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Joseph and Potiphar's Wife (Rabel)

This is a series of lectures given by Mr. Edward Rabel, member of the faculty of S.M.R.S.
Fall semester 1975 - 2nd. Yr. Class. Lecture given on October 24, 1975

Topic: 47
Gen. 39, pp. 176-179 of transcript.

Joseph and Potiphar's Wife

We were talking about Joseph's usefulness in the house of Potiphar, the Egyptian, indicating that the active and constructive imagination becomes a very helpful factor in conducting all our affairs in Egypt - the material and sensual requirements of life - of earthly existence.

Now during that phase of Joseph's life in Chapter 39, there is a scene of an attempted seduction of Joseph by Potiphar's wife. This is a very well known incident as you can imagine why. All incidents of this nature have become well known and popular because it appeals to our imagination. If you want to produce something that will become famous let it appeal to people's imagination.

Now let us just for a moment in a purely literal and historical level look into this - I get curious about something like this. This was something that was supposed to have happened between Joseph and Potiphar's wife. How did it become public property? Who kissed and told? You know you wonder how did these things, these very intimate tales which ladies and gentlemen as a rule don't go about broadcasting - especially when she had failed. Get it. If she had succeeded there may have been a reason why someone might have boasted about it. All of these little sexual episodes, how did it get out if it is strictly literal history? Who told and why? You see. And how come so many little intimate details that only an eyewitness is supposed to know about? Even the words used verbatim are a part in many of these events and so you wonder how much real literal history is there. How much of it is really the work of metaphysical imagination?

However this little incident, the wife of Potiphar is so strongly attracted to Joseph, to his person that she attempts an outright seduction, but he refuses and in anger she tears off his garment and then accuses him of attempting to assault her to her husband. Joseph is again cast into prison. Now in an incident like this I think the writer is not really trying to tell us something that is bad or something that is good. He is just throwing in sort of gratuitously a little observation about how certain things are in this area of human nature, because that's what we are talking about - human nature. We are not talking about divine nature here in the Old Testament. We are talking about human nature. This is past evolutionary history and these writers got insights into the workings of the developing human nature and they make these comments. I think symbolized in inventing episodes which may or may not have happened.

I think what the writer is trying to tell us here is that in some stage of our development sexual lust decided to make its strongest appeals, use all of it wiles in connection with imagination. This is observable even today. Sexual lust even today makes its strongest appeal to our imagination - to stimulate and try to excite to action, to expression. I don't want to say there is anything wrong about this, or wicked about this. It is the way it is. When a person is feeling the stirring and appeal of sexual lust, I am quite sure the writer is trying to say it is to imagination where the appeal is most bluntly and most directly made - and remember that imagination covers a wide field. Included in the imagination there are things like romanticism, love of form and all of this stuff.

The activity of lust which definitely Potiphar's wife stands for in this incident makes its appeals there. Now Joseph rejects her. I almost wish he hadn't in a sense to see what the writer would then say what he is talking about - not when the imagination accepts the appeal of sexual desire, but what happens when the imagination bluntly rejects the appeal of sexual desire. That's what he is talking about, not the other alternative. What happens we are told is that Joseph is again sent to prison. Now try to interpret that you have just through the power of your imagination rebuffed an appeal from your sensual nature to express some sexual lust or activity. My feeling is that when the writer has Joseph accused or cast into prison, he is again pointing to something which is psychologically observable. That is as a result of doing this, sensual desire in a sense can take its revenge on us or on the imagination by forcing us to restrict or confine the activities of our imagination. I think the modern day term for this would be called sublimation - a restricting or confining of the imagination to keep it away from a certain kind of expression - especially sexual - and divert it into a more disciplined refined areas to avoid indulgence in certain things we would consider not right - or which would lead to that state of affairs. (The word sublimating one's feelings or taste is better than the word avoid.)

Now even though they put Joseph back into prison, but worldly only - even though a person is sublimating in his imagination the appeals resulting from sexual lust and in a sense he is depriving himself or restricting himself, what was this being put back in prison? What did it turn out to be for Joseph in the long run? Another golden opportunity. And I think this same thing occurs psychologically in a person who maybe really feels that a certain expression of his sensual nature would not be right. Ex. She was another guy's wife. Oh but he wouldn't know about this, Joseph, this is between you and me. I don't care - see - but how come the whole world now does know about it? Jesus had something to say about this. Alright when we really and consciously sublimate a sense impulse because we really feel it isn't correct, that it isn't ethical, we may in a certain sense judge by temporary outer appearances and seem to be losing out, but my scruples sublimated that desire and I lost out, but did I? I doubt it very much. Now if you can ever by following a higher guidance than animal instinct - I know the hippies have a lot to say about confounding that, you know - "Do your thing and be sure you pronounce it THING, and all that stuff, well you know doing your own thing can often make you a THING instead of an evolving spiritual consciousness, (in this prison that Joseph finds himself in, Joseph soon finds himself in a place of golden opportunity which he handles correctly and it changes the whole course of his life.)

Transcribed by Margaret Garvin on February 15, 2015.