The Last Temptation of Joseph
This story is the struggle of Joseph to overcome every obstacle to success. He rises spectacularly everywhere he goes and people trust him explicitly with all their worldly goods. So much so that I have to doubt the veracity of the tale. I know, I usually like to take a completely literal view and use it to tear down the entire structure, but sometimes you have to take a step closer. Taking the flood literally is both fun and educational. It’s so easy to poke holes in the absurdities. But with Joseph, it’s more subtle. Everyone plainly trusts him far too much. This rings terribly false to me as if much of it was added later to spruce up the myth. It’s so very unlikely that a Hebrew slave would be able to rise to the top of a household and run everything. Then after a fall from grace, he rises again to become the second most powerful person in Egypt while still a relatively young man. Let’s assume his actual existence. That’s certainly not a given. Perhaps, he was both incredibly talented and charming, but people in high positions are remarkably resistant to sharing that power, especially with talented and charming people. This is not without justification, for they fear to be deposed. Talented and charming underlings so often become usurpers. Kings and Pharaohs especially, held onto that power with an iron grip. To hand out anymore than was absolutely necessary was suicide. Without supernatural help, I simply don’t see Joseph making it happen.
Ah, but let’s look at what that help must have been. As I have said I don’t believe any increase to talent and charm would bring him this level of success. That leaves only direct manipulation of people, a divine tinkering with their minds and emotions. Anyone who thinks on this cannot escape the opposition of the manipulation of people’s thoughts and desires to the concept of free will. How can a God stand by his much touted “gift” of free will (“Gift” in this sense is very similar to Microsoft relabeling it’s bugs as features.) and still change people’s hearts and minds? The answer is simple. He can’t! We either have free will or are controlled. They are polar opposites! A person cannot walk both south and north simultaneously. Any increase in one directly decreases the other. By the very definition of the words, you cannot have it both ways.
Taking Occam’s razor in hand, the most likely scenario is that some or most or all of this story was manufactured after the event to suit whatever predilection the author had. But enough of this now. Let’s shove those rational thoughts back into the closet and continue with the saga. As Mark Twain said “There’s nothing like a few facts to ruin a good story!” Though, I think logic also performs the same function here.
When the slavers enter Egypt they sell Joseph to a courtier of the Pharaoh by the name of Potiphar. Everything Joseph touched turned out well and his master began to notice and entrust him with more responsibility. The Bible attributes Joseph’s success to the Lord. Everything is credited to the Lord. I mean everything! Just look how the Bible words it.
But since the LORD was with him, Joseph got on very well and was assigned to the household of his Egyptian master. When his master saw that the LORD was with him and brought him success in whatever he did, he took a liking to Joseph and made him his personal attendant; he put him in charge of his household and entrusted to him all his possessions. From the moment that he put him in charge of his household and all his possessions, the LORD blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; in fact, the LORD’S blessing was on everything he owned, both inside the house and out.
If there is one thing that makes me crazy about the Christian God is his insistence on receiving all the credit for everything, whether done by his followers or anyone else. What kind of deity would want people to exalt him for every little deed done in the course of their banal lives? What kind of rational being demands that everyone praise his name constantly? Really? Look at it once. Hey God, thanks for the A on that test. Gee Lord, thanks for helping me mow the lawn. Lord I just wanted to say thanks for getting through that meeting. Thank you Jesus, for that shit I just took. I gotta say I was a little worried about how it was coming out.
Were I God, and I will run for the office if y’all want, I wouldn’t be able to stand all the sucking up. Looked at truthfully, is that not what it is? Constant praise and attention in exchange for some imaginary afterlife? The whole relationship, even if it were real, is so incredibly servile. A god who demands or wants or wishes this is juvenile. God didn’t create us in his image, nor did we create him in ours. We created him in the image of our children, our babes. Even if he’s not going to grow up, ever, we should make the effort.
To take this further let’s use my recent angiogram as an example. Had my mother actually been told about it, she would have placed all the credit for my making it out alive right at the feet of God Almighty. In her eyes, he guided my doctor’s hand through the entire procedure keeping me safe from harm. But had the doctor screwed up and say, spasmed at a critical moment and ripped my aorta out, it would have been my fault for my atheistic views or lack of faith or, perhaps, just generally being a bastard. This is the way her pattern recognition machinery works. Everything happens for a reason. And that reason is… You guessed it, God! Except when it’s bad. Then it’s us. Or the Devil. Have a nice day.
Let’s look at God even more closely. What a gig this guy has. Where do we get a job like this? He gets all the credit for every glorious thing under the sun but none of the blame for whatever evil exists. And what does he actually do to deserve this. Nothing! He doesn’t do shit. He just sits there and sucks up the credit like a supernatural sponge. And where do people like my mother believe this evil comes from? Why humans of course. They brought sin into the world and therefore everything is their fault. Of course, there’s always the Devil, but let’s not even get started there. I’ve got my hands full. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for people taking responsibility for their own actions. If you’re being an idiot and bad things happen, then it would be disingenuous to think it was an accident or someone else’s fault. Like I tell my son: if disaster happens in the course of behaving stupidly, it cannot be called an accident. But if, oh let’s say, as a purely random example, an earthquake strikes a very poor nation just south of the United States. I’m certain people’s moral behavior either today or two centuries ago had nothing to do with it. There exist forces beyond our control and they sometimes make bad things happen. We are not caught in the middle of a supernatural struggle between good and evil. But we are often caught up in the forces of physics and nature that trash us indiscriminately, good or evil.
Whew! I feel better. Now where were we?
So old Potiphar leaves his entire household in Joseph’s care and it prospers, and we all know why. Because the Lord is with him. Potiphar trusts Joseph to such an extent that he “gave no thought, with Joseph there, to anything but the food he ate.”
Joseph, as well as being incredibly talented in everything he does is also “strikingly handsome”. As you may imagine having a strikingly handsome and very talented young man in your house in close proximity to your unsatisfied wife (yet another unnamed biblical woman)can only lead to trouble. She wants him and wants him bad. ”Lie with me.” she says, over and over, but Joseph, true to his duty, refuses her. The Bible makes him sound very noble refusing the advances of this woman to preserve both his honor and that of his master. But to counter that view one can easily come up with other scenarios. First, it would have been suicide for him to start sleeping with the master’s wife. Even horny young men will think twice before risking having the offending unit cut off for a single chance to “Spill their seed.” Second, there is never any mention that she was even remotely attractive. For all we know she could have been a leper or an aged hag with poor hygiene.
Whatever his reasons for refusal, she eventually caught him alone, grabbed ahold of his cloak and whispered, “lie with me.” Joseph refused and fled the room but she retained hold on the cloak and he was forced to leave it behind. Having been spurned once too often she waved the cloak in the air and screamed for the household servants. Vengeance was hers! When they arrived she exclaimed, “Look! my husband has brought in a Hebrew slave to make sport of us! He came in here to lie with me, but I cried out as loud as I could. When he heard me scream for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran away outside.”
Oh, was Joseph in trouble! She told her husband the same story, and he became so enraged he threw Joseph in the royal jail. But as we all have heard, the Lord was with him. Therefore Joseph quickly rose in the jail hierarchy until:
The chief jailer put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners in the jail, and everything that had to be done there was done under his management. The chief jailer did not concern himself with anything at all that was in Joseph’s charge, since the LORD was with him and brought success to all he did.
Sure he did!