Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Enigma of Joseph

Alice C. Linsley

Joseph (Yosef), the favored son of Jacob, is an enigma.  He was a high-born youth who was sold as a slave and served time in jail.  He was familiar enough with the customs of Egyptian nobility to adapt to life in Potiphar's house, and he went from slave to influential ruler. To understand the enigma of Joseph we must consider the finer details of his story.

He was the son of a Horite ruler, Yacob
He was designated to rule, as evidenced by the Canaanite Y in his name.
He was already Egyptianized before going to Egypt
He married a priest's daughter, as did Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses
There is evidence that he had 2 wives, as did Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses
He is claimed as a prophet by Jews, Christians and Muslims

Joseph's saga serves as the transition from the patriarchal narratives to the Exodus. After his death, he was mummified as a high-ranking Egyptian and buried in Goshen, adjacent to Avaris. Avaris was founded by Amenemhet I, the first king of the 12th dynasty. Archaeological and anthropological evidence indicates that the settlers of Goshen were people from Canaan who shared many features of Egyptian culture. This would be expected if Abraham's people were Horites, an Egyptian priesthood devoted to Horus of the Two Crowns.

During the Second Intermediate Period, coinciding with the time of biblical Joseph, the Egyptians experienced an influx of Canaanites. These Semites had settlements in Tanis, Avaris and el-Yehudiya. The Egyptians called the chiefs of these settlements "Hyk Khase", the origin of the term Hyksos.

Horite ruler-priests were careful to marry chaste daughters of priests. It is not a coincidence then that Joseph married Asenath, daughter of the "priest of Oon" (Gen. 41:45), later called Heliopolis (city of the Sun). Asenath's father was a Horite priest and the Horite priestly lines intermarried.  If the sons of Horite priests married the daughter of Horite priests, their sons were also in the caste of priest.  It means we must take these words quite literally: "For me you shall be a kingdom of priests, a holy nation." (Ex. 19:6)

Asenath, Joseph's wife, was raised at Heliopolis on the Nile. She was probably Joseph's cousin. Her first born son likely belonged to the Heliopolis shrine, whereas Ephraim, Joseph's younger son belonged to the House of Jacob. This explains why Jacob gave him the blessing that pertained to the first-born (Gen. 48:14).

Moses' two older brothers - Aaron and Korah - would also have married the daughters of priests. Korah's descendents are praised in 1 Chronicles 26, where they are grouped with the gatekeepers of Obed-Edom. Obed-Edom is a connection to Ruth, who named her first-born son Obed. Obed was the father of Jesse, the father of David. This picks up the Messianic thread, pointing us back to the Horite expectation of the Son of God who was coming into the world.

Jospeh's Horite Ancestry

According to the Babylonian Talmud Abraham's mother was associated with the Nile shrine at Karnak. Horite rulers married the daughters of Horite priests. About 75% of the women named in the Old Testament are daughters of priests. This was the practice among the royal priestly lines of Abraham’s people. So by every indication, Joseph was as thoroughly immersed in Horite religious practice as was Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses.

The Horites were a caste of ruler-priests who were devotees of Horus, the son of the Creator, whose emblem was the sun. His queen mother was Hathor-Meri, the patronness of metal workers.  Both Heliopolis (of the Ainu) and Karnack were Horite shrines. Heliopolis was one of the shrines dedicated to Ra-harakhty, which literally means Ra who is Horus of the Two Horizons (East and West).

Horite ruler-priests married two wives and placed them in separate households on a north-south axis. The bride of the man's youth was his half-sister, as was Sarah to Abraham. The second bride was a patrilineal cousin, as was Keturah to Abraham. There is no record of Joseph taking more than one wife and we do not know how he waa related to Asenath.

Traditions Concerning Joseph's Burial

In Goshen/Avaris, Joseph had a large Egyptian-style palace built over Jacob's dwelling. The palace enclosure had a garden tomb, the largest sepulcher found in Goshen. Joseph's body would have been mummified and wrapped in cloth. He may have been buried according to the custom of his Nilo-Saharan ancestors, with the body on its left side, head to the south, facing west.

