Bible and Spade 16.1 (2003).
Copyright © 2003 by Bible and Spade, cited with permission.
Fourth of Six Parts
By Charles Aling
In Genesis 41, Joseph meets the king
our last article, he had been prepared for this encounter by being
cleaned up and shaved, in true Egyptian fashion. He was now
ready to meet the most powerful and important man on earth.
Before we consider this meeting however, a word on the title
Pharaoh is necessary. This term means literally "Great House,"
and refers to the palace establishment of
passed, the title "Pharaoh" began to be used when speaking of
the king, the main inhabitant of the palace and the head of
If we date Joseph to the Middle Kingdom period of Egyptian
history, as I believe it is correct to do, an apparent problem
arises. At this early stage of Egyptian history, the title Pharaoh
was not used to refer to the king in direct address; such use
begins only in
BC, some 300 years after the time of Joseph.
We must remember, however, that Joseph did not write the
account we have in Genesis; Moses did. Moses of course lived
much later than Joseph, in about 1400 BC. During his time,
the title Pharaoh was beginning to be used as a form of direct
address for the king of
does not use Pharaoh followed by a proper name. This practice
was only instituted in the late period of Egyptian history, as is
correctly reflected in Jeremiah 44:30, where "Pharaoh Hophra"
But let us turn to the events surrounding the actual meeting
between Joseph and the king, most probably Sesostris II of
Dynasty 12. As all of us will recall from our own study of the
Aling: Joseph in
Scriptures, Pharaoh had had a dream. His magicians (the Hebrew
in Genesis 41 is an accurate translation of the Egyptian word for
a magician) could not tell the meaning of his dream.
this point, the
Joseph from prison days who had interpreted his dream and
that of the Baker. Joseph's interpretation of their dreams had
come true. This was the man to send to the king to interpret his
dream. Pharaoh's dream, itself full of Egyptian coloring,
predicted according to Joseph's interpretation
experience seven years of plenty followed by seven years of
The years of plenty would of course cause no problem; but in
a country dependent on agriculture, seven years of famine could
spell disaster. The Pharaoh is then offered sage advice by Joseph:
find a man to supervise
years. He should put aside one fifth of the produce of the seven
good years for distribution during the seven bad years.
In Genesis 41:39, two remarkable things take place. First,
Pharaoh acknowledges that God (singular) has revealed all this
to Joseph. He must have been told this fact by Joseph himself. It
is interesting that this man of God was not afraid to give credit to
the Lord even while speaking to a pagan king who was considered
to be a god on earth by his people. This shows solid faith and
remarkable courage on the part of Joseph. Second, Pharaoh
realizes that Joseph has the Lord's wisdom and appoints him to
be the one in charge of
these important years.
After all of this takes place, a very significant scene is
described. In Genesis 41:40-45, Joseph is appointed to high
new linen robes, a chariot, an Egyptian name, and a wife. The
interpretation of this scene has created a good deal of controversy
among scholars. Traditionally, the entire scene has been taken
to represent some kind of investiture ceremony. Joseph is named
to high position, and is given the trappings of high office.
[graphic] Pharaoh gave Joseph "Asenath daughter of Potiphera,
prient of On, to be his wife" (Gn 41:45). Little remains
at On (called
lone obelisk. A grand temple to the Egyptian god Re
stood here in Joseph's day.
12a Bible and Spade 16.1 (2003)
This interpretation is, however, certainly wrong. The Egyptologist
Donald B. Redford in his study of the Joseph story examined all
known scenes in Egyptian tomb paintings where individuals are
given gold chains (Redford 1970: 208 If). In the 32 known paintings
of this event, not one has anything to do with induction into high
office. They all, on the other hand, show an individual being rewarded
for service rendered.
of the Biblical account. We do not agree with him on that point, though.
What is happening in these verses is a two-fold ceremony.
In verses 40-41, Pharaoh officially appoints Joseph to high office
which Egyptian titles Joseph held). However, in verses 42-45,
Pharaoh rewards Joseph for what he has revealed.
