Joseph - Is there evidence that he really existed just as the Bible said?
The events narrated in the Joseph Story, Genesis 37-50, have long been a
favorite topic of investigation for both Biblical scholars and those
Egyptologists with an interest in the Old Testament. No reference to
Joseph has turned up in Egyptian sources, but given the relative paucity
of information about Egyptian officials before the New Kingdom and the
lack of consensus regarding Joseph's Egyptian name, this should not
Mushroom hairstyle of the statue of an Asiatic found at Tell el-Daba, Egypt.
reference to Joseph in any recognizable form will probably not be
discovered any time soon. But, if we believe in the historicity of
Joseph and the accuracy of the events recorded in Genesis about his life
and career, we can ask two questions with some hope of receiving an
answer from the written and archeological sources: what is the best date
for Joseph, and, once that has been posited, do the Biblical events fit
in that period of Egyptian history?
In answer to our first question, two
major positions exist regarding the date of Joseph among serious
students of the Joseph Story who accept its historicity. The majority of
such modern scholars date Joseph to the Second Intermediate Period of
Egyptian history, ca. 1786-1570 BC (Vergote 1959; Kitchen 1962; Stigers
1976), a time when an Asiatic group called the Hyksos ruled the delta
of the Nile.
This view is based primarily on two
assumptions: first, that the so-called Late Date of the Exodus (during
the reign of Ramses II) is correct, and second, that the rise to power
of an Asiatic can best be placed during a period of Egyptian history
when his fellow Asiatics, the Hyksos, controlled the government. Let us
briefly examine these two arguments.
If the Exodus occurred in the 13th
century BC, and the Sojourn lasted approximately 400 years (430,
according to Exodus 12:40), Joseph would belong in the 17th century BC.
But if the Exodus took place in the 15th century BC, Joseph's career
would be shifted back to the 19th century BC, during the days of the
12th Dynasty of the Middle Kingdom.
If the Biblical numbers are taken
literally and at face value, the probable kings during the enslavement
and subsequent rise to power of Joseph would have been Sesostris II
(1897-1878 BC) and Sesostris III (1878-1843 BC).  This argument then
rests on how one interprets 1 Kings 6:1, a verse which dates the Exodus
480 years before the fourth year of Solomon, ca. 966 BC.
There seem to be three commonly held
ways to regard this verse. One may accept it at face value, thus dating
the Exodus to the 15th century BC; one may totally disregard the
verse's historical accuracy, which allows one to date the Exodus to any
period one chooses, or indeed to deny it altogether; or one may
interpret the numbers given in it to mean something less than a literal
480 years, thus invoking support from the verse for a late Exodus. It
is not our purpose here to argue these positions, although I personally
hold to an early Exodus. My only point is that one's view on the date of
the Exodus is a determiner of one's date for Joseph.
The second idea, that Joseph should
best be thought of as serving when fellow Syro-Palestinians ruled part
of Egypt seems to be unsound. It assumes that Syro-Palestinians,
regardless of specific nationality, would favor one another. Our
emerging knowledge of Canaan, with its political division and inter-city
warfare, and indeed the rivalries between groups visible in the Biblical
narrative, casts great doubt in my mind that a Canaanite group such as
the Hyksos would be automatically friendly to a Hebrew.
It has long ago been observed that
certain features of the Joseph Story fit well in the 12 Dynasty. A
survey of some of these might be helpful.
of a 12th Dynasty date for the Joseph Story begin their arguments with a
strict literal acceptance of the Biblical chronology of the Exodus and
Sojourn. 1 Kings 6:1 is seen as dating the Exodus to ca. 1446 BC, and
Exodus 12:40 is seen as placing the entrance of Jacob and his family
into an Egypt where Joseph holds high office under the reign of
Sesostris III, ca. 1876 BC. Joseph's career as an Egyptian governmental
official would thus begin under Sesostris II and would continue into the
reign of Sesostris III. (RIGHT: Sesostris III)
Specific elements of the Joseph Story
are normally cited in support of such a Middle Kingdom date. A few
examples will illustrate.
Potiphar, the official who first
bought Joseph, is called an Egyptian and commander of the king's guard
in Genesis 39:1. It is argued that if the king were a Hyksos ruler, it
would not make sense for a native Egyptian to have been commander of the
royal bodyguard. Further, Joseph is described several times (Gen 41, 42,
and 45) as ruler over all the land of Egypt. The Hyksos controlled only
the northern part of Egypt, but the 12th Dynasty ruled the entire
nation. And when the king wanted to reward Joseph, he gave him the
daughter of a priest of On, or Heliopolis, to be his wife. The argument
there is that a Hyksos king would more probably give Joseph the daughter
of the priest of another god, such as Seth, who was a more important
deity to the Hyksos than were the solar deities venerated by the native
It should be observed, however, that
the Hyksos did not in any way suppress the worship of Re, the sun god of
On. Also, proponents of a 12th Dynasty date for Joseph argue that when
Joseph is called from prison to meet Pharaoh in Genesis 41:14, he has to
shave and put on clean clothing. This would reflect native Egyptian
customs rather than those of the Syro-Palestinian Hyksos.
An argument that has been used to
date Joseph to the Hyksos period is the mention of chariots in the
account of Joseph's promotion and rewarding by Pharaoh. It is often
pointed out that since the war chariot was probably introduced into
Egypt by the Hyksos, Pharaoh's gift to Joseph would best fit in the
Second Intermediate Period and not in the earlier Middle Kingdom.
But need we connect this vehicle used
for transportation by a high official of government with war chariots?
Nothing is said in the Joseph Story about chariots being used in battle,
and in fact the chariot given to Joseph is called the second chariot of
Pharaoh, thus leaving the impression that there were not many of them.