According to Scripture Joseph requested that his body be removed to Canaan. Most claim that his tomb is near Nablus in Palestinian territory, a site regarded as holy by Jews, Christians and Muslims. The Tomb is located at the eastern entrance to the valley that separates Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal. It is about 750 feet north of Jacob's Well, on the outskirts of Nablus, near biblical Shechem.

There is another Islamic tradition that places Joseph’s tomb in Haram al-Khalil in Hebron, in the tomb of the Patriarchs. This is the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a heavy rectangular building that encloses the underground Cave of Machpelah which was explored in 1967. This is the land and cave in Mamre that Abraham purchased for the burial of Sarah.

Under the 1993 Oslo Accords, Joseph's Tomb at Nablus was to be accessible to Jews and Christians. However, following peace talks at Camp David in September 2000, Arafat initiated his intifada in the West Bank. In October 2000, Fatah gunmen attacked the tomb repeatedly, killing two and injuring dozens, prompting Israel to evacuate Judaism's third holiest site on October 6, 2000. The attackers burned Jewish prayer books and repainted the white dome roof Muslim Green, transforming Joseph's resting place into another Muslim holy site and anachronistically pronouncing Joseph a Muslim.

Joseph does not fit the customary picture of Israelite or Arab. He married a Horite priest's daughter named Asenath.  Priest's daughters grew up around water shrines or river temples where their fathers served as priests. These were women of high rank but they did not live pampered lives. Zipporah was drawing water for livestock when she met Moses. Rebekah was likewise engaged when Abraham’s servant arrived to contract a marriage between her and Isaac. It is important to note that these priestly daughters had two sons:

Rebekah – Esau (oldest) and Jacob (youngest)
Rachel – Joseph (oldest) and Benjamin (youngest)
Asenath – Manasseh (oldest) and Ephraim (youngest)
Tamar – Zerah (oldest) and Perez (youngest)

In each case, the younger son was tagged as an ancestor of the Messiah. However, this does not mean that the other son was not an ancestor of Messiah since the priestly lines intermarried. This elevation of the youngest son in the stories of Abraham, who was the youngest of Terah's three sons. It is also the pattern with David, the youngest of Jesse's sons.

Related reading:  Ancient Canaanite InscriptionsThe Urheimat of the Canaanite Y; Moses' Horite Family; The Pattern of Two Wives


Mairnéalach said...

Alice, your description of "preparatory grace" in the patterns of Egyptian religious life reminds me of a book I read years ago to great profit, "Eternity in their Hearts", by Don Richardson. If you have not already read this I think you would really enjoy it.

Jonathan said...

Does the research you have done on Asenath and her probable origins help in any way to settle a question we may have, about whether her father Poti-phera, the priest of On (Gen. 41:45), might have been the very same man as Poti-phar, an officer of Pharoah (Gen. 39:1)?

Alice C. Linsley said...

They may be the same person, though I doubt this.

We may have two traditions. One tradition says that Potiphar was an officer of the guard in Pharaoh's court and the other says that he was a priest and Joseph's father-in-law. The idea of two distinct traditions is developed in D. B. Redford's A Study Of The Biblical Story Of Joseph (Genesis 37-50), 1970, E. J. Brill: Leiden, pp. 136-137. What is intriguing here is the suggestion that Joseph is associated with the name/title Potiphar in both traditions. This is something that requires further investigation.

Go for it! Let me know what you discover.

Anonymous said...

Since the Yoruba people switch the seniority of twins upon birth, my hypothesis is that Jacob was aware of this practice which would account for the way he blessed the two sons of Joseph.

Perhaps there is a scientific explanation. It would be interesting to investigate whether or not this practice of switching seniority for twins was observed also by the Egyptians and Nubians before or during the time of Jacob whom I doubt to be the first twin. Maybe Isaac and Rebecca were not initially aware of this tradition and they were the first to observe it.


Alice C. Linsley said...

YT, The theme of the elevation of the younger son above his elder brother runs throughout the Bible. These were the youngest sons and all were chosen by God to lead: Abraham, Moses and David.

AlDahir said...


