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Peter T Chattaway

Prophet Joseph

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Links to our thread on Saint Mary (date unknown), Jesus, the Spirit of God (2007), Abraham, the Friend of God (2008) and Muhammad: The Messenger of God (2015).

I first mentioned this series ("miniseries" doesn't seem quite right for a show that had 45 episodes!) in a blog post in 2008, when it was apparently in the early stages of production (or pre-production?). But I *finally* got around to watching the first few episodes this month, and I hope to blog the series -- which looks at the stories of Jacob and Joseph from a Muslim perspective -- on a regular basis.

Episodes 1 + 2 (up to the birth of Benjamin, when Joseph is five years old):

There is a strong tendency in Muslim films about biblical figures to make the saints and prophets seem holier than they appear in the Bible; to what degree this is intrinsic to the Muslim faith and to what degree it reflects the piety of the filmmakers, I could not say. But whatever the reason, there is no sense in these episodes of Jacob as the trickster that Genesis makes him out to be. The biblical Jacob moved to Paddan Aram to flee his justifiably outraged brother Esau, after tricking their father into giving Jacob the blessing that had been meant for Esau — but there is no mention of Esau at all in this series so far. (Instead, we are told that Jacob has a sister.) And the biblical Jacob and his wives were engaged in a constant battle of wills with Laban — Jacob used sneaky folk magic to make his flocks stronger than Laban’s, and Rachel stole Laban’s household gods when the family left for Canaan without telling Laban — but in the film, Jacob lets everyone know he is going home, and Laban spontaneously gives Jacob half his flock as a reward for years of faithful service. (And of course, there is no mention of Laban’s household gods: the entire family is monotheistic now.)

Episodes 3 + 4 (up to the death of Jacob's sister, when Joseph is about nine years old):

In the book of Genesis, Abraham and his immediate descendants live among the Canaanites fairly peacefully but don’t have a very strong connection to them. In this series, on the other hand, the people of Canaan pledge their allegiance to Jacob because he is “the messenger”, and the son of Isaac the messenger. And then, later on, when Faegheh publicly accuses Joseph of stealing Isaac’s belt, Jacob is obliged to let her take the boy as her slave, because the Canaanites are watching and it would be unseemly for an upright prophet of God to ignore the traditions that govern such matters. This makes me curious about the traditions within Islam regarding the relationship between the Canaanites and the Israelites in, say, Joshua’s day.

More later, hopefully!

June 30 update: Ack. I need to ahem myself.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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Episodes 5 + 6 (up to the point when Joseph's brothers toss him down a well)

Aside from the prophetic dreams — which are, of course, open to interpretation — there isn’t anything particularly supernatural about the biblical version of Joseph’s story. These episodes are full of the supernatural, however: Satan is a recurring presence; the robe that Jacob gives Joseph isn’t just decorative but is said to have come down from Heaven, and it automatically adjusts to fit whoever is wearing it; a small windstorm carries Joseph’s voice back home to his father when the brothers turn against him; the water in the well is fresh and not salty, apparently miraculously; and the sixth episode culminates in Joseph’s vision of a man who does not appear to be a prophet himself but passes on messages from those who are.

Episodes 7 + 8 (up to the point when Joseph's brothers sell him to the Ishmaelite caravan):

In Genesis 45, Joseph says it was God rather than his brothers who sent him to Egypt, but a casual reader of the story could still conclude that God simply allowed the brothers to do what they did. In this series, on the other hand, the angel actively puts Joseph to sleep so that he won’t respond to the search parties, which makes God more directly responsible for what happens to Joseph.

More later.

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Interesting. I may add this to my list of world lit films. We read some passages from the Koran, including the story of Joseph, and they have an assignment to view a foreign-language film that relates to their readings.

