Posted by: jevcat | March 4, 2012

Dreamcoats, Pharaoh Elvis, and Proof-Texting

I’ve discovered that the disadvantage of re-reading the Joseph cycle is that songs from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat are so bouncy and catchy, and I learned them at such an impressionable age, that, once recalled, it’s hard to get them out of my head.

Having spent two days trying to get the “Jacob and Sons” and “Dreamcoat” songs to stop trampling through my poor, addled brain, this morning along comes the reading of Pharaoh’s dream and, well, I’ve been “wanderin’ along the banks of the river, ah huh” ever since (actually, literally, I have:  I’ve been on retreat at Holy Cross Monastery in the Hudson Valley – different river, but still …).  The clever impishness — perhaps, given the nationality of the composer and lyricist, I ought to say “cheekiness” – of turning Pharaoh into Elvis (or Elvis into Pharaoh) still amuses me after all these years.  (I miss the days before Andrew Lloyd Webber got all serious and grandiose.)

Photo from BBC/British Museum

I also confess to having found myself irritated all over again, remembering how one of this year’s crop of Republican presidential candidates had cited the story of what happens shortly thereafter as evidence of Pharaoh unjustly seizing peoples goods in taxes, just like, he said, the Democrats do.

Most Christians are guilty of “proof-texting” at some point or other – we all want to be sure everyone knows that God really is on OUR side – whatever “our side” happens to be (which usually includes both).  But this one really had me bouncing in my chair and wishing the interviewer or debate moderator (I don’t remember which) had known his Bible well enough to challenge.  Because, of course, the whole scheme was Joseph’s idea, not Pharaoh’s:  make the people contribute part of their harvest to Pharaoh’s granaries during the seven years of plenty – tax them – so that when the time of famine came, the people would not starve because the central government would have grain for them.

I figure most folks who heard the benighted candidate probably nodded in agreement, not realizing that, if you actually read the story, it was Joseph, the good guy, the one God was sneaking the test answers to, who came up with the “big government” “welfare state” idea – or that without it, the Egyptian people – and our hero Joseph’s family (and, with them, the incipient People of Israel) would have starved to death during the seven lean years.

Now, in all fairness, you could argue that the food wasn’t just given away, it was sold – at a profit, not doubt – and not just to Egyptians, but to foreigners, like Joseph’s family, as well.  You could also argue that accumulating that much power in the central government led to Pharaoh having the sort of power that was later used against the descendants of Joseph’s family.  But however you look at it, the story doesn’t have the easy, Tea Party-approved moral it was made to appear to have.  And very few people even realized, which makes me sad.

But for now, where has Pharaoh Elvis gotten?  I’d like to wander a little more before I go home.

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