Bible and Spade 16.2 (2003).
Copyright © 2003 by Bible and Spade, cited with permission.
Fifth of Six Parts
By Charles Aling
The specific Egyptian titles granted to Joseph by Pharaoh
have been discussed at great length by modem scholars. The
key verse is Genesis 45:8, which mentions three titles held by
Joseph. The Hebrew text of course does not give the Egyptian
form of these three titles. Hence, years of scholarly debate have
arisen over the exact Egyptian renditions of the Hebrew words
Of the three titles that Joseph held, let us begin with the one
obvious title, and then move on to the two more complex and
Lord of Pharaoh's House
Genesis 45:8 states that Joseph was made Lord of all of
Pharaoh's House. This title has an exact Egyptian counterpart,
which is normally translated into English as "Chief Steward of the
The main job of the Chief Steward was the detailed supervision
of the King's personal agricultural estates, the number of which would
have been vast. This fits well with Joseph's advice regarding the coming
years of plenty and the following years of famine. As Chief Steward,
Joseph would be well placed to prepare for the coming famine during
the years of more abundant production.
It is interesting to observe that another specific responsibility of the
Chief Steward was to take charge of the royal granaries, where the agricultural
wealth of the nation was stored. As the person in charge of these great
storehouses, Joseph was ideally placed for carrying out his suggestion to store
food during the good years for the bad.
On the practical side, two things can be learned from Joseph's
post as Chief Steward. First, note how God had prepared him for his task.
No one starts out in life at the top of the ladder. We all must learn the
ropes, so to speak, from the ground floor up. Joseph had been steward of
the estates of Potiphar. This job was very much like that of Chief Steward
of the King, but on a much smaller scale. Joseph without doubt received
Aling: Joseph in
on-the-job training as Potiphar's steward, which stood him in good stead
when he later was promoted to the same job in the King's household.
As Potiphar's steward, Joseph did his job faithfully. We are told
that all that Potiphar owned prospered under the stewardship of Joseph.
Joseph evidently learned well. He was therefore
59 Bible and Spade 16.2 (2003)
ready when the Lord allowed him to become Chief Steward for
A second point is also worth mentioning. As Chief Steward
of the King, Joseph was perfectly placed to care
People during the famine. As Genesis 45:7 tells us, God put
Joseph into this position in order to save the Patriarchal family.
It is almost certain that Joseph did not know this at the time of
his appointment, but God had plans for him. And, in the same way,
wherever God places us, He may have a major task for us to do later.
Like Joseph, we should do the best we can at whatever task He gives
us, so that we will be ready when called upon later.
Father to Pharaoh
Genesis 45:8 also calls Joseph "Father to Pharaoh." Of course, this
does not mean that Joseph was the physical father of
the King of
There was no blood connection between the two men. Pharaoh was an
Egyptian; Joseph was a Hebrew. Even if we assume, as many scholars do,
that the Pharaoh in the Joseph story was a Hyksos king, there is no reason
to suspect any blood relation between the two men. Dismissing that
possibility, what then does the phrase "Father of Pharaoh" mean?
Father of Pharaoh, or more literally "father of the God" (the Egyptians
believed their kings to be divine), had a variety of meanings in ancient
childhood. In Joseph's case this is not likely. He had never met the King
until called out of prison to interpret the royal dream. Nor does the Bible
ever suggest that Joseph held such a post.
Another way the title was used was as a designation for an individual
whose daughter became a wife of the reigning king. In other words,
"Father of the God" meant "father-in-law." Again, we may dismiss this
meaning for Joseph's title. The Bible says nothing about Joseph having any
daughters, let alone daughters who married the King of Egypt.
Yet another usage of the title was as a designation for minor priests in
possibility for Joseph. He was never a priest in
of the true God, he would not have such an office.
