Quite unaware of how the ten were agonizing over his dream, he was worried only by the notion that they had not wanted to believe him, and so could think of nothing but of how to confirm their belief—in a twofold sense: in both the reality of his dream and its truth. How best to do that? He urgently asked himself that question and was later amazed to realize that he had no answer, but that the answer had to be given to him or, rather, had had to give itself to him. He simply dreamed, you see, another dream, actually the same dream, but in a form so much more grandiose that the confirmation it carried was far more impressive than if his vision of the sheaves had simply repeated itself.
He dreamed it at night, under a starry sky, lying on the threshing floor, where during this season he often spent the night with several brothers and servants, guarding grain that had not yet been fully threshed and returned to storage pits in the fields. It is in no way an explanation for the source of dreams to note that viewing the scene of heaven’s hosts before sleep may well have shaped and influenced his dreams. The proximity of his companions in sleep, some of whom were those he wished to convince, may also have secretly provided a strong stimulus to the mechanism of dreaming.
Nor should it be left unmentioned that on that same evening he and old Eliezer had discussed the subject of Last Things beneath the oracle tree, touching on topics like the judgment of the world and the time of blessing, on God’s final victory over all those forces to whom the nations had been burning incense for so long, on the triumph of the Savior over heathen kings, astral powers, and zodiacal gods, which He would break and cast down, locking them in the lower depths, to mount up, then, in glorious and sole dominion over the universe. . . .
It was of this that Joseph dreamt, but in such a confused fashion that he drifted into a childish mistake, equating the eschatological divine hero with his own dreaming person and beheld himself, the boy Joseph, as lord and ruler over all the rolling worlds spinning through the zodiac—or better, he felt it, for it really was quite impossible to narrate the dream as a visible scene, and in telling it Joseph was forced to put it in the simplest, briefest words and simply describe his inner experience without developing it as a sequence of events. None of which helped make it any more acceptable to his hearers.
The story of Joseph was a popular theme of late antique textiles: children’s tunics were often decorated with episodes from his early years. The large roundels displayed scenes on a deep red background and provided a colourful illustration of Joseph’s dream in the central medallion, and episodes of his life until his arrival in Egypt around it. Click on the hotspots below to see the images in more detail.
Thomas Mann, Joseph and his Brothers (translated by John E. Woods)
Bible quotes follow the King James Version.
Featured image: Coptic textile with the story of Joseph. Köln, Schnütgen Museum. Photo: Jona Lendering, source: livius.org / CC0.
1st detail and bottom: Coptic textile with the story of Joseph, 7th century AD. New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 63.178.2. Source: metmuseum.org / CC0.
2nd detail: Coptic textile with the story of Joseph, 7th century AD. Antwerp, Katoen Natie Collection, 625 © The Phoebus Foundation. Source: etn-net.org.