Reading Questions courtesy of Prof Rajeev Patke.


For Monday, please read Jami from pp. 1-86:

  1. What is the relation set up by Jami between beauty and the notions of unity, difference, and appearance on page 4 (also note pgs., 2, 6, 15, 56)?
  2. What is the relation established by Jami between beauty, love and desire on pages 4-5 (also see pg. 15)?
  3. How does love set one free, according to Jami (pg. 6)?
  4. Comment on the ‘great orchestra’ para on page 10.
  5. Comment on the quality of Jami’s imagery and his use of similes. What do they suggest of his culture and style? (examples: pgs 33, 44, 50-51, etc).
  6. Comment on how a set of ideas and associations concerning love is built up cumulatively through the text through pgs 15-16, 22, 26, 35, 37.
  7. Comment on the ‘true men’ described on page 42: what makes them unique?
  8. Comment on how beauty is related to a specific idea of god (pg. 56), and falling in love as an allegory of reality.
  9. In Chapter 8, how does the appreciation of beauty lead Bazigha to renunciation (pp. 56-57)?
  10. Comment on Yusuf’s self-representation as a ‘mystic rose’ (p. 67).
  11. Comment on the twisted logic of Yusuf’s response to Zulaikha on page 69.
  12. With what arguments does Yusuf reject the 100 maidens (p. 73)?
  13. How does desire get related to idolatry in the interaction between Yusuf and Zulaikha (pp. 72, 74)?
  14. What are Yusuf’s several arguments or reasons for rejecting Zulaikha’s protestations of love (pp. 83-84)?
  15. What might we understand by ‘the command to preserve his purity’ (p. 85)?
  16. Why is Yusuf so horrified by the idol behind a veil in the 7th chamber (p. 85)?

Dreams and Policy Advice


Unlike earlier interactions with God, we see an increasing distance between him and the people, mirroring the narrative distance from the moment of creation. Joseph, a man abandoned by his family, relies on his skills in interpreting God’s messages that are conveyed through dreams to the Pharaoh of Egypt. It is only through this interpretation that Joseph is able to prove his worth and ultimately gain power in Egypt. This affinity for dreams, which is proven true when his predictions about the famine are confirmed, act to firstly legitimise his power and then consolidate it further when he moderates the impact of the terrible ultimatum that he first identifies.

God’s communication with the people has become so obscured and subtle now that a dream interpreter is required to make sense of it. The Pharaoh, hearing of a previous incident where Joseph correctly interpreted a dream, calls on him in order to ““understand a dream and solve it.”” (41.15) Not only have God’s messages become unintelligible, but they have become so far-removed that not even the ruler of a country can understand them. Thus, Joseph—a man much lower in the ranks—gains huge power through his ability to interpret them.

Joseph is sensitive to the subtleties of God’s messages, being aware of facts such ““the repeating of the dream two times, this means that the thing has been fixed by God and God is hastening to do it.” (41.32-33) Joseph cleverly reveals this talent through interpretation, but he also attaches advice to it: ““Let Pharaoh look out for a discerning, wise man and set him over the land of Egypt.”” (41.33-34) By simultaneously proving his skill and using that power to give advice, Joseph sets himself up as the only viable candidate for this newly created position.

Interestingly, the Pharaoh is unable to distinguish God’s message and Joseph’s advice—despite Joseph’s adamant statement that it is ““not [his message]! God will answer for Pharaoh’s well-being.”” (41.16-17) The Pharaoh simply jumps to the conclusion that Joseph is deserving of high power, saying to Joseph ““there is none as discerning and wise as you. You shall be over my house, and by your lips all my folk shall be guided.”” (41.39-41)

Thus the distance of God from the people sets up an ideal situation where Joseph, the interpreter of dreams, can legitimise and consolidate his power and subsequent rule in Egypt.

Dinner at my home


Dear all,

To celebrate the conclusion of your LH1 experience, I'd like to invite you to my home for a meal, December 4 at 7:30 p.m. I hope this date will work for everyone. If not, please let me know and I'll do the best I can to find another time.

