I went to see the musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat on Friday. Ostensibly, it was a treat for my sister whose birthday fell last week since she had expressed an interest in seeing it the last time it came to our local theatre. I am (I must admit a rather embarrassed) fan of musical theatre and especially of Lloyd Webber shows such as Evita and Phantom. However, I had always previously avoided Joseph precisely because of its Biblical theme. I wondered if my (markedly sensitive) religious feelings might be offended. As it happens in the event I found Joseph not only entertaining and musically satisfying (on its own terms) but quite entirely inoffensive on religious grounds too. Of course it is a bit wooly – but that can be overlooked.
After the performance my friends and I had the rather exciting privilege of joining the queue of devoted fans (mostly girls) to meet Joseph himself to have our programmes and CDs signed. I confess to being a “fanboy” and quite easily taken with famous people whenever I meet them, and since this Joseph (Craig Chalmers) was my favourite of the TV Josephs on Any Dream Will Do (about two years ago on the BBC) it was really extremely thrilling, especially since he was very friendly and handsome even at close quarters.
Having come back from the theatre I had a look at the text and was interested to discover that many modern translations don’t even describe Joseph’s coat as “of many colours” (King James Version) or “of divers colours” (DR). That is because most modern translations don’t use as their basis the Christian Bible, in the form of the Septuagint or the Vulgate, but the Hebrew Bible where the meaning of the words translated “ποικίλον” (LXX) “polymitam” (Vulgate) is unclear (indeed, one modern translation renders the Hebrew “with sleeves” (REB)). The Latin is a direct equivalent of the Greek and both mean “many threaded” i.e. “many coloured” (or at least implying a weft and warp or a damask). There is certainly no danger of them being misunderstood as meaning “sleeves”!