Live Blogging the Bible, Genesis 47
by Noah Lugeons
Genesis starts slow and it’s a pretty brutal read, but as it turns out, the third act is pretty good. It settles down into a cohesive narrative, things that are introduced to the story have relevance later, characters have depth and story arc and for a while there God bows out of things and stops being a dick. In fact, as I was polishing off the end of Genesis, I actually found myself quite drawn to Joseph. I thought I’d finally found a moral character in the Bible that I could get behind. And then I reached chapter 47.
For those who don’t know the story (it’s the Technocolor Dreamcoat one), Joseph is one of Jacob’s (Israel’s) sons and he’s daddy’s favorite. So his other 11 brothers (dad was a hound) did what any group of sociopathic jealous siblings would do. They took him to the middle of nowhere, stuck him in a pit and waied for some Egyptians to come by so they could sell him into slavery. They tell dad he was eaten by wolves or bears or something and they carry on with their lives.
Joseph makes the most of slavery but refuses to bone his master’s wife, which lands him in jail for a few years where his powers of dream-interpretation eventually catch the attention of Pharaoh, whose been having some pretty wacky sleepy-time romps of late. So he brings Joseph out of prison and tells him about his dream, which Joey interprets as God warning him about a coming famine.
Pharaoh is so impressed that he basically makes Joseph king of everybody but him. Joseph sets out to store a shitload of grain for the coming famine and sure enough, a few years later the famine settles in and thanks to Joey’s powers of precognition, Egypt is the only kingdom with any food.
Along the way he forgives his brothers, sends for his dad and hooks them up with the best grazing land in Egypt. Seems like a pretty upstanding dude up to this point. But then in chapter 47 he convinces all the Egyptians to sell themselves as slaves because otherwise they’ll starve.
It’s this surprisingly morbid aside in an otherwise uplifting story, but as the years of famine pile up, the peasants run out of money and can’t afford to buy food from Joseph anymore. So he convinces them to give him all their livestock and gives them enough grain to survive the year. Then they come back the next year with no money, no more food and no livestock, so he convinces them to give them all their land for another year’s worth of food. Then, of course, they come back the next year with no money, no food, no livestock and nowhere to freaking live, so he convinces them to sell themselves into slavery in exchange for another year’s worth of food.
Ultimately it’s clearly a story meant to justify an excessive tax laid upon the people of Egypt, but it really takes you out of this otherwise heart-warming tale of forgiveness and foresight. So far I’d say Joseph is the most moral central character in the bible, but if I can say that about somebody who locks up all the food and then demands you sell him your freewill if you want some, this book is clearly unfit as a moral guide.