Deaf Ears

You’ll remember from *last time* that while the sons of Jacob were loading their donkeys for their return journey to Canaan from Egypt, Joseph had got his steward to put his prized silver goblet into Benjamin’s sack without him knowing.

You’ll also remember that after the brothers had left, Joseph told his steward to set out after them, and, having caught up, to search all the sacks. The steward did as told, and so found the goblet in Benjamin’s sack. Benjamin’s protestations of his innocence fell on deaf ears.

“I’m disappointed in you, Benjy. We’re all disappointed in you, in fact,” said Judah. “Wherever did you get the idea that stealing is kosher?”

“I don’t believe I’m hearing this, I mean really,” said Benjamin, “your hypocrisy is something else. You throw our brother Joseph down a well and leave him for dead, then you tell Father the wild animals ate him, and you disapprove of a little thing like stealing? That’s…….well…….funny. In any case, as I’ve already said, I didn’t steal the goblet.”

“You were with us when we threw Joseph down the well,” said Judah, “and you said nothing when we told Father the wild animals ate him. No, Benjy, you’re as culpable as the rest of us.”

Joseph’s steward, who had been attending to his camel while the brothers were talking, came up to them and said, “I’m afraid, boys, you’ll have to come back with me to explain to the de facto prime minister why you stole his silver goblet.”

***

“Well, well, well,” said Joseph when the brothers were brought in to his tent, “I’d told you, didn’t I, that I had a strong feeling I’d see you again soon. It seems my feeling was correct. Stealing my silver goblet was foolish. You should have known I practice divination, and that a silver goblet is instrumental in this.”

“It was Benjamin here who stole it, Sire,” said Judah, “the rest of us knew nothing of it.”

“I see,” said Joseph, “Well, Benjamin, I’ll have to insist you stay here as my slave. The rest of you can go home.”

“Excuse me, Sire,” said Judah, “you may remember we’d already told you how precious Benjy is to our father, Jacob. If Benjy doesn’t return to him Father will die of sorrow. He only let him come with us when I offered to stand surety for him. So please, Sire, let him go, and keep me as your slave. You won’t regret this. I can do everything Benjy can, and more.”

Source: Genesis 44, 13 – 34 Continue reading

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Au Revoir

*During the meal* with his brothers – who had come to Egypt from Canaan to buy food – Joseph snuck away to find his steward who was lurking behind the de facto prime ministerial tent. Joseph said to the steward, “I’d like for you to fill these men’s packs with lots of food. Also, the silver they each brought with them, put it back in their packs, and put my silver goblet into Benjamin’s pack.”

“You’re sure about the silver goblet?” said the steward, “I know it’s very precious to you. It must be worth a fortune.”

“Don’t try to second-guess me, steward,” said Joseph, ”do only as I say.”

***

The next morning the brothers loaded up their donkeys and took their leave of Joseph.

“Thanks awfully, Mr de facto Prime Minister, for the sumptuous meal and your overall hospitality,” said Reuben. “I speak for all my brothers when I say we’re terribly grateful. And I know Benjamin is especially so, for you gave him such large helpings during the meal that he must have been about to burst. Isn’t that true Benjy?”

“I’m still feeling stuffed,” said Benjamin, who couldn’t suppress a loud burp.

“Benjy, that’s not polite in front of the de facto prime minister,” said Reuben. “Please apologise.”

“No need for Benjamin to do that,” said Joseph, “he was just showing in the classic Egyptian way how much he appreciated the meal. We’ll make of him a bona fide Egyptian yet.”

“Well, another time perhaps,” said Reuben. “Benjy is, after all, returning to Canaan with us. Who knows when we’ll see Egypt again.”

“I have this feeling we’ll soon be meeting again.” said Joseph, “so I’ll say au revoir rather than good-bye.”

Au revoir, then,” said the brothers as they rode away.

***

When the brothers had become mere dots on the horizon, Joseph summoned his steward, and said, “I want you to go after those brothers. When you reach them you are to say, ‘Why have you repaid good with evil? Why have you stolen the de facto prime minister’s silver goblet – the goblet he not only drinks from, but uses also for divination. You have done a wicked thing.’ Can you remember all that?

“I…..I think so, sire.”

“Repeat it, then.”

The steward repeated back the words.

