Joseph in Egypt -- By: Charles F. Aling

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 15:1 (Winter 2002)
Article: Joseph in Egypt
Author: Charles F. Aling

Joseph in Egypt

First of Six Parts

Charles F. Aling

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 in Egypt.

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 important periods of Egypt’s history, the Middle Kingdom (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 periods.

The Middle Kingdom was one of Egypt’s three greatest ages (Hayes, 1964) (Aling, 1981). The country was unified and prosperous, and was in the process of conquering Nubia, located in what is today the Sudan. In the Bible, this area is called Ethiopia.

The eight Pharaohs of this period comprise Egypt’s 12th 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 coregent. Sesostris in his long reign (1971–1928 BC) campaigned with success in northern Nubia and built at no less than 35 sites in Egypt.

Under his immediate successors, fighting in Nubia subsided and trade received the main royal attentions. Since Babylon had not yet emerged as a great power under Hammurabi, Egypt stood alone as the world’s greatest nation.

Sesostris I, ruler of the Middle Kingdom just prior to the time of Joseph.

The most important king of the 12th Dynasty was Sesostris III (1878–1843 BC). He renewed the efforts to conquer Nubia, and was successful. All of Nubia as far 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 later.

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