Joseph interpreting the Pharaoh's dream

Joseph in Egypt

There is a story in the Bible about a Pharaoh having some bad dreams he could not explain. He dreamt about seven fat cows being eaten by seven lean cows and seven full ears of grain being devoured by seven thin and blasted ears of grain. A fellow named Joseph was able to explain those dreams. He told the Pharaoh that seven good years would come and after that seven bad years would follow. Joseph advised the Egyptians to store food in large storehouses. The Egyptians followed his advice and built storehouses for food. In this way Egypt survived the seven years of scarcity.

What is less known, because it is not recorded in the Bible, is that the storing of food resulted in a financial system. The historian Friedrich Preisigke discovered that the Egyptians used grain receipts for money and had organised a banking system with the use of those grain receipts. Farmers bringing in the food received receipts for grain. Bakers who wanted to make bread, brought in the receipts which could be exchanged for grain. According to the Bible, Joseph took all the money from the Egyptians. This may have made them to look for an alternative.

In this way the grain receipts may have become money. The money unit was an amount of grain stored at a storehouse. The degradation of the grain and the storage cost caused the value of the receipts to decrease steadily over time. This was like a holding tax on money similar to the stamps in Wörgl. It stimulated the Egyptians to spend their money. It is unclear whether there were loans made with this money. The actions of Joseph may have helped to create this money as he allegedly proposed the grain storage and took all the money from the Egyptians.

A few centuries later, during the reign of Ramesses the Great, Egypt was again a leading power. Some historians claimed that the wealth of Egypt during the reign of Ramesses the Great was built upon the grain financial system. The grain money remained after the introduction of coins around 400 BC until it was finally replaced by Roman money. The money and banking system were stable and survived for more than a thousand years, probably because there weren’t financial crises caused by interest payments.

Featured image: Joseph interpreting the Pharaoh’s dream. Illustrations for La Grande Bible de Tours. Gustave Doré (1866). Public Domain.

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