“But the Lord was with Joseph and showed kindness to him” Genesis 39:21


 Perhaps it’s something even more transcendent than Jason Donovan’s melodious strains that explains the extraordinary enduring popularity of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, which is enjoying yet another West End revival close to 50 years after its initial première.

Perhaps it is the story itself, which, after all, is riveting. Narrowly escaping fratricide, Joseph is sold into slavery before being elevated in Potiphar’s homestead. Joseph stoically refuses Potiphar’s wife’s seductive advances for which he is flung into an underground cell. Yet, Joseph does not break. He manages to rise from this ignominious position and eventually finds himself viceroy of Egypt.

Nachmanides declared: “The lives of the Patriarchs foreshadow the story of their descendants.” This also seems true of Joseph. The Jewish people, like Joseph, initially enjoyed honour and independence before being sold into slavery and exile. In exile, like Joseph, they arose from their shackles following emancipation only to be cast again into the cruellest of prisons, before arising once more to ever greater splendour as they regained sovereignty. What explains this remarkable resilience?

In recent years there have been a surge of psychological studies on resilience. Perhaps the most famous of these is Werner and Smith’s Kauai Longitudinal Study, which documented the lives of Hawaiian children, who were exposed to high prenatal and perinatal risks and suffered abuse and neglect.

Astonishingly, a subset of these children thrived emotionally and academically, despite their appalling circumstances. These children were labelled “invincible”. Werner and Smith discovered that many resilient youth would often reach out to religious groups and held deep religious faith. This imbued in these children the belief that their lives had meaning and that they could master their destinies. In time, the role of religiosity in fostering resilience has been acknowledged by foremost resilience researchers, including Masten, Ungar and Cicchetti.

Research has underscored how children draw succour and fortitude from spirituality. For example, a Swazi orphan in unimaginable hardship explained that she was encouraged by the biblical story of Joseph who overcame adversity. Around the world people in devastating adversity draw strength from the knowledge that God protects those who seek shelter beneath His wings.

Ultimately, therefore, perhaps the striking resilience of both Joseph and the Jewish people may be explained by the knowledge they cherished, even in the most interminable of exiles, that though every door on earth may have been closed to them, as children of Israel, we are never alone.


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