Prophet Joseph — episodes thirteen and fourteen

Prophet Joseph — episodes thirteen and fourteen June 1, 2016

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Synopsis. Zuleikha takes Joseph to the temple of Amon. Malek tries to follow them but is stopped by the temple guards. The priests of Amon perform an “awakening” ceremony, in which they wash and clothe the statue of Amon and carry it outside to be worshiped by the public. Joseph asks how Amon can possibly take care of Egyptians when so many people have to take care of Amon. Back at home, Zuleikha tells Potiphar she didn’t know how to answer Joseph’s questions, so Potiphar says he will take Joseph to the temple instead — but once he gets there with Joseph, he reveals that he actually wants Joseph to see the greed and corruption of the priests. A priest of Amon drives his chariot recklessly through the streets. Potiphar stops him, and even briefly clashes swords with him, and then Potiphar reports the incident to the Pharaoh. Joseph asks if he can become physically brave like Potiphar, so Potiphar takes him to someone who starts training him with wooden swords.

After a few last scenes of Joseph as a boy — training with the soldiers and befriending the servants — the 14th episode jumps ahead 11 years, to when he is a young man. In Canaan, Dinah tells Jacob it has been so long since Joseph disappeared, it would be better to forget him now. Jacob reminds her of the dream which indicated that Joseph is superior to all of them. Back in Egypt, Honifer is old and sick, and Potiphar puts Joseph in charge of the palace’s affairs. Joseph teaches the children in the palace to be monotheists, not polytheists, while Zuleikha watches him intently — and the servants start gossiping about her interest in Joseph. Tensions grow between the Pharaoh and the priests of Amon, and the Pharaoh’s wife warns the priests that her husband is going to act against them soon. Honifer passes away, but not before proclaiming his belief in Joseph’s God. His mummified body is sent across the Nile for burial.

Differences from Genesis. One of the Pharaoh’s advisers says the name Yusuf (i.e. Joseph) means “sorrowful”. That does not seem to be accurate in Arabic, and it is certainly not accurate in Hebrew, where the name means “may he add”. (Genesis 30 says that when Rachel gave birth to her first son, after years of trying to have a child, she named him Joseph and said, “May YHWH add to me another son.”)

These episodes seem to be setting up a storyline in which Joseph will eventually take a stand against the corrupt polytheistic priests and their grain-hoarding. (Potiphar shows Joseph their grain elevators.) But Genesis 47 indicates that the biblical Joseph actually gave the priests preferential treatment, inasmuch as he reduced the entire population of Egypt to servitude during the famine except for the priests.

Pious Joseph. Joseph continues to evangelize and to express an interest in the poor. He openly teaches the children in Potiphar’s palace about monotheism — without being penalized, apparently — and he takes platters filled with upper-class food to the servants’ quarters and shares them with the residents there. As an adult, Joseph converts his old mentor Honifer to monotheism, tells Honifer he needs to believe in all of God’s “messengers”, and reveals that he, Joseph, is the last prophet “in this time.” Honifer replies, “If I knew it, I would have believed in you many years ago.”

Also, as a boy, Joseph impresses the Pharaoh by saying that power should be used to serve the poor. When Pharaoh’s son presents Joseph with a necklace, he bows to Joseph and promptly says he did so “unconsciously”, after his mother reprimands him for bowing to a slave. And so it is that this prince, who will grow up to become the monotheistic Pharaoh Akhenaten, recognizes that Joseph is a holy man.

God versus the gods. Joseph peppers Zuleikha with lots of questions about the pagan Egyptian religious ceremony they attend: What if someone prays to Amon while he’s asleep? Can anyone pray to Amon when they are not in the presence of one of his statues? How can Amon take care of Egyptians when he needs Egyptians to wash, clothe, feed and transport him? Back at Potiphar’s palace, Joseph teaches the children that humans are above all other things in this world, and therefore the stonemason who makes Amon is above Amon — and when one of the children asks if God can be seen, Joseph replies, “God is more than visible things, so he shouldn’t be seen.”

