Number 1.1       
October 2006      


The Relationships of Scriptural Reasoning: A Conclusion

by Caitlin Golden

As the closing of my introductory remarks stress, the scriptural reasoning project that led to the creation of this journal is by no means complete, even though the reflections of our four authors are now in print. During the process of organizing their thoughts for their written reflections, these four authors raise questions and discuss the problematic aspects of the texts of the Joseph story with one another in ways that profoundly influence the versions of the papers that are compiled in this journal. Thus, as the introduction suggests, the relational focus of this scriptural reasoning project reaches beyond the relationships within the scriptural narratives themselves and between various relevant texts. Indeed, an understanding of the relationships among the SR participants—whether through the interaction of their varying religious backgrounds or through the 'dialogue' that occurs now through the compilation of their four papers—and of the consequences of SR for relations in the world today is of the utmost importance in a project that emphasizes the value of relational forms of study.

When considering the relationships built between the members of our SR group and the interactions of the religious backgrounds we bring with us to our discussions, it is interesting to note that that our respective religious backgrounds did not come into play overtly at the commencement of our project. As we initially sat down with the scriptural story we were studying, it was almost as if we were students in a literature seminar coming together to interpret an assigned text: we slowly read verses, pondered the questions and problems that arose with each verse, and shared our thoughts on the possible meanings that arose during the course of our shared close reading. As we continued to do this, however, a fascinating change occurred that allowed our imaginations to ponder creative responses to problematic points in the texts, such as one of the points at which Joseph begins to weep.[1]  In this instance, our individual responses began to be shaped more evidently by the mental associations we were making with various aspects of our respective religious traditions. Such associations ranged from a connection drawn between the weeping Joseph and Christ, to the somewhat baffled question "what about Judas?" as we discussed treachery and forgiveness in the Joseph narrative.

It was at this point in our scriptural reasoning process—the point at which we were attempting to respond to the questions that the text itself raises—that the dialogue among our various religious traditions became indispensable. Coming to the text with a Roman Catholic perspective, I found myself turning to my fellow group members for clarification about the frameworks of religious interpretation from which they were coming. Even those who were also of Christian backgrounds were able to open my mind to particularly Protestant responses to the issues at hand—responses that certainly contributed to my own understanding of the way in which the Joseph story can be read in the context of New Testament values and beliefs. Experiencing this process firsthand unquestionably deepened my understanding of the importance of dialogue among SR participants of different religious backgrounds; by proposing unique responses to the problematic aspects of the text and perhaps even identifying problematic aspects that would not have been noticed by others, each interlocutor brought his or her own religious tradition into a fruitful relationship with the traditions of the other participants.

Turning from the practice that led to the four papers within this journal and toward the papers themselves, one need not look far in order to see that our dialogue on the story of Joseph remains incomplete. Rather, compiling these papers in the same journal can be seen as an invitation for both the authors and their readers to continue the dialogue that this project has only just begun. For example, simultaneously studying Hamid's "The Human-God Relationship in the Qur'anic Story of Joseph" and Huffman's "The Agency of God: A Reading of Joseph" quickly reveals that their respective approaches to the relationships between human actions and the power of God can form the basis for a stimulating discussion on divine agency. For Hamid, the contrast between Joseph and his brothers lies in their willingness or unwillingness to submit themselves fully to God; Hamid stresses that the human "position of servitude and surrender should ideally remove the individual ego and allow one to see all of his/her interactions as a testimony of his/her acknowledgement of God."[2]   Huffman too emphasizes the position of Joseph as a servant of God, but she uses language that more clearly stresses that God is the one in control when Joseph appears to be acting. Indeed, Huffman argues that "as Joseph reveals his true nature, the narrator reveals God as the true agent of affairs."[3] While the remainder of Huffman’s paper stresses that agency belongs to God and that Joseph's brothers do not recognize this agency, viewing this paper in conjunction with Hamid's emphasis on the surrender of the individual ego questions the role of human agency in the very act of submission to God. If, as Huffman suggests, Joseph is merely the instrument through which God acts, is this status of submission a result of God's ultimate power or Joseph's choice to surrender his own free will? While this is not the place for a detailed examination of free will issues in the Joseph narrative, it suffices to say that this point of connection between Hamid and Huffman's papers is an example of one area in which the relationship between the written responses of our SR group can in fact lead to even more dialogue.