I live in the Kent Vale II apartments on 117 Clement Rd, Block H (the middle one), unit 02-08. I will provide a main dish (spaghetti bolognese and vegetarian tomato sauce. ) In the comment section below, please indicate what you'd like to bring (both edible and inedible - side dishes, salads, bread, dessert, drinks, paper plates and plasticware). You're welcome to come use my kitchen to cook starting at 6 p.m.



Third paper assignment



1200 words

due Monday 24 November, 2014, 5 p.m.

upload on canvas; paper copy to my office (#07-23)


Read carefully Erich Auerbach’s chapter “Odysseus’ Scar” from his magisterial Mimesis—written during WWII while he, a German-Jewish philologist, was in exile in Istanbul. It is one of the founding texts of the modern discipline of comparative literature and inspired your professor to become a literary critic.[1] Take note of his methods of analysis, his technique of close-reading, and his synthetic arguments about texts and cultures. This will be your model for your third assignment. You will build on the skills you acquired in the last two assignments—asking questions and close-reading—to analyze two texts and construct an argument which will illuminate a problem that they share. You may write on any two post-Homeric or post-Sanskritic text that we have studied.

  1. Sexual ethics

 The norms of sexual behavior are pervasive in the texts that we have studied. Pick two moments and explore the relationship between gender, desire, transgression, and social norms.


  1. Us and others

How do Herodotus, Sima Qian, Euripides, Jami and/or the narrator of Genesis represent the foreign: their customs, geography, language, people?


  1. Gods and mortals

 In what ways do human beings communicate with the divine?

[1] An illuminating review of Auerbach’s life is in the The New Yorker. 9 Dec. 2013.


Auerbach, Odysseus' Scar

Joseph's own Nostos


It is interesting to compare Joseph to Odysseus. Since Abraham's generation his people have been living nomadic lifestyles and Joseph finds himself sold into a foreign land after targeted by his brothers' jealousy. It is the theme of wandering and subsequent oppression under the Egyptians that culminates into the Promise Land later in the Bible.

Throughout the chapters, even as Joseph gains prominence in courts his somewhat awkward and displaced position is never forgotten.  This is evident from the names he gives his sons- Manasseh and Ephraim. Both allude back to the his initial affliction and God's deliverance. Readers are first introduced to the young Joseph who naively speaks openly his dream that his brothers and father will prostrate before him. When this does come true, it is as if the person and identity of Joseph is  finally fulfilled years later in Egypt. Subsequently there is a process to "homecoming" where testing and recognition factor into Joseph coming into his destiny.

Joseph does not trust his brothers. His experience with them is one subject to their envy and mercilessness. Benjamin becomes the test for them as he is in the same position Joseph was in years ago- the favoured half-brother. Joseph waits to see if his brothers will ensure Benjamin's safety or take the opportunity to also kill him. The items used in the testing of his brothers are significant. It seems like a dramatic irony that the brothers are trapped by the very item they had exchanged Joseph for years ago- silver coins. The silver goblet also represents an Egyptian instrument of divination and further emphasises the upper hand Joseph has in the whole situation- he has knowledge of his brother's past and is actively shaping their future. When Joseph sees Judah offer  himself into slavery so Benjamin can return to Jacob, it is clear that the brothers are finally acting in the interests of others instead of only for themselves. Judah's line is teling- "God has found out your servants' crime" has a double meaning referencing the first and original conspiracy to sell Joseph. The brothers not only learn from their mistakes, they confess and speak out of a troubled conscience. A weeping Joseph is finally able to reunite with his family. What does this show about the criteria of reconciliation in Genesis (and how does this differ from in the Odyssey)?

Reading Questions for Genesis 38-50



1.) The story of Joseph has been described by scholars as fitting in the genre of the “novella.” What are the literary techniques and characterizations deployed by the narrator?

2.) What have seen lots of sibling rivalry in the text. How does fraternal violence reach its climax and how is it resolved with the story of Joseph and his brothers?

3.) Paternal prejudice is also pervasive. Discuss Jacob’s preferential love for the sons of Rachel.

4.) Discuss the multiple intelligences of Joseph and his father Jacob.

5.) The accusation of rape is a common trope in ancient and modern literature. How is it represented in the story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife?

6.) Explore the arc of Joseph’s career in Egypt.

7.) Joseph is a skilled oneiric hermeneut. What is the significance of dreams?

