Joseph: Attitude is Everything

Attached is the rough draft of my paper.

I am aware that it is not fully developed and that there’s only one source for my research. I know that I need more sources, but I’m not really sure what to use. I’m looking very specifically at Joseph’s morality, and it’s not like there are other books about Joseph’s crazy adventures in Egypt or anything. If anyone has any suggestions of parallels or possibly an additional direction for the final draft of my paper, that would be greatly appreciated! (also a suggestion of possible other sources.)


I also feel like the organization in spots might be a bit haphazard. If anyone has anything to say about that, feel free to lay it on me. This is the first paper of done of this nature so I don’t know if it’s a decent paper or simply rubbish. Any and all help/suggestions are welcome! Thank you!

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Corey Smith

Andrew Battista

English 270

10 March 2011

Joseph: Attitude is Everything

The Frankenstein Monster didn’t want to hurt people; all the monster-mash of a man ever really wanted was love and acceptance from his “father.” Joseph had these things from his father, though, but his brothers thought less of him than did his father. Joseph had such a powerful positive outlook, though, that his character never succumbed to the temptations of failure and foundering.

In this essay I would like to discuss the inner-character conflicts Joseph experienced throughout his journey and the key actions Joseph enacted to avoid being pummeled by what seemed to be unavoidably negative and adverse circumstance. In these instances, he instead overcomes adversity and through it, derives success. I will also observe the affect God has on these situations and discuss whether or not it is a necessary character interaction from a literary standpoint.

Joseph, youngest son of Jacob, from the land of Canaan, was favored by his father and marked so by the bestowing of a decorated tunic.

Now Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons, for he

was the child of his old age; and he had made him an ornamented tunic.

And when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of his brothers, they hated him so that they could not speak a friendly word to him.

-Genesis 37:3-4, The Jewish Study Bible

It’s important to note the order of the text in this passage. The brothers are not revealed to hold contempt until it is mentioned that Joseph is notably favored by the father. This is significant because it suggests that it wasn’t Joseph’s actions that changed the opinions of his brothers, but rather the favoritism shown by his father. So, right off the bat, we can infer that at the very least Joseph has not done anything wrong or of great observable consequence to his brothers or to anyone else.

The next passage in Genesis tells about Joseph’s dream in which he and his brothers were working in a field when his sheaf of grain stood erect while his brothers’ sheaves wilted before it. This dream is meant to signify that Joseph will rule over his brothers. He has another similarly themed dream in the next passage about the sun, moon, and stars bowing down to him. This too is interpreted as a prophecy of Joseph’s dominance over his brothers (and over nations.) His brothers, already harboring ill feelings towards Joseph, don’t take kindly to hearing about the dream and their discontentment with Joseph rises even, but their father steps in to nullify the potentially violent situation.

So as the brothers’ hate wells up inside of them, they plot to kill Joseph in Dothan but Reuben (one of [Joseph’s] brothers) says, “Let us not take his life… Shed no blood! Cast him into that pit out in the wilderness, but do not touch him yourselves.” (Gen. 37:21.) So the brothers, looking to be good people side with Reuben and decide to toss Joseph into the pit. Eventually, Joseph is sold to some passing Midianite traders for 20 pieces of silver; but what luck (read: divine providence,) Potiphar, the Egyptian (a courtier of Pharaoh and his chief steward) bought Joseph. Joseph was Potiphar’s slave, now and was very successful in all that he did because the Lord blessed him; which made Potiphar favor him and trust him as a worker.

Here we see the first real morally complicating decision Joseph faces. Potiphar’s wife begins to fancy Joseph and says to him “lie with me.” (Gen. 39:7) Joseph knows that he can get away with this transgression because he is so trusted with all of his master’s things, including his household. However Joseph does not give into his carnal desires. I believe Joseph understands that it would not be fair to his master, should he have a sexual encounter with his [master’s] wife. He’s been trusted with all these things of his master’s, his household, his chores, his wife – should he betray this trust, he would not exhibit the virtues what earned him this trusting relationship in the first place. This is a good example of Joseph’s virtuous personality – he is an honest man.

