One of the most contextually relevant and unsettling verses in the Bible is Exodus 1:8. It states, “Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” Three hundred and fifty years had passed. Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation had died. The Israelites increased, multiplied, and became a great nation in the land of Egypt. And the text says: “There came a Pharaoh who knew not Joseph.” A new Pharaoh who showed no indebtedness to Joseph or his descendants. A Pharaoh who had no allegiance, loyalty, or commitment to the cause of the Israelites.
What’s in a Name?
For the children of Israel, Joseph’s name represented hope for the Israelites. Joseph’s name inspired confidence for the Israelites. Joseph’s name gave them constant assurance that they were safe, secure, and sheltered although they were in a strange land. To invoke the name Joseph, they felt protected. This was so because of Joseph’s impact on Egypt in earlier years. But there came a day when a new Pharaoh ascended the throne. The Amplified Bible notes that this Pharoah did not know the history of Joseph’s accomplishments.
While it is true that many years had passed, the question remains: How could he not know Joseph? Joseph, who in prison interpreted the dream and was promoted to serve in the Palace of Egypt. (Genesis 41)? How could he not know Joseph? Joseph, who structured Egypt’s agricultural and taxation procedures so that great storehouses of grain were utilized over seven years of prosperity, resulting in an abundance of food during the seven years of famine. How could he not know Joseph? Joseph, whom Pharaoh renamed “Zaphnath-Paaneah,” an Egyptian name meaning “the Savior of the world.” How could a Pharaoh come to the throne and not know Joseph? History, Arts, and Science must have been part of the Egyptian curriculum. If he had reviewed the history, he should have known about Joseph. Unfortunately, it seems that the reference had more to do with Pharaoh’s lack of respect for history than his recollection of history.
An Attempt to Change History
Psychotherapists have long held that it is possible to plant false recollections in the human mind that can have significant long-term effects on behavior. It has also been noted that false suggestions of past events ingrained in a person’s mind can lead to persistent deceptive beliefs with lasting behavioral consequences. From this, one can conclude that misleading information planted in the mind can create recollections of entire events that have not occurred. In other words: people can tell themselves fabricated information until they believe it. Even with clear evidence of reasons to remember, some have become so caught up with what they tell themselves that they are neurologically insensitive. Pharaoh did not want to remember Joseph because if he remembered him, then he would be obligated to care for Joseph’s people.
We live at a time when the gains of the civil rights movement are being eroded because the proverbial Pharaohs of our time do not wish to remember Joseph. No, Pharaoh is not eager to remember Joseph (Martin Luther King Jr) and the gains made for justice and equality. No, Pharaoh is not anxious to remember Joseph (John Lewis), who dedicated his life to fighting for African Americans’ voting rights. No, Pharaoh is not keen to remember Joseph. To remember Joseph is a conscience call to fairness and impartiality. To remember Joseph is a demotion from the immoral platform of racism. To remember Joseph is to release the grip of power that keeps people of color subverted and confined. So, Pharaoh has no innate desire to remember Joseph. But Israel has the responsibility to memorize its story.
Legacy Builders, StandUP
Every Black man or woman stalwart who remained steadfast during the movements for change is a symbol of Joseph. He is represented by those who were not discouraged by water hoses, disabled by barking dogs, or disheartened by the system’s nightsticks but struggled to enhance the lives of succeeding generations. We must remember and share the influence of Joseph, the impact of Joseph, and the inspiration of Joseph. To Remember Joseph means that we will also remember God because God prospered Joseph. To Remember Joseph means that we will remember God because God protected Joseph. To Remember Joseph means that we will remember God because God promoted Joseph. We must remember our history and actively keep Joseph’s name before Pharoah. We dare not be at ease or belittle the contributions of the Josephs of our time. One day Joseph will be no more, and the appalling commentary will be heard: “There came a Pharaoh who did not know Joseph. We must remember our heritage; we must remember the slave tassels; we must remember the slave revolts; we must remember the Middle Passage, the Maroon communities, and the freedom fighters. We all must learn, own, and remember the history of iconic figures from all over the world. They represent the inspiration and motivation to change things that hamper human dignity. We all must learn, own, and remember the history of Martin Luther King Jr.; David Walker, Nat Turner, Sojourner Truth, Gabriel Prassa, Denmark Veasy, Fredrick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks. We must go over to Africa, learn, own and remember the history of Dedan Kimathi, Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba, Haile Selassie, Desmond Tutu, and Nelson Mandela. We must go over to the Caribbean learn, own, and remember the history of Toussaint L’Ouverture, Errol Barrow, Clement Payne, King Court Tackey, Sir James Carlisle, Hilda Bynoe, Claude McKay, Marcus Garvey, Stokely Carmichael, Harry Belafonte, and Walter Rodney. And while we are at it, we also need to learn, own and remember the history of the contributors of our Spiritual Heritage. Remember Charles Bowles, William Foy, Phoebe Palmer, Lucy Hersey, Olive Rice, Charles M. Kinney, Earl Cleveland, Charles Bradford, Charles Brooks, Walter Arties, and Walter Pearson. When Pharaoh forgets Joseph, remember your story!