Summer Schedule

Posting Note

In preparation for next year’s Bible Study on the Book of Revelation, I will be posting background that I hope will make the reading of this book both informative, spiritually meaningful, and perhaps most of all will not do violence to its meaning.

I would invite you to look in on occasion to follow along.  On a personal note, I will be in Africa for the first two weeks in July; hope to post at least once or twice by then and afterwards another two posts or so.  Essentially, I will be guided by the work of N.T. Wright’s NT Studies, vols. 1, 2, and 3.


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Joseph Makes Himself Known – Held on Sunday, March 30, 2014

Outline of Post on the Scripture Session held on 03/30/14

  1. A Question: Did Judah own the Brothers’ guilt for what they had done to Joseph?
  2. Background to today’s Reading
  3. Reading Gen. 45: 01 – 28
  4. Discussion

A Question: Did Judah own the Brothers’ guilt for what they had done to Joseph?

In my post of last week [To read: Go to Archives (Top Right of the Home Page) select March, click on post Held on Sunday, March 30, scroll down to Discussion section to read the group’s take on the guilt question] I presented my reasons for thinking that Judah in fact did acknowledge the brothers’ guilt.  As the post states there was doubt to disagreement that the text supports Judah having in fact acknowledged their guilt.  I was pretty sure that not everyone in the group had reviewed the post, I decided to review the evidence presented there because owning one’s guilt is critical to moving forward.

In our Sacrament of Reconciliation, this is why we confess our sins to the priest, that is, to the community.  It is no small matter.  What is particularly alarming in modern American culture, as I read it, is the near complete failure to distinguish between authentic and inauthentic guilt.  Such failure leads many to fail to learn what authentic guilt has to teach us and in that aftermath, to not recognize evil for what it is or perhaps even worse to confuse evil with good.  What would be your take on this observation of mine?

On a communication note: What I find common among those who post, there is always a struggle to know if anyone or who has read the post, let alone if it is read, what understanding actually takes place.  So I click on …

Background to today’s Reading: Gen. 45: 01 – 28.

The Joseph Narrative begins in Chapter 37 but it until now in Chapter 45 that God’s role in all of this fully comes to light.  Here we read in v. 5

But now do not be distressed, and do not be angry with yourselves for having sold me here. It was really for the sake of saving lives that God sent me here ahead of you

In this single verse the story teller reveals what we have suspicioned all along, God is at work.  What might be missed though is the telling difference between God’s work with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and God’s work now with Joseph.  Common to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the Promise, Land, Posterity, and Blessing.  With Joseph it is different.  God’s work is “for the sake of saving lives.”  What then has happened to the Promise?  We will learn that the Promise moves from their forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob [Israel] to Israel the nation [the Twelve Brothers / tribes].  Israel’s family will be called by Joseph and approved by Pharaoh to move from the Promised Land to Egypt.  Everything is being staged for the Exodus, the story of YHWH’s deliverance from slavery and oppression to freedom, the story of settling in the Promised Land, and the twisting of the story with the birth of a nation and its desire for an earthly king.

In Exodus 01: 08 we read the great shift that makes all of this possible

Then a new king, who knew nothing of Joseph, rose to power in Egypt.

Reading: Gen. 45: 01 – 28


As Ken listened to the reading of this chapter a question arose with regard to v. 24 “Let there be no recriminations on the way.”  What does “recrimination” mean?  Faryl was to look up its meaning but I’m posting to the question in a larger context.  A different version of v. 24 reads “Don’t quarrel* along the way,” and the * is explained “Or be ‘agitated.’  One Greek word, three English words, ‘recriminations,’ ‘quarrel,’ and ‘agitated.’  It makes little sense in my world to take the Bible literally and, at the same time, to recognize that meaning matters but meaning is nuanced.

My notes of our conversation goes on for some 6 pages, but it is Saturday and I must prepare already for tomorrow.  There is, however, one part of our conversation that I think of special import.  We have arrived at the realization that these stories have a profound symbolism to them.  Yes it is a story of Joseph in Egypt, of what his brothers did to him, and ultimately how it is that God was a work.  But it is more.  It is even more an account of

  • how family life is fraught with problems,
  • how we do evil to one another,
  • that brothers are more than blood brothers but rather define our relationship with all others, brothers and sisters,
  • how guilt can be a controlling factor,
  • how difficult it is to own one’s  guilt in the concrete, in the real,
  • how there are victims and perpetrators and in some ways we are both

But beyond all of these and other factors, there is God in this story whose involvement is described in these words, “It was really for the sake of saving lives that God sent me here ahead of you.”

I raised a question with the group, how does God in the concrete “send” “ahead”  How do we understand God’s engagement with us that honors God’s  transcendence and our freedom.  As Michael said, we are not just puppets.  As I wanted to reinforce our lives are predestined.  What we do matters, yet God in this story has been at work all along and in some fundamental way God’s actions cannot be frustrated.  How do we talk about our lives, God’s involvement, etc. that holds all of these facts together?

At the end, Kai reinforced that we must start where we are, nudged along, the whole of the Roman Catholic traditions thought on these profound issues cannot be given all at once but only gradually.  That is where we are.  One step at a time.

A couple of road signs might be prove helpful.  The sentences naming the road signs are easy to type on to this webpage but not easy to understand yet the written word can be worth writing.

  • God is the primary cause of the universe all other causes are secondary causes.  To understand the difference between and relationship of primary and secondary causes is an intellectual journey.
  • We [human beings] are essentially free but not effectively free.  God does not replace our freedom with God’s freedom.
  • Finally evil exists and cannot be overcome by violent means.  So it is that Jesus dies on a cross.

You are invited to respond to these or other questions that might arise within you as you read this passage.  Your comments, observations, questions are welcomed.  See “comment” link below

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The Final Test – Held on Sunday, March 23, 2014

Outline of Post on the Scripture Session held on 03/23/14

  1. A Comment on Jacob’s Blessing: Gen. 43:14
  2. Background to today’s Reading
  3. Reading Gen. 44: 01 – 34
  4. Discussion

A Comment on Jacob’s Blessing: Gen. 43:14

As we worked our way through chapter 43, one word caught my attention that we did not pay sufficient attention to.  I thought a comment about that one word was warranted.  In v. 14 we read, ”May God Almighty grant you mercy

At first I wanted to find out what the word “mercy” might mean to us.  The English word “mercy” is not one that is used often in common speech.  It does resonate in the Liturgy, however.  As an essential element in the Penitential rite, twice our refrain repeats the priest’s: Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy; Christ have mercy, Christ have mercy.

But what does that one word mean. I asked the study group if they use “mercy” in everyday speech.  Heber spontaneous said, “Mercy be.”  When I asked him what that phrase meant, he said he didn’t know.  Ken remarked that the only usage that comes to mind occurs in movie scenes; usually someone who has done wrong is standing in front of a person of authority; for example, a king or a judge, and the character says have mercy on me.

