First read the following:
The story of Joseph — found in Chapters 37-50 of Genesis
Let’s strive for a critical reading of the story: focusing not only on what happens but also on the puzzling and contradictory elements of the plot.
Keep in mind, as well, that the Hebrew Bible was assembled by a group of rabbis around the sixth century BCE from a vast collection of hundreds of ancient stories. Many of these stories, like the Gilgamesh story, had their origin in an oral tradition. Obviously, the purpose of this first of its five “chapters” called Genesis (the beginnings) begins with how human beings got here and their lineage. Note, also, that the Joseph story (chapters 37-50) is the longest and most completely developed in Genesis and concludes this opening “book” of a collection of five known as the Pentateuch.
Finally, keep in mind – though a point of much debate – the authors of these ancient stories are unknown. One must assume the plots of these stories evolved over perhaps hundreds of years. Furthermore, however, biblical scholars generally agree, based on the contrasting writing styles, there were several different authors at work in the stories in Genesis. Professor Harold Bloom of Yale University in his The Book of J suggests that the J writer, the author of the Joseph story, might be a woman. If so, how might this be significant?
As you become more comfortable with the discussion board process, I hope you’ll feel free to take some risks with your thinking, even though your reactions might not fit snugly into the general drift of the comments of others, so to speak. I’m confident you will find you have much to learn from one another.
The question of Chapter 38 and the saga of Judah and Tamar, a little story filled with moral issues for many readers, should be kept in mind as you complete the story in Chapter 50. Once you have the entire story in your mind, you might have some thoughts about the the purpose or suitability of such a story that seems almost to interrupt the story of Joseph and his brothers.
One interesting footnote: the Joseph story and many of the other biblical stories appear in the Quran/Koran, the sacred book of Islam, though often in slightly different versions. So it is with the Joseph story here — particularly the omission of the incident between Judah and Tamar and the focus on the account of Joseph’s encounter with Potiphar’s wife. Quite a different response and result.[It’s important to keep in mind the Genesis version is hundreds of years older than the Koranic version that appeared in 600s C.E.]
Check it out in the Koran. I’ll be interested in your reaction. (You might have to search about a bit on the site, It’s in Section XII: Joseph — verses 11-18: Yusuf 12: 21-34. Each verse can be read in a variety of translations.) There are some additional details in the Koranic version you might find interesting. How and to what effect do these details change the meaning of the story?
When Joseph is thrown into prison after the encounter with Potiphar’s wife, the core of the story (his rise to power through the graces of the Pharoah, the faminine, and the re-connection with his brothers) can be found. Once he has identified himself to his brothers  the resolution of the story follows ending with the death of Joseph .
Keep in mind the figure, as well as the character, of Joseph as you work through the story. We’re still interested here in heroic models, remember.
Important things to consider for the discussion board:
- Why is Joseph – not a little boy – not out with his brothers tending the sheep in 37?
- What is Chapter 38 doing in this story? The Levirite Law? Characterizations of Judah and Tamar? What are we to make of the fantastic ambiguous birth of the twins in the final verses?
- The notion of justice absent from the story generally – particularly in 39. Note: the version of this story in the Quran (12) is strikingly different. Fairer? More just? (Google the story of Joseph in the Quran for the text.)
- The role of the aging Jacob (who has some baggage in his earlier life, particularly re his brother Esau) particularly in the blessing of Joseph’s sons?
- The role and character of the Pharaoh. The tenant farmer model established by Joseph.
- Finally, the notion or act of forgiveness. Always a good action? What is its effect or what does it achieve, and for whom – the forgiver or the forgivee?