Monday, October 20, 2014

Genesis and the Interpretation of Dreams

                A cupbearer’s grapes, a bakers baskets, cattle, and corn; restoration of honor, inevitable death, surplus, and famine – these are the prophesies that Joseph finds within the dreams of those around him. Dreams in the bible tell of God’s word and of the future he brings for his people, and must be interpreted as God becomes more and more distant from his people. We can see the connection with God through Crumb’s imagery as he uses a common visual style to represent the presence of God in human life, a halo of light. Dreaming plays a hugely important role in Joseph’s story within the bible, and are the cause of both his fall from his brother’s respect and his rise to power. Clearly dreams are an important motif and create an all-important connection with divinity.
                When Joseph came to his brothers to tell them of his dreams, they saw him as more powerful and a competitor: he was instantly unpopular within his family and they plotted to rid themselves of him. Where did their jealousy come from? Joseph’s brothers saw the dreams as a direct link with the most powerful being in the universe – God spoke to Joseph, and Joseph only, through dream and separated him from his brothers. Where God once spoke directly to humans by appearing to them himself, the communication evolved as God distanced himself from direct interaction. Other interpretations of the bible hold true to this point as well: the Dictionary of Jewish Lore and Legend describes dreams as “messages from God to man” which “foretell the future and bring warnings” (Thames and Hudson, 1997). The future plays a more important role in the dreams Joseph interprets as an Egyptian servant, where his foretells of death for a baker and famine for the entire land of Egypt.
Joseph clearly demonstrates his divine connection with God, which is clearly unique as only “certain biblical individuals had the gift of interpreting dreams” (Thames and Hudson, 1997), just as only a chosen few were spoken to directly by God earlier in the bible. This shows the evolution of religion throughout Genesis. Early prophets were visited by God himself, according to Crumbs illustrations. Later on, we saw God’s chosen people were sent visions of God, or a messenger of God rather than God himself. Now, God speaks mainly to his people through dream interpretation. In this time, belief in God had to evolve to be based more on faith as fewer people experienced direct connections with the word of God.
                Crumb’s illustrations also help us interpret these dreams as divine interaction with humanity. When God is drawn, he is shown very dramatically, surrounded by a mane of hair and a circle of light. The black background with a white light creates a stark contrast that Crumb often repeats when illustrating scenes of divine intervention or prophesy. As Joseph interprets dreams and as those who report their dreams to him describe them, we see this visual motif of God’s power. While Crumb often avoids more common depictions of biblical characters, like angels with wings and the serpent as less human, I think he reverts to some medieval motifs here, as he uses almost a halo to signify Godly presence: in most religious art, a halo is a “radiant circle or disk surrounding the head of a holy person, a representation of spiritual character through the symbolism of light” (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2014). Crumb clearly uses an interpretation of the halo as he surrounds those most closely related to God with the light of God himself, thereby focusing on God’s message and the importance of that moment in relation to the bible as a whole.
                While dreams play an important role in distinguishing certain characters as having more direct connections with God, taking these dreams as God’s prophesies also brings more insight into other aspects of the Book of Genesis. Looking at the dreams Joseph interprets in Egypt, we see one that leads the cupbearer to be restored to his glorified position, and another that simultaneously takes the life of the baker. The direct dichotomy of these fates is reproduced in the Pharaoh’s dreams, which contrast seven years of plentiful harvests with seven of famine and starvation. These prophesies are clear demonstrations of God’s power over humanity to both give life and take it away at will. Creation and destruction are a part of God’s plan for humanity, and they are presented side by side as Joseph speaks to God through dream and warns the people of his plans.

Works Cited
"Dreams." Dictionary of Jewish Lore and Legend, Thames & Hudson. London: Thames & Hudson, 1997. Credo Reference.

Halo. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc, 2013.


  1. I can see your argument is how the dreams are important to Joseph's story. I also see good evidence to support it. However, it still feels like a very incomplete thought. All the points are valid. All the quotes work. It just feels disconnected. As if this were a part of a larger whole. Yes, God is drawn with long hair and beard while surrounded by a halo. Yes, he comes to Joseph in dreams and is more disconnected. Every paragraph leaves me with saying, yeah I agree. But as a whole I am left thinking, but so what? You could find a way to better interconnect the paragraphs and further expand upon the text and answer the question of so what? It seems like there is a path to follow and this would be a great choice for revision.

  2. Do you think your research was substantive enough here? For this prompt, you don't need a finished or polished argument (although really you are sort of sitting on the fence between prompts, which is in itself interesting -- it's possible that I'm misinterpreting which prompt you're following), but that's because the research is supposed to be substantive. If you're researching the role of dreams in Genesis, and how we understand the fact that Joseph's connection with the divine differs from his forefathers' connection, you could have used another sorts. Or, alternatively, if you're really following the other prompt there's not a clear enough argument here.

    What *I* liked for an argument might have started with your observation that Crumb does, after all, change to more medieval or medieval-influenced means of representation. But like Dante says - so what? I definitely agree that there's something to be argued there, but you haven't really defined what it is yet.