Prophet Joseph — episodes fifteen and sixteen

Prophet Joseph — episodes fifteen and sixteen June 14, 2016


Synopsis. Jacob is still mourning the loss of Joseph. Meanwhile, in Egypt, Zuleikha decides that, if Joseph can serve Potiphar as a “consultant”, then maybe she can “consult” with him too, nudge nudge wink wink. Joseph is standing in Honifer’s room and looking at his late mentor’s empty bed when Zuleikha’s servant summons him; en route to Zuleikha’s room, Joseph soothes a crying baby named Kisin, whose mother is one of Zuleikha’s kinswomen. Joseph resists Zuleikha’s attempts to woo him, and Zuleikha goes on a journey to the Nile along with her entourage, hoping that she can forget about Joseph. But the Nile holds no joy for her now, so she returns home.

As the 16th episode begins, Potiphar senses that Joseph and Zuleikha have been acting strangely around him. Zuleikha goes to the temple to ask the god Amon to help her win Joseph’s affections. Finally, at her servant’s suggestion, Zuleikha summons Joseph to her room and orders him to “obey” her. Joseph flees the room as the doors miraculously unlock — but he runs into Potiphar just as Zuleikha rips his shirt from behind. Potiphar says he will kill Joseph if Joseph can’t prove his innocence, so Joseph appeals to the infant Kisin, who miraculously speaks and says that Joseph is innocent if his shirt is torn from behind but not if it is torn from the front. Potiphar tells the servants he will punish anyone who reveals what has happened here.

Differences from Genesis. These episodes parallel Genesis 39, which describes how Potiphar put Joseph in charge of his home and then threw him in prison after his wife accused Joseph of trying to rape her. One key difference is that Potiphar vanishes from the biblical story after that, and the Bible never tells us whether he learned that Joseph was innocent. Another is that the biblical Joseph leaves his entire cloak behind when he flees Potiphar’s wife, whereas here, she merely rips his shirt while he’s still wearing it. And finally, the biblical version of this story has no supernatural elements, whereas these episodes feature a talking baby, a glimpse of Satan, and an angel.

Muslim tradition. The Koran (12.23-29) says that Zuleikha tore Joseph’s shirt from behind while he fled her, that Joseph and Zuleikha ran into Potiphar at the door, and that “a witness of [Zuleikha’s] own household” told Potiphar that Joseph should be considered innocent if his shirt was torn from behind rather than in front.

The Koran does not, however, specify that this “witness” was a baby. I don’t know if the talking baby was invented by the filmmakers or if they got it from an earlier tradition, but I do know that talking babies are not unknown in the Muslim tradition; the Koran (3.46, 19.29-33) says Jesus spoke when he was an infant, for example.1

Interestingly, the Koran indicates that Joseph would have had sex with Zuleikha “had he not beheld the proof of his Lord,” but I never got the sense from these episodes that Joseph was on the verge of giving in to her. Different traditions exist as to how, exactly, the angels turned Joseph away from doing the wrong thing here, but within these episodes, Joseph sees the face of Satan where Zuleikha’s face should be at one point, and he then has a vision of the angel that visited him when he was a boy.

Pious Joseph. Joseph is Potiphar’s chamberlain now, and a recurring theme here is how his excellent organizational skills have worked not only to Potiphar’s benefit but to the benefit of Joseph’s fellow slaves, whose living quarters are cleaner and neater than ever before. The emphasis Joseph puts on the servants’ well-being is evident when Zuleikha gives him a pearl that her divers found in the Nile, and Joseph tells another servant to sell it and use the money to buy mattresses and blankets.

Joseph’s resistance to sexual temptation is another recurring theme throughout these episodes. He tells Zuleikha he sometimes feels women looking at him but he doesn’t pay attention to them, and in his prayers, he says he has succeeded in resisting temptation so far because he knows that people are attracted not to him, really, but to the God who is reflected in him. Joseph also tells his fellow slave Nemisabu that he senses danger from Zuleikha’s servant Kariamama, and he tells Nemisabu that they should seek refuge from God when dealing with women’s lust and conspiracy.

