When the unsuspecting, though rather gossipy Joseph ben Jacob wanders into Dothan, looking for his brothers, they see him coming from afar and call him ba‘al ha-khalomōt, ‘master of dreams’. In their hatred, they throw him into a pit, and through an unfortunate series of events Joseph ends up in Egypt. There he rises in the ranks to become steward of Potiphar’s house, but through an incident with Potiphar’s wife, Joseph ends up imprisoned again. (The precise nature of the incident might be more dubious than it appears at first sight!)
In the dungeon he meets two officials of the King of Egypt: a cupbearer and a baker. One night they have a dream. For my studies, I was analyzing the chapter about these dreams (Genesis 40) and discovered some interesting details.
For starters, it is a bit ambiguous whether the cupbearer and the baker have different dreams at all. A hint is given that the dream has a different interpretation for each of them, but when the baker suddenly appears to have had a completely different dream, it is a bit surprising.
Prodded by Joseph, who asks them why they look so sad and then invites them to tell their dream because interpretations belong to God (the logic of this is somewhat elusive), the cupbearer begins elegantly, ‘In my dream ! a vine was before me, and in the vine were three branches…’
The dream branches out until it shifts to the cupbearer himself: ‘And the cup of Pharaoh was in my hand, and I took the grapes, and I pressed them into the cup of Pharaoh, and placed the cup in the hand of Pharaoh.’
Joseph has an extensive response. The first half is the interpretation of the dream itself; the second half is a request and a declaration of innocence. In the request, one action is emphasized: zākhar ‘remember’. Unfortunately, this gets lost in most translations.
The ESV has ‘Only remember me, when it is well with you, and please do me the kindness to mention me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this house.’
More literally: ‘Only remember me close to you, when it is well with you, and do grant kindness to me, and remember me to Pharaoh, and get me out of this house.’
It is basically one job: ‘remember me close to you … remember me to Pharaoh.’
And then Joseph tells them that he was stolen away from the land of the Hebrews and that he has done nothing to deserve being kept ‘in the pit’, as he calls it – an old wound opens again.
Abruptly the story continues, ‘When the chief baker saw that the interpretation was favorable…’ (ESV)
The entire second half of Joseph’s speech is ignored. The baker does not even ‘see’ it, let alone remember it.
In this translation, another thing is not visible. Something even more fundamental than old wounds is echoed here: ‘And the chief baker saw that it was good.’ God’s praise of his creation is repeated. But it is out of place, because things are out of place: the light has been separated from the dark and somehow Joseph has ended up on the wrong side of the divide.
Incidentally, ‘interpret’ is a verb here. I would guess that the sentence could be translated ‘When the chief baker saw that he interpreted well’…
Then it is the baker’s turn to speak. His introduction is similar to the cupbearer’s, but it has none of the elegance. He declares, not ‘I also had a dream’ (ESV), but ‘Also I was in my dream.’ The baker starts with himself and reconstructs his dream upward from there: three baskets, food in the supreme basket (‘supreme’ because ‘elyōn is also a common title for God), and the birds above it who eat the food.
What is in the basket, precisely? According to the ESV, ‘all sorts of baked food for Pharaoh’. And even the interlinear translation does this. But if I’m not mistaken, the word ‘baked’ does not occur in the sentence: ’ofeh is the active participle of ‘bake’. What the baker carries around in his supreme basket is ‘all sorts of food for Pharaoh, works of the baker!’
You gotta advertise!
So we can sympathise, perhaps, when the cupbearer is restored and the baker is hanged. The story ends: ‘And the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.’
This is why I love the Old Testament: it always ends badly.