The Joseph Narrative (Gen 37, 39–50) -- By: Kenneth A. Kitchen

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 16:1 (Winter 2003)
Article: The Joseph Narrative (Gen 37, 39–50)
Author: Kenneth A. Kitchen


The Joseph Narrative (Gen 37, 39–50)

Kenneth A. Kitchen

The Presence of Semites in Egypt

In Middle-Kingdom Egypt of the 12th to 13th Dynasties (ca 1963–1786, 1786–1600 BC), and called by the Egyptians simply “Asiatics,” many West-Semitic-speaking individuals appear at various social levels. As the property of temples, they served, some as dancers, others as porters. As slaves, some might be handed-over as payment by the state to officials and private owners, and (as private property) could be passed on from one owner to another.1 Such Semites occur on family monuments as domestic servants (hery-per in Egyptian), as cup bearers, as personal confidants, and even entrusted with the family cult (libating to the dead).2 Papyrus Brooklyn 35.1446 of ca. 1740 BC3 sheds vivid additional light on this situation. Of 77 people listed on its reverse as belonging to a large Egyptian household, 48 were “Asiatics,” engaged in quite varied occupations,4 bearing good West-Semitic names that find an echo in Hebrew names. Such are a Menahem, a Shipra (cf. Ex 1:15), Sakar (cf. Issachar), an Asher, an Aqob (related to Jacob).5 What is noteworthy is that this household with over two thirds of its minions being Asiatics lived not in the Delta close to the Levant but at Thebes, over 300 mi south of the Delta, some 500 mi away from south Canaan. So, the numbers of such people in the north would have been all the greater. Archaeological illustration of this situation comes from Tell el-Dab’a in the East Delta, with its extensive cemeteries of Middle Bronze Age Canaanites, Canaanite temples and pottery, etc.6

How did these people come to be in Egypt? For the Middle Kingdom there was very little evidence until recently by contrast with the following New Kingdom (ca. 1550–1070 BC) when conquering Pharaohs (16th to early 12th centuries BC) brought many captives from Canaan into Egypt, to be employed in state and temple servitude, some passing into private hands as slaves; Canaanite merchants also visited Egypt then. For the Middle Kingdom, we now at last have some specific data, from blocks from Memphis whose text offers us parts of two years from the annals of Amenemhat II (within ca. 1901–1866 BC).7 In this record, Asiatics enter Egypt under several circumstances. In line 8, an Egyptian force is sent into the Levant to make havoc, and (line 16) duly returns with booty including 1,554 Asiatics a...

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