moses and Aaron “come before” Pharaoh. Before the third plague, they do not appear before Pharaoh, but instead use a symbolic gesture. In Biblical numerology, the number three is associated with the Triune presence of God (Slick), so its triple presence in the plague story indicates the divine source of these calamities. Further, three times three brings up the number nine, which is paradoxically considered a number of judgment and blessing (Slick). That the plagues are ten in number indicates the completion of God’s plan of deliverance (Slick).As YHWH declares in Exodus 12:12, additional significance is added to the plagues because they are direct assaults on the nature-based deities of Egyptian religion. By attacking the elements themselves, God contrasts his power with Egyptian superstition (Pennington). The sacred Nile River is turned to blood in Exodus 7, for instance, and the sun revered as Aten, the supreme deity, by Egyptians (Pennington) is darkened in Exodus 10. Finally, the tenth plague – the death of Egypt’s firstborn – comes against Pharaoh himself, who was held by the Egyptians to be an incarnate god (Pennington), and the tyrant’s will is finally broken. This final plague precipitates the introduction of the festival of Passover in chapter 12, during which a year-old lamb is sacrificed and its blood placed upon the Israelites’ doorposts. Acting as a symbol of redemption, the blood serves as a signal for God to “pass over” the house upon which it was applied, thus sparing the Israelites’ firstborn from suffering the plague of death. The lamb’s meat was then quickly eaten along with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, and the Israelites prepared themselves for the coming journey, as described in Exodus 12:11. While some scholars argue that the Passover already existed as “a spring festival customary to shepherd people” (LaSor, 70), the events surrounding the tenth plague clearly elevated the importance of the paschal tradition, as is evidenced in the continued practice of the feast amongst contemporary Jews. Furthermore, the Passover is particularly important for Christians, who recognize it as a prefiguring of the blood of Christ. Communion, which is a central ritual of the Christian church, derives both its imagery and its use of unleavened bread from the Jewish Passover. For both Jews and Christians, the symbolism of the meal is indicative of God’s power to bring his people out of oppression.Exactly what route the Israelites followed after the Passover is not known, but indications of their route are related in passages such as Exodus 12:37; 13:17-14:4; and Numbers 33:5-8 (see Figure 2). In Exodus 13:17, the Bible states: “God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines.” Historically, “the way of the Philistines” referred to an efficient trade route that ran up the coast of Palestine, arriving at Canaan by way of the city of Gaza (LaSor, 61). Because this route was well-traveled and the site of numerous Egyptian fortresses and supply depots, it was to be avoided at all costs by the Israelite exiles (LaSor, 61). Instead, the Hebrews chose to trudge through the isolated “Way of the Wilderness” (Ex. 13:18), which ran through the “Wilderness of Shur” (15:22) in the Sinai Peninsula, eventually arriving at the fabled Mount Sinai.In most English Bibles, both Exodus 13:18 and Numbers 33:11 seem to suggest that a miraculous crossing of the Red Sea served as the starting point for the Israelites’ wanderings in the Sinai Desert. While the historicity of the parting of the waters is to be accepted on Faith, not all scholars agree that the traditional site of the miracle is accurate. In Hebrew, the name translated as “Red Sea” literally reads “Sea of Reeds”, leading some to conclude that the location of the water-crossing would have been one of the marshes near the present day Suez Canal (LaSor, 61). One can imagine that the wheels of the Egyptian chariots would have become mired in this muddy region, only to be swept away when the waters returned.Equally vague is the location of Mount Sinai, which traditional reckonings place near the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula, where there lies a range of mountains that the Arabs call Jebel Musa, or “Mountain of Moses”. At this nexus of Heaven and Earth, Moses received the pivotal revelation that would later become the foundation of the Torah. Inscribed on two stone tablets and placed in the Ark of the Covenant, the Ten Commandments reveal God’s expectations for how His people should relate both to Him and to each other in the period following the Exodus. They are not the conditions by which the people were saved, but a response to having already been saved from Egypt. In literary form, they are similar to other legal codes of the Near East, such as Hammurabi’s Code from Babylon (LaSor, 73-72). Further, they mirror the style of a Near Eastern Suzerain Treaty, in that they codify the relations of a king (YHWH) and a vassal (Israel) in the form of an “I and Thou” dialogue (LaSor, 75).While commonly called “Commandments,” the revelations which Moses received on Mt. Sinai would more accurately be called ten “words” or “teachings”, as indicated by the Pentateuch’s use of the Greek word Decalogue (from “deka”, ten; and “logos”, word) (“The Ten Commandments”). Illustrating this point, the first teaching is “I am Yahweh your God”, which is believed to be the initial revelation of the Tetragrammaton YHWH (LaSor 67). Although English Bibles translate “Yahweh” as “Lord”, it is better understood as a derivative of the Hebrew verb haya, meaning “he is”. Thus, it is the third-person equivalent of the name revealed by God at the Burning Bush – “I AM”. “Lord” is substituted for YHWH, because the Tetragrammaton was not verbally pronounced out of fear of violating the commandment against taking the Lord’s name in vain (LaSor 67). According to the Ten Commandments, YHWH is to be the only God of Israel, and idolatry is to be condemned. Although idol-worship was common at the time of the Exodus, the Decalogue’s prohibition of the practice demonstrates the unique emphasis that the Jewish worldview places on the relationship between man and God. “Graven images” are forbidden because God has already created humankind in His image in Genesis 1:26. Thus, from a Biblical perspective, the devotion and respect which one would give to an idol should instead be turned towards one’s fellow human beings, through the principals laid out in the rest of the Bible.To house the Ark of the Covenant and its sacred contents, the Israelites constructed a portable place of worship called a “Tabernacle”, the specifications of which are recorded in Exodus 25-40. With the introduction of the Tabernacle, the Jewish faith began its transition from the personal devotion of the Patriarchs to the formalized religion of the post-Exodus period. Perhaps this transition was spurred on by the idolatry of Exodus 32, which would have forced Moses to come to terms with the need for institutionalized religious practices. Surrounding the Tabernacle was a fence and an outer court, where burnt offerings were performed for the people. Beyond this stood the “Tent of Meeting,” the first room of which was called the “Holy Place”. Levitical Priests were permitted to enter this sanctuary, and it was here that the majority of priestly activity took place. Behind the Holy Place was a room called the “Holy of Holies”, which contained the Ark and was believed to be the literal dwelling place of God (Barrow). Only once per year, on Yom Kippur, was the High Priest permitted to enter this most sacred chamber with sacrificial blood on his hands. Aside from its role in the Day of Atonement, the Tabernacle foreshadows Christ in His role as God’s presence in the midst of humankind (Barrow). This foreshadowing is attested to in John 1:14, which is most accurately translated as: “the Word became flesh and ‘tabernacled’ among us” (LaSor 76).Part 2: The Characters of ExodusParamount to the events of Exodus is the life and work of Moses, who is by turns a prophet, a lawgiver, a governor, and a savior. Deemed the penultimate prophet of Judaism, belief in Moses’ message is listed amongst Rambam’s 13 Essentials of the Jewish Faith (Rich). His writings, which comprise the Pentateuch, are revered by Jews above all other sacred writings. Because of this, he is traditionally called “Moshe Rabbeinu”, or Moses the Rabbi; a name that has a numerical value of 613 – the same number of “mitzvot”, or commandments, contained in the Torah (Rich). In addition, Jews consider Moses to be the only man to have seen God face-to-face (Deut. 34:10) and to have spoken directly with Him (Num. 12:8). For Christians, this tenant of Judaism is a foreshadowing of Jesus, who would assert that he and the Father (YHWH) are One. A Hebrew by birth, Moses escaped the Pharaoh’s death sentence when his clever mother (named Yocheved in Jewish tradition) and sister Miriam set him adrift in a small boat on the Nile River as a child. Discovered by Pharaoh’s daughter, he was given the name “Moses”, which derives from a root meaning “to draw out” (Ex. 2:10). According to most scholars, this name is Egyptian in origin (LaSor 65), but some speculate that Moshe (Moses) is actually a Hebrew translation of the Egyptian word “minios” “drawn out” (Rich). Exodus does not record the name of the Pharaoh who was ruling at this time, but tradition has associated him with Raameses II. Most scholars agree that the cities of Pitham and Pi-Raamses (Ex. 1:11) were built by Pharaoh Rameses II, making him the most common suspect as the Pharaoh of Exodus. If the widely accepted dating of the Exodus to the mid-13h century is correct, then Raameses II would almost certainly be the Pharaoh with which Moses contended. Alternate datings based on information in 1 Kings 6:1, however, have led other scholars to date the Exodus to 1447 B.C. (LaSor 60), which would disqualify Raameses II as Exodus’ Pharaoh. While the Pharaoh plays a villainous role in the narrative of Exodus, there is an important spiritual lesson that can be learned from his situation. After