Chapter 47

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Joseph reported to Pharaoh that his father and brothers, with their flocks, herds, and all other possessions, had arrived from Canaan and were then in the land of Goshen (Gesem [LXX], possibly a region in the eastern part of the Nile Delta). The Genesis account does not mention the names of the “five brothers” that Joseph chose to introduce to Pharaoh, but Targum Jonathan says that they were Zebulon, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher. When asked about their occupation, the brothers answered Pharaoh as Joseph had instructed them. They identified themselves as shepherds just as their forefathers had been and stated that they had come to Egypt on account of finding no pasture for their animals in Canaan and because of the severe famine there. The brothers asked that they be granted permission to stay in Goshen. (47:1-4)

Pharaoh agreed to their request, telling Joseph to settle his father and his brothers in Goshen, in the best part of the land. He also offered any capable men among Joseph’s brothers the oversight of the livestock belonging to him. (47:5, 6)

Joseph introduced his father to Pharaoh, and his father “blessed” Pharaoh or expressed his well wishes when greeting him. Asked about his age, Jacob replied to Pharaoh that it was 130 but that he had not as yet reached the age of his forebears. His comments about his life reflected great sadness, for he said, “Few and evil [distressing] have been the days of the years of my life.” This response is understandable, considering that the 20 years of service for Laban proved to be trialsome to him (31:38-42) and that for some 22 years he grieved over the loss of his beloved son Joseph, having been led to believe that he had been killed and devoured by a beast of prey. After he again “blessed” Pharaoh or expressed his well wishes as his parting words, Jacob left. (47:7-10)

As Pharaoh had commanded, Joseph settled his father and his brothers in the best part of the land, in the land of Rameses (possibly another name for Goshen or a distinct region in Goshen). Josephus (Antiquities, II, vii, 6) identified the residence of Jacob as coming to be Heliopolis (a site on the east bank of the Nile and close to the location where the waters of the river divide to start forming the Nile Delta). During the remaining five years of famine, Joseph supplied his father, his brothers, and all the rest of Jacob’s household with “bread” or food (“according to little ones” [or down to the number of little ones or dependents]; “according to bodies” [LXX) or in proportion to the number of persons). (47:11, 12)

The severe famine condition continued in Egypt and in Canaan, requiring all those affected to purchase grain from the stored-up supplies under the control of Joseph. He apparently deposited all the silver received in payment for the grain in the “house” or treasury of Pharaoh. After the Egyptians had no more silver to purchase grain, Joseph arranged for them to exchange their domestic animals (horses, sheep, goats, cattle, and donkeys) for grain. In the following year, the Egyptians had no more silver nor domestic animals to be used for obtaining grain. They proposed that they along with their land be purchased so that they could have food and not die from famine. “Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh” and settled the people in cities, probably to make it easier to distribute the needed grain to them. According to another reading of the Hebrew text, he made the Egyptians slaves, and this is the significance of the Septuagint reading. Joseph did not buy the land of the priests, but they received an allotment, evidently of grain, from Pharaoh, making it unnecessary for them to sell land in exchange for food. (47:13-22)

If the reference to moving Egyptians into cities reflects the original Hebrew text, it appears that this was a temporary arrangement. After telling the Egyptians that he had purchased them and their land for Pharaoh, he gave them seed for sowing. Likely, therefore, they would have returned to the land they had sold and to their houses. The arrangement that Joseph instituted for them was that a fifth of the yield would be for Pharaoh and the remaining four-fifths would be for them, their households, and their little ones or dependents. They are quoted as saying to Joseph, “You have saved our lives. May we find favor in the eyes of my [our (LXX)] lord, and we will be slaves to Pharaoh.” In a number of translations, these words are rendered in ways that convey different meanings. “You have saved our lives! We are grateful to my lord, and we shall be serfs to Pharaoh.” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) “‘You have saved our lives!’ they answered. ‘We have found favor with my lord; now we will be Pharaoh’s slaves.’” (NAB, revised edition) “‘You have saved our lives,’ the people said. ‘If it please your lordship, we shall be Pharaoh’s slaves.’” (REB) Joseph thereafter made it the law in Egypt that a fifth of the produce of the land would be turned over to Pharaoh. The priests, however, maintained ownership of their land. (47:23-26)

Josephus (Antiquities, II, vii, 7) describes what Joseph did in a way that differs from the extant Hebrew text and the rendering of the Septuagint. After the famine ended and the Nile flooded, providing ample water for irrigation and making the land productive, Joseph went to the cities and gave back the land to the people, the land “which by their own consent the king might have possessed alone.” “He also exhorted them to look on it as every one’s own possession,” to cheerfully pursue their agricultural labors, and “to pay, as a tribute to the king, the fifth part of the fruits for the land which the king, when it was his own, restored to them.” The Egyptians “rejoiced upon their becoming unexpectedly owners of their lands.” “By this means Joseph procured to himself a greater authority among the Egyptians and greater love to the king from them.”

The members of Jacob’s household continued to reside in Goshen and increased in number. Jacob lived there for 17 years, attaining the age of 147. Before his death at that age, he asked Joseph to come to him and then requested that he not be buried in Egypt but to be taken to Canaan for burial in the burial place of his forebears (the cave in the field of Machpelah in the vicinity of Hebron [50:13]). Jacob had Joseph swear that he would do this, placing his hand under his father’s thigh or hip. This may have signified that Joseph, in full submission to his father’s request, would fulfill his sworn oath. The Hebrew word for “thigh” or “hip” (yarék) may also be used euphemistically to apply to the generative organ. According to Targum Jonathan, Jacob said to Joseph, “If now I have found favor before you, put your hand on the place of my circumcision, and deal with me in goodness and truth, that you will not bury me in Mizraim [Egypt].” The circumcision was a sign of the covenant that included the divine promise regarding the continuance of the family line of Abraham and also the promise that his descendants would receive the land of Canaan as their inheritance. Viewed in this light, Joseph would have sworn that he would faithfully do his part in sharing in the fulfillment of everything that the covenant of circumcision required. (47:27-31)

After Joseph swore to carry out his request, Israel (Jacob) bowed upon or at the “head of his bed.” Possibly because he was exhausted from speaking to his son, he bowed at the head of his bed before lying down. A number of translations render the words to indicate that Jacob bowed in an act of worship. “Jacob bowed down and prayed at the head of his bed.” (CEV) “Israel bowed in worship by the head of his bed.” (REB) “Jacob gave thanks there on his bed.” (TEV) According to the Septuagint rendering, he appears to have supported himself on his staff and then, as he tired, bowed on top of his staff. (47:31)