When a horse was found by the excavators of the fortress of Buhen, from
a period well before the Egyptians began to use chariots for war, the
conclusion of the archeologists was that "It is likely that, at
least in the early periods, horses were owned by the most top-ranking
members of society and that they were only used for drawing chariots on
state occasions" (Emery, Smith and Millard 1979: 194; cf. B. Wood
Lastly, mention ought to be made of a
papyrus in the Brooklyn Museum and published by William C. Hayes (1955).
This late Middle Kingdom document is of great importance for study of
the Joseph Story, and can only be summarized here. It contains
information on Asiatic slaves in Egypt during the late Middle Kingdom,
only a few generations after Joseph, assuming a 12th Dynasty date for
him. The most striking thing about these Asiatic slaves is that one of
the most common jobs they were assigned was household servant, just like
Joseph (Hayes 1955:103). Joseph's servitude thus fits the pattern for
the Middle Kingdom period of Egyptian history.
Our purpose here, assuming a 12th
Dynasty date for Joseph to be most in accord with the Scriptural
chronology, is to examine what new evidence there may be that would both
support and further illustrate a career for Joseph in the Middle
Kingdom. But first let us note an area for further research, involving
the seven years of plenty followed by the seven years of famine so
important to the Joseph Story.
About 20 years ago Barbara Bell
studied the 12th Dynasty Egyptian records of Nile levels at the Middle
Kingdom Nubian forts (1975). Collating this information with an analysis
of statuary, and with the well-known literary work entitled The
Complaint of Khahkeperre-Seneb, Bell concludes that the mid-12th
Dynasty suffered erratic Nile levels which caused crop failure and the
resultant social disruption mirrored in the Complaint.
One might ask why an unusually high
Nile would hurt crops; Bell's answer is that under such conditions it
would take longer for the water to drain off the fields, and would thus
impede the year's planting. As more information comes to light and as
our knowledge of Nile fluctuations becomes more complete, we may be
better able to consider Joseph's famine in a 12th Dynasty context.
In recent years our archeological
knowledge of the Nile delta has increased significantly. Much of this
advance is due to the work of the Austrians under Manfred Bietak at Tell
el Daba Khatana-Qantir. This region is now the accepted location of the
Biblical city of Ramses and the earlier Hyksos capital of Avaris. Our
knowledge of the northeast delta and Asiatic influence in the region is
much greater than it was 20 years ago. One discovery, made by Bietak's
team between 1984 and 1987 and pointed out recently by John J. Bimson,
is of extreme significance for the 12th Dynasty historicity of the
Joseph Story (Bietak 1990).
A palace and accompanying garden
dating to the 12th Dynasty were found. There is no evidence that the
palace was any kind of royal residence; Bietak hypothesizes on the basis
of inscriptional material that it was the headquarters of an official
who supervised trade and mining expeditions across the northeastern
border (Bietak 1990: 69).
But what is most interesting about
this find is the cemetery located in the palace garden, and particularly
one of the tombs in it. All of the other graves (there are approximately
12 altogether) seem to date to a slightly later period, perhaps the
early years of Dynasty 13, and were on the basis of their orientation,
definitely not part of the original palace-garden complex. But the
largest and most impressive tomb of the lot, consisting of a single
brick chamber with a small chapel in front of it, was oriented to the
structures of stratum E (early-to-middle 12th Dynasty) (Bietak 1990:
While the tomb had been robbed and
badly damaged, a most interesting find was discovered in the robbers'
tunnel between the tomb chamber and the chapel. A statue, almost
certainly of one of the officials who lived in the palace in the late
years of the 12th Dynasty, had been removed (probably from the tomb
chapel) and had been smashed to pieces. All that remain are a few
fragments of the head; the facial features have been very deliberately
destroyed. The statue was approximately 1 1/2 times life size, and
exhibits no characteristics of a royal personage. But the most
interesting thing is that this official was clearly an Asiatic. This is
demonstrated by the yellow coloration of the skin, which was, as Bietak
observes, typical for the depiction of male Asiatics, and by another
Asiatic feature, the so-called Mushroom hairstyle which the statue had (Bietak
The significance of this find for a
12th Dynasty setting of the Joseph Story is obvious. As John Bimson has
observed, there is not enough evidence to claim with any degree of
certainty that the tomb of Joseph has been found, or that a statue of
the famed Biblical character has been found. But it is clear that this
man, without doubt a Canaanite of some kind, became a very important
official in the Egyptian government. He was important enough to have
lived in a major palace complex and to have equipped a tomb for himself
in its garden, and to have commissioned a more than life-sized statue of
himself for his tomb chapel.
This demonstrates that an Asiatic
could indeed rise to a position of prominence in an earlier period than
the days of Hyksos rule, and allows us to accept the possibility, which
I believe to be the case, that Joseph served a king of the Middle
Kingdom at almost exactly the same time as did this Canaanite.
The next issues to be addressed are
Joseph's titles after his rise to importance in the Egyptian court. What
office or offices did he hold? And is there room for him among the known
holders of these offices in Dynasty 12?
Genesis 45:8 is a key reference. I
believe, as I have pointed out elsewhere (Aling 1981:47-48), that three
distinct titles and/or epithets are mentioned in this verse.
"Father to Pharaoh" should
be associated with the Egyptian title "God's Father," where
the term "God" refers to the king. This title evidently had
several usages, some of which can be quickly eliminated in the case of
Joseph. He was not a priest, nor did a daughter of his enter the harim
of the Pharaoh. These are meanings of this title, but neither fits
Joseph. The best explanation is to view him as having been honored with
this title as a sort of Elder Statesman, a common use of the title
"God's Father" in the Middle and New Kingdoms.
