Joseph's Weeping: 7 Strategically Arranged Scenes in Genesis

"In Genesis 37–50, there are seven scenes where Joseph weeps. As we read about Joseph’s emotions, they also stir our own....In the Bible, the use of seven is part of an author’s literary strategy. We can look more closely to see whether these seven scenes have an even more strategic design." - TGC

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JSwaim's picture

Joseph also wears four different coats in the story which seem to foreshadow the ministry of Jesus. 

TylerR's picture

Editor

This is the kind of bible teaching I really think is silly. To be enthralled by an alleged "structure" rather than what the author is doing with the text and its likely significance to the original audience is ... not right. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Jeff Howell's picture

is a fascinating and, often times, encouraging endeavor when it comes to Bible study. The issue is not whether there is structure or intentionality on the part of the Holy Spirit working and guiding the human author and his quill. There is. It is as obvious as the nose on the face. Just consider the intentionality behind the layout of Psalm 119 or the chiastic structure of Philippians 2:5-11 for examples. It really makes perfect sense that God as creator, Who demonstrates His creative genius with such marvelous creativity, balance, unity, and beauty in His created world, would also do that in His Scriptures. I believe that the use of structure was an mnemonic device, and when it is used properly today in conjunction with proper and solid translation, exegesis, and interpretation, is a tremendous aid to the teacher/expositor for identifying key plot-lines or points, especially in the OT narratives. I am certain that sometimes bible scholars or students sometimes wrongly force structural concepts or ideas upon the text. However, I make no accusation of that here. I am saying that it is a more wholistic approach to studying the text when the reader takes the time to consider the words individually as well as together, as well as taking note of extended thought patterns, repeated terms, and how the Lord put it down as written revelation for the original recipients. Another benefit of working in the original languages. I don't think it is silly. I do think the greater danger is becoming allegorical and typological in interpretation, using structure to do so.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I may well be a curmudgeon on this one, I admit. I think the practical utility of chiastic structure is dubious; though commentators sure love them. I think conducting a literary autopsy on Genesis to "discover" significance in the seven times Joseph cried is perhaps not quite one step away from "bible code" madness. What kind of bible study do we model with this technique? The result may well be a whole lot of butchery of the text by people much less careful than this article's author.

  • Does Moses draw attention to the Joseph crying seven times? No.
  • Does Moses draw any implications from Joseph's crying seven times? No.
  • Does Moses (and, thus, God) seem to think Joseph's tears meant anything at all? No.
  • Does Moses draw any significance from the number seven? No.
  • Why, then, does this author think it does mean something? I don't know.

At the risk of being even more contrarian (and I promise this is meant good naturedly), I submit that a chiastic structure is utterly meaningless in every practical way to a normal person. That is, as I consider people in my congregation at this very moment, I can't think of one person who would be helped by "seeing" a chiastic structure to Phil 2:5-11. But, I do know each of them would be encouraged by what the text actually says.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

T Howard's picture

This stuff makes great "golden nugget" preaching. Too bad it's terrible exegesis and a horrible way to teach your people how to read and understand their Bibles.

Sincerely,

Exegetical Curmedeon II

JSwaim's picture

Tyler, you're concerned about what the author is "doing".  If the author is putting a repeated theme in the story with a chiastic arrangement, I think it's safe to say that identifying that literary strategy and unearthing its meaning definitely tells us what the author is "doing".  It's probably a primary clue.  I think that removes if from the category of "silly".

TylerR's picture

Editor

Think with me, here. Moses draws no attention to or significance from the crying. That indicates it is not the point of the narrative. By this same logic, may I draw inferences from each time a camel is mentioned in the Abraham, Isaac, Jacob arc? If not, why not? After all, each time camels are mentioned from Gen 1-30, it revolves around women and marriage. Must that not mean something? After all, God inspired the writing, so He must be doing something, right?

Even in Genesis 37, when Joseph's brothers see the Ismaelites coming with their camels, it is Judah who speaks first --- the same Judah who later unwittingly sleeps with his daughter-in-law, Tamar. Women trouble, again. Coincidence? Surely not!

Of course, this is ridiculous. I hope that makes my concerns clearer.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

T Howard's picture

As I commented in Tyler's first post on manhood, Bible studies that find these kinds of "golden nuggets" in Genesis 1-3 about biblical manhood are legion.

People come away thinking to themselves, "Oh, this is so deep. I never would have discovered this truth on my own reading through Genesis 1-3." There's a reason for that. Most of it is exegetical nonsense.

JSwaim's picture

Think with me, here. Moses draws no attention to or significance from the crying. That indicates it is not the point of the narrative.

Tyler, please show us where Moses DOES declare the point of the narrative.  Is that the standard for discovering the point of the text?  The author declares its meaning outright?  I think you'd be hard pressed to maintain that interpretive standard with narrative texts.  If not, where in the story of David and Goliath does the author declare the meaning of the story?  Where does the author declare the meaning of the story in the story of Saul's visit to the witch of Endor?  Where does the author declare the meaning of the story of Cain and Abel?  If such declarations were a consistent element of narrative texts arguments about the stories' meanings would be completely unnecessary. 

OF COURSE interpreters can come to the text and imagine that they are finding their pre-conceived notions.  Of course some interpreters allegorize; minimizing interpretive skills and maximizing imagination resulting in  poor interpretations.  Nevertheless, when we perceive structure in the text and repetition of words and concepts, the author is subtly showing his meaning without declaring it outright.  These are (in the vocabulary of Kuruvilla) the author's "doings".  It is what we are looking for.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I disagree with your analysis, and (like all of us) Kuruvilla goes too far into left field in some of his own "interpretations." This author did the same, I believe. I just disagree with you. To each his own.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Jeff Howell's picture

Repeated terms, word order, juxtapositions, grammar, syntax, parallelisms, and more ... all of this goes into study of Scripture. Did Dr. Chase capture the primary emphasis of what God was teaching through the Joseph narrative in his article? I don't believe he did. But, I don't think it was his emphasis either. He didn't allegorize (although he espouses it in another work He published). He noticed repeated terms and how they contribute to the family story line/human side of the larger narrative. My goal is not a defense of his interpretations. Obviously within this thread, he conclusions are being discussed and analyzed. However, he is not wrong for noticing and identifying repeated terminology that moves the reader to at least notice Joseph's responses at different points in his life. There is some structure there, and it is not imagined or forced. There are other things that give signals to the reader of Genesis as well, like the "toledoth" repetitions that are used to tie together the ancient history (Gen. 1-11) with the family history (Gen. 12-50). It also ties together the different family story lines, and it moves Israel/the reader through thousands of years (ch. 1-11) and hundreds (12-50) until one arrives at the book of Exodus. These are literary clues, because the bible is literature. We will see God's creative genius tonight in the constellations of the Great Bear and Orion's belt, and we see it in the written Word which we have before us. Do I teach this stuff to my church family? I teach them enough so that we can marvel together at the beauty of God, at the intentionality of how God put together the Word, and seek to grow deeper and grow closer to Jesus through His Word. I don't look for a chiasm behind every word, but we have to realize that it is very easy to get atomistic in study, and not consider how larger blocks of material are put together. My thoughts. Have a great Lord's day, everyone. ~Jeff