Thursday, January 21, 2010

Homework assignment for next week

Each week I will give you something to do to prepare for the following week. I've come up with three different assignments, and you can take your pick which you want to do (or all three). Your choice:

A- For the ambitious:

Please read all of Genesis 37:1-36, and then Genesis 39 to 47:28.

This is the story of Joseph and how the Israelites settle in Egypt. It is sometimes called the “Joseph Novel” because it seems to be a complete and coherent story, with plot, suspense and structure. Regardless of whether it is historically accurate, it is packed with theological meaning and observations about human behavior. It also serves to explain why the Israelites ended up in bondage in Egypt, setting up the saga of Moses and the Exodus.

The story of Joseph and his brothers begins in Genesis Chapter 37; the story is interrupted with an unrelated story in Chapter 38 (so skip that chapter); the story picks up in Chapter 39 and concludes in Chapter 47, verse 28.


1- How did God sustain Joseph throughout his ordeal?
2- What was Joseph’s response?
3- Why do you think ancient Jews remembered this story?
4- What questions do you still have about this story? What is confusing, what do you need to know to understand the story better?
5- Do you recall a time in your life when you felt abandoned but later found new life?

B- For the moderately ambitious:

Please read Genesis Chapters 1-3 (the story of Creation)


1- Who is the story about? Who is doing everything?
2- How many distinct accounts of the creation of humankind are there?
How are they different? Similar?
3- What questions do you still have?

C- For couch potatoes (or those pressed for time):

Please read Psalm 105
Congratulations! You’ve read the entire Bible.


1- Who is the psalm about? Who is doing everything?
2- What catches your attention? Why?
3- What questions do you still have?


  1. Not a Joseph or Creation or Psalm 105 thing -- just a note on something that came up in our last class. From a pamphlet by John Ruskin (a.k.a., Oscar Wilde's favorite professor) on the meaning of the Wedding at Cana:

    "'They have no wine.'
    'Whatever he saith unto you, do it.'
    These [are] the last recorded words of the Mother of Christ, and the only ones recorded during the period of his ministry. The first sentence contains the appeal of the workman's wife, to her son, for the help of the poor of all the earth. The second, the command of the Lord's mother, to the people of all the earth, that they should serve the Lord."


  2. I revisited the story of Joseph last night while babysitting and, even though I know the outcome, I found myself engrossed! I think the suspense factor of the story definitely contributes to its continued popularity.

    Joseph's strength and faith sustained him throughout all of his trials. He saw in the dreams of Pharoah that God helps us to prepare for ordeals, but He doesn't do all of the work for us. Armed with this knowledge, Joseph worked to make the most of whatever situation faced him.

    This isn't to say that Joseph was perfect. I found the elaborate game he played with his brothers confusing. Why didn't he reveal himself right away? Why did he continue to grieve his father Jacob? I'm really not sure.

    When I lived in West Virginia, I felt completely abandoned. Most of my friends still lived in Charlottesville and there were NO young people to interact with. God sustained me, however, by a friend's introduction to a nursing home resident. Elizabeth's friendship provided me not only something rewarding to do with my time, but someone to discuss politics, religion, and current events with even though I was far away from the engaged, academic community that had become my home. Through my unhappiness, God brought me someone who helped me see new perspectives on life.

    I hope everyone has a great week and I look forward to hearing from y'all!


  3. Hi everyone! This is Christine and Rob. We are working our answers out together, discussing our interpretations and therefore are submitting our answers together below.

    In the "Joseph Novel" it seems to us that God sustains Joseph by working through him to help people, which isn't immediately evident to Joseph, but Joseph realizes that each time God works through him Joseph is trusted with greater responsibility. When Joseph is in desperate need of help, God presents him with an opportunity to get out of his dire situation and through Joseph God foretells the future by interpreting people's dreams. This ability, which Joseph makes sure to attribute to God's ability and not his own, is what makes people trust Joseph.

    The Pharaoh puts so much trust in Joseph that he asks him to manage all that he owns. Joseph responds by helping the Pharaoh and the Egyptians to have food during the seven years of famine. In general, Joseph uses his ability to interpret people's dreams to help people, especially his family. Joseph takes care of his family even though they betrayed him.

    The ancient Jews remember this story because by working through Joseph it seems as though God views the Jews as important people. So important that He would give them super human ability, as He did with Joseph's ability to interpret dreams. God also promises the Jews the land of Israel. Through Joseph's ordeals, starting with how his brothers sell him into slavery after he tells them of his dream where they will bow down to him, Joseph ultimately understands he had to go through difficult times so that he could save the lives of others, most importantly his family. Therefore this story gives the Jews hope because it suggests that life's difficulties are part of God's plan and will ultimately bring goodness.

    Maggie mentioned the games Joseph played with his brothers in her response, which we too found bothersome. The way Joseph tormented his brothers and father and how he lied to them seems wrong. Everything works out well for them in the end, but the mentality of the "end justifying the means" doesn't seem like the moral way to live, yet Joseph acted this way, why?

    Also, why did God manipulate events so that his people would end up in slavery?

    We felt abandoned during our struggles with infertility. For almost two years our fertility treatments showed absolutely no signs of change so we decided to pursue adoption. We wanted to be parents. We both have divorced parents, yet we have a strong marriage that we cherish every day. It became important to us to share our love with children so they may grow up with the love and support they need to be who they want to be. We found new life when our daughter Ella came into our family. Like Joseph, our difficult times led us to happiness that also helped other people. In our case we were given the gift of helping Ella and her birth family, whom we feel so much respect and gratitude toward. We pray for them every day.

  4. But surely Joseph is TESTING his brothers. He needs to know if they can be trusted.... Throughout the story, we've been hearing that Joseph is a good administrator. He rises through the ranks in Potiphar's household, and even in prison. We just have to assume that he's shrewd enough to have achieved so much. It didn't ALL just come to him in a dream, of course; there was work involved. But we never actually see that shrewdness, until the testing of the brothers.

  5. I am posting this for Patricia Goolsby (Part 1 of her comment):

    Working my way up from couch potato:
    c) Psalm 105
    1)This psalm is about God as he orchestrated the history of the the children of Abraham. God is really doing everything. The people are almost like toy soldiers (or shepherds and famers) in a child's game.
    2) What caught my attention is that this psalm is less whiny than a lot of the psalms. [For example , lots of the other psalms say things like "Those who hate me without reason outnumber the hairs of my head; many are my enemies without cause, those who seek to destroy me. I am forced to restore what I did not steal." And so forth.] This psalm is also not like a hymn or a prayer, the way many psalms are, but is rather a historical saga. The whole psalm seems to be in the voice of one person, in contrast to many of the psalms which only make sense (to me) if I imagine that two or three people and God are all in a complicated conversation.
    3)I can’t think of any interesting questions about this one.
    B) The Creation story:
    1) God, again, is doing most of the action in this one. I would say that the serpent and Eve are the other two major players. Adam is just a supporting actor.
    2) I would say that Chapter 1, verse 2, and what follows it, are one creation story, and that 2:4-7 is another. The details about Eve's creation in versess 20-24 might count as a third. Chapter 2 has much more detail.
    3) I had a whole bunch of questions about this one (some a little trivial perhaps): Is all the creation stuff in Chapter 2 supposed to have happened on the 6th day? How did the Serpent move and behave before God cursed him to crawl on his belly? What in the world did God intend (or what did the people who wrote down the story think he intended) in creating a tree of knowledge whose fruit shouldn't be eaten? (or in creating a serpent who was such a con artist?) What did the serpent get out of conning Eve? What interest did he have in her eating that fruit? Why did it count as "knowledge" on Adam and Eve's part that they suddenly thought of nakedness as a sin? (And why a talking serpent, anyway? Snakes don't even bark.) Why would knowing good from evil be problematic? What is it supposed to tell us that there was another tree, of life, that it would have been even worse for the people to get a hold of, which, had they eaten of it, they would have had everlasting life? What exactly is a cherubim, anyway?

  6. This is Part II of Patricia Goolsby's comment:

    A) Joseph Novel
    1) The story says things like "God granted Joseph favor in the eyes of the prison warden" but I assume that, with the help of God, Joseph was a good manager and a decent, reliable guy, (surely the prison warden didn't just follow some hypnotic suggestion on God's part, and decide to favor Joseph). Similarly, God enabled Joseph to manage the Pharaoh's affairs, so Joseph won favor with him.

    2) It seems to me that Joseph made good use of God's gifts (until his brothers showed up).
    3) Joseph's creative thinking prevented a lot of people from suffering from the famine. The Jews must have remembered him the same way we remember something like the Marshall Plan, for example, because Joseph’s idea proved to be good one.
    4) The whole interpretation of dreams part of the story seems pretty fantastical. I would be curious to know what role dream interpretation generally played in the culture of the Jews at the time the story was recorded.
    More importantly, the part about Joseph playing games with his brothers doesn't seem motivated by anything. Whether or not it was immoral, it just doesn't seem very practical. Here is this supposedly very shrewd manager, using mind-games, out of... what? Vindictiveness? Revenge? It is not even clear how that game would achieve revenge.
    5) There have been several occasions in my life where I had to give up hope what I thought was my life's goal. I feel more as though, with God's help, I've kept on muddling through, rather than having undergone dramatic rebirths. I survived getting divorced. I gave up the idea of being an academic after a really disastrous first teaching job. Currently I have a loved one with a chronic and frustrating illness. I am still waiting to find favor with the warden on this one. Quite frankly, there are other bible stories that are more inspiring to me than this one is, when trying to keep up hope in the face of adversity.