Here we have one of the most foundational words in the Jewish scripture woven into our liturgy but have no clear understanding of what it might mean.  The word mercy is one English translation of the Hebrew word “chesed.”  The opening of paragraph in this article reads

Biblical scholars have often complained that the word חֶסֶד [chesed] in the Hebrew Bible is difficult to translate into English, because it really has no precise equivalent in our language. English versions usually try to represent it with such words as “loving-kindness,” “mercy,” “steadfast love,” and sometimes “loyalty,” but the full meaning of the word cannot be conveyed without an explanation, such as the one given in the article below. This article, by Norman H. Snaith, is reproduced from A Theological Word Book of the Bible, edited by Alan Richardson (New York: MacMillan, 1951), pp. 136-7.

I would encourage your reading of the article in the link provided above.  For Christians the fulfillment of YHWH’s chesed is in Christ Jesus.  At the end of the article you will find a list of verses in which the word occurs.  Jacob’s blessing meant so much to the Israelite people who knew the utter significance of God’s steadfast love, mercy, forgiveness, grace, etc.  No one word can hold what only a history of a people can tell.

So one word, six paragraphs above and a reference to an article with 5 more paragraphs. Reading all of the above can move us to hear and say so much as we repeat, Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.  Meaningless or filled with meaning.  It’s up to you.

Background to today’s Reading: Gen. 44: 01 – 34.

The Final Test … Joseph sets his brothers up one final time in order to learn not that they say they are honest men but rather that they act like honest men.  Words matter but only if they are illuminated by deeds.  The brothers head back to Canaan loaded with food. That they know.  In their sacks too is the money they thought they had given in exchange for the food.  In Benjamin’s sack, the silver cup, Joseph’s cup of divinization.  None of this do the brothers know.  Joseph knows.  The story teller knows so his audience knows and so do we know.

The brothers have been driven by guilt to hide their shame.  They hide it from their father.  They hide it from “the man.”  The father doesn’t know.  “The man” knows.  The listener / reader of the story knows.

When the money and the cup are revealed before their eyes, not a word only torn clothes.  [So too Caiaphas when he hears Jesus blaspheme.]  The brothers return, Judah becomes the spokesperson for the brothers and the family, for Israel.  Judah, Judeans, Jews the story teller and the story’s audiences.  Spoken in faith for the sake of faith.

Reading: Gen. 44: 01 – 34


I read from the New Revised Standard Version while the study group read along in the New American Bible.  Two different versions that are not exactly the same translation of the sources, mostly Greek.  My goal was to allow the study group to experience the different translations.  It sort of worked but sort of backfired as well.  As Ken remarked, he began reading as I was reading the chapter.  The differences between his reading and my reading were so confusing that Ken decided he better just listen.  This does allow us to experience revelation not as words but as meaning.  To discover the meaning begins with words, are limited by words, but meaning ultimately is the correct answers to questions.  What is the meaning of the words, the sentences, the paragraphs, etc.

We covered so much.  Again I want to focus attention on two points that came out of our search for meaning.  In response to the question, well what was the test, Tim responded with what I think was exactly the meaning of the Final Test.  Would the brothers treat Benjamin in the same way as they had treated Joseph?  By the end of the chapter we know that they didn’t.  Judah spoke out, committing himself to be true to the pledge he had given his father, in vv. 32 – 33

 Besides, I, your servant, have guaranteed the boy’s safety for my father by saying, ‘If I fail to bring him back to you, father, I will bear the blame before you forever.’d33So now let me, your servant, remain in place of the boy as the slave of my lord, and let the boy go back with his brothers.

 We then entered in a long discussion, did the brothers through Judah also come clean on their guilt.  I thought that they did.  Ken would have given Judah a B on his test; Judah was completely open with “the man, [Joseph].  Kai felt the expression of guilt in v. 16

Judah replied: “What can we say to my lord? How can we plead or how try to prove our innocence? God has uncovered your servants’ guilt.* Here we are, then, the slaves of my lord—the rest of us no less than the one in whose possession the goblet was found.”

 referred only to the discovery of the cup.  For Kai, it’s not in the text in any way, shape or form in terms of the guilt involved with their treatment of Joseph.

So what was our author telling us?  Please remember that the meaning of the text is ultimately a correct answer to a question.  One advantage of listening to a recording of the conversation a couple of days later is it gives me a chance to think.

Here is why I think that Judah, on behalf of his brothers and before God, was acknowledging their guilt.

  1. In the middle of v. 16 we read “God has uncovered your servants’ guilt . . .*” as translated in the New American Bible – The Catholic Study Bible with the * pointing to a footnote which reads, “44:16: Guilt: in trying to do away with Joseph when he was young.”
  2. The only reference to God in the Judah’s speech
  3. “servants’ guilt” is plural
  4. “God has found out the guilt of your servants . . .” which expresses more clearly in my opinion that Judah is acknowledging that God knows what they have done.

So, if you have read so far, let us know what you think.

You are invited to respond to these or other questions that might arise within you as you read this passage.  Your comments, observations, questions are welcomed.  See “comment” link below

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The Second Journey to Egypt – Held on Sunday, March 16, 2014

Outline of Post on the Scripture Session held on 03/16/14

  1. Discussion of the Formation of the Scriptural Canon
  2. Background to today’s Reading
  3. Reading Gen. 43: 01 – 34
  4. Discussion

Discussion of the Formation of the Canon

I began by providing a brief summary of the past two chapters which form the background to the second journey of the brothers, including this time, Benjamin to Egypt to purchase food because of the continuance of the famine.  I mentioned just in passing, I thought, that I would do the reading from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible so that the group could hear a slightly different wording of the passage that we were going to study.  Little did I know that I had opened a can of worms.

Ken asked what might seem like a straightforward question.  Aren’t there different books in the Catholic Bible as compared to the Protestant Bible?  The question isn’t as straightforward as it might seem.  Why?, because the question itself assumes a series of historical events that occurred in the 16th century but doesn’t take into account another series of historical events that began in the 19th century and continues to today.  There is no question that there are different accounts of the books that make up the Jewish and the Christian bibles.  But Ken’s formulation of the question continues an understanding that doesn’t take into consideration the later developments in biblical scholarship.  In its own way it continues the 16th century divide which in some future date Christians will have to solve but that solution can begin with each of us now, today.

Over the next ½ hour or more I attempted to give a brief but less than accurate [my response being off the cuff] account of the factors involved in the formation of the bible as it exists today; what is called the Canon of the Scriptures.  There is a growing consensus among scholars but there remain points of difference.

