Genesis 36-37: No Country For Sold Men (Season 1, Episode 19)

What happens when Joseph has a dream where his entire family bows down to him? A plot is hatched, a brother is ‘killed’, and a not-so-colorful cloak gets a paint job (in blood).

This is the latest episode in a serialised narrative. If jumping into things mid-way doesn’t bother you, ignore this and keep reading. If you like to start from the beginning, check out the archive here.


WARNING

If you are a creationist, evangelist, fundamentalist, or biblical literalist, this will probably offend you.

If you have any sense of propriety, this will probably offend you.

If you have the capacity to be offended, this will probably do the trick.

If you're okay with that, then read on.

If you want to read on just so you can tell me how terrible I am and that I should never write another word ever again, feel free.

Who knows? It might actually work.


After leaving Shechem, Jake and his family settle in the valley of Hebron. In case you don’t remember, that’s where Abe and Sarah were buried.

Or...at least Abe was buried there.

Sarah was decapitated just outside the cave after turning into a zombie. I’m not sure if anyone bothered to re-bury her.

Anyway...

The family’s a little divided after what happened at Shechem, and no one is really talking to each other.

Dinah has detached herself from her brothers almost completely, and will only interact with Leah, Rachel, Billie, Zillie, and – very occasionally – the artist formerly known as Jake. Her dad, Izzy.

Reuben has continued his affair with Billie. So far, Izzy hasn’t accused him of anything.

Sim has basically taken a vow of silence, so traumatised was he by his recent castration at the hands of Dinah, and Levi has turned to wine to soothe his guilt-ridden conscience.

The rest of the brothers feel varying degrees of shame and regret for their part in what is now being referred to as ‘The Incident’, but they’re also drowning in loot and free labour – so it’s hard for them to feel too bad about it.

The Incident has turned them from a blue-collar, nomadic, tent-dwelling family into an upper-middle class, nomadic, tent-dwelling family.

Say what you will about sacking, pillaging and enslaving, this scrappy underdog clan now has everything they need and then some.

Yes, indeed – the Israelites are movin’ on up.

Life is good.

Well, except for the slaves, of course.

But the brothers still need something to fill their time between drunken orgies and waking up hungover the next morning, so they spend their days out tending the flocks – getting some fresh air, sunshine, exercise. Leaving all the really shitty jobs to their servants.

Not a bad life.

Anyway, the second-youngest of these brothers – you might remember – is Joseph (Joey, for short). He’s kind of the black sheep of the family. A little soft, a little sensitive. A bit of a smart ass. Not really cut out for a life of manual labour.

Like Izzy before him, he prefers the indoors – cooking, cleaning, writing a few angsty poems when inspiration strikes. Under Rachel’s guidance, he gets so good at making clothes that he stitches himself a sweet, long-sleeved coat.

This is what’s commonly misconstrued as the ‘coat of many colors’ or, in the Andrew Lloyd Webber version of the story, the ‘amazing technicolor dreamcoat’.

At the most, it had some stripes.

The same phrase that people translated as meaning colorful is now thought to be closer to ‘a coat with long sleeves’ or ‘a long coat with stripes’.

Kind of a bummer, right?

Don’t worry – he won’t have it for long.

And the point of the coat isn’t that it’s colorful, more that it’s unsuitable for work. Joey’s not doing manual labour in this thing – it’s the kind of garment his sister’s late fiancée, the prince, might have worn.

It’s only there to symbolise his otherness, to foreshadow his journey over the next few episodes.

But how can a coat be foreshadowing, I hear you ask? Surely, that can only be setting up the most boring character arc of all time.

Well, you’re wrong about that.

Coats? Poetry? Andrew Lloyd Webber?

That’s right.

Buckle up, baby – this is going to be one bumpy ride.

One night, Joey has a dream where he and his brothers are out harvesting wheat, grouping it into bundles known as sheaves. All of a sudden, Joey’s sheaf rises so its standing upright.

All the other sheaves begin moving by themselves, too – the brothers don’t really react to the demon-wheat because it’s a dream, and nothing seems weird in a dream. The sheaves waddle (shuffle?) over to Joey’s sheaf, and then fall down flat.

