Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Sunday Sermonette: Mind games

The conclusion of Genesis 42 is a bit confusing in places. Modern story tellers make their characters more available to us -- we tend to get more information about what's going on in their minds. Genesis is very sparing in this regard -- we are shown the surfaces and maybe an emotion is named, but we don't see people's inner lives.
27 At the place where they stopped for the night one of them opened his sack to get feed for his donkey, and he saw his silver in the mouth of his sack. 28 “My silver has been returned,” he said to his brothers. “Here it is in my sack.”
Their hearts sank and they turned to each other trembling and said, “What is this that God has done to us?”
In keeping with the often elliptical story telling, we aren't told which brother found the silver. Presumably we are to deduce that they are afraid of being accused of theft, otherwise presumably they ought to be happy about this development. Also unclear is why the rest of them didn't check their own sacks at this point. 
29 When they came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan, they told him all that had happened to them. They said, 30 “The man who is lord over the land spoke harshly to us and treated us as though we were spying on the land. 31 But we said to him, ‘We are honest men; we are not spies. 32 We were twelve brothers, sons of one father. One is no more, and the youngest is now with our father in Canaan.’
33 “Then the man who is lord over the land said to us, ‘This is how I will know whether you are honest men: Leave one of your brothers here with me, and take food for your starving households and go. 34 But bring your youngest brother to me so I will know that you are not spies but honest men. Then I will give your brother back to you, and you can trade[a] in the land.’”
Again, we see the habit of repeating information the reader already knows in order to convey it to a character who hasn't learned it already. In modern story telling, the writer would just say, "They told him what had happened in Egypt .. ." Again, I think this may be a marker that this story was originally oral tradition; the repetition would have helped listeners follow it. Few were expected to read it even now that it was written down. Rather, it would still be recited or read aloud.
35 As they were emptying their sacks, there in each man’s sack was his pouch of silver! When they and their father saw the money pouches, they were frightened. 36 
Again, it's very strange that they didn't all look in their sacks back at the Inn. And now that they have all found the silver, they ought to have figured out that either this is some sort of a set up, or else the ruler intended to give them back their silver. But we don't see them discussing this or get any indication of what exactly they are thinking.
Their father Jacob said to them, “You have deprived me of my children. Joseph is no more and Simeon is no more, and now you want to take Benjamin. Everything is against me!”
37 Then Reuben said to his father, “You may put both of my sons to death if I do not bring him back to you. Entrust him to my care, and I will bring him back.”
Wow, Reuben is willing to sacrifice his own sons on a dare? 
38 But Jacob said, “My son will not go down there with you; his brother is dead and he is the only one left. If harm comes to him on the journey you are taking, you will bring my gray head down to the grave in sorrow.”


  1. Genesis 42:34 Or move about freely

We will see in the coming chapters that Joseph's motives continue to be often obscure. We are coming to the end of Genesis; we will find the plot thickening indeed.

1 comment:

Don Quixote said...

The family reconciliation narrative is so much more compelling than so many other parts of the Pentateuch.