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him to a mild and temporary imprisonment in the prison adjacent to his palace. Here Joseph wins the favor of his jailers and of his brother prisoners, as Paul did nearly two thousand years later, and shows remarkable gifts, even to the interpretation of dreams, – a wonderful faculty to superstitious people like the Egyptians, and in which he exceeds even their magicians and priests. The fame of his rare gifts, the most prized in Egypt, reaches at last the ears of Pharaoh, who is troubled by a singular dream which no one of his learned men can interpret.
The Hebrew slave interprets it, and is magnificently rewarded, becoming the prime minister of an absolute monarch. The King gives him his signet ring, emblem of power, and a collar or chain of gold, the emblem of the highest rank; clothes him in a vestment of fine linen, makes him ride in his second chariot, and appoints him ruler over the land, second only to the King in power and rank. And, further, he gives to him in marriage the daughter of the High Priest of On, by which he becomes connected with the priesthood.
Joseph deserves all the honor and influence he receives, for he saves the kingdom from a great calamity. He predicts seven years of plenty and seven years of famine, and points out the remedy. According to tradition, the monarch whom he served was Apepi, the last Shepherd King, during whose reign slaves were very numerous. The King himself had a vast number, as well as the nobles. Foreign slaves were preferred to native ones, and wars were carried on for the chief purpose of capturing and selling captives.
The sacred narrative says but little of the government of Egypt by a Hebrew slave, or of his abilities as a ruler, - virtually supreme in the land, since Pharaoh delegates to him his own authority, persuaded both of his fidelity and his abilities. It is difficult to understand how Joseph arose at a single bound to such dignity and power, under a proud and despotic king, and in the face of all the prejudices of the Egyptian priesthood and nobility, except through the custom of all Oriental despots to gratify the whim of the moment, — like the one who made his horse prime minister. But nothing short of transcendent talents and transcendent services can account for his retention of office and his marked success. Joseph was then thirty years of age, having served Potiphar ten years, and spent two or three years in prison.
This elevation took place as some suppose about 1877 B. C., under the dynasty of the Hyksos or Shepherd Kings, who had conquered the kingdom about three hundred years before. Their capital was Memphis, near the pyramids, which had been erected several centuries earlier by the older and native dynasties. Rawlinson supposes that Tanis on the delta was the seat of their court. Conquered by the Hyksos, the old kings retreated to their other capital, Thebes, and were probably made tributary to the conquerors. It was by the earlier and later dynasties that the magnificent temples and palaces were built, whose ruins have so long been the wonder of travellers. The Shepherd Kings were warlike, and led their armies from Scythia, – that land of roving and emigrant warriors, —- or, as Ewald thinks, from the land of Canaan : Aramæan chieftains, who sought the spoil of the richest monarchy in the world. Hence there was more affinity between these people and the Hebrews than between them and the ancient Egyptians, who were the descendants of Ham. Abraham, when he visited Egypt, found it ruled by these Scythian or Aramean warriors, which accounts for the kind and generous treatinent he received. It is not probable that a monarch of the ancient dynasties would have been so courteous to Abraham, or would have elevated Joseph to such an exalted - rank, for they were jealous of strangers, and hated a pastoral people. It was only under the rule of the Hyksos that the Hebrews could have been tolerated and encouraged ; for as soon as the Shepherd Kings were expelled by the Pharaohs who reigned at Thebes, as the Moors were expelled from Spain by the old Castilian princes, it fared ill with the descendants of Jacob, and they were bitterly and cruelly oppressed until the exodus under Moses. Prosperity probably led the Hyksos conquerors to that fatal degeneracy which is unfavorable to war, while adversity strengthened the souls of the descendants of the ancient kings, and enabled them to subdue and drive away their invaders and conquerors. And yet the Hyksos could not have ruled Egypt had they not adapted themselves to the habits, religion, and prejudices of the people they subdued. The Pharaoh who reigned at the time of Joseph belonged like his predecessors to the sacerdotal caste, and worshipped the gods of the Egyptians. But he was not jealous of the Hebrews, and fully appreciated the genius of Joseph.
The wisdom of Joseph as ruler of the land destined to a seven years' famine was marked by foresight as well as promptness in action. He personally visited the various provinces, advising the people to husband their harvests. But as all people are thoughtless and improvident, he himself gathered up and stored all the grain which could be spared, and in such vast quantities that he ceased to measure it. At last the predicted famine came, as the Nile had not risen to its usual height; but the royal granaries were full, since all the surplus wheat — about a fifth of the annual produce — had been stored away; not purchased by Joseph, but exacted as a tax. Nor was this exaction unreasonable in view of the emergency. Under the Bourbon kings of France more than one half of the produce of the land was taken by the Government and the feudal proprietors without compensation, and that not in provision for coming national trouble, but for the fattening of the royal purse. Joseph exacted only a fifth as a sort of special tax, less than the present Italian government exacts from all landowners.
Very soon the famine pressed upon the Egyptian people, for they had no corn in reserve; the reserve was in the hands of the government. But this reserve Joseph did not deal out gratuitously, as the Roman government, under the emperors, dealt out food to the citizens. He made the people pay for their bread, and took their money and deposited it in the royal treasury. When after two years their money was all spent, it was necessary to resort to barter, and cattle were given in exchange for corn, by which means the King became possessed of all the personal property of his subjects. As famine pressed, the people next surrendered their land to avoid starvation, — all but the priests. Pharaoh thus became absolute proprietor of the whole country; of money, cattle, and land, — an unprecedented surrender, which would have produced a wide-spread disaffection and revolt, had it not been that Joseph, after the famine was past and the earth yielded its accustomed harvest, exacted only one fifth