The supernatural. The moment when Zuleikha finally propositions Joseph is filled with supernatural elements: the infant Kisin refuses to be consoled as Joseph goes to Zuleikha’s room, the face of Satan appears where Zuleikha’s face should be at one point, an angel appears to Joseph, the doors to Zuleikha’s room miraculously unlock so that Joseph can escape, and finally the infant Kisin speaks in Joseph’s defense.

Satan. The last time we saw Satan, he was goading the brothers of Joseph. Back then, his face appeared in a fire while the brothers were conspiring against Joseph, and it appears in a fire again here when Zuleikha makes her move. Joseph also sees Satan’s face where Zuleikha’s should be in one shot, and then it morphs back to her face.

God versus the gods. Joseph, who openly preaches monotheism to some members of Potiphar’s household, does not answer when Zuleikha’s servant asks which god he was speaking to, and other members of the household don’t seem to know what his theological leanings are either. But among the servants, Joseph freely declares that the changes he has made to their living conditions were God’s doing, not the gods’.

The rivalry between Potiphar and the priests of Amon resurfaces when the wife of one priest begins gossiping that Potiphar’s wife is having an affair with her slave. When Zuleikha is finally caught trying to force herself on Joseph, word of this gets back to a priest who says Potiphar and Zuleikha should not be allowed to forget this incident.

But despite this rivalry, Zuleikha remains devoted to Amon and even asks for his help to conquer Joseph’s affections. Then again, she also puts her veil over the idol of Amon in her bedroom, to assure Joseph that the gods won’t see what he does; Joseph replies that he’s afraid of God, but being afraid of an idol would show “stupidity”.

After her sexual harassment of Joseph is exposed to the household, Zuleikha ponders what has happened, and she seems more impressed by the fact that the infant Kisin claimed to be speaking by God’s command than the fact that Kisin was speaking at all. Zuleikha also wonders how the doors to her bedroom became unlocked. Karimama says Joseph must be a magician, but Zuleikha wonders who Joseph is truly.

Believably human. Joseph is bothered by Zuleikha’s probing questions, and in his prayers to God, he admits that he has had to wrestle with sexual temptation.

There is some talk in these episodes of how Joseph learned to “respect” his masters as he grew up; Zuleikha, in reply, says she preferred the intimacy of his childhood to the decency of his adulthood. No one, however, quite addresses the fact that there is something kind of incestuous about Zuleikha’s current interest in Joseph, given that she and Potiphar had talked about adopting him when he was a child.

Family dynamics. Jacob is still mourning the loss of Joseph. He tells Benjamin he knows it’s “illogical” to keep mourning like this, but he can’t help it. (Incidentally, the 16th episode might be the first one that never shows Jacob or his family.)

Zuleikha asks Joseph if anyone has ever loved him, and he says yes, his aunt and his father did, but their love meant trouble for him because it made others jealous.

Egypt. At one point, in a futile bid to forget all about Joseph, Zuleikha goes on a journey to the Nile with her entourage. Several minutes pass without dialogue as the camera soaks in the scenery and the images of oarsmen rowing her boat, etc.

Themes. Joseph and Zuleikha have a short but significant chat about the nature of love. Long before she finally comes on to him, Zuleikha tells Joseph that she has heard about a noblewoman who fell in love with someone other than her husband, and Joseph replies that “love” should not be confused with mere “whims”, and that true lovers don’t let impurity into the “pure and sacred sanctum” of love.

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 2:29:14 mark in this video…

…and concludes in the first 78 minutes of this video:

Here are the English-dubbed versions of these episodes:

1. The Muslim tradition that Jesus spoke as an infant is dramatized in the Iranian film Saint Mary.

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