Prophet Joseph — episodes seven and eight

Prophet Joseph — episodes seven and eight May 11, 2016


Synopsis. The sons of Jacob return home and pretend to grieve the death of Joseph, who they say was killed by wolves. As proof, they present Joseph’s shirt, which has been covered in the blood of one of their animals. But Jacob, noting that the shirt is not torn, does not believe his sons’ story, and holds out hope that Joseph is still alive. Jacob’s Canaanite neighbours offer to help look for his son, but they don’t find him, thanks to an angel who visits Joseph in the well and puts him to sleep when the search party draws near. Joseph is awake again when his brothers return to the well.

As the eighth episode begins, a dust storm drives the brothers away from the well and forces a caravan to come near it. The angel tells Joseph he won’t return to his father but he will go on to rescue many people one day — and he instructs Joseph not to reveal his identity when the caravan members rescue him from the well. The brothers, who have been watching the well from a distance, claim Joseph as their own and threaten to attack the caravan at first, but eventually they agree to sell him instead. As the caravan passes Rachel’s grave, Joseph vanishes from the animal he was riding — and the man who was leading the animal panics and begins to look for the boy.

Differences from Genesis. In the biblical version of the story, Jacob believes the brothers’ story — that Joseph was killed by a wild animal — and he refuses to be comforted, even saying that he will mourn until he has joined his son in the grave. But in this series, Jacob is reluctant to believe that Joseph is dead, and he prays for “patience” as he waits for his faith in Joseph’s survival to be vindicated.

In the biblical version of the story, there is no water in the well when Joseph is thrown in there, but in this series, much is made of the fact that the well not only has water but that the water is fresh and drinkable, and not salty like it normally is.

In the biblical version of the story, the brothers sell Joseph to a passing caravan before they tell their father Joseph is dead — but in this series, those events are reversed.

There’s a lot of narrative padding in these episodes, but in one respect they may strike an interesting balance between the Jewish and Muslim versions of this story. The 12th sura in the Koran seems to indicate that the caravan found Joseph in the well and took him without engaging the brothers at all,1 but Genesis 37 says quite clearly that Joseph’s brothers sold him — and in this series, both things happen: the caravan discovers Joseph for itself, and then the brothers sell Joseph to the caravan.

Muslim tradition. The Koran says the brothers returned to their father at night, weeping and claiming that Joseph had been killed by an animal while he was left alone with their things (12.16-18). This series adds the detail that Levi told the brothers to wait until nightfall before returning home, because he didn’t want their father to get a good look at their faces as they lied to him. As Levi puts it, “May darkness hide our ugly character.” And sure enough, the brothers’ mourning seems a little fake.

The supernatural. Joseph is visited in both episodes by a man who calls himself God’s “ambassador”. The man — presumably an angel — is often surrounded by light, and is first seen levitating above the ground at the bottom of the well. He predicts a number of things about Joseph’s future, and teaches him other lessons besides.

The caravan is driven towards the well by a dust storm, and then, when it tries to go past the well (because they know its water is supposed to be salty), the caravan is forced to stop when the camels and mules refuse to behave. With no other options left to them, the caravan samples the water in the well and discovers that it is fresh.

As the men from the caravan lift Joseph out of the well, the stone that rose out of the water to save him from drowning in the first place sinks back into the water.

This might not count as something “supernatural,” per se, but after the brothers have sold Joseph to the caravan, they discover that a wolf has attacked their flock and killed some of their sheep. Levi says they should expect many “events” like this from now on, presumably as some sort of divine retribution for their mistreatment of Joseph.

Pious Joseph. The leader of the caravan recognizes Joseph’s purity and says things like, “This innocent face cannot tell a lie.” When another member of the caravan suggests selling Joseph as a slave, the leader says Joseph does not have a slave’s face. Joseph himself says he would be “satisfied” if the caravan took and sold him as a slave, because it would take him away from the people who were trying to kill him.

Joseph, obeying the angel’s instructions, does not tell the caravan leader exactly how he is related to his brothers — but he doesn’t lie, either. Instead, he obfuscates, saying that the brothers are his family and his owners, and not necessarily in that order.

Family dynamics. Jacob knows the brothers did something to Joseph, and he says he won’t forgive them until he has confirmation that Joseph is still alive.

Levi, the one older brother who came to Joseph’s defense, comes to blows with Judah, the brother who led the attack on Joseph, and at certain points in the story Judah or one of the brothers associated with him threatens Levi with a sword or knife.

Jacob’s concubine Bilhah expresses some guilt over the role she played in stoking the brothers’ jealousy of Joseph prior to their conspiracy against him.

Other tribes. The caravan that buys Joseph from the brothers is led by people who seem to be somewhat virtuous. The leader declares early on that he will trust in the God of his ancestor Abraham, which fits with the biblical tradition that the people who bought Joseph were “Ishmaelites” and/or “Midianites”. (Ishmael was Abraham’s son by his concubine Hagar; Midian was Abraham’s son by his second wife Keturah.)

Levi also tells Joseph that the people buying him are “better” than the brothers.

Visuals. There’s a nifty edit when Judah pulls out his knife — to shed a goat’s blood so he can pass it off as Joseph’s blood — and the camera cuts to a close-up of a goat, but then, as the camera pulls back, we discover that we’re actually looking at Jacob’s herd back at home, and not at the herd that the brothers are watching.

Themes. Once again, we are told that the descendants of Joseph’s brothers — i.e. the Israelites — will do evil things to the prophets of the future just as the brothers are doing something evil to Joseph, who is considered a prophet in the Muslim tradition.

The angel, speaking to Joseph deep inside the well, says Joseph needed to descend to the bottom so that he can one day reach the top. He also says Joseph should “hide in the ground like a seed” before he grows into a great man. When Joseph says his father told him “the world is as dark as a shaft for a pious person,” the angel replies, “So it has not changed a lot for you! Inside and outside of the shaft is even for you!”

Joseph says he misses his father; the angel reminds him that he has God.

Theological issues. In Genesis 45, Joseph says it was God rather than his brothers who sent him to Egypt, but a casual reader of the story could still conclude that God simply allowed the brothers to do what they did. In this series, on the other hand, the angel actively puts Joseph to sleep so that he won’t respond to the search parties, which makes God more directly responsible for what happens to Joseph.

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 1:47:37 mark in this video…

…and concludes in the first 35 minutes of this video:

Here are the English-dubbed versions of these episodes:

1. This may depend on whether you think verse 20 describes the brothers selling Joseph to the caravan, or the caravan selling Joseph to the Egyptians. The translation at Wikipedia assumes it is the “brethren” doing the selling, but that does not seem the most natural reading of the text to me.

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