The wife, not being rewarded her desires (read: sin of greed) devises a plan to get back at Joseph for her unfulfilled wants; she grabs Joseph by his garment and pulls him, exclaiming “Lie with me!” Joseph escapes, but leaves the piece of clothing behind. The wife passes a rumor that Joseph had sex with her and that’s how she obtained his clothing. As per the nature of the Potiphar’s relationship with each individual (one slave, one wife) Potiphar believes his wife and sends Joseph to prison. It can be inferred that Joseph speaks his peace against the wife, however to no avail. Joseph abides by the law and resides in prison where the Lord is with him, still. The jailer trusts Joseph because whatever Joseph does, the Lord sees to its success.

Joseph has more or less been put in charge of everything he’s done thus far. This leads us to believe there are specificities not mentioned in the text, that there are things Joseph has done and done well to earn him these positions. He was his father’s favorite, which made him sort of the second-in-line man-of-the-house; he was in charge of everything at Potiphar’s home which gives him the same status as he had at his own home; and now he is in charge of everything in the prison (even as a prisoner) which would make him second in command to the jailer. This is beginning to foreshadow an even more concrete fulfillment of the prophetic dreams mentioned earlier.

Now, I believe it’s important to consider here the other possible directions the story could’ve gone up to now, should Joseph’s attitude not been what it was. In the instance of Potiphar’s wife, for instance, we are meant to understand that the reason she lies to Potiphar and blames Joseph of sleeping with her is because he did not actually sleep with her. Conversely, had she gotten what she wanted, we should infer that she would’ve rewarded the action with secrecy. Where would that leave Joseph? He would not have had the opportunity to go to prison (which is significant in his rise to power, as we will see momentarily.)

Equally important is the peculiar fact that when Joseph is sent to prison, he’s pretty much immediately on top of the social hierarchy. This is one of the parts of the story that I think specific events have been neglected by the author to impress upon the reader that it is by God’s grace that Joseph is immediately looked upon in a positive light (because with that ambiguity you must simply have faith that God is providing for Joseph in an unseen yet significant way instead of giving specific details which the reader could argue that instead of the grace of God, it’s just Joseph’s intelligent prowess); however, I feel that there is a significant time lapse in which Joseph (possibly by the grace of God, still) does things to earn the trust of the jailer. This is another testament to his good intentions and positive attitude. He could have very easily been negative and nonchalant when he was put in prison (especially considering the fact that he did nothing to deserve being in prison) and it would’ve been absolutely just, but Joseph’s positive, almost enlightened, attitude earned him an advantageous role in the prison.

While in the prison, as fate would have it, Pharaoh becomes displeased with two courtiers: his cupbearer, and his chief baker. He sends both of these men to prison, where the jailer puts them under the watch of Joseph. One night while in prison, the two men have significant and separate dreams.

The cupbearer’s dream:

In my dream, there was a vine in front of me. On the vine were three branches. It had barely budded, when out came its blossoms and its clusters ripened into grapes. Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes, pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand.” (Gen. 40:9-11)

Joseph interpreted this dream to mean that in three days the cupbearer will be pardoned. He offers this interpretation along with the request “…think of me when all is well with you again…” (Gen. 40:14) The baker hears this interpretation of the cupbearer’s dream and becomes excited to find out what his own dream means.

The chief baker’s dream:

“In my dream, similarly, there were three openwork baskets on my head. In the uppermost basket were all kinds of food for Pharaoh that a baker prepares; and the birds were eating it out of the basket above my head.” (Gen 40:16-17)

Unfortunately for the baker, Joseph tells him that his dream means that in three days, the Pharaoh will remove his [the baker’s] head and impale it on a stake and birds will eat his flesh. Sure enough, after three days passed it was Pharaoh’s birthday and he pardoned the cupbearer and killed the baker. The cupbearer, however, did not accredit Joseph with interpreting the dreams; he did not mention Joseph at all.

This is another opportunity to note a separation between the character virtues of Joseph and those of other characters. Joseph, being a good man and helping these two fellow prisoners gives us the idea that he is again, a good, helpful guy. In contrast, however, one of the men he helps is supposed (by me) to be a more run-of-the-mill type of person as he fails to reciprocate the favor for Joseph when he [the cupbearer] is free.

This failure to appreciate Joseph leaves him in prison for the next two years. After two years pass, Pharaoh has a dream. This is Pharaoh’s dream:

In my dream, I was standing on the bank of the Nile, when out of the Nile came up seven sturdy and well –formed cows and grazed in the reed grass. Presently there followed them seven other cows, scrawny, ill-formed, and emaciated—never had I seen their likes for ugliness in all the land of Egypt! And the seven lean and ugly cows ate up the first seven cows, the sturdy ones; but when they had consumed them, one could not tell that they had consumed them, for they looked just as bad as before.” (Gen. 41:17-21)

Pharaoh had another dream about stalks of grain that played out in a very similar way. Joseph told Pharaoh his interpretation of the dreams (as they were essentially the same dream.) The seven well-formed cows/stalks of grain were meant to represent seven bountiful and prosperous years for the land of Egypt. The meaning of the seven ill-formed cows/stalks of grain were meant to represent the seven years to follow the first seven years, in which Egypt would see tough times and famine.

Pharaoh was thankful to Joseph for this enlightening prophecy and rewarded him by giving him rule over his court. He says to him, “only with respect to the throne shall I be superior to you.” (Gen. 41:40) So we finally get to see Joseph be rewarded for his good heart and good attitude.

It’s also important to note that nothing is ever mentioned about Joseph seeking revenge on the Pharaoh’s cupbearer, whose fault it was he was imprisoned for two years longer than need-be; however, without that mistake from the cupbearer, Joseph probably would not have been around to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, so he wouldn’t have came into the powerful position that he did, which will ultimately realize the prophecy of his own dreams from the beginning of the narrative.


The famine spreads all over the world. As it is no longer confined to Egypt, the rest of the world begins to starve and hear about the plentiful nature of Egypt (as they were prepared for the famine) so there are sent ambassadors to Egypt, where Joseph is meant to give them rations that Egypt can afford to spare. When Joseph’s father, Jacob, here’s of Egypt’s prosperity, he tells his sons to seek out Joseph and ask for food, not realizing that the man he sends his sons to find is in fact his son whom he [Jacob] presumed dead, since long ago.

Joseph’s brothers seek him out and find him. When they do, they bow low before him and request food. They do not recognize him, but Joseph recognizes them. This is the first instance where a person could argue that Joseph is doing something that is not out of the goodness of his heart. He accuses, knowingly, his brothers of being spies who have come to see the land in its weak state during the famine. His brothers of course argue, but Joseph already has his plan in mind. He tells them that if what they say is true and they are truly from the land of Canaan that they will return to their home and then return to Egypt to bring their youngest brother before Pharaoh to prove the legitimacy of their story (obviously Joseph knows the legitimacy of their story, he’s just got his own prerogative of seeing his father and being reunited in a loving relationship with his family.) The brothers agree to this and return home to bring back their youngest brother.

Some time passes and eventually the brothers return with Benjamin, the youngest brother. When Joseph meets Benjamin he is overcome with emotion and weeps in private. He also devises a final plan of framing his brother of theft, so that he will stay with him while the brothers return home to bring to Joseph their father, so that he may see him before he passes.

Joseph instructs his steward to place his goblet in the mouth of Benjamin’s bag surreptitiously, then sends his brothers away. After they’ve traveled just outside the city, Joseph instructs his steward to go after them and bring them back so that he can accuse them of stealing and retain Benjamin.

The brothers (Reuben specifically) explain thus:

Now, if I come to your servant, my father and the boy is not with us—since his own life is so bound up with his—when he sees that the boy is not with us, he will die, and your servants will send the white head of your servant our father down to Sheol in grief. Now your servant has pledged himself for the boy to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, I shall stand guilty before my father forever.’ Therefore, please let your servant remain as a slave to my lord instead of the boy, and let the boy go back with his brothers. For how can I go back to my father unless the boy is with me? Let me not be witness to the woe that would overtake my father!” (Gen. 44:30-34)

Reuben being the brother whom originally convinced the other brothers to spare Joseph’s life, who had the sense of love for his father that he took full responsibility for Benjamin on the second journey they made to Egypt. This suggests to me a character-significance in Reuben, almost as though he were not quite the antithesis of his brothers (that would be Joseph) but certainly not on the same moral-plane as the rest of his brothers.

