Doctoral Papers of Harry Hillman Chartrand, PhD
University of Saskatchewan, July 2006
Dr. Harry Hillman Chartrand, PhD
Cultural Economist & Publisher
215 Lake Crescent
Canada, S7H 3A1
Launched January 2002
Harry Hillman Chartrand
JOSEPH AND HIS BROTHERS
Translated by H. T. Lowe-Porter
NEW YORK ALFRED A. KNOPF
Copyright 1934 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
Published June 6, 1934
Reprinted Eight Times
Tenth Printing, January 1945
Originally published as
JOSEPH UND SEINE BRÜDER
Der erste Roman:
DIE GESCHICHTEN JAAKOBS
BERLIN: S. FISCHER VERLAG
Descent into Hell
VERY deep is the well of the past. Should we not call it bottomless?
Bottomless indeed, if - and perhaps only if - the past we mean is the past merely of the life of mankind, that riddling essence of which our own normally unsatisfied and quite abnormally wretched existences form a part; whose mystery, of course, includes our own and is the alpha and omega of all our questions, lending burning immediacy to all we say, and significance to all our striving. For the deeper we sound, the further down into the lower world of the past we probe and press, the more do we find that the earliest foundations of humanity, its history and culture, reveal themselves unfathomable. No matter to what hazardous lengths we let out our line they still withdraw again, and further, into the depths. Again and further are the right words, for the unresearchable plays a kind of mocking game with our researching ardours; it offers apparent holds and goals, behind which, when we have gained them, new reaches of the past still open out - as happens to the coastwise voyager, who finds no end to his journey, for behind each
headland of clayey dune he conquers, fresh headlands and new distances lure him on.
Thus there may exist provisional origins, which practically and in fact form the first beginnings of the particular tradition held by a given community, folk or communion of faith; and memory, though sufficiently instructed that the depths have not actually been plumbed, yet nationally may find reassurance in some primitive point of time and, personally and historically speaking, come to rest there.
Young Joseph, for instance, son of Jacob and the lovely, too-soon-departed Rachel; Joseph, living when Kurigalzu the Cassite reigned at Babel, Lord of the Four Regions, King of Sumeria and Akkadia, greatly comfortable to the heart of Bel-Marduk, a ruler both luxurious and stern, the curls of whose beard stood ranged in such perfect rows that they looked like a division of well-furnished shield-bearers; while at Thebes, in the land which Joseph was used to call Mizraim, also Kemt, the Black, His Sanctity the good God, called Amun-is satisfied, third of this name, the sun’s very son, beamed on the horizon of his palace and blinded the enraptured eyes of his dust-born subjects; when Asshur increased by the might of its gods, and on the great shore route from Gaza up to the passes of the cedar mountains the royal caravans went to and fro, bearing gifts in lapis-lazuli and stamped gold, between the court of the Land of the Rivers and Pharaoh’s court; when in the cities of the Amorites, at Beth Shan, Ajalon, Ta’anach, Urushalim, they served Astarte, while at Shechem and Beth-labma the seven days’ wailing went up for the true Son, the dismembered one, and at Gebal, the City of the Book,
El was adored, who needed no temple or rite; Joseph, then, living in that district of the land of Canaan which in Egypt is called Upper Retenu, in his father’s tents at Hebron, shaded by terebinth and evergreen oaks, a youth famed for his charm and charming especially by right from his mother, who had been sweet and lovely like to the moon when it is full and like Ishtar’s star when it swims mildly in the clear sky; but also armed from the father’s side with gifts of the spirit and perhaps in a sense excelling even him; Joseph, lastly and in conclusion (for the fifth and the sixth time I name his name, and with gratification, for there is mystery in names, and I will have it that knowledge of his confers power to invoke that once so living and conversable personality, albeit now sunk so deep below the marge of time); Joseph, for his part, regarded a certain town called Urn, in Southern Babylonia, which in his tongue he called Ur Kashdim, Ur of the Chaldees, as the beginning of all things - that is, of all that mattered to him.
Thence, namely, in times long gone by - Joseph was never quite clear how far back they lay - a brooding and inwardly unquiet man, with his wife, whom probably out of tenderness he would call his sister, together with other members of his family, had departed, to do as the moon did, that was the deity of Ur, to wander and to rove, because he found it most right and fitting to his unsatisfied, doubting, yes, tormented state. His removal, which wore an undeniable colour of contumacy, had been connected with certain structures which had impressed him as offensive, and which Nimrod the Mighty, then ruling in Ur, had, if not erected, yet restored and exceedingly increased in height. It was the private con-
viction of the man from Ur that Nimrod had done this less in honour of the divine lights of the firmament to which they were dedicated, than as a bar against dispersion and as a sky-soaring monument to his own accumulated power. From that power the man from Ur had now escaped, by dispersing himself, and with his dependents taking to pilgrimages of indeterminate length. The tradition handed down to Joseph varied somewhat as to which had more particularly annoyed the objector: whether the great moon-citadel of Ur, the turreted tern-pie of the god Sin, after whom the whole land of Shinar was named, the same word appearing in his own region, as for instance in the mountain called Sinai; or that towering house of the sun, E-sagila, the temple of Marduk at Babel itself, whose summit Nimrod had exalted to the height of the heavens, and a precise description of which Joseph had received by word of mouth. There had clearly been much else at which the musing man had taken offence, beginning with that very mightiness of Nimrod and going on to certain customs and practices which to others had seemed hallowed and unalienable by long tradition but more and more filled his own soul with doubts. And since it is not good to sit still when one’s soul smarts with doubt, he had simply put himself in motion.
He reached Harran, city of the way and moon-city of the north, in the land of Naharain, where he dwelt many years and gathered recruits, receiving them into close relationship with his own. But it was a relationship which spelt unrest and almost nothing else; a soul-unrest which expressed itself in an unrest of body that had little to do with ordinary light-hearted wanderlust and the ad-
venturousness of the free-footed, but was rather the suffering of the hunted and solitary man, whose blood already throbbed with the dark beginnings of oncoming destiny; perhaps the burden of its weight and scope stood in precise relation to his torment and unrest. Thus Harran too, lying as it did within Nimrod’s sphere of control, proved but a “station on the way,” from which the moon-man eventually set forth again, together with Sarah his sister-wife and all his kin and his and their possessions, to continue as their guide and Mahdi his hegira towards an unknown goal.
So they had reached the west country and the Amurru who dwelt in the land of Canaan, where once the Hittites had been lords; had crossed the country by stages and thrust deep, deep southwards under other suns, into the land of mud, where the water flows the wrong way, unlike the waters of the land of Naharina, and one travelled northwards downstream; where a people stiff with age worshipped its dead, and where for the man of Ur and for his requirements there would have been nothing to seek or to find. Backwards he turned to the westland, the middle land, which lay between Nimrod’s domains and the land of mud; and in the southern part, not far from the desert, in a mountainous region, where there was little ploughland, but plenty of grazing for his cattle, he acquired a kind of superficial permanence and dwelt and dealt with the inhabitants on friendly terms.
Tradition has it that his god - that god upon whose image his spirit laboured, highest among all the rest, whom alone to serve he was in pride and love resolved, the God of the ages, for whom he sought a name and found none sufficient, wherefore he gave him the plural,
calling him, provisionally, Elohim, the Godhead - Elohim, then, had made him promises as far-reaching as clearly defined, to the effect not only that he, the man from Ur, should become a folk in numbers like the sands of the sea and a blessing unto all peoples, but also that the land wherein he now dwelt as a stranger, and whither Elohim had led him out of Chaldaea, should be to him and to his seed in everlasting possession in all its parts - whereby the God of gods had expressly specified the populations and present inhabitants of the land, whose “gates” the seed of the man from Ur should possess. In other words, God had destined these populations to defeat and subjection in the interest of the man from Ur and his seed. But all this must be accepted with caution, or at least with understanding. We are dealing with later interpolations deliberately calculated to confirm as the earliest intentions of the divine political situations which had first been established by force. As a matter of fact the moon-wanderer’s spirit was by no means of a kind likely to receive or to elicit promises of a political nature. There is no evidence that when he left home he had already thought of the Amurruland as a theatre of his future activities; and the fact that his wanderings also took him through the land of tombs and of the blunt-nosed lion maid would seem to point to the opposite conclusion. But when he left Nimrod’s high and mighty state in his rear, likewise avoiding the greatly estimable kingdom of the double-crowned king of the oasis, and turned westwards - into a region, that is, whose shattered public life condemned it to impotence and servitude - his conduct does not argue the possession of political vision or of a taste for imperial great-
ness. What had set him in motion was unrest of the Spirit, a need of God, and if - as there can be no doubt - dispensations were vouchsafed him, they had reference to the irradiations of his personal experience of God, which was of a new kind altogether; and his whole ‘concern from the beginning had been to win for it sympathy and adherence. He suffered; and when he compared the measure of his inward distress with that of the great majority, he drew the conclusion that it was pregnant with the future. Not in vain, so he heard from the newly beheld God, shall have been thy torment and thine unrest; for it shall fructify many souls and make proselytes in numbers like to the sands of the seas; and it shall give impulse to great expansions of life hidden in it as in a seed; and in one word, thou shalt be a blessing. A blessing? It is unlikely that the word gives the true meaning of that which happened to him in his very sight and which corresponded to his temperament and to his experience of himself. For the word “blessing” carries with it an idea which but ill describes men of his sort: men, that is, of roving spirit and discomfortable mind, whose novel conception of the deity is destined to make its mark upon the future. The life of men with whom new histories begin can seldom or never be a sheer unclouded blessing; not this it is which their consciousness of self whispers in their ears. “And thou shalt be a destiny”: such is the purer and more precise meaning of the promise, in whatever language it may have been spoken. And whether that destiny might or might not be a blessing is a question the twofold nature of which is apparent from the fact that it can always and without exception be answered in different ways - though of
course it was always answered in the affirmative by the community - continually waxing in numbers and in grace - of those who recognized the true Baal and Adad of the pantheon in the God who had brought out of’ Cha1daea the man from Ur; that community to the existence of which young Joseph traced back his own spiritual and physical being.
