By William Jackson
Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams on God’s behalf paid off like the lottery as he interpreted Pharaoh’s (Genesis 41:15-32). The dream represented seven years of prosperity followed by seven years of famine. So Pharaoh came up with a strategy to weather this impending famine prophesied by Joseph interpretations (Genesis 41:33-37). All Pharaoh needed now was a worthy man to implement his plan. He was quick to claim “Can we find anyone else like him (Joseph)? The Spirit of God lives in him!” (Genesis 41:38). Thus, Joseph was made Pharaoh’s second in charge. As predicted the famine hit and as planned Joseph was able to provide sorely needed resources to the desperate people of the region (Genesis 41:47-57).
Now we turn to Genesis Chapters 42 to 46, and through a string of dramatic and staged events, Joseph and his family become reunited. The family then relocate to Egypt (Genesis 46:26). Interestingly enough, when this small band of Hebrews finally arrived in Egypt, they are treated with prominence. They had a private meeting with “The Pharaoh”, and then they were given some of the choicest lands to live. They were even given the position of watching over Egypt’s royal livestock (Genesis 47:1-10). All these privileges obviously had to do with Joseph, who was probably viewed as a national hero for bringing Egypt through this crisis.
So why in the next book of the Torah, Exodus, does it start out with the new Egyptian Pharaoh turning on the Israelites in verses 8 and 9. I am sure some of this had to do with the measure of time. Joseph’s time during the famine was about 1875 BCE whereas the new Egyptian ruler makes his statements against the Israelites in about 1600 BCE. Equals period is about three centuries. A lot can happen and be forgotten in the span of 275 years. Yehuda Shurpin, who rights for Chabad.org, says, “It is not surprising that they stirred the jealousy of the native Egyptians who felt outshone by the foreigners.”1 Yes, I do think that is some of it, but if we review chapter 47 of Genesis, we will find that the famine caused two polarized societies within Egypt; Capitalism and Socialism.
Let’s turn back to Genesis 47. To quote the former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste”, this could have applied to Egypt over 3,000 years ago. Yes, Pharaoh did capitalize on a crisis, the famine. We do not know if this was intentionally or unintentionally, but we do know the extended famine created a chain of events that lead to Egyptian Socialism:
- People gave all their money for food Genesis 47:15
- Then the people gave up all their livestock Genesis 47:16-17
- Then the people gave up all their land Genesis 47:20
- Then the people gave themselves in slavery Genesis 47:21
And who did they give all this to? Pharaoh who was the Egyptian Government
Joseph then turned the people of Egypt into sharecroppers, (Genesis 47:23-24). A sharecropper2 is “a tenant farmer who pays as rent a share of the crop”. Although this is an American post-Civil War term (1865+), conceptually we see it employed here in Egypt over three millenniums earlier.
Joseph gave them seed, and they grew the crops with the condition of giving 20% of the proceeds to Pharaoh (Genesis 47:23-24). It’s not a bad deal to keep 80% of your crop and get free seed but; remember their land still belonged to the Egyptian Government (Pharaoh).
I mentioned earlier that this marked the beginning of Egyptian socialism, but the term Socialism would be coined until 1848 by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. If we view the definition of “socialism” this would fit the template:
“Socialism: Any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods”
As we understand Socialism, the Egyptians because of the famine became wards (property) of the Egyptian Government (Pharaoh) and thus becoming Socialist, but what about the Israelites? Let’s look at verse Genesis 47:27 “…They acquired possessions in it and were productive, and their numbers multiplied greatly.” So as we can see from here, it was quite the opposite, the Israelites flourished and gained property.
Land of Goshen
So, why didn’t the Egyptians immediately get upset with this contrast between the Egyptian and Israelite citizens instead of waiting almost 300 years for an upheaval? Well in 1875 BCE as the Egyptian government was grabbing all this money, property, land and forcing servitude onto it’s people, the Egyptian responded with… “You have saved our lives! So if it pleases my lord, we will be Pharaoh’s slaves.” (Genesis 47:25). The Egyptian were more focused during the famine on physical survival and were happy just not to be starved to death.
So three centuries later, the new Pharaoh, that opposed to the Israelites, makes a profound but accurate point when talking about these Israelites “…in the event of war they might ally themselves with our enemies, fight against us and leave the land altogether.” (Exodus 1:10). So think about it, the Egyptians are forced into a socialistic society and just miles away you have capitalist Israelites living in freedom. Also Goshen, where the Israelites lived, strategically covered the northern flank of the Egyptian Empire and bordered the Mediterranean Sea. This was an excellent access point for any enemy invasion.
To grab a modern day analogy let us look at Korea. North Korea is communist (socialist), and South Korea is a democratic society (capitalist). South Korea, over the last four decades, has demonstrated incredible economic growth, whereas North Korea faces chronic economic problems3. Both serve as access points to each other and understandably have a heavily guarded border, the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone). Imagine if we allowed North Korea to control all of Korea. It would be devastating, and these people are from the same ethnic group. When we look at ancient Egypt, it is assumed that regardless of economic differences the Egyptians probably possessed a prejudice towards the Israelites. Even if we advance the clock from the Exodus to Nazi Germany, it was Adolf Hitler who blamed the Jews for losing the First World War4. Yes, garden-variety prejudice had something to do with Egypt oppressing the Israelites, but the major motivators were socioeconomics and military strategy.
- Yehuda Shurpin, Israel’s Enslavement, Beginning of Oppression, Chabad.org, November 3, 2014
- Merriam-Webster Dictionary, November 1, 1994
- Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), South Korea vs. North Korea, Index Mundi
- Allan Hall, Adolf Hitler’s hatred of Jews ‘stemmed from First World War, The Telegraph, Berlin, Germany, 20 Dec 2009