Friday, September 3, 2010

Joseph Superstar

Joseph has a distinguished career in later religious and literary texts. The great German writer Thomas Mann wrote a four-volume novel based on the Joseph story, Joseph and his Brothers. And then there's the musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

Hmm, that's not how I pictured it, somehow.

Like his mother Rachel, Joseph is remarkably good-looking. In one Jewish midrash, the Egyptian women throw precious stones at him to get his attention as he passes by in his chariot. When Islam adapts the Joseph story, equal care is taken to emphasize his complete hotness. In Sura 12 of the Qur'an, the women of Potiphar's house are said to be so impressed by Joseph's handsomeness that "they cut their hands." What does this mean, you may wonder. Well, one interpretation is that they are slicing vegetables for a meal, but they are so distracted by the young Israelite's stunning beauty that they look at him instead of the knives in their hands! 

It's true that Joseph has very little interest in women, a point made effectively when he resists Potiphar's wife. In contrast to his father and grandfather, Jacob and Isaac, he never falls in love. He marries an Egyptian woman, Asenath; we're told nothing about her, or about their relationship. The is one part of the Genesis story where women characters, who were so active and memorable earlier on, seem to disappear (with the remarkable exception of Tamar--and what an exception!)

—David Mikics

Pharaoh as Elvis? See it for yourself, with Donny Osmond as Joseph.

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