“Remarkable” said Joseph. “You got everything right the first time. I couldn’t have done that. You’re fitted for better things, I can see.”

“I don’t understand, sire. You told me to put the goblet in Benjamin’s pack. Don’t you remember?”

“Of course I remember. Do as I say, and no questions.”

“What you’re doing, sire, doesn’t seem quite…..well……ethical, if you don’t mind my saying.”

“I do mind your saying. Any more backchat, and things may go exceedingly bad for you. My executioner doesn’t have a full calendar right now, and could do with more work. Understand….mmm?”

***

The brothers, and particularly their donkeys, were finding it hard-going as they slogged through the desert because of all the food plus silver they had to carry, and not to speak of being scorched under the broiling sun. They saw behind them far away a tiny speck that kept getting bigger. It finally got so big that the brothers could not help but see it was Joseph’s steward and some other men riding on camels.

“Oy, you” shouted the steward at the brothers, “Why have you repaid good with evil? Why have you stolen the de facto prime minister’s silver goblet – the goblet he not only drinks from, but uses also for divination. You have done a wicked thing.”

“What’s this gibberish you’re talking?” shouted back Reuben.

The steward and his men had by now surrounded the brothers.

“Open your packs for inspection,” said the steward.

“You may search them,” said Reuben, “but you definitely won’t find the de facto prime minister’s goblet. We’re  men of honour, sons of Jacob no less. It’s as unthinkable that we stole the goblet as it is that there’s no God.”

“We didn’t come here for a metaphysical discussion,” said the steward. “The sooner we search your packs the sooner this unpleasantness is finished.”

When the goblet was found in the pack of Benjamin, his brothers were (understandably) furious.

“How could you do this, Benjy,” said Reuben.

“Yes, Benjy, how could you do this,” said Judah, “I know. It must be because your mother was Rachel, not Leah, who our mother was.”

“Speak for yourselves, Brother Reuben and Brother Judah,” said Naphtali. “You forget that the mothers of some of us were neither Leah nor Rachel.

“I’m innocent, my brothers,” wailed Benjamin, “I put nothing in my pack that wasn’t mine. Honest.”

Source: Genesis 44, 1 – 12

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A Pit of Poisonous Snakes

The sons of Jacob (Joseph’s brothers) shortly after *crossing Egypt’s border*, went to the dwelling of the Canaanite-Egyptian interpreter they’d used last time. The brothers and the interpreter then went to Joseph’s official residence to present themselves to him.

Several hawk-faced, gimlet-eyed, sword-wielding guards were slouching around in front of the residence.

“We wish to see the de facto prime minister,” said the oldest son, Reuben.

“You’ve an appointment, have you then?” said one of guards who thrust two fingers into Reuben’s nostrils and pulled upwards, forcing Reuben on tiptoe.

“Not exactly. You see, we’re from Canaan, and we spoke with the de facto prime minister last time we were here. He said for us look him up when next we visit, and here we are,” said Reuben.

The guard removed his fingers from Reuben’s nostrils, and tugged on a string attached to a bell above the tent’s flap that was opened by Joseph himself.

“Do you know these men, sire?” said the guard.

Joseph looked at his brothers. When he saw Benjamin he began trembling. Then he said to the guard, “I believe I do know them. All of you resume your posts. I’ll take care of this.”

Joseph leaned inside and said sotto voce to someone in there, “Take these men to the guest tent where they can wash and otherwise make themselves presentable. Then kill a goat and prepare a mouth-watering savoury meal, because these men are to eat with me at mid-day.”

Joseph disappeared indoors and another man appeared, bronzed, of a military bearing, with a chiselled face and creased but kindly eyes.

“Let’s go,” he said, and began leading the brothers away from the residence.

***

The brothers were nervous as they walked. They began chattering among themselves in their native Canaanite.

“I do hope they won’t kill us for the silver we have in our sacks,” said Asher.

“There’s got to be more of those tough guards than we saw at the front of the de facto prime minister’s tent. Maybe they’re lurking out there in the bushes and will cut our throats and make off with our silver,” said Gad.

“I’ll hear no more of this talk,” said Reuben. “It behooves us to remember who we are. We’re Hebrews, sons of Jacob. Nothing frightens us.”

