Merry Christmas, everyone! My pipes are frozen and I’m waiting for my landlord to deal with them, so I thought I’d at least start this right now.
There are two primary things I want to focus on.
The first is Joseph’s motivation for toying with his brothers the way he does in this chapter. Joseph is perfectly aware that these are his brothers, but they don’t recognize him – probably because at this point he’s gone native. If you follow the age given in 41:46, Joseph should be over 37 now, and thus in Egypt for twenty years. That’s problematic for reasons I’ll get into next chapter, but for right now let’s say he’s been the A Long Time. He is dressed like an Egyptian, including being “shaved” (which, for the Egyptians, meant shaved everywhere), is married to an Egyptian wife who is the daughter of the high priest of On, aka Heliopolis, where Atum (a primordial self-created creator God; did Joseph, like his father with El Elyon, believe that the local high god was the same as the LORD?) was worshiped. Yes, he gives his sons Hebrew names, but they’re names about forgetting the past and how blessed he is now.
I bring that up because while at first Joseph is clearly extracting a kind of vengeance on his brothers, he seems to have a sudden change of heart. He learns that his brother Reuben had actually tried to save his life and he has to go to another room to cry. But then afterwards he doesn’t reveal himself right away, instead going along with his masquerade of not trusting them, only to give them grain for free. Why the act in Egypt?
Maybe the people he’s tricking by that point are his fellow Egyptians? Maybe Joseph is afraid of what will happen to his reputation if he just reveals that he’s the younger brother of a bunch of hairy Hebrews (whatever that meant to the Egyptians).
Anyway, the second is something that I can’t believe I forgot to talk about in chapter 38: the Japanese translation of sheol. Sheol is the underworld of the Hebrew Bible, and in the Japanese it’s translated as yomi, the underworld of Shinto. Usually yomi is written with the characters for “yellow springs,” from the Chinese word for hell, but in the NCT it’s written with the more irregular spelling of 陰府, which means something like “palace of shadows.” Yomi is ruled by Izanami, one of the two deities who gave birth to Japan. Death in traditional Shinto is seen as a polluting thing, and they were more than happy to let Buddhism take over funeral rites. Yomi isn’t a place of suffering so much as a place of decay and darkness – not a bad parallel for the murky Sheol.
I’ve read almost everywhere that Sheol is where everyone supposedly went when they died, but the other patriarchs are described as being “gathered to their people,” which sounds like a slightly more pleasant alternative. Was there an idea that at least in Sheol one could potentially see one’s ancestors? Or was being with your ancestors an alternative option?
The Japanese: shiseisha “, haisuru “to worship” (v 6), soshiranufuri “pretended not to recognize,” kuchou “tone” (v 7), mawashimono “spy,” teusu na “weak” (v 9), …ni kakete “swear by…” (v 15), kankin “confined, imprisoned” (v 16), ueru “to starve” (v 19), shibariageru “to bind” (v 24), toitsumeru “to question, to cross-examine” (v 30).