A second title in Genesis 45:8 is
"Lord of All His (the king's) Household." There is some
disagreement among scholars as to the Egyptian equivalent of this
phrase. Some would interpret it as some sort of palace overseer or court
chamberlain. The closest Egyptian title however seems to be [imy-r
pr wr, Chief Steward of the King, or more literally the Chief
Overseer of the House, with the term "house" referring to the
personal estates of the king.
The Egyptian title usually translated
Chamberlain, [imy-r 'hnwty n pr- nsw, translates Overseer of
the Interior of the King's House and does not seem to fit either the
Biblical phrase or the context of the Joseph Story. Joseph had, after
his interpretation of the king's dream, advised Pharaoh regarding
agricultural matters relating to the future years of plenty and the
following famine. It seems most natural, in light of the king's
response, for Joseph to be given a post that was connected with
agriculture, as that of Chief Steward of the King certainly was.
The chamberlain had no such function.
The title "Chief Steward of the King" is common in the Middle
Kingdom. William Ward, in his Index of Egyptian Administrative and
Religious Titles of the Middle Kingdom, cites over 20 examples of the
title in various publications, without attempting to enumerate all the
occurrences in the major museums of the world (1982: 22, n. 141).
Franke, in his Personendaten Aus Dem
Mittleren Reich, presents dossiers of 19 Chief Stewards (1984: 17).
Allan Gardiner said that the office was second in importance only to
that of Vizier (1947:45*-46*). The duties of the Chief Steward are known
from New Kingdom texts and from the 11th Dynasty biographical text of
the chief Steward Henunu preserved in his tomb at Deir el Bahri (Hayes
1949). This official was administrator of the royal estates, supervisor
of royal granaries, and overseer of royal flocks and herds. Henunu was
also involved in taxation, supplying certain parts of Upper Egypt with
provisions, construction of the royal tomb, collection of tribute from
Beduin tribes, and procuring cedar wood from Syria.
Joseph would have been very qualified
to perform most of these tasks; the ones connected with agriculture and
taxation would certainly fit the context of the Biblical story. It is
therefore best to agree with Vergote (1959: 98ff) and Ward (1960:146-47)
that Joseph was Chief Steward of the King.
The greatest debate concerning
Joseph's titles centers around that of Vizier. William Ward has argued
against the idea that Joseph was ever Vizier of Egypt (1960:148-50;
1957). He views several of the descriptive phrases used about Joseph in
the Old Testament as Hebrew equivalents of general Egyptian platitudes
that could be applied to any middle level official. The problem with
this is that direct equation does not appear strong. An example is the
phrase in Genesis 41:40, "Only in the throne will I be greater than
you." Ward equates this with the Egyptian epithet "Favorite of
the Lord of the Two Lands" (1960: 148). To me such an equation is
I find a number of phrases describing
Joseph and the duties performed by Joseph that would fit only the
Vizier, who was in the Middle Kingdom the single most powerful man in
the kingdom aside from the sovereign himself. Let us note these and a
few other points:
Model of an Egyptian granary from the Middle Kingdom being filled.
Joseph supervised the filling of granaries such as this during the seven
years of plenty.)
After about 1860 BC, we hear no more
of them. G.P.F. van den Boorn has in his book, The Duties of the
Vizier, discussed the Vizier's responsibilities during the New
Kingdom as presented in Rekhmire's tomb dating to Dynasty 18 (1988).
From van den Boorn's study we get the impression that the Vizier was
indeed second only to the Pharaoh as ruler of Egypt.
In summary, we find that the Vizier
was managing director of the king's palace complex, head of the civil
administration, and the general deputy of the king. These kinds of
duties fit well with the concept of Joseph as second in command of the
realm, even allowing for the fact that van den Boorn's text is New
Kingdom rather than Middle Kingdom.
If we accept as probable that Joseph
was Vizier, we next have to ask if there is room for him in the list of
Viziers of the Middle Kingdom, and if there is any evidence of his
holding that post. Let it be said at the outset that we do not have all
the information we would like to have regarding the Vizierate, or
regarding any non-royal title, from the Middle Kingdom. Great gaps in
our knowledge exist.
The most recent attempt to list all
the known Viziers of Dynasty 12 was made by Detlef Franke in 1984; his
list includes 13 names for the roughly 200 years the dynasty was in
power. Some of the individuals in Franke's list may not have actually
served; their titles may have been honorary. Furthermore, there are a
number of Viziers who probably belong in the 12th Dynasty but cannot be
placed with any certainty.
One final general observation should
be made. It seems certain, thanks to the work of William Kelly Simpson,
that Middle Kingdom Viziers could serve under more than one king (1957:
29). They were not automatically removed when the throne changed hands.
We cannot at this time discuss the
Viziers of the entire 12th Dynasty, but will only examine the reigns of
Sesostris II and III, 1897-1843 BC. The earliest complete study of the
institution of the Vizierate in ancient Egypt was that of Arthur Weil,
published in 1908. This monumental work is to a marked degree out of
date today, but still remains useful. Although Weil has a number of
undatable Viziers, his 12th Dynasty list has no one beyond Year 8 of
Amenemhat II, ca. 1920 BC. No Vizier was known from the reigns of either
Sesostris II or his son and successor Sesostris III.
In 1957, William Kelly Simpson called
attention to the existence of two viziers of Sesostris III, both of whom
had tombs near the pyramid of that king at Dahshur. The first, a
masataba called number 17, was said by its excavator De Morgan to be the
tomb of a high official of the king's court. The location of the tomb
makes it certain that that king was Sesostris III.
De Morgan did not find the name or
titles of the tomb owner, but fragments did exist. Simpson cites an
offering table which has part of a name, [Sbk m... Another
fragment preserves the last portion of the name, ...[m-h3t
(1957: 26). The official was thus Sebekemhat.
Simpson also discovered that the
man's titles were those of a serving Vizier, including Vizier and
Overseer of the City, meaning the capital. This last is a common title
for Viziers on into the New Kingdom. This Vizier of Sesostris III was
totally unknown to Weil.
Simpson also cites another masataba
near the pyramid of Sesostris III, number 2 (1957: 27). It is located to
the northwest of tomb 17, and was also the tomb of an important
official. The name is preserved; it is Khnumhotep. Weil knew of him, and
knew that he was a Vizier, but wrongly dated him (with a question mark)
to one of the Amenemhats. The location of Khnumhotep's tomb shows that
he, like Sebekemhat, in all probability served under Sesostris III.
Simpson in his paper on these two officials also states that neither was
a nomarch, and that their service seems to have been actual; they did
not hold the title only honorarily.
The next study of the Middle Kingdom
Vizierate was that of Michel Valloggia in 1974. He lists the same two
Viziers as Simpson for the reign of Sesostris III. There is another
Vizier who may fit in this period, since his name is Senwosret-ankh, or
"Sesostris Lives," thus incorporating the name of a 12th
Dynasty king into his name. He is known from a statue found at Ugarit
and now in the Louvre, and from a stele in Florence.
Could he have served in our period?
It is not likely for two reasons. Valloggia (1974: 131-32; 132, n. 4),
citing Vandier, states that artistically the statue fits best in the
late 12th Dynasty and not the middle. Further, names are of course given
at birth, so a man named after either Sesostris II or III would probably
serve later than those reigns or at least later than the transition
between them. It is best to date him to the later years of the dynasty.
Franke in 1984 published a
compilation of dossiers of Middle Kingdom officials (Bietak 1990: 61).
This has been and will continue to be a useful tool for Middle Kingdom
prosopography for years to come. In his introduction Franke discusses
key offices such as that of Vizier, and lists all those known to him.
This is the most recent listing that has been compiled. He acknowledges
Sebekemhat and Knumhotep for the reign of Sesostris III, but of course
we still do not know the order in which they served.
Interestingly, he adds, with a
question mark, Ameny the son of Smy-ib for the late years of Sesostris
II and the early years of Sesostris III (Franke 1984:18). This is the
first attempt of which I am aware to place any known Vizier in the reign
of Sesostris II. Franke gives no reason, other than the existence of a
gap here, for this dating, and he admits that the statue of Ameny may be
from a later time. At this point there is not enough evidence to place
Ameny during the transition from Sesostris II to Sesostris III with any
degree of certainty.
For the 50-odd years of the reigns of
Sesostris II and III we therefore have two Viziers, Sebekemhat and
Khnumhotep, both of whom should be dated to the reign of the later
Sesostris. We have a possible Vizier, Ameny, for the earlier part of
this period, but we cannot date him here with any certainty. There is
therefore plenty of room for Joseph to have served in the 12th Dynasty.
His long life span does not make his
service unlikely; he need not have continued to hold this high office
until his death. Before we proceed further, let me state that there is
no reason to conclude that either Sebekemhat or Khnumhotep was Joseph.
There appears to be no similarity between their names and the Hebrew
version of Joseph's Egyptian name given in the book of Genesis. But
there is one interesting thing about the titles held by one of these two
Middle Kingdom Viziers.
Khnumhotep held both the titles
Vizier and Chief Steward of the King (Weil 1908: 44, no. 11). He is, to
my knowledge, the only person in the Middle Kingdom to have done so. Nor
was this done in other periods of Egyptian history. As stated above, I
do not argue that this personage was Joseph; but it seems possible that
the idea of one person holding both these posts could be patterned after
Perhaps, if Joseph was Vizier and
Chief Steward in the last years of Sesostris II and the early years of
Sesostris III, it is conceivable that after Joseph's retirement,
Khnumhotep could have also have been granted both of these high court
positions. We at the very least see that the combination is a
possibility in the Middle Kingdom.
In conclusion, we have attempted to
make the case that Joseph's career fits quite well in Dynasty 12 both
Biblically and historically, and that there is no good reason to try to
place him in the later Second Intermediate Period. He did, I believe,
make a significant impact on Egyptian history, an impact which is
reflected in events such as the breaking of the power of the Nomarchs
and the combining of the offices of Vizier and Chief Steward of the
King. As our knowledge of the Middle Kingdom increases, and as new
archeological information from the delta is discovered and published, we
can expect to understand both the Middle Kingdom and the Second
Intermediate Period better, and we can expect to expand our knowledge of
the Egyptian background of the Story of Joseph.
Egyptian king, Shishak - What evidence has been discovered?
Egyptian king to be mentioned by name in the bible
The name of
David, Israel's second king, ca. 1010-970 BC, appears in two ninth
century BC texts, the Tel Dan Inscription and the Moabite stone. 
Shishak was the first Egyptian king to be mentioned by name in the bible
and is the first foreign king in the Bible for whom we have
Prior to the tenth century BC, it was
customary for the kings of Egypt to be referred to simply as
"Pharaoh." After the tenth century, however, a proper name was
included with the title (Bible and Spade, Autumn 1993, p. 98).
This practice was followed in the Bible as well. The first pharaoh to be
identified with a personal name is Shishak, who ruled during the time of
Solomon and his son Rehoboam. We first meet Shishak in 1 Kings 11:40.
Because of Solomon's idolatry, God decreed through the prophet Ahijah
that He was going to take ten tribes from Solomon and give them to
Jeroboam, an official in Solomon's court (1 Kings 11:26-39). As a
result, Solomon sought to kill Jeroboam. Jeroboam fled to Egypt where
Shishak gave him refuge (1 Kings 11:40).
After Solomon's death, Jeroboam
returned and became leader of the breakaway Northern Kingdom, while
Rehoboam ruled over the Southern kingdom of Judah (1 Kings 12:1-17).
Shortly thereafter, Shishak came with his army and invaded Judah and
Israel. The Biblical record is brief:
the fifth year of King Rehoboam, Shishak king of Egypt attacked
Jerusalem. He carried off the treasures of the Temple of the Lord and
the treasures of the royal palace. He took everything, including all the
gold shields Solomon had made (1 Kings 14:25-26).
expands on this by recording:
1,200 chariots and 60,000 horsemen and the innumerable troops of
Libyans, Sukkites and Cushites that came with him from Egypt, he [Shishak]
captured the fortified cities of Judah and came as far as Jerusalem (2
spared destruction only because the leaders of Judah humbled themselves
before the Lord (2 Chronicles 12:5-8).
In Egyptian records, Shishak's name
is spelled Sheshonq. Since there were later Sheshonqs, the Biblical
Shishak/Sheshonq is known as Sheshonq-I.
Shishak descended from a line of
chieftains of the Libyan tribe of the Meshwesh who had settled in Egypt
at the end of the New Kingdom. He rose to prominence as
commander-in-chief of the Egyptian army under the last pharaoh of the
21st Dynasty, Psusennes II. Shishak gained a connection to the throne by
marrying his son Osorkon to Psusennes' daughter. When Psusennes died
with no son to take his place, Shishak took over the throne and ruled
ca. 945-924 B.C., thus beginning 230 years of Libyan rule (the 22nd
There was a minor resurgence of
Egyptian glory under Shishak. He inaugurated major building programs in
the Delta, Memphis, Herakleopolis and Thebes.
Shishak evidently had his eye on his
northern neighbor for some time. By harboring Jeroboam, he was
contributing to the division of Israel. When the split occurred, it was
an opportune time for him to deal a major blow to the two now weakened
kingdoms, so he launched a campaign. The underlying cause seems to have
been to break Israel's commercial monopoly in the north and to obtain
much needed booty,
rather than to annex the area.
Shishak's campaign is documented in
Egypt as well as in the Bible. Upon his return, he constructed a large
festival court in front of the great Temple of Amun at Thebes in
southern Egypt. The project was no doubt financed by plunder from Judah
and Israel. On one of the walls of the court, Shishak commissioned a
commemorative relief of his Palestinian campaign. Unfortunately, it is
badly damaged. Enough remains, however, to show that he not only
attacked Judah, as the Bible records, but also the northern kingdom of
The scene depicts Shishak on the
right side about to club a group of foreigners, most likely Israelites
given the context of the relief. The figure of Shishak is all but
destroyed. On the left side is the chief Egyptian god Amun leading
captive cities by means of ropes.
Each city is represented by an oval
cartouche containing the name of the city, with a bound prisoner on top.
The list mainly contains place names in Israel, the Judahite section
being almost totally obliterated. Jerusalem does not appear in the list.
One of the Israelite towns is Megiddo. At the site of Megiddo a portion
of a commemorative stela of Shishak was found by the Oriental Institute
excavations in 1926. His name can be clearly read and the stela is
without doubt from the 925 B.C. campaign.
One footnote to the story of
Shishak's campaign. When Shishak's son Osorkon-I took the throne, he
gave huge amounts of gold and silver (383 tons!) to the temples of
Egypt. What is more, he buried his son Sheshonq-II in a coffin made of
pure silver. Where did all of this wealth come from? The only plausible
explanation is that it came from the treasuries of the Temple and royal
palace at Jerusalem (1 Kings 14:26), and other cities of Judah and
Israel, in Shishak's campaign of 925 B.C.
For further reading
Balaam, the Prophet - Is there evidence to prove his
In an unprecedented discovery, an ancient text found at Deir Alla, Jordan,
in 1967 tells about the activities of a prophet named Balaam. Could this be the
Balaam of the Old Testament? The text makes it clear that it is. Three times in
the first four lines he is referred to as "Balaam son of Beor,"
exactly as in the Bible. This represents the first Old Testament prophet to be
dug up in Bible lands - not his tomb or his skeleton, but a text about him. The
text also represents the first prophecy of any scope from the ancient West
Semitic world to be found outside the Old Testament, and the first
extra-Biblical example of a prophet proclaiming doom to his own people.
Balaam was not an Israelite. He was hired by
Balak, king of Moab, to curse the Israelites. They were camped on the east side
of the Jordan river, about to make their historic entry into the promised land.
Through God's intervention Balaam was obliged to bless the Israelites rather
than curse them (Num 22-24). Afterwards, Balaam seems to have been the cause of
the Israelites' sin in Numbers 25 when they took Moabite and Midianite women and
worshipped the Moabite god Baal-peor (Num 31:16). Balaam was eventually killed
when Moses sent the Israelites against the Midianites (Num 31). He is further
condemned in Scripture in 2 Peter 2:15 (he loved the wages of unrighteousness),
Jude 11 (ungodly men ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward) and
Revelation 2:14 (he taught Balak to cast a stumbling block before the children
of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit fornication).
The remarkable text found at Deir Alla
consists of 119 fragments of plaster inscribed with black and red ink. It was
among the rubble of a building destroyed in an earthquake. It seems to have been
one long column with at least 50 lines, displayed on a plastered wall. According
to the excavators' dating, the disaster was most likely the severe earthquake
which occurred in the time of King Uzziah (Azariah) and the prophet Amos in
about 760 BC (Amos 1:1; Zec 14:5). The lower part of the text shows signs of
wear, indicating that it had been on the wall for some time prior to the
Written in Aramaic, the text begins with the
title "Warnings from the Book of Balaam the son of Beor. He was a seer of
the gods." It is in red ink, as are other portions of the text where
emphasis is desired. The reference to the "Book of Balaam" indicates
that the text was part of a pre-existing document and therefore the original
date of the material is much earlier than the plaster text itself. Balaam goes
on to relate a vision concerning impending judgment from the gods, and enters
into a dispute with his listeners.
There are a number of similarities between
the text and the account of Balaam in the book of Numbers. To begin with, the
events described in Numbers 22-24 took place in the same general area where the
text was found. At the time of the Numbers 22-24 incident, the Israelites were
camped on the Plains of Moab, across the Jordan river from Jericho. Deir Alla is
located about 25 miles north of this area, where the Jabbok river flows into the
Jordan valley. Balaam was from Pethor, near "the river" (Num 22:5), in
"Aram" (Num 23:7; Dt 23:4). The reference to Aram has led most
scholars to conclude that Balaam was from northern Syria, in the vicinity of the
Euphrates river. That does not fit well with the Biblical account, however,
since Balaam's home seems to have been close to where the Israelites were camped
(Num 22:1-22; 31:7-8).
In view of Balaam being revered at Deir Alla,
one would expect that Deir Alla was his home. This is exactly what William Shea
has proposed, based on his reading of the name Pethor in an inscribed clay
tablet found at Deir Alla (1989:108-11). In this case, the river of Numbers 22:5
would be the Jabbok river and the naharaim (two rivers) of Deuteronomy 23:4
would be the Jabbok and Jordan rivers. With regard to the references to Aram,
Shea suggests that the original place name was Adam, with the "d"
being miscopied as "r," since the two letters are nearly identical in
ancient Hebrew. Adam was a town about eight mi southwest of Deir Alla, on the
east bank of the Jordan river, where the Jabbok meets the Jordan.
Balaam evidently was well known as a
"cursing prophet," for Balak specifically summoned Balaam for the
purpose of cursing Israel (Num 22:6). Much of the Deir Alla text was given to
curses uttered by the prophet. The term "shadday-gods" is used on two
occasions in the text. Shadday is one of the names for God in the Old Testament,
used mainly in the book of Job. Since the account of Job is set in Transjordan
(Job 1:1-3), it seems that Shadday was a name used for deity in this region.
Balaam used the name twice in his blessing speeches where it is translated
"Almighty" (Num 24:4, 16).
The Deir Alla text presents a problem to
those who dismiss the Biblical account of the Exodus, Wilderness Wanderings and
Conquest as legendary, as is the trend in scholarship today. It is clear that
Balaam was a real person who operated on the east side of the Jordan river. He
was known as a cursing prophet and continued to be revered hundreds of years
after his death. His persona as revealed in the Deir Alla text precisely matches
that of the Balaam of Numbers 22-24. If Balaam was a real person, what about
Balak, Moses, Joshua and all of the other persons named in the Biblical
narrative? They must have been real as well, and the events described authentic.
RECOMMENDED FOR FURTHER READING:
Moabite Stone - What does it reveal about the revolt of Mesha?
had taken possession of the land of Medeba. And he dwelt in it in his
days and half  the days of his son : 40 years; but Chemosh
restored it in my days (lines 7-9).
Inscription not only mentions Mesha, king of Moab, known in the Bible,
but also Omri, one of the most powerful kings of the Northern Kingdom (1
Kgs 16:21-28), who ruled 885-873 BC.
Cities of Northern Moab
the men of Dibon were fitted out for war because all Dibon was obedient.
And I ruled [over a] hundred of towns that I added to the land (lines
Some 12 towns in
the land of Medeba are mentioned, all of them known from the Old
Later on in the
inscription he says,
I built Qeriho: the wall of the parkland and the wall of the acropolis;
and I built its gates, and I built its towers; and I built the king's
house; and I made banks for the water reservoir inside the town; and
there was no cistern inside the town, in Qeriho, and I said to all the
people: "Make yourself each a cistern in his house"; and I dug
the ditches for Qeriho with prisoners of Israel (lines 21-26).
I built ... the temple of Baal Meon; and I established there [...] the
sheep of the land" (lines 29-31).
The reference to
sheep is significant, as it reflects the main occupation of the people
of Moab, in agreement with the Bible. 2 Kings 3:4 tells us,
Mesha king of Moab raised sheep, and he had to supply the king of Israel
with 100,000 lambs and with the wool of 100,000 rams.
built Kiriathaim" (lines
And the men of Gad had dwelt in the land of Ataroth from of old, and
the king of Israel built Ataroth for himself, but I fought against the
town and took it, and I slew all the people: the town belonged to
Chemosh and to Moab. And I brought thence the altar-hearth of his
Beloved, and I dragged it before Chemosh in Kerioth/my town. And I
settled in it the men of Sharon and the men of Maharath (lines 10-14).
brought thence the altar-hearth of his Beloved, and I dragged it before
Chemosh in Kerioth/my town" (lines
Chemosh said to me: "Go! Take Nebo against Israel." And I went
by night and fought against it from break of dawn till noon. And I took
it and slew all: 7,000 men, boys, women, girls, and pregnant women,
because I had devoted it to Ashtar-Chemosh. And I took thence the
altar-hearths of YHWH and I dragged them before Chemosh (lines 14-18).