Similarly, a study of the relationship between Shepherd's "Sight, Obligation, and Forgiveness in the Joseph Text" and Beck-Berman's "The Story of Joseph: A Partial Paradigm of Conflict Resolution" presents another opportunity for further dialogue on the Joseph story—in this case, dialogue on the nature of obligation and forgiveness in human relationships. As stated at the beginning of his article, Shepherd's primary points of focus are the nature of interpersonal obligations, the knowledge (or lack thereof) of those obligations, and the possibility of forgiveness when such obligations are not fulfilled.[4] Yet while Shepherd's paper concentrates on the brothers' blindness to their obligations to Joseph (and, to a certain degree, Benjamin) and the way in which Joseph subsequently forgives them, Beck-Berman's approach to the matter allows the reader to see a different aspect of the story—that of Joseph's need for forgiveness. Indeed, Beck-Berman references Genesis 37 in order to suggest that Joseph is inappropriately arrogant toward his brothers.[5] Such an interpretation is not presented by the other three authors, yet it opens up new realms of possible meanings regarding the role of mutual forgiveness in human relationships. Thus, just as putting Hamid and Huffman's articles into dialogue raises even more questions regarding the relationship between human will and God's agency, so too does a study of the way in which issues of obligation and forgiveness weave in and out of Shepherd and Beck-Berman's papers provide the basis for further discussion of the relational aspects of the Joseph narrative.

After recalling the introduction's discussion of the role of relationships within the Joseph story and between relevant texts, as well as recognizing the way in which the relationships between our authors' religious backgrounds and written articles lay a firm foundation for fruitful dialogue, we can most appropriately conclude by reflecting on the possibility that the scriptural reasoning process has ramifications for relationships in our contemporary world. On a most basic level, the examination of human-human and human-divine relationships in these four papers provides a commentary on interaction with others and with the divine that can shape one's own relationships—both within the world and with one's God. Beck-Berman's paper most directly addresses the way in which scriptural reasoning can contribute to a solution of problems in the world today. While acknowledging that the Joseph story provides only a partial paradigm for conflict resolution, Beck-Berman argues that the resolution that occurs between Joseph and his brothers provides an example of compassion and the acceptance of mutual responsibility, both of which are of the utmost importance when addressing issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Nevertheless, while Beck-Berman differs from our other three authors in his direct focus on the possible implications of this SR project in the outside world, the issues discussed throughout the journal—whether Hamid's emphasis on submission to God, Huffman's stress on a recognition of the divine power that lies behind our acts, or Shepherd's examination of the brothers' ignorance of their obligations to other humans—are far from irrelevant when it comes to approaching the problems that arise in relationships among people and even nations. By exploring the dynamics of relationships through the lens of the Joseph story, these authors reveal that recognition of God's power and of one's obligations to one's fellow humans is a prerequisite for healthy relationships on the human plane and for spiritual development itself.

Yet perhaps even more significant than the 'lessons' that the Joseph story, as seen through the eyes of this journal's authors, teaches its readers is the way in which the very process of scriptural reasoning personally impacts the relationships of those involved in it. On one level, the interaction between members of differing religious traditions has the potential to create in SR participants a greater appreciation for both the individuals from whom they are learning and the traditions from which those individuals come. On an even more fundamental level, however, scriptural reasoning is a process that teaches individuals, through its very practice, to approach texts with openness to polysemy and a willingness to learn through dialogue with those of differing beliefs. Herein lies the power of scriptural reasoning in regard to relationships in the contemporary world: by profoundly shaping the approach to dialogue and relationships taken by participants in SR, the scriptural reasoning process offers a possible means of addressing the problems of miscommunication and misunderstanding that too often plague our world. In this respect, then, scriptural reasoning is truly a process built on—and for—relationships.


[1] JPS Hebrew-English TANAKH (Philadelphia, The Jewish Publication Society, 2003) Genesis 45:1-2.

[2] Asma Hamid, "The Human-God Relationship in the Qur'anic Story of Joseph."

[3] Amanda Huffman, "The Agency of God: A Reading of Joseph."

[4] Michael Kelley Shepherd, Jr., "Sight, Obligation, and Forgiveness in the Joseph Text."

[5] Dennis Beck-Berman, "The Story of Joseph: A Partial Paradigm of Conflict Resolution."

© 2006, Society for Scriptural Reasoning

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