The agricultural politics of Joseph (Gen 47:13-47:26)

“Now there was no food in all the land.  The famine was very severe.  The land of Egypt and the land of Canaan languished because of the famine. Joseph collected all the money to be found in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, in exchange for the grain that they bought.   Joseph brought the money into Pharaoh’s house.  When the money from the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan was spent, all the Egyptians came to Joseph, and said, ‘Give us food!  Why should we die before your eyes?  For our money is gone.’  Joseph answered, ‘Give your cattle, and I will give you food in exchange for your livestock, if your money is gone.’  So they brought their livestock to Joseph.  Joseph gave them food in exchange for horses, flocks, herds, and donkeys.  That year he supplied them with food in exchange for all their livestock.  When that year was ended, they came to him the following year, and said to him, ‘We cannot hide from my lord that our money is all spent.  The herds of cattle are my lord’s.  There is nothing left in the sight of my lord but our bodies and our lands.  Shall we die before your eyes, both we and our land?  Buy us and our land in exchange for food.  We with our land will become slaves to Pharaoh.  Just give us seed, so that we may live, and not die, and that the land may not be desolate.’”

Things were tough because of the great famine.  Interesting the biblical author mentions Egypt and Canaan together as if they were equal, which they were not.  Joseph collected all the money for the grain that he had stored up until there was practically very little money left in Egypt or Canaan.  Next Joseph asked for livestock, if they had no money.  When all the money and livestock was spent, they said let us be slaves, but give us food.

So Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh.  All the Egyptians sold their fields, because the famine was severe upon them.  The land became Pharaoh’s.  As for the people, he made slaves of them from one end of Egypt to the other.  Only the land of the priests he did not buy.  The priests had a fixed allowance from Pharaoh, and lived on the allowance that Pharaoh gave them.  Therefore they did not sell their land.  Then Joseph said to the people, ‘Now that I have this day bought you and your land for Pharaoh, here is seed for you.  Sow the land.  At the harvests you shall give one-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.’  They said, ‘You have saved our lives.  May it please my lord we will be slaves to Pharaoh.’  So Joseph made it a statute concerning the land of Egypt, and it stands to this day, that Pharaoh should have the fifth.   The land of the priests alone did not become Pharaoh’s.”

Thus Joseph bought all the land of Egypt and they all became Pharaoh’s slaves.  Only the priests were allowed to keep their land.  Next, Joseph gave seed to the people but at harvest time, they had to give 20% to Pharaoh which became a law until today, the time of the writing of this document.  What Joseph did was corner the grain market, raise the prices and eventually bankrupt the people of Egypt.  He forced all the land owning people of Egypt to become serfs, tenants, sharecroppers, and slaves to give Pharaoh 20% of their crop, exempting the priests.

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