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And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it to his brethren, and said, Behold, I have dreamed yet a dream: and, behold, the sun and the moon and eleven stars made obeisance to me. And he told it to his father, and to his brethren; and his father rebuked him, and said unto him, What is this dream that thou hast dreamed? Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth? - Genesis 37:9-10 (ASV)

If we continue reading the Book we will see that Joseph's 10 brothers bowed before him. Benjamin is a question mark for me, because the Bible doesn't say specifically whether Benjamin bowed or not. But it is sure that Joseph's father and mother didn't bow before Joseph, because later we read that:

And Joseph made ready his chariot, and went up to meet Israel his father, to Goshen; and he presented himself unto him, and fell on his neck, and wept on his neck a good while.
- Genesis 46:29 (ASV)

That is, Joseph's father didn't bow before Joseph, and his mother - Rakhel - was no longer alive. The question is, when the dream is fulfilled, what are the Sun and Moon?

  • This question is a bit more specific to the matter of was Rachel alive, but also deals with how it could have been fulfilled.hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/q/21427/6192 it seems, legally, that Bilhah would have been considered Joseph and the Benjamins acting mother. And then there's even debate whether Benjamin was born and Rachel was dead at the time of the dream. That is, not to say when the dream was fulfilled necessarily. – Joshua Feb 9 '16 at 14:31
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As a literary construction, there are three short stories which justify resentment on the part of the brothers, followed by the decision of the brothers to get rid of Joseph.

First, in Genesis 37:3-4, Jacob gives Joseph a coat of many colours, demonstrating to the brothers that he loved Joseph more than he loved them.

In the first of two dreams reported by Joseph (Genesis 37:5-8), he and his brothers were binding sheafs, and those of his brothers bowed to his sheaf, which stood upright. Joseph's brothers knew he was portraying himself as having dominion over them and resented this.

When Joseph had the dream of the sun and moon and the eleven stars paying homage to him (Genesis 37:9-11), he told this to his father and to his brothers. His father rebuked him, asking whether Joseph thought that his father and mother should bow down to him, and the brothers were angry. There is no doubt that, in Joseph's dream, the sun and the moon symbolised Joseph's father and mother, just as Jacob believed.

Having laid the groundwork for the brothers to so strongly resent Joseph, the story then proceeds to discuss the brothers plotting to kill him, but finally selling him into slavery. This is a prerequisite to Joseph becoming the vizier of Egypt and, as a result, having dominion over his father and brothers. The dream is partly fulfilled with the brothers coming as supplicants to Egypt and bowing down to Joseph, whom they did not yet recognise. Jacob was brought to meet Joseph in Egypt and became his subject, but Rachel certainly never paid homage to Joseph nor came to Egypt either to pay homage or live under Jospeh's rule as the Egyptian vizier.

There is an apparent anachronism in verse 37:10, when Jacob asks, "Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth?" Joseph's mother, Rachel, had already died in childbirth near Ephrath (Genesis 35:16-19), bearing Benjamin. We could say that chapter 37 should be understood as occurring before Benjamin was born, but then it is hard to explain why Joseph dreamed of eleven stars, when he then only had ten brothers.

The story is probably best not read literally but symbolically, in which case we do not have to agonise too much over the anachronism of Rachel dying before Jacob asks whether Joseph believes she will bow down before him, nor whether the prophecy was fulfilled in full, or only as far as the brothers, and perhaps the father.

  • Bilhah would have legally been the mother to Joseph and Benjamin after Rachel's death, as she was Rachel Rachel's hand maiden. Jacob could easily have been referring to her as it could have been many years since Rachel's death. Formative years for the boys where Rachel would be but a memory to them and they would regard Bilhah as the one who cares for them, as their mother. – Joshua Feb 9 '16 at 14:36
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Rashi on Genesis 37:10 states the following:

Will we come: Isn’t your mother (Rachel) already dead? But he (Jacob) did not know that the matters referred to Bilhah, who had raised him (Joseph) as [if she were] his mother (Gen. Rabbah 84:11). Our Rabbis, however, derived from here that there is no dream without meaningless components (Ber. 55a/b). Jacob, however, intended to make his sons forget the whole matter, so that they would not envy him (Joseph). Therefore, he said, “Will we come, etc.” Just as it is impossible for your mother, so is the rest meaningless.

