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Karma in the Bible - The Story of Joseph

Semitic peoples are known to have immigrated into the Nile delta of Egypt as early as the 19th century BCE, during the time of the Middle Kingdom. Egyptian tomb inscriptions show Semites with their distinctive beards (no mustaches) wearing striped and colored clothing arriving in the land. At this time the native Egyptian Pharaonic dynasties were over 1000 years old! By the 18th century BCE the Semitic population had grown vastly in number and strength to the point of exercising political and military power. They became rulers of lower Egypt (the Nile delta area), with their capital based at Avaris. These people and their rulers were known to Egyptians as the Hyksos (literally 'foreign rulers') and are supposed to have oppressed the native population. Upper Egypt, which was in the south, remained under the control of native Egyptian kings who ruled from Thebes, possibly paying tribute to the Hyksos rulers. In the 16th century BCE, king Ahmoses from the southern kingdom rose up and fought the Hyksos, and expelled them from Egypt. Tomb inscriptions talk about the capture of Avaris, and of taking people from that city as slaves. One may assume that though a large swathe of the Hyksos population fled, many were taken as slaves. Slavery was common during these times; a practice that included chattel and conscripted labor for the state. Indeed there are tomb inscriptions that picture Semitic slaves working in Egypt.

So much for history and archaeology. Now the Bible narrates the story of the patriarch Joseph, who as a young Semite boy was sold into slavery in Egypt by his brothers. He labors there, does very well in the eyes of his master, but ends up in the dungeons. He has a knack for interpreting dreams, and rises to freedom and power after interpreting a dream for the Pharaoh. His dream interpretation foretold the coming of seven years of famine in Egypt, after a period of seven years of plentiful harvests.

According to the Bible, the years of plenty do arrive. For his wisdom and advice, Joseph is made the ruler of all Egypt, his stature and power second only to that of the Pharaoh. Joseph buys up all the grain he could gather and stores it away in the cities so that it could be dispensed when the prophesied time of famine arrived. Later famine hits the region, and people all over the land begin to starve, having spent all their money on buying grain from Joseph.

What Joseph does next is not taught in Sunday schools, nor even discussed in sermons. In ancient Egypt a peasant could sell oneself and his family into slavery when his debts could not be paid. In return for a supply of grain, Joseph takes possession of all the land of Egypt and enslaves all the Egyptians in the name of the Pharaoh. He evicts the Egyptians from their homes and moves them into the cities. Then he gives them seed to sow in the lands they had vacated, and imposes a twenty percent tax on all the grain harvested. On this note, Joseph is probably the first recorded capitalist in history! Contrast this to Ptolemy III, a later Pharaoh, who imported grain from abroad at his own expense during a famine to feed the population. And the Ptolemies were Greek rulers who were largely despised by native Egyptians because they ran Egypt like a business, and never bothered to learn or speak Egyptian.

The Bible records that descendants of Joseph and his family (later known as Israelites) were "exceedingly fruitful, multiplied greatly, increased in number and became so numerous" in Egypt. But a Pharaoh who comes later goes against the population and enslaves them for many years. Finally Moses liberates them from slavery by working great miracles, and takes them out of Egypt into the promised land of Canaan, which happens only after wandering in the desert for 40 years.

Karmic patterns often contain an inversion of circumstances. Even the life of Moses is an inversion of the life of Joseph. Joseph lives a free life till he is a young boy, and is sold into slavery. Moses is brought up under slavery and then moves into the Egyptian palace as a young boy, becoming part of the royal family. As a youth, Joseph spends many years laboring as a slave and is thrown into the dungeons. Moses spends his youth in palatial settings in the lap of luxury. Joseph meets the Pharaoh around age 30, begins to prosper and enslaves the Egyptians around the age of 40. Moses becomes an outcast by age 40, with the Pharaoh seeking to kill him. During the next 80 years, Joseph’s power is on the rise and he brings in his family from outside of Egypt. The immigrant population now wax mightily in the Nile delta. In contrast, during the next 70 years Moses lives in isolation and then takes his people out of the Nile delta, only to have them wander in the desert looking for the promised land. Joseph's embalmed body (or bones) is taken to Canaan for burial. Moses is not allowed to enter Canaan, dies after seeing it from afar, and his body disappears.

A suggestion may have occurred to the reader, that both Joseph and Moses could have been the same soul; one who took karmic responsibility for leading the nation or people of Israel. In line with our discussion on Karma, the work of Moses may be considered as meeting primary and second degree karma. The tertiary karma of restoration of his people to glory is met by King David, where the suggestion is again obvious as to who this soul might be. Indeed Psalm 81 (KJV and old versions) carry hints of these associations.

There are many other instances of karma playing out in stories recounted in the Bible. Jacob tricks his brother out of his inheritance, and his father out of blessings, making the latter grieve for his favorite son. Jacob finds himself exiled losing his inheritance, tricked by his father-in-law into a long servitude and mourns greatly for his favorite son. King David steals another man's wife and sends the man to the frontlines of the war, where the latter is killed. David's son through this woman dies, and another son of David rises up against him and lays with David's women in public. The Israelites take over the lands of Canaan by the sword. They are exiled from the land by the sword - the northern tribes by the Assyrians and the southern tribes by the Babylonians. Even the north-south split of these kingdoms could be taken as a reflection of those in Egypt.

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