Prophet Joseph — episodes eleven and twelve

Prophet Joseph — episodes eleven and twelve May 26, 2016

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Synopsis. Honifer the chamberlain shows Joseph around the palace and introduces him to the servants who make papyrus, pottery, linen, food, and more. They come across two guards who have been arrested as suspects in the theft of some jewelry. Joseph tricks the guilty guard into confessing his crime, prompting some observers to marvel that Joseph is not only beautiful but smart, too. Meanwhile, Malek — who wants to rescue Joseph and send him back to Jacob — says goodbye to his caravan as it leaves Egypt for Babylon. In Canaan, Jacob and his five-year-old son Benjamin meet a wolf who informs them that Joseph was not killed by wolves, no matter what the other sons of Jacob say. Back in Egypt, Joseph offends the priests in Potiphar’s palace by saying that they should get no more food than the other palace residents do.

As the twelfth episode begins, Potiphar is impressed with Joseph and gives him new duties to perform — but this causes problems for the other servants who fear being bumped to lower positions. Joseph intervenes and persuades Potiphar to give the other servants better positions instead. Potiphar shows Joseph a scroll which predicts that one day people will worship a God greater than Amon, and Potiphar privately admits to Joseph that he doesn’t know who to worship any more. In Canaan, an angel tells Jacob that Joseph is alive, and Jacob begins building a home where he can live apart from his lying sons. Back in Egypt, Zuleikha’s servant spies on Joseph praying to his God, and she informs Zuleikha, who decides to teach Joseph Egyptian customs. Zuleikha takes Joseph on a ride in her litter, where they are spotted by Malek.

Muslim tradition. Potiphar and Zuleikha discuss again the possibility of adopting Joseph as a son, as per the Koran (12.21) — and this time, Potiphar explicitly says he cannot have a child of his own, though how he knows this is never explained.

There is again much talk of Joseph’s beauty, and it’s even treated somewhat comically, as the servants are distracted by the sight of this boy that Honifer is showing around. One servant spills his grain, others lean out of doorways at odd angles to sneak a peek at the boy, guards suddenly snap to attention when the boy faces them, etc.

Pious Joseph. Joseph is consistently humble and considerate of his fellow servants: he asks Potiphar to give promotions rather than demotions to the servants he has replaced, he asks the servants themselves to forgive him if he hurt them by taking the jobs Potiphar gave him, he tells Zuleikha he would rather sleep with the servants in their quarters than in the palace, and so on. He is especially uncomfortable when Zuleikha insists that they ride on a litter together, borne aloft by several slaves — and at least a few of those slaves notice that Joseph did not want to burden them so.

Joseph says the Creator, who “knows all the languages,” taught him how to write, and Honifer seems to find this profession of non-Egyptian faith a bit awkward.

Joseph tricks a guard into confessing that he has stolen some jewelry from the palace, and Joseph says he learned this trick from his father Jacob. Interestingly, the trick hinges on the idea that one of the other guards is ready to decapitate the guilty guard at Joseph’s command. Joseph smiles behind the guilty guard’s back and signals to the non-guilty guard that it’s all just a trick, but it’s striking that no one seems to think it would be all that odd, in theory, for a ten-year-old boy to oversee a beheading.

Joseph also prays on several occasions, thanking God for the friends he has found in Potiphar’s palace and asking God to give his father Jacob patience.

The supernatural. Angels appear to both Jacob and Joseph. Also, a wolf talks to Jacob; the actual conversation happens offscreen, but we see the wolf approach Jacob in response to his plea for information, and later, when the brothers ask how Jacob knows the wolves did not kill Joseph, Benjamin says he heard the wolf talk.

God versus the gods. Joseph has not yet come right out and opposed the gods of his new home, but he certainly tweaks the priests by reducing their food portions — and this, in turn, prompts the other servants to mock the priests. The priests, for their part, grumble that Joseph is a “pagan” who does not respect the gods.

Joseph does ask if Egyptian gods really need to be “kept” in their temples. And when Zuleikha points to the land west of the Nile and says that that is where Egyptian mummies are buried — with clothes and food and wine and sometimes servants, all of which the mummies can enjoy when they are reinhabited by their departed souls — Joseph asks why they don’t just let the mummies live above ground.