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As noted above, Rachel was deceased so it is a little hard to understand what Abraham was getting at. In the early church the OT stories were seen as types of Christ and the church. The similarities between Joseph's vision and the one in the Apocalypse are often noted.

Rev 12:1 And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars:

If you can accept the dream as a prophecy in this sense, then I think this interpretation by St. Methodius is interesting.

The woman who appeared in heaven clothed with the sun, and crowned with twelve stars, and having the moon for her footstool, and being with child, and travailing in birth, is certainly, according to the accurate interpretation, our mother, O virgins, being a power by herself distinct from her children; whom the prophets, according to the aspect of their subjects, have called sometimes Jerusalem, sometimes a Bride, sometimes Mount Zion, and sometimes the Temple and Tabernacle of God. For she is the power which is desired to give light in the prophet, the Spirit crying to her:[ Isa. lx. 1–4.] “Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and His glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. Lift up thine eyes round about, and see; all they gather themselves together, they come to thee: thy sons shall come from far, and thy daughters shall be nursed at thy side.” It is the Church whose children shall come to her with all speed after the resurrection, running to her from all quarters. She rejoices receiving the light which never goes down, and clothed with the brightness of the Word as with a robe. For with what other more precious or honourable ornament was it becoming that the queen should be adorned, to be led as a Bride to the Lord, when she had received a garment of light, and therefore was called by the Father? Come, then, let us go forward in our discourse, and look upon this marvelous woman as upon virgins prepared for a marriage, pure and undefiled, perfect and radiating a permanent beauty, wanting nothing of the brightness of light; and instead of a dress, clothed with light itself; and instead of precious stones, her head adorned with shining stars. For instead of the clothing which we have, she had light; and for gold and brilliant stones, she had stars; but stars not such as those which are set in the invisible heaven, but better and more resplendent, so that those may rather be considered as their images and likenesses.

Now the statement that she stands upon the moon, as I consider, denotes the faith of those who are cleansed from corruption in the laver of regeneration, because the light of the moon has more resemblance to tepid water, and all moist substance is dependent upon her. The Church, then, stands upon our faith and adoption, under the figure of the moon, until the fulness of the nations come in, labouring and bringing forth natural men as spiritual men; for which reason too she is a mother. For just as a woman receiving the unformed seed of a man, within a certain time brings forth a perfect man, in the same way, one should say, does the Church conceive those who flee to the Word, and, forming them according to the likeness and form of Christ, after a certain time produce them as citizens of that blessed state. Whence it is necessary that she should stand upon the laver, bringing forth those who are washed in it. And in this way the power which she has in connection with the laver is called the moon, because the regenerate shine being renewed with a new ray, that is, a new light. Whence, also, they are by a descriptive term called newly-enlightened; the moon ever showing forth anew to them the spiritual full moon, namely, the period and the memorial of the passion, until the glory and the perfect light of the great day arise.

