Joseph in Egypt A Cultural Icon from Grotius to Goethe Bernhard Lang

Publication date:
15 Sep 2009
Yale University Press
400 pages: 229 x 152mm
Sales territories:

The biblical story of Joseph ranks in the history of world literature alongside The Odyssey and other ancient legends as a seminal canonical text and has provided rich material for later writers to imitate and elaborate. This book, by Bernard Lang, an internationally acclaimed biblical scholar, examines the many and varied ways that the story of Joseph has been interpreted in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe. During that time, Joseph was heralded as an icon by many different writers and thinkers, among them Henry Fielding, Voltaire, Chateaubriand, and Goethe.


Educators commended Joseph as a model of piety, moralists extolled him in defense of chastity, and political philosophers regarded him as an exemplary leader; historians debated variously whether he was a benefactor, tyrant, or merely a character in a well-told ancient oriental tale. Lang examines a range of texts—novels, stage plays, poems, children’s books, and critical treatises—to illuminate the debt each owes to earlier versions of the Joseph story. In doing so, he presents a masterful, sensitive, and highly readable account of the early modern world.

Bernhard Lang is professor of religion at the University of Paderborn, Germany, and has held visiting chairs in the United States, France, Denmark, and Scotland. He is the author of Sacred Games: A History of Christian Worship and The Hebrew God: Portrait of an Ancient Deity, and coauthor of Heaven: A History. He lives in Paderborn.

"Clearly organized and gracefully written essays. . . offer learned and thoughtful insights into texts and their times. . . . Together they yield a colorful kaleidoscope of shifting attitudes toward religion and of the cultural reception and popular utilizations of the Bible in early modern Europe."—Theodore Ziolkowski, Journal of Religion