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There are, I believe, three sets of dreams in the Joseph narrative:

  • Sheaves bowing, stars bowing in Genesis 37
  • Cupbearer's dream, baker's dream in Genesis 40
  • Pharaoh's dreams of cows and grain in Genesis 41

I find it striking that all three sets come in pair, especially since in Genesis 37 and 41 the second dream doesn't seem to add anything much to the first. Is there a literary reason for the dreams being in pairs?

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I do not know the answer to this question but I will offer some suggestions that may help others to better answer.

Why were there three sets of DUAL dreams - six dreams all grouped into three pairs? Here are some possibilities:

  1. Nowhere in the text is there recorded any anything saying that these dreams were from God. However, the very fact that each dream was part of an unmistakable pairing that was fulfilled demonstrates a divine origin. For example, Pharaoh's two dreams had quite different elements - wheat vs cows; the butler and baker both had dreams on the same night that were fulfilled exactly. Therefore, the dream pairing is silent but compelling evidence of both the divine origin of the information and the status of Joseph as a prophet of God.
  2. It is interesting that the NT word for dream, ὄναρ (onar) occurs just six times (Matt 1:20, 2:12, 13, 19, 22, 27:19) - entirely within Matthew who appears to want to demonstrate that Jesus was the fulfilment of OT figures and prophecies (he uses the phrase "as it is written often"). Four of these dreams are given to Joseph and each signalled a significant change in events. A similar patter appears in the narrative of Joseph in Gen 37-41.
  3. In Gen 41:32 we are given an important clue to answer the question, "Now as for the repeating of the dream to Pharaoh twice, it means that the matter is determined by God, and God will quickly bring it about." Thus, we are told that the pairing of the dreams was to add emphasis and show the certainty of events about to take place.
  4. From purely a literary point of view, the three dual dreams provide a unifying element to the entire story of Joseph and provide interest, a little mystery. Everything that occurs in the story of Joseph after the final pair of dreams occurs as direct result of all the dreams.
  5. The story of Joseph in Egypt does not have much explicit mention of God, and when it occurs it usually peripheral or incidental. However, the six dreams, arranged in three pairs shows the silent hand of omnipotence directing the events providentially. Joseph was conscious of the presence of God with him and beside him all the way. he would have often felt spiritually isolated but the memory of the dual dreams must have helped his personal integrity and silent witness that became more apparent as his life progressed.

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