8.) Crying is important. Joseph weeps trice when he recognizes his brothers after twenty-two years. Odysseus weeps when he recognizes himself in the Bard’s recitation, when reunited with his son, servants, wife, and father. What is the function of tears and weeping?

9.) Jacob says to the Pharaoh that his days have been “few and evil.” Alter has an illuminating commentary on the span of Jacob’s life. What do you make of Jacob’s successes and failures?

10.) Why does Jacob cross his hands when he blesses his grandsons?

11.) The land of Canaan and the land of the Egyptians. The Patriarchs as sojourners and tent-dwellers and sheep-herders. Leaving one’s homeland, one’s parents, one’s place of birth. Returning there to find a wife and to be buried. Trying to survive during famine. Discuss the cultural and economic geography of the Patriarch’s world.

12.) How is Egypt—her land, politics and customs—represented? How does it compare to Herodotus’ account?

13.) Joseph seems Odyssean in his testing and making trials of his brothers. Why does he conceive of such duplicitous trials? What’s the significance of silver and the silver cup?

14.) The Book of Genesis ends with the mummified body of Joseph being transferred back to his homeland. Why does the first book of the Bible end in this way?


Faith in God


Tl;dr Jacob was the chosen one, but in many instances, he lacked faith in God. Instead, he often relied on his own wit to achieve his ends.

“Sell now your birthright to me.”(25:31) Certainly, something as sacred as the birthright is not meant to be part of a business transaction. Instead, God, given his covenant with Abraham, should be the one who blesses Jacob the responsibility of inheritance. The birthright is sacred because of the “everlasting” covenant God made with Abraham that will continue through Abraham’s “seed”. In other words, whoever (Jacob or Esau) has the birthright will automatically inherit the covenant with God. This covenant includes God’s promise that the recipient would be the “father to a multitude of nations” and owner of “the whole land of Canaan” (17:5-10). Hence, the responsibility of inheritance is a heavy and sacred one.

However, Esau proves to be undeserving of this birthright as he values it less than a bowl of stew. On the other hand, Jacob is less of a barbarian than Esau, and is a tent-dweller like Abraham. Therefore, it seems that Jacob is more deserving of the birthright than Esau. Indeed, Jacob’s superiority is divinely ordained even before birth; “people over people shall prevail, the elder, the younger’s slave”.  So if Jacob was meant to be the chosen one, why did he use deceit to gain the birthright? After all, if Jacob believed in the divine will of God, he would have trusted God to give the birthright to the more deserving son. Thus, when Jacob’s acted to secure the birthright, it showed his lack of faith in God’s ability to ensure that the birthright is passed on to the most worthy son.

Additionally, Jacob bargains with God at the end of chapter 28. Jacob says “IF the LORD God be with me and guard me… then the LORD will be my God.” This clearly illustrates Jacob’s doubt over whether God would keep his promise. In comparison, Abraham did not even bargain when he was ordered by God to sacrifice his beloved son. This contrast highlights Jacob’s lack of faith in God.

Moreover, there are numerous instances in which Jacob relied on his wit to achieve his goals. But is there a need for deceit and cunning? If Jacob has the blessings of God, wouldn’t things eventually end up in Jacob’s favour? Therefore, Jacob’s use of strategy and wit (e.g. the use of selective breeding to grow his own flock, pacifying Esau by sending tributes, splitting his family into two) illustrates his fears, such as his fear for the loss of life and fortune. The fact that God’s covenant with him did not assuage these fears shows again that Jacob lacks faith in God.

Last but not least, Jacob’s night wrestle with the mysterious creature can conceivably be seen as Jacob’s struggles with his faith. The long wrestle from night to dawn may be symbolic of Jacob’s equally arduous struggle with his faith since young. However, the episode ends with Jacob calling out “I have seen God face to face and I came out alive” (32:32). The renaming of Jacob as Israel is also significant a turning point. Perhaps it is a sign of Jacob’s renewed faith in God.

The Genetics of Conflict.


I've I had my fair share of squabbles with my younger siblings, but man, the conflicts we see between blood relations in Genesis brings sibling rivalry to a whole new level. In our readings for this week, two immediately jump off the page: Jacob vs Esau and Leah vs Rachel.

