Monday, December 16, 2013

Elephantine Island; Wikimedia
Harvard Semitic Museum's YouTube channel has a very good lecture by Bernd Schipper, "Joseph, Potiphar's Wife, and the Jewish Colony in Egypt." In it, he examines the Joseph narrative (Gen 37-50), compares it with Ahiqar, and then understands it in the context of the Jewish colony on Elephantine.

  • The first 27 minutes are spent on the Joseph novella (the audio has problems during his introduction, but once Prof. Schipper begins speaking it is clear)
  • Starting at 27 min, he turns to the story of Ahiqar
  • At about 36 min he shifts to the Jewish colony at Elephantine
  • He concludes at 47 mins and takes questions
There was a colony of Jews living on the island of Elephantine, where the oldest copy of Ahiqar has been found. Schipper asserts that several motifs found in Ahiqar are reflected in Joseph, such as the ups and downs of a wise person, and the remembrance of the wise person who then gives instructions about what should be done.

Essentially, Prof. Schipper argues that the social milieu behind Joseph novella is to be found in Egypt, not in Palestine, and so the plot should be interpreted against the background of the Jews in Egypt. This is particularly noticeable in the positive evaluation of Egypt (even marriage to Egyptian women) which is at odds with the rest of the biblical tradition.

Isaac M. Alderman
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