Prophet Joseph — episodes twenty-nine and thirty

Prophet Joseph — episodes twenty-nine and thirty August 6, 2016

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Synopsis. A servant overhears one of the priests of Amon discussing their plot to kill Joseph, and warns the Pharaoh. Joseph says he’s not worried, and says they need to focus on preparing for the famine — but he also asks Amenhotep which god he worships. Amenhotep says he worships the one true God and asks if he can call this God Aten; Joseph agrees. At a ceremony for Amon, Amenhotep reveals that he now worships Joseph’s God, and he tells the priests of Amon to carry their idol out of the palace; he also reveals that he has changed his name to Akhenaten. Joseph goes outside the palace in disguise, to visit the slums of the city; disturbed by what he sees there, he vows to erase the barriers between rich and poor. When Joseph returns to the palace, Ninifer Keptah tries to attack him, but Joseph is saved by Nemisabu and Malek, the latter of whom kills Ninifer Keptah at the end of a short swordfight.

As the 30th episode begins, Joseph is attacked by a palace guard; once again, Malek saves him. Meanwhile, in Canaan, Jacob holds a funeral for his concubine Bilhah, who was apparently the last of his wives or concubines to die. Back in Egypt, Joseph oversees the construction of grain elevators, the working of farms, and the taxation of those people who can afford it. Zuleikha, who hasn’t seen Joseph in years but likes being near him, is distressed that Joseph keeps leaving Thebes to visit other cities, while the priests grumble that it’s hard to spy on Joseph when he’s constantly on the move. Finally, after five years have gone by, Zuleikha dismisses all of the priests and most of the servants from her palace, because she cannot afford them any more.

Differences from Genesis. The Bible and the Koran both have little to say about how, exactly, Joseph persuaded the Egyptian people to cooperate with his plans to prepare for the seven years of famine. How did he motivate an entire country to follow his lead? What if few of them believed his prophecy? This series fills those gaps by showing some of the policies that Joseph could have pursued: tax exemptions if people paid their taxes early (a policy that would appeal even to people who didn’t believe in Joseph’s prophecy), random visits to farmers and construction workers (in which Joseph shows his ability to connect with the common person), and so on.

Muslim tradition. Interestingly, Joseph seems to baptize Amenhotep shortly after the Pharaoh becomes a monotheist. As far as I know, Islam does not require its converts to undergo any sort of water-based ritual when they convert to Islam, so I wonder to what degree this scene reflects current Muslim practice — perhaps something particular to Shi’ite Islam? — and to what degree it reflects a pre-Islamic ceremony that the filmmakers imagine might have occurred back then.

Pious Joseph. Joseph is a man of great equanimity and continues to show little concern for his own life, even as the priests of Amon send multiple assassins after him. At one point Joseph tells his assistants not to worry about the plots against his life because if he is ever gone, God will send someone else to continue his work.

That being said, Joseph does express regret that he was unable to influence one of the assassins, his former prisonmate Ninifer Keptah, in a more positive direction.

Joseph visits various farmers and their families without revealing who he is until they ask him his name, which usually happens just as he is about to leave. When he answers them, he identifies himself as Joseph, their “servant.” (One farmer’s daughter remarks that Joseph is “handsome”, thus extending — in a completely innocent way — the interest that many other characters have shown in Joseph’s “beauty”.)

The supernatural. Joseph predicted that there would be rain to help the farmers grow even more wheat than usual, and sure enough, it comes true.

God versus the gods. Amenhotep formally declares that he is abandoning Egyptian polytheism and becoming a monotheist under the name Akhenaten. He does this partly because the priests of Amon are plotting against Joseph and he wants to expel them from his palace altogether — but he has a sincere interest in Joseph’s God too.

Interestingly, when Joseph and Amenhotep first talk about the Pharaoh’s possible conversion to monotheism, there is some confusion, as Amenhotep wonders if Joseph has been talking about the sun-god Aten when he talks about the one true God, and Joseph replies by asking whether Amenhotep is worshiping the sun-god or the God who created the sun. When Amenhotep clarifies that he wishes to follow both the one true God and his “messenger” (note the parallel to the shahada), he asks if he can call this God “Aten”, and Joseph replies, “He has thousands of names and they call him differently around the world. His Excellency, Amenhotep, can call him Aten.”

Amenhotep then changes his own name, because “Amenhotep” is based on the name of the Egyptian god Amon, whereas “Akhenaten” is based on the name Aten.

Notably, Joseph cautions Akhenaten not to impose his beliefs on Egyptian society because people must be invited, not forced, to believe in the one true God.

Meanwhile, Zuleikha expresses her dissatisfaction with the Egyptian gods. In one scene, she complains that they don’t answer her prayers; in another, she wonders why Joseph’s God predicted the coming of the rain while the Egyptian gods didn’t.

Family dynamics. Akhenaten asks Joseph why he doesn’t send a message to his father in Canaan, now that he is in a position of power that would allow him to be reunited to his father. Joseph, presumably mindful of what the angels told him in past episodes, says it doesn’t seem to be time for him to be reunited to Jacob yet.

Meanwhile, Jacob buries his concubines in the same cave where other members of his family have been buried, and he says he forgives his concubines’ jealousy.

Egypt. The historical Amenhotep IV changed his name to Akhenaten in the fifth year of his reign, whereas the Pharoah of this series seems to do it in the first year or so.

Timeline issues. The 30th episode seems to span at least five years, based on the scene in which someone remarks that Joseph has been visiting different Egyptian cities for that length of time. It would seem, then, that this episode ends when Joseph is at least 35 years old and there are two years left in the seven years of plenty.

Themes. Joseph continues to show concern for the poor. When he makes his visit to the slums of Thebes, he is disturbed by what he sees, and he vows to change the situation “so that superiors become low and the lowers become superior, upper and lower levels change their place and rich and poor people be at the same level.” (Note: some of Joseph’s thoughts along these lines are sparked by the sight of someone riding in a litter. If Joseph can persuade the Pharaoh to change his religion, will he eventually try to persuade the Pharaoh to stop riding in a litter, too?)

Joseph also tells the former prisoners who now work for him to go through Egypt and figure out who the poor people are, so that the authorities will know who is exempt from the tax. Malek notes that some rich people will dress poor to avoid paying the tax when the famine comes — so Joseph needs to collect this information now.

Theological issues. One farmer, who is reprimanded by Joseph for not growing enough wheat, asks skeptically if Joseph is God’s “messenger”, from the future maybe? Joseph replies that yes, he is God’s messenger, and the seven years of famine will be like the coming Day of Judgment. I suspect that Joseph’s statement about the Day of Judgment stems from an eschatology that didn’t exist until centuries later.

Episodes: 1-2 | 3-4 | 5-6 | 7-8 | 9-10 | 11-12 | 13-14 | 15-16 | 17-18 | 19-20 | 21-22 | 23-24 | 25-26 | 27-28 | 29-30 | 31-32 | 33-34 | 35-36 | 37-38 | 39-40 | 41-42 | 43-45

The subtitled version of these episodes starts at the 3:11:59 mark in this video…

…and concludes in the first 49 minutes of this video:

Here are the English-dubbed versions of these episodes:

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