Corps de l’article

Through a narrative reading of the beginning of the Joseph story (Genesis 37-39), Kipasa shows the journey of different characters concerning their way of speaking. For him, a character can make a statement to engender violence or to temper it. The author also talks about ruse and lie in their connection with violence. Keeping the good of others in mind, a character can use ruse or lie in order to diminish violence or to allow the truth to be heard.

The choice of the first three chapters of the Joseph story for analysis is astonishing, but not without justification. For Kipasa, those three chapters provide the key to reading the family conflict that will be related in Gn 42-45. Being familiar with the initial disagreement, the reader will read with more intelligence the ruse that Joseph uses against his brothers (Gn 42:8-20) or the ruse that Jacob’s sons use against their father (Gn 42:29-34). Those ruses, suggests the author, are positive because they are nourished by care for others and their well-being (p. 263-264).

For Kipasa, ruse is the common thread of the three chapters that he studies because they follow almost the same narrative pattern (p. 215). In each case, a man of authority (Jacob, Judah, Potiphar) is manipulated by his family member[s] (Jacob’s sons, Tamar, Potiphar’s wife). The success of the ruse is due to an exhibit (Joseph’s tunic; Judah’s seal, cord and staff). And each exhibit is provided with a word from the liar that misleads the target person (Gn 37:32-33; 39:16-19) or that obliges him to end his lie (Gn 38:25-26). According to Kipasa, the narrator uses different ruses throughout Gn 37-39 as small ironies in order to prepare the reader to see the irony of the whole cycle of Joseph. The biggest irony is related to Joseph’s destiny itself. Indeed, every violent act, of which Joseph is victim, does not prevent him from attaining the power predicted by his dreams. Quite the opposite; it allows him to approach that power. Without knowing it, those who seek to harm Joseph are manipulated by his destiny, thus contributing to his success.

What Kipasa says about the use of ruse is particularly captivating. In Gn 37, after getting rid of Joseph, his brothers think that they can finally build a united family freed from the preference of their father for a favored son. They send someone to bring Joseph’s bloodstained garment to Jacob with a word to manipulate him. Jacob says what his sons want to hear, but according to Kipasa, he discovers their ruse and secretly uses another against them. He refuses to be consoled, as if Joseph is still alive, and thus puts an end to their plan for unifying the family without Joseph (p. 75-76).

In Gn 38, perceiving that she is deceived by her father-in-law, Tamar prepares a ruse to target the one who lied to her. Running the risk of playing with trick and concealment, she dresses as a prostitute to stir the desire for life in Judah. This desire was expressed when Judah got a wife for Er and after the death of the first-born, he asked Onan to fulfill his duty as brother-in-law. But now the desire for life in Judah is paralyzed due to the successive deaths of his family. Faced with such an impasse, Tamar tries to find a way to deceive, not Judah himself, but his fear. Her ruse is positive because it is marked by a desire for life, not only to have an heir for her deceased husband, but also in view of the survival of the whole family given that Shelah, the only son left after his brothers’ death, is unmarried. By daringly risking her life, Tamar succeeds in freeing Judah from his lie and fear in order to give chance to truth and prosperity (p. 126-128).

In Gn 39, after hearing the complaint of his wife, Potiphar sends Joseph to the jail of which he is overseer since he is the captain of the guard. Without saying a word, as if to put an end to his wife’s manipulation in word, he seeks to counter her trick and to mitigate the effect of violence generated by her false accusation which normally would have led to the death sentence against Joseph. By placing Joseph in prison, Potiphar saves the honor of his wife in the eyes of the servants to whom she told her story while continuing to benefit from the service of his attendant who will be mentioned in relation to him (cf. Gn 40:3; 41:12). And so, at the very moment when Potiphar’s wife believes that she succeeds in manipulating her husband, she faces a lamentable failure because her trick is discovered by the one whom she misleads without her knowing it (p. 188-189).

Concerning the structure of the book, Kipasa follows Gn 37-39 one chapter after another. In each part, he does a narrative reading of the text in its global vision and then talks about the role of discourse in relation to violence. The book ends with a systematic review of research results in order to show how a statement is used to provoke or to block violence; to generate conflict or to create peace (p. 197-253). For Kipasa, violence is caused by a word seeking to make others suffer. This word can be used to transform jealousy and cupidity into an act of violence as Joseph’s brothers enacted against him. This word can be aggressive and calumnious like the accusation of Potiphar’s wife against Joseph. On the other hand, a word can also be used to neutralize violence and thus put an end to injustice as Judah did for his daughter-in-law (Gn 38:26). It is the intention with which one uses the word that makes a difference.

One of the weak points in this book is the choice and the organization of the narrative devices. In his analysis, Kipasa has recourse to several aspects of narratology (narration time and narrative time, temporality and narrative mode, knowledge and irony, point of view and focalization, repetition and the narrator’s judgments) without developing any of them. It would have been more profitable if he had focused on one device for one chapter from the chosen corpus. That choice would have prevented repetition in some places in the book.

Despite that flaw, this book offers a pertinent observation on the links between the word and violence. By providing a biblical anthropology of the word (how a discourse plays its role in human relationships throughout Gn 37-39) and an ethical reflection on its usage (how a statement is used in different conflicts), the monograph presents the reader with insightful ways of understanding the multifaced violence that disfigures humanity. Far from showing the biblical characters as models of behavior, Kipasa helps the reader to see how human violence is born, develops and manipulates. This knowledge, however, does not encourage the reader to avoid violence. Quite the opposite; it prompts him or her to face violence, by using word and ruse with good intention, in order to transform it into an energy for life. Thus, violence, instrument of destruction and division, can become the source of life and healing. It is up to the reader to handle it with cunning!