This week’s parsha continues the narrative of Yaakov’s descendants, including some of the most fascinating stories in the Torah (in my opinion). The parsha ends by picking up the story of Yosef after he is sold into slavery in Egypt. After repeatedly refusing the sexual advances of his master’s wife, Yosef is falsely accused of being the guilty party, and is thrown in prison. Sforno, however, sees the matter somewhat differently. On the matter of the anger expressed by Yosef’s master, Sforno writes: “[he was angry] that his wife became angry at him for supposedly bringing in a Hebrew slave to taunt her. We know this to be the reason for his anger because he was not angry at Yosef, because he trusted his words more than those of his wife, but he put him in prison to show that he believed in the words of his wife, for her honour…” (39:19, translation mine). This is a fascinating understanding of details left out by the text, made all the more interesting when considering the parallel story in the Quran:
But she in whose house he [Yosef] resided wished to seduce him and, closing the doors, said: “Come into me.” God forbid!” he said; “he is my master who has approved my stay. Surely those who act wrongly do not prosper.” But the woman desired him, and he would have desired her by for the indication he received from his Lord. This was so that We may avert both evil and lechery from him, for he was one of Our chosen devotees. Both of them raced to the door, and she (grabbed and) rent his shirt from behind. They met her lord outside the door. “There is no other penalty for a man,” said she, “who wanted to outrage your wife but imprisonment or grievous punishment.” (Joseph) said: “It was she who wanted to seduce me.” And a witness from her family testified: “If the shirt is torn from the front then the woman is speaking the truth, and he is a liar. But if the shirt is torn from behind then she is a liar, and he speaks the truth.” When the husband saw the shirt torn at the back, he said: “Surely this is a woman’s ruse, and the wiles of women are great. Ignore this affair, O Joseph; and you, O woman, ask forgiveness for your sin, for you were surely errant.” (Sura 12:23-29, translation by Ahmed Ali, 2001, emphasis mine)
There are obviously many other things that can be said about the different accounts between the two canons. However, what caught my eye was simply that Sforno, in offering an unusual (from an internal Jewish perspective) interpretation of the Torah text, seems to have hit upon the key difference, in my mind, between these two texts (on their respective sim
ple understandings): who did the master trust? Given this interpretation, it would be interesting to consider how influenced by Islam Sforno might have been, and whether he might have read this story and had been trying to reconcile the two.
Who does he trust:
His honoured slave or his wife?
Two texts, one Truth?