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Joseph et ses frères

par Thomas Mann

Autres auteurs: Voir la section autres auteur(e)s.

Séries: Joseph und seine Brüder (1,2,3,4)

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A wonderfully detailed narrative about Joseph and his brothers. Mann conjures for us the world of patriarchs and pharaohs, the civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Palestine and the universal force of human love, in all its beauty, desperation, and absurdity.
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A classic (4 volumes in 1) published between 1933-1943 - The book, Joseph and His Brothers, was mentioned in "A Country Year" by Sue Hubbell, which I read in February 2019, where she claimed it was a book she wanted to read again. Looking into this, I found this book by the author Thomas Mann (John E. Woods, translator), written as a mythical novel, although I would actually consider this a Christian novel, with a whopping 1207 pages. With 1,390-star ratings, it has received mostly 4 and 5 stars for a total of 4.42. I give it a 2-star only because of the difficulty I had in understanding what I was reading.

Although a difficult book to read in the author’s King James biblical "prose, I still learned a lot, and got the feel for the character of Jacob and Joseph. In their younger years, Jacob was quite the deceiver, and his son, Joseph, was a tattler and a prattler, and arrogant, which is why his brothers had so much disdain for the little guy. He believed people loved him more than they loved themselves, but that was because he was so spoiled. Joseph was also a bit prophetic, a dreamer and interpreter of dreams, and well educated in the constellations, economics, and the written word. Through his years of enslavement and mental suffering, Joseph does outgrow all of that selfishness to become a usable subject of God.

I would read the Bible story first, Genesis 24-50, then tackle this book. You will see that the Bible is very vague on the details of the stories and on the fallible human nature of Jacob and his sons, where this author put each character into perspective, with all their innate sins and filled in the spaces between each event. The stories are very realistic, but for me, being a little more simple-minded, I found "The Red Tent" by Anita Diamant (2005), which is based on the same story, but more centered on Jacob’s one daughter, Dinah, an easier and a way more enjoyable read. When the author gets into talk about the constellations, and also when he gets into addressing the reader in explaining more of a situation in a theologian’s point of view, or describing the lay of the land, he completely loses me.

Besides getting to know Jacob and his sons in a more memorable way, here are points in the story that stood out for me:

1) Remembering that this is just a "novel", is it possible that Abram (Abraham) was the one to perceive God and thought Him into being, as Abraham believed and taught that all are to only worship the One? Here, in this novel, he is trying to determine who exactly is the Most High that leads: "It began with Abram thinking that to mother earth alone was due service and worship, for that she brought forth fruits and preserved life. But he observed that she needed rain from heaven. So he gazed up into the skies, saw the sun in all its glory, possessed with the power of blessing and cursing; and was on the point of deciding for it. But then it set, and he was convinced that it could not be the highest. So he looked at the moon and the stars...For when the morning star rose, both shepherd and sheep disappeared, and Abram concluded, No, neither are they gods worthy of me. His soul was greatly troubled and he thought: High as they are, had they not above themselves a guide and lord, how could the one set, the other rise? It would be unfitting for me, a man, to serve them and not rather Him who commands over them. And Abraham's thought lay so painfully close to the truth that it touched the Lord God to His innermost and He said to Himself: I will anoint thee with the oil of gladness more than all thy fellows....Abraham had gathered together the powers into one power and called them the Lord (p. 283-285) and determined that "we resided in God's greatness". (p. 286). In the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, may have only knew life and death, but not of God’s greatness.

2) The description of the over-whelming feeling of lust of Potiphar’s wife towards Joseph hasn’t changed since the beginning of time. Women today continue to deceitfully woo men with their slick ways, playing on their weaknesses.