Nonetheless, Reuben felt it prudent to sound out the man leading them, by saying, “We wish to assure you we’ve come here only to buy food.”

When the man said nothing, Reuben became jittery, and continued, “Y-y-you sh-sh-should know that the s-s-silver that s-s-someone put in our s-s-sacks last time, well,  w-w-we’ve b-b-brought it back because that s-s-someone may have made a mistake. W-w-we’ve b-b-brought even more s-s-silver to buy f-f-food.”

“Relax,” said the man, “it was your God, the God of your father, who put the silver in your sacks.”

“You saw Him do this?”

“Not exactly. But thoughts that He did, assailed my mind with such force that I had no doubt He did.”

When the brothers reached the guest tent, the man led them in, where they saw Simeon.

“You didn’t half take your time coming back, did you brothers,” said Simeon, who, by his haggard appearance, hadn’t had an easy time as a hostage. “I’ve been in hell, I tell you. All the time you were away, I never knew which day would be my last. My guards kept telling me that if you all didn’t return soon, the de facto prime minister would assume you were never coming back and would have me done away with, using any one of the barbaric ways they do away with people in Egypt, like cast into a pit of poisonous snakes, thrown in boiling water, buried alive, stoned to death, strangled,  beheaded,  you name it. I must have died a thousand deaths dwelling each day and all day upon the terrible things that might happen to me at any moment on the caprice of the de facto prime minister.”

The brothers murmured their sympathies. “Notwithstanding the trauma you’ve undergone, the important thing is, we’ve come back, so you can put your shattered mind at rest,” said Reuben.

“You know, don’t you, that you’re all to eat with the de facto prime minister shortly?” said Joseph’s man, who was in fact the steward.

“We didn’t, but we’re honoured he would have us eat with him,” said Reuben.

“First, though, you’ll have to wash and put on clean garments, for the de facto prime minister is big on cleanliness and doesn’t like bad smells,” said the steward, who ordered bowls of washing water be brought in, as well as fresh garments.

***

The brothers now clean and fragrant-smelling, were led back to Joseph’s tent. When they saw Joseph there they bowed low.

Joseph looked at Benjamin with the same intensity he’d done earlier, and said to him, “Are you the youngest brother, the one your brothers told me about?”

“I must be, mustn’t I, since you saw my brothers last time and so knew I wasn’t among them, and now I am,” said Benjamin.

“Show more respect to the de facto prime minister, you impudent lout,” growled the steward.

“Leave this to me,  steward,” said Joseph, who said to Benjamin, “You’ve a good grasp of logic, young man. You may make a fine lawyer some day.”

Whereupon Joseph hurried from the room and began weeping. The brothers could hear the sounds of the weeping and looked at each other, puzzled. Soon, Joseph came back and seemed composed.

“Serve the food,” he said to the servants, in a voice that sounded like he might weep again.

The servants began putting food on the room’s three tables. Joseph took his place at the first table, the Egyptians who were there, sat at the second. The brothers were directed to the third.

“Please don’t be offended that you have to eat by yourselves,” said Joseph to the brothers, “it’s just that Egyptians find it detestable to eat with Hebrews.”

The brothers began tucking in, and saw that Benjamin’s serving was five times more than theirs.

Source: Genesis 43, 16-34

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Tragacanth and Myrrh

The last posting ended with Jacob *refusing to let Benjamin* travel back to Egypt with his older brothers, so that Simeon, who had stayed behind in Egypt as a hostage, might be released. Hence the brothers remained for the time being in Canaan.

It wasn’t too long, though, before the large quantities of corn and grain, that the brothers had brought back from Egypt, began seriously to deplete. Since the seven-year famine covered all the world, including Canaan, and since it was only Egypt that had stored enough food from the good years to tide over the famine years, the only realistic source of food for hungry Hebrews in Canaan was Egypt.

Jacob therefore said to his sons, “I want you boys to go back to Egypt and get more corn and grain.”

One of the brothers, Judah, said, “We’ll go, but only if Benjamin comes with us.”

“I’ve made clear many times that Benjy stays with me,” said Jacob. “You’ll just have to go without him. The ten of you are big strong boys. You’ll manage.”

“You forget, Father, that the Egyptian de facto prime minister told us he’ll assume we’re spies if we don’t produce Benjy. He’ll accordingly have us killed if we set foot in Egypt without him,” said Judah.