We discussed last week that in Genesis, fertility is an extremely important characteristic that females need to possess. This issue is greatly underscored by the tension between Leah and Rachel, who was made infertile because God felt that Jacob favoured her more than Leah (29:32), and resulted at her being jealous of her sister (30:1). Imagine the frustration that she must have felt at being punished for something beyond her control. To make matters worse, this was her second time being upstaged by Leah (the first incident occurring when their father gave Leah to Jacob instead of her in 29:23). Ironically, the problem of infertility led to a comedic situation in which even more babies were made (some born by slavegirls for their mistresses, no less!).

On a different note, the rivalry between Jacob and Esau was partly the result of sharing the same mother. After all, Rebekah, who disliked Esau because he married Hittites (26:35), had sparked off a major fallout between her two sons by instigating Jacob to 'steal' blessings meant for Esau by pretending to be Esau (27:8-11). And so a mother's deviousness resulted in one of her kin being made a slave to the other (27:37), leading to murderous intentions (27:41).

On a final note, I would just like to point out that God was a central issue in both these sibling rivalries, and had the power to put an end to both by not allowing the problems that sparked the conflicts to arise in the first place. Far be it for me to question God's intentions, but... why?

The Cunningness of Anticipation


The cleverness depicted in Genesis may be compared to the metis observed in the Odyssey.

Rather than Jacob being clever, perhaps it is more interesting to look at Rebekah’s cunningness. Firstly, the origin of her scheming is due to eavesdropping on Isaac and Esau’s conversation - a conversation that she had no part of. This is similar to the way Odysseus sails to the land of the Cyclopes and they aim to steal what they had no part to steal. There are parallels in the stealing of what is not supposedly theirs.

In both accounts, there is the importance of sound. In the Odyssey, Odysseus blinds Polyphemus and then taunts him with his voice and words. In Genesis, Isaac is blind, and relies on his other senses, importantly, all but sound. He ignores the evidence of sound even though he hears the voice of his younger child, Jacob. Due to the deception that his other senses (touch, smell and taste), he is deceived.

There are layers to the deception that both Odysseus and Rebekah employ. Firstly, Odysseus cleverly uses the word “Nobody” which ensures that no other cyclopes come to Polyphemus’ aid. Rebekah, foreseeing how Isaac will test Jacob, ensures that the relevant deceptions are in place, by making the dish, putting garments of Esau onto Jacob and smoothing the skins of the kids onto Jacob to make him appear hairy. Interestingly, the footnotes on page 140, notes that “the extent of Rebekah’s cunning is thus fully revealed… she has anticipated the possibility that Isaac would try to smell Jacob: it is Esau’s smell that he detects in Esau’s clothing”. Similarly, Odysseus anticipated Polyphemus calling out others for help, so he provides the name “Nobody” to ensure no one does.

What are God's values?


“‘Then let him lie with you tonight in return for the mandrakes of your son.’… And God heard Leah and she conceived and bore Jacob a fifth son.” (p.160) This scene shocked me, as I expected God to not fulfil Leah’s wishes since Leah lay with Jacob not because of her love for or even loyalty to him but because of her bitter rivalry with Rachel, which I thought was of impure intention. However, God seemed to ignore the animosity between the sisters that led to Jacob bearing so many sons, and this makes me question if His own intention is merely to achieve his main goal of getting humans to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (p.5) as well as fulfil his promise to Abraham of spreading his seed to all the lands. Is biological reproduction the only important objective, and the means to it, no matter how corrupt, insignificant?

Furthermore, this brings me back to a point we discussed last seminar regarding the incestuous relationship between Lot and his daughters. That was clearly an act of wrongdoing in God’s eyes; however, Jacob lying with his cousins seems not only to be tolerated, but also encouraged by God as Jacob bears multiple sons by both Rachel and Leah. How far does the term ‘incest’ reach within familial relations? Did He allow Jacob to bear children with his cousins because this was not considered incestuous and was thus perfectly moral, because he ignored it in favour of general biological reproduction of humans, or because he ignored it in favour of keeping his promise to spread Abraham’s seeds (in contrast to Lot, whose seeds were not as privileged)?