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Evidence for the Existence of Joseph

After the account of Babel in Scripture, we move on to a group of men called the Patriarchs. They include Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. These men were heads of individual families, and although at times wealthy, tracking them in archeology a few thousand years later is nearly impossible. We do pick up the trail, however, with Joseph, the son of Jacob. According to the Bible, he became a high ruling official in Egypt. Genesis 41 tells us the story:

Genesis 41:38-41: “And Pharaoh said to his servants, ‘Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?’ Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are. You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command. Only as regards the throne will I be greater than you.’ And Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.’”

The account of Joseph is a popular story. His father favored him, but his brothers disliked him immensely and sold him into slavery. After being a slave and working his way up in a wealthy Egyptian household, he was falsely accused and imprisoned. While in prison, Joseph interpreted the dreams of two fellow prisoners. After the passing of time, one of the men was released, and Pharoah had a dream no one could interpret. Then the man who was released, and now a steward in the palace, told Pharoah about Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams. But is there solid evidence this actually took place?

Many secular archeologists today try to discount the story of Joseph, claiming it never happened. This is because they’ve committed themselves to believing Rameses II to be the Pharoah during the time of Moses 400 years later. Yet there is no valid reason for this claim. The evidence suggests Moses lived during the time of the 13th Dynasty, just before the Hyksos period when they invaded Egypt – but more on that later.

How do we work the timeframe? We know Jericho fell, starting the conquest of Canaan during the time of Joshua. Moses lived 40 years prior to the destruction of Jericho. How do we get a timeframe on Joseph? Joseph lived 400 years prior to Moses, which is 440 years prior to the destruction of Jericho during the Middle Bronze age IIB.

Here is what I propose: let’s go back to Egypt 440 years prior to the destruction of Jericho, right when the Bible claims Joseph would be ruling, and see what evidence we find.

Genesis 47:11: “Then Joseph settled his father and his brothers and gave them a possession in the land of Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land of Rameses, as Pharaoh had commanded.”

Pharoah gives Joseph and his family – his father and brothers – the land of Goshen in Egypt, which gives us direction. Goshen, also referred to as Avaris, is located in the eastern delta by the Pelasiac branch of the Nile. When this was written, the Israelites used the modern term for the city of Rameses, not the name it had when Joseph or Moses were living there. During the time of Moses, the Israelite population grew to around a million in number. After 400 years, we find a huge Semitic population dwelling in Avaris, right where they should be in the archeological record. Semites are those who were from the area Jacob and Joseph were from, and distinct from the Egyptians. All of this fits the timeline established by working backward from when Jericho was destroyed.

Here is what we know archeologically:

1. A group of Semites move to Egypt for an unknown reason. (The Bible, however, provides an explanation.)

2. They grow and expand as a population over hundreds of years, leading up to the time of Moses.

3. A disaster hits and these Semites leave Egypt 40 years before the destruction of Jericho.

4. Israel becomes a nation.

We know these people are Semites from the land of Canaan where Jacob lived. They bury their dead the same way in archeology, and the pottery found matches those in the Semite region. In addition, there are sheep found sacrificed at gravesites. These sheep are never seen in Egypt but are found in Canaan where the Patriarchs lived. All this leads us to Joseph specifically.

After Joseph entered Egypt, images are found for the first time in Egyptian archeology of a Semite wearing multi-colored coats (something the Bible says Joseph did). There are two Pharaohs at the time of Joseph. They were father and son, Senuseret III and Amenemhat III. They’re depicted with worried facial expressions, which visual historians say represents concern for Egypt at the time. Why would they be worried? Pharaoh’s dream of famine destroying Egypt.

Genesis 41:17-21: “Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘Behold, in my dream I was standing on the banks of the Nile. Seven cows, plump and attractive, came up out of the Nile and fed in the reed grass. Seven other cows came up after them, poor and very ugly and thin, such as I had never seen in all the land of Egypt. And the thin, ugly cows ate up the first seven plump cows, but when they had eaten them no one would have known that they had eaten them, for they were still as ugly as at the beginning. Then I awoke.’”

The Bible claims there was a famine and Joseph was appointed to prepare Egypt. Why do the seven cows come out of the Nile in Pharoah’s dream? Many famines in Egypt didn’t happen from lack of water, but from the destruction of crops due to the flooding of the Nile. Floods took place each year. When the flood levels were low to moderate, Egypt would have great crops. If floods were high and washed out the crops, there would be no harvest. There is evidence in Egyptian records at the time of Joseph that show seven years of water levels ideal for the crops to grow, followed by seven years of flooding that would destroy crops and cause a famine. The Bible gives more evidence this was the cause of the famine, not a dry spell as most people imagine:

Genesis 45:6: “For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest.”

Not being able to plow only happens when the areas are flooded. If the ground were dry, plows would be able to work the ground. Actually, it turns out Joseph helped solve the problem in more ways than one. There was a canal built during this time, modern-day Birket Karun. During the time of Joseph, it was Lake Moeris. This canal was built to drain the water into a lake, protecting the crops. Pharoah was so pleased with the construction of the canal that he built his pyramid there to honor the project. The canal is named Bahr Yusef, which means the Waterway of Joseph. This is yet another layer in the growing support of the biblical account.

That the land of Goshen was given to Jacob’s descendants is true, the famine really happened, and Joseph’s involvement is fact.

Archeologists have found the palace home of a powerful Semitic ruler in the land of Goshen (later Avaris). The details of the home may support the biblical account. The palace is Egyptian in style but built for a Semite holding political power in Egypt. The home has two sections that were added on, each identical, where the sons of the Semite ruler would live. The Bible says Joseph had two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. The original palace also had 12 columns in front, which fits with the 12 sons of Jacob. When you enter the grounds at the rear of the palace, there are 12 primary tombs, the 12th of which is a small pyramid tomb.

Joseph told his descendants to take his bones when they leave Egypt, and they did. When we look in the pyramid tomb presumed to be Joseph’s, the bones have been removed. Some suggest this was done by a grave robber. But the way they were removed was through a complicated tunnel dug carefully so as to not disturb the tomb. Grave robbers don’t bother doing that, and many grave robbers don’t take bones. Inside the tomb, we do find something stunning, though: a statue of a yellow forehead with red mushroom-style hair (Semite colors). The statue has a throwing stick, and the clothing of the individual is multi-colored with dye still visible on the statue.

Not only is there broad evidence for the story of Joseph in Egypt, but archeologists found a statue of Joseph with a multi-colored coat in an Egyptian-style tomb, which only high-ranking Egyptian officials have. These findings also credit Joseph with solving the problem of a famine.

Working back 440 years from the destruction of Jericho, we find exactly what we would expect if the Bible is true. The Bible isn’t merely correct in its account of creation through the Tower of Babel. The details that follow continue to be supported by archeology and history.

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