Since both the Jewish and Christian communities believe that the bible as they understand it is inspired by God [again however that is understood], that fact alone leads both communities to arrive at what is called their canon.  The canon is an authoritative and closed list of books that the believing communities say are those inspired by God.  The believing communities don’t all agree, though.

Why there is not a total consensus on what that closed list comprises actually is a rather complicated research into the history of both Jewish and Christian communities.  If you want to look into this history, you might google one or more of the following:

  1. List of books in the Jewish Canon
  2. Apocrypha – a Greek word meaning “hidden,” or “secret” that identifies one way of talking about the differences in the list.
  3. Deuterocanonical – derived from the Latin which means “second canon” and is another term that identifies the differences in the list.

Although there are differences, there is much more of the bible that all Christians agree on.  If we focus on the differences we will find them but if we focus on what we agree on, we will find that too.

At its core, however, these differences are a question of personal and communal identity.  Who are we?  The answer to which responds to a very primal human issue.  Someday maybe we can get pass that but that will take more than scholarship.  Jesus himself experienced this issue among the Palestinian people with whom he lived, talked, and conducted his ministry.  Ultimately this was to led to a division among the Jewish communities into Jews and Christians.  Not all differences though have the same impact. Some divide us, others don’t; those that deal with our very identity divide us.

Every time I come to these profound issues, I wonder if it might spark a conversation so that we can learn how to create a common community that might mirror the simple fact that we are all on this one planet, together.

Fortunate or not, I then asked a follow up question.  I was talking to a friend of mine and mentioned an obvious fact, that Jesus was a Jew; in fact, all of the initial followers of Jesus were Jewish.  My friend asked then another one of those simple, straightforward questions, the best of questions because they are genuine, Well why aren’t we [Christians] all Jewish?  I ask the gathered group, as I ask those reading this post, how would you answer that question?

Ken responded that sometimes short questions have very long answers.  The short answer is that Jewish did not accept Jesus as their Messiah.

Michael added his own question.  Why, upon following Jesus, did we do away with so many Jewish traditions?

These two observations took us on another journey.  In the dynamic of the group the journeys just happen.  They can happen on the blog too, but that can happen only if and when I find a way to entice readers of the blog to join the journey.  For now, I leave the other three points on this blog quiet and point to the final statement, the invitation to participate. 

Background to today’s Reading: Gen. 43: 01 – 34.

Reading: Gen. 43: 01 – 34


You are invited to respond to these or other questions that might arise within you as you read this passage.  Your comments, observations, questions are welcomed.  See “comment” link below

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Joseph Meets His Brothers – Held on Sunday, March 02, 2014

Outline of Post on the Scripture Session held on 03/02/14

  1. Posting Note
  2. Background to today’s Reading
  3. Reading Gen. 42: 01 – 38
  4. Discussion

Posting Note

There will not be a Scripture Study on Sunday, March 9 so the next post following this one [03/02/14] will be no later than Friday, March 21st.

Background to today’s Reading: Gen. 42: 01 – 38.

We began as we have for the past four weeks reviewing Walter Brueggemann’s schema.  The previous three chapters [39 – 41] depict Joseph’s rise to power but form the necessary backdrop to the next three chapters [41 – 44] which tells the story of Joseph and his family.

Brueggemann is of the opinion that the initial setting for the composition of the Joseph story is around the time of Solomon, that is, 1000 – 931 BC.  However, its final redaction probably occurred in the post exilic period around the last quarter of the 6th century BC.  The more that we can imagine the audiences of the narrator the richer the story he is telling becomes.  It also helps to keep in mind the final outcome of the story itself.  The God of the Israelites is the God of their fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  But the Israelites owe a great deal to the story of Joseph in which the promise moves from individuals ultimately to a nation, from Egypt [symbol of slavery and oppression] to Canaan, the Promise Land.  When we think then of the post exilic period, the audience listens to this story in terms of a longing, a return from exile to the promise land not in the hands of foreign rule but under the rule of YHWH, their God.  Hundreds of years later, this longing is the climate in which Jesus announced the coming of the Kingdom of God.

Throughout the story there is what is hidden to some but known to others.  A few examples might prompt us to look for others.  The brothers don’t recognize Joseph but Joseph recognized them and obviously therefore, the listeners, readers know both what Joseph knows and the brothers don’t.  There is the dream that the brothers are unwittingly fulfilling in their very actions that Joseph now knows and so do the audiences down through time.  God is at work beyond the knowing and the not knowing; so too is God acting in our time but with a radical difference.  We hear all of this within the consciousness of the Christ event.  It is that consciousness that both enriches our hearing but it also can darken it.  What matters is first to strive to hear the story in its full symbolic manner.  That is what we attempted in our reading of it.

Reading: Gen. 42: 01 – 38


After reading the entire chapter I asked those gathered what stood out for them. Ken pointed out how the brothers were driven by their senses of guilt.  Guilt leads to lies.  Even as they profess that they are honest men before Joseph they are lying.  When they retell their story to their father, they are lying.  But it not just them, it is their guilt that is not owned that lays hidden which is then covered up by their lying.  The story reveals this dynamic that is part not just of Joseph’s brothers but for all of human life.

Heber pointed out that Joseph was paying his brothers back for what they had done to him but not as harshly as they had treated him.  The brothers threw him in a cistern from which he could not escape.  They sold him into slavery.  They lied about what they had done.  From then to now in the story their actions have shaped their understanding and talking about God.

Faryl pointed out the irony in the story.  If the brothers had not treated Joseph as they did, the famine would have occurred anyhow but there would not have been a Joseph to manage the famine both Egypt and for them.

I asked the question, what does this aspect of the story tell us of God’s actions?  For Ken God can [I think does] turn turmoil around for good.  This is where the cross of Christ leaps across the years.  Jesus is treated as we treat anyone who is dangerous, who wants to redefine who we are and what we are to become; challenges our sacred symbols that define us.

The role of Benjamin reminded Tim of events that are happening in his own life.  Favoritism exists, Heber reminded us not just in the family, but in most institutions, in schools, in the work place, etc.  But for Rosemarie the favoritism is more a matter of favoring those who think as we do, value what we value.  We favor those who are like us.

Although time was running out, we returned to the first five verses and reread them.  I noted that the story teller, writer is a person who believes.  He is writing to his community of believers but they don’t believe in the same fashion as the story teller, writer.  Rather he is attempting in the story to reshape their believing, to support their believing.

Ken picked up on this as he focused on verse 5, “And so the sons of Israel were among those who came to buy grain, since there was famine in the land of Canaan.”  Is the author thinking of the sons of Jacob but with his name changed?  Is he thinking of the nation of Israel?  For Ken, the author had both references in mind.  I couldn’t agree more.  In this one word change we can uncover the symbolic nature of the listening audience.  They hear both and more because they heard the story in the context of their own struggles, their own yearnings.  We actually do the same.  What we are attempting to achieve, though in our scripture study, is to know that is what we are doing and to know it in the concrete of our lives and compare or contrast what it means to us and what it meant to them.  This is our journey.

Tim wondered how Joseph felt when he met his brothers.  He recognized them right away.  When they bowed down before him, Joseph realized that his dream was coming true right before his eyes.  As the story progress Joseph reveals his conflicted emotions.  The biblical stories are powerful precisely because they capture our struggles, our conflicted emotions and they talk about this life we live in the context of God.

Joseph despite his conflicted emotions, wanted to see Benjamin, wanted to “test” the integrity of his brothers, wanted to bring the true story out in the open.  This testing reminded Ken of the Lord’s Prayer in which we ask God not to put us to the test.  Tim felt that Joseph wanted his brothers to admit they were in the wrong.  I thought immediately of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Why do we have to tell our sins to the priest?; so that we can own them.  The very difficulty in telling someone our sins reveals the nature of guilt and its power.

You are invited to respond to these or other questions that might arise within you as you read this passage.  Your comments, observations, questions are welcomed.  See “comment” link below

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Joseph’s Elevation to Power – Held on Sunday, February 23, 2014

Outline of Post on the Scripture Session held on 02/23/14

  1. Introductory Remarks
  2. Background to today’s Reading
  3. Reading Gen. 41: 01 – 57
  4. Discussion

Introductory Remarks

I reminded the group about my intention to offer a Lenten Program on five Thursdays during lent.  The program will be based on the work of Gerhard Lofink entitled, Jesus of Nazareth What He Wanted, Who He Was.  There were six members of the group who expressed an interest in attending.  If anyone else is interested to register please contact Roberta at 330-452-9539 or  You can also sign-up at under the Adult Education page.

Background to today’s Reading: Gen. 41: 01 – 57.

Once again we began by looking back to Brueggemann’s schema; chapter 41 is the culmination of Joseph and the Empire and focuses on Joseph’s rise to power.

I continue to emphasize that the final redactor of this story probably lived in the 6th – 5th c. BCE.  His audience has returned from exile in Babylon physically but the memory of that experience has been imprinted on the corporate memory of the Israelites. We have nothing like that as part of our corporate memory, the closest example that I can think of are the events of September 11.   By way of comparison though, the exile began with the destruction of their city, Jerusalem, the destruction of the Temple where there God took up residence, lasted for 50 years, and the land they returned to was markedly different than the land they had left.

Probably it is true that the Galilean peasants among whom Jesus lived and primarily carried out his ministry continued to long for the day that the promise of the post exilic prophets would be fulfilled.  The Joseph story was told in part to address the longing the people had for YHWH to return.   Had YHWH forgotten them?  Would YHWH rule over their enemies?  [Their enemies were those who oppressed them, took away their freedom, did not recognize their God.]  These are but a few of the questions that disturbed the consciousness of the Israelites then and may disturb us now.

Today we too both individually and corporately can wonder has God forgotten me, us?  How does the life and times of Jesus change the meaning of our questions, our longing for a better life, a better world?

Before reading the entire passage I pointed out that it could be divided into three segments.

  1. Vv. 01 – 08: the Prologue whose importance lies in the fact that dreams enter into the life of the Pharaoh beyond his control and beyond all the available knowledge of the empire to understand.  [As we read this, it helps to think of the kind of questions that might very well be disturbing the consciousness of the narrator’s audience.  How does this story address these and our questions about secular power and divine power [Jesus crucified], secular knowledge and divine knowledge, the ongoing debate between science and religion]
  2. Vv. 09 – 45: the narrative of Joseph’s rise to power from being imprisoned for two more years, interpreting the dreams of the Pharaoh, and being installed as the practical leader of all of Egypt by the Pharaoh.
  3. Vv. 46 – 57: the Epilogue in which Joseph carries out in the  practical historical stetting of the story the implications of the dreams he had interpreted. It ends in v. 57 “Indeed, the whole world came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, for famine had gripped the whole world.”  What then is the significance of the “the whole world?”

Reading: Gen. 41: 01 – 57


Eight different times God is mentioned in this passage.  The very first time occurs in v. 16 where Joseph makes clear that it is God who is at work not him, ““It is not I,” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “but God who will respond for the well-being of Pharaoh.”  It is God who gave the dreams to the Pharaoh.  It is God who will realize the dreams in the realm of the Pharaoh.  God is in charge.  Ken was taken aback by Joseph’s acknowledgement of God’s role.  He felt that he too should know that it is God in his life too; yet the idea of acknowledging that doesn’t occur to him very often.

When we move to vv. 25, 28, and 32 Joseph again makes clear to the Pharaoh the role of God in his [the Pharaoh’s] realm.

  1. V. 25 – Joseph said to Pharaoh: “Pharaoh’s dreams have the same meaning. God has made known to Pharaoh what he is about to do.
  2. V. 28 – Things are just as I told Pharaoh: God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do.
  3. V. 32 – That Pharaoh had the same dream twice means that the matter has been confirmed by God and that God will soon bring it about.

The story is making abundantly clear that it is not the Pharaoh but God who knows and God who is in control.  Tim shared how he had come across the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham.  After viewing it for a while he thought that both of them where off target.  In other words, neither Bill Nye’s understanding of science nor Ken Ham’s understanding of religion spoke to Tim.  One’s understanding of the bible is the focus of our study group and I frankly think that Mr. Ham’s understanding is just wrong.   The passages above do not mean that the Pharaoh or modern secular knowledge is wrong but it is inadequate for our understanding the ways of God.

That people of all walks of life have had an inadequate, and at time, mistaken understanding of what God has revealed is just a fact of human history.  And it is when such mistaken or erroneous understanding guides their doing, there is, excuse my language, hell to pay.

Jesus spoke primarily to the peasant Galileans of his day.  Over and over he attempted to communicate that their understanding of the ways of God were mistaken and if they continued to act on the basis of that mistaken understanding ruin would befall them.  And it did.  Jesus’ message of the Kingdom of God is even more subversive than the story of Joseph.  It is doubly so, for Jesus’ Kingdom message was a message of nonviolence deliverance, think of the story of the prodigal father / son.   Ken at this point simply pointed to the cross.  The power of God and the knowledge of God are neither our power nor our knowledge.  Jesus’ life, message, and mission revealed that and the cross was [is] our response.  The Father’s response, however, is resurrection [not resuscitation] life as it is meant to be and will be.

At the same time, this passage also makes clear in the epilogue that the transcendent power of God is to become the basis for the practical and necessarily historical actions of us.  Joseph is shown to be a man who managed the good years to take of the bad years. We read in vv. 39 – 41 “So Pharaoh said to Joseph: “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one as discerning and wise as you are.  You shall be in charge of my household, and all my people will obey your command. Only in respect to the throne will I outrank you.”   Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Look, I put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.”

