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C O U R S E 
Jesus in Scripture and Tradition
Gary Anderson, University of Notre Dame
C O U R S E   L E C T U R E 
Joseph in the Pit: Descent and Ascent
Notes taken on October 8, 2015 by Edward Tanguay
after Joseph revealed his dreams to his brothers
Jacob, foolishly, sends him off to check on the well-being of his brothers
and return report
Genesis 37:17-12
they conspire against him to kill him
here comes the dreamer
throw him into a pit
and say a wild beast devoured him
Reuben heard this, said to not take his life
shed no blood
cast him into a pit
but lay no hand upon him
they cast him into an empty pit with no water in it
the casting of Joseph into a pit is no innocuous detail
Medieval artists regularly contrasted
1. the dropping of Joseph into a pit
2. the laying out of Christs' body after he was removed from the cross
3. the casting of the prophet Jonah into the sea
all three depicted the death and the resurrection
in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus explicitly compares his own death and resurrection with the figure of Jonah
Matthew 12:38-41
an evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah
so as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth
Jonah is cast into the sea and then cast back onto dry land
parallels Jesus descent into the realms of death and his resurrection
however, we do not have a description of Joseph's descent or ascent into or out of the pit as death or resurrection
the role of the pit in the Joseph story
the role that pits will play in the Book of Psalms in the biblical psalter
Psalm 30
someone suffering from an illness
feels he is going to die
"if I go down to the pit, will the dust praise thee?"
compares death to descent into a pit
a pit is regularly used in the Old Testament to describe the underworld
"thou has brought up my soul from Sheol (the underworld), restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit"
its not hard to imagine how a pit could function as an image for the underworld
refered to in the ancient world as cisterns
walls of these structures are nearly vertical
if it was a pit to hold water, the walls would have been plastered and smooth to touch
nearly impossible for an individual to get out
the only way to get out of the pit would be to have others lift you out
Psalmist thanks the Lord for lifting him out to the pit he believes he had sunk into
unless someone is there to lift someone out of the pit, death seems a certain end
Joseph descends three times
1. into the pit when brothers drop him into the pit
2. Joseph's descent into Egypt
entry is a descent
return is an ascent
not always apparent in translations
3. descent into prison
today we don't think of prisons or jails as being underground
in Hebrew, the word for pit, "bor", is often used to describe a jail
Genesis 41:14
jail in which Joseph will be put is described as a pit