Here is Potiphar's wife, Mut-em-enet's (Mut), self dialogue while wooing Joseph over a period of 3 years: She could think of nothing else but being with Joseph. Period! Thoughts of him began to consume her. She felt stupid, old, and ugly, and wanted to kill herself after every encounter. She then flattered him with words that would have impressed any man, building up his self-esteem. Then, seeing he was receptive, she began offering gifts. Joseph reciprocated in the flirtations as well. It is just a game he played, but he chose to play with fire by meeting her out in the garden that very first time 3 years ago. Joseph had a line he knew he wouldn't cross, but he played the game, encouraging her on until it went too far for his own comfort. "Mut" wrote on papyrus paper, in symbols: "Come, let us sleep together for an hour." Then, she doesn't see him for several days after because she could not face him after her bold letter. She punished herself nightly by biting her tongue until she could hardly talk, I'm sure asking herself why? why? why? But, unable to stop herself. She was a slave to this forbidden love. Joseph began to see her with new eyes. She was no longer the beautiful mistress; she was transformed into a conniving witch, or hag. Of course, she had no idea he was seeing her in this new light, and one day she soon cornered him during one of their games she had conned him into playing with her. She had to know how he felt about her and the letter she had written to him. She had to know: Was his love as great as hers? She was willing to throw it all away for a night of passion. He denied Mut, which enraged her. She blamed him for changing her body and soul. She was not the same person as before she met him, and she didn't even know herself anymore. She became very vindictive. Joseph's main concern was Potiphar's well-being, the man who he respected and owed his existence. He also made a promise to Monk-taw, upon his death, to love and protect Potiphar. This brought the actions of Joseph being sent to prison for three years before he would rise up again to rule over Egypt during the seven fat years and the seven lean years, which saved its people. (p. 736-748)

3) It’s interesting to note that theologians believe Joseph reverted to a socialistic-style government to get Egypt and its people through the seven fat years and the seven lean years. He taxed the wealthy 1/5 the harvests during the fat years, and charged them the maximum market prices for stored food during the seven lean years. To keep from being ruined, the nobles even sold their cattle, homes, land and that includes the people who lived on those lands. Joseph divided up those large estates and settled peasant owners on smaller pieces to cultivate under crown supervision; in essence, they all now worked for the government, for Pharaoh (p. 1167-1168). Some theologians believe this was a selfish act of Joseph, storing up for himself, other's believe he was acting according to God. Afterall, God was pleased and the people of Egypt worshiped him, which wasn't exactly the right thing to do. Jacob was in line with taxing the people, but was not in agreement for storing up the tax for the Pharaoh. It should have been given to the temple to disperse freely to the people. Either way, it was still a form of socialism.

As hard as this book was to get through, I absolutely loved the story line. I would LOVE to see this produced as a modern-day film. I couldn’t believe that the last pages of the book brought me to tears at the death of Jacob. You really felt that generation slip away. Joseph was about my age at the time of his father’s death, in his fifties, according to theologians. And here I am now at the cusp of watching my own parents slip away.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Thomas Mann, a German novelist, spent sixteen years writing this four-part series on the Biblical characters of Joseph and his brothers. He began writing in 1926 and through 1942, during the turmoil of WWII (1939-1945). In 1933, just before the Nazi Party was victorious in the elections, and the dictatorship of Hitler was established, he had left Germany to talk at a funeral of another well-known writer and colleague and was never able to return to Germany again. He was basically kicked out of Germany and lost his honorary doctor's degree, which was later restored in France. Someone save had gathered his manuscripts and mail them to him in southern France. He was then able to resume his writing on Joseph. ( )
  MissysBookshelf | Aug 27, 2023 |
It's long, don't expect to read it fast. It's written with beautiful language and the story, well, is of biblical proportions. I suggest reading the Intro first and following the suggestions made on the order with which to approach this masterpiece. I then suggest reading a short part every day, while perhaps reading something lighter on the side. Probably his best work. ( )
  Lapsus16 | Feb 9, 2022 |
Perfectly... fine, in parts. Did we really need quite so much of it? No. Could I have done without most of the overt symbolism and so on? Yes. Does the structuralist-like analysis of the myths do anything for the book? No. Does it help me to understand the Joseph story in new and fascinating ways; does it have moments of true glory; can you skim huge chunks without missing anything of any importance whatsoever? Yes. ( )
1 voter stillatim | Oct 23, 2020 |
M-1
  Murtra | Oct 16, 2020 |
Finito di leggere, ma che fatica! Una fatice meravigliosa. ( )
  emiliom | Aug 14, 2020 |
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Nom de l'auteurRôleType d'auteurŒuvre ?Statut
Mann, ThomasAuteurauteur principaltoutes les éditionsconfirmé
Woods, John E.Traducteurauteur secondairequelques éditionsconfirmé
Апт, СоломонTraducteurauteur secondairequelques éditionsconfirmé
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A wonderfully detailed narrative about Joseph and his brothers. Mann conjures for us the world of patriarchs and pharaohs, the civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Palestine and the universal force of human love, in all its beauty, desperation, and absurdity.

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