At this explanation, though, Joseph finally breaks down. He dismisses his court so that he and his brothers are alone and he admits to them his identity. His brothers of course, were speechless at the revelation that this was their brother. Joseph goes on to explain thus: “…it was to save life that God sent me ahead of you. It is now two years that there as been famine in the land, and there are still five years to come in which there shall be no yield from tilling. God has sent me ahead of you to ensure your survival on earth, and to save your lives in an extraordinary deliverance. So, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, lord of all his household, and ruler over the whole land of Egypt.” (Gen. 45:5-8) It’s interesting here that Joseph keeps his wits about him; he doesn’t take any credit for his success, he’s not selfish by implying that he deserved his good fortune by seeing that all of his good fortune is actually the solution to all of the ill-intent set forth by his brothers, Potiphar’s wife, and the cupbearer. Joseph has no sense of entitlement, only the sense that he is fulfilling God’s will, which he is doing selflessly.

Now, as I said before, the deception of Joseph’s brothers could be argued as a selfish act, targeted at revenge, however I don’t think it’s meant to be seen that way. I believe this happens because Joseph wants to have the greatest, most emotionally significant impact on his brothers as he possibly can, and he foresees the relief they will experience when they realize what’s been going on the whole time. It is, in short, just another example of Joseph’s disposition to do kind things (because even when he’s deceiving them, he still provides them with food for the entire family.)

The narrative wraps up rather beautifully with Jacob journeying to Egypt to see Joseph before he dies. Jacob meets Joseph and they hug around the neck and cry together for a good amount of time. Pharaoh grants the family the land of Goshen so that they may continue to be farmers of livestock and the story basically has a happily-ever-after kind of an ending.

I’d like to say the narrative as a whole is a good example of getting what you deserve, but in my opinion Joseph’s brothers (save Reuben) deserved much worse than what they actually got. All the same though, Joseph has been a good man from the beginning and almost miraculously was not even corrupted by the ample power he acquired in the end.







Works Cited



The Jewish Study Bible, Tanakh Translation (2004). New York: Oxford



About csmith73

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4 Responses to Joseph: Attitude is Everything

  1. suzimills says:

    You have done nothing but recap the narriative out of the scripture, and draw a few conclusions. I understand what you are trying to do, but I do not believe you are pulling off. You may think about introducing some materials that describe the actions of other rulers of the time period specifically those in Egypt. Use this information to compare and contrast the actions of Joseph. This can also be used to show God’s involvment in Joseph’s life. Also it was not Reuben who took responsibility for Benjamin or successfully saved Joseph’s life, he tried but it was Judah.

  2. lmwa223 says:

    You have an excellent start to your paper, and you do a good job of exploring the Joseph narrative in a chronological manner. However, it seems as though there is more summarizing going on than actual analysis. You go from beginning to end of this biblical story, yet it lacks true examination of the text in a way that strengthens and supports your thesis. Maybe you should reconsider what your thesis should be, since the one you have does not seem to add much depth to your paper. Using psychological studies about sibling rivalry, or dream theories could be of help to you as you search for other sources to incorporate. One other question that Andrew wants to make sure that we answer in our papers is how our topics are culturally or literary relevant to a broad audience. I would encourage you to take this into consideration as you work on your final draft. Good luck!

  3. Brandon Nelson says:

    I agree with the other comments about summarizing, but background info is essential to building a good argument. I like how you have focused on Joseph’s pure character and admirable morals as reasons for his eventual success, but I would suggest expanding on one or two stories instead of briefing summarizing them all. Joseph’s attitude is a good angle from which you can analyze the material.

    For example, tell the beginning and end (macrocosm) , then pick a story in between (microcosm) that supports your argument. Focus and elaborate on one or two stories that carry the same theme or repeating elements of the overall cycle.

  4. tdjohn8 says:

    I see that you want to focus on Joseph’s inner character, but i dont see much of that. You do a good job of describing Joseph’s life, and what he went through, you just need to go more indepth on what exactly you are trying to do. Focus more on the main instances in his life instead of every detail, this may make it easier to pinpoint which parts you want to describe in detail.

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