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Episodes 9 + 10 (up to the point when the caravan sells Joseph to Potiphar):

As noted above, the beauty of Joseph is a recurring theme here, and it leads to a remarkable conversation between Joseph and the angel when Joseph sees all the Egyptian men gathered before the auction block. The angel declares that Joseph’s outward beauty is symbolic of the beauty within all human beings, and that these men, who lack the wisdom and innocence to see the beauty inside themselves, find Joseph’s physical beauty irresistible because it ultimately points towards Joseph’s God.

Episodes 11 + 12 (in which Joseph gets to know Potiphar's household and we get our first taste of Egyptian political intrigue):

Social class is a major theme here. A servant of Zuleikha’s named Karimama protests that Joseph is a low-class foreigner and cannot be adopted by high-ranking nobles like Potiphar and Zuleikha according to Egyptian customs. She also worries that the slaves might revolt and demand more for themselves if a slave like Joseph sleeps in the palace. The slaves themselves have a pecking order that comes to the fore when, e.g., one of Potiphar’s higher-ranking servants says he worked hard to get his position, and now he objects to his job being given to a “Hebrew shepherd” like Joseph.

Currently working on Episodes 13 + 14 as we speak.

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Oh my, a lot of catching up to do here.

Episodes 13 + 14 (in which Joseph finally reaches adulthood):

Joseph continues to evangelize and to express an interest in the poor. He openly teaches the children in Potiphar’s palace about monotheism — without being penalized, apparently — and he takes platters filled with upper-class food to the servants’ quarters and shares them with the residents there. As an adult, Joseph converts his old mentor Honifer to monotheism, tells Honifer he needs to believe in all of God’s “messengers”, and reveals that he, Joseph, is the last prophet “in this time.” Honifer replies, “If I knew it, I would have believed in you many years ago.”

Episodes 15 + 16 (in which Potiphar's wife finally makes her move):

Interestingly, the Koran indicates that Joseph would have had sex with Zuleikha “had he not beheld the proof of his Lord,” but I never got the sense from these episodes that Joseph was on the verge of giving in to her. Different traditions exist as to how, exactly, the angels turned Joseph away from doing the wrong thing here, but within these episodes, Joseph sees the face of Satan where Zuleikha’s face should be at one point, and he then has a vision of the angel that visited him when he was a boy.

Episodes 17 + 18 (in which the priests of Amon take the chaos in Potiphar's house as their cue to strike against the Pharaoh):

Meanwhile, to clear her name, Zuleikha invites the noblewomen to her palace so that they can see Joseph for themselves, and since the women are in the middle of cutting some fruit when Joseph enters the room, they are so distracted by his beauty that they end up cutting themselves. Zuleikha says the women did this after seeing Joseph only once, so can they imagine what it’s like to see him day after day? The women then tell Joseph to sleep with Zuleikha — or with one of them.

Episodes 19 + 20 (in which Joseph goes to prison):

Potiphar and his wife disappear from the biblical story after Joseph is thrown in jail (in Genesis 39:20), but this miniseries — like a lot of other dramatizations of the Joseph story1 — expands their role considerably. . . . For example: in Joseph in the Land of Egypt (1914), Potiphar and his wife are present when Joseph is promoted to the second-highest position in all of Egypt, and Potiphar’s wife is ultimately sent to prison; in Joseph and His Brethren (1961), Potiphar kills his wife in a sort of murder-suicide, setting fire to their bedroom while Joseph is still in prison; in The Emigrant (1994), Zuleikha retracts her accusation after Joseph is sent to prison, and Potiphar ultimately sets Joseph free from slavery; in Joseph (1995), Potiphar connects Joseph with both the imprisoned servants of Pharaoh and the dream-haunted Pharaoh himself, and he lets one of his slavemasters work for Joseph after Joseph’s promotion; and in Slave of Dreams (1995), Potiphar and Zuleikha are reconciled and have a newborn child at the end of the story.

I've currently got Episodes 21 + 22 in the works -- I'm almost half-way through! -- but other, more pressing work right now is forcing me to put that off. I'll hopefully catch up next week, though.

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