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Joseph’s Activity in Egypt

February 4, 2018

The Bible records for us two features of Joseph’s story during his time in Egypt. The first is the dream he received which effectively laid out for him what God wanted him to do, both for the land of Egypt and for the benefit of the Israelites. Then the Bible tells us the detail of what Joseph did in response to the dream. Last month we asked whether there was any evidence for the fact there was a period of seven years of prosperity followed by a period of seven years of famine. As result of David Rohl’s New Chronology it is possible to tag the Joseph years with the correct time period in the succession of Egyptian pharaohs. Rohl and others are now rethinking the chronology of the Egyptian pharaohs. According to Rohl, Joseph’s time in Egypt is set in the same time period as Amenemhat III’s reign in Egypt.    


Now the question is: Did Joseph do something to alleviate the problem of the severe famine in the land of Egypt as the Bible says he did? Archaeology, and the historical record suggest yes. According to the historical records of Manetho, Herodotus and Diodoros Siculus, Amenemhat III was most the active pharaoh in the Faiyum Basin (the Delta area surrounding Avaris). He built canals and the Egyptian Labyrinth – a huge structure with scores of storage rooms. Manetho actually attributed the Labyrinth to King Moeris, who is none other than Amenemhat III. It is another name by which this pharaoh was known. 


Amenemhat III was the pharaoh who was responsible for initiating massive hydraulic projects to control flooding and to turn the Delta area into a lake. The Faiyum Basin was the name given to a large dry depression in the Delta area.  Amenemhat was credited as being the pharaoh who took the excess floodwater and channeled it into the Faiyum Basin creating Lake Moeris. This project both protected lower Egypt from flooding and stored water to help in low flow periods. Diodorus Siculus records that Moeris (Amenemhat) excavated the lake and dug a canal 14 km long and 90 metres wide from the Nile River to the lake. Thus enabling the Egyptians to control the water level in times of flood in the Nile and store water for irrigation from Lake Moeris. This activity was related to the administrative system set in place to control the needs of the Nile valley and the delta area. It was called the Khenret.


After its development in the time of Amenemhat III, Lake Moeris was a freshwater lake with an estimated area of between 1,270 km² and 1,700 km². The remnant of Lake Moeris still exists today as a smaller saltwater lake called Birket Qarun. The current lake's surface is 43 metres below sea-level and covers just 200 km2. These days there is a water canal which runs parallel to the Nile for 200 kilometres, past the Labyrinth of Amenemhat III or the remains of the administrative centre of Khenret. The traditional name for this water canal is Bahr Yussef – Joseph’s waterway.


Amenemhat’s Labyrinth was the structure built to organize agricultural labour: production and distribution during Amenemhat III’s reign. It was established by Amenemhat III and the remnant of it still exists today. It was associated with the Khenret and was a series of granary bins built as three storage and distribution centres. There were three departments created under Amenemhat III: 

The Department of the North

The Department of the South

The Department of the People’s Giving

The Department of the North along with the two other Departments were associated with Avaris in the north and were set up to enable the redistribution of grain throughout Egypt. Grain was clearly stored in times of surplus and released in times of famine. All of which was controlled by a very important official whose headquarters were located in Avaris (Goshen).


The Labyrinth of Hawara housed the administrative centre for the Nile valley, while Avaris was the chief administrative centre for the Delta area in addition to being the overall operation centre for the entire Khenret programme. Papyrii documents were published in 1973 explaining the detail. Avaris was clearly the centre of operations for the Grand Vizier, who oversaw the Khenret distribution system among other things.  


A small Syro-Palestinian style villa dating back to the late 12th Dynasty was found by Bietak and his team in Avaris. This coincides with the time Joseph would have arrived in the area. David Rohl suggests the small villa could well have been Joseph’s home in the earlier years before his rise to prominence. There is also a palace which has been unearthed at Avaris. It has a portico lined with 9 columns. Straight ahead from the portico are a pair of entrances leading to identical suites. Rohl thinks that perhaps these were the suites for Manasseh and Ephraim. Further into the complex beyond these two suites, it opens to an enclosed courtyard in front of the main residence. The main residence was adorned with twelve columns which stand in front of the grand hall of the palace. The palace is what was built after the owner rose to prominence as the Grand Vizier. The Vizier’s bed chamber is an impressive size and well adorned. To the rear of the chamber are two rooms which appear to be dressing rooms. Is this indeed Joseph’s palace? Rohl and Bietak think so. Was the coat of many colours kept here?  


All of the evidence appears to be pointing to the one conclusion. The time frame fits under Rohl’s New Chronology. The supporting historical records support the notion of a massive programme of flood control and grain storage. There are other clues which would lead us to believe the man behind all this, who worked on behalf of Pharaoh Amenemhat III, was none other than Joseph, a man who was not an Egyptian but rather one of Asiatic origins (from Syrian / Palestinian stock).  


Next month we will look in the closet. 



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