Family dynamics. Jacob lives in his shack, separate from the rest of his family, and talks only to his wife Leah, his youngest son Benjamin and his daughter Dinah. He does not talk to any of Joseph’s older brothers, one of whom — Judah — grumbles that Jacob did not let them help him build his “shack of grief”. Years later, Jacob thanks Benjamin for helping him to bear the 11 years that Joseph has been missing.

When Leah asks Jacob if it is possible for a prophet to be superior to other prophets — i.e. if it is possible for Joseph to be superior to Jacob — Jacob replies that it is, if a prophet fulfills the aims and wishes of other prophets. (This has obvious implications for Mohammed’s status relative to the prophets that preceded him in Islam.)

Egypt. These episodes introduce us to Amenhotep III, who ruled Egypt between 1388 and 1350 BC, as well as his wife Tiye and their son, the future Akhenaten.

The Wikipedia entry for Amenhotep states that Egypt “reached the peak of its artistic and international power” under his rule. The entry for Tiye adds that she “wielded a great deal of power during both her husband’s and son’s reigns,” and that she was “the first Egyptian queen to have her name recorded on official acts.”

The Pharaohs in general, of course, were regarded as divine by the ancient Egyptians, and it seems that Amenhotep III in particular took this further and facilitated the worship of his wife as a sort of goddess. The series, however, suggests that Amenhotep is as much a religious skeptic as Potiphar is — he even dismisses the god Amon as a “lifeless stone” — and that this causes a rift between Amenhotep and his wife.

These episodes also foreshadow the fact that the son of Amenhotep and Tiye will grow up to become the religious reformer named Akhenaten. Tiye expresses concern that Amenhotep’s blasphemy will shake their son’s beliefs, and Akhenaten himself — who is also called Amenhotep — bows to Joseph “unconsciously”, as if recognizing that there is something special about Joseph and the beliefs he represents.

The 13th episode depicts an elaborate ritual in which a statue of Amon is washed, clothed, “fed” and then presented to the people to be worshiped. I do not know to what degree this reflects actual ancient Egyptian practice and to what degree it represents a modern Muslim view of how the pre-monotheistic Egyptians worshiped.

Potiphar also shows Joseph a long line of people bringing tribute to Pharaoh. Joseph seems concerned that Egypt is taking so much from the surrounding nations, but Potiphar says they should be grateful because Egyptian culture as they know it would not be sustainable without these tributes. It will be interesting to see how this ties into Joseph’s concern for the poor elsewhere, especially when the nations of the world come to Egypt for help (i.e. to buy Egypt’s grain) during the seven-year famine.

Timeline issues. Past episodes have established that Joseph was born in 1160 BC, that Benjamin was born five years later, and that Joseph was 11 years old when he was sold into slavery. The 14th episode takes place 11 years after that — so it should be taking place in 1138 BC, and Joseph should be 22 and Benjamin should be 17.

There are a few problems with that, though. The biggest is that Amenhotep III, who is Pharaoh before and after the series jumps ahead in time, ruled Egypt between 1388 and 1350 BC — over two centuries earlier than the dates set by this series. Benjamin also looks at least a few years older than 17; he has a full beard, for one thing.

Incidentally, what happened to Malek? The last time we saw him, he had sworn to stay in Egypt until he could rescue Joseph and send him back to Jacob — and he was blocked from following Joseph and Zuleikha into the temple of Amon. That was before the series jumped ahead in time. Is Malek still in Egypt? After all this time, is he still waiting for a chance to “save” Joseph, who is now an adult in his own right?

Theological issues. Honifer worries that he will go to “hell” because he converted to monotheism so late in life (on his deathbed, in fact). This reflects ideas about divine judgment and the afterlife that had not yet developed at this point in time.

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 runs from about 59:28 to 2:29:14 in this video:

And here are the English-dubbed versions of these episodes:

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