SOMETIMES, indeed, he thought of the moon-wanderer as his own great-grandfather - though such an idea is to be sternly rejected from the realms of the possible. He himself was perfectly aware, on the ground of much and varied instruction, that the position was one of far wider bearings. Not so wide, however, that that mighty man of the earth whose boundary stones, adorned with representations of the signs of the zodiac, the man from Ur had put behind him, had actually been Nimrod, the first king on earth, who had begotten Bel of Shinar. No, for according to the tablets, this had been Hammurabi, the Lawgiver, restorer of those citadels of the sun and moon; and when young Joseph put him on a level with that prehistoric Nimrod, it was by a play of thought which most charmingly becomes his spirit but which would be unbecoming and hence forbidden to ours. The same is true of his occasional confusion of the man from Ur with his father’s ancestor and his, who had borne the same or a similar name. Between the boy Joseph and the pilgrimage of his ancestor in the spirit and the flesh there lay, according to the system of chronology which his age and sphere rejoiced in, fully twenty generations,
roughly speaking, six hundred Babylonian years, a period as long as from our time back into the Gothic Middle Ages - as long, and yet not so long either.
True, we have received our mathematical sidereal time handed down to us from ages long before the man from Ur ever set out on his wanderings, and, in like manner, shall we hand it on to our furthest descendants. But even so, the meaning, weight and fullness of earthly time not everywhere one and the same. Time has uneven measure, despite all the objectivity of the Chaldaean chronology. Six hundred years at that time and under that sky did not mean what they mean in our western history. They were a more level, silent, speechless reach; time was less effective, her power to bring about change was both weaker and more restricted in its range - though certainly in those twenty generations she had produced changes and revolutions of a considerable kind: natural revolutions, even changes in the earth’s surface in Joseph’s immediate circle, as we know and as he knew too. For where, in his day, were Gomorrah, and Sodom, the dwelling-place of Lot of Harran, who had been received into the spiritual community of the man from Ur; where were those voluptuous cities? Lo, the leaden alkaline lake lay there where their unchastity had flourished, for the whole region had been swept with burning fiery flood of pitch and sulphur, so frightful and apparently so destructive of all life that Lot’s daughters, timely escaped with their father, though he would have given them up to the lust of the Sodmites instead of certain important guests whom he harboured, went and lay with their father, being under the delusion that save themselves there were none left upon the earth,
and out of womanly carefulness for the continuance of the race.
Thus time in its course had left behind it even visible alterations. There had been times of blessing and times of curse, times of fullness and times of dearth, wars and campaigns, changing overlords and new gods. Yet on the whole time then had been more conservatively minded than time now, the frame of Joseph’s life, his ways and habits of thought were far more like his ancestors’ than ours are like the crusaders’. Memory, resting on oral tradition from generation to generation, was more direct and confiding, it flowed freer, time was a more unified and thus a briefer vista; young Joseph cannot be blamed for vaguely foreshortening it, for sometimes, in a dreamy mood, perhaps by night and moonlight, taking the man from Ur for his father’s grandfather - or even worse. For it must be stated here that in all probability this man from Ur was not the original and actual man from Ur. Probably - even to young Joseph, in a preciser hour, and by broad daylight - this man from Ur had never seen the moon-citadel of Uru; it had been his father who had gone thence northwards, towards Harran in the land of Naharain. And thus it was only from Harran that this falsely so-called man from Ur, having received the command from the Lord God, had set out towards the country of the Amorites, together with that Lot, later settled in Sodom, whom the tradition of the community vaguely stated to be the son of the brother of the man from Ur, on the ground, indeed, that he was the “son of Harran?’ Now Lot of Sodom was certainly a son of Harran, since he as well as the Ur-man came from there. But to turn
Harran, the “city of the way,” into a brother of the man from Ur, and thus to make a nephew out of his proselyte Lot, was a kind of dreamy toying with ideas while scarcely permissible in broad daylight, yet makes it easier to understand why young Joseph fell naturally into the same kind of game.
