"The people who wrote the Bible, it was not meant to be history it was not meant to be literal" - Bill Maher, host of Politically Incorrect on ABC. - CRI: 1-28-2002
"The Biblical tradition is a composite of..."legends that still may be regarded as containing moral truths but until now they must be regarded as uncertain historical provenance." - William Dever, University of Arizona, frequent Bible Archaeology Review magazine contributor (Digging for Answers).
Hittites / Boghaz-Koy: Much to the annoyance of the biblical critics, A.H. Sayce found the capital of the Hittites in 1876. Hugo Winckler, German cuneiform scholar, went to investigate upon hearing about the selling of tablets by the locals. At Boghaz-Koy, he uncovered five temples, a fortified citadel, monumental pictures and 10,000 clay tablets that speak of Boghaz-Koy as the Hittite capital called Hattusha. The Hittites are mentioned 47 times in the Bible.
Jacob and Esau / The Oral Blessing: A Nuzi tablet has been uncovered that speaks of the legality of an oral blessing given by the father to his son. This is similar to the blessing given by Isaac to his son Jacob in Genesis 27.
Jacob's Route in Egypt: After Shishak invaded Palestine, during the reign of Jeroboam, he wrote on the wall of the Amon Temple at Thebes about his great triumph. Included in this commemoration are the names of three cities that Jacob visited in Genesis chapters 32 and 33, Mahanaim, Penuel and Succoth.
Can we trust the Bible? Does the Bible touch history or is the text a grand conspiracy among writers who decided to develop an ancient series of tales? The last question is ludicrous of course but many scholars and television personalities spout comments and opinions not out of credibility but perhaps out of "parental" force fed religious training or simply a forum to speak out of sheer ignorance of the facts. It doesn't seem to matter what is fact or fable, if you've got a national forum (Television or national magazines) your guaranteed to have sheep some follow the pseudo-shepherd. Within the realm of academia this also seems to be the case with those that contribute to national archaeological journals. One individual (Willam Dever)) has appeared on cable programs, attended and spoke at Biblical Archaeology Festivals almost every year in a different city but when he took over a functioning magazine (Biblical Archaeologist) he failed to continue with the traditional name. How can a person do all these "related" activities as well as make a living at it but is unwilling to subject himself to be identified with such a publication in name? Equally abhorrent are persons of faith unable to defend themselves on national television.
The two examples are John Tesh and Lori Cole who were asked to appear on "Politically Incorrect." Comedian Bill Maher (host) has the typical round table program where guests shout each other down to be heard and most episodes have one conservative up against three liberals on any given topic. Maher usually throws out some statement trusting that those as guests will be less informed than he and spouts his usual ignorance about the Bible being a myth unfortunately both Tesh and Cole failed to defend their faith with evidence and Maher considered both guests as victims to his opinion. If Maher is correct and the Bible is wrong surely there must be an absence of fact right? Since this " Bible myth" has no verifiability and the hottest topic in archaeological ( academic) circles is the denial of the 40 year Exodus let's start there. Better yet we should start where the Exodus truly had its beginnings and that's with the entrance of Joseph approximately 400 years prior into Egypt as a slave and his rise to second in command. Joseph's background Prior to Joseph's ascension to Vizier a number of things should be briefly mentioned. It's known, at least by conservative Egyptologists, that the typical wage for a slave was the approximate 20 pieces of silver. This fee steadily rose from 20 to 30 to the height of 60 shekels (1) according to Dr. James Hoffmeier which is cited in his book "Israel in Egypt." After his purchase by Potiphar (Gen. 37:36) the "Captain of the Guard" (an authentic Egyptian title which could not have been made up later. It's also known that private individuals such as Potiphar could and did own slaves) (2) Joseph became the "Overseer of his House" or rather his steward (over all slaves), also a well attested title. It should also be said that Joseph had to be literate as part of his function as a scribe as Overseer. (3, book)
