Design By Humans

Genesis 41. King Con: The rise of Joseph.

Genesis 41.

1 And it came to pass at the end of two full years, that Pharaoh dreamed: and, behold, he stood by the river.

       Why do people in this period dream so infrequently? Are we really to believe that he didn't dream for two full years?

2 And, behold, there came up out of the river seven well favoured kine and fatfleshed; and they fed in a meadow.

       OK. Pharaoh is dreaming of seven well looked after, fat cattle feeding.

3 And, behold, seven other kine came up after them out of the river, ill favoured and leanfleshed; and stood by the other kine upon the brink of the river.

       ...and then seven other less well looked after cows turn up.

4 And the ill favoured and leanfleshed kine did eat up the seven well favoured and fat kine. So Pharaoh awoke.

       ...The hungry cows ate the fat ones. OK, Quite surreal I guess, Had he been out in the field with the cattle that day?

5 And he slept and dreamed the second time: and, behold, seven ears of corn came up upon one stalk, rank and good.

       More dreaming. It's seven ears of corn this time.

6 And, behold, seven thin ears and blasted with the east wind sprung up after them.

       Oh, OK. I'm seeing a pattern emerge...

7 And the seven thin ears devoured the seven rank and full ears. And Pharaoh awoke, and, behold, it was a dream.

       Yeah, that's what I thought. I'm loving the image of cannibalistic cereal crops by the way.

8 And it came to pass in the morning that his spirit was troubled; and he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt, and all the wise men thereof: and Pharaoh told them his dream; but there was none that could interpret them unto Pharaoh.

       They all said that they couldn't interpret them or none of them gave an interpretation that Pharaoh was happy with? I find it difficult to believe that all of these people in the business of magic and dream interpretations wouldn't have at least had a go.

9 Then spake the chief butler unto Pharaoh, saying, I do remember my faults this day:

       The butler finally speaks up for Joseph, I guess his con wasn't such a failure after all.

10 Pharaoh was wroth with his servants, and put me in ward in the captain of the guard's house, both me and the chief baker:

       Why is he telling Pharaoh this? has Pharaoh forgotten what he did only two years prior?

11 And we dreamed a dream in one night, I and he; we dreamed each man according to the interpretation of his dream.

       OK. This sentence seems a little back to front but I'll let it go.

12 And there was there with us a young man, an Hebrew, servant to the captain of the guard; and we told him, and he interpreted to us our dreams; to each man according to his dream he did interpret.

       That's what he had you believe anyway.

13 And it came to pass, as he interpreted to us, so it was; me he restored unto mine office, and him he hanged.

       'he restored'? 'he hanged'? Is the butler no longer talking to Pharaoh?

14 Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him hastily out of the dungeon: and he shaved himself, and changed his raiment, and came in unto Pharaoh.

       Joseph gets all dressed up for Pharaoh, I suppose it's useful to make a good impression with the guy who has the power to free you. I note the Joseph hasn't shaved or changed his clothes for the LORD which leads me to conclude that either the LORD isn't present or Joseph doesn't think the LORD is capable of freeing him.

15 And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, I have dreamed a dream, and there is none that can interpret it: and I have heard say of thee, that thou canst understand a dream to interpret it.

       So having duped a butler into believing he can interpret dreams to foretell the future, Joseph is now in a position to spin a yarn to the Pharaoh who has had a dream that no one has been able to interpret to his satisfaction. Will Joseph be able to get himself free?

16 And Joseph answered Pharaoh, saying, It is not in me: God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace.

       Joseph starts by pretending to be humble and attributes his apparent gift to God. It's a cunning set-up because now if anyone doubts him they are denying God. This set-up has the added benefit of limited liability, Joseph can deny that the predictions he makes are his at all.

17 And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, In my dream, behold, I stood upon the bank of the river:

       The next few verses recount the dreams almost word for word, this book is very big on efficiency.

18 And, behold, there came up out of the river seven kine, fatfleshed and well favoured; and they fed in a meadow:


19 And, behold, seven other kine came up after them, poor and very ill favoured and leanfleshed, such as I never saw in all the land of Egypt for badness:


20 And the lean and the ill favoured kine did eat up the first seven fat kine:


21 And when they had eaten them up, it could not be known that they had eaten them; but they were still ill favoured, as at the beginning. So I awoke.


22 And I saw in my dream, and, behold, seven ears came up in one stalk, full and good:


23 And, behold, seven ears, withered, thin, and blasted with the east wind, sprung up after them:


24 And the thin ears devoured the seven good ears: and I told this unto the magicians; but there was none that could declare it to me.


25 And Joseph said unto Pharaoh, The dream of Pharaoh is one: God hath shewed Pharaoh what he is about to do.

       Joseph begins his interpretation.

26 The seven good kine are seven years; and the seven good ears are seven years: the dream is one.

       OK,so both dreams are portentous of the same thing. It's a good start as now Joseph only has to fabricate one story, A story that stretches over at least seven years,making it very difficult to verify.

27 And the seven thin and ill favoured kine that came up after them are seven years; and the seven empty ears blasted with the east wind shall be seven years of famine.

       Another seven years. If Joseph plays this right he can be long gone before his prediction will supposedly play out.

28 This is the thing which I have spoken unto Pharaoh: What God is about to do he sheweth unto Pharaoh.

       Joseph,before continuing, reminds Pharaoh that these are God's predictions, making sure that his own liability is limited.

29 Behold, there come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt:

       Always good news,I can see why Pharaoh would likely want to accept this interpretation.

30 And there shall arise after them seven years of famine; and all the plenty shall be forgotten in the land of Egypt; and the famine shall consume the land;

       This part is not so good but,it is a worrying prospect but it's seven years away so,not so concerning.

31 And the plenty shall not be known in the land by reason of that famine following; for it shall be very grievous.

       Joseph is really playing up the severity of this famine. What's he trying to scare Pharaoh into?

32 And for that the dream was doubled unto Pharaoh twice; it is because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass.

       Oh.Nice call-back, he uses the fact that there were two dreams to imply that God was indicating that the famine shall be doubly severe. Should this also not mean that the time of plenty shall be doubly plentiful?

33 Now therefore let Pharaoh look out a man discreet and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt.

       I knew Joseph had something up his sleeve. He was only asked to interpret the dreams but having completed that task, he runs on, advising Pharaoh on what he should do about them. Not surprisingly his advice begins by recommending that Pharaoh appoints a 'wise man' over all Egypt. He's created himself a job. Logically,If Pharaoh takes him seriously, there is only one candidate for this role. All of the wise men of Egypt have proven themselves inadequate,only Joseph could interpret the dreams and therefore, surely only Joseph can fulfill this task.

34 Let Pharaoh do this, and let him appoint officers over the land, and take up the fifth part of the land of Egypt in the seven plenteous years.

       To Bolster his apparent wisdom, Joseph begins as though he already has been given the job by setting out the plan by which the new appointee should operate. I can't say that it's remarkable wisdom that he's laying down though, storing food in times of plenty should be obvious to anyone.

35 And let them gather all the food of those good years that come, and lay up corn under the hand of Pharaoh, and let them keep food in the cities.

       I'd be surprised if something like this wasn't already happening on a locals scale, Joseph is really just suggesting a centralization and state control over long-term food storage.

36 And that food shall be for store to the land against the seven years of famine, which shall be in the land of Egypt; that the land perish not through the famine.

       It's a good plan. It effectively solves a problem, that may or may not actually exist, that was dreamed up by Joseph who, if he's been effective in this con, will be put in charge of the whole thing.

37 And the thing was good in the eyes of Pharaoh, and in the eyes of all his servants.

       OK, looks like this might just work.

38 And Pharaoh said unto his servants, Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is?

       Wait. Which God? Does Pharaoh worship the same god as Joseph? Is the God of Israel simply one of the Egyptian pantheon?

39 And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, Forasmuch as God hath shewed thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou art:

       Which God? Anyway, looks like Joseph is about to get given the job he created.

40 Thou shalt be over my house, and according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled: only in the throne will I be greater than thou.

       Yes, Joseph is given the job which seems now to include the power of the Pharaoh over all of Egypt. Could Pharaoh really be so stupid as to swallow Joseph's story and basically hand over his country? I can't imagine that in his wildest dreams Joseph would have thought that his con would have played out this way.  

41 And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, See, I have set thee over all the land of Egypt.


42 And Pharaoh took off his ring from his hand, and put it upon Joseph's hand, and arrayed him in vestures of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck;

       So he's dressing him up like a Pharaoh too.

43 And he made him to ride in the second chariot which he had; and they cried before him, Bow the knee: and he made him ruler over all the land of Egypt.

       Yes, we understand that Pharaoh is making Joseph the ruler of Egypt.

44 And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, I am Pharaoh, and without thee shall no man lift up his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.

       Yes, we've got it. Joseph's in charge.

45 And Pharaoh called Joseph's name Zaphnathpaaneah; and he gave him to wife Asenath the daughter of Potipherah priest of On. And Joseph went out over all the land of Egypt.

       Zaphnathpaaneah? Is that even an Egyptian name or has the author just made this up? As is customary it seems, Joseph is given a wife with absolutely no mention of whether the woman had any say in the matter, in fairness it doesn't mention whether Joseph had a say in the matter either. Could either of these two parties refused the union? All that aside  Joseph's new wife, Asenath's father is a priest of On, is On the god that Pharaoh was referring to when he said Joseph is close to God,or just one of many gods that are seemingly shared trans-culturally?

46 And Joseph was thirty years old when he stood before Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh, and went throughout all the land of Egypt.

       Right you are. Joseph begins his reign over Egypt.

47 And in the seven plenteous years the earth brought forth by handfuls.

       OK, So just as Joseph foretold there were seven years of plenty. I suppose Joseph actually could make accurate predictions about the future based on the nocturnal excursions of a Pharaoh's mind. Where does that leave the rest of us? Are dreams actually portentous of the future? Was this not a con after all, or is it possible that some creative story-telling is going on?

48 And he gathered up all the food of the seven years, which were in the land of Egypt, and laid up the food in the cities: the food of the field, which was round about every city, laid he up in the same.

       Joseph oversees the logistically difficult task of moving all of the collected food from the land to the cities.

49 And Joseph gathered corn as the sand of the sea, very much, until he left numbering; for it was without number.

       I doubt he collected as much corn as that. I haven't counted but I'm pretty certain that there is a great deal of sand in the sea.

50 And unto Joseph were born two sons before the years of famine came, which Asenath the daughter of Potipherah priest of On bare unto him.

       Joseph now has two sons. I really which I could get some good data out of this narrative to fix these events on the timeline.

51 And Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh: For God, said he, hath made me forget all my toil, and all my father's house.

       OK, The evidence presented by this story does not show the hand (or mind) of any god in the successes of Joseph's life. The narrative presents Joseph as a very successful con-artists, outstripping even the greatest of his ancestors in this skill. Why is Joseph attributing his success to God? I notice also that it only says God here, not the LORD, which god are we talking about? Is it the same god that Pharaoh said was with Joseph? Is it Om? Is it his father, Israel's god, El? How many gods are there and which ones do each of these characters worship?

52 And the name of the second called he Ephraim: For God hath caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction.

       Why attribute this to God. Joseph is a self made man, an immoral and deceitful man, but self made none the less. He should be congratulating himself.

53 And the seven years of plenteousness, that was in the land of Egypt, were ended.


54 And the seven years of dearth began to come, according as Joseph had said: and the dearth was in all lands; but in all the land of Egypt there was bread.

       All lands? Everywhere on the entire planet? Does the continent of America or Australia exist at this time? Were there famines there too? Lucky that Egypt was prepared for it with all the crops collected from the Egyptian farmers. Will Joseph freely distribute all the bread back to those that worked hard for it?

55 And when all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread: and Pharaoh said unto all the Egyptians, Go unto Joseph; what he saith to you, do.

       Canny Pharaoh, having delegated his power to Joseph, shirks all responsibility to his people.

56 And the famine was over all the face of the earth: And Joseph opened all the storehouses, and sold unto the Egyptians; and the famine waxed sore in the land of Egypt.

       Ah, so the famine was over all the face of the earth. That must surely include the Americas and Australia. In any event, why is Joseph selling the Egyptians own food back to them? Didn't they produce it all? Did Joseph pay them for it when he was collecting it up? Are the farmers that gave freely twenty percent of their crop for the last seven years, who don't have the money to buy their crops back condemned to starvation? Who gets to keep all of the profit earned from taking the people's food and selling it back to them? Joseph's scheme was not as it initially appeared a humanitarian effort to feed the nation during a time of famine but rather to mercilessly profit from a global food shortage.

57 And all countries came into Egypt to Joseph for to buy corn; because that the famine was so sore in all lands.

       How exactly did the famine-stricken inhabitants of the Americas or Australia reach Egypt to bargain for their lives?

So what have we learned from this story?

  • Pharaoh and Joseph seem to share a belief in a God who may or may not be the LORD.
  • Joseph is happy to marry the daughter of a priest of a God other than the LORD.
  • Somehow, representatives of every land on the earth were able to get to Egypt to buy food. Perhaps more amazingly the news that Egypt had food to sell got to them in time such that they could then travel to Egypt and back before everyone in their homelands died of starvation.
  • Joseph is an excellent con-man managing to con his way out of jail and into a job he created mid-con, then using that job to charge the inhabitants of Egypt money to get back the food that he took from them and that they, themselves grew in the first place.

Perhaps we'll see what Joseph does with all the money he's made in Genesis 42.

1 comment:

  1. re v. 45
    Priest of On: ONN is the Egyptian name for Heliopolis (city of the sun) and it means literally "the city with many pillars".

    The weird Coptic named attributed to Joseph (Zaphnath p aaneah): I can see that the last word means LIFE in Ancient Egyptian (it is the name of the so-called key\cross of life)
    The first word however is a mystery to many scholars. I can say that it means in Arabic (!!) the "SOFN" i.e the leather bag that Bedouins put their food in!! which sounds relevant to the story IMHO.


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