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.

Jude and His Sources: The Hebrew Bible

Jude alludes to a number of stories from the Hebrew Bible. Jude rarely quotes the Hebrew Bible, but he alludes to key events which ought to be familiar to his readers. For example, in v. 5 alludes to the Exodus, v. 6, the Giants in Gen 6, and in v. 7 to Sodom and Gomorrah. He mentions the names of characters to invoke their stories as well. In v. 11 he lists Cain, Balaam and Korah as examples of rebellion against God.

In each of these cases, Jude wants the reader to hear not just the event or name, but to recall the whole story. To what extent does Jude expect the listener to hear the names and events as shorthand for the whole story? The story of the Exodus is common, but Baalam might not be as well known, and Korah is far more obscure. He is expecting a great deal out of his congregation by alluding to these stories.

It is significant that the majority of these examples come from the Wilderness traditions of the Hebrew Bible. The wilderness period was sometimes used in the prophets as an prime example of the rebellious nature of Israel. From the earliest history, Israel struggled to remain faithful to God. Jude makes use of this tradition much like the prophets did, drawing analogies from the first generation to describe his opponents.

While some of these traditions are obscure to us, they were likely well known by Jewish congregations. Paul alludes to the wilderness in 1 Cor 10, Jesus also creates an analogy between his own ministry at the generation in the wilderness (John 6 especially). The fact is that these stories turn up in a number of Jewish sources as examples of rebellion against God. Much of this literature either pre-dates Jude or is contemporary to the letter. “Probably this Jewish schema had been taken up in the paraenesis of the primitive church and used in the initial instruction of converts: hence Jude can refer to it as already well-known to his readers” (Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, 46-47).

Jude used texts from the Hebrew Bible to create a typology. He is evoking the memory of a story or event from the history of Israel and drawing out some implication which applies to the situation of the churches he is addressing. Balaam is therefore analogous to the opponents of the church in some ways, but not in every way. Jude’s approach to scripture is not unlike that of the writer of Hebrews. Usually described as a midrash, Jude combines scripture and interprets the scripture as applicable to the present situation of false teachers having “slipped in unaware.”

Perhaps a better way to describe Jude’s technique is to compare the letter with the Habakkuk commentary from Qumran. This style, known as pesher, placed interpretations from the Community’s teacher in between lines of scripture. This sort of running commentary was intended to interpret the text of Habakkuk as applying to the Community’s current situation.

If Jude can be rightly described as a kind of either midrash or pesher, then this can be used as additional evidence of an early, Jewish Christianity as the background to the letter.  This observation will be beneficial in understanding the theology of this letter – keeping these images in mind, what is Jude saying about his opponents?

Book Review: Douglas Sean O’Donnell, The Beginning and End of Wisdom

O’Donnell, Douglas Sean. The Beginning and End of Wisdom: Preaching Christ from the First and Last Chapters of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job. Wheaton: Crossway, 2011. 235 pp. $17.99, pb. Link to Crossway

The plan of this book is to help the reader “build a fire” by helping them to know and enjoy Wisdom literature. More importantly, O’Donnell wants to show the reader “how to build the fire” by giving them some tools for reading Wisdom literature. What makes this book different than most short books of Wisdom Literature is that O’Donnell specifically wants to read this material through the lens of Jesus and the Cross. He wants the reader to “put on Gospel glasses and look at this text” in order to preach Christocentiric sermons on Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. In order to do this, he provides six sermons based on the beginning and end of the three Wisdom books. After these illustration sermons, he offers a chapter describing his Christological method for reading Wisdom.

What O’Donnell does not do in his sermons is exegesis of the text. By this I mean that there is little reflection on the meaning of words or the context of the ancient world. In his sermon on the opening section of Ecclesiastes, his title is “Why Work?” and the content of the sermon is on the importance of working hard for the at righteousness. He looks at work through “Gospel Glasses” and examines Jesus work doing the will of the father, then draws a line to his audience, urging them also to do the will of the father. I find this style of sermons as more or less thematic, based on some theme in the text, but in the end totally unconnected with the text read at the beginning of the sermon.

In his last chapter, O’Donnell shares several tips for preaching Christ in Wisdom literature. He recommends that the preacher not draw a straight line from the Old Testament to some ethical / moral teaching for his congregation. Rather, a Christocentric preacher will draw the line from the Old Testament, through Christ, and then to an ethical command for his congregation.

How is this to be done? O’Donnell recommends a judicious use of typology. For example, his sermon on Job 42 focuses on the sufferings of Job as a type of the sufferings of Jesus. “What Isaiah foretold, Job illustrated and Jesus embodied.” (125). I think that this style of typology is not particularly helpful if my goal is presenting what Bible actually says. There is nothing at all in Job 42 or in the later use of Job’s story that makes me think that this typological analysis is valid. In fact, I find it scarcely better than allegorizing the text. O’Donnell does not want to allegorize the Old Testament, and claims that this typological study is not allegory. I cannot see the difference. He does state that typology is “not an easy skill,” it takes time, hard work, and spiritual illumination (127).

I find this characterization intimidating since it implies that my resistence to typology is the result of non-illumination, even if it is the result of hard work and time spent in the text. The Holy Spirit may very well illuminate a pastor who takes the time to exegete a text and reflect on historical, cultural, and literary contexts in order to apply the text to his congregation. I think that a sermon on a section of Proverbs, for example, does not have to jump from the text of the Hebrew Bible to Jesus in order to be valuable for a Christian congregation. I certainly do not think that this is necessary for Job or Ecclesiastes. This is where I seriously differ with O’Donnell, I am after the original intention of the author. The application of a text ought to be drawn from that text. By using“gospel glasses” in parts of the Bible which are not expressly Christological, I think the meaning of the text suffers.

I found his appendix on reading Hebrew poetry well written and helpful, although he is standing on the foundation of Robert Alter. He provides a nice introduction to the forms of Hebrew poetry and gives some good advice on dealing with biblical imagery. For example, he urges his readers to not overanalyze imagery, allowing the fluid language of the text to be evocative and moving. I think that this section could be enhanced by taking into consideration the use (and abuse) of metaphors in poetry, but there is still much here that will help a preacher to better approach the poetry of the Hebrew Bible.

This was not the book I expected it to be when I began reading it. Rather than a short introduction to Wisdom Literature, it is book about how to preach Wisdom Literature with a decidedly Christ-centered approach. I think that O’Donnell achieves that goal, I just wonder if that goal is the right one for the pastor who preaches from Wisdom Literature.