Let us look at how Joseph was rewarded. Of the three items of
personal adornment mentioned, the gold chain is by far the most
reward scenes in Egyptian tomb paintings (most of the examples
come from the
days of Joseph). While the ring and the linen robes are not
prominently mentioned in Egyptian reward scenes, the gold chain
catches our attention because one would not expect an Egyptian
reward ceremony to occur without it. This again indicates the
accurate Egyptian nature of the details of the Joseph Story.
Joseph's new chariot is also of special interest (Aling 1981:
44-45). As a vehicle for war, the chariot seems to have only
been introduced into
1570 BC. This would be, according to the dates calculated
from the Bible itself, too late for Joseph. There is, however,
nothing strange about the Egyptians having a few chariots for
high officials to use in the Middle Kingdom period when Joseph
lived. In this passage of Scripture we are not looking at war
chariots lined up for battle in some anachronistic way. In fact,
the implication of the Biblical text is that there- were not many
second chariot," implying that the only person who outranked
him, Pharaoh himself, had the other.
What of Joseph's new name? Unfortunately, scholars are
uncertain about the Egyptian original for the Hebrew version
Zaphnath-paaneah (Kitchen 1996; Redford, 1970: 230-31).
Identification of the Egyptian name of Joseph would be of great
interest, since some of the viziers of the Middle Kingdom period
are known to us. Our small sample of names, though, probably
does not include Joseph's.
Aling: Joseph in
Joseph also was granted a wife. The woman's name was
Asenath, which is a good Egyptian female name of the period.
We know little of her, other than her name and the name of her
father. Knowing Joseph, however, we must assume that he taught
her to have faith in the true God of Heaven, despite her pagan
But who was her father? The Bible gives us several tantalizing
facts about the man. He is called Potiphera. This is a variant of
the name Potiphar, the only other male named in the Joseph Story.
As we all recall, Potiphar was Joseph's former master. In both
cases it is likely that we are not dealing with a personal name at
all. Such a grammatical construction of a name, meaning "the
[graphic] Pharaoh had Joseph "ride in a chariot as his second-in-
command, and men shouted before him, "Make way!"'
(Gn 41:43). Golden state chariot from the tomb of Tutankhamun, ca. 1325 BC.
13 Bible and Spade 16.1 (2003)
one given by Re (the Sun god)," would only be possible in the
later periods of Egyptian history. It would also be strange to
have two men named who have virtually the same name, while
none of the kings is named. It seems most likely that the two men
involved are not actually being referred to by name, but that we
are being told that they were native Egyptians.
We are also told that the father of Asenath was a priest. This
in itself is not terribly significant, other than to show that Joseph
was being highly favored since priests were at the pinnacle of
Egyptian society. What is important is the further information
we are given in Genesis 41:45. Asenath's father was Priest of
the city of On. On was known to the Greeks as
was the center of worship of the sun god Re. It was also the
educational center of ancient
Re at that city was a key figure in Egyptian religion and politics.
That Joseph married the daughter of a priest of Re at
in the Middle Kingdom and not in the Hyksos period as so
many scholars wish to do. His marriage must be regarded as a
high honor, as it is part of the rewards given him for what he
has done. It thus stands to reason that the priest of On and his
god Re were highly favored by the Pharaoh at that time.
Under the Hyksos, the god Re, while not being persecuted as
was once thought by some scholars, was certainly not the main
god: For the Hyksos the
god Set, a
with the Canaanite god Baal, was number one. If Joseph dates
to the Hyksos period, we would not expect to find Re being so
important. That Joseph marries a daughter of the Priest of Re is
evidence for his belonging to a period of history when native
kings ruled in
In our next article, we will examine the titles Joseph held in
the Egyptian government.
Aling, Charles F.
Kitchen, Kenneth A.
1996 Zaphnath-Paaneah. P. 1262 in The New Bible
Dictionary, third ed., ed. D. R. Wood. Downers Gorve
Redford, Donald B.
Study of the Biblical Story of Joseph.
[graphic]Artist's reconstruction of the entry facade of the
On. Joseph's father-in-law was a priest at this temple and Joseph's marriage
to his daughter no doubt had political ramifications.
This material is cited with gracious permission from:
Bible and Spade and Dr. Charles Aling
Associates for Biblical Research
PO Box 144
report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: