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Were Joseph and Imhotep of Egypt The Same Man?

THE GENESIS OF ISRAEL AND EGYPT
By Emmet Sweeny, 2001 (2nd ed.)

INTRODUCTION

One of the perennial ambitions of Christian Europeans, throughout the centuries, has been the verification of the Bible. Beginning with Eusebius, in the 4th century, Christian writers sought to enlist the histories of Mesopotamia and Egypt to answer the attacks of those who viewed the Old Testament as fable or, even worse, as propaganda.

In this spirit Eusebius, employing the Egyptian history of the Ptolemaic scholar Manetho, constructed a chronology for Egypt based on biblical timescales. Thus for example he followed earlier Jewish commentators in tying in the start of Egyptian history with the start of Hebrew history.

Joseph

Imhotep

Second in command under Pharoah

Second in command under Pharoah Djoser

Lived to be 110 years of age

Lived to be 110 years of age

Great architect and builder

Great architect and builder

Stored up corn during 7 yrs of plenty

Stored up corn during 7 yrs of plenty

Saw seven years of famine - fed people

Saw seven years of famine - fed people

Interpreter of dreams

Interpreter of dreams

Built pyramids & palaces

Built the Step Pyramid & palaces

Zaphnath-paaneah- Over physicians

Was a physician

Instituted a income tax of one fifth

Instituted a income tax of one fifth

Married into the Priesthood of On

Married into the Priesthood of On

Knowledge of astrology 

Knowledge of astrology

Coat of many breadths/colors (pas) =wide tunic)

--------------

Became an educated man

A poet and educated medical writer 

Overseer of public works

Overseer of public works

Legendary history

Legendary history

Name means to add, increase, to join or gather together

Name means the one who comes in peace

 Was one of twelve siblings

Was one of twelve siblings)

Source: Betty Matteson Rhodes

 

Such endeavours made the Ramesside pharaohs contemporary with the Exodus – supposedly in the 14th or 15th century BC – and identified Menes, the first pharaoh, with Adam; thereby making Egyptian civilization commence around 4,000 or 5,000 BC.

Over the centuries, Eusebius’ Egyptian system became the “traditional” chronology for the Kingdom of the Nile, and, incredibly enough (though few contemporary Egyptologists are aware of it), it still forms the basis of our understanding of that history.

With the translation of the hieroglyphs in the years following 1821, it was confidently expected that biblical history would shortly receive dramatic confirmation. It was hoped that archaeology might soon disclose Egyptian references to the great characters and events mentioned in the Bible. But such hopes were soon dashed, as it became apparent that the native literature of Egypt was remarkably silent with regard to their closest neighbours.

Various attempts, it is true, were made over the next century to link specific pharaohs to the great events of Old Testament history; but virtually all such endeavours came to grief, and eventually the whole idea was abandoned.

In time it was to be suggested that all such identifications were impossible, since the characters mentioned in the Bible – Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and the rest – were not the great men that the scriptural sources implied.

Indeed, if they existed at all, they must have been minor figures whom the Egyptians had not thought worth mentioning. This opinion gradually took root among scholars, and soon it became the new orthodoxy. Any attempt now made to find “proof” for the Bible (especially Genesis) in archaeology is immediately consigned to the realms of the lunatic fringe. Quite simply, such work is not taken seriously.

But there have been dissenting voices. An academic storm was raised during the 1950s by the work of Immanuel Velikovsky, who argued that the catastrophic events described so vividly in the Old Testament (ie. the Deluge, Sodom and Gomorrah, the Exodus etc.) did actually occur, and occurred very much as they were described.

Velikovsky held that the last of these events, the Exodus, which touched directly on Egypt, was in fact a major landmark in Egyptian history. He demonstrated quite convincingly that this event was recorded by the Egyptians, and showed that modern scholars had missed the identification because they had fundamentally misunderstood that the nature of the events described in the Book of Exodus.

The catastrophist position adopted by Velikovsky brought to light an enormous distortion in ancient chronology. These momentous events were effectively effaced from the history books because an erroneous and virtually arbitrary chronology, based on Eusebius’ working of Manetho, had been accepted by modern scholarship. (The great irony here, of course, is that this distorted chronology had originally been designed to prove the Book of Genesis right!)

imhotep

The histories of the other ancient lands, Velikovsky showed, had then been reconstructed in line with the distorted Egyptian chronology. This “modern” history of the ancient world had virtually no point of contact with the biblical and classical histories, and clashed repeatedly with them.

