I said one of the reasons I was doing this project was to reenforce that I was reading the Bible in translation, that English wasn’t the first draft.

So it was interesting to read this chapter and learn about the controversy over the word abrek that appears in v 43. The NRSV renders it as “bow the knee!” in text with a foot note that it’s “apparently an Egyptian word similar in sound to the Hebrew word meaning to kneel.” The NCT leaves in the word abrek (in this case, abureku) with a parenthetical note that it means keirei or “salute.”

I did my usual digging, of course, because I’m a nerd like that, and found a couple of theories floated around as to what the word might mean:

  • based on the Coptic a-bor-k, “prostrate yourself!”
  • based on Egyptian br(e)k, “pay attention”
  • based on Egyptian ab-r(e)k, “rejoice!”

All of which make sense for yelling in front of a moving chariot. But then again, it also seems that most scholars assume that it means something like “kneel!” and then try to find the Egyptian equivalent.

I link to that bit with General Zod because by the end of this chapter that’s a bit how I felt about Joseph – or Zaphenath-paneah, as he’s known in Egypt. At first, you can’t help but feel a little thrilled that he’s out of jail, and the competency he demonstrated first in Potiphar’s house and then in the jail is finally being recognized and even used to save Egypt. It’s the slave becoming visier. How can you not cheer for that?

Simply. He makes them buy their grain. (v 56) The grain they’d had levied from them by the government. They are forced to give up the grain so that it can be saved, and then if they want to get it back, they have to pay.

The idea here is that Joseph is making people save grain when they might otherwise not want to. In a bountiful year, a farmer might sell his excess to foreign traders in exchange for some luxuries. Joseph’s levies keep the grain in Egypt, where it can be used during the famine.

But rather than giving it back to the people proportionally to their need or to the amount that they put it, they sell it, for undoubtedly huge profit to the crown.

This is so, so, so wrong. I can see why selling it to foreigners like Joseph’s family (next chapter) would make sense. If the goal is to save Egypt, then if non-Egyptians want some of your stock-piled grain, then you don’t just hand it over. But by charging their own people, the pharaoh and Joseph prove that the goal was really to consolidate their own power and wealth.

Abrek, indeed.

The Japanese: tsuyayaka na “glossy, beautiful,” ashibe “reedy shore” (v 2), kuki “stalk, stem” (v 5), oujite “according to, depending on” (v 12), masashiku “exactly” (v 13), sanpatsu “haircut” (v 14), hinjaku “meager, poor” (v 19), hikarabiru “to dry up completely” (v 27), housaku “abundant harvest, bumper crop” (v 31), soumei “wise” (v 33), choushuu “collection, levy” (v 34), hounen “fruitful year,” kokumotsu “grain,” hokan suru “to keep, to hold” (v 35), bichiku “stock, emergency supply” (v 36), ama “linen,” nuno “cloth” (v 42), keirei “salute” (v 43), saishi “priest,” ikou “influence,” amaneku “broadly, widely” (v 45), junkai suru “to patrol, to make the rounds” (v 46), shuui “surrounding,” takuwaeru “to save up” (v 48), sekaikakuchi “all over the world” (v 56).

Until I had to look them all up, it never quite hit me just how agricultural the vocabulary of the Bible is. Throughout most of post-neolithic history, 90% of humans in agricultural societies have been agricultural workers. The fact that I can now walk just five minutes over to my grocery store and get food without ever setting foot in a field would have made me richer than the pharaoh in his day.

Which makes me think about food distribution and forcing people to buy back the food they produce at higher prices, which is a real thing. A lot of farmers in third world countries can’t afford to buy their own produce by the time it goes through so many middlemen. For more information, go here.