We also learn that Potiphar owns a book which predicts that one day, after a bloody battle, the poor and rich will change places and people will worship a God who is greater than Amon. Potiphar says he believes this prophecy will come true some day, and he doesn’t know which god to worship any more. Joseph tells Potiphar that only a holy man or divine saviour could ruin the gods of Egypt, and Potiphar laughs when Joseph says it would not be reasonable to think of a mere statue as his “enemy”.

Potiphar tells Joseph to hide his beliefs from Zuleikha because she is a “true believer” in the Egyptian gods — but a change to Zuleikha’s own beliefs is prophesied, too. One of her servants tells her a soothsayer predicted that Zuleikha herself would worship other gods thanks to Joseph, which the servant thinks would be a bad thing.

Believably human. I like the bit where Honifer, while showing Joseph around the palace, grabs a bit of food for himself from one of the available dishes.

Family dynamics. Jacob takes Benjamin to visit Rachel’s grave again, and his sons grumble that he still loves Rachel more than their own mother Leah. Benjamin, who heard the angel confirm that Joseph is alive, says he hates his half-brother Judah, and Judah is about to strike him when one of the other brothers intervenes.

Jacob says he cannot live with his other sons while they are still lying to him, so, with Benjamin’s help, he starts building a shack where he will wait for Joseph’s return.

Egypt. Joseph’s tour of the palace gives us a nice window into many aspects of life in ancient Egypt, and it looks like his journey on Zuleikha’s litter — which has not yet finished — will give us a window into various aspects of the ancient Egyptian religion, at least as they are imagined by the Shi’ite Muslims who produced this film.

Social class is a major theme here. A servant of Zuleikha’s named Karimama protests that Joseph is a low-class foreigner and cannot be adopted by high-ranking nobles like Potiphar and Zuleikha according to Egyptian customs. She also worries that the slaves might revolt and demand more for themselves if a slave like Joseph sleeps in the palace. The slaves themselves have a pecking order that comes to the fore when, e.g., one of Potiphar’s higher-ranking servants says he worked hard to get his position, and now he objects to his job being given to a “Hebrew shepherd” like Joseph.

These episodes also introduce an element of political tension, even intrigue, between the priests and the more narrowly political rulers. Potiphar is privately agnostic, but he openly complains that the priests are getting fat while the non-priests — who he says are also servants of Amon — work to please their gods. The priests talk amongst themselves about their plans to ruin the Pharaoh, and it is suggested that the priest in Potiphar’s palace has been planted there to play some part in their conspiracy.

Potiphar has codices, and not just scrolls, in his library. To the best of my knowledge, this is an anachronism, as codices were invented circa the first century AD.

Timeline issues. It’s not clear exactly how old Joseph is in these episodes. In the twelfth episode, one priest chastises another for losing his nerve against a 10-year-old kid — but in that same episode, Honifer says it’s hard to believe that Joseph is just 11 years old. Presumably the priest was speaking in round numbers.

Visuals. There is a striking use of point-of-view shots when Joseph and Zuleikha are riding on the litter. Joseph looks down at the slaves who are carrying them — one of whom seems to smile at him — while Zuleikha watches other people (on the ground, on horseback, and on another litter!) bow their heads to her as she passes by.

Themes. The point is made repeatedly that it is God’s will for Joseph to be in Egypt, even though it means separating him from his father. An angel appears to Joseph and persuades him not to write a letter to Jacob, because it might prompt Jacob to curse Joseph’s brothers and thereby ruin their lives. Meanwhile, Malek is determined to save Joseph and bring him back to Jacob, even though one of the other caravan members reminds him that it is God’s will that Joseph is here. Joseph accepts God’s will, but Malek does not — and I suspect this will not end well for Malek.

Incidentally, regarding the angel’s argument that Jacob might curse his other sons when he finds out what they did to Joseph: Doesn’t Jacob already know all the basics by now? He knows Joseph is alive, and he knows his other sons lied about Joseph dying. True, he doesn’t know that they sold Joseph into slavery, per se. But if he’s the sort who would curse his sons, doesn’t he know enough to do that by now?

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 2:02:42 mark in this video…

…and concludes in the first 59 minutes of this video:

Here are the English-dubbed versions of these episodes:

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