From Prisoner to Prince: The Joseph Story in Biblical Theology

Written by Samuel Emadi Reviewed By G. Kyle Essary

Christian interpretation has often read Joseph as a type of Christ. Modern scholars have found this interpretation less persuasive and a rigorous defense of it in accordance with scholarly constraints on typological exegesis has not been given (p. 20). Samuel Emadi attempts to give a defense. He contends that Joseph, as Abraham’s royal seed, partially fulfills and anticipates further fulfilment of covenantal promises. He contends that Joseph typifies a future Judahite king, that Moses intended for a typological understanding of the narrative, and that the Old Testament and New Testament interpret Joseph in this way.

Chapter 1 introduces the reader to the typological interpretation of Joseph and modern scholarship’s reception of it. The chapter states the problem well and shows what Emadi will argue. Chapter 2 sidesteps debates on the nature of biblical theology and definitions of typology. Emadi proposes to use Gentry and Wellum’s criteria for discerning a type—historicity, author-oriented, escalation, textual, and covenantal. Emadi could have said more in this chapter to defend his definition of biblical theology and these criteria, but for the sake of his argument, these criteria provide sufficient controls on typological exegesis. Chapter 3 argues that since the Joseph narrative continues the tôledôt pattern that unifies Genesis, the reader should expect the Joseph narrative to continue the book’s themes. Emadi emphasizes that the Joseph narrative continues the “covenantal promises” (p. 55).

Chapters 4–6 argue that Joseph fulfills covenantal promises related to kingship, seed, land, and blessing. Chapter 4 contends that Genesis has prepared readers to expect the birth of a “royal seed.” Since Joseph dreamed of ruling his brothers, his father favored him, the brothers bowed down to him, and Pharaoh empowered him, Emadi contends that Joseph has “royal status” (p. 73). But Joseph never became an Egyptian king nor joined the royal family. Although prominent in Pharaoh’s court, it is doubtful that this would equate with royal status to readers. Genesis does use royal imagery to describe another character—Judah. According to Jacob’s blessing, Judah will hold a scepter and ruling staff, have authority over his enemies, and peoples will obey him. Genesis 49:8b says Judah’s brothers will bow before him. Emadi suggests that this should bring Joseph’s dreams and the brother’s bowing before Joseph to mind. Based on this connection, Emadi suggests that the envisioned Judahite ruler will be a “Joseph redivivus” (p. 80). From this connection, Emadi justifies reading all of Joseph’s narrative typologically (p. 80). However, one wonders what is truly typological, Joseph’s rule or the brothers’ prostration? A more modest claim, and the consensus view, would be that the tribes will bow before Judahite rulers, as the brothers bowed before Joseph (compare the Genesis commentaries by Victor Hamilton [NICOT], John Goldingay [BCOT]; Gerhard von Rad, [OTL], Gordon Wenham, [WBC], and others). This interpretation does not claim that the recipients of the prostration are analogous. Nor does it require that one read the entire Joseph narrative typologically.

Chapter 5 argues that Joseph provides the context through which God preserves and multiplies his people in Egypt. This chapter’s claims are well argued and persuasive. Chapter 6 argues that Joseph progresses the covenantal promises of land and blessing. Emadi admits that the land promises are not as obvious (p. 104). Allusion to the land promise does appear in Joseph’s final words, which look to a future return to Canaan. Emadi also notes the prominence of blessing in Genesis 47–50. Jacob blesses Pharaoh and Emadi contends that Joseph’s administration in Genesis 47:13–26 evidences God’s mediated blessing to the nations. Although scholars debate the moral nature of Joseph’s policies, they preserve both Egypt and Israel during the famine. God blessed through preservation, regardless of debates about the morality of Joseph’s policies.

Chapter 7 considers Old Testament passages that allude to the Joseph narrative. Emadi convincingly argues that Psalm 105, Daniel 2 and 5 allude to Joseph in the context of covenantal promises. The comparisons with Esther, Mordecai, and Jehoiachin are less obvious, but may allude to Joseph as an embodiment of exodus hope. Chapter 8 considers New Testament passages. Acts 7 reads Joseph within God’s covenantal story. Emadi’s exegesis of Acts 7 is some of his most rigorous. Hebrews 11 portrays Joseph’s faith in a future exodus as an embodiment of faith in the Abrahamic promises. Whereas the parable of the tenants tells Israel’s story in miniature, Emadi’s arguments for literary allusions to Joseph’s narrative are less conclusive.

Emadi attempts an exegetical defense of a typological reading. He has progressed the discussion forward and provided new areas for scholarly debate. As he recognizes, scholars disagree on most aspects of the Joseph narrative (pp. 58–60). Pastors and students may disagree with some of Emadi’s conclusions as well. Pastors will find most helpful the connections between Joseph’s narrative and the Abrahamic promises. They will also profit from ruminating on Emadi’s exegesis of Old and New Testament passages outside of Genesis. Students of biblical theology likewise will find much to consider, including an extensive bibliography for further research.

Finally, I must recognize Emadi’s preface. Rarely has a preface impacted my reading of a book, but the humility, warmth, and gratitude that Emadi evidences in his preface provide a model for other Christian scholars.

G. Kyle Essary

G. Kyle Essary
Malaysia Baptist Theological Seminary
Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Malaysia

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