Samuel Emadi, From Prisoner to Prince: The Joseph Story in Biblical Theology

Emadi, Samuel. From Prisoner to Prince: The Joseph Story in Biblical Theology. NSBT 59; Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2022. 188 pp. Pb; $24.  Link to IVP Academic

Samuel Emadi (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) serves as the senior pastor at Hunsinger Lane Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky and is an editor at 9Marks. This book is based on his dissertation, “Covenant, Typology, and the Story of Joseph: A Literary-Canonical Examination of Genesis 37-50” (2016) under the supervision of James Hamilton.  Hamilton wrote an article, “Was Joseph a Type of the Messiah? Tracing the Typological Identification between Joseph, David, and Jesus,” SBJT 12.4 (2008).

The story of Joseph is the climax of Genesis, yet Joseph is hardly mentioned in the rest of Scripture. Many Christians have turned toward typology as a plausible answer: Joseph “a type of the Messiah.” But virtually all studies which claim Joseph is a type of Christ lack methodological rigor. Emadi argues in this book that Joseph “passes the typological test” (3). He says, “Moses links the story of Joseph to the eschatological expectations established in Genesis (such as royal seed) and specifically to the hope of an eschatological king” (4).

Joseph Type of ChristKing and (royal) seed are the two key themes for Emadi’s argument. In order to make this work, he has to argue that kingship is an essential element in the Abrahamic covenant and that Joseph was instrumental to the fulfillment of the Abrahamic seed and land promise. To begin, he follows T. Desmond Alexander’s argument that Adam was given a royal and priestly commission in Genesis 2. This royal priesthood has an eschatological character, after Adam’s failure, genesis develops a hope for a royal restoration genesis 3: 15, and there are several royal- seed promises typologically fulfilled through characters who emerge as “new Adams” (46-47). He then traces how genesis develops Joseph as Abraham’s royal seed. He argues genesis regularly describes Joseph with royal imagery and at least foreshadow his future royal position. “Although Joseph may not have been a king, Moses describes him with royal attributes” (55).

Important to his argument that Joseph’s story ought to be read typologically is Jacob’s prophecy in Genesis 49:8-10. This passage does indeed connect a son of Jacob to the future royal line, but it is “Judah’s son who will be a Joseph redivivus” (63). Using what he calls inner Bible biblical exegesis in numbers 24, he argues Balaam’s prophecy identifies the king of Genesis 49:8-12 with the “enigmatic serpent-crushing seed of Genesis 3:15,” a person who “embodies the Abrahamic covenant who will conquer Israel’s enemies “making the people of God an Edenic paradise” (63-64).

The next section of the book traces Joseph through the rest of the biblical canon. First, chapter 7 surveys the nine other occurrences of the story in the rest of the Old Testament. Exodus only mentions since the people of Israel bought the brought the bones of Moses up out of Egypt when they left. Psalm 105:17-25 briefly summarizes Joseph’s story. To develop additional allusions to the Joseph story, he draws the parallel between Joseph and Daniel. Although he avoids describing Joseph and Daniel as the genre of “court tale” or wisdom literature. Daniel is an example of an exalted Jew in a foreign court, such as Nehemiah, Mordechai or Esther. James Hamilton made a similar argument in With the Clouds of Heaven (IVP Academic, 2014, reviewed here).

Chapter 8 deals with the two passages that mention Joseph in the New Testament: Acts 7:7-16 and Hebrews 11:21. For Emadi, Stephen’s speech in Acts 7, Joseph’s story is “not part of Israel’s story, in some sense it is Israel’s story” (133). He claims Stephen sees Joseph as a type of Christ” (133) and the Apostolic community “interpreted Joseph’s narrative as a miniature betrayal of Israel’s history, culminating in the rejection of Jesus. They saw “in Joseph a prophetic forecasting of the life of the Messiah” (137). This is a minority opinion among interpreters of the book of Acts and seems tangential to the argument of Stephen’s speech.

Although there are several remotely possible allusions to Joseph suggested by scholars in the New Testament, Emadi limits his discussion to the most probable, the Parable of the Tenants (examining the form found in Matthew 21:33-46). He argues this parable is a creative retelling of Israel’s history in order to undermine the present leadership’s understanding of their national identity. Emadi properly recognizes Isaiah 5 as the main Old Testament background. He also understands the citation of Psalm 118:22-23 as a celebration of God’s deliverance of his people from foreign oppressors. However, he does not examine Rabbinic parallels to this parable (see, for example Craig Evans, Mark 8:27-16:20 in the WBC series) or the word play using the Aramaic of stone/son as a reference to David as the stone the builders rejected. The original son that was rejected was David. Jesus is the son of David who is about to be killed outside the city.

Emadi’s focus is on the phrase “he sent his son” (ἀπέστειλεν πρὸς αὐτοὺς τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ in Matt 21:37; but ἀποστείλω σε πρὸς αὐτούς in Gen 37:13, compare LXX Psalm 104:16: ἀπέστειλεν ἔμπροσθεν αὐτῶν ἄνθρωπον). In Genesis 37:13, Jacob sent his son Joseph to his brothers, and he suffered because of their jealousy. The son in the parable likewise suffers because of the jealousy of the tenants. He therefore makes the connection between Jesus and Joseph. Emadi concludes: “Jesus is, in fact, suggesting a typological reading of the Joseph story” (144). Maybe. A serious problem is the lack of verbal parallels between the parable and the LXX version of the Joseph story. It is close, but is it close enough to establish an allusion? I am thinking here of Richard Hays’s criteria for detecting allusions. In addition, there are other (more likely) readings of the Parable of the Tenants which do not interpret the son as an allusion to Joseph. The parable and the citation of Psalm 118 see clear, the son is Jesus! To find an allusion to Genesis 37 seems less like typology and more like allegorizing.

The argument could be improved with some attention to the intertestamental literature. For example, the book of Joseph and Asenath answers many questions Second Temple. Judaism had about Joseph’s time in Egypt, and in this Jewish romance novel an author describes Joseph in language which led David Aune to suggest the description of Christ in Revelation 1 alludes to Joseph and Asenath (Aune, Revelation 1-5, 72). The account of Asenath’s conversion is rich with possible messianic allusions. This Jewish text provides a data point on which a trajectory might be traced from a canonical Joseph story to a Jewish messianic interpretation. This is not typology, however, and may be the reason the intertestamental literature does not appear in this study. So too the Testament of Joseph, which does describe Joseph as a protomartyr, a book “of interest for the early church, since Joseph goes joyfully to his persecution and possible martyrdom. Joseph is a model of how to be a good Christian martyr.”

Conclusion. If you like typology, then you will love this book. Emadi is correct, popular preaching employs typology indiscriminately and does not have any methodological rigor. And Emadi is correct, Joseph “is an example of faith in covenantal promises in the face of death” (121) and “a faith worthy of imitation” (145). But this does not mean the author of Genesis intentionally foreshadowed the messiah in Genesis 37-50. It might be the case that authorial intention is not an important part of a typological method.


NB: Thanks to IVP Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Matthew 1:19 – Joseph, a Righteous Man

In Matthew 1, Joseph and Mary are described as “betrothed,” a legally binding contract which was something like a “pre-marriage”  arrangement.  Since Mary is found to be pregnant, she must have been unfaithful.  This sad situation almost requires a breaking of the marriage contract, so Joseph decides to divorce her “quietly.”

Joseph and the AngelJoseph does not want to shame her. The verb δειγματίζω is used for the shaming of a woman caught in adultery. It appears in John 8:2 with this sense, and in Dio Chryssostom 47 there is a reference “a Cyprian law, according to which an adulteress had to cut her hair and was subjected to contempt by the community” (BDAG).

This form of the verb does not appear in the LXX, but the compound verb παραδειγματίζω appears 6x. There is little difference in meaning, TDNT 2:31. In Heb 6:6 the compound form is used for shaming Christ by publicly recanting one’s faith. In Col 2:15 uses the verb for the shaming of the “authorities” after when Jesus triumphed over them in the resurrection. In Num 25:4 it describes the public hanging of those who fornicated with the prostitutes from Baal-Peor (compare PsSol 2:12-14, a possible allusion to that story).

The divorce (ἀπολύω) is to be “quiet,” an adverb (λάθρᾳ) often meaning “in secret” or “in private.” In Matt 2:7, for example, Herod summons the wise men “in secret.” It is occasionally used outside of the New Testament with the sense of “not going through proper channels.” It is possible that Joseph, being a poor man, did not feel it necessary to spend the money and time to properly punish her, so he would dissolve the marriage without bringing it before proper authorities who would (perhaps) insist on a shaming of Mary and (undoubtedly) money from Joseph.

Since Joseph was described as a “righteous man,” it is possible that he thought he was obligated by the Law divorce Mary. (John Nolland makes this suggestion and he offers a number of mishnaic sources which indicate that the situation described here may require a divorce. Nolland, Matthew, 95) Numbers 5:11-31 may indicate that if a man discovers his wife in adultery a divorce is required, as well as a public shaming.

While I am not sure that it is correct to connect the “righteousness” of Joseph to keeping a legal tradition requiring the divorce of an adulteress wife, I do think that it is important to read righteousness in a Matthean context rather than importing the Pauline idea into this text. Matthew is not saying that Joseph was “justified” before God, but rather that he was a Jew who was keeping the Law as best that he could. It is possible to read this Greek word as reflecting the same idea as the Hebrew צַדִּיק, “conforming to the laws of God and people” (BDAG).

It is also possible that Joseph did not want to shame himself by declaring to the public that his betrothed wife had been unfaithful. While the text says that it is Mary’s shame that is in mind, Joseph would have a certain level of humiliation when the news became public.

Whatever his motives, Joseph is describe as “doing the right thing” and preserving Mary from a public disgrace and potential execution for adultery.