Joey interprets this as them bowing down to him, and he tells them as much over breakfast the following morning. After they’ve finished hurling their insults and throwing food at him, they head out to tend the flocks.

But Joey doesn’t care – because in his mind, he’s the Chosen One.

God’s giving him these dreams as a way of communicating with him, letting him know that he’s special, that he’s better than his brothers.

One day, he’s going to rule over all of them. They might be verbally abusing him and throwing shit at him now, but pretty soon, they’ll be begging for his mercy.

And he’ll pretend to consider it.

So he starts clearing the table as he normally does, humming to himself, smugly assured of his own destiny. Izzy walks over to him for a little father-son chat.

“Listen, kid...you gotta cut that shit out.”

“What?” Joey says.

“The high and mighty shit. It’s really starting to piss off your brothers.”

“You’re one to talk.”

Izzy’s caught off-guard by the comment. “Look, I’ll agree I’m not exactly an expert on what constitutes a healthy brotherhood...but I think it might do you some good to go out with them once or twice. Learn the value of a proper day’s work.”

Joey stares at his dad like he’s just suggested they make love right there on the dining table.

“I work,” Joey says, indignant. “I cook and I clean...”

“...and you sew and you wash dishes. What’s next? You gonna start shitting out grandkids? You’re a man. Maybe it’s time you started acting like one.”

“Jesus...I get that you’re, like, a hundred years old, but that’s no excuse for putting me in a box based on my gender.”

“Christ, not this again...”

“Yes, this again. It’s not okay for you to assume that because I have balls that I want to break my back doing manual labour. Just because it’s something men have traditionally done, doesn’t mean we have to keep doing it. I thought you of all people would get me – you were an indoor kid, too. You liked to read and write.”

“Yeah, and then I grew up.”

“And killed your brother.”

Izzy fumes. “You son of a bitch...”

Joey continues cleaning, moving along like he hasn’t just enraged his father. He takes a stack of dishes over to the washing bucket and starts cleaning them. “You wanna hear about the other dream I had?”

Izzy gives an exasperated sigh. “What makes you think I wanna hear about your dreams, kid?”

“Nice parenting. I’m gonna tell you anyway, just because I think you’ll find it interesting, and it kind of supports the other dream I had, the first dream. Basically...the sun, the moon, and these eleven stars were bowing down to me.”

Izzy frowns, not liking the sound of this. “Eleven stars? Like, specifically eleven?”

“Would I have said eleven otherwise?”

Izzy grinds his teeth. “What do you think it means?”

“Well...I wouldn’t call myself a dream expert, but...”

Izzy rolls his eyes.

Joey goes on, “...it seems pretty obvious. You’re the sun, mom’s the moon, and the eleven stars are my brothers.”

Izzy had the same read – he just didn’t want to admit it. “So we’re all just supposed to bow down to you, is that it?”

“Eventually, I guess. God’s chosen me. For what, I don’t know yet. But I know it’s not out there in those fields.”

He keeps washing dishes. Izzy just stares at him.

Remember when I said that Joey was a bit of a smart ass? I may have undersold him a little. Or oversold – depending on how you look at it.

At that moment, Jude (the fourth-oldest) comes back in and grabs a shepherd’s crook that was leaned against the wall.

“Forgot my crook,” he says, with a laugh. “Can’t do much without that.”

The other two don’t respond and Jude quickly senses the tension in the room.

“What’s up?” he says. Then, to Joey, in a warning tone, he goes, “What’d you do?”

“Nothing,” Joey says.

“He had another dream.”

“Oh, really?” Jude looks interested, but fake-interested, like in a sarcastic way. “Let me guess – some more self-aggrandising horseshit?”

“Pretty much,” Izzy says. “Except now he’s got me bowing down to him as well.”

“Jesus, the balls on this guy,” Jude says.

Sick of dealing with them, Joey gets up, drying his hands. “You know what? Screw this. I don’t need this shit. Sorry that God chose me instead of you.”

With that, he storms out.

