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Compare the story of Joseph in Genesis in the Torah/Old Testament with that in the...

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hero88 | Salutatorian

Posted March 29, 2012 at 12:32 PM via web

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Compare the story of Joseph in Genesis in the Torah/Old Testament with that in the Koran. How do the narrative strategies of these versions alter their “message”?

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K.P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted March 30, 2012 at 9:07 PM (Answer #1)

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There are some significant differences in the account of the story of Joseph in the Torah (also called Old Testament) and the Quran (also called Koran). The first difference is that, in the Torah, Joseph tells his dreams to his brothers, while in the Quran, he tells them to his father Jacob.

Behold Joseph said to his father: "O my father! I did see eleven stars and the sun and the moon: I saw them prostrate themselves to me!"

Said (the father): "My (dear) little son! relate not thy vision to thy brothers lest they concoct a plot against thee: for Satan is to man an avowed enemy! (Quran)  

In the Quran (above), Jacob praises Joseph though cautioning him about telling his brothers, while, in the Torah (following), Jacob reprimands Joseph and disputes the dream meaning.

And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it to his brethren, and said: 'Behold, I have dreamed yet a dream: and, behold, the sun and the moon and eleven stars bowed down to me.'

And he told it to his father, and to his brethren; and his father rebuked him, and said unto him: 'What is this dream that thou hast dreamed? Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down to thee to the earth?' (Torah/Old Testament)

The narrative strategies here alter the message in terms of psychological impact. In the Quran, isolating and pointing out one's greatness seems to be encouraged, though the danger of doing so is certainly emphasized. Whereas in the Torah, emphasizing one's greatness in this way is rebuked and chastised while Jacob expressly questions the validity of Joseph's arrogant dream.

The second difference is the role the Vizier's wife plays in Joseph's life. The facts are that she attempts to seduce Joseph but he rejects her and runs.  In the Quran, the Vizier enlists the wise man Aziz to determine if Joseph is lying while, in the Torah, Potipher believes his wife at her first report and immediately puts Joseph in jail.   

"This is what your slave did to me,” [Potipher's] anger burned.

So Joseph’s master took him and put him into the jail, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined; .... (Torah/Old Testament)

In the Quran, Joseph is only put in jail later. The Vizier's wife has Joseph wait upon her at a banquet. All the women at the banquet are given knives to use on their food. They are so distracted by Joseph's good looks that each and every one misses and cuts her own hand. Here, the Vizier realizes the truth of the situation and imprisons Joseph for the good of everyone.

she ... prepared for them a repast, and gave each of them a knife, and said (to Yusuf): Come forth to them. So when they saw him, they deemed him great, and cut their hands (in amazement), .. "this is not a mortal; this is but a noble angel." (Quran)

The narrative strategies here alter the message given about women. While both show Zuleika as a seductress who dishonors Joseph in repayment for being rejected by him, the Quran suggests a woman's truthfulness must be tested by an objective man. In contrast, the Torah suggests a woman's word is as honorable as a man's (of course, Zuleika was lying, but this does not affect the social ideology that in one case does and in the other case does not accept a woman's word as readily as a man's). The distrust and devaluation of women suggested in the Quran is reemphasized when a roomful of women all act with as much improper desire as Zuleika did, all even have cut hands to prove their impurity.

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