Posted by: jevcat | March 2, 2012

Cycling Through With Joseph

What a joy it is to get into Year 2’s Lenten readings:  the familiar, Sunday School, Genesis stories, the alternatingly soaring and exasperated First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, the bracingly brisk pace of the Gospel of Mark.

As I get older, I find so much of the Old Testament strikes me as just Byzantine political intrigue and infighting, war and war crimes, and tragedy (of all of which contemporary life gives me more than enough, thank you).  Much of it is distasteful to me, and I find myself wondering if those Christians who criticize the Koran for being bloodthirsty have ever actually read the Old Testament.

Genesis, with its blending of poetry, myth, history, and cultural memory is mostly a different story.  Reading the Joseph cycle these last few days takes me right back to my childhood in an almost concrete way – I feel myself sitting on the floor of my childhood bedroom, my Bible story book with its wonderful pictures open in front of me.  I even remember specific illustrations:  Joseph’s arrival at Shechem, for instance, and how I loved the look of Joseph’s multi-colored coat.  Let’s just leave aside for the moment the fact that more recent translations call it a coat with long sleeves.  The broad stripes of color in the picture enchanted me; I wanted one.

Memories of later in my youth flood back, too, and I realize my steps are bouncing along to the score of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, to which I listened over and over in high school.  I learned the word “mauve” from the title song (and retain a lingering tendency to use the British, rather than the American, pronunciation for it) and still use the “rock cantata” ’s  musical list of Joseph’s brothers as a mnemonic device if I want, for some obscure reason, to remember the names of the twelve tribes of Israel.  There are good memories, too, of seeing professional productions of the show and of my cousins being in a local amateur version near their hometown in Maryland, where we visited them in the summer.

But speaking of Joseph:  seriously, you thought you had a sibling rivalry problem?  My brother and I have had our issues over the years, but, as far as I know, he has never seriously tried to kill me or sell me into slavery.  But let’s face it, our hero Joseph is insufferable.  He was obviously the spoiled brat baby of the family, and let’s just say he does not appear to have suffered from low self-esteem.  That doesn’t justify murder or human trafficking, but just sayin’ …

Not that his brothers were any great bargain, mind you:  here comes Joseph, let’s kill him, followed by someone’s bright idea:  why waste an opportunity to make a buck, let’s sell him!  Then, almost as an after-thought:  then we won’t have his blood on our hands.  Well, that’s all right then (picture John Cleese’s voice saying that last); if he dies through rough treatment as a slave, at least it won’t be us that did it, and we’ll be rid of him and make a profit, into the bargain.  And when the one brother who ostensibly planned to save him returns and finds Joseph gone, what is his lament?  Not “What evil thing have you done with our brother?” but the sniveling whine, “What’m I gonna’ tell Dad?” followed quickly by the bully’s natural instinct:  lie about it in a way that exonerates me/us.  Oh, they’re a choice group, this family of “Chosen.”

Not every story in the Bible has a happy ending (at least for the people involved, regardless of what lesson later folks may have taken from it), but this one does.  In the end, Joseph will grow into his role as hero, resist the impulse to take the most extreme revenge (though he doesn’t resist taking some) and all will be reconciled – which may be a large part of its centuries-old appeal.  Meanwhile, I’ll just keep reading, humming, and enjoying.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

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