This blog has been following the book of Genesis and the Gospel of Mark in tandem since 01/01/2015. The whole series can be accessed from my archive. The daily headlines are reminders of the world we live in.
GENESIS 37 :12
His brothers went to,tend their father’s sheep in Shekhem.
Yisrael said to Yosef:
Are not your brothers tending sheep in Shekhem?
Come, I will send you to them!
He said to him:
here I am.
And he said to him:
Come pray look into the well- being of your brothers and into the well-being of the sheep
and bring me word.
So he sent him from the valley of Hevron, and he came to Shekhem.
And a man came upon him – look, he was roaming in the field;
the man asked him, saying:
what do you seek?
I seek my brothers,
pray tell me where they are tending sheep.
the man said:
they have moved on from here.
Indeed I heard them say: Let us go to Dotan.
Yosef went after his brothers and came upon them in Dotan.
They saw him from afar,
and before he had gotten near them, they plotted cunningly against him to cause his death.
They said each man to his brother:
Here comes the Lord of dreams!
So now come, let us kill him and vast him into one of those pits
and say: an ill-tempered beast has devoured him!
Then we will see what becomes of his dreams !
When Re’uven heard it he tried to rescue him from their hand, he said:
Let us not take his life!
And Re’uven said to them:
Do not shed blood!
Cast him into this pit that is in the wilderness,
but do not lay a hand upon him!
– in order that he might save him from their hand, to return him to his father.
Of course, sending Yosef to be with his brothers who hate him, at a distance from home, is the last thing that Yisrael should do. So why does he do it? Because although he knows the danger which he has brought upon Yosef by his favouritism, he wants to deny it, and so he pushes Yosef towards the danger. Yosef’s ‘Here am I’ indicates obedience but no more, and it reminds the audience of the same words used by Yitzhak, when he goes with Avraham towards sacrifice: the audience know that a beloved son is once more at risk.
The storyteller could have sent Yosef directly to his brothers, but he delays, giving hope that maybe he will not find them. But he invents the sinister man whose name is not revealed and who happens to know just enough to lead Yosef towards his death.
Then we get quick incisive dialogue beginning with the contemptuous ‘here comes the Lord (Baal) of dreams!’ depicting Yosef as a minor local deity who specialises in dreams. I’ve kept the slightly odd translation of the Schocken Bible ‘ill tempered beast’ because it suggests the unlikeliness of their proposed lie. Wild beasts do not usually attack and devour people in pastureland, they avoid them. So this beast has to be ‘ ill tempered.’
Re’ uven, the first -born and therefore the one whose privilege is most at risk from Yisrael’s partiality towards Yosef, shows his humanity by trying to modify his brothers’ bloodlust. Those take the side of mercy in such circumstances are always honoured in biblical narrative. The midwives who refuse to kill Jewish babies in Egypt are another instance of this.
The storyteller is giving his ‘dream’ of the traditional story of Yosef and his brothers, but he has schooled his audience to detect in it another Lord of dreams, the source of all stories, who never interferes with his characters’ human decisions , but plots his own outcome through nothing more than a glimpse of promised blessing. Yosef misunderstands his own dreams but they are glimpses of blessing that he cannot ignore nor keep hidden, luring him towards catastrophe.
I sympathise with Yosef because I have often been thoughtlessly arrogant like him, spoken and acted foolishly like him, been, as we say, a complete prat, because I was too self-enamoured to reckon with the lives of others. Like Josef I have only learned when the ill-tempered beast of reality bit my ass.
29 And they that passed by reviled Jesus, shaking their heads, and saying, Aha, you that would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days,
30 save yourself, and descend from the cross.
31 In like manner the chief priests also, with the scribes, mocking with one another, said, He saved others; himself he cannot save.
32 Let the Christ the King of Israel descend now from the cross, that we may see and may believe. And they that were crucified with him railed at him.
There is a human instinct to feel pity for a victim, but it is easily overridden by the instinct to categorise our enemies as not human, not like us, and so not deserving of our concern. Once this dehumanising takes place we can treat the victim as cruelly as we like. This sad truth is seen in the behaviour of Jesus’ enemies who have defined him as a blasphemer, no longer a fellow Jew and human being. To be a victim of such hatred must be a desolating experience.
There is a tweeter and journalist called Katie Hopkins who makes a living by encouraging people to dehumanise those she dislikes and to treat victims with vile abuse. She recently described the boatloads of desperate African refugees in the Mediterranean as ‘feral’ and ‘cockroaches’. She expresses similar views in her column for the Sun newspaper. Maybe she would have been there at Golgotha leading the assembled righteous thugs in a chorus of abuse…. and maybe, just maybe, if a disciple had objected she would have said, “Well, where were you, sunshine?”. In the case of the migrant dead, the reason I dislike Katie so much may be that she reminds me I’m passing by quietly, doing nothing.
The mockery of Jesus takes the form of using his own words and the claims of his followers as means of expressing their hatred. The crude and deliberate misrepresentation of what someone has stood for, is a common tactic of degradation. In this way Jesus’ identification of himself and others as temples of God’s spirit; his desire to be a means of God’s salvation or rescue of people; and his radical acting out of the role of Messiah; are derided and dismissed.
Again there are links in Mark’s narrative to the Jewish bible, especially in the reference to passers-by. This is an echo of the great lament of the city of Jerusalem which has been laid waste by the Assyrians, ‘ Is it nothing to you who pass by. Behold and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow’ (Lamentations 1:12). Mark is telling his readers that the destruction of the Holy City was a mere prelude to the destruction of God’s son on the cross.