Symposium, Thekla V-VI

  • Please deal with the text in its original historical, linguistic, and literary context before applying later texts anachronistically. – Dan Mar 4 '16 at 12:23
  • I see no need for literalism. Modern literalism is the result of the 18th century arrogance like that of Johann Bengel, one of the developers of historical-grammatical interpretation and Heilsgeschichte. Bengel confidently predicted the destruction of the papacy in 1836. – Alan Fuller Mar 5 '16 at 15:14
  • be sure to take our site tour and read about what makes us different from other sites that study the biblical texts. Most notably, this is not a Christian site. – Dan Mar 5 '16 at 19:06
  • I should clarify that we do welcome Christian perspectives, but we require that you "show your work", i.e. connect the dots. You jumped straight from the Hebrew Bible to texts written by different authors thousands of years later in a different language. Please begin from the text itself in its original context and then bring in Christian hermeneutical approaches (stating the specific approach(es) being used and citing experts who have also used these approaches ideally) – Dan Mar 5 '16 at 19:09
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    Unfortunately, good answers take a considerable amount of time to develop and write in many cases. You are free to offer Christian perspectives, but you need to label the specific hermeneutical principles and assumptions you are using and clearly connect the dots beginning from the text in its original context. This is moreso an exposition of the Revelation text that (anachronistically) is applied as the lens through which to interpret the Genesis passage. As it stands this is a valid answer, but not a good one by this site's standards -- so there is no need to delete your account. – Dan Mar 7 '16 at 3:01
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מָה הַחֲלוֹם הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁ[ר חָלָמְתָּ הֲ]בוֹא נָבוֹא, אֲנִי וְאִמְּךָ וְאַחֶיךָ, לְהִשְׁתַּחֲו‍ֹת לְךָ אָרְצָה “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall we really come, I and your mother and your brothers, to bow before you to the ground?” (Genesis 37:10).

“Rabbi Levi said in the name of Rabbi Hama son of Rabbi Hanina: Jacob thought that revival of the dead would take place in his days. Hence he said, ‘I and your brothers shall indeed come.’ But our ancestor did not know that it applied to Bilhah, Rachel’s handmaid, who had brought him [namely, Joseph] up like a mother” (Bereshit Rabbah 84:11).

“This particular episode seems to assume, in flat contradiction of the preceding narrative [Genesis 35:19], that Rachel is still alive, though Benjamin has already been born (there are eleven brothers in the dream bowing to Joseph). Attempts to rescue consistency on the ground that dreams may contain incoherent elements are unconvincing, because it is perfectly lucid Jacob who assumes here that Rachel is still live” (Robert Alter, The Five Books of Moses).

However, notice that the bracketed Hebrew letters spell רָחֵל מֵתה Rachel is dead!

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What's the Genre?

The genre of the text is key to understanding its intended meaning, which is the goal of biblical hermeneutics. This is a dream, not a prophecy per se (e.g. 'Thus saith the Lord') - and this dream may be given to communicate a general message, not to forecast an exact outcome. It's not obvious from the text alone that we should interpret this personal dream using context from a distant section of the text, so let's try reading locally:

A. Interpretation as a dream

Joseph's dream was intended to communicate to him in the immediate context of the passage, in Joseph's here-and-now. When this dream occurred, he had a father and mother and eleven brothers, and so there was a perfect correlation and an interpretation so plain that even his brothers understood it properly. Any variance in that number would have produced an unclear dream and would have made for messy interpretations. It wasn't intended to be re-interpreted long afterwards, but rather to make sense to Joseph and his family at the time when it was given.

B. Interpretation as a prophecy

We can assume it as prophecy if that is the genre you feel the passage belongs in, but even then we can take the same line - the "fullness" of his current family bowed down to him in the dream, and then the "fullness" of them came to seek him in Egypt for refuge, symbolically bowing before him for food and safety, even if they did not all have to literally prostrate themselves.


Are there any contextual clues?

Thankfully we are not just given the one dream, but two, and these dreams are given and interpreted side by side. Just before the passage in question we have Genesis 37:5-8:

Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. 6 He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.

This 'first dream' suggests that these were intended to show that he would reign over his brothers, and this is how his brothers naturally interpret the bowing of the sheaves. If we use a consistent hermeneutic in the second dream, we don't require all of his brothers to literally bow to him.

Similarly to how there is one brother from the dream that does not literally bow to him later in the text, it should not trouble us that we do not see both of his physical parents literally bowing to him either. This lends support to the stars of the second passage being all of his brothers, and therefore the sun and moon are his parents.

Conclusion

Using a consistent hermeneutic which considers the local context and genre of the passage, the Sun and the Moon refer to Jacob and Rachel, Joseph's parents, as per Jacob's own interpretation in Genesis 37:10: "Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?”. This is the most natural reading of the passage, and though it doesn't see a literal prophetic fulfilment in all senses, the wider sense of the dream is definitely fulfilled and doesn't suggest that the given meaning of the dream was incorrect.

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