There is much more in this passage than meets the eye.  To reach that more requires us to expand our imagination.  The story of Joseph is the story of the Israelites and their story is our story.

You are invited to respond to these or other questions that might arise within you as you read this passage.  Your comments, observations, questions are welcomed.  See “comment” link below

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Joseph the Interpreter of Dreams – Held on Sunday, February 16, 2014

Outline of Post on the Scripture Session held on 02/16/14

  1. Introductory Remarks
  2. Background to today’s Reading
  3. Reading Gen. 40: 01 – 23
  4. Discussion

Introductory Remarks

I handed out a blurb detailing a projected Lenten Program. It will be based on the book, Jesus of Nazareth What He Wanted, Who He Was by Gerhard Lohfink who was professor of New Testament exegesis at the University of Tubingen; – more on Tubingen –  In the words of Daniel J. Harrington, SJ “Lohfink’s Jesus of Nazareth is the best Jesus book I know.  It is solidly based on sound biblical scholarship, full of fresh theological insights, respectful of the Gospels and their portraits of Jesus, and beautifully expressed.  It is especially effective in highlighting the centrality of God’s reign and Israel as God’s people in Jesus’ life and work.”

I had to select from the 21 chapters that make up the book what I could cover on the Thursdays in Lent beginning on March 13 and ending on five weeks later on April 10.  I chose following five topics:

1. The Proclamation of the  Reign of God / the Gathering of Israel: March 13

Jesus was born Jewish, grew up in a Jewish family, read the Jewish scripture, and experienced Judaic life as it was lived in the 1st century of our era.  The Jews of that time were hoping for the restoration promised them by the prophets after their return from exile.  They chaffed under Roman rule and Greek culture.  Jesus left Nazareth to follow John the Baptist, left John to proclaim primarily to peasants in the villages of Galilee that this hope and longing was happening in his message of the Kingdom of God, now in their midst.  His aim was to restore Israel, gather them around him, in the light of YHWH’s promise of old.

2. Jesus’ Parables: March 20

He spoke to them in parables, concrete stories about Israel’s identity that were charged with the promise of fulfillment yet a fulfillment in disturbingly different way.  It was this both/and that made Him and His message attractive and repulsive; unsettling.

3. Jesus and the World of Signs / Miracles: March 27

Jesus’s message of the coming Kingdom of God was expressed not only in words but in might deeds; deeds that resonated with the history  of the Jewish people.  As they had been fed with manna in the desert so Jesus fed them with the loaves and fishes.  As they were formed out of the twelve tribes of Israel so Jesus gathered from his disciples, The Twelve as a symbolic message of the restored and renewed Israel.  As it was said of old, he would say to them, “I have come not to destroy but to fulfill.”  The villagers brought their sick, possessed for him to heal them and Jesus did.

4. Decision in Jerusalem / Dying for Israel: April 3

His entrance on the back of a donkey into Jerusalem during the Passover feast with a hundred thousand or more gathering and his clearing the Temple were the final straws.  For those for whom the Temple was the very center of the presence of their God; for the Roman ruler who, given the times and place, could not tolerate such symbolic acts; the answer was simple he must be done away with.  In the midst of this potential maelstrom, Jesus tells his intimate followers, “This is my body broken for you.  This is my blood poured out for you.”

5. The Easter Event / Jesus’ Sovereign Claim: April 10

His followers fled in fear; not only the fear of Jesus being crucified but the fear of experiencing the empty tomb.  The empty tomb, however, was not the end of the story.  Like Paul after them, they were to experience the Risen Lord.  Their lives were transformed.  From profound fear they returned to Jerusalem, and the rest of the Mediterranean region in courage; many of whom were to die for the sake of this Jesus.  What then did Jesus claim?  The answer to that question is how Lohfink ends his book.

There is no expectation that the participants would read the book [after the sessions some may want to though].  Lent is a time of preparation, a time of deepening of our faith in Christ Jesus.  With such emphasis on our responsibility to evangelize, learning what contemporary theologians have come to know about who Jesus is and what He wanted would lie at the root of any effort to evangelize and make our efforts resonate with many who may feel a profound need to find direction in their lives.

To register please contact Roberta at 330-452-9539 or  You can also sign-up at under the Adult Education page.

As I highlighted the content of these five evenings, Ken mentioned that he had read an article in the Canton Repository on the results of a survey the Vatican had taken on key issues in the church.  He was a bit amazed at how different the United States Catholics are on many of the issues than Catholics throughout the rest of the world.  His remarks reminded me of a foundational question I had asked some years ago.  Are we Christians who happen to be born in the United States?  Or are we citizens of the United States who happen to be Christians?  Perhaps without fully realizing it, the survey revealed that many American Catholics are more formed by the culture of the United States than by the message of Christ.

This brought to Kai’s mind what he has observed as a German immigrant of Catholics in the States.  He has experience a lack of understanding of even the most basic of Catholic teachings and practices.  He mentioned as one example, that although Catholics can certainly follow the order of the Mass, they really are ill prepared to explain to others why the Mass has the order that it has.  He asked, for example, why is it that the Kyrie precedes the Scripture Readings.  Is there a reason for that and, if so, what is it?

Well more than a half hour had passed and it was time to turn to our passage.

Background to today’s Reading: Gen. 40: 01 – 23.

Looking back to Brueggemann’s schema I pointed out the unity of the dream theme in chapters 39 through 41.  Chapters 39 and 40 find their culmination in chapter 41.  Like 39, chapter 40 is focused on Joseph and dreams.

The chapter carries two distinct and somewhat jarring themes.  First we read in v. 8 “We have had dreams, but there is no one to interpret them.”  Joseph said to them, “Do interpretations not come from God? Please tell me the dreams.”  The narrator in this single verse communicates so much to his audience; much of which without help we would tend to miss.

  1. The dreams as we will come to know are about the future of the cupbearer and the baker.  But there is no one in the empire who has the requisite knowledge to interpret the dream, to know the future.  But what does the word “empire” communicate to the narrator’s audience and thus to us?  The “empire,” of course, is Egypt.  The audience, however, has long since left Egypt, the country, behind them; it is their distant past.  Just as Egypt, however, can speak to the narrator’s audience in perhaps 1000 BCE so too it can speak to us.  The “Empire” stands for, is a symbol of, all of the powers that dominate our lives, that enslave us, to which we are addicted, mistaken.  All of this creates a world of darkness.
  2. So Joseph responds to let us know that only YHWH has such knowledge that brings light into our lives.
  3. Without a second thought though our narrator then lets us hear Joseph say, “Please tell me the dreams.”  Who then is Joseph?  He is first of all Israel.  They are to speak for YHWH, bring his light to the nations.

This seems good as far as it goes but, of course, it is only part of the story.  We read a counter theme in v. 14 – 15 “Only think of me when all is well with you, and please do me the great favor of mentioning me to Pharaoh, to get me out of this place.  The truth is that I was kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews, and I have not done anything here that they should have put me into a dungeon.”

  1. Here is Joseph YHWH’s interpreter of dreams imprisoned asking not YHWH but the Egyptian to favor him [show him kindness, hesed].  Our narrator lets us know that we must live at one and the same time in the world of the powers to be and the world as YHWH intends it to be.
  2. Joseph himself knows that he is innocent and makes that claim.  But to no avail  for we read in the last verse

V. 23 “Yet the chief cupbearer did not think of Joseph; he forgot him.”

  1. We learn later that Joseph will remain in prison for another two years.  Is it that the chief cupbearer has forgotten Joseph or has YHWH also forgotten him?  What would the audience of the narrator think?  What do we think?
  2. It is easy enough to think that God doesn’t forget us until such time as we have found ourselves imprisoned for a very long time and then we too think that God has forgotten us.  Ask Annette.
  3. So the narrator wants to let us know who YHWH is, how YHWH acts, etc.

Thus we read from faith to faith for the sake of faith.

There remains one other element in the story that we struggled with.  There is a phrase that is repeated three times, vv. 13, 19, 20 “Lift up your head.”  For one it means life and for the other it means death.  Like so many words, the narrator means more than one thing.  Life and death are symbols.  Yes they mean life and death but they also mean living in light which is life and living in darkness which is death.  And only YHWH has the knowledge that brings us light, the light that is life without which we live in darkness, death.  So Christ tells us, “I am light of the world.”  Jesus who is the Word of God.

Reading: Gen. 40: 01 – 23


Four pages are enough for now.

You are invited to respond to these or other questions that might arise within you as you read this passage.  Your comments, observations, questions are welcomed.  See “comment” link below

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Joseph, God, and Success – Held on Sunday, February 09, 2014

Outline of Post on the Scripture Session held on 02/09/14

  1. Introductory Remarks
  2. Background to today’s Reading
  3. Reading Gen. 39: 01 – 23
  4. Discussion

Introductory Remarks

I passed as a handout Walter Brueggemann’s schema of the Joseph Narrative, Gen. 39 – 50.  [Walter Brueggemann, Genesis: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville KT, 2010, page 297]  The schema gives an overview of these fourteen chapters, the dominant themes that run through them and the relationship of the chapters to one another.

Background to today’s Reading: Gen. 39: 01 – 23.

As we approach this chapter there are a number of points to pay attention to, to recognize in the text itself.

  • The chapter opens and closes with reference to Yahweh being with Joseph, bringing him success.
  • Throughout, however, there is no mention of Joseph’s family.
  • Again it is important to realize that it is a literary work and not a history book.  Joseph symbolizes Israel, Potiphar and others symbolize Egypt.  Egypt itself symbolizes imprisonment, slavery.
  • Potiphar speaks not a word.
  • His wife, however,  commands center attention; a woman of power, used to getting her way, commanding with the expectation that she whatever she wasn’t she will get.
  • Sex also plays a central role, though the outcome is quite different than the previous chapter’s presentation sex in the persons of Tamar and Judah.
  • On a final note, Yahweh is presented throughout as being with Joseph.  It reminded me of the very sentence in Matthew’s Gospel, 28: 20, in which Jesus speaks his final words to this disciples, “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”  Of course, the “you” is us.

The chapter itself can be subdivided into three episodes:

  1. Vv.  01 – 06 establishes Joseph rise to power in his new situation because of Yahweh being with him and blessing him with success.
  2. Vv.  07 – 20 tell of the wife of Potiphar’s failed attempt to seduce Joseph and in retaliation has her husband through him into the royal prison.  Joseph’s resistance is couched in words that reveal both the human and the divine dimension of life.
  3. Vv.  21 – 23 reveals, like a book end to the chapter, Yahweh’s presence and blessing of Joseph even though imprisoned.

Reading: Gen. 39: 01 – 23


We took a slightly different tack this time around.  I first pointed out from the Handout, how this chapter fits into a thread that continues through chapter 41 under the heading of “Joseph and the Empire (read Egypt)”.   With that background I read the entire chapter.  I had intended to read the first section again but Rosemarie questioned in a general way why there is so much sex in the bible.  It should come as no surprise that Rosemarie’s question opened up to include not only why there is so much sex but why is there so much violence, war, dysfunction, etc. in the bible.  Of course, this is the stuff of human life.  We quickly recalled J. Edgar Hoover’s uncovering of the seamy side of MLK, Jr. life.  Then there was President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky scandal.  The 50th anniversary the Kennedy assassination was example of violence and his own numerous affairs.

For some, the very presence of this material in “God’s Book” is evidence not to believe in this God.  How are we to respond?  Let’s begin with a simple but profound observation the bible at its core is an account of the entrance of God into human history.  And human history is filled with sex, violence, war, dysfunction, etc.  As Ken remarked, the inclusion of these very human realities is not God’s condoning of them but rather God’s engaging us as we are.  This is the underlying meaning of Paul in writing “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” [Rm. 08:05]  For the believer this is really good news.  In the words of Paul Tillich, “You are accepted.”  It is in being accepted as we are that we are empowered to become whom God intends us to be.  The invitation is to love others as they are so that our love my invite them to be who they are.

Our conversation brought out another critical point.  In any discussion of the bible we inevitably select out some part of it and use it as evidence of what we hold to be the true interpretation of the part we selected out.   To exemplify what the modern world presence to us I offered an example that came up as I prepared for the discussion of today’s passage.

We might recall how Ken a few weeks ago argued that there has to be some historical truth to these stories; they aren’t just literature.  When critical historians have studied the “Joseph Narrative” they have uncovered a related story in Egyptian literature entitled, “The Tale of Two Brothers.” What was discovered historically was ancient Egyptian literature; not Joseph’s presence in Egypt.  The discovery of this material, which cannot really be to denied, raises a series of basic questions.

  1. Did either narrative influence the authorship of the other narrative? If yes, then
  2. Which of the two accounts were written first?
  3. Finally which account influenced the writing of the other account.

Brueggemann thinks that the Egyptian account predates the biblical Joseph narrative.  However, more traditionalist scholars argue the opposite.  Now they both can’t be true.  And we, who are not scholars, are left to believe one or the other or neither.  Such is the case not just with biblical debates, but extends to most significant social issues of the day.  We tend to select out those who believe as we do and thus reinforce our position, right or wrong.  A few examples from today’s hot button issues: Fracking, Keystone Pipeline, Immigration, Same Sex Marriage, etc. etc. etc.

As is often the case, we moved on only to find another point of discussion that somewhat baffled me.  Faryl wanted to know how Potiphar could have interpreted Joseph’s success as being a result of Yahweh’s blessing him.  I pointed to v. 3 “When his master saw that the LORD was with him and brought him success in whatever he did …” Although it seemed clear to me that this verse lets the audience of the final redactor know what that redactor thought; namely that the “LORD,” was recognized as blessing Joseph.  The discussion went on for more than ten minutes.  It finally dawned on me that it might help if we had some sense of the various time frames involved in any biblical account.  What follows are just generalizations, some timeframe that might be more easily remembered but not a product of scholarly work.

  1. The  period of the Patriarchs begins around 3000 BC
  2. The period  of the Kingdoms begins around 1000 BC
  3. The period of  the final redaction of the Torah around 500 BC
  4. To place a date on the final form of the Bible I would suggest reading

Somehow we moved on.  As we discussed the episode of the wife of Potiphar attempting but failing to seduce Joseph, I raised a question, what are the two reasons Joseph gives for refusing the wife’s advances?  Tim quickly identified those two reasons.  There is first Joseph’s sense of obligation to Potiphar who had entrusted all of his belongings to him.  Secondly to violate his wife would be a sin against God.  These two arguments can be generalized to any of our decisions.  In our life we are always involved with both the human and the divine dimensions, even if we do not know it or think about it.  It is the divine dimension, however, that is so different than what we would expect, understand.  It is very a different world than the one we think we live in.  When Jesus reminds us that we are the light of the world that light is an awareness of and appreciation for the Kingdom of God, the world as God intends it to be for us.  To know and appreciate that world is to live in the light and to not know and / or appreciate that world is to live in darkness.

In the final episode we are reminded that Joseph even though imprisoned found favor with Yahweh.  Certainly Joseph was wrongly imprisoned.  Even though the LORD was with him, the LORD did not stop unjust things from happening to Joseph.  That is rather important to keep in mind.  We ended our discussion by bringing out many examples of how we are imprisoned in our life today.  Annette mentioned an example of a person living with Alzheimer.  Tim thought than anyone living with an addition is imprisoned.  There are many other ways in which we can be imprisoned, a false sense of what is important in terms of how we look, where we live, what kind of clothes we wear.  Maybe others can identify more significant ways we are imprisoned.  The message in these final verses is that God never abandons us.

You are invited to respond to these or other questions that might arise within you as you read this passage.  Your comments, observations, questions are welcomed.  See “comment” link below

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Judah and Tamara – Held on Sunday, February 02, 2014

Outline of Post on the Scripture Session held on 02/02/14

  1. Previous Week’s [01/19/14] Review
  2. Background to today’s Reading
  3. Reading Gen. 38: 01 – 36
  4. Discussion

Previous Week’s [01/19/14/ Review

Our meeting began with Tina sharing that a debate on science and religion will take place between Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham: Are evolution and religion at odds? If you are interested in reading an analysis of how Americans view this ‘hot button’ issue, here are the results of the PEW Research Center survey:  After the debate I came across an article entitled, “I’m a Christian and Ken Ham doesn’t speak for me,” which is critical  of both Ken Ham and Bill Nye.  Although I might not agree with every point in this article, it does serve as an example of what Christians need to do, recognize that the Bible is not a Science Book and Modern Science is not above criticism.

The topic that Tina mentioned was a natural lead into another “hot button” topic, the Bible and History.  In a fundamental sense breakthroughs in Science and History, more than any other factors, have shaped the world in which we live.

There is a continuous struggle among our study group with understanding that the Bible is not written to record history even though there are historical records in it.  It seemed like most of the group who shared their thoughts felt that we needed to continue to push at this notion and at the same time not be consumed by it so that we end up not being uplifted by our study of scripture.  We ended by my emphasizing three points that we can always rely on.

  1. The Bible was written by people who believed
  2. The Bile was written to people who believed
  3. The Bible was written for the sake of the people’s believing.

The important thing is that God’s message is enriched not diminished by realizing these three statements.  As an example, let me point to a tension that was raised in the very beginning of the Genesis story.  The story of creation is meant to affirm a radical truth; creation – the entire universe or universes – is good; not perfect but good.  Secondly, there is something concerning good and evil that we human beings have failed at and that failure had an origin.  To argue over the cosmological account of the universe, the Big Bang or whatever later understanding Cosmologists will achieve, or over Evolution or whatever later understanding Biologists will achieve is to miss the point of the story, create a somewhat false conflict but, much more to the point, diminish the revelation God in his love shares with us.

Background to today’s Reading: Gen. 38: 01 – 30.

Chapter 37 ends in v. 36, “The Midianites, meanwhile, sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, an official of Pharaoh and his chief steward.”  Chapter 39 begins in v. 1 “When Joseph was taken down to Egypt, an Egyptian, Potiphar, an official of Pharaoh and his chief steward, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him there.”  Chapter 38 has been inserted into the Joseph story.  It is a story of Judah, the fourth of Jacob’s sons, and his family.  It introduces us to Tamar.  Jesus’ genealogy in Mt. 01:03 we read, “Judah became the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar.”  If for no other reason [even though there are plenty of other reasons] understanding this story is important.

The story presumes the marriage customs and laws of Judaism which required the brother of a deceased brother to marry his brother’s widow.  Moreover, the first child born of this marriage would be considered the heir of the deceased brother.  Judah, in fact, fails to fulfill this custom while Tamar, using all of her wit and resources, succeeds in fulfilling it.  Judah, to his credit, acknowledges in the end the superior moral character of Tamar.  “She is more right than I am . . .”

Reading: Gen. 38: 01 – 30


We broke up the story into five episodes, as it were, and discussed each somewhat separately

In the first episode, vv. 01 – 05, Judah has left his brothers and took up residence in Bethlehem, marries a Canaanite woman who gives birth to three sons, Er, Onan, and Shelah.  His marriage to a Canaanite woman brings up again the issue of intermarriages.  Keep in mind though that the narrator’s audience lived long after this issue had been settled.  However, the narrator makes clear that the promise continues through these marriages.  I’m not sure how much of a clash this was to the narrator’s audience but it is more evidence that God’s ways and our ways are not the same.

In the second episode, vv. 06 – 11, the plot of this story is introduced.  Judah selects Tamar to be the wife for Er, his eldest son who is killed by God.  Following the Levirate marriage laws, Judah has Onan, his second son,  marry Tamar to continue the progeny for Er.   Onan has intercourse with Tamar but spills his seed to avoid a child being born who would be Er’s and not his. God then kills Onan.  It is at this point in the story that Judah fails to live up to the demands of his community and Tamar finds a way, in the next two episodes, to fulfill that demand.  In so doing, she continues the line of the promise.

