Friday, May 25, 2018

The next world

9 Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, “Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” 10 But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?” (Gen 37:9-10). 

Scholars find the reference to Joseph's mother puzzling since by then she had died in childbirth (Gen 36:16-20). One explanation is that Jacob is referring to a female relative (e.g.Leah, Bilhah) who assumed the maternal mantle.

Perhaps, though, Jacob doesn't assume that Joseph's dream must come true in this life. Perhaps he's thinking of a reunion in the afterlife.  

It's natural for commentators to interpret the dream in light of subsequent developments in the Joseph Cycle, but Jacob didn't have that retrospective frame of reference. And even if the dream is largely fulfilled in Joseph's lifetime, that doesn't preclude a fulfillment extending beyond this life. Unlike Jacob, his mother died before having a chance to see what he did as an adult. A family reunion in the world to come would round that out. 

Perhaps, then, Jacob's statement bears witness to patriarchal belief in life after death. If the terms of the dream can't be completely realized in this life, then that carries over into the next world. 

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