A Biblical Approach to Climate Change (part 3 of 3) Joseph’s amazing adaptation plan?
After questioning the idea of being Stewards of the Earth, and concluding that perhaps we are more like parasites and taking a new view of the passage about blaspheming the Holy Spirit, we end our three part series with the story of Joseph in Genesis.
One can easily read the book of Genesis with an eye towards water. So many wells. So many conflicts over wells. Then there are the droughts. The book is loaded with climate migrants escaping famine in search of greener pastures.
In my own Bible scholarship, I spend time on Joseph in Genesis, highlighting the gender differences between his father Jacob/Israel and his uncle Esau. If you have seen my performance lecture, Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible, you know how I explore Joseph’s gender differences both in what he wears and how he acts. If you haven’t seen it, here is a video from a presentation I did at Friends General Conference in 2012.
There also is a climate connection with Joseph. As Neil Grungras pointed out to me, he predicts climate change and devises a plan to adapt. During each the 7 years of amazing crops, he stores 5% of the bumper crop. Then during the 7 very lean, dry, famine years, there is food for the people. Ah, but as Fr. Joao Gwann Xerri, who I met in Malta years ago, suggested, Joseph’s plan was effective but unjust. In order to get the food from pharaoh it cost the people dearly.
First Joseph gave out grain if the people paid for it with the money they had. When they ran out of money, he took all their livestock. Still the famine raged on. If they wanted food from Pharaoh’s emergency manager, they needed to pay for it. The people begged for relief.
Why should we and our land perish before your very eyes? Take us and our land in exchange for food, and we will become Pharaoh’s slaves and our land his property; only give us seed, that we may survive and not perish, and that our land may not turn into a waste.”
So Joseph acquired all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh. Each of the Egyptians sold his field, since the famine weighed heavily upon them. Thus the land passed over to Pharaoh, and the people were reduced to slavery, from one end of Egypt’s territory to the other. Genesis 47:19-21
Breaking this story down for us is my favorite character, Marvin Bloom. Listen to his telling of this important story. I think there might be a lesson for us today. (transcript below)
Hi, This is Marvin, Marvin Bloom, and this is your moment with Marvin
Have you ever seen the musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat. I like the book version better, in the book of Genesis, in the Bible. It has more details and less singing.
So Joseph is one of the youngest kids in a large blended family. His father Jacob, who changes his name to Israel has at least four sexual partners, I mean wives, I mean I don’t understand that lifestyle at all. Anyway there is a lot of tension in the family about inheritance rights; who’s gonna get all the stuff?
Since Joesph is the favorite son, and a bit of a brat, his brothers get rid of him. They ship him off to Egypt where he becomes a slave. He then gets in trouble, does jail time and ultimately becomes 2nd in command of the whole kingdom. And then he saves his family from starvation.
And that is the part that is interesting to me—the climate part of it. You see Pharaoh was having weird dreams. They hauled Joseph out of prison to interpret them. It was his thing. He said there would be 7 years of amazing weather with huge harvests. Then he warned of 7 years afterwards of horrible drought, famine, and potential starvation. He predicted temporary climate change AND he came up with an adaptation plan.
He suggested that Pharaoh grow as much grain as possible and stash it away in storage for a rainy day, well, many days with no rain. Then when the people are hungry and needy, there is food for them. And it was a successful plan. Thefamine hit and Pharaoh had mountains of food to feed a starving nation.
It was an effective plan, but it was not a just plan. It wasn’t fair. There is no such thing as a free lunch. In order to get Pharaoh’s grain, people had to sell everything they had and give it to the ruler. This turned Pharaoh into the ultimate 1% leading to oppression and slavery.
So what lesson do I get from this? In coming up with solutions to address the physical needs of people in a time of climate change, we need to calculate how the plan affects people’s right. Because climate change is a human rights issue.
This is Marvin and this has been your moment with Marvin.