It appears that
there was a worship center for Yahweh at Nebo since among the spoils
were "altar hearths(?) of Yahweh." It is perhaps for this
reason that Mesha devoted the inhabitants to his god(s) Ashtar-Chemosh.
The word used for "devoted" is the same as the Hebrew word
harem used in the Old Testa- ment for offering a city completely to
Yahweh, such as Jericho (Jos 6:17, 21). Nebo is most likely Kh. al
Muhaiyat, northwest of Madaba and just south of Mt. Nebo.
the king of Israel had built Jahaz, and dwelt therein while he fought
against me; but Chemosh drove him out from before me, and I took from
Moab 200 men, all the chiefs thereof, and I established them in Jahaz;
and I took it to add it to Dibon (lines 18-21).
Here, Mesha refers to a northern campaign by the king of Israel which
is not recorded in the Old Testament. In order to achieve victory, Mesha
had to marshal the best of his forces, 200 chiefs. Once captured, Jahaz
became a daughter city of Dibon. The location of Jahaz is uncertain,
although Kh. Medeineyeh 10 mi southeast of Madaba is a likely candidate.
Aroer marked the
southern boundary of the Transjordanian territory originally captured by
the Israelites (Dt 2:36; 3:12; 4:48; Jos 12:2; 13:9, 16, 25). It was
occupied and fortified by the Gadites (Nm 32:34). Later, the prophet
Jeremiah said that the inhabitants of Aroer would witness fleeing
refugees as God poured out His wrath on the cities of Moab (48:19-20).
the house [of Da]vid dwelt in Horanaim [...] and Chemosh said to me:
"Go down! Fight against Horanaim." And I went down, and [I
fought against the town, and I took it; and] Chemosh [resto]red it in my
days (lines 31-33).
mentioned in Isaiah's prophecy against Moab (15:5). He says that
fugitives would lament their destruction as they travelled the road to
Horanaim. Jeremiah says much the same in 48:3, 5, and 47. The town is
located south of the Arnon, but exactly where is a matter of conjecture.
Jericho - Is the Bible accurate concerning the destruction of its walls?
In the Old
Testament, in Joshua chapter 6, we have an account of the Israelites defeating
the city of Jericho when they came into the Promised Land after wandering in the
wilderness for 40 years. According to the biblical account, after the Israelites
marched around the city once a day for six days, on the seventh day they
encircled the city seven times. On the seventh time around, the priests blew the
trumpets, the people shouted and the walls fell flat.
The first major excavation of the site of
Jericho, located in the southern Jordan valley in Israel, was carried out by a
German team between 1907 and 1909. They found piles of mud bricks at the base of
the mound the city was built on.
It was not until a British archaeologist
named Kathleen Kenyon reexcavated the site with modern methods in the 1950s that
it was understood what these piles of bricks were. She determined that they were
from the city wall which had collapsed when the city was destroyed!
The story in the Bible goes on to say that
when the walls collapsed, the Israelites stormed the city and set it on fire.
Archaeologists found evidence for a massive destruction by fire just as the
Bible relates. Kenyon wrote in her excavation report,
"The destruction was
complete. Walls and floors were blackened or reddened by fire, and every room
was filled with fallen bricks, timbers, and household utensils; in most rooms
the fallen debris was heavily burnt."
What caused the strong walls of Jericho to
collapse? The most likely explanation is an earthquake. But the nature of the
earthquake was unusual. It struck in such a way as to allow a portion of the
city wall on the north side of the site to remain standing, while everywhere
else the wall fell.
Rahab's house was evidently located on the
north side of the city. She was the Canaanite prostitute who hid the Israelite
spies who came to reconnoiter the city. The Bible states that her house was
built against the city wall. Before returning to the Israelite camp, the spies
told Rahab to bring her family into her house and they would be saved. According
to the Bible, Rahab's house was miraculously spared while the rest of the city
This is exactly what archaeologists found.
The preserved city wall on the north side of the city had houses built against
The timing of the earthquake and the manner
in which it selectively took down the city wall suggests something other than a
natural calamity. A Divine Force was at work. In the New Testament, we read,
"By faith the walls
of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around them for seven days. By
faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with
those who were disobedient" (Hebrews 11:30-31).
More recent excavations
In the spring of 1997, two Italian
archaeologists conducted a limited excavation on the ancient tell of Jericho.
Lorenzo Nigro and Nicolo Marchetti, working under the auspices of the new
Palestinian Department of Archaeology, excavated for one month on the fringes of
Kathleen Kenyon’s west and south trenches. Their dig was the first foreign
expedition in the Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank since self-rule
began in 1994.
After their excavation, Nigro and Marchetti
announced they found no evidence for a destruction from the time of Joshua.
While it is too soon for the academic community to see details of their
discoveries, their announcement suggests their excavation was conducted to
disprove the Biblical account of Joshua’s capture of the city. Is it further
possible that the Palestinian Authority supported this dig for the express
purpose of denouncing any Jewish connection to the site?
The walls DID come tumbling down!
As to their evidence, Dr. Bryant Wood,
Director of the Associates for Biblical Research and one of the leading experts
on the archaeology of Jericho, recently responded.
"It matters little
what the Italian archaeologists did not find in their month-long dig. The
evidence is already in. Three major expeditions to the site over the past 90
years uncovered abundant evidence to support the Biblical account."
As Wood went on to point out, John Garstang
(1930-1936) and Kathleen Kenyon (1952-1958) both dug at Jericho for six seasons
and a German excavation directed by Ernst Sellin and Carl Watzinger dug for
three. All found abundant evidence of the city’s destruction by fire in a
layer related to the Biblical date of 1400 BC.
ABR's Bryant Wood standing beside a section of the collapsed wall of Jericho.
In September 1997, Dr. Wood visited Jericho
and examined the results of the Italian excavation first hand. Incredibly, he
found the Italians had uncovered the stone outer revetment wall at the base of
the tell with part of the mudbrick wall built on top of it still intact. In the
balk of the Italian excavation, at the outer base of the revetment wall, Wood
noticed the remains of the collapsed mudbrick city walls which had tumbled. Not
only did the Italians find the same evidence uncovered in the earlier
excavations, it fits the Biblical story perfectly!
excavation actually uncovered most of the critical evidence relating to the
Biblical story. But even more exciting is the fact that all the evidence from
the earlier digs has disappeared over time. We only have records, drawing and
photos. But the Italians uncovered a completely new section of the wall which we
did not know still existed. I had my photograph taken standing next to the wall
where the mudbrick collapse had just been excavated!"
Unfortunately, the Italian archaeologists,
the Palestinian Authorities, the Associated Press and most of the world
doesn’t realize any of this. It is a sad commentary on the state of
archaeology in the Holy Land, when the purpose of an excavation at a Biblical
site is to disprove the Bible and disassociate the site with any historical
Has the biblical city and story of Jericho been verified?
the ancient mound of Jericho in the southern Jordan valley of Palestine
have yielded extraordinary finds that verify the veracity of Biblical
accounts. The only surviving written history of Jericho is that recorded
in the Bible. Archaeology has demonstrated that the Biblical record is a
precise eyewitness account of events that transpired there many
thousands of years ago.
The most famous story about Jericho,
of course, is that of the walls falling, as detailed in Joshua 6.
Another less known, but nonetheless important, account is that of Eglon,
king of Moab, building a palace there and extracting tribute from the
Israelites for 18 years (Judges 3:12-30). Space does not allow a
detailed discussion of the evidence, so I will briefly list the main
finds and their correlation with the Bible.
At the time of the
Israelite Conquest, Jericho was heavily fortified, as the Bible implies
There was evidence of
earthquake activity, possibly the agency God used to dam up the Jordan
(Joshua 3:16) and bring the walls down.
further details, see Bryant G. Wood, Did the Israelites Conquer
Jericho?, Biblical Archaeology Review, March-April 1990: 44-58;
and The Walls of Jericho, Bible and Spade, Spring 1999: 35-42.]
The Middle Building dates
to the second half of the 14th century BC, the time of Eglon's
oppression according to Biblical chronology (ca. 1400 BC less the
remainder of the life of Joshua, Judges 2:6-9; the eight-year oppression
by Cushan-Rishathaim, Judges 3:8; and 40 years of peace under Othniel,
further details, see John Garstang, The Story of Jericho: Further Light
on the Biblical Narrative, American Journal of Semitic Languages and
Literature 58 (1941), pp. 368-72; Baruch Halpern, The Assassination
of Eglon: The First Locked-Room Murder Mystery, Bible Review,
(December 1988), pp. 2-41.]
Samson and the Philistines - Did it really happen?
In the story of Samson it says he pulled down an entire temple. Have
archaeologists uncovered any information that would relate to this account?
A major turning point in Israel's war against
the Philistines was Samson's death. He had been taken captive through the
deception of Delilah. The Philistines gouged out his eyes and took him to Gaza,
one of their main cities. There they put him to work grinding grain in a prison.
We know from archaeological findings that this type of prison was in reality a
"grinding house." One of the most time-consuming tasks in antiquity
was the grinding of grain. In the average home, this fell to the women of the
household. The bureaucratic aristocracy, however, set up grinding houses to
provide grain for the privileged elite. This was a place where slaves and
prisoners were put to work. The tools were simple hand grinding stones. Samson
spent his days seated on the ground grinding grain with a hand-held pestle that
was rubbed back and forth on a mortar in his lap.
One day the Philistine leaders held a
religious ceremony to celebrate their victory over their enemy. They brought
Samson into the temple where they were assembled, so he could entertain them.
Once inside the temple, Samson asked the servant who was guiding him to show him
where the pillars were, so he could lean against them. "Then Samson reached
toward the two central pillars on which the temple stood. Bracing himself
against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other, Samson
said, `Let me die with the Philistines!' Then he pushed with all his might, and
down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it. Thus he killed many
more when he died than while he lived" (Judges 16:29-30).
In one fell swoop, Samson eliminated the
entire Philistine leadership. This was a major setback in their conflict with
Israel. It was a turning point. From this time on, the Israelites started to
gain the upper hand. But did it really happen? Could one man pull down an entire
temple single handed? Archaeology has provided us with some amazing answers.
stone pillar bases in the Philistine temple at Tel Qasile, Israel
Two Philistine temples have been uncovered by archaeologists. One at Tel Qasile, in northern Tel Aviv, and one in Tel Miqne, ancient Ekron, 21 miles south of Tel Aviv. Both temples share a unique design -- the roof was supported by two central pillars! The pillars were made of wood and rested on stone support bases. With the pillars being about six feet apart, a strong man could dislodge them from their stone bases and bring the entire roof crashing down. The archaeological findings match the Biblical story perfectly and attest to the plausibility of the account.
Although Samson had his weaknesses, he was a
man of God and is listed in the New Testament as one of those "who
through faith conquered kingdoms, ... whose weakness was turned to
strength" (Hebrews 11:32-34).
RECOMMENDED FOR FURTHER READING
Bryant G. Wood 1974, "Samson and the House of Dagon", Bible and Spade, pp. 50-54.
(available from the Associates for Biblical Research).