“Why did you even tell him you had another brother?” said Jacob.

“Because he asked us whether we had, so we said ‘yes.’ How were we to know he would respond as he did?” said Judah.

“His being so inquisitive about whether you had another brother does strike me as odd,” said Jacob. “It should have struck you as odd too, and you would have kept quiet about Benjy.”

“It’s all very well for you to say this, Father, but you weren’t there, were you.” said Judah.

“Don’t be facetious, boy,” said Jacob, “this is your father you’re speaking to.”

“That you think me facetious is beside the point, Father, which is that if you refuse to let Benjy come to Egypt with us, we won’t go for obvious reasons, so we’ll have no food and we’ll all die, including Benjy. You would be cutting off your nose to spite your face, wouldn’t you say, Father?”

“You do have a point, boy, despite your facetious tone.”

“I’ll go surety for Benjy if you let him come with us,” said Judah. “If Benjy doesn’t return from Egypt with us, you may hold me responsible and you can hold me guilty all my life.”

“Since I’m so old and can expect soon to be dead,” said Jacob, “I won’t be able to hold you guilty for long. So you’ll get off cheaply. Anyway, it seems I’ve little choice but to let Benjy go with you all. So, I’ll let him go. I would like also for  you to take to give to this de facto prime minister some of the produce for which Canaan is famous, like balsam, honey, gum, tragacanth, myrrh, pistachio nuts, and almonds. Also, give him some silver in addition to the silver you found in your sacks. I’ll not have this man think we Hebrews are charity cases for him to look down upon.”

Whereupon the brothers, including Benjamin, set off for Egypt.

Source: Genesis 43, 1-15

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Trust

The prospect of travelling all the way back *to Canaan to fetch Benjamin*, then travelling all the way back to Egypt with him, made Joseph’s brothers wonder what they’d done to deserve this hardship.

Speaking in his native Canaanite so Joseph wouldn’t understand, Simeon said to his brothers, “No doubt we deserve to be punished because of *what we did to Joseph*. We saw his anguish when he had pleaded with us not to throw him down the well, yet we did so  knowing he’d never get out and would die an agonising death.”

Reuben, speaking also in his native Canaanite, said “Why did you all not go easy on Joseph, as *I’d implored you*. If you had only listened to me, we would have been spared much suffering.”

“Don’t try to wriggle out of this, Brother Reuben,” said Simeon, “whatever your sentiments, you went along with us. We should have thrown you down the well too, as Dan had suggested.”

Although the brothers knew Joseph could hear them, they didn’t know he could understand them, for although Joseph’s Canaanite was rusty, it wasn’t that rusty. As Joseph listened to his brothers he was filled with memories of his boyhood in Canaan, a halcyon time ever burnished in his mind. Joseph began weeping, and turned away to hide the tears. It was some moments before he was recomposed.

“Have you decided who will stay behind while you return to Canaan to fetch Benjamin?” said Joseph through the interpreter.

“Er…..it’ll be Simeon,” said Reuben.

“Who are you to decide this?” said Simeon.

“I, as the oldest brother, have this right under Hebrew law in the absence of our father,” said Reuben, “and I say it is you, Brother Simeon, who will stay behind.”

“Why me?” said Simeon, “why not…….I dunno……Zebulun? He’s the youngest of us and so is the least important.”

“I’ve decided on you, Brother Simeon. That’s final.”

“Over my dead body I’ll stay,” said Simeon as he moved swiftly away through the marketplace crowd.

“Arrest that man,” shouted Joseph. Two guards fell upon Simeon and hustled him to the jail.

***

Joseph ordered his brothers’ sacks be filled with the corn they’d paid for. The bags now full, the brothers loaded them on their donkeys and, minus Simeon, set off for Canaan.

When they stopped for the first night, one brother, Levi, opened his sack and saw it had not only corn, but lots of silver coins. It was the money he’d paid for the corn.

“Brothers,” shouted Levi, “my money’s in my sack. What about yours?”

It turned out that everyone’s sack had money.

“Well, son of a sling,” said Reuben.