Aling: Joseph in
A last use of the title "Father of the God," however, makes
more sense for Joseph. The Egyptians used this title as a special
honor given to officials who had served long and well, or who
had done the King some special favor. Joseph would easily
qualify for the title Father of the God when used in this way; in
fact, this is the only usage that makes sense. Joseph would
have been named Father of the God for interpreting the dream
of the King, and for suggesting a plan for
seven terrible years of famine.
Ruler Throughout all the
Joseph's third possible title is more controversial, and merits
a more extended treatment. The basic question is whether Joseph
ever became Vizier, or Prime Minister, of
Genesis 45:8, by calling Joseph "Ruler of
suggest that he became the Vizier of Egypt. And, when Pharaoh
promoted and rewarded Joseph, he said that only as King would
he be greater than Joseph. But the modern scholar William
Ward has argued that Joseph never became Vizier (Ward 1960:
144-50). Ward states that Hebrew phrases such as those
mentioned above are not specific equivalents of the Egyptian
title of Vizier, but are rather only renditions of vague Egyptian
epithets given to other, lesser, officials.
However, Joseph obviously held only one of the vague epithets
discussed by Ward and that epithet was "Chief of the Entire
Land." While Ward is correct in stating that this epithet was at
times used for officials of lower rank, it was most commonly
used for Viziers. And, for the phrase in Genesis 41:40, "Only
with respect to the throne will I be greater than you,'' no exact
Egyptian parallel exists. The Hebrew text strongly suggests
that Joseph became the Vizier of Egypt.
Assuming that Joseph was indeed Vizier, what were his
There are Egyptian inscriptions that describe the duties of
the Vizier of
than Joseph's time (they date from the
texts exist which describe in great detail the duties and powers
of the office of Vizier.
60b Bible and Spade 16.2 (2003)
The Vizier was the chief record keeper of the government
records, was the supervisor of the government in general,
appointed lower officials of government to office, controlled
access to the person of the Pharaoh, and generally supervised
construction work and industry in
(Aling 1984: 49). More pertinent to Joseph, the Vizier also
Aling: Joseph in
was in charge of agricultural production, just what he needed to
care for God's people in the time of famine.
Also, another power held by the Vizier has great interest in
regard to the Joseph story. Only the Vizier welcomed foreign
embassies coming into
And, Joseph is the man they met (Gil 42).
It is also interesting that in referring to Joseph, the brothers
normally call him "the man." This is perhaps a play on words
since the Egyptian word for man and the Egyptian word for
Vizier are only one letter different.
The positions of Vizier and Chief Steward of the King were
both very high posts in the government of Ancient Egypt, even
as far back as the Middle Kingdom. It is reasonable to ask if
there are any known officials with these titles that could have
been Joseph. The answer is no, at least at the present time.
One problem is that we know comparatively few Viziers and
Chief Stewards from the Middle Kingdom. Also, another major
obstacle is that we do not know the Egyptian form of Joseph's
name, only the Hebrew.
There is, however, one fact of interest that we know about
Middle Kingdom Viziers. It is rare in the early part of the
Middle Kingdom period to find one person holding both the
title of Vizier and the title of Chief Steward of the King. But,
from the time of Sesostris II of the Middle Kingdom, we do find
examples until the end of the 12th Dynasty. It is possible that
Joseph broke new ground in this regard, being the first person
to hold both positions at the same time.
The Seven Years of Famine
As for the seven years of famine, no contemporary Egyptian
record of this famine exists. But from a later time, when Greek
there is an Egyptian text which mentions a seven-year famine,
but dates it to the reign of King Djoser of the
One wonders if this is a garbled memory of the famine in
Joseph's day, simply re-dated to the reign of a more famous
king. Confirmation of such a theory is nearly impossible, but it
is interesting to speculate about. In our next article in this series
we will consider some final aspects of the Joseph story.
61b Bible and Spade 16.2 (2003)
1960 The Egyptian Office of Joseph Journal of Semitic
Studies 5: 144-50.
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: