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Active Reading Strategies for Biblical Narratives and The Story of Joseph

Understanding the Genre and Audience of Biblical Narratives

1. What is the genre of this text?

2. Who is the intended audience?

3. Is there a narrative/story line or argument? Make a rough outline of it.  

4. Who are the main persons, places, motifs or themes mentioned? Have you come across them before in your reading? Can you find the places on the maps? Can you find any kings mentioned in the kinglist? 

5. Who wrote this text? In what language? What is the point of view? Who are the “others” (foreigners)? Where does Egypt fit in? Is there a king mentioned?  

6. What is the relationship of the king/protagonist/community  to the gods? What are the actions that he performs that define this relationship?

1. Genre: Biblical narrative, but texts often of mixed origin and combine texts of different genres, e.g. poetic texts, genealogies, legal texts, ritual/ceremonial instructions and historical and narrative texts from different traditions.  

2. Stories told in the 3rd person (compare Egyptian tales & Greek mythos/logos).   

3. The Joseph story has been called a “novella”.  It is longer and has distinct characters and a more elaborate plot than the short narratives proceeding it in Genesis and elsewhere in the Biblical text. 

4. Herodotus (II) describes Egypt from outside as a visitor; the Biblical texts tell stories about people who go to Egypt to live and what happens when they go there.  

5. Both Herodotus II and narratives in Genesis and Exodus have been highly influential in defining Egypt in the western cultural tradition. 

1. Joseph’s early life, removal to Egypt and eventual promotion to “vizier” (=prime minister) (Gen. 37-41). 

2. Joseph recognizes his brothers when they come looking for food; he engineers a long and suspenseful process of recognition and forgiveness that eventually reunites him with his family (Gen. 42-45). 

3. The reunion is complete when Joseph resettles his whole family in the Land of Goshen (eastern Delta); his father dies, after prophesying the future of his children; Joseph buries him in his family tomb in Canaan (Gen. 46-50). 

1. Joseph, who dreams prophetically,  is resented by his brothers  37:1-11

2. His brothers sell him into slavery and he ends up in  Egypt in the house of Potiphar, captain of the guard  37: 12-36

3. Story of Judah and Tamar     38 (Note: this looks like a digression but connects with themes in the main story. Tamar is contrasted with Potiphar’s wife; her son Perez is the ancestor of King David).

4. Potiphar’s wife attempts to seduce Joseph; he goes to jail  39

5. Joseph’s dream interpretations attract the attention of Pharaoh  40

6. Joseph interprets Pharaoh's dreams; he is promoted.

ist of members of Jacob’s family and their households who move to Egypt 46

Knowing he is about to die, Jacob prophesies about the descendants of his children (the twelve “tribes” of Israel). This poetic passage highlights the concept of the Israelites as a nation descended from common ancestors. This story and much of the Biblical narrative function as a  Genealogy 49 

Joseph buries Jacob in Canaan in the family burial place 50: 1-4

Joseph lives in Egypt with his brothers and dies there 50: 15-26

1. Indications of the time of Joseph given in the Biblical text are difficult to relate to the Egyptian historical record.  

2. The best we can do is say that they talk about events that happened a long time ago.

3. The HB text of the Torah is no earlier than the Second temple period, after 530 BCE; no manuscripts are earlier than 150 BCE.  

4. Internal evidence suggests the Joseph story is later than other parts of the HB; the narratives probably developed their present form between the 7th and 4th centuries BCE. 

1. Use of the term “pharaoh,” a Hebrew transcription of the Egyptian term per’o, “great house.” This term was used colloquially from the New Kingdom and as a formal title of the king after 1000 BCE. 

2. Use of respectful language (“we your servants”), e.g. Gen. 42:10-13. Compare Sinuhe, l. 105ff., (Simpson, p. 62); Joseph swears by Pharaoh and not by a god (Gen. 42. 15-17).  

3. Assumption of Egyptian identity through dress (Gen.41); Joseph and his family seen as Egyptian by others (Gen.50.11).  

4. Knowledge of important cultural institutions and customs like the temple of Re at On (Heliopolis), the redistributive taxation system (Gen. 41.55-57) the Egyptian language (Gen. 41:43-5) and Joseph’s age at death (Gen.50.26).

5. Close correspondences with Egyptian literary materials: the Tale of Two Brothers & the Famine Stela (Simpson, pp. 80-90; 386-91).

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