Bible stories : 09 Joseph, part 3.
Part 3 : Slavery.
1600 - 1700-ish B.C.
History is filled with people who went along with bad ideas because it was the easiest thing to do. Oldest brother Reuben is a good example. Was his heart in the right place...sort of? He fully intended to sneak back later and get Joseph out. But what in the name of the Jordan River did he think he was doing when he left Joseph imprisoned in the pit with his other brothers? The ones who wanted his blood to begin with? What was he thinking?
Because when he comes back...Joseph is gone. Sold off.
So the brothers improvise. They rip up Joseph’s coat, splatter in a bunch of blood, and take it to their father. “Sorry Dad,” they say. “It’s super sad that your kid got eaten...but not to worry, you still have us!”
Jacob is sad. So sad. He mourns and mourns and vows that he will mourn until the day he dies.
Let’s skip back to Joseph’s new world. He’s seventeen or so and he’s a slave. He’s fairly strong and healthy and looks smart, so he’s sold in Egypt to Potiphar, Captain of Pharaoh’s guard. Joseph may have been an annoying sibling, but he had learned the value of taking the initiative and working hard, so he quickly rises up the ranks and eventually becomes head of the whole household.
Joseph has grown into a strong and burly man, and has caught the attention of a certain Mrs. Potiphar. She thinks he is super good looking and smells good and all that, and tries to seduce him.
Problem is, she’s simply not Joseph’s type; Joseph’s type being first of all, women who are not married.
“Hey Joseph babe, could you grab my, umm, hat, please?”
She might have said.
“Certainly ma’am,” he says to his boss’s wife.
“Hey Joe,” she says, blocking the single entrance to the room, “I’m so tired from all the work I’ve been watching, so do you think you could...rub my feet?”
“Ma’am,” he says uneasily, “I’m just not comfortable with that.”
Potiphar’s wife - let’s call her Zuleikha, which is the name given to her in many Jewish and Muslim tellings - is not used to being told no. She likes Joe, which is understandable. He’s a very likeable and good-looking chap. He’s also a chap with a great degree of integrity and loyalty.
He smiles uneasily and tries to walk past her, but she grabs him and tries to pull him to her. When he pulls away, she yanks on his robe, tearing a piece off. Joseph rushes away, she begins screaming, and Joseph’s world falls apart.
The penalty for these types of assaults at this point would be death, so the fact that Potiphar chooses to send Joseph to prison rather than having him executed says something about how much he believes - or rather doesn’t believe - his own wife. Potiphar’s a decent dude overall, but he’s gotta save face and can’t throw his wife under the bus, even though he knows she’s falsely accusing the best worker he’s ever had. Potiphar is not a happy chap. No. But sending Joseph off to prison is the best of the limited options he can come up with. So off to prison Joe goes.
Jacob’s relentless mourning for his son reminds me a little of Countess Olivia mourning for her brother in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. A little.
In reference to Potiphar’s spouse: another place in the Bible where a woman has no identity save that of “...someone’s wife.”
In reference to foot rubbing: Yes, I am totally stealing from Pulp Fiction.