“Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: A Biblical Tale Retold” by Stephen Mitchell— A New Look at a Classic

Mitchell, Stephen. “Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: A Biblical Tale Retold”, St. Martin’s Essentials, 2019.

A New Look at a Classic

Amos Lassen

I have always found beauty in the stories we read in the Five Books of Moses and I love that they can be read and reread yet always seem fresh and new. I also love that we can update and reinterpret them as we choose without losing the meaning of the originals. Stephen Mitchell does just that with the story of Joseph. “Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness” is his novelistic version of the Biblical tale where Joseph is sold into slavery and becomes viceroy of Egypt. Mitchell brings “lyrical, witty, vivid prose” and his own insight and wisdom into this 3000 year old tale and retells it like a postmodern novel. This is a story of betrayal and forgiveness in which Mitchell brings brief meditations to the narrative and adds Zen surprises “to expand the narrative and illuminate its main themes.”

We go into the minds of the characters (especially Joseph) and by doing so gain new perspectives on this ancient story that still challenges, delights, and astonishes. The prose is as gorgeous as the storytelling gives clear understanding that compassion and forgiveness are the responses to the relief of the pain and suffering that are part of human life. Mitchell uses midrash, a technique of ancient Hebrew commentary on the tales of the Torah to give fresh meaning to the story of Joseph.

Stephen Mitchell’s life’s work is the study of human transformation. With “Joseph”,  Mitchell takes us back in time to one of our oldest stories of grace and reimagines it. He gives us a simple version of the story of Joseph in a creative and heartfelt way. The narrative is transformative as we become engaged both mentally and spiritually with it.
We have found it hard to comprehend in the Bible but that changes here with this “incisive and moving account of the spiritual power of forgiveness.”

Leo Tolstoy saw the Biblical tale of Joseph and His Brothers as “the most beautiful story in the world” and it is also in the Qur’an, which narrates it in full after stating in the introduction to it that it is “the most beautiful of narrations.”

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