Jacob’s revelation that he’s 130 in this chapter offers another possibility to “fix” some of the math involved here. If Joseph is now about 39 (30 + 7 years of plenty + 2 years of famine), that would just mean that Jacob was 91 when he was born. And 71 when he went to Laban’s household and fell in love with Rachel. Who was young enough to be having a kid 30 years later.
Okay, seriously, though, I did a quick Google image search and it doesn’t matter what era the picture’s from, Jacob is always depicted as a guy in maybe his twenties courting a woman in her teens. You can blame some of that on people not reading their Bibles closely (I certainly didn’t notice it before I started this project), but I think some of it is just people recognizing the innate preposterousness of these ages. The idea that a man in that time could still be unmarried at 70, and then fall head over heels like a teenager for a much younger woman, and then successfully father 13 children over the next several decades, without any miracles being involved, pushes credulity. It just makes much more sense as a story if Jacob’s younger. He’d still be old, maybe 80 or so, but 130?
I wish the Bible had given pharaoh’s reaction to Jacob’s age, as well as his claim that his lifespan was so much shorter than that of his ancestors. I wonder whether he laughed or said the Egyptian version of “yeah right”?
Oh course, the other possibility is that the whole family is Numenorean…
Okay, I’ve putted around enough, let’s get to the real meat of the chapter: Joseph is a horrible person. We already covered the idea of charging people money for the crops they grew as a form of double taxation. Well, after two or three years, the people of Egypt run out of money. But Joseph still won’t give them the food they grew and had stored so that they could use. Instead he asks for their livestock, which they give him. But then they run out of livestock, and so they wind up selling their land, and ultimately themselves into slavery. One wonders whether these last steps happened faster for the poorest families who didn’t have any money or animals worth speaking of.
To be completely fair, Joseph’s only demand of his new slaves is that they give a fifth of their crops to the pharaoh as tax once the famine ends. A referendum would have been nice, but okay, at least they’re otherwise still free.
That said, a fifth is a lot to demand of people barely recovering from a massive famine, who probably barely make due with the crops they’re able to grow. We’re not talking about the 1% here, this is the mass of peasant farmers who now are technically tenant farmers. And again, this is their crops, which were collected to keep them alive, not to make the Pharaoh rich or to give him absolute power over the country. It’s like if the government collected taxes for public schools, but then still charged you private school prices for your children to attend. Only there’s potential death involved if you can’t pay up.
What Joseph does is wrong. Yes, he may have “saved their lives” by his dream interpretation and organizational skills, but he has no problem with doling out food according to need, so long as it’s his own family. (v 12) But the countrymen he’s lived alongside for 20 years? Those people he charges an arm and a leg, and wants them to thank him.
So a Hebrew is responsible for the Egyptians all becoming slaves. Does this mean that the turnabout in Exodus is actually poetic justice?
It’s also interesting that the Bible explicitly notes how priests are exempt from taxes, that they still get a stipend from the pharaoh. Why make this observation? Is it to reinforce that the pharaoh is still a “pagan” king? Is it to imply that Joseph is okay with Egyptian religion? He’s married to a priest’s daughter, after all. In a few chapters (I read ahead in Korea), he’s going to have both himself and his father mummified, and burial practice intensely tied into Egyptian beliefs and full of connections to their gods. Is this maybe meant as a subtle form of criticism? Joseph leaches the common people dry, but doesn’t demand anything from the very kind of priesthood from which the Biblical authors would have been under threat? Remember, they were in Babylon when the Bible was redacted, again “living temporarily” in a foreign land with a dominant polytheistic religion that didn’t show much tolerance for their monotheistic one.
Was Joseph meant to be depicted as partly heroic, but also largely a sellout? A warning of what happens when you assimilate too much?
The Japanese: kiryuu suru “to live temporarily,” bokusou “pasture” (v 4), yuunou na “capable” (v 6), shoyuuchi “lands, holdings” (v 11), yashinau “to support,” fuyou “support, maintenance” (v 12), aegu “to gasp, to suffer” (v 13; the latter definition is figurative), migoroshi “to let someone suffer/die without helping” (v 15), nouchi “farmland” (v 18), arehateru “to fall into ruin” (v 19), …no hashi kara hashi made “the length of, from one end to the other” (v 21), kyuuyo “salary” (v 22), maku “to plant, to sow” (v 23), inochi no onjin “lifesaver” (v 25), shintai “bed.”
I noticed that Joseph promised his family would live temporarily in Goshen, just for the rest of the famine. But instead they stay for decades, long after the famine is over, and grow in number and thrive while around them their neighbors starve and get turned into slaves.
Yeesh, I never realized I’d come out of Genesis feeling on the side of the Egyptians.