You’ve described “Burning Beard” as “midrash punk”—can you talk about this a little?
A midrash is a story created about characters or events of the Bible, sort of filling in gaps in the text with creative imagination. The original rabbis considered these divinely revealed, and the stories were usually pious. I prefer a modern sensibility and ideas that challenge traditional pieties. Presenting Moses and the God he speaks for as violent bastards is kind of in-your-face to most traditional Jews.
Why does Joseph tell false dreams to the interpreters?
He’s hoping they might not be hacks and needs to test them.
You’ve layered a lot of references in this story, including some Freud—is there anything you think readers tend to miss?
There is a direct line, I would say, between Joseph the great dream interpreter and Freud, with stop-offs at Daniel (the other great dream revealer in Ancient Israel) and the rabbi who wrote that a dream uninterpreted is like a letter unopened. But dream interpretation is very old and widespread, and usually very detailed. Freud’s The Interpretation Of Dreams is a literal translation of Oneirocritica, the great dream manual of Artemidoros, the ancient Greek who cataloged hundreds of dream omens. Moses’s beard on fire is, of course, the burning bush, about which I wrote elsewhere: “And honey, if you can’t understand a bush that burns without being consumed, there’s probably no hope for you.”
What’s the oddest dream interpretation you’ve come across?
There’s something about someone defecating on you being a sign of good fortune!
Do you have any news or upcoming work you want to share with us?
I have two things. In July, my novel The Child Eater comes out in England from Jo Fletcher Books, with its American publication a bit later in the year. Among various other sources, the book is inspired by certain Jewish myths, including a gruesome one about magical heads created out of children stolen by sorcery. There’s been great responses from people who’ve read the manuscript. Also, I and a great Tarot artist named Robert Place are about to publish The Burning Serpent Oracle, a deck and book based on a nineteenth-century card-reading tradition. We decided to raise money for it on Indiegogo and reached our minimum in under twenty-four hours.
Spread the word!