Prophet Joseph — episodes thirty-nine and forty

Prophet Joseph — episodes thirty-nine and forty September 24, 2016


Synopsis. The once-bald priests of Amon, now hairy and bearded after their stint in prison, are summoned to the court of Akhenaten. Joseph speaks to the Egyptians in the building that used to be Amon’s temple, and, seeing Rudamon in the crowd, tells the officer to stay by his side from here on. Joseph’s wife Asenath discovers who Zuleikha is and confronts Joseph with the fact that the woman who once owned him has become a beggar while he ignored her. An angel appears to Joseph and tells him he must marry Zuleikha. Zuleikha is brought before the court and, after Joseph prays to God, both Zuleikha’s sight and her youth are restored to her. The chief priest of Amon, who has experience tricking people into believing that gods have acted, refuses to believe that the miracle is genuine, but at least one priest does believe. Zuleikha goes to another room with the women, and tells them that — surprise! — she doesn’t want to see Joseph right now. Instead, she wants to be alone with God for now.

As the 40th episode begins, Asenath tells Joseph about Zuleikha’s wish, and she says it is now his turn to wait, rather than Zuleikha’s. Joseph says Zuleikha will have 40 days of solitude, and he tells Asenath to tell the servants to leave Zuleikha alone during this time. Meanwhile, in Canaan, the brothers of Joseph return home and tell their father about the strange treatment they received from the second-in-command of Egypt, including his demand that they bring Benjamin with them when they return to buy more grain. One of the wives is scooping grain from the brothers’ bags of wheat when she discovers one of the pouches with their money. Jacob and his sons debate what this might mean. Finally, Jacob gives in and agrees to let Benjamin go to Egypt, after his other sons swear a binding oath to look after Benjamin and keep him safe.

Differences from Genesis. The biblical sons of Jacob discovered the money in at least one sack of grain while they were still traveling home (Genesis 42:27-28), but in this series the money is discovered by the wives of those sons after they return.

The biblical Reuben offered to let Jacob kill Reuben’s sons (i.e. he offered to let Jacob kill his own grandsons!) if Benjamin did not come home safely from Egypt (Genesis 42:37), but none of Jacob’s sons make an offer of that sort within this series.

The biblical Judah guaranteed Benjamin’s safety before Jacob finally gave in and let Benjamin go (Genesis 43:8-10), but in this series it is Levi who reassures Jacob.

Muslim tradition. The series follows the Koran in showing how the brothers said they could get more grain if Benjamin went with them (because the Egyptians are willing to sell a single sack of grain to each brother), and how Jacob made the brothers swear a solemn oath before God that they would keep Benjamin safe (12.63-67).

Muslim tradition says Joseph did in fact marry Zuleikha, and according to Wikipedia, it also says that Zuleikha, rather than the biblical Asenath, became the mother of Joseph’s sons Manasseh and Ephraim; but the Joseph of this series already has two children, and one of them — a girl — is already named Manasseh.

Pious Joseph. Joseph gets a bit defensive when Asenath says he ignored Zuleikha while she was turning into a blind beggar, and he says Zuleikha and the other noblewomen should thank God he didn’t punish them for their mistreatment of him. Eventually, however, Joseph accepts the angel’s command that he marry Zuleikha, and he accepts Zuleikha’s request that she be left alone with God for a while.

And of course, Joseph prays for two miracles — the restoration of Zuleikha’s sight, and the restoration of her youth — and they happen immediately. What’s more, when he prays for the second miracle, the Pharaoh and other members of the royal court kneel in awe at the pending miracle. Joseph’s piety is emulated in the piety of others.

The supernatural. An angel appears to Joseph and tells him to marry Zuleikha. Zuleikha is then healed of both her blindness and her old age.

God versus the gods. The priests of Amon ask Horemheb why he abandoned them, and Horemheb says he still worships Amon but he must obey his Pharaoh first.

Joseph speaks to the Egyptian people in the building that used to be Amon’s temple, and says that if it hadn’t been for his God they would be powerless to help the starving people of other countries. Joseph tells the crowd that since they don’t worship the Egyptian gods any more, they should worship the one true God instead.

The chief priest of Amon admits to Joseph that he deceived the people into thinking that the idol of Amon could talk. The chief priest says the people wanted to believe and the priests used it to their advantage — but Akhenaten comes to the people’s defense and says they aren’t stupid; it was the priests’ fault that the truth stayed hidden.

The chief priest refuses to believe that Zuleikha’s restored youth is genuine; he thinks Joseph has performed a trick like the ones that he, the chief priest, used to perform. But one of the other priests of Amon believes and defects to Joseph’s side.

Family dynamics. Jacob is happy to see his sons return from Egypt, but he goes back into his hut because he is still avoiding talking to them. Finally the brothers enter his hut and demand to speak, though, because they need to tell him about their strange encounter with the Egyptian governor (i.e. Joseph).

I thought, based on an earlier episode, that all of Jacob’s wives and concubines had passed away at some point, but it seems at least one of them — probably Leah, based on the way Benjamin says she was like a mother to him — is still alive.

Canaanites / Other tribes. The Canaanites are glad to see the sons of Jacob come home, and they beat hand-held drums to greet the brothers on their arrival.

Jacob asks his sons if they ever wondered why the governor of Egypt treated them so differently from the Canaanites that had come with them on the journey to Egypt. One of Jacob’s sons speculates that it was because they, the sons, were God-fearing. But Jacob says no, their Canaanite neighbours are God-fearing too.

Egypt. The Koran (12.67) says Jacob told his sons to enter Egypt by different gates on their return to that country. The series connects this to the fact that the Egyptian capital city Thebes, where Joseph is based, was known as the city of a hundred gates.

Timeline issues. Asenath says Zuleikha has been separated from Joseph for “nearly 30 years”, which doesn’t sound right. Joseph was 22 when Zuleikha had him sent to jail, and he is about 42 now, so in actuality about 20 years have passed.

Visuals. Zuleikha gets another blurry point-of-view shot, but this time it comes into focus as Joseph prays for her and she is healed of her blindness.

Themes. Asenath says she always thought she loved Joseph, but she needs to learn how to love from Zuleikha. This presumably relates to a theme in Muslim literature, in which Zuleikha’s longing for Joseph is compared to the soul’s longing for God.

The depiction of women. One of the few things I knew about this series before I started watching it was that some people in Iran, including the director’s daughter, have accused it of promoting polygamy. At first — while watching the early episodes, in which Jacob’s concubines encourage the rivalry between their sons and Joseph — I wondered how anyone could draw that message from this series. But now, with Asenath gladly submitting to the idea that her husband should take a second wife, i.e. by marrying Zuleikha, I’m beginning to see where the controversy came from.

Ties to other traditions. Jacob tells his grandchildren how his grandfather Abraham almost sacrificed Jacob’s uncle Ishmael, as per Islamic tradition (the biblical Abraham was ordered to sacrifice Jacob’s father Isaac as per Genesis 22).

When Jacob makes his sons vow to bring Benjamin home safe and sound, he also tells them to remember “what happened to the temple of this city and its priests when I cursed them.” Is this a reference to how the temple near Babylon was destroyed in the second episode, or does it refer to an event that took place before this series?

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 begins at the 2:51:35 mark in this video:

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

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