Could Joseph and Imhotep have been the same person?

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The major objection to Joseph being Imhotep is the dates, however, new insights into the Egyptian chronology are slowly but surely resolving this issue.

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There are many theories about who Joseph was in Egyptian History.  Similarly, people theorize  about  who was the Exodus Pharaoh and who was the Pharaoh of Moses Birth and who was the pharaoh of Abraham.

As these Biblical and Historical figures are related to each other in time, sequence and position, the identification of one of these figures (a point of reference) determines where and when to look for the others.

As there are different views about the way the various Egyptian dynasties are ordered and as there are two schools of though regarding the length of the Israelite’s Sojourn in Egypt, many different permutations and combinations are possible when everybody logs in their answers for who they think just four of these iconic Biblical figures may have been in Egyptian History.

For a theory to hold, there needs to be a good character match, sufficient archaeological evidence, any discrepant dates need to be explained and the sequence and time frames needs to be right.

As a point of reference, one might ask, what lasting legacy did the Israelites leave behind (for us to find) when they were slaves in Egypt?  The Bible records that the Israelites were forced to make mud bricks that were reinforced with straw.  The Bible says that there were over 600 thousand Israelite men of fighting age by the time of the Exodus.  The Bible says that the Israelites Sojourned in Egypt for 400 years.

Even if the the Israelites only produced one mud brick per person per day for half of their sojourn, that would be 600000 people x 200 years x 365 days x 1 mud brick per day per person = 43.8 billion mud bricks.

That is a lot of mud bricks!!

Where can we find this many mud bricks in Egyptian History? 

The answer is: In the 12th dynasty  (and the 12th dynasty lasted about 200 years)!!

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There is considerable evidence to suggest that the 12th dynasty was the period when the Israelites were oppressed.  The 12th dynasty pyramids had a mud brick core and a limestone veneer.  (The limestone veneer has fallen away over the centuries leaving the mud brick core exposed.)  There were seven such pyramids constructed over about 200 years.  The Labyrinth, another monolith of the 12th dynasty, was also made from mud bricks.

There was a massive Exodus of slaves from Egypt in the 13th dynasty, after which, no more pyramids were constructed.

The only other significant exodus from Egypt was at the end of the second intermediate period when The Hyksos were chased out of Egypt in a rebellion lead by the family of Ahmose who went on to found the 18th dynasty.  The Hyksos were rulers of Egypt and are clearly not the Israelites.

The only reasonable conclusion is that the Exodus of slaves in the 13th dynasty was in fact the Israelite  Exodus.   This is supported by good character matches for Moses, Moses’ pharaoh, Moses’ adoptive mother and the Exodus pharaoh.  The profiles of Amenemhet III, Sobekneferu Amenemhet IV and Neferhotep and the chronology and time frames make it very likely that they were The pharaoh of Moses Birth, the princess that adopted Moses, Moses himself and the Exodus pharaoh respectively.

People have suggested the 12th dynasty vizier Mentuhotep (of Sesostris I) to be Jospeh of the Bible based on a 200 yr sojourn but there is little evidence and a poor character match.

The Bible says that the Israelites were in Egypt for 400 years. They were able to enjoy the protection of Joseph for the first 70 years and some time elapsed before there was a change of dynasties to a pharaoh who neither remembered Joseph, nor was sympathetic to the Israelites.

It is unlikely that the Pharaohs of the 12th dynasty changed their tune half way thru the dynasty.

There is a lot of evidence to suggest Joseph was Imhotep of the third dynasty and this would fit with Menez being Mizraim.  Abrahams pharaoh (Abimelech) was somewhere in between Menes and Imhotep.

A statue of Imhotep in the Louvre. It is likely that he is the Joseph of the Bible who saved Egypt from a 7yr famine buy building grain silos such as these in cities around Egypt. He was able to buy up all the land of Egypt with the proceeds from selling the grain.  This had to take place early in Egypt's history.  Joseph and Imhotep have many other similarities.  For example, they both lived to the age of 110yrs, were embalmed when they died and given a royal Egyptian burrial, they imposed a 20% tax and they both married the daughter of the high pries of On.  They both saved Egypt from a 7 yr famine.  They were both visiers of non-royal blood.

A statue of Imhotep in the Louvre.
It is likely that he is the Joseph of the Bible who saved Egypt from a 7yr famine buy building grain silos such as these in cities around Egypt.
He was able to buy up all the land of Egypt with the proceeds from selling the grain. This had to take place early in Egypt’s history. Joseph and Imhotep have many other similarities. For example, they both lived to the age of 110yrs, were embalmed when they died and given a royal Egyptian burrial, they imposed a 20% tax and they both married the daughter of the high pries of On. They both saved Egypt from a 7 yr famine. They were both visiers of non-royal blood.

A grain silo in the Step Pyramid complex.  Access to the bottom of the silo is from the steps in the pit next to it.

A grain silo in the Step Pyramid complex. Access to the bottom of the silo is from the steps in the pit next to it.

The Famine Stele.  Inscription number 81.  Carved on a high point on the Island of Sehel during the Ptoleemaic period.  It mentions Djoser, Imhotep and a seven year famine.  It also makes reference to Djoser giving land to the priests of Khnum.  (The priests of Isis also make the same claim elsewhere).

The Famine Stele. Inscription number 81. Carved on a high point on the Island of Sehel during the Ptoleemaic period. It mentions Djoser, Imhotep and a seven year famine. It also makes reference to Djoser giving land to the priests of Khnum. (The priests of Isis also make the same claim elsewhere).

We know that the Egyptian chronology has been stretched out too far, that dynasties overlapped and so we cannot use dates to match Biblical figures with their historical counterparts.

If the long sojourn is right, then Joseph would have arrived in Egypt about 200 years before the 12th dynasty began.

The first intermediate period is likely to have been contemporary with other dynasties (3-6th dynasties).  As a consequence, the 12th dynasty (middle kingdom) followed directly on from the old kingdom (dynsasty 3-6).

The pharaohs of the dynasties 7-11 (erroneously referred to as the First Intermediate Period) were probably Nomarches and high officials and not pharaohs at all.  The only record we have of them is there name and how long they reigned.  They were not even buried in pyramids.

Amenemhet I who founded the 12th dynasty was the vizier of Mentuhotep IV of the 11th dynasty.  Amenemhet I assassinated Mentuhotep IV and took over the whole country.  It was he who had a different attitude to the  Israelites and made them into slaves, forcing them to make mud bricks for the 12th dynasty pyramids.

The major objection to Joseph being Imhotep is the dates, and new insights into the Egyptian chronology are slowly but surely resolving this issue.

I think it is likely Joseph was Imhotep.  Hopefully, as new evidence comes to light, we will understand Egyptian chronology better and reconcile the dates.

In any case, I have no doubt that the Bible is true and that Moses and Joseph were real people and one day we will know their Egyptian names and the names of the Pharaohs that they served with more certainty.

Nigel Hawkins

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]