Proof of Joseph in Egypt?

The Bible is a book that proponents claim is history but which many detractors claim is the creation of story-tellers. The New Testament, which is the 27 most recently written of the Bible's 66 books, has a well-attested historical backdrop in which its accounts take place. Certain historical findings -- such as the finding of the tomb of Caiphas and the Pool of Siloam -- have added credence to the Christian contention that the authors of the New Testament documents were accurate in their description of people and places. The 39 books of the Old Testament, however, stretch back into times that historians and archaeologists know little about and about which little archaeological evidence can be found or even expected to be found. Some skeptics suggested for a time that even King David didn't exist and that the majority of the Old Testament writings were written during the exile of the Jewish people around 500 years before the birth of Jesus Christ.

Obviously, the older one goes into the ancient books, the less evidence exists to support the Biblical accounts. Many archaeologists don't believe that the Exodus occurred or that the accounts in the book of Genesis that predate the Exodus, for example, the accounts of the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob), have any historical basis at all.

Over time, evidence has come to light that have given credibility to some of the Biblical accounts dating back to the time of Saul. But the period of the Patriarchs remains largely murky and not confirmed by archaeological excavation.

But that may change.

According to an account from the Middle East Media Research Institute, an investigation into some "charms" that had been stored in the vaults of the Egyptian Museum present some startling evidence for the existence of Joseph, the son of Jacob, who was sold into slavery by his brothers and later became a member of the ruling class of Egypt (all as detailed in the latter chapters of the book of Genesis). The article, entitled Leading Egyptian Daily 'Al-Ahram' Reports: Coins from Era of Biblical Joseph Found in Egypt, says that Egyptian archaeologists and researchers have determined that ancient coins that had been misidentified as charms were actually ancient coins from the time of the Pharoahs.

What is truly interesting about these coins is the fact that some allegedly have been imprinted with the name and depiction of Joseph. According to the story:

The researchers discovered the coins when they sifted through thousands of small archeological artifacts stored in [the vaults of] the Museum of Egypt. [Initially] they took them for charms, but a thorough examination revealed that the coins bore the year in which they were minted and their value, or effigies of the pharaohs [who ruled] at the time of their minting. Some of the coins are from the time when Joseph lived in Egypt, and bear his name and portrait.


The researcher identified coins from many different periods, including coins that bore special markings identifying them as being from the era of Joseph. Among these, there was one coin that had an inscription on it, and an image of a cow symbolizing Pharaoh's dream about the seven fat cows and seven lean cows, and the seven green stalks of grain and seven dry stalks of grain. It was found that the inscriptions of this early period were usually simple, since writing was still in its early stages, and consequently there was difficulty in deciphering the writing on these coins. But the research team [managed to] translate [the writing on the coin] by comparing it to the earliest known hieroglyphic texts…

Joseph's name appears twice on this coin, written in hieroglyphs: once the original name, Joseph, and once his Egyptian name, Saba Sabani, which was given to him by Pharaoh when he became treasurer. There is also an image of Joseph, who was part of the Egyptian administration at the time.

If this is true, it would certainly add credibility to the claims of Christians that the Old Testament is a document based on historical fact.

However, that is one big "if".

I am personally skeptical of the news coming out of MEMRI. Some have called MEMRI a propaganda machine. While I don't know if MEMRI is truthful or propagandistic, the accusations about its veracity make me cautious about endorsing this news account as true -- especially when no other news source has picked up the story other than to simply report that MEMRI reported the story.

I will see what I can do to track the story on an ongoing basis and keep readers of this weblog informed of anything that I find. The story, if true, will be extremely important -- but we'll wait and see.

HT: Thinking Christian


I'm going to default to skepticism until/unless I learn that the report was filed by a lazy journalist who either made some glaring errors or didn't ask sufficient follow-up questions. For example,

(1) When exactly IS "Joseph's era"? Middle Kingdom? Hyksos Era? The article does not say precisely when these Joseph "coins" are from. There is a bit of discussion on the New Chronology Yahoo! forum where it is stated the "coins" are from 3rd, 6th, and 12th dynasty. Only the 12th has even the slightest chance of being "Joseph's era."

