The Historicity Of The Joseph Story -- By: Charles F. Aling

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 09:1 (Winter 1996)
Article: The Historicity Of The Joseph Story
Author: Charles F. Aling

The Historicity Of The Joseph Story

Charles F. Aling

Charles F. Aling, Ph. D., is professor of history at North western College in Minneapolis MN and President of The Institute for Biblical Archaeology. He is author of Egypt and Bible History, Baker Books, 1981.

The events narrated in the Joseph Story, Genesis 37–50, have long been a favorite topic of investigation for both Biblical scholars and those Egyptologists with an interest in the Old Testament1 . No reference to Joseph has turned up in Egyptian sources, but given the relative paucity of information about Egyptian officials before the New Kingdom and the lack of consensus regarding Joseph’s Egyptian name, this should not surprise us.

Any specific reference to Joseph in any recognizable form will probably not be discovered any time soon. But, if we believe in the historicity of Joseph and the accuracy of the events recorded in Genesis about his life and career, we can ask two questions with some hope of receiving an answer from the written and archeological sources: what is the best date for Joseph, and, once that has been posited, do the Biblical events fit in that period of Egyptian history?

In answer to our first question, two major positions exist regarding the data of Joseph among serious students of the Joseph Story who accept its historicity. The majority of such modern scholars date Joseph to the Second Intermediate Period of Egyptian history, ca. 1786–1570 BC (Vergote 1959; Kitchen 1962; Stigers 1976), a time when an Asiatic group called the Hyksos2 ruled the delta of the Nile.

This view is based primarily on two assumptions: first, that the so-called Late Date of the Exodus (during the reign of Ramses II) is correct, and second, that the rise to power of an Asiatic can best be placed during a period of Egyptian history when his fellow Asiatics, the Hyksos, controlled the government. Let us briefly examine these two arguments.

If the Exodus occurred in the 13th century BC, and the Sojourn lasted approximately 400 years (430, according to Exodus 12:40), Joseph would belong in the 17th century BC. But if the Exodus took place in the 15th century BC, Joseph’s career would be shifted back to the 19th century BC, during the days of the 12th Dynasty of the Middle Kingdom.

If the Biblical numbers are taken

literally and at face value, the probable kings during the enslavement and subsequent rise to power of Joseph...

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