SDMB weekly Bible Study (SDMBWBS)-Week 27 Genesis 41

Welcome to the SDMB weekly Bible Study (SDMBWBS). This week we will be discussing Genesis** 41**. Since the discussion can turn into a very broad and hijackable thread, we would like the following rules to be adhered to:

  1. These SDMBWBS threads are to deal with the books and stories in the Bible as literature. What I’m hoping to achieve is an understanding of the stories, the time in which they were written, context, and possibly its cultural relevance.

  2. While it is up to the individual to choose to believe or disbelieve any portion, that is not to be the discussion of the thread. If you must, please choose to witness/anti-witness in Great Debates.

  3. The intention is to go through the Bible from front to back in order. While different books are needed to be referred to in order to understand context, please try and keep the focus on the thread’s selected chapter(s)/verse(s).

  4. Since different religions have chosen which books to include or omit, the threads will use the Catholic version of 46 Old Testament Books and 27 New Testament Books. It’s encouraged to discuss why a book was included/omitted during the applicable threads only. BibleHub, as far as I know, is a good resource that compiles many different versions of the verses into one page.(Also the SDMB Staff Reports on Who Wrote the Bible). Please feel free to use whatever source you want, including-and even more helpfully-the original language.

  5. Hopefully we can get through these threads with little to no moderation. A gentle reminder that if a poster comes in and ignores these rules, please use the “report post” function instead of responding.

Links to previous threads:
Genesis 1:1 to 2:25
Genesis 3
Genesis 4
Genesis 5-6
Genesis 7-9:17
Genesis 9:18-10:32
Genesis 11
Genesis 12-13
Genesis 14-15
Genesis 16
Genesis 17
Genesis 18-19
Genesis 20-22
Genesis 23-24
Genesis 25
Genesis 26:1-33
Genesis 26:34-Genesis 28:9
Genesis 30:25-31:55
Genesis 32
Genesis 33
Genesis 34
Genesis 35-36
Genesis 37
Genesis 38
Genesis 39
Genesis 40

[Genesis 41

New International Version (NIV)](

Pharaoh’s Dreams

41 When two full years had passed, Pharaoh had a dream: He was standing by the Nile, 2 when out of the river there came up seven cows, sleek and fat, and they grazed among the reeds. 3 After them, seven other cows, ugly and gaunt, came up out of the Nile and stood beside those on the riverbank. 4 And the cows that were ugly and gaunt ate up the seven sleek, fat cows. Then Pharaoh woke up.

5 He fell asleep again and had a second dream: Seven heads of grain, healthy and good, were growing on a single stalk. 6 After them, seven other heads of grain sprouted—thin and scorched by the east wind. 7 The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven healthy, full heads. Then Pharaoh woke up; it had been a dream.

8 In the morning his mind was troubled, so he sent for all the magicians and wise men of Egypt. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but no one could interpret them for him.

9 Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, “Today I am reminded of my shortcomings. 10 Pharaoh was once angry with his servants, and he imprisoned me and the chief baker in the house of the captain of the guard. 11 Each of us had a dream the same night, and each dream had a meaning of its own. 12 Now a young Hebrew was there with us, a servant of the captain of the guard. We told him our dreams, and he interpreted them for us, giving each man the interpretation of his dream. 13 And things turned out exactly as he interpreted them to us: I was restored to my position, and the other man was impaled.”

14 So Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and he was quickly brought from the dungeon. When he had shaved and changed his clothes, he came before Pharaoh.

15 Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.”

16 “I cannot do it,” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.”

17 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “In my dream I was standing on the bank of the Nile, 18 when out of the river there came up seven cows, fat and sleek, and they grazed among the reeds. 19 After them, seven other cows came up—scrawny and very ugly and lean. I had never seen such ugly cows in all the land of Egypt. 20 The lean, ugly cows ate up the seven fat cows that came up first. 21 But even after they ate them, no one could tell that they had done so; they looked just as ugly as before. Then I woke up.

22 “In my dream I saw seven heads of grain, full and good, growing on a single stalk. 23 After them, seven other heads sprouted—withered and thin and scorched by the east wind. 24 The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven good heads. I told this to the magicians, but none of them could explain it to me.”

25 Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one and the same. God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. 26 The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good heads of grain are seven years; it is one and the same dream. 27 The seven lean, ugly cows that came up afterward are seven years, and so are the seven worthless heads of grain scorched by the east wind: They are seven years of famine.

28 “It is just as I said to Pharaoh: God has shown Pharaoh what he is about to do. 29 Seven years of great abundance are coming throughout the land of Egypt, 30 but seven years of famine will follow them. Then all the abundance in Egypt will be forgotten, and the famine will ravage the land. 31 The abundance in the land will not be remembered, because the famine that follows it will be so severe. 32 The reason the dream was given to Pharaoh in two forms is that the matter has been firmly decided by God, and God will do it soon.

33 “And now let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge of the land of Egypt. 34 Let Pharaoh appoint commissioners over the land to take a fifth of the harvest of Egypt during the seven years of abundance. 35 They should collect all the food of these good years that are coming and store up the grain under the authority of Pharaoh, to be kept in the cities for food. 36 This food should be held in reserve for the country, to be used during the seven years of famine that will come upon Egypt, so that the country may not be ruined by the famine.”

37 The plan seemed good to Pharaoh and to all his officials. 38 So Pharaoh asked them, “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?”

39 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. 40 You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.”

Joseph in Charge of Egypt

41 So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.” 42 Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. 43 He had him ride in a chariot as his second-in-command, and people shouted before him, “Make way!” Thus he put him in charge of the whole land of Egypt.

44 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I am Pharaoh, but without your word no one will lift hand or foot in all Egypt.” 45 Pharaoh gave Joseph the name Zaphenath-Paneah and gave him Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, to be his wife. And Joseph went throughout the land of Egypt.

46 Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from Pharaoh’s presence and traveled throughout Egypt. 47 During the seven years of abundance the land produced plentifully. 48 Joseph collected all the food produced in those seven years of abundance in Egypt and stored it in the cities. In each city he put the food grown in the fields surrounding it. 49 Joseph stored up huge quantities of grain, like the sand of the sea; it was so much that he stopped keeping records because it was beyond measure.

50 Before the years of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph by Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On. 51 Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh and said, “It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.” 52 The second son he named Ephraim and said, “It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.”

53 The seven years of abundance in Egypt came to an end, 54 and the seven years of famine began, just as Joseph had said. There was famine in all the other lands, but in the whole land of Egypt there was food. 55 When all Egypt began to feel the famine, the people cried to Pharaoh for food. Then Pharaoh told all the Egyptians, “Go to Joseph and do what he tells you.”

56 When the famine had spread over the whole country, Joseph opened all the storehouses and sold grain to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe throughout Egypt. 57 And all the world came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe everywhere.
THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

These Scriptures are copyrighted by the Biblica, Inc.® and have been made available on the Internet for your personal use only. Any other use including, but not limited to, copying or reposting on the Internet is prohibited. These Scriptures may not be altered or modified in any form and must remain in their original context. These Scriptures may not be sold or otherwise offered for sale.

Sorry to be long-winded, but there’s a lot here.

Joseph sits in prison for two more years, and then Pharaoh has a troubling dream, repeated (corn vs cows, but essentially the same dream.) He first sends for his magicians and wise men to interpret for him. We know from outside sources dream interpretation was a profession in ancient Egypt. In the last chapter, the cupbearer and baker (40:8) had “no one to interpret” their dreams, adding to their dismay.

The word “magicians” appears in the bible only in connection with Egypt and Babylon; the Israelites did not tolerate magic or sorcery. This is the first clash in the bible between pagan magicians and the will of God; we’ll see others in the Exodus story.

Magicians and professional dream interpreters could surely have come up with something. Anything. The phrase “for him” perhaps implies that they offered interpretations that he rejected. I personally imagine that they sucked up to Pharaoh, but he wasn’t buying. He knows the dreams are about Egypt, not about him personally, and rejects their pandering.

The cupbearer finally, reluctantly, remembers Joseph, but in a derogatory way: “a young Hebrew … a servant.” He does NOT recommend Joseph, just mentions him. (That’s why I don’t think he’s just forgetful, I think he’s ethically flawed.)

Joseph is summoned from prison, brought up from the “dungeon.” NIT misses here, the Hebrew word is actually “pit,” the same word in 37:20 when Joseph was thrown into the pit and his troubles began. Now he is pulled from the pit, and his troubles are about to end. (I really love these verbal echoes and their literary implications.).

His hair is cut (we know from tomb paintings that Egyptians preferred to be clean-shaven) and he gets new clothes. I’ve mentioned gain or loss of clothing before, signifying Joseph’s rise or fall, but just to be explicit:

  • receiving the ornate robe shows his rise in Jacob’s favoritism,
  • losing (and tearing) that robe marks his descent and kidnapping,
  • leaving his cloak in Mrs Potiphar’s hand leads to his imprisonment,
  • now he’s being given clean clothes to appear before Pharaoh; and
  • later in this chapter, he’ll be rewarded with fine linens when he’s appointed governor/vizier.

He says that he can’t interpret, but God will “give Pharaoh the answer he desires.” A better translation is “God will see to Pharaoh’s welfare/peace.” I think this indicates that Joseph has learned humility; he’s attributing his interpretative ability to God. (This is my answer to stpauler’s comment last chapter, when Joseph tells the cupbearer and baker that “interpretations belong to God.” He’s acknowledging God in both instances.)

Pharaoh recites his dreams, slightly expanded, by the added phrase “I have never seen such ugly cows” and the additional information that the thin cows are still thin/ugly after consuming the fat cows. That helps direct attention to the meaning of the dream.

Pharaoh mentioned the fat cows first but Joseph interprets the thin cows first, to get immediately to the issue bothering Pharaoh. (Joseph is great at spin and presentation.) He also offers unsolicited advice of what to do, tactfully saying “let Pharaoh” do this and that. In Egypt, all government emanated from the king, so the spin Joseph puts on his suggestions is important.

As Potiphar did with his household, Pharaoh now gives Joseph control of the whole shebang. The text repeats three times, “Pharaoh said.” Rabbinic interpretation is that Pharaoh paused after each statement to wait for Joseph’s reaction, but Joseph was dumbstruck and said nothing, so Pharaoh repeats himself, to reassure Joseph that this is really happening.

Joseph is dressed in “robes of fine linen” [see comment on clothes, above] and given a gold chain. The receipt of a gold chain is a well-documented Egyptian distinction. He also gets a chariot, the first mention of chariots in the bible. The Hyksos migration to Egypt around 1650 BCE introduced the chariot to Egypt as a tool of war. (ASIDE: There’s a whole long discussion about whether the Joseph story is related to the Hyksos, foreigners in power in Egypt, later overturned and enslaved. The timing is right, the Exodus is dated to 1250 BCE or so, and the slavery lasted 400 years.)

Pharaoh gives Joseph a new name indicating a fresh start in life and a new identity. (Names and name changes are always important in the bible.) The Egyptian name hides Joseph’s Hebrew origins and sets the stage for his brothers not to recognize him. Rabbinic convoluted explanation is that the name means “revealer of hidden things” but modern scholars think it more likely it’s Egyptian, meaning “God speaks; he lives.” The Septuagint calls it “the creator of life,” which is appropriate to Joseph’s role in charge of food distribution.

In verse 50, we learn that Joseph has a wife and children. He is the only major Torah character whose wife plays no role other than to bear children. She has no story. She is a member of the Egyptian aristocracy, daughter of the priest of On – a city northeast of current Cairo and a cult center for Ra the sun-god. He names his children “forget” and “fruitful [in the land of my suffering]” to show that he forgot his home land. In contrast, when we get to Exodus, Moses names his child “stranger” because he is in exile.

Famine is common in Genesis, and we know from other sources famines were a problem in the area. There seems to be a literary convention that “seven years” of famine means very severe. In the Gilgamesh epic, the sky god threatens seven years of emptiness, and the Ugaritic epic of Aqht mentions the seven-year failure of Baal. And, of course, for the bible, seven is a number of completion.

The chapter ends with Joseph in power, rationing food to mollify the effects of the famine.

CK Dexter Haven:

I don’t think that rings true. Aside from anonymous wives (where the man is said to have “begotten” his children, without even bothering to name the middle-person), I can think of a few. Abraham’s third wife Keturah, Judah’s first wife, the daughter of Shua, and Aaron’s wife are all named but do not have any particular story associated with them.

There’s one tiny thought just pulling at my coattails on this story that wasn’t covered in **C K Dexter Haven’s **wonderful post. Here we have the cupbearer’s position (and ear to the king) being finally redeemed after two years to help the Pharaoh (and Joseph) out. My thought more concerns the fact that the baker and not the cupbearer would have made a bit more sense to have survived in a story regarding famine. So that leaves me to ask, is there anything more known regarding the cupbearer after he helped Joseph out?

Having a pagan woman as a mother of two major tribes was a problem for later scholars and quick Googling shows that there were two stories to resolve the situation. In one, she converts with foreign prayers removed from her mouth by bee stings. In the other, she is Dinah’s daughter from Shechem’s rape.

I can’t wait to hear what they think about David’s heritage, then.


Assuming you’re talking about Ruth, she pretty clearly converted to Judaism in her story.

That said, according to the Midrash, the validity of her conversion, and the consequent legitimacy of David’s kingship, was a matter of heated dispute in David’s own day, although it was eventually settled (obviously) on the side of its having been valid.

Genesis 42 & 43 here.

Actually we saw an earlier example of sympathetic magic in the story of Jacob and Laban and the speckled sheep, in Genesis 31. There is even a dream sequence in it, where Jacob says the angel of God told him that God made the magic work because Laban was ripping Jacob off.

In this story, they may not call him that, but it is clear that Joseph has become a court magician/soothsayer - indeed, the chief one. His dreams, and his interpretation of other people’s dreams, comes true. So he becomes part of the Egyptian hierarchy. He even marries into the priestly caste.

We have reached the end of the middle part of the story. Joseph has fallen and risen, and now occupies the seat of power such that he can use his influence to save Israel, bring them to Egypt, and set up the later story of Exodus.


This is why I thought it might get really contentious. I’ve heard theories that some scriptures specifically mentioning Moabites (and not just any foreigners) were added due to David’s lineage.

Also, am I mistaken, or wasn’t Rahab also in his line? Odd that the two women mentioned are both possibly a negative–as if they are mentioned specifically to try and discredit David.

But, anyways, that’s for later.


Right, but that’s not “magic”, that’s a miracle from G-d. Sorcery is a bad thing for Jews to do, because we are supposed to feel personally connected to G-d, and not go to “intermediaries” for answers to our problems. For non-Jews, sorcery is not considered a sin, the Bible says that sorcery is reserved for the other nations’ use. (Deuteronomy 18:14-15)


Well, obviously the traditional view is that those texts pre-date David, but they certainly are discussed quite a bit. Ultimately, the decided law is that the law against Ammonites and Moabites not being allowed to join the Israelites refers specifically to the males and not to the females.

Not that I’m aware of. The Midrashim I’m familiar with say she converted and married Joshua, and that several notable priests, including Jeremiah, were amongst her descendants (through their daughters, Joshua is said to have had no sons).