So Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh, for all the Egyptians sold their fields, because the famine was severe on them. The land become Pharaoh’s. As for the people, he made servants of them from one end of Egypt to the other. Only the land of the priests he did not buy. . .
Then Joseph said to the people, “Behold, I have this day bought you and your land for Pharaoh. Now here is seed for you, and you shall sow the land. And at the harvests you shall give a fifth to Pharaoh, and four fifths shall be your own, as seed for the field and as food for yourselves and your households, and as food for your little ones.” – Genesis 47:20-24
It's been a while since my most recent post. The Genesis ones have all been written for a while now, but I was out of the country for the last couple of weeks and did not have frequent internet access. But now I'm back, so here's the last Genesis review before we move on, unfortunately, to slightly less interesting books.
The final third of Genesis contains the story of Joseph. That’s Joseph of colorful coat fame, but the coat plays virtually no role in his tale. I think it’s mentioned once or twice and then dropped forever. According to the footnote I read, it’s not even clear if the coat was multi-colored, as the adjective in question might also be translated as “long-sleeved.”
Look at that, I spent more time talking about the coat than the Bible did.
Joseph is his father’s favorite, so his jealous brothers sell him into slavery in Egypt. There, he interprets dreams and becomes the Pharaoh’s right-hand man and saves everyone from famine. His father and brothers, with their assorted wives and children, eventually move to Egypt and everyone is reconciled and reunited. Joseph lives to a ripe old age and dies, and that’s the end of the first book of the Bible.
Just before that, Joseph’s dying father (Jacob, a.k.a. Israel, son of Isaac, son of Abraham) gathers his sons to him and tells them their futures. There are twelve of them. Some, such as Asher, have rather specific destinies in store: “Asher’s food shall be rich, and he shall yield royal delicacies” (Genesis 49:20). Others, like Naphtali, have more abstract fortunes: “Naphtali is a doe let loose that bears beautiful fawns” (Genesis 49:21). Some of these twelve fortunes are short, some longer, some are positive, some negative. At the end it is revealed that “All these are the twelve tribes of Israel” (Genesis 49:28). I felt like I should have seen that coming earlier. I didn’t understand the destinies particularly well, but I think they make a good ending to the first book. These passages left me wanting to read on to see the prophecies come to fruition, and also prompted me to reflect on how things got to this point.
My biggest takeaway from the Joseph story, though, is of a more personal nature. In my capacity as a history student I study land reform programs and land tenancy issues. Since most of my research has to do with the twentieth century I was surprised to find information relevant to my field of research in the book of Genesis. But there it was, as quoted at the top of this post: an early example, perhaps the very earliest recorded example, of farmers selling their land in a time of crisis and becoming sharecroppers. This is the kind of thing that might actually find its way into something I write and publish (apart from this blog, that is). If I find nothing else in the Bible that is applicable to my own endeavors, it will have been worth the read just to have come across this gem of a passage. I wonder how religious readers and the clergy have analyzed or used this part of Joseph’s story.
For what it’s worth, 1/5th of the crop in rent is pretty reasonable as historical tenancy terms go.
Next up, the book of Exodus!