You mentioned that Arabic was helpful in understanding the meaning of Biblical names. It is helpful because the Masoretes were Arabic speaking Hebrews who edited and back translated their texts under the auspices of the Arab caliphs between the 7th and 11th Centuries in Tiberias, Jerusalem and Babylonia. Mishnaic Hebrew had not been spoken for at least 200 years when the Masoretes attempted to standardized or bowlderize their texts, so they relied on Arabic to bridge the gap. These are the texts in use today as the standard Hebrew texts.
There is a major Arabic gloss in Genesis which has puzzled scholars for centuries if not millennia and that is Joseph's Egyptian name. In the Septuagint, the name is psonthomphanech which makes no sense in any language so the Masoretes used the Arabic phrase (تصاف باءنة)tsafeen ba'nh and transliterated it into Hebrew as (צָֽפְנַת פַּעְנֵחַ)or tsophnath paneah. The phrase means a dowry settlement. The circumstances surrounding the phrase,’ Tsaphenath-Paneah’ or ‘tasafeen ba’nh’, is proof that this interpretation is correct. According to Gen 41:41-45:

”So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.” Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. He had him ride in a chariot as his second-in-command, and people shouted before him, “Make way, Thus he put him in charge of the whole land of Egypt. The Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I am Pharaoh, but without your word no one will lift hand or foot in all Egypt.” Pharaoh gave Joseph the name Tsaphenath-Paneah and gave him Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, to be his wife. And Joseph went throughout the land of Egypt.”

So, the phrase, tsaphenath paneah (tsafeen ba'nh) means that Djoser bestowed a dowry settlement upon Joseph which included the tokens of Pharaoh’s ring and a chain of office indicating Joseph’s new position when he married an Egyptian wife, Asenath, who was the daughter of the priest of On. So, you see, Arabic is very useful as a tool for Biblical interpretation.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Arabic is very useful. I agree.

H. Abdul Al-Dahir said...

Here is an update on Joseph's Egyptian name:

According to the Masoretic texts, Joseph's name was (צָֽפְנַת  פַּעְנֵחַ) or tsfnt pa'nch. According to the Septuagint, his name was Ψονθομφανηχ.The name (צָֽפְנַת  פַּעְנֵחַ) is meaningless in Hebrew but when it is transliterated into Arabic (بائِنَه) (تصفية) – tsfeenyat ba'nah- means 'dowry settlement'. However, Joseph's original name as transliterated from the Egyptian into Greek was Ψονθομφανηχ The original Egyptian name was PsSw nthy m pnq (Gardiner's Sign List: O3-O34-D37-G43-Y1-Z2-A1 or PsSw & N35-Y1-Z4 or nthy & G17 or m & Q3-N35-N29-D36 or pnq). This word transliterates into Greek as Ψονθομφανηχ or Psonthomphanech in English. This Egyptian phrase means 'the aribitrer whose position is to expend provision.' That was Joseph's title because he was put in charge of the granaries where he was to dole out provision in the time of famine. Unfortunately. The Arabic speaking Masoretes could not make sense of the Greek word  Ψονθομφανηχ because they had no Egyptian dictionary to help them figure out the Greek transliteration, so they used the closest Arabic phrase that resembled the Greek word Ψονθομφανηχ. That phrase (بائِنَه) (تصفية) described the action of Pharaoh bestowing a dowry on Joseph, i.e., a high position, a ring and a chain of office. The Masoretes were wrong but the phrase  (צָֽפְנַת  פַּעְנֵחַ) clearly demonstrates that the Masoretes, who 'standardized' the Biblical texts under the ausjpices of the Arab caliphates, were transliterating Arabic words and phrases into Hebrew. BTW, the Arabic words tsfeenyat and ba'eenah reversed themselves in this blog. I can't undo the error. Sorry

Alice C. Linsley said...

Thank you, Sir, for this helpful information. This explains a great deal.

There are other words found in the Bible that are meaningless in Hebrew because they are not Hebrew words. Often they are Old Arabic or Ancient Egyptian.

I have the impression that many Ancient Egyptian words or words of Nilotic origin have been forced into meanings that fit the Rabbis' agenda.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Lexicons of Ancient Egyptian words and Akkadian words are available at the blog Biblical Anthropology.