He did so in the same good faith as governed, for instance, the star-worshippers and astrologers at Shinar, in their prognostications according to the principle of stellar representation, and exchanged one planet with another, for instance the sun, when it had set, with Nimurta the planet of war and state, or the planet Marduk with Scorpio, thereafter blithely calling Scorpio Marduk and Nimurta the sun. He did so, that is, on practical grounds, for his desire to set a beginning to the chain of events to which he belonged encountered the same difficulty that it always does: the fact that everybody has a father, that nothing comes first and of itself, its own cause, but that everybody is begotten and points backwards, deeper down into the depths of beginnings, the bottoms and the abysses of the well of the past. Joseph knew, of course, that the father of the Ur man, that is to say the real man from Uru, must have had a father, who must thus have really been the beginning of his own personal history, and so on, back to Abel, son of Adam, the ancestor of those who dwell in tents and keep sheep Thus even the exodus from Shinar afforded him only one particular and conditioned beginning; he was well instructed, by song and saga, how it went on further and further into the general, through many histories, back to Adapa or Adama, the first man, who, indeed, according to a lying Babylonian saga, which Joseph
more or less knew by heart, had been the son of Ea, god of wisdom and the water depths, and had served the gods as baker and cup-bearer - but of whom Joseph had better and more inspired knowledge; back to the garden in the East wherein had stood the two trees, the tree of life and the unchaste tree of death; back to the beginning, the origin of the world and the heavens and the earthly universe out of confusion and chaos, by the might of the Word, which moved above the face of the deep and was God. But this, too, was it not only ‘a conditioned and particular beginning of things? For there had already been forms of existence which looked up to the Creator in admiration and in amaze: sons of God, angels of the starry firmament, about whom Joseph himself knew some odd and even funny stories, and also rebellious demons. These must have had their origin in some past aeon of the world, which had grown old and sunk and become raw material - and had even this been the very first beginning?
Here young Joseph’s brain began to reel, just as ours does when we lean over the edge of the well; and despite some small inexactitudes which his pretty and well-favoured little head permitted itself but which are unsuitable for us, we may feel close to him and almost contemporary, in respect to those deep backwards and abysms of time into which so long ago he already gazed. He was a human being like ourselves, thus he must appear to us, and despite his earliness in time just as remote as we, mathematically speaking, from the beginnings of humanity (not to speak of the beginnings of things in general), for they do in actual fact lie deep down in the darkness at the bottom of the abyss, and
we, in our researches, must either stop at the conditioned and apparent beginnings, confusing them with the real beginning, in the same way that Joseph confused the man from Ur on the one hand with his father, and on the other with Joseph’s own great-grandfather; or else we must keep on being lured from one time-coulisse to the next, backwards and backwards into the immeasurable.
I HAVE said that Joseph knew by heart some pretty Babylonian verses which originally came from a written tradition of great extent and full of lying wisdom. He had learned them from travellers who touched at Hebron, with whom he had held speech, in his conversable way, and from his tutor, old Eliezer, a freedman of his father, not to be confused (as Joseph sometimes confused him, and even the old man himself probably enjoyed doing) with that Eliezer who was the oldest servant of the original wanderer and who once had wooed the daughter of Bethuel for Isaac at the well. Now we know verses and legends; we have texts of them, written on tablets found at Nineveh, in the palace of Asshurbanipal, king of the universe, son of Assarhaddon, son of Sennacherib; some of them, preserved in graceful cunniform characters on greyish-yellow clay, are our earliest documented source for the great flood in which the Lord wiped out the first human race on account of its corruption, and which played such an important role in Joseph’s own personal tradition. Literally speaking, this source itself is not an original one, these crumbling tablets bear transcriptions made by learned slaves
only some six hundred years before our era, at the command of Asshurbanipal, a sovereign much addicted to the written word and the established view, an “exceeding wise one,” in the Babylonian phrase, and a zealous accumulator of the fruits of exceeding wisdom. Indeed they were copied from an original a good thousand years older, from the time, that is, of the Lawgiver and the moon-wanderer; which was about as easy, or as hard, for Asshurbanipal’s tablet-writers to read and to understand as for us to-day a manuscript of the time of Charlemagne. Written in a quite obsolete and undeveloped hand, a hieratic document, it must have been hard to decipher; whether its significance was wholly honoured in the copy remains matter for doubt.
