Among the readings set for Sunday is that of Joseph being put down a (dry) well by his brothers. They had intended to kill him, but one (Reuben) persuaded them on this course of action instead, although his hope of then rescuing Joseph was thwarted when he came and found the well empty, his brothers having pulled Joseph out and sold him into slavery.
I’ve found pictures of Joseph being thrust into the well and of Reuben’s mournful discovery that he is missing in a Fifteenth Century Biblia Pauperum. Strangely to modern eyes, they illustrate Jesus’ burial and the discovery of the empty tomb. Reuben’s “The boy is gone; and I, where can I turn?” is explicitly being seen as a prototype for Mary Magdalen’s “If you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him”.
It makes me notice that neither Joseph nor Jesus are merely found where they had been confined (or merely restored to their old live), but each is ‘sent ahead’ (one into Egypt, one into Galilee) where new stories are to unfold.
But I also thought of Jeremiah being thrust into a cistern (again a dry one, but muddy enough at the bottom for him to sink into it), which is another of the stories which we are not invited to read at a main Sunday service.
Some of those with influence had been sufficiently unimpressed by his vehement contradictions of the Government’s repeated insistence that it is coping well with a breaking crisis that they are willing to do away with the gainsayer. But a Cushite in royal service called Ebed-Melech (it seems he is a eunuch), confronts the King with the injustice being perpetrated in his name, so that Jeremiah is rescued.
And it is Ebed-Melech who held my attention. He might simply be an anonymous ‘servant of the King’ (which is what ‘ebed melech’ means), but he is rewarded by being spared the consequences of the disaster which does quickly befall the King, court and country, and is given great status in the Talmud.
He struck me how relevant he is as a sort of potential ‘patron saint’ for everyone from whistle-blowers to Amnesty International. And (in weeks in which we are reminded how easily black people’s role in our histories are forgotten, marginalised or disguised), it seemed important to notice that a Cushite would come from the Upper Nile valley region; the hero of the story may have been an Ethiopian or (in our terms) Sudanese slave.
Which also creates a further connection in my mind between Hebrew Scripture and early Christian scripture as an Ethiopian eunuch form a royal court makes an intriguing appearance in the Acts of the Apostles.