each plague, Pharaoh’s heart is said to be “hardened”, preventing him from responding to Moses’ demands. Perhaps this is intended as an illustration that when a person’s heart is closed to God, he or she is unable to hear His Words or properly respond to his Will. Regardless of Pharaoh’s nefarious reputation, it is probable that the lifestyle of his court was one of Moses’ earliest influences. Raised as an Egyptian prince, Moses would have been highly educated, literate, and capable of military leadership (LaSor 65). This makes plausible the traditional designation of Moses as the author of the Torah, as well as his alleged administrative skills. A familiarity with the literary forms of the time is demonstrated in Exodus 15: 1-18, in which Moses composes a triumphant song to celebrate God’s deliverance of the Israelites at the “Sea of Reeds”. Significantly, the “Song of Moses” differs from other poetry of its time in that its focus is exclusively on YHWH, rather than the exploits of human champions and warriors (LaSor 72). This sensitivity to Hebrew culture is best explained by Exodus 2:7-10, which reports that Pharaoh’s daughter hired Moses’ mother to act as his nurse. It is reasonable to assume that Moses’ mother would have instilled in him an appreciation for his Hebrew heritage, if through nothing else than through the customs of her daily life. There is little doubt that Moses was poignantly aware of his ethnicity, as evidenced in his outrage at seeing a Hebrew slave beaten in Exodus 2:11-12. In his anger, the Bible tells us, Moses slew the Egyptian and then fled into the wilderness of Midian, where he took up residence with a local priest named Jethro. In Midian, Moses worked as a shepherd, tending Jethro’s flocks, and eventually married the priest’s Ethiopian daughter, Zipporah. It was during this period that Moses encountered the “Burning Bush” through which God spoke to him. After electing Moses to be His Prophet and Deliverer, God reveals to Moses one of the Divine Names: “I AM”. According to LaSor, page 66, a person’s name in ancient times was descriptive of their attributes, so God is here asserting his ontological superiority, as well as his nearness to and accessibility by his people. As is often the case, it is not clear why God chose Moses to act as his representative, especially when the Bible says in Exodus 4:10 that Moses was not an eloquent speaker. One Jewish midrash, as related in “Judaism 101” by Tracy R. Rich, speculates that Moses’ dedication to Jethro’s flocks of sheep was the trait that led YHWH to select him to guide the flocks of Israelites. The story, as Rich presents it, tells of a time when Moses was taking the sheep to the watering hole and one particular lamb did not come. Leaving the rest of the flock behind, Moses went back to the stray lamb, put it on his shoulders, and carried it to the water so that it could drink. While this story may be folklore, it profoundly parallels Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15. This would be appropriate, because as a savior figure, Moses prefigures the work of Christ. Just as Moses delivered the Israelites from bondage in Egypt, Christ released all of humanity from bondage in sin. While Moses’ relationship with God is astounding, his life was riddled with challenges. His lack of faith in receiving water from a stone prevented his entrance into the very Promised Land that he had worked so hard to reach (Num. 20:7-13). Precisely what transgression he committed in striking the stone twice to receive water is unclear, but it is typically understood as indicative of Moses’ impatience or frustration. In addition, I suggest two alternate explanations that might shed some light on the situation. One is that Moses’ aggravated statement in verse 10 – “must we fetch you water” – suggests that for a moment he thought of himself, rather than YHWH, as the source of blessing. The other possibility that occurs to me is that the smiting of the rock and the outpouring of water was meant to prefigure Jesus smitten on the cross, with the water flowing from his side (John 19:34). However, Jesus was smote only once and for all time, and thus Moses’ striking the rock twice ruins what could have been a Christological image. It may be easy to judge Moses for his eventual frustration with the journey out of Egypt, but considering the level of stress he was under, he performed remarkably – almost flawlessly – as a leader. Exodus 18:13-26 seems to indicate that he suffered immense pressure in trying to judge fairly all of the problems that arose among the Israelites, as hinted at by Jethro’s ominous observation that Moses would “surely wear away” if he did not seek administrative assistance (18:18). To alleviate the strain on Moses, Jethro suggested the institution of a basic judicial system – a proposal which Moses readily accepted. In addition, Moses regularly received help from Aaron, whom God appointed to serve as the Israelites’ spokesperson due to Moses’ lack of verbal gravitas (Ex 4:10). Working on the assumption that Aaron was Moses’ older brother, Jewish scholars believe Aaron was born prior to the slaughter of Hebrew children (Rich). Aside from his role as diplomat, Aaron also served as the first of the Levitical Priesthood, and functioned as the center of Israel’s religious life during the Exodus; thus, the meaning of his name, “exalted one” (Molloy 283). This role becomes especially important after the construction of the Tabernacle, when routine sacrifices and religious duties become central to Israelite life. As the High Priest, Aaron would have been the only individual permitted to enter the Holy of Holies and come into the direct presence of God with the Yom Kippur offering. In Jewish tradition, it is thought that Aaron’s success both as a priest and as a diplomat was due to his love for peace (Rich). Writing in the Talmud, the Rabbi Hillel is quoted as saying: “Be disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving people and drawing them near the Torah” (Rich). This sentiment is played out in Aaron’s role as intercessor on the Day of Atonement, making peace between the people and God for the coming year. Unfortunately, this trait may have been responsible for Aaron’s willingness to go along with the people’s desire to build the golden calf at the foot of Mt. Sinai (Ex 32:22). Like Moses, Aaron did not enter the Land of Canaan, but died while traveling in the desert. Completing the three-part leadership team of the Exodus is Moses’ and Aaron’s elder sister, Miriam. Spoken of as a “prophetess” in Exodus 14:12, Miriam is the first woman in the Bible to be given this title and to be depicted in a leadership position. No doubt she was well-suited to the task, given her cleverness in engineering the events that saved Moses’ life in Exodus 2, as well as her courage in approaching Pharaoh’s daughter with the proposal that Moses’ mother serve as his nursemaid. What level of education she would have had as a Hebrew slave is unclear, but Exodus 15:20 indicates that she had some musical skill. Verse 21 describes Miriam as leading the women of Israel in song and dance, but the words of her song merely echo the first verse of Moses’ composition, suggesting that she did not write her own music.Like her brothers, Miriam enjoyed an impeccable relationship with YHWH, yet she erred during the journey to Canaan. Numbers relates how Miriam, along with Aaron, challenged Moses’ prophetic leadership and criticized his decision to marry an Ethiopian woman. Miriam’s name, which means “rebellion” (Molloy 283), seems to indicate that she was predisposed to antiauthoritarian tendencies. In response to her chronic complaining, God punished Miriam with leprosy, which resulted in her being “disfellowshiped” from the Israelite community . Fortunately, Aaron interceded on her behalf, and implored God to remove the disease from his sister. YHWH relented, and Miriam was accepted back into the Israelites’ camp, although she, too, was ultimately excluded from the Promised Land. One could make the argument that the story of Miriam’s leprosy contains Christological overtones sin results in a person’s separation from the community of believers, but the intercession of Christ (prefigured bere in Aaron) results in the restoration of the sinner.Part III: Evaluation – Exodus in a Christian ContextFor Christians, the ramifications of the Book of Exodus reach far beyond the Torah. As the Apostle Paul asserts in Colossians 2:17, the events of Jewish history are “the shadow of things to come” – like the silhouettes cast on the wall’s of Plato’s cave, they merely hint at the fullness of reality that is manifest in Christ. In Matthew 8:4, he explicitly instructs a man to present himself in the Temple and “offer the gift that Moses commanded.” In Matthew 17, Christ conferences with both Moses and the Hebrew prophet Elias during his supernatural transfiguration, and in Mark 12:26 Christ directly quotes from the “Book of Moses,” reciting an event from Exodus. Point by point, the life of Christ parallels and expands on the story of Exodus. Matthew makes this especially obvious in his Gospel, which was written for a Jewish audience (Middendorf 48). Matthew begins building his comparison in chapter 2, in which he reports that like Moses, Jesus’ childhood involved a narrow escape from a king’s massacre of young Jewish males. As a result, the family of Christ flees into Egypt, only to return to Judea after the death of King Herod. In verse 2:15, Matthew explicitly invokes the Exodus with a prophetic quote “out of Egypt I have called my son.” In Matthew 3:13, Jesus passes through the River Jordan by way of baptism, mirroring the passage through the Sea of Reeds. Immediately thereafter, he is driven into the wilderness (4:1), where he wanders for forty days and faces temptation. Clearly, the forty years that Israel spent in the wilderness was a foreshadowing of this event, although Christ improves upon the original story by resisting temptation, whereas Israel repeatedly falls into sin during its “wilderness experience”. Matthew’s use of Exodus as a model for the story of Christ reaches a crescendo in chapter 5, when Christ delivers the Sermon on the Mount. As the traditional name of the discourse implies, the placement of this event in Matthew’s narrative is intended to bring to mind Moses’ reception of the Law on Mt. Sinai. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reveals the Will of God for his people, just as Moses had done centuries earlier. Like Matthew, John also draws on the imagery of Exodus in the sixth chapter of his Gospel. In v.6:31, Christ compares himself to the manna which God provided the Israelites during their journeys in the desert. In calling Himself the “Bread of Life,” Jesus asserts that he is God’s provision to a spiritually starved humanity. Because of this, some scholars believe that the four words used to describe the manna in Exodus 16 (“small,” “round,” “white,” and “sweet”) contain Christological overtones (Jesus in the manna). Smallness indicates the humility that Christ showed in his ministry, particularly in his passion. Because a round circle has no beginning or ending, it may be taken as a metaphor for eternity, depicting the deity of Christ and his everlasting reign. Whiteness represents spiritual and moral purity, and sweetness uses the sense of taste to describe the joy that comes through Jesus’ presence. Like salvation, manna was a free gift given from Heaven as an expression of God’s covenant with his people. Exodus deals heavily with the theme of “covenant” established in Genesis. It represents the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham and sets the stage for Israel’s invasion of the Land of Canaan. Many believe that Israel was delivered by obeying the Law, but this is incorrect. Notice the sequence of events: God delivers Israel first, and then the Law is given as a means of living in response to a salvation that has already been given. Thus, the doctrine of Sola Gratia is present even in the Torah. The final events of the departure from Egypt are strikingly sacramental in their imagery – the Israelites partake of unleavened bread (reminiscent of Communion) and then proceed through the sea, bringing to mind the waters of Baptism. Sequentially, the presentation of these images indicates their respective roles in the salvation process – the blood of the Passover Lamb brings salvation, the unleavened bread commemorates the event, and the passage through water marks the transition from slavery to freedom. In a broader sense, the Book of Exodus attests to the faithfulness of God, even in the face of doubt and backsliding. Called a “covenant narrative” (Motyer), the Exodus brings to fruition the pledges that God made to Abraham, while looking ahead to the glory of Christ. For contemporary readers living in an age of doubt, the epic redemption of the Israelites teaches believers that we can stand firmly on our covenant with the Lord, knowing that he will not renege on his promises. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1:10, God is the one “who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us.” Further, Exodus demonstrates that miracles often take time – sometimes as long as forty years – which requires a faith that is tempered with patience. Yet even in the face of chronic sin, as occurred during the Wilderness Wanderings, God remains faithful and does not abandon his elect. This, then, is the most enduring message of Exodus: that no matter how many years or how many sordid paths it may take, we can remain confident in the knowledge God will “never leave us, nor forsake us” (Hebrews 13:5).Works CitedBarrow, Martyn. The Tabernacle Homepage. 1995. The Domini Project. 3 March 2005. http://www.domini.org/tabern/tabhome.Dunn, James. “The Victory (Israeli) Stele of Merneptah.” Tour Egypt Guide for Travel, Modern and Ancient Egypt. 1996. Tour Egypt. 3 March 2005. http://touregypt.net/victorystele.htm”Jesus in the Manna.” Hope of Israel. 2005. The Hope of Israel Baptist Mission. 3 March 2005. https://www.hopeofisrael.net/manna.htmLaSor, William Sanford. Old Testament Survey: Second Edition. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996.Middendorf, Michael. Called by the Gospel: An Introduction to the New Testament. Irvine: Concordia University, 2004.Molloy, Michael. Experiencing the World’s Religions. Mcgraw Hill: California 2002.Pennington, G.K. “The Ten Plagues and Egypt’s Religion.” Does God Exist? Volume 25, Number 6, Nov/Dec, 1998. 3 March 2005. http://www.doesgodexist.org/NovDec98/TheTenPlaguesAndEgyptsReligion.htmlRich, Tracy R. “Moses, Miriam, and Aaron.” Judaism FAQ. 2004. 3 March 2005. http://www.jewfaq.org/moshe.htmSlick, Matthew. “Biblical Numerology.” Christian research and Apologetics Ministry. 2003. CARM. 3 March 2005. http://www.carm.org/questions/numbers.htm”The Ten Commandments.” Catholic Encyclopedia. 2003. New Advent. 3 March 2005. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04153a.htmWood, Bryant G. “What Has Archaeology Taught Us About the Origins of Israel?” Christian Answers. 1995. Associates for Biblical Research. 3 March 2005.http://www.christiananswers.net/q-abr/abr-a015.html
Joseph and His Coat of Many Colors
Although Joseph is known for his coat of many colors, the true plurality of Joseph arises not from the appearance of his clothing, but from the multiplicity of roles that he assumes over the course of the biblical narrative. Joseph is both favored and hated, servant and master, Canaanite and Egyptian, naive and crafty, and, in the eyes of his father, both dead and alive. His story bears a strong resemblance to those of his forefathers, yet his relationship with God is profoundly different. Joseph, as the last of the patriarchs to be considered in Genesis, serves a unique function. Not only must he physically bring the Jews from Canaan to Egypt, but his story must symbolically bring the early, patriarchal relationship with God to a more contemporary level. Joseph’s faith in God’s plan ultimately leads him to success, despite the suffering he endures through much of the narrative. The tension between the traditional, patriarchal role and the role that Joseph eventually adopts is highlighted as his position as his father’s favorite child pushes him away from his forefathers’ roles as direct communicants with God, and toward becoming the father of only one of the twelve tribes of Israel.Joseph’s position as his father’s favorite quickly lands him in trouble with his brothers. This familial struggle serves as an early indicator of the duality that arises from the conflict between Joseph’s success and the actions of those who are meant to keep it from him. Joseph, because he is loved by his father “more than any of his other children” (book 37 chapter 3), suffers the consequence of intense wrath and jealousy at the hands of his father’s other sons. Perhaps innocently, Joseph fans the flames of his brothers’ hatred by embracing his elevated status. Joseph tells his brothers and father of his dream, in which representative images of his brothers “bowed down” (37, 3) before him. Demonstrating what can be interpreted as either naivete or mocking confidence in his father’s favoritism, he proceeds to relate a second, similar dream, even though his description of the first has already caused his brothers to hate him “yet more” (37, 9). His dreams, however, eventually lead even his father to protest, when Joseph relates a dream in which even Jacob himself, represented as “the sun” (37, 9), bows down before him.Joseph’s feelings of superiority are expressed in a number of other arenas. Jacob’s early favoritism immediately elevates his position. As Joseph further embraces his place as the presumed next in line to his father, he begins to separate himself from his brothers by ignoring his duties. He is the only one of Jacob’s sons to remain at home while his brothers are out “pasturing the flock at She’chem” (37, 13). Jacob advances the divide between Joseph and his brothers by placing him in an overseer-like position. He tells Joseph to rejoin his brothers in their work so that Joseph may “bring him word” (37, 14) of his brothers’ actions. Joseph sets out to join his brothers, but they overpower him and throw him into a pit, an action that reverses the elevated status of Joseph both physically and symbolically. Shortly after, he is picked up by a group of Midianite traders and eventually sold into slavery in Egypt, a fate that seems to contrast sharply with both his dreams and his earlier, master-like position over his brothers.This rapid reversal of fortune and position becomes a pattern that is repeated through much of the narrative. Having reached Egypt, Joseph oscillates between opposing positions, becoming both slave and master, as well as prisoner and jailer. Joseph reaches Egypt as a slave and is sold to Potiphar, an officer of the Pharaoh, as a servant. In the house of Potiphar, he becomes immediately successful. Potiphar sees that “the Lord was with [Joseph] and that the Lord caused all he did to prosper in his hands” (39, 2). He elevates Joseph to the position of “overseer of his house and put[s] him in charge of all that he [owns]” (39, 4-5). Joseph gains increasing influence in Potiphar’s house, eventually becoming as powerful as his master, who at this point has little concern for the affairs of the house other than “the food which he [eats]” (39, 6). However, the tides soon turn on Joseph. As Joseph assumes a role increasingly like that of master of the house, Potiphar’s wife begins to make advances. Joseph refuses, but Potiphar’s wife, distraught over Joseph’s rejection, turns Joseph’s goodness against him. She uses the garment Joseph left “in her hand” (39, 12) while fleeing her advances to incriminate him, telling the men of the household that Joseph came “to lie with [her]” (39, 14) and telling her husband that he came “to insult her” (39, 17). Like Joseph’s brothers, who superficially elevate themselves above Joseph by throwing him in a pit, Potiphar’s wife reestablishes her status by claiming that Joseph fled as soon as she “lifted up [her] voice” (39, 18). Potiphar, angered with Joseph, has the younger man sent to prison. Again, Joseph falls from what is essentially the highest rung of one environment to the very bottom of a new one.Joseph’s position over the course of his progression from Canaan, where he must deal with simple familial envy, to Egypt, where he is sold into slavery, to prison seems to grow progressively worse. However, Joseph manages to flourish despite the wrongs done to him. Even when he is thrown in prison, an event that arguably marks the lowest point of his journey, Joseph manages to rise to the top of his environment. Earning “favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison” (39, 21), Joseph is granted privileges and powers far beyond those of an ordinary prisoner. In an odd display of favoritism, the prison keeper commits “to Joseph’s care all of the prisoners” (39, 22). He reaches a position of authority and power that parallels his ascension from servant to near master in the house of Potiphar, eventually becoming responsible for “anything that [is] done” (39, 22) in the prison. His influence causes him to be elevated to what is essentially the post of the prison keeper. When the Pharaoh’s butler and baker are jailed for having offended the king, the “captain of the guard [charges] Joseph” with their care. Joseph, while still technically a prisoner, becomes the prison keeper.Through his interactions with the Pharaoh’s butler and the baker, Joseph manages to leave prison. He successfully interprets the meaning of the imprisoned servants’ dreams. This ability serves to demonstrate how Joseph’s success, although aided by God, is largely accomplished through his own cleverness. While dreams are biblically considered communications from God, Joseph has a unique talent at understanding them. This skill demonstrates both his close relationship with God and his cunning. After all he interprets “[comes] to pass” (41, 13), the impressed butler takes word of Joseph’s skill back to the Pharaoh, who is troubled by dreams that “none [of his magicians and wise men] could interpret” (41, 8). The Pharaoh brings him from jail and asks him also to interpret his dreams. From the Pharaoh’s dreams, Joseph divines that Egypt must prepare for seven years of famine and advises the Pharaoh to appoint a “discreet and wise” (41, 33) man to oversee Egypt in preparation for it. Perhaps as a clever means of advocating himself for the post, he then gives further advice external to any information that could have been gleaned directly from the dream. Joseph gives the Pharaoh an extensive, detailed plan to combat the famine:Appoint overseers over the land, and take the fifth part of the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven plenteous years. And let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming, and lay up grain under the authority of the Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it. That food shall be a reserve for the land against the seven years of famine which are to befall the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish through the famine. (41, 34 36)Joseph’s success, though aided by the hand of God, is largely due to his intelligence. Impressed with Joseph and confident that God is with him “since God has shown [him] all this” (41, 39), the Pharaoh grants Joseph the position.In his new position, Joseph is accorded an extraordinary degree of power. The immediate trust the Pharaoh places in Joseph follows a pattern repeated through much of the narrative. Joseph continually rises to the level of his superiors, often assuming much of their authority and position and almost replacing the roles of those he is supposed to serve. This is a theme that is found even in Canaan, when Joseph remains at home while his brothers shepherd. Similarly, in the house of Potiphar, he nearly surpasses his master, at one point acknowledging that Potiphar “is not greater in his house than [he is]” (39, 9). In his position as aide to the Pharaoh, Joseph rises from subjugate to master as the Pharaoh places him “over [his] house” (41, 40), directs his people to “order themselves as [Joseph] command[s]” (41, 40) and tells Joseph that “only as regards the throne” (41, 40) will he remain greater than Joseph.In becoming “ruler over all the land of Egypt” (45, 26), Joseph demonstrates his ability to rise in status regardless of the hurdles placed before him. This success in the face of adversity is used to illustrate a more contemporary relationship with God, in which one can be favored in the eyes of God and simultaneously suffer. Joseph must work through numerous hardships, but because “the Lord [is] with Joseph” (39, 2), God “causes all that he [does] to prosper” (39, 4). Joseph’s accomplishments show that suffering does not necessarily take the form of divine punishment. Rather, Joseph’s struggles are part of God’s plan. As Joseph explains to his brothers after they beg for forgiveness for having wronged him, “you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good” (50, 19-20). Joseph, in excusing his brothers’ wrongs, demonstrates his belief that had they not occurred, the