After a moment, Jude says, “There’s no way that God actually chose him, right? I mean, surely, the smart money’s on Reuben. Or Sim, or Levi. But those two have kinda gone downhill ever since The Incident, and even Reuben’s been...” Jude clears his throat. “...distracted, lately. So I guess, realistically, I’m probably the best choice for the role.” He acts surprised, like he didn’t realise it until just now. “Wow, look how that turned out.”

But Izzy’s barely paying attention to him. He’s staring off into space, deep in thought.

“We gotta do something about him,” Izzy says.

“Like what?”

“Like...something.

Jude swallows. His dad isn’t fucking around.

The two men stare at each other – it isn’t going to be pretty, but they know what they have to do.

*

A few days later, Izzy tells Jude to go out and check on his brothers.

They’ve been away for the past couple of nights, pasturing the flock out near Shechem. Joey asks him why – he’s never sent him out to check on his brothers before. Izzy says he just wants to make sure they’re not slacking off on the job.

Joey’s a little suspicious, but he does what he’s told nonetheless. He leaves his home in the valley of Hebron and heads on out to Shechem.

Izzy watches ominously from the doorway, knowing he will never see his son again.

Good riddance, he thinks.

The kid was getting too big for his boots. Too self-important. Too power-hungry.

As much as Izzy didn’t want to admit it, he saw too much of himself in the kid and had to get rid of him. It was the only way he could hold onto his own power.

That’s some tough love, folks.

When Joey gets to Shechem, he finds (predictably) nothing but the burned-out ruin of a city and (less-predictably) what appears to be a blind old woman sitting on a rock.

She turns as Joey approaches, hearing his footsteps. “You lost, buddy?”

“I’m looking for my brothers. You seen them?” Joey quickly realises his mistake and rushes to correct himself. “Oh, God, sorry, I didn’t mean...”

But the old lady’s pretty chill. “No, it’s alright. Happens all the time. As a matter of fact, I have seen them.”

At first, Joey’s surprised. “You have?” Then, he gets suspicious. “But...how?”

The old woman furrows her brow. “Are you suggesting that, just because I’m blind, I can’t see? Or are you calling me a faker? Which is it?”

She stares at the air beside Joey’s head with glazed, milky eyes.

“Uh...” Joey stands there, caught between a rock and a hard place.

Suddenly, the old woman bursts out laughing. “I’m just messing with you, man. They went that way, toward Dothan.”

She points to the north.

Joey lingers, uncertain. He waves a hand in front of the old woman’s face, which instantly drops into a frown.

“Really?” she says.

“Well, how do you know I’m doing it if you’re blind?”

“Just get the fuck out of here.” The old woman folds her arms, unimpressed. “You’re welcome, by the way.”

*

As Joey approaches his family’s flock just outside Dothan, little does he know that he’s walking into an ambush.

Hidden behind various desert shrubs and boulders, his brothers lie in wait to spring their trap. Jude is hiding with Reuben, watching Joey as he draws near.

“I’m having second thoughts about this,” says Reuben, looking uneasy.

Jude stares at him. “Now? You’re having second thoughts now?

“Yeah, I don’t think we should be killing our little brother. Crazy, I know.”

“What’s crazy is getting a lesson in morality from the guy banging his dad’s concubine.”

That puts Reuben in his place.

From a nearby shrub, their brother Gad whispers, “Hey, don’t talk about my mom like that.”

In unison, Jude and Reuben turn to him and tell him to shut the fuck up.

In case it isn’t clear, Jude has more or less taken over the role of ‘douchebag alpha-male’ since the three brothers older than him – Reuben, Sim and Levi – have been, respectively, too busy having an affair with their dad’s concubine, so traumatised by castration that he barely says a word, and too wracked with guilt after committing (at minimum) a thousand murders in the space of a single night.

Back to their own conversation, Jude goes, “Look, we’re just gonna kill him and throw him in one of those pits where the rainwater pools. Simple.”

But Reuben’s not backing down. “What’s the big guy gonna say, huh? What if he actually has been communicating to Joey through his dreams?”

“You think Joey’s not just blowing smoke up his own ass with that?”

“I don’t know.” Reuben shrugs. “The Lord works in mysterious ways.”