Jodie asked if the Levirate law requires the next brother to carry on the line.  Ken wondered why the child was identified with the lineage of Er and not just Judah’s clan  in general.  So much of the culture of the Israelite community is a work.  Being without children is also a dominant theme from Sarah to Tamar and beyond.  We will see as well the theme of the line being passed on through the younger son.  The story has meaning and the meaning is in the totality of the story.

Judah sends Tamar to her father’s house as a widow out of fear of losing his third son.  Like so often in these stories and in our lives as well, failure is followed by cover up, lies.  Tamar though obeys Judah, puts on her widow’s clothes and returns to her father’s house.

Probably 20 years pass in the setting of vv. 12 – 23.  Judah’s wife dies.  Shelah has grown up.  Tamar makes her move.  Her change of clothing is symbolic.  Judah is vulnerable.  Throughout Tamar’s identity is an issue.  On face value, how could Judah have sex with Tamar and not recognize who she is.  Yet the issue of her identity allows us to enter into the story teller’s world.  Tamar calls on all of her resources.  She reveals her shrewdness, cunny in obtaining the person identify symbols from Judah.

In two short verses, 24 – 26, the story turns.  Judah learns of Tamar’s pregnancy, judges that has acted the whore [zona] and moves to have her burnt.  Tamar in a masterful way sends off Judah’s identifications with the questions, please whose are these.  Judah realizes that it was he who had sex with his daughter-in-law [zana].  To his credit he affirms Tamar’s character.

Needless to say this story caused considerable discussion and before I knew it our time had run out without getting to the closing episode in vv. 27 – 30.  God directly kills two of the characters.  Onan spells his seed, an episode that has identified his name with that act.  Judah fails, and deceives.  Tamar presents herself as temple prostitute.  Sex abounds and the story moves forward.

You are invited to respond to these or other questions that might arise within you as you read this passage.  Your comments, observations, questions are welcomed.  See “comment” link below

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Joseph and his Brothers – Held on Sunday, January 19, 2014

Personal Note:

I have been delayed in posting this session; the previous delays were due to losing my computer and then next my car.  This time, however, it was my furnace.  New one is up and operating and I am warm enough to get this done.

Scripture study was canceled this Sunday [01/26/14] so the next post will be two weeks from now – sometime in the first week of February.

Outline of Post on the Scripture Session held on 01/19/14

  1. Previous Week’s [01/12/14] Review
  2. Background to today’s Reading
  3. Reading Gen. 37: 01 – 36
  4. Discussion

Previous Week’s [01/12/14/ Review

Before covering my review I wanted to make clear that there are two commentaries that are guiding my discussions on Genesis.  The first is Walter Brueggemann, Genesis: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville KT, 2010.  I was prompted to bring up again the issue of history and the bible because of a comment that Brueggemann makes.

“It is commonly agreed that the Joseph narrative is a work of art designed to make a statement to Israel.  For such expression, questions of historicity are inappropriate.  The most that can be asked concerns the historical setting of the artist and not the historical setting of the purported events themselves.  The proper question is not “When did this happen?” Rather, we may ask, “In what cultural, intellectual context might this kind of literary statement have been achieved.” P. 291.

Perhaps no one expressed the dominant world out which the individuals who make up our study group and, probably many others, better than Tim.  Near the end of our conversation on this point Tim remarked, “As people of faith, we want to believe this story is historically accurate.”

Ken’s response also is worth reflecting on.  He used as an analogy St. Nick who was a real historical character and Santa Claus.  Santa Claus is St. Nick overlaid with thousands of years of cultural to become what he is today.  North Pole, Reindeer, Visiting every home, etc.   The adults all know that Santa Claus is a cultural but not historical reality.  This doesn’t mean that Santa Claus is not real but his reality is not historical.

Ken’s example works on a very fundamental fact.  We have historical evidence that there was a historical person who now bears the name St. Nick.  See  Historical evidence means that there are contemporary written or archeological evidence for St. Nicholas.  At the present time there is no evidence outside of the Bible of the existence of Joseph.  Much more importantly, though, is the simple fact the bible is not a history book; it is not psychology book; it is not geography book, etc.  Even though there is history, psychology, geography, etc. in the book.  Basically the bible is a library of books written over more than a thousand years; the books were written by people of faith, to people of faith, for the sake of their faith.

Background to today’s Reading: Gen. 37: 01 – 36.

The second book that I depend on for our scripture study is Terence E. Fretheim, The Book of Genesis, Vol. 1, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1994.

Fretheim identifies 5 scenes in this opening chapter of the Joseph story.

Scene 1:   vv. 01 – 04: Sets the stage for this chapter and the entire Joseph story.

In a few verses our author weaves a story that draws us in.  Different than the tribal stories we have read up to now in Genesis, the Joseph story is much more of a whole and shaped, as I mentioned previously, by the twofold movement from Canaan to Egypt and from Israel the individual to Israel the people.

Scene 2:   vv. 05 – 11: Joseph’s Dreams and the role they play

In our times dreams are either psychologically or neurological introduced into our consciousness.  For the people of the biblical times dreams were the product of external forces, divine in nature.  The brothers view the dream, though, negatively;  Joseph in a narrowly personal  perspective; but Jacob [like Mary later] pondered what could this mean.  Ironically, the dream will be fulfilled with regard to the brothers but not with regard to Jacob.

Scene 3:   vv. 12 – 17: The scene changes from Hebron to Shechem and then Dothan.  Joseph is sent by Jacob to find out the wellbeing [Shalom] of his brothers.

A bit of geography might benefit.  Shechem is about 50 miles north of Hebron and Dothan another 15 miles or so.  If Joseph were to travel on foot, which is what the story might presume, then finding his brothers was a three day journey.

Another bit of irony in this story is Jacob’s desire to know the wellbeing ‘shalom’ of his sons, only to learn of the apparent death of his most favorite son.

Scene 4:   vv. 18 – 28: The brothers plot to kill Joseph

There is a bit of confusion in this scene.  There are the two brothers, Reuben and Judah, who in different ways are portrayed as attempting to thwart the killing of Joseph.  Then there are the Ishmaelites and Midianites and it is unclear who actually buys and sells Joseph.

Scene 5:  vv. 29 – 36: The  effect of the plot

Reading: Gen. 37: 01 – 36


I thought I might record some of the questions that prompted the discussion in scene 1:

How old is Joseph?  What does he do?  What are the reasons given for Jacob love of Joseph? How does Jacob express his love for Joseph?  It seems like the same story all over, dysfunctional family life.  Will it end that way? Is God present in this scene?  When does our author bring God into the story?

You are invited to respond to these or other questions that might arise within you as you read this passage.  Your comments, observations, questions are welcomed.  See “comment” link below

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