outcome of his life would be entirely different. He makes clear that it is only through the actions of his brothers was he brought to Egypt and thus able to rise to his ultimate position of power.Joseph’s suffering despite his favor in the eyes of God is contrasted with the suffering of those who commit sins against God. After Joseph is sold into slavery, the Biblical narrative tangentially focuses on the affairs of the family of Judah, one of the brothers who plotted against Joseph. Judah loses both his children due to their depravity. His first son, Er, is slain by God for being “wicked in the sight of the Lord” (38, 7), without further explanation. Er’s brother, Onan, also crosses God by refusing to impregnate Er’s widowed wife. In doing so, he neglects the customary “duty of a brother-in-law” (38, 8) out of a selfish knowledge “that the offspring would not be his” (38, 9). This failure to perform in the “morally correct” manner is found “displeasing in the sight of the Lord” (38, 10), so Onan, too, is slain. The brothers’ suffering differs profoundly from the hardships endured by Joseph. Unlike Joseph, whose suffering ultimately leads to a beneficial outcome, the punishment afflicting those who disobey God’s will is swift and severe.Joseph’s suffering can also be interpreted as forming a link between him and his forefathers. Considered the last patriarch, Joseph must prove himself to God in many of the same ways as those before him. However, his place is far from identical. Throughout the narrative, Joseph assumes a role that is both similar to and profoundly different from those of the other patriarchs. He undergoes many tasks that parallel those completed by the patriarchs before him to achieve his status, but never attains the same relationship with God as his ancestors. He maintains his place as a patriarch, but cultivates a unique relationship with God that serves largely to contemporize the Biblical relationship between an individual and God.Joseph must earn his place in much the same way as the other patriarchs. Like his forefathers, he must undergo trials to prove both his faith and his capacity to lead the Hebrew people before he can achieve his final position. The suffering he endures throughout the narrative can be viewed as a type of test. Like Abraham, who unquestioningly prepares to sacrifice Isaac on God’s demand, Joseph, despite the fact that his righteous actions appear only to lead to trouble, must continue to act morally and avoid temptation with the faith that God will eventually reward his good deeds. Joseph does so, even after his rejection of Potiphar’s wife is rewarded with a prison sentence. Joseph’s faith in God, however, is not enough. Joseph must also, like his father the patriarch Jacob, earn his position through a struggle with his brothers. He successfully earns his father’s love, both because he is “the son of [Jacob’s] old age” (37, 2) and because he cleverly sets himself above his brothers by bringing “an ill report of them to their father” (37, 2). As with Jacob, the resulting favoritism lands him in trouble. Just as Jacob was forced to flee his home to escape Esau’s anger, Joseph must leave Canaan because of the bitter feelings of his jealous brothers.While Joseph bears many similarities to the other patriarchs, he plays a strikingly different role. Joseph can be interpreted as the patriarch who begins to bridge the gap between ancient and contemporary relationships with God. God allows Joseph “to prosper” (39, 3), but Joseph, unlike the other patriarchs, never engages in a direct dialogue with God. God instead communicates with Joseph through dreams. Ultimately, Joseph’s ability to interpret these dreams allows him to assume his role as ruler of Egypt, a fact that demonstrates both his strong understanding of the ways of God, and God’s role in his success. The most striking difference between Joseph and the traditional patriarchs is the role he plays in carrying on his father’s legacy. While Joseph is, like the other patriarchs, the favored child, Joseph does not bear his father’s legacy alone. Unlike his forefathers, Joseph’s line ultimately becomes just one of “the twelve tribes of Israel” (49, 28).The reunion of the family of Israel coincides with an end to many of Joseph’s dualities. Through much of the narrative, Joseph shifts positions and nationalities. In many ways, this state of flux can be seen as representative of the larger transition of the Hebrews under Joseph. Joseph physically moves the Hebrews to Egypt, where they remain for many years. His story also marks a more spiritual transition: whereas God’s conversational relationships with the previous patriarchs can be seen as establishing the Hebrews as the “chosen people”, Joseph’s relationship with God demonstrates that dialogue is not a precondition to a relationship with God. Under Joseph, the people’s relationship to God is able to mature and meet a necessary, less direct state. Joseph’s more passive relationship with God sets a precedent that is followed for much of the remainder of the Bible.