Loving Yusuf Conceptual Travels from Present to Past
by Mieke Bal
University of Chicago Press, 2008
Cloth: 978-0-226-03586-4 | Paper: 978-0-226-03587-1 | Electronic: 978-0-226-03588-8


When Mieke Bal reread the story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife as an adult, she was struck by differences between her childhood memories of a moral tale and what she read today. In Loving Yusuf¸ Bal seeks to resolve this clash between memory and text, using the same story, in which Joseph spurns the advance of his master’s wife who then falsely accuses him of rape, as her point of departure. She juxtaposes the Genesis tale to the rather different version told in the Qur’an and the depictions of it by Rembrandt and explores how Thomas Mann’s great retelling in Joseph and His Brothers reworks these versions.
Through this inquiry she develops concepts for the analysis of texts that are both strange and overly familiar—culturally remote yet constantly retold. As she puts personal memories in dialogue with scholarly exegesis, Bal asks how all of these different versions complicate her own and others’ experience of the story, and how the different truths of these texts in their respective traditions illuminate the process of canonization.


Mieke Bal is Academy Professor in the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences and cofounder of the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis at the University of Amsterdam. Among her many books are, most recently, The Artemisia Files: Artemisia Gentileschi for Feminists and Other Thinking People and A Mieke Bal Reader, both published by the University of Chicago Press.


"Bal characterizes the book as an essay. . . . As such, it achieves fascinating intercultural readings that respect the integrity of each text and artifact studied. Her distinction between literalist and fundamental reading is a significant contribution that I hope biblical studies will take up. . . . An excellent model for interpreters who would interpret biblical texts and other 'versionings' beyond the strictures of assessing influence or source appropriation. Bal’s kind of reading both reads and catches reading in action, and our present experience of interpretation is our best, fullest case for how it is done at any time."
— Rebecca Raphael, Review of Biblical Literature

"A thoroughly engaging book. Full of sparks and good ideas, I enjoyed it. I do suspect my sense of these insights was actually generated by Bal's style of sprinkling key moments of the book with narratives of personal insight. . . . Precisely because these moments provide a glimpse as to how a great interpreter of all manner of texts works, the book is worth a careful read."
— Roland Boer, The Bible and Critical Theory




1 First Memories, Second Thoughts

2 Falling in Love

3 Dreaming Away

4 Looking In: Outrageous, Preposterous

5 The Invention of Sympathy

6 Sign Language

7 Eyes Wide Shut

8 Truth Speak

9 Loose Canons: Facing Authority

10 Dad Pains


Index of Names and Titles

Index of Terms and Concepts