Jude scoffs. “‘The Lord works in mysterious ways?’ That’s a ridiculous way to phrase that.”

“It’s not a ridiculous way to phrase it.”

“It’s stupid.”

“You’re stupid.”

“It’ll never catch on.”

“It’s totally catching on. Look...even if the dream thing is just Joey’s ego, how’s the big guy gonna react when he finds out one of Izzy’s sons has been killed by his other sons – let alone that Izzy actually planned the whole thing?”

“He won’t have to know. We’ll just smear some blood on his coat, tear it up, and say he got torn apart by wolves or some shit.”

Reuben thinks about it. He gets an idea, but tries to keep the revelation from his face. “Okay, fine...but what about if, instead of killing him, we just drop him down the pit and leave him there.”

Jude frowns. “You fucking coward. You just don’t wanna get blood on your hands.”

“Yeah, so?”

“So...” Jude tries to understand his point of view. “Do you think you’re being merciful with that idea? If we don’t kill him ourselves, he’ll either break his neck when we throw him down, or starve to death, or drown when the pit fills up with rainwater, or actually get torn apart by wild animals. Do any of those options strike you as preferable to, say, me walking up and sliding a dagger between his ribs?”

“I just don’t wanna see him die, alright?” Reuben says, genuine emotion in his voice.

Jude studies him for a second, then shakes his head, disappointed in his older brother. “Fine, have it your way.”

He formulates a plan that involves everyone being able to get a few good shots in – anywhere except the face and crotch – but their brother is not to be killed. After they’ve roughed him up a little, they’ll dump him in the pit and that’ll be that.

Jude whispers the new plan to Gad, and gets him to pass it along. A game of telephone ensues, where the non-lethal alternative is conveyed to the group in a somewhat-efficient manner.

As the whispers get further out of earshot, Reuben prays the message isn’t garbled or changed along the way. Knowing his brothers, however, he suspects that may be too tall an order to place with the big guy.

“Oh, shit,” Jude says, spotting his younger brother approaching. “Here he comes. Everyone, shut up. Shut the fuck up!”

Totally oblivious to what’s going on, Joey walks up to the flock. He can’t see any of his brothers and looks around, wondering where they are.

“Surprise!” yells someone.

Joey turns, fully alert, to see his brother, Zeb, running at him, full-speed, fist drawn back for a punch...

Now, people think there are only two responses to a situation like that: fight, or flight.

But they’re wrong.

There’s a third response: freeze.

And that’s the response Joey goes with as Zeb closes the gap between them and cold-cocks him right in the face.

Joey goes down like a sack of potatoes.

All the other brothers are running in, converging on Joey from their various hiding places. But when they see him drop, they all slow down, then stop entirely.

They stand around in a circle just kind of looking at each other, most of them visibly disappointed they couldn’t partake in the violence. Joey was a pain in the ass, after all – they’ve been waiting to take him down a peg for a while.

Zeb seems to realise this and looks a little guilty, like he’s the guy at the party who just finished off the last bottle, so now no one gets a refill.

“Nice one, Zeb.”

“Yeah, thanks a lot, man.”

“I specifically said...” Jude rubs his eyes, frustrated. “...we all get a few shots in, didn’t I?”

Zeb doesn’t know what to say. “I’m sorry, I didn’t think I’d knock him out with one punch.”

“Well...” Jude puts his hands on his hips. “...you did.”

Everyone stares accusingly at Zeb, who shrinks under their collective gaze.

Without warning, Dan comes up and gives Joey a kick in the ribs. Real tough guy, that Dan.

“Hey!” Reuben says, and Dan backs off, looking sheepish. “Jesus Christ... Let’s just get him in the pit, shall we? Someone get that coat off...”

*

After lowering Joey down into a nearby pit, the brothers all sit around the fire, passing a few wineskins between them as the sun begins to set. There’s not a lot of talking going on – fratricide generally doesn’t lend itself to a cheerful atmosphere, even if they did all hate him.

“What do you think’s gonna happen to him?” Naph says, staring at the coat they took from Joey’s unconscious body.

Jude shakes his head. “Who knows? Starvation? Thirst? Drowning? Wild animals tear him limb from limb?” He pauses. “Suicide?”

“Jesus,” Ash says. “How would he even...”

“Smash his head against the wall?” Jude offers. “I don’t know...”

The brothers grimace and shudder, not wanting to picture it. A few are starting to regret putting him down there.

“Hey, talk to Reuben,” Jude says, holding his hands up in surrender. “He’s the one who didn’t wanna get his hands dirty.”

All eyes turn to Reuben, the accusation of cowardice impossible to miss.

The first-born clears his throat awkwardly. “I’m, uh...gonna go take a shit.”

He gets up and walks off to the privacy of a nearby boulder to do just that.

Jude watches him go, suspicious. He wonders if he’s right about Reuben – if he is, in fact, so cowardly and squeamish that he would force his brother to suffer, rather than just killing him on the spot.

It doesn’t seem like Reuben.

But why would he lie?

What’s he got to gain?

As Jude ponders, Reuben shits...

Over behind the bolder, as the first-born pulls up his tunic and squats down, he can’t help but smile. Jude and the others are damn fools if they think Reuben’s going to let his little brother suffer such a horrible fate.

When they’re all passed out drunk tonight, he’ll lower a rope down into the pit, haul Joey up and tell him to get the fuck out while he can.

He will, of course, have to put up with them thinking he condemned Joey to starve or drown or be eaten alive, but he’ll know in his heart he did the right thing. He knew the cost when he prevented Jude from killing Joey in the first place – but if it means his brother gets a second chance at life, it’ll be worth it.

Man, what a goddamn hero.

While the hero’s busy emptying his bowels, Issachar (formerly Izzy, but now forced to use his full name because his dad selfishly stole the shortened version for himself) sits up a little straighter, seeing something of interest. “Hey, what’s that?”

The brothers turn and see a few guys on camels coming towards them.

They ride up to the brothers’ fire and introduce themselves as Ishmaelites (remember Ishmael, from a few generations ago?). They’ve got a wagon full of gum, balm and resin from Gilead, which they’re taking to Egypt to sell.

“Is that so?” Jude says, stroking his beard in the way that all bearded men do when they get an idea (and all unbearded men wish they could). “How’d you like something else to sell?”

By the time Reuben returns, after taking the longest shit known to man (at that particular point in history, of course – the record has since been broken), the Ishmaelite traders have joined the brothers, and they’re all eating and drinking together.

“Who the fuck is this?” Reuben says.

“They’re our cousins,” Jude replies, with a smile. “Come on, have a drink.”

So Reuben proceeds to have a drink.

Then another.

Then another.

By the time he wakes up, the sun has risen and the Ishmaelites are gone. Reuben’s mouth tastes like an ashtray. He vaguely remembers one of the traders daring him to eat a handful of ash from the fire and, like an asshole (ash-hole?), he actually did it.

Luckily, the rest of his brothers are still sleeping off their hangovers, so Reuben seizes the opportunity. He staggers over to the pit with the intention of rescuing Joey and setting him free.

Only one problem.

Joey isn’t in there.

It takes him a moment to piece it together. He looks around for the Ishmaelite traders, but they’re long gone and Reuben’s too hungover to go after them.

He hangs his throbbing head. “Shit...”

Wandering back to camp, he sees Jude re-starting the fire for breakfast, having a little hair of the dog to even himself out. When he sees Reuben slinking back, he smiles.

“All good?” he says.

Reuben knows that he won’t get any credit for being a hero now, or for being merciful, or for being a good brother.

Quite the opposite, in fact – all his brothers know is that he argued for Joey being thrown into the pit to starve or drown or be eaten alive by wild animals.

They have no idea he intended to go back later and rescue him. They have no idea that he was willing to wear the shame of condemning his brother to a horrible death, because he would have known in his heart he did the right thing.

Jude, on the other hand, comes out smelling like a daisy – even though he’s the one that orchestrated the hit with Izzy in the first place.

As far as the others know, Jude wanted to put Joey out of his misery relatively quickly – I say ‘relatively’, because he had to make sure everyone got a few good shots in. That’s just an equitable distribution of wealth.

And Jude’s a big believer in the equitable distribution of wealth.

After Reuben forced them all to go along with subjecting Joey to a torturous death because he was too squeamish and cowardly to physically murder him, Jude showed mercy by selling him to a couple of passing traders.

Of course, Reuben knows that he can’t say anything about it now or it’ll sound like he’s lying, trying to save face after such a weaselly display.

In short...

Reuben bad, Jude good.

At least that’s how it looks. Really, it should be the reverse – but this is the Bible, after all.

That’s what you get for trying to be a hero, Reuben.

“Here,” Jude says, and tosses him a few pieces of silver. “Twenty pieces of silver for the kid. Everyone else gets one, but the oldest gets two.”

He winks.

Reuben frowns, doing the math in his head. “And the rest?”

“Well, I made the deal. I feel like that’s only fair.”

He gauges Reuben’s reaction, waiting for him to snap, to accuse him of something.

Remember how I said Jude was a big believer in the equitable distribution of wealth? Scratch that. I meant intrafamily bloodshed. He’s a big believer in the equitable distribution of intrafamily bloodshed.

He’s a cold-blooded capitalist when it comes to material wealth.

I always get those confused.

Judging by the smug little smile on Jude’s face, Reuben can’t tell if his brother knew about his plan all along, or if he just figured it out, but he knows.

The little rat bastard knows.

All Reuben can really do is let out an exasperated sigh, pocket the silver and drink some of the wine that Jude holds out to him like an olive branch.

Reuben closes his eyes and pinches his nose, drinking a large mouthful like a kid taking medicine against his will. He shudders, but after a few more swigs, he feels the warm buzz kicking in.

At least he can console himself with the fact that Joey got out of there alive. I mean, he is a slave now – there’s no getting around that – but he’s still alive.

So if Reuben really wants to see the silver lining, if he really squints while looking at the way the situation unfolded, he can say that – technically – things worked out the way he wanted.

But Reuben didn’t get to be a hero.

Jude did – and he did it publicly. He did it in a way that would earn him respect, in a way that made his brothers see him as tough but fair. Willing to get his hands dirty, but merciful at the same time.

A true leader.

He also got to pay Reuben – more than his brothers, I might add – so now he looks like the benevolent one, and maybe they hate Reuben a little more because of it.

“Goddamn it,” Reuben says, and takes another sip. He has to hand it to his little brother – he’s just better at marketing.

*

After slaughtering a goat and smearing Joey’s coat with its blood, they head back home, agreeing to not tell Izzy about their deal with the Ishmaelites. Better to let him think that Joey’s dead so they can keep the money. Who’s it really hurting, apart from Izzy’s bottom line?

When they arrive, Jude makes a big deal of presenting the coat to Izzy so God takes notice.

But because it’s all an act – and because they’re not actors – they end up delivering their lines in such an awkward manner that it’s sure to rouse suspicion from the big guy.

“This we have found,” Jude says, overly-formal as he hands his dad the coat. “See now whether it is your son’s robe or not?”

Izzy frowns, like, “What the fuck?”

But since Jude has already started them down this path, the patriarch has to continue with it.

In the great improv tradition of ‘yes, and...’, he pretends to recognise the coat and breaks down crying. Real tears. Jude’s impressed.

“It is my son’s robe!” he says, bellowing theatrically. “A wild animal has devoured him. Joseph is no doubt torn to pieces!”

The brothers think he might be laying it on a little thick, but then Izzy kicks it up a notch. He drops to his knees, rips open his own tunic to expose his bare chest and screams at the sky.

No words – just a hideous, ear-splitting shriek.

Veins bulging, face turning red.

Dude really goes for it.

It’s a full-blown, unhinged, Nicholas Cage-in-The-Wicker-Man-level meltdown.

Finally, he goes quiet, hanging his head in pretend sadness. They all kind of shuffle over to pretend to comfort him, but he slaps their hands away viciously.

“No!” he screams, rising to his feet and glaring at them with wild eyes. “I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning!”

Then he runs back into the house like a child throwing a temper tantrum, winning the biblical equivalent of the Oscar for Most Over-The-Top Performance.

The brothers just look at each other like, “What the fuck was that?”


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