***

The brothers on arriving in Canaan, told Jacob all that had happened. When Jacob learned he would have to allow Benjamin to go to Egypt with his brothers if he was to see Simeon again, he said, “You have already robbed me of Joseph. Now you would rob me of Benjy. This is just too much. No, Benjy stays here.”

“How little faith you have in us, Father.” said Reuben.

“Do I not have cause to have little faith in you all, especially you, Reuben? Quite apart from your carelessness with Joseph, *you slept with my slave girl, Bilhah*, who you knew not only slept with me too, but is the biological mother of your brothers, Dan and Naphtali. Although I never confronted you with what you did – and I should have – I know you slept with Bilhah, and it seems most others knew it too. So, don’t try to deny it. No words adequately describe how I felt on first hearing this rumour. The very thought, even today, of what you did makes me sometimes retch.”

“Had I known this, Father, I would never have slept with Bilhah. If I have an excuse, it was that I was young. I’m different now. Trust me.”

“Your emollient but insincere words make me want to retch even more. You’re an abomination, if you must know.”

“However you feel about me, Father, it does nothing to ameliorate the urgent problem of how to get Simeon back if Benjamin doesn’t come with us to Egypt. I’ve just had an idea. How about that you kill my two sons if I don’t return from Egypt with Benjamin? I love my two boys so much, my life wouldn’t be worth living without them. This is reason enough – wouldn’t you say, Father – for me to do all in my power to ensure that Benjy not only returns from Egypt, but returns with not even a scratch. You would get Simeon back too.”

“My answer is still ‘no’,” said Jacob.

Source: Genesis 42, 21-38

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Concentrating the Mind

Not only in Egypt *was there now a famine* (the beginning of the seven lean years), there was a famine in Canaan too – the very Canaan where Joseph had been born and raised. News in those parts travelled then nearly as quickly as it does today, so news soon spread in famine-racked Canaan that there was corn to be got in neighbouring Egypt.

Hence Jacob (Joseph’s father) called together ten of his sons and said to them, “Listen boys, I want you all go to Egypt and buy a whole lot of corn and bring it back so we won’t starve.”

“I see little brother Benjamin isn’t here.” said Reuben the eldest son, “He’ll be coming with us, won’t he, Father?”

“’Fraid not, son,” said Jacob. “I’m keeping him by my side. I’ve already lost Joseph, who was special, and I won’t risk losing Benjy as well, who is special too.”

“So the rest us aren’t special, in the way Benjy is and Joseph was, is that it?” said Reuben.

“If you put it that way,” said Jacob.

The brothers, minus Benjamin, set off on the journey to Egypt.

***

Joseph, although de facto prime minister of Egypt, wasn’t your normal de facto prime minister who considers it infra dignitatem to get his hands dirty. Joseph was very much a hands-on de facto prime minister, and so was happy to get out there and sell some of the stored corn himself to people who needed it.

One day in the city of Ineb-Hedj (later known as Memphis) when Joseph was selling corn there, a group of ten men came up and bowed down before him. Joseph was taken aback, for this behaviour in a market-place was most unusual. Joseph’s mind flashed back to his *long-ago dream* in which he and his brothers were in a field binding sheaves, and his brothers’ sheaves had bowed down to Joseph’s sheaves. The brothers hadn’t taken kindly to this dream when Joseph had told them of it. It was the dream that led the brothers to make plans to throw Joseph down a deep well and leave him for dead.

Joseph had never fully recovered from the trauma of being thrown down the well. The memory still caused him nightmares, from which he would awake screaming. The men bowing before him didn’t at first glance look like his brothers as he remembered them. On the other hand he hadn’t seen them in over twenty years. On a second glance there was something about them that reminded him of them. Could they in fact be his brothers? The longer he looked, the more he became sure they were. Joseph became filled with fury. His upper lip began to tremble. Rivulets of sweat broke out on his forehead.

“Where are you from?” Joseph spat out. But he spat it out in Egyptian, not in his native Canaanite tongue that he only imperfectly remembered.

The brothers, not speaking Egyptian, had brought an interpreter. The oldest brother, Reuben, said through the interpreter, “We have come from Canaan to buy food, for the famine that afflicts Egypt afflicts Canaan also.”

“You look like spies” said Joseph. “Yes, I’m certain you’re spies. You’ve come to spy out the weak points in our defences.”

