In the Bible is a story about a Pharaoh having bad dreams that his advisors could not explain. He dreamt about seven fat cows eaten. Then came seven lean cows who ate the fat cows. And then came seven full ears of grain. Seven thin and blasted ears devoured them. Joseph explained those dreams. He told the Pharaoh that seven years with good harvests would come, followed by seven lean years with crop failures. Joseph advised the Egyptians to store food. They followed his advice and built storehouses for grain. In this way, Egypt survived the seven years of scarcity.1
There is something that the Bible does not tell us. The Egyptians used this grain storage as a financial system. The historian Friedrich Preisigke discovered that the Egyptians used grain receipts for money.2 Farmers bringing in the grain received these vouchers. Bakers brought them back in and exchanged them for grain to make bread. In the meantime, these receipts circulated as money. The vouchers had value because you could exchange them for grain. According to the Bible, Joseph took all the money from the Egyptians.3 And so the Egyptians may have started to use the vouchers as money instead.
When you exchanged the receipts for the grain, you had to pay the storage cost. In this way, these vouchers gradually lost value over time. It worked like a negative interest rate. It may have helped to keep the money circulating and may have prevented financial crises caused by interest charges that prompted the Sumerians to cancel debts from time to time. During the reign of Ramesses the Great, Egypt became a leading power again. Some historians suggested that the Pharao’s wealth at the time came from grain money.
The money remained in circulation after the introduction of coins around 400 BC until the Romans conquered Egypt around 40 BC. The grain money survived for more than a thousand years. A holding fee on money and negative interest rates can create a stable financial system that lasts forever. It contrasts with the Sumerian interest-bearing debts that had to be cancelled from time to time to prevent permanent debt-slavery of the masses.
The Bible provides an explanation as to how the Egyptian grain storage financial system might have come to be even though the story probably is fiction. The Bible and the Quran also condemn charging interest. There appears to be a link between interest-free money with a holding fee and the Abrahamic religions.
Featured image: Joseph interpreting the Pharaoh’s dream. Illustrations for La Grande Bible de Tours. Gustave Doré (1866). Public Domain.
1. Genesis 41 [link]
2. A Strategy for a Convertible Currency. Bernard A. Lietaer, ICIS Forum, Vol. 20, No.3, 1990 [link]
3. Genesis 47:15 [link]