The present writer holds with Velikovsky’s catastrophist analysis; and the book which follows is largely an attempt to show that when we accept the catastrophist framework all the elements of the puzzle fit into place. The earliest part of Hebrew history, we will find, can indeed be reconciled – and in a most spectacular way – with early Egyptian history. The central theme of my work is thus the parallel origins of two neighbouring and closely related lands. The histories of Israel and Egypt were intertwined at the very beginning, and the association established then continued unbroken for many centuries.

Thus I begin by seeking to establish a link between the histories of the two peoples. Chapter 1 is concerned with an examination of the first and greatest of all biblical events, the Deluge of Noah. We find that archaeologists working in different parts of the world discovered abundant evidence of cataclysmic destruction in ancient times, consistent with the action of flood waters.

However, there was insufficient academic collaboration across disciplines, and even then the appearance on the scene of the myopic over-specialisation that has caused such problems in our own time.

The result was that destruction episodes, which were in fact contemporary, were placed centuries apart by scholars using different methods and procedures.

Thus the great flood discovered by Leonard Woolley at Ur in Mesopotamia was deemed to be a local event, since destruction levels in Syria and elsewhere, which were in fact contemporary, were placed a thousand years later by scholars who had not paid sufficient attention to Woolley’s work.

In this way the true nature and scale of the Flood of Ur was disguised, and a totally distorted view of ancient history, which denied the Deluges reported by all ancient peoples, was pieced together.

.......Having thus linked Abraham and Menes, we are presented with an entirely new and unexpected view of ancient times. We now find the histories of archaic Israel and Egypt fitting together like matching pieces of a jigsaw.

The next “match” comes with Joseph and Imhotep. Egyptian tradition tells us that two centuries or so after Menes there lived a great pharaoh named Djoser (“the Wise”), whose vizier, Imhotep, was regarded as the greatest of all Egyptian sages.

Djoser and Imhotep, the legend says, lived during a famine lasting seven years, and it was a dream of the king’s that provided Imhotep with the clue to solving the crisis. Similarly, Hebrew history tells us that two centuries or so after Abraham there lived Joseph, the great seer and visionary, who became pharaoh’s vizier, and helped solve the crisis of a seven-year famine by interpreting the king’s dreams.

Historians, of course, have long been aware of the striking resemblances between Imhotep and Joseph, and a great deal has been written on the subject. They would undoubtedly have realised the identity of the two men a long time ago, but the erroneous chronology, which separated them by over a thousand years, confused the issue.

......it is to Immanuel Velikovsky that the present work owes most. Velikovsky’s brilliant exposition of the contradictions inherent in ancient chronology is the key that has unlocked the secrets of antiquity. In Ages in Chaos (1952), he proposed a complete reconstruction of later Egyptian history, beginning with the Exodus, which he believed to date from the fall of the “Middle Kingdom”. It is largely under the inspiration of Ages in Chaos that the present work seeks to reconstruct the earlier part of Egyptian history. Velikovsky began with the Exodus; we end with the same event......

KING DJOSER AND HIS TIME
Who Was King Djoser?

Having placed the founding of Egyptian civilisation in the same epoch as the biblical Abraham, and therefore having fixed the start of Egypt’s and Israel’s legendary history at the same point in time – the 11th century BC. – we must now attempt a reconstruction of the two histories along the new chronological lines. If we are on the right track, we might expect the histories of the two neighbouring peoples, which have hitherto shown few signs of agreement, to match closely.

Hebrew tradition tells us how two centuries or so after Abraham, the patriarch’s tribe was settled in Canaan, where his grandson Jacob was blessed with twelve sons. One of these, Joseph, the youngest and favourite, aroused his brothers’ jealously, was sold as a slave and taken into Egypt. In Egypt his fortunes improved dramatically when his ability to interpret dreams came to the notice of the pharaoh.

He soon became the king’s most trusted advisor and brought the entire Israelite tribe into Egypt during a momentous famine. Joseph was thus an exceptional person whose life-story became a symbol of how God could raise the lowly from the dungheap. No less than a quarter of the Book of Genesis is devoted to him.

Now we ask ourselves, did the Egyptians remember Joseph, or does Egyptian tradition know of any character whom we could possibly identify with him? More specifically, does Egyptian tradition of the Early Dynastic period know of anyone identifiable with Joseph? The answer is a resounding yes!

It so happens that two centuries or so after the establishment of the united kingdom under Menes there lived the greatest sage of Egypt’s history: this was Imhotep, the godlike vizier of King Djoser.

Before looking at the truly remarkable parallels between Joseph and Imhotep, we need first to say something about Djoser; for he was accorded a place in Egyptian tradition almost as important as that of Imhotep himself.

Djoser, or Zoser, the second king of Manetho’s Third Dynasty, occurs in the monuments under the title Netjerkhet. The name Djoser, which means ‘The Wise’, was only conferred upon him long after his death. Much scholarly debate has centred round Djoser. He is, for example, commonly believed to have been the first Early Dynastic pharaoh to erect a pyramid.

As we have shown in Chapter 1 this notion is mistaken. Nevertheless, he was certainly the first pharaoh to erect a pyramid or large monument of stone. The design of the Sakkara Step Pyramid’s adjacent temple complex, in particular, provides ample proof of this. Columns are shaped in imitation of reed bundles and ceilings in imitation of palm logs. Doors are provided with imitation hinges.

Yet, as with almost all other areas of Egyptian history, the Step Pyramid and temples of Sakkara present numerous difficulties for conventional chronology. It has long been observed, for example, that the temple complex seems to display a number of very modern-looking features, and to this day visitors are immediately struck by the ‘proto-Doric’ columns of the temple hall.

Furthermore, the mineralogist John Dayton has now demonstrated that the glazing work found in these monuments is unlikely to have predated by any great stretch of time the eighth or seventh century BC.; he accordingly dated the entire complex to the eighth century.

As it transpires, this date concurs reasonably well with the evidence of the well-known Khnumibre genealogy. In the inscription, Khnumibre, an architect under one of the earlier Persian kings, listed his ancestors, father to son, stretching back twenty-five generations. The second earliest name on the list is given as Imhotep, with Djoser as the reigning king.

It is clear then that the genealogy separates Khnumibre, who must be dated around 450 BC., from Imhotep by twenty-four generations. Allowing twenty to twenty-five years per generation, which, given the habitually early marriages and deaths of ancient peoples, is rather generous, we would be obliged to locate Djoser and Imhotep sometime between 1075 and 930 BC. – a date not too far removed from that suggested by Dayton on the evidence of Third Dynasty technology, and precisely in agreement with the chronology proposed by us, which would place the founding of the First Dynasty around 1100 BC.; but of course vastly different from the date of c.2600 BC. normally accorded to Djoser by conventional Egyptology.

Early scholarship was greatly nonplussed by the evidence of Khnumibre’s genealogy, but because it clashed so decisively with the “established” chronology, it was soon dismissed as “symbolic” and “lacking historical substance”.

Egyptians of later years came to regard Djoser’s reign as something of a golden age, and the pharaoh himself was accredited with almost godlike powers. Above all, he was regarded as a paragon of wisdom (as evinced by the name Djoser). His cult grew and grew, and by the Saite period (26th Dynasty) he was already deified. He was, in the words of one commentator, viewed “both as a patron of literature and a physician of such eminence that he came to be identified with Asklepios, the Greek god of medicine.

… In after years he was remembered with reverence as one of the greatest of the early Pharaohs … on one of the votive tablets of the Apis worshippers of the Twenty-Second Dynasty, reverence is done to his name; we read of a priest of his spirit named Sonbf, and another, Ahmose, in the Twenty-Sixth Dynasty.”

Djoser then had a priesthood dedicated to him and was invoked as a god centuries after his death. What could have prompted such adulation? The explanation normally given is that as the first pharaoh to leave great monuments of stone, later generations would naturally have been impressed by him. His monuments guaranteed his immortality.

There is no doubt a certain amount of the truth in this explanation; but it does not cover everything. For Djoser’s reputation was enhanced by that of his vizier, the godlike Imhotep. This man was, as we shall see, regarded as Egypt’s greatest ever seer and interpreter of dreams.

He is also normally accredited with designing the great structures at Sakkara. Acting together, these two exceptional figures were believed to have shaped the course of Egyptian civilisation in a unique way, and, it was said, they saved the country from a well-remembered and potentially devastating famine.

Djoser and the Seven Years’ Famine

Egyptian tradition recorded a great famine lasting seven years. This disaster was said to have occurred during the reign of Djoser, and from the story of this event we may come to understand exactly why pharaoh Netjerkhet was called ‘The Wise’.

The only account of the seven years’ famine to survive is on a rock-cut inscription near Aswan, which dates from a very late period – possibly from the reign of Ptolemy V (Epiphanes), who lived in the first century BC. The inscription records the famine as an historical fact, placing it in the eighteenth year of Djoser.

Indeed the inscription purports to date from Djoser’s time, though this is generally dismissed. Nevertheless, it may well be a copy (with of course updated spellings) of an extremely ancient record. We are told that during Djoser’s reign Egypt found itself in a great crisis. The pharaoh bewails his lot:

“I was in distress on the Great Throne, and those who are in the palace were in heart’s affliction from a very great evil, since the Nile had not come in my time for a space of seven years. Grain was scant, fruits were dried up, and everything which they eat was short.”

.....Djoser’s famine, of course, closely resembles the other from ancient tradition, that of Joseph the Hebrew. Virtually all the elements in the Egyptian account are there, though in a different order. In Joseph’s tale, the pharaoh’s dream comes first, although both legends agree that the dream’s interpretation provided the key to alleviating the famine.

Again the Egyptian story has the wise seer Imhotep assist the king in dealing with the famine, and it is obvious that Imhotep’s role closely resembles that of Joseph in the Genesis story.

In addition, the nature of the god Khnum is here significant. In early times, the ram-headed divinity had been one of the foremost in Egypt. He was regarded as the creator god, and was portrayed, in biblical style, fashioning mankind upon the potter’s wheel.

Khnum was indeed viewed very much as the Old Testament Spirit of God, a fact that induced some scholars to regard the whole cult of Khnum as influential in the development of Hebrew religious ideas.

Scholars were not slow to associate Djoser’s famine of seven years with that of Joseph, and they would undoubtedly have made the connection between Imhotep and Joseph, Djoser and Joseph’s pharaoh, had it not been for the chronological discrepancy. Djoser was supposed to have reigned around 2600 BC., whereas according to biblical chronology, Joseph would have lived around 1700 BC. – yet again, that gap of 1000 years.

Scholars had therefore to content themselves with vague “connections” between the two legends. Some argued that the story of Joseph had influenced the Egyptian tale, whilst others argued that the Genesis account was influenced by the Egyptian story.

The best-known proponent of the latter argument was Brugsch. Such ideas held good only if the conventional chronology was correct. However, we now see that such is not the case, and that Djoser, as well as Joseph, must both belong in the early part, probably the tenth century, of the first millennium.

Could it be then that Djoser is indeed Joseph’s pharaoh, and that Imhotep, the great seer who advised Djoser on the seven years’ famine, is none other than Joseph? Before making a final pronouncement, let us briefly take a closer look at the life and character of Joseph, as they are revealed in the Genesis account.

The Story of Joseph

The story of Joseph, one of the best-known and best-loved of the Old Testament, occupies almost a quarter of the Book of Genesis. That fact alone illustrates the importance of Joseph to Israel’s early history. He it was who brought the Twelve Tribes to Egypt, where in time they would grow to nationhood.

Yet the story outlined in Genesis reveals the importance of Joseph not only to the history of Israel, but also to the history of Egypt, and furthermore illustrates the thoroughly Egyptian background to the entire episode.

...In harmony with all this, though puzzling in its own way, is the astonishing amount of Egyptian influence now recognised as present in the Joseph narrative. The terms and idioms used are Egyptian through and through. Indeed such is the resemblance to Egyptian phraseology and custom that that some scholars now regard these chapters of Genesis as based on an Egyptian record.

One such commentator is the Israeli Egyptologist A.S. Yahuda, a man whose work we shall examine in greater detail at a later stage. Yahuda wondered at the superabundance of Egyptian terms, phrases, metaphors and loan-words present throughout Genesis, remarking on their comparative absence from later books of the Old Testament. Some examples provided by Yahuda are as follows:

• Jospeh’s appointment as vizier was the ‘kernel’ of the story, according to Yahuda. For this office, a Hebrew word with a root which has the meaning “to do twice, to repeat, to double” is used. Yahuda explained that in the same way the Egyptian word sn.nw (“deputy”) was formed from sn, the word for “two”. In the same verse, pharaoh commands all to “bow the knee” before Joseph. The Hebrew word for “bow” is agreed by most authorities to have been taken from the Egyptian.

• Joseph was titled “father to pharaoh”, and, as Yahuda says, the Hebrew expression corresponds with the Egyptian itf, “father”, a common priestly title, and one borne by viziers. At the start of his conversation with Joseph, pharaoh says: “I have had a dream … I have heard that you understand a dream to interpret it” (Gen.41:15).

For “understand” the Hebrew uses the verb “to hear”. This term has proved very difficult for commentators, but, according to Yahuda, it corresponds entirely with the Egyptian use of sdm meaning “to hear” or “to understand”.

Another problem for commentators has been the sentence of Gen. 41:40, where pharaoh says literally to Joseph: “According to your mouth shall my people kiss”. The verb “to kiss” here has always seemed completely out of place. However, when we compare it with the Egyptian, “kiss” proves to be “a correct and thoroughly exact reproduction if what the narrator really meant to convey.

Here an expression is rendered in Hebrew from a metaphorical one used in polished speech among the Egyptians.”6 In polished speech the Egyptians spoke of sn, “kissing” the food, rather than the ordinary colloquial wnrn which meant “eating”.

• In the Joseph story pharaoh is addressed in the third person, eg. Gen. 41:34 “Let Pharaoh do this”. According to Yahuda this corresponds precisely to the court etiquette of Egypt. A characteristic term recurring in several passages of Genesis is “in the face of Pharaoh”, or “from the face of Pharaoh”, meaning “before pharaoh”.

This, says Yahuda, corresponds completely with Egyptian court custom, where one might not speak to his majesty “to his face”, but only “in the face of his majesty” (m hr hm-f).7 Again, in the Joseph narrative, the word “lord”, in reference either to pharaoh or Joseph, is given in the plural. This corresponds exactly with Egyptian usage where pharaoh, as well as being referred to as nb (“lord”), is also spoken of as nb.wy in the plural.

These instances are only a small sample of the evidence mustered by Yahuda, but they illustrate very clearly the profoundly Egyptian background to the whole story. Indeed, as we have said, so strong is the evidence that some commentators have suggested an Egyptian original of the narrative which Hebrew scribes more or less copied.

In short, when the Israelites came to write down the story of Joseph, they borrowed heavily on what the Egyptians themselves had written about him. None of this should surprise us. Genesis tells us quite clearly that Joseph was a major personality. He became the king’s vizier. He brought Asiatics into Egypt.

He presided over a social/political revolution. According to Genesis (47:22), the land of Egypt changed hands during his lifetime: Pharaoh became absolute master of the kingdom. But on top of all that Joseph was – most extraordinarily – a seer, a prophet, a visionary. Such a man, we would imagine, could not have been forgotten by the Egyptians.

Having stated all this, we now find that Joseph, coming just a few generations after the time of the Abraham migration, would have lived in roughly the same era as “The Wise” King Djoser and the wise seer Imhotep. It thus begins to look more and more clear that Joseph and Imhotep, the two great sages, were identical persons, and that Joseph’s wise king was “The Wise” Djoser....

.....There is little that can be added to the above assessment. Imhotep, plainly and simply, was the greatest of all Egypt’s wise men. As we have said, the close correlations between Imhotep and the biblical Joseph have not gone unnoticed by scholars. In recent years, an English historian named Tom Chetwynd revived the whole debate by argued strongly for identifying the two men.

Chetwynd held by the conventional view that Imhotep belonged in an “Old Kingdom” dated to the third millennium BC., and did not attempt to resolve the chronological difficulties inherent in this. Nevertheless, he demonstrated that the parallels between the two were sufficiently compelling to overrule the chronological problems.

In short, so powerful was the evidence that irrespective of what the chronology apparently said, the two men simply had to be one and the same.

Source: Excerpts from:THE GENESIS OF ISRAEL AND EGYPT Emmet Sweeney Copyright 2001 (2nd ed.)

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