“No sire,” said Reuben, “we’re honest men, brothers who just want to buy corn. If we can’t, we and our fellow Canaanites back in Canaan, including our old father, will soon be dead from having no food. You wouldn’t want that on your conscience, would you?”

“If you were Egyptians I wouldn’t. Seeing as you’re Canaanites it would bother my conscience not at all.”

“We’re not Canaanites as such, but Hebrews who found refuge in Canaan.”

“It doesn’t matter to me. Hebrews, Canaanites. You’re foreigners, and therefore likely up to no good. No, I’m going to have you all put in jail and killed.”

“What can we do to convince you you’re wrong about us?”

“You got any other brothers?”

“One other in Canaan, who our father wouldn’t let come with us.”

“Why’s that?”

“It’s a long story, the gist of which is that because another of our brothers got *killed by wild animals* when we last travelled together, Father doesn’t trust us with our youngest brother.”

“Any other brothers I should know about?”

“No, just Benjamin who is with Father, and Joseph, who, because he’s dead from being eaten by wild animals, is necessarily no longer our brother, if you see what I mean.”

“Tell you what. Let one of you stay here in Egypt as my prisoner while the rest of you go back to Egypt and return here with Benjamin. As a bonus, you can take back with you all the corn you can buy. Remember, though, if you don’t return with Benjamin, this’ll indicate to me that you’ve not been telling the truth and that you’re spies. In which case the brother who stays here will be killed. How about it?”

“What if Father still won’t let Benjamin return with us?”

“Then I’ll have the brother you leave here killed. Tell your father this. It’ll concentrate his mind.”

Source: Genesis 42, 1-20

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Corn and Granaries

After the *dazzling man*, the chief captain of God On High, suddenly vanished, Asenath felt shaken. Had she dreamt him? She felt, though, he’d been too real to have been merely a dream. And that kiss. No dream could have contained the intensity of feeling it elicited in her.

The next day Asenath was visited by a young man, a servant of Joseph, who said, “Expect a visit today from Joseph, the mighty man of God and prime minister of Egypt.”

Asenath told her own servants to prepare a special dinner for that evening. She prepared herself for Joseph’s visit by putting on a robe that shone like lightning, that she secured around her waist with a girdle studded with precious stones. She put golden bracelets around her wrists, and golden boots on her feet, and a costly necklace around her neck, and she put a golden crown upon her head that she covered with a veil.

On being apprised that Joseph was at the gates, Asenath went down to greet him. Stepping out of his carriage, Joseph said to Asenath, “I’m overjoyed to see you. Are you overjoyed to see me too?”

“I suppose I am,” said Asenath, who couldn’t stop thinking about the dazzling man who had so recently visited her.

“You don’t sound enthusiastic. Anything the matter?”

“No, not at all. It’s just that……..well…….I’ll tell you another time. But, yes, of course, I’m happy to see you.”

Joseph made as if to kiss Asenath on the lips, but she offered him only her cheek.

“I assume” said Joseph, “you’ve by now heard that God On High has decreed that I take you to wife, and that His Majesty, the Pharoah, assents. Will you marry me, Asenath?”

“Do I have a choice?”

“Probably not, all things considered. Look, I’m not such a bad fellow. I’m handsome, you know I am, and I have lots of beautiful women offering themselves to me. But you’re the one I want. When I take you to wife, you’ll be the wife of the most powerful man in all of Egypt, apart from the Pharaoh of course.”

The upshot was an extravagant wedding, and Joseph and Asenath were now man and wife. They went to a special tent where they made love. Then Joseph said, “I’ve got to go now.”

“A bit sudden isn’t it?”

“You forget, Asenath, that I’m the de facto prime minister of Egypt. The seven lean years for not only Egypt, but the for the whole world, that were *predicted in my dreams*, are about to start. I have to ensure that all Egyptians get enough food to eat, and I have to travel the length and breadth of the land to check that conservation and distribution measures are going to plan. Please be assured, dear Asenath, that when I’m not thinking about corn and granaries and all of that, I’ll be thinking only of you. I hope you’ll be thinking only of me.”

“I’ll try,” said Asenath, who still couldn’t get the dazzling man out of her mind.

Sources:

Genesis 41, 45 – 57

Joseph and Asenath Chapters 18 to 21

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