And then, this original: it was not actually an original; not the original, when you come to look at it. It was itself a copy of a document out of God knows what distant time; upon which, then, though without precisely knowing where, one might rest, as upon a true original, if it were not itself provided with glosses and additions by the hand of the scribe, who thought thus to make more comprehensible an original text lying again who knows how far back in time; though what they probably did was further to transmogrify the original wisdom of his text. And thus I might go on - if I were not convinced that my readers already understand what I mean when I speak of coulisses and abysses.
The Egyptians expressed it in a phrase which Joseph knew and himself used on occasion. For although none of the sons of Ham were tolerated in Jacob’s tents, because of their ancestor the shamer of his sire, who had turned black all over, also because Jacob entertained
religious doubts on the score of morals of Mizraim; yet the eagerminded lad had often mingled with Egyptians, in the towns, in Kirjath Arba as well as in Shechem, and I jiicked up this and that of the tongue in which he was later to bear such brilliant witness. The Egyptians then, speaking of something that had high and indefinite antiquity, would say: “It comes from the days of Set.” By whom, of course, they meant one of their gods, the wily brother of their Marduk or Tammuz, whom they called Osiris, the Martyr, because Set had first lured him into a sarcophagus and cast it into the river, and afterwards torn him to pieces like a wild beast and killed him entirely, so that Osiris, the Sacrifice, now ruled as lord of the dead and everlasting king of the lower world. “From the days of Set “; the people of Egypt had many uses for the phrase, for with them the origins of everything went back in undemonstrable ways into that darkness.
At the edge of the Libyan desert, near Memphis, hewn out of the rock, crouched the colossus and hybrid, fifty-three metres high, lion and maiden, with a maiden’s breasts and the beard of a man, and on its headcloth the king1y serpent rearing itself. The huge paws of its cat’body stretched out before it, its nose was blunted by the tooth of time. It had always crouched there, always with its nose blunted by time; and of an age when its nose had not been blunted, or when it had not crouched there, there was no memory at all. Thothmes the Fourth, Golden Hawk and Strong Bull, King of Upper and of Lower Egypt, beloved of the goddess of truth and belonging to the eighteenth dynasty which was also the hasty of Amun-is-satisfied, by reason of a command
received in a dream before he mounted the throne, had had the colossal statue dug out of the sands of the desert, where it lay in great part drifted over and covered up. But some fifteen hundred years before that, King Cheops of the fourth dynasty - the same, by the bye, who built the great pyramid for his own tomb and made sacrifice to the sphinx - had found it half in ruins; and of any time when it had not been known, or even known with a whole nose, there was no knowledge at all.
Was it Set who himself hewed out of the stone that fabulous beast, in which later generations saw an image of the sun-god, calling it Horus in the mount of light? It was possible, of course, for Set, as likewise Osiris the Sacrifice, had probably not always been a god, but sometime or other a man, and indeed a king over Egypt. The statement is often made that a certain Menes or Horus-Menes some six thousand years before our era founded the first Egyptian dynasty, and everything before that is “pre-dynastic “; he, Menes, having first united the two countries, the upper and the lower, the papyrus and the lily, the red and the white crown, and ruled as first king over Egypt, the history of which began with his reign. Of this statement probably every word is false; to the penetrating eye King Menes turns out to be nothing but a coulisse. Egyptian priests told Herodotus that the written history of their country went back eleven thousand, three hundred and forty years before his era, which means for us about fourteen thousand years; a reckoning which is calculated to rob King Menes’ figure of all its primitiveness. The history of Egypt alternates between periods of discord and impotence and periods of bril
liance and power; epochs of diverse rulers or none at all and epochs of strongly concentrated power; it becomes increasingly clear that these epochs alternated too often to make it likely that King Menes was the earliest ruler over a unified realm. The discords which he healed had followed upon earlier unification and that upon that upon still earlier disruption. How many times the “older,” “earlier,” “again” are to be repeated we cannot tell; only that the first unification took place under dynastic deities, whose sons presumably were that Set and Osiris; the sacrifice, murder and dismemberment of the latter being legendary references to quarrels over the succession, which at that time was determined by stratagem and crime. That was a past of a profound, mythical and theological character, even to the point of becoming spiritualized and ghostlike; it became present, it became the object of religious reverence in the shape of certain animals - falcons and jackals - honoured in the ancient capitals, Buto and Nekheb; in these the souls of those beings of primitive time were supposed to be mysteriously preserved.