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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 
The Symbolic of Joseph's Dreams as Service Not Power
Notes taken on February 16, 2016 by Edward Tanguay
Joseph is called forward to help Pharaoh with his dreams
Pharaoh summons his court magicians to discern what they meant
they were of no help
the cup holder told Pharaoh of the success he had had with Joseph's interpretations while he was in prison
"A young Hebrew was there with us, a servant of the captain of the guard, and when we told him he interpreted our dreams to us, giving an interpretation to each man according to his dream. And as he interpreted to us, so it came to pass." - Genesis 41:12-13
Pharaoh therefore had Joseph summoned to the royal court
"I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it, and I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it." - Genesis 41:15
Joseph insists that his own talents are of no value
"It is not in me, God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer." - Genesis 41:16
God is the only one who can lay open what a dream means
Joseph's first dream
"Hear this dream which I have dreamed. Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and lo, my sheaf arose and stood upright, and behold, your sheaves gathered round it, and bowed down to my sheaf."
what is striking about this scene is what is missing
nowhere is God invoked as the source of the dream's meaning
nowhere in this text does Joseph provide any interpretation
the only interpretation we are privy to in this chapter are the words of the brothers
"Are you indeed to reign over us and have dominion over us?"
this lack of interpretation on the part of Joseph contrasts with his interpretations for the Pharaoh
it can't be the case that their interpretation is going to be the correct one
what do the early dreams of Joseph mean?
David Kimhe (Rabbi in 12-13th centuries)
the theme of the dream is grain
the means by which Joseph was going to rise to power
the first time the brothers will see Joseph after he is sold into slavery is when they come down to buy grain
the brothers have empty sacks hoping that these sacks will be filled by the man they meet
while Joseph has an upright stack beside him
he draws from this full sack in order to fill the brothers' empty sacks
the details almost fit exactly to his dream
the symbolic is not so much the obeisance of the brothers, but the over abundance of Joseph's sheaves
Joseph shares with his brothers
the emphasis is not on power, i.e. what Joseph has and what the brothers lack
but that the brothers have no grain that Joseph is going to provide
Joseph refuses what John Milton called the "knee tribute"
the dream isn't about power but about service
he's been sent ahead to Egypt to interpret Pharaoh's dreams
to provide during these years of famine not only for the Egyptians
but also for his family
now he takes the resources of his full and overflowing sack and fills the sacks of his brothers
we read the first dreams as a symbol of power and domination
the difficulty of the theological doctrine of chosenness and election
the problematic derives from the disparity between the frailty of the human ego and mysterious operations of the choosing Diety
human nature is not constituted so as to facilitate the acceptance of chosenness
the one chosen is sorely tempted to interpret his special status as a mandate for domination
such is how Joseph's father and his brothers interpret Joseph's insensitive report of his two dreams
we, too, as readers are pulled into this improper and incorrect reading
in the end, we see the mistake: the tale about the sheaves was not about power, but about service
yet all major players in story as well as we as readers failed to notice this
when God chooses someone, he calls them to serve others
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945)
German Lutheran pastor, theologian, anti-Nazi dissident, and key founding member of the Confessing Church
"When God calls a man, he bids him: come and die."