Rewriting Yusuf

(forthcoming)
ISBN 978-3-89645-177-4

Rewriting Yusuf

A Philological and Intertextual Study of a Swahili Islamic Manuscript Poem

Author: Annachiara Raia. Series edited by: Clarissa Vierke, Gudrun Miehe.

Series: Archiv afrikanistischer Manuskripte Volume 12

4th quarter 2020
14 pp. Roman, 665 pp.
Text language(s): English
Format: 160 x 240 mm
1650 g
Paperback
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In her dissertation, the author attempts a critical text edition of the Joseph story and a study on its adaptation to the Swahili Coast.

The story of Joseph has been disseminated all over the world, translated into many different languages and adapted into various genres throughout the centuries, making it one of the most widely travelled stories of mankind. The youthful Canaanite, Joseph, son of Jacob, as he is called in the Old Testament – Yūsuf ibn Yaʿqūb in Arabic – is a figure revered by both Judeo-Christian and Muslim communities. Yusuf was Yaqub’s eleventh son and the apple of his eye, and his father never refrained from showing his favoritism for his beloved and long-lost son. He was born in Paddan-Aram from the most righteous and beautiful of Yaqub’s wives, Rachel, after she had been barren for seven years. His beauty is legendary and the subject of many apocryphal sources: God allotted him two-thirds of all human beauty.

His story dates back to the fifth century BC – during the Jewish exodus from Egypt – and plays out in the context of various multiethnic and cosmopolitan royal courts: the Pharaonic, Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian courts, as well as the Achaemenid and Hellenistic ones. As such, the stories of Joseph’s steadfastness, his love for his father Yaqub, his loyalty to his family, and his conduct in the high Pharaonic office are narrated amid a series of events – including a severe famine cycle attributed to the Nile’s failure to rise for seven years – set in the reign of the Third Dynasty king Djoser (ca. twenty-eighth century BC), that led eventually to the Jewish “exile” and migration to Egypt, their en­slave­ment and redemption.

As also documented by inventories on the commercial traffic of humans between Canaan and Egypt from the eighteenth century BC, Joseph was sold as a slave in Egypt. The settlement where he was sold is called Tel Dothan. The various titles and functions bestowed on him by the Egyptian pharaoh speak of a well-known feature of Egyptian bureaucracy of the time.

Joseph died at 110 years old – considered the ideal age by Egyptians. He carried out the dying wish of his father, who was buried in the ancestral vault in Canaan, but was returned to Egypt after his burial. When Joseph passed away, it is said that he was embalmed and put into a coffin in Egypt, a rite that seems to link Joseph with the tradition of mummifying bodies that was widely popular in Egypt.

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