This blog followed the book of Genesis and the Gospel of Mark in tandem until the latter was completed last week; and will continue with Genesis until it has been completed. The series can be accessed from my archive, starting 01/01/2015. The daily headlines are reminders of the world we love in.
GENESIS 41: 47
In the seven years of abundance the land produced in handfuls.
And he collected all the provisions from those seven years that occurred in the land of Egypt
and placed provisions in towns.
The provisions from the fields of a town surrounding it, he placed in it as well.
So Yosef piled up grain like the sands of the sea
exceedingly much until they had to stop counting, for it was uncountable.
Now two sons were born to Yosef, before the year of famine came
whom Asenat, daughter of Poti Fera, priest of On, bore to him.
Yosef called his firstborn Menashe / he who makes forget,
meaning: God has made me forget all my hardships, all my father’s house.
And the second he named Ephraim / Double fruit
meaning: God has made me bear fruit in the land of my affliction.
Thor came to an end the seven years of abundance that had occurred in the land of Egypt.
and there started to come the seven years of famine, as Yosef had said.
Famine occurred in all lands but in all the land of Egypt there was bread.
But when all the land of Egypt felt the famine and the people cried to Pharaoh for bread,
Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians,
Go to Yosef and whatever he says to you, do!
Now the famine was over all the surface of the earth.
Yosef opened up all the storehouses in which there was grain and gave out rations to the Egyptians,
since the famine was becoming stronger in the land of Egypt?
And all lands came to Egypt to buy rations, to Yosef,
for the famine was strong in all lands.
When Yaakov saw that there were rations in Egypt
Yaakov said to his sons:
Why do you keep looking at one another?
And he said:
Look I have heard that there are rations in Egypt,
go down there and buy rations for us from there
The storyteller reaches the true turning point of his story so very quietly the audience might hardly notice. Oh yes, we remember Yaakov although we haven’t heard of him for a while. Maybe we thought he had died, back in Canaan. But suddenly here he is, and we have to grapple with the extraordinary thought that somehow the whole action of the plot from the famous coat onwards has happened in order that God’s chosen family should be saved from famine. Indeed once we glimpse that much of God’s dream, we wonder what future developments may not be part of it also.
There is no sense here of ‘predestination’, rather of interlocking events, which together make up a pattern of blessing, a divine dream, which includes the story that is being told, but may go beyond it. As scholars have pointed out, this story of exile must have had relevance for the Judaeans exiled in Babylon and for the post -exilic community in Jerusalem. It’s likely that it was edited a that time. The names of Yosef’s children, which must belong to the earliest form of the story, would have had special resonance for those audiences. “He who makes me forget my hardships and my father’s house” would have been a bitter-sweet name for them; while “God has made me bear fruit in the land of my afflictions” would be a hopeful name for the Jewish and all ethnic diasporas.
Yet none of this is mythical or mystical: the story is to do with human arrogance and the enmity it arouses; with sibling rivalry, murderous rage and terrible deception; with slavery in a strange land, sexual desire and imprisonment; with dreams, and a rise to power; with practical arrangements for food storage, the arrival of famine, and the rewards of foresight. The elements of the story are things we know or can easily imagine, like a cloak left in the hands of a desirous woman. Yet it is also a story about YHWH God, whose goodness, the storyteller insists, must be seen in the land of the living. It is therefore a kind of realism, an ancient forerunner it may be, of the magical realism of Garcia Marquez and others, used like theirs to carry a meaning which is not separate from flesh and dust.
Piety and bad theology have combined to obscure the depth and subtlety of biblical storytelling.