Some observations after grading a pile of student papers on the robe motif in the Joseph narratives.
1) Joseph begins the story as a recipient of a robe from his father ; he ends the story bestowing robes on his brothers, especially Benjamin. He has become “father” to his brothers (as he is father to Pharaoh), and following his father’s lead, and the pattern of the early history of humanity, he bestows extra blessing on the youngest son. As one student, Zach Warner, pointed out, Joseph has been elevated to royalty, and his family has become a royal family, robed in glory. The brothers who envied Joseph for his dreams of greatness need not have envied: The elevation of one brother elevates all. Glorified Joseph brings many brothers/sons to glory.
2) Another student, Kristina Miller, pointed out how the Hebrew terms for robes vary through the narrative. Jacob tears his robe (simlah) when he hears of Joseph’s supposed death; Reuben has also torn his robes, but the Hebrew word is different. Later, when the brothers are in Egypt, they tear their robes, and the Hebrew uses the same word it used for Jacob’s robes. At long last, they enter into their father’s grief – and almost immediately Joseph reveals himself alive.
3) It’s also significant that the narrative begins and ends with stained robes – the blood-stained robe of Joseph and the wine-stained robe of Judah in Jacob’s blessing. Joseph and Judah are the chief characters in the narrative, and the analogy and difference between the two robes is important. Joseph is the “sacrificial” victim who eventually offers food; Judah is the royal brother whose robes are stained with the blood of the grape, the wine-blood of joy and prosperity. The similarity and contrast points ahead to the history divided kingdom, the northern kingdom of “Joseph” and the southern of Judah.
4) The first robe is given by Jacob, Joseph’s father, and the rest of the robe-bestowals echo this structure. Potiphar and Pharaoh are father-figures to Joseph, bestowing robes, and Joseph becomes a father to his brothers, giving robes.
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Monday, October 1, 2012 at 4:50 pm
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