Joseph in Egypt -- By: Charles F. Aling

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 15:2 (Spring 2002)
Article: Joseph in Egypt
Author: Charles F. Aling

Joseph in Egypt

Second of Six Parts

Charles F. Aling

Joseph began life in Egypt as a slave (Gn 39:1). As we saw in Part I of this study, these events in the life of Joseph should be dated to the great Middle Kingdom period of Egyptian history (2000–1782 BC).

It is important to note that during the Middle Kingdom, slavery as an institution of society flourished in Egypt, Evidence from Egyptian texts, indicates that at this time in Egypt’s history, the number of Syro-Palestinian slaves in bondage in the Nile Valley was growing constantly (Aling 1981:30, note 14). While some of these Asiatic slaves must have been prisoners of war captured by the Egyptian army in raids to the north, the majority certainly were not obtained by violence (Aling: 30). Most of the slaves were female; prisoners of war would have been predominantly male. Also, there are no Egyptian records of any major wars being fought by Egypt in Syria-Palestine in the Middle Kingdom. It is best to conclude that most of the Asiatic slaves entered Egypt just as Joseph did, through the slave trade. This, however, brings up an interesting question: why is there no written evidence at all of a slave trade between Syria-Palestine and Egypt?

“The Egyptians...worked them ruthlessly. The made their lives bitter... with all kinds of work in the fields.” (Ex 1:12–13). A plowing scene from the Tomb of Sennutem, Thebes, Egypt, 18th Dynasty.

First, let it be said that dismissing something on the basis of a lack of evidence is a dangerous business. Today, we have very few of the written documents composed in the Ancient Near East. What we have reflects accidental preservation. And, when we realize that the slave trade would have centered in the Nile Delta (northern Egypt), accidental preservation becomes even less likely due to the high water table there. Very few papyrus documents have been recovered from that region, especially from the earlier periods of Egyptian history. Also, the slave trade would have been in all probability in private hands rather than under government control. This would have made preservation of documentary evidence even more remote. Lastly, it is very possible that the slave trade would have been in the hands of foriegners rather than Egyptians, as the Bible implies in the case of Joseph. Records in so far as they were kept at all, would thus no be kept by Egyptians but by the Asiatics who were selling other Asiatic men and women to the Egyptians.

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