Bible and Spade 15.1 (2002) 21-23 [text only]
Copyright © 2002 by Bible and Spade. Cited with permission.
First of Six Parts
No portion of the Old Testament has a richer Egyptian
coloring than the story of Joseph. Egyptian names, titles,
places, and customs all appear in Genesis 37-50. In the
last one hundred years or so, historical and archaeological
research has made the study of the Egyptian elements in
the Joseph story more fruitful than ever before. In order to
examine the Egyptological information, it is necessary to
establish the period in Egyptian history when Joseph was
Mainline contemporary scholarship and the Bible's own
chronology are in accord in dating Joseph sometime
between 2000 and 1600 BC. This time frame includes two
(2000-1786 B.C.) and the Second Intermediate Period
(1786-1570 B.C.). However, before narrowing down our
dates for Joseph any more, let us first survey these two
The Middle Kingdom was one of
ages (Hayes, 1964) (Aling, 1981). The country was unified
and prosperous, and was in the process of conquering
this area is
The eight Pharaohs of this period comprise
Dynasty: The founder was the great Amenemhat I (1991-
1962 BC). He died by assassination, but not before he had
associated his son Sesostris I with him on the throne as co-
regent. Sesostris in his long reign (1971-1928 BC)
with success in northern
no less than
35 sites in
Under his immediate successors, fighting in
subsided and trade received the main royal attentions.
The most important king of the 12th Dynasty was
Sesostris III (1878-1843 BC). He renewed the efforts to
south as Semnah was taken. Sesostris III also instituted
great administrative reforms. He broke the power of the
local nobility. These officials had been a thorn in the side
of the Pharaohs all through the 12th Dynasty. We know
little in detail of what Sesostris III did, but he did end the
semi-independence of the so-called Nomarchs (provincial
governors). We will have occasion to return to this point
Under Amenemhat III (1842-1797 B.C.) the Middle
Kingdom reached its highest level of material prosperity.
exploitation of mines and quarries was greater than ever
before, and a project to reclaim land in the Faiyum region
to the west
The final rulers of the Twelfth Dynasty (including one
female king) were weak. As central authority broke down,
enabled an ever-expanding infiltration of Asiatics to enter
control of northern
Kingdom period of Egyptian history.
The Second Intermediate Period, or as it is
sometimes called, "the Hyksos Period," was not a
controlled by Asiatics, a group called the Hyksos
by the Egyptians. The south was ruled by local
Egyptian dynasts of no great power or importance,
at least in their early years. [The best study of the
John Van Seters, The Hyksos (
A few comments on the Hyksos are necessary
here. There are several wrong views concerning
them which have become popularly held. The first
is that they
military invasion led by chariots. While the Hyksos
introduce the war chariot to
they most certainly did not enter the country and
conquer it in a military campaign. They entered
there in sufficient numbers to do so, simply
established one of their leaders as an Egyptian-style
Pharaoh. They resided in a capital city called
Avaris; later in Egyptian history this city would be
re-named "Ramses" after the great king Ramses II
Another misconception about the Hyksos
concerns their name. Josephus, a Jewish historian
writing in the first century AD during the days of
Jewish Revolt against the
term "Hyksos" meant "Shepherd Kings." This is of course
quite wrong. The name Hyksos comes from two Egyptian
words meaning "Rulers of Foreign Lands," and has
nothing at all to do with shepherds.
The final incorrect idea regarding the Hyksos is that
the delta region, at least for any length of time.
During which of these two periods of time did Joseph
among scholars to date him to the Hyksos period, since it
is generally assumed that the Israelites were fellow Asiatics
related to the Hyksos. It is also assumed that, since Joseph
eventually rose to a high position in the Egyptian court,
the king must have been a fellow countryman of Joseph's.
If we allow
for a sojourn of some 400 years in
the Israelites, and if we accept the so-called Late Date of
the Exodus (in the middle 1200's BC), a date for Joseph
around 1650 BC would be perfect.
The Bible, on the other hand, provides us with some
very specific chronological data regarding these events. I
Kings 6:1, a pivotal reference for all Old Testament
chronology, dates the Exodus 480 years before the fourth
year of Solomon, accepted by virtually all scholars as 966
BC. This places the Exodus in ca. 1446 BC; a date which
agrees with the so-called Early Date for the Exodus.
Next, Exodus 12:40 states that Jacob came to dwell in
in ca. 1876 BC. These Biblical references clearly show
that Joseph ought to be dated in the Middle Kingdom rather
than in the Hyksos Period.
Several specific points in the Joseph story confirm a
Middle Kingdom rather than a Hyksos date for Joseph. In
Genesis 41:14 Joseph is called out of prison to meet with
the king. Before going to meet the king, Joseph puts on
new (clean) clothing and shaves himself. This becomes
understandable when we realize that the Egyptians were a
clean people and were particularly offended by facial hair.
This verse points to the Pharaoh being a native Egyptian,
and not Hyksos. The latter, being Asiatics, were not
bothered by facial hair and a general lack of cleanliness.
When Joseph is rewarded and promoted by the Pharaoh
for interpreting the king's dream, he is named to be ruler
over all the
Pharaohs of the Middle Kingdom did.
Also, when Joseph is given a wife by the king as a reward
for his interpretation of the dream, the woman is said to
be the daughter of Potiphera, Priest of On. On was the
solar worship in ancient
worshiped there was Re or Ra, the northern manifestation
of Amon-Re, the supreme deity of both the Middle
The Hyksos, while they did not persecute the worshipers
of Re, did not give that deity the number one position.
Their favorite deity was Set, a delta god sometimes
regarded by the Egyptians as nearly a devil-like figure.
The Hyksos identified Set with the Palestinian god Baal,
a god from their Canaanite homeland who was very
familiar to them.
Now if Joseph was being rewarded by a Hyksos king, it
stands to reason that his new wife would not have been
the daughter of a priest of Re, but rather the daughter of a
priest of Set. Once again, the Middle Kingdom seems a
better choice for dating Joseph than the Second
Intermediate Period. Thus, relying on the Biblical
chronology and the historical material, we will place
Joseph in the Middle Kingdom Period, under two great
rulers, Sesostris II (1897-1878 BC)and Sesostris III
slavery was not a very old concept in
existed earlier in the
when the great pyramids were being built. Those
structures were not, as is sometimes stated, built by slave
labor. They were constructed by drafted peasant labor.
The Middle Kingdom is the first major period in
Egyptian history where slavery was well known. In the
1950s AD, the American Egyptologist William C. Hayes
published a famous papyrus document from the Middle
Kingdom which had a list of slaves on one side and a
discussion of Egyptian prisons on the other (Hayes 1972).
In the next issue of Bible and Spade, we will examine the
information this valuable papyrus provides for us
regarding the story of Joseph.
Aling, C. F.
Hayes, W. C.
1964 The Middle Kingdom of
Hayes, W. C., ed.
1972 A papyrus of the Late Middle Kingdom in
for Biblical Research
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