After the unfortunate advances of Potiphars wife toward Joseph he was unlawfully put into prison, the only prisons of this type that were maintained exactly and precisely the way the Bible describes them were located in Egypt. A typical prison penalty from any nation other than Egypt was either a strict fine or capitol punishment for offenses rendered but only in Egypt do we see the Biblical Genesis prison. According to the Hayes/Brooklyn Papyrus document (1955) a remarkable amount of slaves, forty five out of the seventy nine mentioned were Asiatics (Hebrews). While in prison at Khenret, Joseph encountered the Baker and the Cupbearer (Butler) who told him of their dreams. Of the two, the Cupbearer seems to have the most intriguing dream that parallels the Bible historically in that most Egyptians believed in dreams and believed they told the future. The dream of the three branches (Gen. 40:9-11) as told to Joseph who in turn interpreted this back to the teller is clearly supportable on the wall painting of the Tomb of Nakht which shows the 3 branches of the agricultural grapevine industry (4). The Bible also states that Joseph held a position under the "keeper of the prison" (Genesis 39:22,23) who appointed Joseph over all the other inmates. This title of "keeper" or overseer is another legitimate title found in Middle Kingdom inscriptions. (5)
The Career of Joseph
Once the Cupbearer was released from prison and was reinstated in his position Joseph remained as a prisoner. It's believed it was sometime until he (Joseph) was called by Pharaoh to interpret the dreams. These dreams connected with the seven fat/lean cows and grain, as stated before, were believed by the Egyptians as omens for the future thus Joseph was called to appear before Pharaoh after the Cupbearer relayed his story about the interpreter (Joseph). It's interesting to note that The Chester Beatty III papyrus dated to Dynasty 12. 1991-1783 B.C. is called the Dream Omen papyrus. This document in its basic structure is similar to the dream that Pharaoh relayed to Joseph…
In each dream the dreamer sees himself doing something. (He was standing by the Nile) Genesis 41:1.
The dreams have oracle power, they can predict the future. (Pharaoh seeks interpreters for his dreams) Genesis 41:8.
The dreams are allegorical. (Seven cows, sleek and fat. Seven other cows, ugly and gaunt). - Genesis 41:2-4.
The dreams have animals for symbology (animals are seen as large or small harvests) Genesis 41:2-4. (6)
The question has also come up "Did Joseph appear before an Egyptian or a foreign king"? The inquiry arises from the fact that the Hyksos were fellow Asiatics. The theory follows the line that Joseph could've more easily climbed the ranks of Government with a fellow Semitic in charge where as with an Egyptian leader he would've had more difficulties. Well it can be determined by the biblical text quite easily that it was indeed an Egyptian. The Egyptians were extremely conscious of cleanliness, according to A. Rosalie David's book, The Ancient Egyptians, temple entry had a strict code to follow regarding rules of cleanliness. The priests several days before entry into the temple had to purify themselves by chewing natron and had to fumigate themselves with incense on the day that they were to enter, as well they had to wash themselves, cut their finger and toe nails and shave all of their body hair.
This practice was even performed on the cult statue where its clothes and makeup were removed, also was sprayed with incense and was offered natron for the cleansing of its (statues) mouth (Watterson). In Genesis we see the very act of Joseph shaving and putting on "clean" clothes before he stood before Pharaoh (Genesis 41:14) where a "Semitic" Hyksos (1786-1570 b.c.) would not have cared. Further evidence is chronicled by Herodotus, a 5th century greek, (cleanly priests and rulers) (7) as well as The Story of Sinuhe: an exile who returned to Egypt after living with Semites shaved before meeting with Sesostris I (1991-1928 B.C.). (8) The next question logically arises "Who did Joseph appear before?"
According to Northwestern's resident Egyptologist, Dr. Charles Aling it was more than likely Sesostris II (1897-1878 B.C.) who was the likely Pharaoh who had the dreams, called for Joseph to interpret and later rewarded him, his son Sesostris III (1878-1843 B.C.) was more than likely the one who dealt with the famine (9). Further support of this theory comes from Paleo-Climatologist Barbara Bell who states that at the time of Sesostris III there was a lengthy famine that hit the region (10).
Joseph's Gifts and Titles
… you shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command; only as regards the throne will I be greater than you." And Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Behold, I have set you over all the land of Egypt." Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph's hand, and arrayed him in garments of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck; and he made him to ride in his second chariot; and they cried before him, "Bow the knee!" Thus he set him over all the land of Egypt. Moreover Pharaoh said to Joseph, "I am Pharaoh, and without your consent no man shall lift up hand or foot in all the land of Egypt." And Pharaoh called Joseph's name Zaph'enath-pane'ah; and he gave him in marriage As'enath, the daughter of Poti'phera priest of On. - Genesis 41: 40-45 (Revised Standard Version) (11)
A particular portion of these previous verses have lead to some disagreements on what the particular interpretation should be. According to Egyptologist Donald Redford the "Gold Chain" of Genesis 41:42 though it is common on tomb wall paintings it's not common among those being inducted into higher office as reward. Not on any of the 32 wall paintings is the chain presented as an induction gift but a reward for services rendered. This belief of Redford's was used by him to deny the historicity of the Biblical account but Dr. Aling has other ideas. It's believed that what is taking place in Genesis 41 are two distinct events, Pharaoh appoints Joseph to office, then he rewards him for his interpretation and its accuracy (12) . The other gifts including the Chariot and his wife Asenath daughter of the priest of On will be discussed here briefly. It was the Hyksos (1786-1570 B.C.) that are known to have introduced the chariot into the land of Egypt but it would not have been uncommon for Government officials to have had chariots such as Joseph was given (2nd chariot) and the Pharaoh obviously having the first (13). Joseph's wife may be insignificant in this story but her father gives us clear clues about the time in which Joseph lived. Since Potiphera (Joseph's father-in-law) was the priest of On we know that On (Heliopolis) was center of the worship of Re clearly putting Joseph into the Middle Kingdom just as the Bible historically affirms and not the Hyksos period of which their major deity was "Set" not "Re." (14)
Josephs Titles: Father to the Pharaoh
"So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt - Genesis 45:8 (NIV). (15)
What can be determined by these titles? How did Joseph's earlier life help him in his later reign as second in command? As his first title "father to Pharaoh" or "God's Father," not a literal father, suggests he was given the title either as a traditional Elder Statesmen (16) (someone who had served the Pharaoh for an extended period of time and was exceptional at his task) or someone who had done the King a special favor (17) (Joseph interpreting his dream, it coming to pass and developing a plan to protect Egypt from the coming crisis), the latter seems to be the case since Sesostris II died after the seven years of plenty and Joseph was too young to develop an
Josephs Titles: Lord of all his household
This second title can also be interpreted as "Chief Steward of the King" or "Chief Overseer of his House" there is a clear agricultural connection here not unlike the work that Joseph did before his imprisonment by Potiphar but this time on a grander scale. This title was common during the Middle Kingdom period where William A. Ward cites 20 examples of this title during this period and Franke nineteen (18). Alan Gardiner relays the fact that this title "Chief Steward of the King" was 2nd only to the Vizier, my assumption is that when Sesostris II rewarded Joseph he gave him titles of varying degree and influence. So what were the duties of the Chief Steward? The duties of Chief Steward fall directly into line with what Joseph did in Genesis. The Supervisor of the Royal Graineries (Genesis 41:49), Overseer of Royal Flocks and Herds (Genesis 47:6) as well as Administrator of the Royal Estates. The Steward had duties in tomb construction (perhaps in the construction of Sesostris II's) as well in taxes and the acquiring of supplies from other countries which are told in the 11th Dynasty tomb of Henunu at Deir El Bahri (19).
Josephs Titles: Ruler throughout the land of Egypt
The final title awarded to Joseph perhaps is the most striking of them all. This title of "ruler" is assumed to be the title Vizier, 2nd in the land only to Pharaoh. William Wards criticism of this title and the many other assumed designations (Overseer of the Graineries of Upper and Lower Egypt, Royal Seal-Bearer, God's Father, Great Steward of the Lord of the Two Lands, Foremost of Courtiers and Chief of the Entire Land ) (20) should not be entirely accepted or rejected but the most credible seems to be Chief of the Entire Land. The contention that these titles do not reflect a pro-Vizier theory for Joseph because he was a foreigner and not a native Egyptian but should not be entirely accepted because prior to Joseph, the title of Vizier was first held by the royal prince. After the 5th Dynasty it was offered to any noble of the Pharaohs choosing. (21)
The duties of the Vizier are also strikingly similar to those in the career of Joseph that he carried out in the biblical narrative. First of all, Joseph was the head of agricultural production (prior Potiphar duty and current duty under Pharaoh). Secondly, the Vizier would welcome the foreign visitor to the land as well control access of the people to the Pharaoh (Joseph's brothers arrive in Egypt to buy food and meet the Governor/Vizier). The further duties of the Vizier ranged from being the Chief Record Keeper of the Government Record (keeping track of grain output during famine) as well as Government Supervisor, Construction/Industry head and the one who appointed lesser officials to office (22). One interesting fact about the word Vizier is the verse in Genesis 42 where the brothers refer to him as "the man" these two words may seem insignificant but the same words used for "the man" if one letter is changed reads "Vizier." (23)
As can be seen, Joseph fits perfectly within the Bible as well as Egyptian history in the era in which he is placed. As with any ancient study there are always gaps that need to be filled and question answered but until then the ancient historian can be assured that the Bible, where it touches history, is a solid document. As with anything there will always be critics but, in my limited experience I have noticed that most critics don't have a head problem (academic scholarship and the Bible as consistent historical records) but have great difficulties in acknowledging something higher and greater than themselves, in other words, a heart problem.
The Death of Jacob
The Khu Sebek Mortuary Stela (ca. 1859 B.C.E.) Khu Sebek, an official under Sesostris III (1878-1843 B.C.E.), wrote about his “unpleasant task” (funeral march?) he had to perform as he journeyed to Canaan. It mentions an attack at Shechem, perhaps in response to Genesis 34 events, and the precise route that Genesis 50 says Jacobs descendants took to bury him in Israel (Bible and Spade Magazine).
The Death of Joseph
The excavations by Manfred Beitak may have uncovered the temporary tomb of Joseph in Egypt. Beitak began his digging at the site in 1966 but the 1984-1987 excavations have unearthed some interesting information about who has been memorialized and buried at Tell El-Dab'a. The evidence includes the retirement home of a high ranking Semitic official (possibly Joseph), an Asiatic/non-Egyptian Cemetary with garden area graves, a 4-room home and the tomb of a high ranking Asiatic official which includes a broken, yellow (Semitic indicator) statue complete with throw stick and mushroom hairstyle (other Semitic indicator's). It has not been determined that this was the temporary tomb of Joseph but whoever it was, lived at the exact time of Joseph, was Semitic and rose in the ranks of Egyptian Government. It is believed that the statue in the tomb was smashed by the Hyksos when they invaded northern Egypt and that Joseph's body was hidden until it could be safely returned to Israel.
Aling, Charles F. Egypt and Bible History, (Baker Book House Company, 1981). (3, 7, 9, 12-14)
Aling, Charles F. The Historicity of the Joseph Story, (Bible and Spade/Associates for Biblical Research, Winter 1996). (10, 16, 18, 19)
Billington, Clyde E. and Aling, Charles F. Readings in Old Testament Archaeology, (Northwestern College, 2000). (5, 17, 20, 22, 23)
Currid, John D. Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament, (Baker Books, 1997). (6)
Hayes, William C. A Papyrus of The Late Middle Kingdom, (John Watkins Company, 1955). (2)
Hoffmeier, James K. Israel in Egypt, (Ox ford University Press, 1996). (1)
Johnson, Paul. The Civilization of Ancient Egypt, (Harper Collins, 1999). (4)
Merrill, Eugene H. Kingdom of Priests, (Baker Book House, 1996). (8)
Steindorff, George and Seele, Keith E. When Egypt Ruled the East, (University of Chicago Press, 1957). (21)
www.bibleontheweb.com/Bible.asp (11, 15)