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The Identities Of Joseph And Esther From The Old Testament

1443 words - 6 pages

The Identities of Joseph and Esther from the Old Testament

The Bible is full of common themes, yet there one prominent underlying thread that runs constant throughout is that in order to be influential, people are placed in positions where they are able to assimilate to the common culture, but are still set apart from other ordinary people. Assimilation is defined as the process where a group adopts the customs of the prevailing culture, whereas consecration refers to someone who is set apart as sacred. Due to the apparently conflicting definitions, it seems as though the two cannot coexist with one another. In fact, they even appear to be paradoxical, however, both ingredients are necessary in order for people to influence the lives of many more. Conformity in culture and divine consecration are in reality exclusively dependent on each other for a person to be influential and this is displayed by two prime examples of the Old Testament: Joseph and Esther.

After Joseph is sold into slavery in Egypt and is introduced to its culture, he loses his Jewish identity and becomes completely transformed from a measly shepherd boy to an Egyptian official. When Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dream, the Pharaoh is pleased with him and Joseph is given a new name: “Pharaoh gave Joseph the name Zaphenath-paneah; and he gave him Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, as his wife. Thus Joseph gained authority over the land of Egypt” (Genesis 41.45). The fact that he is given a new forename has much significance because it implies his life’s specific calling. The people are given new names in the Bible because in this way, God reveals his intended purpose for their lives. Prior to the story of Joseph, this same alteration of names is seen in his forefathers, including Abram switching to Abraham; Sarai to Sarah; and Jacob to Israel. In each of these biblical characters, the change of names gives them a new sense of self. Joseph is also given an Egyptian wife, Potiphera. This intercultural marriage affirms that Joseph’s descendents will now become Egyptian not only by title, but by blood, furthering his identity as an Egyptian. An additional argument that supports his full assimilation is the tremendous authority that is given to him—the whole country of Egypt. Because he becomes the second highest ruler in the land, the remaining pieces of his Jewish identity are swept away. Even the language that he learns becomes so infused in him that he uses a translator, although he does not need one: “They did not know that Joseph understood them, since he spoke with them through an interpreter” (Genesis 42.23). One of the most major traits that show how much Joseph has assimilated to the Egyptian culture is found in the last sentence of Genesis: “And Joseph died… he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt” (Genesis 50.24). Embalmment was not a Jewish custom and Joseph requests that he does not be buried in Egypt. He wants his bones to...

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