Girard compares and contrasts the myth of Oedipus with the Biblical story of Joseph, Jacob’s son.

Oedipus is expelled once for fear of the Oracle’s prophecy; he is elevated to kingship upon saving the city of Thebes; and then upon committing his crimes, in the process bringing a plague onto the city that welcomed him, he is expelled for the second time.

Joseph, too, is expelled by his jealous brothers. In Egypt he solves the riddle of the dreams and rises to the rank of prime minister, the second man in government after the Pharaoh, and savior of the entire Middle East from famine. In the end, Jacob’s family is reconciled.

NB: The crowd in the Oedipus story, in ganging up against the protagonist, is not being unjust. Oedipus really is guilty and deserves his punishment. The author of the myth is fully on the side of justice and righteousness. In this case, and as Girard argues, in all myths, justice is on the side of the mob, and the individual they persecute is guilty.

The reverse is true in the Bible: Joseph is in the right against his brothers as well as the next two times against the Egyptians, who imprison him. He is in the right against the wanton wife who accused him of trying to rape her. … Not only did Joseph not have sex with the wife of Potiphar, but he did everything he could to resist her advances. She is the guilty one…

The final triumph of Joseph is, not an insignificant “happy ending,” but a means of making explicit the problem of violent expulsions. … It is only this pardon, this forgiveness, that is capable of stopping once and for all the spiral of reprisals…

… no greater difference could exist. It’s the difference between a world where arbitrary violence triumphs without being recognized and a world where this same violence is identified, denounced, and finally forgiven. It’s the difference between truth and deception, both of them absolute. (109ff)

The myth is a lie not because it does not corresponds to any actual events, and not even because Oedipus in particular is mistreated, but because of its implication that every crowd bent as one on lynching or expulsion is right by the very facts of its unanimity and omnipotence.


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