Locating Joseph In Ancient Egyptian Records

(More Bible studies available @ www.marktabata.com)

It is written:

Genesis 41:45-And Pharaoh called Joseph’s name Zaphnath-Paaneah. And he gave him as a wife Asenath, the daughter of Poti-Pherah priest of On. So Joseph went out over all the land of Egypt.

Archaeology has continually confirmed and authenticated the Bible text. One example of this may be seen in the example of Joseph, the son of Jacob. The Bible records for us that Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, who then told their father he had been killed by a wild beast. Ending up in Egypt, Joseph was eventually raised to become the second most powerful man in Egypt. He was informed by the Lord through the dreams of Pharaoh that there would be seven years of great abundance in the crops in Egypt, followed by seven years of terrible famine throughout the known world. The Pharaoh instructed Joseph to begin preparing for the years of famine by harvesting and storing food.

Several evidences of Joseph in Egypt have been documented in various studies on this webpage (see for example https://marktabata.com/2021/11/04/joseph-and-imhotep/#more-1607; https://marktabata.com/2021/10/05/the-joseph-coins-2/#more-1226; https://marktabata.com/2021/11/16/archaeological-evidences-of-joseph-in-egypt/#more-1770; https://marktabata.com/2017/08/08/interesting-facts-from-the-temple-of-serapis/). David Rohl brings some more interesting information to light regarding Joseph in ancient Egyptian records:

“According to Genesis 41: 45, ‘Pharaoh named Joseph Zaphenath Pa‘aneah’. As was the practice in ancient Egypt, Asiatic slaves were given Egyptian names alongside their Semitic names. This, of course, was typical of most slave-owning cultures, including that of Rome and seventeenth-to-nineteenth-century America where African slaves were given English names by the plantation owners. In the case of Egypt, we have papyri which list slaves with both their Asiatic and Egyptian names, using the formula ‘( Semitic name), he who is called (Egyptian name)’. The phrase ‘he who is called’ or ‘she who is called’ is djedu en ef (for males) or djedu en es (for females). This is important to know as we now attempt to decipher the Egyptian name of Joseph given in the Bible. There are two steps in this process. First we need to deal with the initial part of the name–Zaphenath–which Kenneth Kitchen, I believe rightly, interprets as a garbled version of djedu en ef. Once again we have to look at the true pronunciation for ‘he who is called’. Remember that the Es in djedu en ef (as Egyptologists vocalize it) are simply vowel markers–they do not represent the true sounds of the vowels or sometimes even their correct positions in the words. They are simply there to aid the pronunciation in this hybrid Egypto-speak we all use to communicate with each other. The opening consonant Dj in djedu is in reality a Z. In modern Egyptology books you will read the name of the builder of the Step Pyramid at Sakkara as king Djoser, whereas older books (in my view more correctly) refer to him as Zoser. So djedu en ef was most likely pronounced something like Zatenaf. Kitchen argues that the biblical version–Zaphenath or more correctly Zafenat–has suffered from metathesis. This is not some strange physical disorder but rather a muddling of the order of syllables, which sometimes happens when people incorporate foreign words into their vocabulary or where they are unable to pronounce a word in the language they have adopted. Let me offer two examples from our modern world that immediately come to mind. Native Africans brought to the Caribbean and the Americas during the slave era had to learn the English language but could not manage the simple word ‘ask’ because of the awkward combination of the consonants S and K. So they pronounced the word as ‘aks’. This became a cultural trait and, even today, many African Americans and West Indian citizens of the UK still vocalize ‘ask’ as ‘aks’. This is metathesis. Here in Spain, where I currently live, when you drive down the coastal highway in the Alicante region and see signs for the ferry to ‘Argelia’ on the north African coast, you would be forgiven for not realizing that this was really the ferry to Algeria, as the English speaking world refers to it. In this instance we see a switching around of the letters L and R. Another case of metathesis. Kitchen proposes that this is precisely what has happened with Zafenat which, through metathesis, has reversed the letters T and F. The original he believes was Zatenaf–that is the Egyptian phrase ‘he who is called’. So the first part of Joseph’s Egyptian name simply follows the standard Egyptian formula ‘Joseph, he who is called Pa‘aneah’. Now to deal with the second element of the name–Pa‘aneah or perhaps more correctly pa-Aneah. This is quite straightforward, though it once again involves unpicking the Egypto-speak. We all refer to the Egyptian sign of life as ‘ankh’ but the true ancient vocalization was ‘aneah’. So here we simply have the definite article ‘Pa’ (‘ the’) followed by the symbol of life, which together translates as ‘the one who lives’. When Joseph’s brothers discovered that the young brother they had sold into slavery was still alive and, indeed, had become the most powerful man in Egypt after Pharaoh, they went back to Canaan to tell their father Jacob that his beloved son was not dead but alive. Remember that Jacob believed Joseph to have been killed by a lion. Now, after nearly two decades, he discovers that his son had survived and prospered in Egypt. What more appropriate name could Pharaoh have given to a former slave and now his Asiatic vizier than ‘Joseph–he who is called “the one who lives”’? Where this all becomes really exciting is when we look for a vizier from the time of the late 12th and early 13th Dynasties with a name that might match our Egyptian name for Joseph. The Vizier Ankhu The most renowned figure of the period was a vizier named Ankhu–a name which seems to be a hypocoristicon of a longer name but retaining the meaning ‘the one who lives’. This famous vizier is attested in the reign of the first ruler of the 13th Dynasty–Sobekhotep I–whose full name was Sekhemre-khutawy Amenemhat-Sobekhotep I. Before that, there is a gap in the list of viziers–nothing more sinister than the simple vagaries of archaeological survival. So there is room to push vizier Ankhu’s term in office back into the late 12th Dynasty. Sobekhotep I was one of the kings in whose time the high Nile records were recorded at the Semna/ Kumma gorge towards the end of the 12th Dynasty and continuing into the early years of the 13th Dynasty. Ankhu therefore belongs very much to the era in which we have placed Joseph and the great famine. So, if Ankhu is one and the same as pa-Aneah, then we have found the biblical Joseph in the records of the Egyptian Middle Kingdom. What do we know about this vizier Ankhu? Well, it seems that he fits remarkably well into the Joseph story. He appears to succeed a vizier named Simontu who is attested in the early years of Amenemhat III. A black granite statue of an un-named vizier was found in the temple of Karnak, dedicated by Ankhu. This may be an image of Simontu who, in my view, adopted Ankhu in order to train him in the ways of viziership. At this time we also have an ‘Ankhu, Overseer of the Fields’ who could be Joseph in the years he was given the task of organizing the storage of agricultural produce–that is, before he was elevated to the exalted position of vizier of the entire land after the death of Simontu, shortly before the great famine struck. The Book of Genesis tells us that Joseph built granaries throughout Egypt to store grain from the years of plenty for distribution during the years of famine. It is quite remarkable therefore to find references in the contemporary Egyptian documents to the ‘granaries of Ankhu’. We also hear of this new government organization called the ‘Department of the People’s Giving’ which, I have suggested, was responsible for the tax collection of grain for delivery to the state granaries and later redistribution, as described in Genesis 41: 33-36. This department of state, known as the kha en djed remetj, was contemporary with the time when Ankhu held the viziership over Egypt. What is also extremely interesting is that this great vizier became a sort of cult figure, with many Egyptians naming their children after him. This was especially true among the Asiatic population. In one document (Papyrus Brooklyn 35.1446), which lists the domestic servants of a single Egyptian estate in Thebes, we find thirty male slaves, out of which four are named Ankhu. Another five are named after Ankhu’s son and successor in office, Resseneb. A further eight have compound names such as Ankhuemhesut, Ankhuseneb or Senebresseneb. 1 The Brooklyn Papyrus is dated to the reign of Sobekhotep III, twenty-sixth ruler of the 13th Dynasty, so some decades after Ankhu’s death … but not long after the time of his son Resseneb. Why so many slaves named after these two viziers? I would suggest that it is because the two viziers were themselves of Asiatic background and therefore heroes to their people. Is it also pure coincidence that Joseph had two sons–Manasseh and Ephraim–and Ankhu had two sons–Resseneb and Iymeru–who followed him in office as viziers of Egypt during the early 13th Dynasty? It then becomes very interesting to find Egyptian texts of this time referring to ‘the Aamu (Asiatic) Kui who is called Resseneb’ and especially ‘Ankhu who is called pa-Aam (‘ the Asiatic’)’. 2” (David Rohl, Exodus – Myth or History? 145-147 (Kindle Edition): St. Louis Park, MN: Thinking Man Media)

Blind indeed is the one who relegates the Bible to the category of fairy tales and mythology. Archaeology continually confirms the authenticity and accuracy of Scripture.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.

Leave a Reply

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: