Archetypes and the Story of Joseph – Part 1

Archetypes and the Story of Joseph – Part 1 February 17, 2021

Thanks again for Dana Horton for another stimulating guest piece, this time on Jungian-style archetypes regarding the Bible:

Archetypes and the Story of Joseph — Part 1

(5-minute read)

Over on the blog site Three Bullet Thursday, we (i.e. “I”) ran a series of essays on the story of Joseph in Egypt. First, there’s the story our 5th grade Sunday School teacher, Mrs. Wilson, taught us:

  • Joseph’s brothers sell him to a band of traders to take him to Egypt.
  • Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dreams, and in turn is put in charge of pretty much everything in Egypt.
  • Ultimately, the brothers and father Jacob come to Egypt seeking assistance, and are reunited with brother Joseph. Obviously, this was God’s plan from the beginning because it enables the continuation of the Jewish tribe, which we’ll see more of in Exodus when we talk about Moses.

Upon further study, we found several things in the story of Joseph that Mrs. Wilson failed to mention:

  • Joseph’s eldest brother had a thing for prostitutes … and sheep.
  • Joseph had a close encounter in Egypt akin to Dustin Hoffman and Mrs. Robinson.
  • Even Joseph himself was not above extracting a little off the top for himself and his family while he was squeezing the people of Egypt during the famine.

If you have any interest in looking at what we said on these topics, check us out over at https://wordpress.com/view/3bt.home.blog  And a shout out to Hemant Mehta at The Friendly Atheist YouTube channel for his insightful and amusing observations on the Old Testament.

So what do you think:  Are these Biblical accounts in Genesis credible histories of a dysfunctional family around 1,600 BCE? Or are they simply good stories handed down over the ages that demonstrate universal truths?

One of our blog readers (trained and practiced in this stuff) recognized certain archetypes and Jungian connections in the story of Joseph and took the time to send us some observations. That’s great, because the Chief Editor of Three Bullet Thursday is not an expert in archetypes or in Jungian psychology — our exposure to this in ministerial school was limited at best. But her observations spurred an enlightening exchange. It was also great fun. Let’s take a look.

Q What are archetypes (in layman’s terms please)?

A. To answer this we sought out Caroline Myss and her work in explaining archetypes. In Caroline’s words, archetypes are simply labels we assign to people. Think about it. You’re sitting on the bench in the mall and someone walks by. You immediately ‘know’ whether that person is a “nerd,” a “princess,” a “caretaker,” or any combination of several archetypes. Further, once you’ve made that determination, an entire bank of information comes with it — temperament, interaction with people, talent, shortcomings, etc. One word says it all.

Don’t deny it; you know you do it.

Caroline goes on to say each one of us contains a combination of these labels, or archetypes. They make us who we are. And no matter how hard we might try to change them, we can’t. These archetypes are part of our subconscious.

Q Then why study archetypes if we cannot do anything about them?

A. Because if we recognize and understand the characteristics of these archetypes, it helps us to figure things out about other people. Or ourselves. Or when we want to make sense out of Old Testament stories about Joseph and his dysfunctional family in 1,600 BCE.

Q This sounds kinda magical or spiritual?

A. That is kinda what we thought when we first heard about archetypes — a little airie.  But Caroline clarifies that archetypes are not some kind of superpower that presides over us. They are not like angels (which we are definitely not going to debate here today). But they are part of our collective soul or collective unconscious.

Q If archetypes are not ‘angels’, then what are they?

A. Archetypes are impersonal laws. Just like God is totally impersonal (Editor: Stare out the window and consider that for a second). We typically want our God to look like us and have the same characteristics as us. But God does not look like us. God is another name for all that is. Or you could say that God is the same as Universal Laws — for example, gravity. Or archetypes. This can be a game-changer for how we look at God in general.

Q Let’s re-set: How about an example?

A. If someone says “pirate”, we immediately see an image of a ship with a skull and crossbones flag, or a man with an eye patch and a peg leg. The pirate is an archetype. And before you say that was hundreds of years ago, real pirates still exist today in the form of physical raids off the coast of Somalia, or virtual raids of databases on the internet.

Nobody has written rules about how to be a pirate. But every pirate follows the same rules. And just like the pirate, every archetype contains its own inherent rule book.

Q Is this all about personal growth? If so, I’ve heard enough.

A. The short answer is “No.” And that’s what is so appealing about the study of archetypes. On a grand scale, archetypal patterns exist in the theatre of history. The image of Napoleon comes to mind immediately. He had to have his own way when he ruled his empire (Child). He was banished to an island (Victim). And he attacked deep into Russia for no good military reason (Saboteur).

Q OK, that helps … a little. Going back to the Old Testament, what are we looking for when we read the stories about Joseph?

A. When we relate to someone such as Joseph we are relating to their archetypes. Joseph may not match up to one of your own personal archetypes. But the purpose of reading this story (or any good story) is to recognize the archetypes involved. Maybe you’ll recognize a character in yourself, or a member of your family, or your boss (#Tyrant).

And we do not have to go into deep reflection on each one of these archetypes. That’s good, because the Chief Editor is still having a bit of a challenge here. But as Caroline says, it is OK to stamp “weird” on someone and keep going.

Here’s the key:  Once you recognize an archetype, you can understand better why that person (or you) acts the way they do. They cannot help themselves. It is like finding the fount of universal knowledge. You know why you are sick (Wounded Healer), or never find the right relationship (Saboteur), or cannot seem to clean up that messy closet (Hoarder).

An archetype behaves the same in all of us.

Finishing up. Caroline says we all have the following archetypes: Child, Victim, Prostitute, and Saboteur. And with that cliff-hanger we are going to stop here with Part 1. More next week. In the meantime, whether you’ve bought into this concept of archetypes or not, it certainly provides new fodder for your next dinner conversation.

Dana Horton is from Ohio, United States and has recently retired as Director of Energy Markets a large utility company. In August 2019, he earned his ministerial license through a New Thought religious organization called Centers for Spiritual Living based in Denver, Colorado. He acted as interim minister at the Columbus Center for Spiritual Living for several months afterward, where he learned a lot more about religious and spiritual organizations. At this time has no interest in returning to any formal religious structure. But he enjoys investigating spiritual principles, how they originated, and how they might be applicable to everyday living.

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