Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Sunday Sermonette: The psychic

Genesis 40 continues Joseph's story with the literary craft that separates it from the rest of the biblical narrative so far. But if you read between the lines you might decide that something is going on here that is not what it seems.

 Some time later, the Egyptian king’s baker and wine taster did something their master didn’t like. So Pharaoh became angry with his two officials, the chief wine taster and the chief baker. He put them in prison in the house of the captain of the palace guard. It was the same prison where Joseph was kept. The captain put Joseph in charge of those men. So Joseph took care of them.
KJV has "butler" rather than "chief wine taster," as does ASV. One would think the Hebrew for butler and chief wine taster would be distinctly different, so this is odd. Keep in mind always that we are at the mercy of the translators.
Some time passed while they were in prison. Then each of the two men had a dream. The men were the Egyptian king’s baker and wine taster. They were being held in prison. Both of them had dreams the same night. Each of their dreams had its own meaning.
The graceless repetitiveness of verse 5 reads more elegantly in the KJV.
Joseph came to them the next morning. He saw that they were sad. They were Pharaoh’s officials, and they were in prison with Joseph in his master’s house. So he asked them, “Why do you look so sad today?”
Again we have this odd repetition of information.
“We both had dreams,” they answered. “But no one can tell us what they mean.”
Then Joseph said to them, “Only God knows what dreams mean. Tell me your dreams.”
Joseph's statement seems contradictory, unless he is claiming to have a direct line to God.
So the chief wine taster told Joseph his dream. He said to him, “In my dream I saw a vine in front of me. 10 There were three branches on the vine. As soon as it budded, it flowered. And bunches of ripe grapes grew on it. 11 Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand. I took the grapes. I squeezed them into Pharaoh’s cup. Then I put the cup in his hand.”
12 “Here’s what your dream means,” Joseph said to him. “The three branches are three days. 13 In three days Pharaoh will let you out of prison. He’ll give your job back to you. And you will put Pharaoh’s cup in his hand. That’s what you used to do when you were his wine taster. 14 But when everything is going well with you, remember me. Do me a favor. Speak to Pharaoh about me. Get me out of this prison. 15 I was taken away from the land of the Hebrews by force. Even here I haven’t done anything to be put in prison for.”
16 The chief baker saw that Joseph had given a positive meaning to the wine taster’s dream. So he said to Joseph, “I had a dream too. There were three baskets of bread on my head. 17 All kinds of baked goods for Pharaoh were in the top basket. But the birds were eating them out of the basket on my head.”
18 “Here’s what your dream means,” Joseph said. “The three baskets are three days. 19 In three days Pharaoh will cut your head off. Then he will stick a pole through your body and set the pole up. The birds will eat your flesh.”
Of course, we know now that dreams are not prophetic. But they don't have to be in this case. Joseph and everyone else presumably know that Pharaoh's birthday is in three days. Furthermore, the prison warden presumably knows the men's sentences and Joseph is his trustee and confidante. So Joseph doesn't need magic powers to interpret these dreams, he already knows what's going to happen. He's trying to con the butler into getting him out of jail.
20 The third day was Pharaoh’s birthday. He had a feast prepared for all his officials. He brought the chief wine taster and the chief baker out of prison. He did it in front of his officials. 21 He gave the chief wine taster’s job back to him. Once again the wine taster put the cup into Pharaoh’s hand. 22 But Pharaoh had a pole stuck through the chief baker’s body. Then he had the pole set up. Everything happened just as Joseph had told them when he explained their dreams.
23 But the chief wine taster didn’t remember Joseph. In fact, he forgot all about him.
 Both KJV and ASV have the baker beheaded and hung from a tree, but NIV has him impaled, for some reason.  I don't suppose it much matters, but it is an omission that we never learn what his crime was.


Don Quixote said...

I assume when Joseph says that only god knows what dreams mean, then asks the baker and wine taster to tell him their dreams, he is saying, "I can channel the divine to interpret your dreams." So the first part of his statement is a disclaimer, a caveat that he is only a conduit for the knowledge they seek, as opposed to being part of a contradiction.

Cervantes said...

Yes, that seems to be the idea, that he is claiming to have a personal hot line to God. But as I say, more likely he had a personal hot line to the warden.

Note also that he is addressing Egyptians, who, again, do not believe in his God at all.

Don Quixote said...

Yes, I guess his methods worked better than those the Egyptians had at their disposal.

The whole notion of a monotheistic religion was, supposedly, a revolutionary one at the time this story is supposed to have taken place. Does that jibe with your info?

Cervantes said...

Yes, although it is my understanding that at the time depicted in this story the Hebrew religion had not become fully monotheistic. The Hebrews understood that the specific God Yahweh had chosen them, and demanded that they worship and serve him exclusively. Nevertheless the other Gods of other peoples were presumed to exist as well. That's why the commandment says "Thou shall have no other Gods before me," not that no other Gods exist. We'll see how the metaphysics evolves throughout the Torah.