(2) Joseph's Egyptian name is NOT "Saba Sabani," at least according to Genesis.

(3) No one seems to be appropriately bewildered by the appearance of coinage as much as 1000 years earlier that the earliest known coinage appearing in Lydia in the 8th/7th century BC.

PaleoBabble has a decent summary:

I tend to agree this is probably a Muslim apologist trying to buttress belief in the historical accuracy of the Qur'an, just as well-meaning but sensationalistic Christians sometimes do to the Bible.
J.L. Hinman said…
I'm skeptical too. There's no way to link that name to Joseph, but just because its not mentioned in Genesis doesn't mean it could not have been real.
Jason Pratt said…
Another sceptical assessment (if somewhat informally written) can be found here at the Word Geek Examiner.

Another can be found here at's blog.

Without prejudice one way or another (though I share previous comments about this being fairly weak 'evidence' concerning a validation of the Koran's statement that the brothers sold Joseph for a particular kind of silver coin), I would want to see more specific details about the objects in question. The Wordgeek's counter-assessment, for example, relies on too much speculation at points against details suggested but not specifically noted by the article (in any form that I can find it so far anyway).

Granted, as presented some of the inferences from descriptions are a vaaaaaaast reach. The most wince-inducing claim is that the use of a cow on one object must represent Pharaoh's dream about the fat and skinny cows; was there anything else on the object which would point substantially toward that, exclusive of other possibilities that we know (from previous research) that the cow could have represented? The article doesn't seem to say.

But the article does report (or seem to report) that some of the objects involve the use of a name, date and value on one side, and an image of an Egyptian person or god on the other (or a symbol connected with them). This is in fact one way to identify coinage from charms (though a coin, as Wordgeek for example ought to be aware, can be subsequently used as a charm.)

The article (or an excerpted translation from the original Arabic) seems (I stress 'seems' because there are possibly convenient ellipses in evidence here) to indicate that the coin with the cow's head also features the other details which the article associates with a Joseph coin: a name (which might be?) Jospeh; a name (which might be) Saba Sabani (and where does the article get the idea that this was supposed to be Joseph's Egyptian name?--no major arguments yet for this being a poor transcription or cognate for the Biblical name or vice versa); and what the article calls "an image of Joseph". Is that a profile face? Is that supposed to be the cow??

There's just too much scattered info so far to make a clear assessment about the strengths of the case (if any); but the scattering does, in a backhanded way, ameliorate some (not all) of the weaknesses, too. So far.

(Note: the Jerusalem Post seems to have just released its own version of the report, which may or may not contain further data; but the site is currently overloaded, for what I suppose would be obvious reasons. {wry g})

Sarah said…
Interesting fact the time of Joseph was 1562-1452 BCE Amenhotep III ruled June 1386 to 1349 BCE or June 1388 BC to December 1351 the importance of this is his son was Amenhotep IV who was the heretic Pharoh he changed his name to Akhenaten. This is important because he was father to King Tut okay what is important about all of this Akhenaten because his father ruled for 40 years, his father was also would take Aten to battle he was also know for being monotheistic. Amenhotep III reign is known to be the height of Egypts Arts and Society after him it is often only Seti and Rameses II are thought of. It is interesting that with in a hundred years of Joseph this all happened so it explains that by the time of Moses people of Egypt had forgotten who Joseph was since he worshiped the one true God this was a danger to the power of the priests in Thebes. I have found that most Middle Eastern Papers just as American papers and yes this refer to Canada and United States pander to their readers. Joseph is big in the Middle East and I found articles on the coins all over the internet I am please to say. Historically speaking the priest of this day did away with all traces of this religion they even wiped a whole Pharonic family off the map I am sure they would have done the same to the man who brought it to Egypt.
Sarah said…
If proof of Joseph exists then it is by the hand of God because the Priest of the time succeeded till Armana was found to wipe off the map Akhenaten. All of these discoveries have been made because of changes by Zahi Hawass before him Egypt was being sold to the highest bidder. He seems to have a passion for his country and culture to be sure he wants all things returned and cataloged which more and more things are being found and restored to their place in history.

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