Most people are familiar with the story of Joseph and his brothers from the book of Genesis. The story, written thousands of years ago, still is alive and well in the pages of scripture. Eventually adapted as a stage play titled "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat", written and performed to dazzle many audiences from around the world. From catchy music, to the eye-popping dance numbers. Eventually it was transformed into a colorful motion picture musical in 1999 starring Donny Osmond and Richard Attenborough. I would recommend checking out this highly entertaining musical if you and your family haven't already.
But what about the actual story documented in scripture? Many forget that the bible recounts the events of Joseph, his 11 brothers, and his father, Jacob, as concrete history. Is there any way to verify the historicity recorded in the book of Genesis? How do we know for sure the events really took place? As always, let's dive in!
The story of Joseph starts at Genesis chapter 37 verse 1 in Canaan, and finishes off the book of Genesis with Joseph's death in Egypt. The story recounts how a man named Jacob had 12 sons, his favorite being Joseph from his wife Rachel. Jacob favored Joseph so much, that he eventually gave him a colorful coat to show his affections to Joseph. This, no doubt, made Joseph's brothers angry with jealousy. To top things off, when Joseph was 17 years old he started having dreams that appeared to put him in a position above his father and brothers. This made Joseph's brothers increasingly more angry, causing them to conspire to kill him. Joseph's brothers eventually sold Joseph to slavery and he ended up being a servant in the house of a wealthy man named Potiphar, who was Pharaoh's captain of the guard. Potiphar, taking a liking to Joseph, made him head over his house and affairs. But after years of service in this home, Potiphar's wife began taking a liking to Joseph and started trying to seduce him into bed with her. When she finally got Joseph cornered and removed his clothes, Joseph ran out of the house naked; being very devoted to God and his master, Potiphar. The wife was very angry and falsely accused Joseph of attempting to rape her, resulting in Joseph being thrown in prison.
After a few years in prison, Joseph met two men, Pharaoh's personal baker and a cup barer. One of them was guilty of conspiring to kill the Pharaoh, and were both thrown in prison while they sorted out which one of them was responsible. While in prison, both men had dreams which Joseph interpreted for them. Joseph's interpretations reveled which one would be released back into the service of the Pharaoh, and which one would be put to death. When his interpretations were correct, Joseph asked the released servant to remember him when speaking to the Pharaoh.
Years again go by, and Joseph figured the released servant forgot about him. It wasn't until the Pharaoh started having strange dreams, and searched the land for someone that could help him with their meaning that the servant finally remembered Joseph in Potiphar's prison. Joseph was cleaned up and brought before Pharaoh to interpret his dreams.
Joseph informed Pharaoh that his dreams foretold a nearing seven year period when food and crops would abnormally flourish, followed by another seven years of a severe famine that would starve the nations. Joseph advised Pharaoh to store up mass amounts of food during the seven flourishing years to keep people fed during the following famine. Pharaoh was so impressed with Joseph's wisdom that he charged Joseph with this endeavor, also making him second in command of all Egypt, answering only to Pharaoh himself!
"Thou shalt be over my house, and according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled: only in the throne will I be greater than thou. And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, See, I have set thee over all the land of Egypt."
- Gen 41:40-41 KJV
Joseph, being now in a high commanding position, did just that. He stored up mass amounts of grain and food that lasted the entire seven years of famine.
"And he gathered up all the food of the seven years, which were in the land of Egypt, and laid up the food in the cities: the food of the field, which was round about every city, laid he up in the same. And Joseph gathered corn as the sand of the sea, very much, until he left numbering; for it was without number."
- Gen 41:48-49 KJV
If anyone ran out of money to buy food, Joseph allowed them to use their cattle, and eventually their land as payment. Eventually, nearly all the surrounding lands belonged to Pharaoh because of this. The Pharaoh prospered greatly from Joseph's management of Egypt.
"And Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh; for the Egyptians sold every man his field, because the famine prevailed over them: so the land became Pharaoh's."
- Gen 47:20 KJV
Eventually Joseph's family found him there and they were granted permission by the Pharaoh to stay in Egypt. They were given the best land in Egypt, and asked only that they give one fifth of their crops to Pharaoh as payment. The Israelites lived there for many years, even after the death of Joseph, up until the Exodus of Moses.
In the 1980's a discovery was made, in the Cataracts of the Nile river, that closely paralleled the story of Joseph and the seven years of feast and famine. A tall stone, called the Famine Stela, with written inscriptions discovered on Sehel Island, speaks of these 14 years during the time of King Djoser in the 3rd dynasty. It explains how King Djoser employed a man named Imhotep for help during this time to ensure the survival of the nation.
Many biblical scholars and historians believe the person named Imhotep in this recorded account is definitely Yoceph (Joseph) from the story we read in the book of Genesis. Evidence that supports this is found at the base of Pharaoh Djoser's statue that contains the name Imhotep, stating "...FIRST after the king..." to which the title was awarded to Joseph.
Even more evidence arises from a discovered grainery at the site of Pharaoh Djoser's pyramid and complex, which Imhotep (Joseph) was the designing architect.
This complex, located near the ancient area of Memphis Egypt, contained eleven extremely large pits with joining shafts that even today's Egyptian historians are unable to explain. These pits, at the south end of the complex, seem to resemble the remnants of a massive food storage and distribution center, to which Imhotep (Joseph) would have designed and oversaw. The photo and diagrams below, provided by Wyatt Archaeological Research in their film "The Exodus Crossing", shows the large pits and a diagram of the shoots.
Archaeologist Ron Wyatt, from Wyatt Archaeological Research, believed that as they depleted the food supply in the main pit, the remaining pits would replenish the main. This would make for a very easy way to centralize distribution of the food to those who come to purchase their portions.
Overall, Joseph saved Egypt and made Djoser a very rich and prosperous Pharaoh, all while remaining devout to the God of Israel. Although nothing in this account is 100% conclusive, you have to admit that the historical similarities are very interesting. Especially since the account inscribed on the Famine Stela stone were written approximately 1000 years after Moses writes it for us in Genesis.
Written by: Joshua Berry
Documentary: The Exodus Crossing - Wyatt Archaeological Research - https://wyattmuseum.com/shop/discovered-the-exodus