The 2001 Commentaries

Ancient Egyptian Law and Eminent Domain

info All commentaries are written by volunteers, readers, or supporters of our Bible translation project. These are not official views of our project; we are not a religious denomination and we do not establish doctrine. These commentaries reflect a variety of views and some disagree with each other.

The account found at Genesis Chapter 47, where JoSeph purchased all of the Egyptian people’s land for Pharaoh with grain, provides us an interesting insight into the history of governmental power to tax its residents and to own the land (eminent domain).

From this unique historical source (the Bible), we can see that governmental power and taxation wasn’t necessarily common in early Egypt. But notice that the things that started there were very important, since this country was in fact the first great world power. So, it became the source of information about how governments were to be subsidized to all future generations.

Apparently, prior to that time, governmental taxation of an entire population was unknown.
So, kings may have derived their funds by coercing merchants or rich landowners… or by war.
However, under JoSeph’s inspired direction (and God’s permitting the famine), this first major government of history could legally claim the right to own the land and to tax the people. And while most archaeologists and scholars deny the existence of JoSeph (as well as a long line of other major Bible people and events);
No one can deny the effects of the laws he passed, on world history.

Then, can we say that God is responsible for governmental taxation?
Yes, for notice what Romans 13:6, 7 tells us:

‘This is why you pay taxes;
Because, as public servants, they are serving God’s purposes.
So, pay everyone what they are owed; to the tax assessor, the property tax; to the toll collector, the toll; give the police fear, and honor those [who require] honor.’

It is also interesting that this early decision affected the religious clerics of the time.
For under Joseph’s direction, they paid no taxes on the property they owned…
Which is again similar to modern laws.

So, the conclusion we reach is that governmental power and taxation are things that God created for our benefit, and that He also considered it necessary to remove religion from the influence of and taxation by governments.

The parallels to these ancient laws of God can still be seen in modern governments, where they claim the right to confiscate, purchase, or own all land within their domain (eminent domain). Also, national taxation is about the same as it was in Egypt under JoSeph, twenty percent, and religious organizations and their clerics aren’t taxed on income from their religious duties.

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