Could Joseph and Imhotep have been the same person?

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The Bible is silent about what Joseph did for the last 66yrs of his life although the Bible does say that he was able to not only ensure the survival of his family, he was able to protect them as they grew into a great nation numbering over 2 million at the time of the Exodus

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Joseph (son of Jacob) is a key figure in the Old Testament of the Bible , who became a vizier (sage / viceroy) for an Egyptian pharaoh and during this time was responsible for saving ancient Egypt from a seven year famine. Joseph was able to acquire all the land of Egypt (except that of the priests) by selling grain during the famine. In this way, Joseph made the Pharaohs very rich. Joseph was only 30yrs old when he became vizier and 44yrs old when he had saved Egypt and bought up all the land. He lived to the age of 110yrs and was given a royal Egyptian burial. The Bible is silent about what Joseph did for the last 66yrs of his life although the Bible does say that he was able to not only ensure the survival of his family, he was able to protect them as they grew into a great nation numbering over 2 million at the time of the Exodus (which occurred 430 years after Joseph’s family entered Egypt).

The identity Joseph in Egyptian history is debated, but some scholars identify him with Imhotep, who was the vizier during the Third Dynasty under Pharaoh Djoser ( also called Netjerikhet / Zoser).

Given Joseph’s position and achievements, one would expect to find some evidence for his existence in Non-Biblical Egyptian records and archaeological discoveries.

Joseph built silos to store grain in key Egyptian cities. Massive underground silos can be found in many cities of Egypt dating back to the third dynasty. [1] [2] [3] It is not unreasonable to suggest that these may have been built by Joseph. In particular, Joseph may have built the silos associated with the first pyramid built in Egypt (The Step Pyramid which is part of the Djoser Pyramid complex at Saqqara, designed by Imhotep). [4] [5] [6] [7]

The Djoser Pyramid at Saqqara, Egypt. (otherwise known as the ‘Step Pyramid’ or The ‘First Pyramid’ )

Large pits can be found within the Step Pyramid complex at Saqqara. The bottom of the pit can be accessed from an adjacent pit that has stairs. It would have been ideal for storing grain and, most likely, it was used for this purpose. It could have been made by the Hebrew vizier Joseph who had many similarities to the vizier Imhotep who designed the Step Pyramid complex. This has caused many historians to propose that Joseph and Imhotep were the same person.

One of three statues of Imhotep in the Louvre. Imhotep and Joseph may be the same person.

There are many similarities between the profile of Joseph and Imhotep. [8] [9] [10] [5] Imhotep is also credited with saving Egypt from a seven year famine after hearing of the Pharaoh’s dream. Imhotep, like Joseph, was a commoner with some divine connection and was placed second in charge of Egypt by the King (Netjerikhet). [8] Joseph bought up all the land for Pharaoh by selling the grain he stored during the seven years that preceded the famine [11]; a feat that could only have been performed once, early in Egypt’s history, and explains how the Pharaohs became so powerful and able to build the pyramids. Given that Joseph was one of the Patriarchs of Israel, and figures very early in the Biblical record, less than 1000 years after the flood of Noah, it is quite possible that he may have figured in the early parts of Egyptian history, namely the Third Dynasty as the vizier for Pharaoh Djoser. [9][12][13]

Until recently, the most compelling argument against Joseph and Imhotep being the same person, has been the discrepancy between the estimated times during which they lived. [4][14]

Egypt was not always united and sometimes there were different rulers in upper and lower Egypt. Sometimes, a conquering Pharaoh would let regional rulers (Nomarchs) stay on as governors when a new dynasty began (eg 12th dynasty). The division of the kingdom into up to 42 ‘nomes’ (regions or provinces) can be dated back to the Old Kingdom and it continued until the Roman period.

Clearly, there are many problems with the “traditional Egyptian chonology” that assumed the Egyptian dynasties were sequential and did not allow for co-regency and dynasties running in parallel. Evidence is now accumulating to suggest that Egyptian dynasties may overlap and may not date back as far as was once thought. [15][16][17][18]

Egyptian records are not chronological and dates have been calculated from very sketchy notes of third parties who saw the original documents (eg Manetho‘s records in the Alexandrian Library before they were destroyed in a fire). [12] Other documents such as the Turin King list are very fragmented and incomplete. In many cases, all that is known about some pharaohs are their names and how long they reigned. The pharaohs of dynasties 7-11 (the first intermediate period) were not buried in pyramids as were the pharaohs of the Old Kingdom (dynasty’s 3-6) and the Middle Kingdom (dynasty 12). Some pharaohs in this first intermediate period may turn out to be ‘Nomarchs‘ or ‘other high ranking officials’ and not ‘pharaohs’ at all! The result of this is that Egyptian history is probably a lot shorter than previously thought and the pyramids were probably constructed much later than many historians have previously estimated. [19]

If David Down is on the right track with his “modern alignment” of the Egyptian dynasties and allowing for a long sojourn of the Israelites in Egypt of 430 years (Exodus 12:40), it is quite likely that Joseph and Imhotep were the same person, particularly if some pharaohs in dynasties 7-11 (the first intermediate period) turn out to be ‘high ranking officials’ or ‘Nomarchs‘. [20][21][22][23][18]