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Thomas Mann's «Joseph und seine Brüder» and the Phallic Theology of the Old Testament

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George Bridges

When Thomas Mann began to work on his Joseph novel, he was motivated to do so by the image of the beautiful seventeen-year-old youth and the erotic attraction this image exercised on him personally. He undertook to retell the biblical story of Joseph in order to explore the meaning of this attraction. In the phallic theology of the Old Testament - Israel's covenant with Yahweh was a sacred marriage, outwardly marked by circumcision, for the purpose of mutual sanctification and aggrandizement - Mann discovered the framework of a metaphysics of homoerotic desire. This book explores the many implications Mann found in his biblical source, including the paradoxical notion that a certain degree of suppression of the original desire is required if it is to continue to play its all-important role as a motivating force.