Prophecy and Conversion (37:2-Chap. 38)
Joseph, the Prophetic Dreamer, Is Sold (37:2–36)
Judah's Whoring and Conversion (Chap. 38)
Much of the Joseph narrative is about two sons—a young dreamy shepherd and an older tougher sheepshearer. The dreamy shepherd was so favored by his old father that his brothers thought of killing him, but the tough-minded sheepshearer had a more profitable idea—selling him as a slave. And, having done that, the sheepshearer, Judah, turned aside and embarked on his own selfcentered career. Many years later, with their old father's fate hanging in the balance, the two sons met in a foreign land and went back in memory to the moment of selling. After a further lapse of many years, the dying old man singled out the two of them for special blessing.
The story begins (chap. 37) with the selling of the young shepherd. The complex figure of Joseph has several levels—pampered, prophetic, providential—but the only thing his brothers see is pampering and pretentiousness and so, despite the pain to their father, they eliminate him, and even make a profit out of it. The prophetic dreamer is stilled.
It is then that Judah, the one who thought of selling him, embarks on a career in which there is no shadow of dream or prophecy (chap. 38). He marries and deals in marriage, moving the pieces as he likes, including his daughterin-law, Tamar. But Tamar rattled his cage, and the experience was sufficiently disturbing to make him reconsider his life.
The Joseph story is not a special pearl, different from the rest of Genesis. Rather it is of a piece with the book as a whole. It is Genesis breaking into full bloom, a blossoming that builds on all that precedes. In particular, it is “the second half of the Jacob story” (Wenham, II, xxvi). It is also part of the unity whereby Genesis moves gradually from being episodic to being clearly sequential (see Introduction, Chapter 2, “Spiraling Structures”).
The relationship of the Joseph story to history is not essentially different from that of the rest of Genesis. The Joseph narrative shows knowledge of Egyptian life and customs, but “such evidence …could also be found in a work of fiction” (Murphy, 2:60), and, while the essential account is historically possible—world history, including that of Egypt, often tells of foreigners doing