logo


The Story of Nations (continued)

Joseph and the Shepard Kings

From textual evidence, particularly paying attention to material culture and the likely status of foreigners in Egypt, several dates have been proposed for Joseph's service in Egypt.  An early date is 1886 BC, in the Middle Kingdom.  A late extreme is 1475 BC, during the 18th dynasty. One piece of important evidence is the price Joseph was sold for, which is 20 silver shekels (Gen. 37:28).  This has been established as the correct average price for a slave in about 1700 BC; earlier it was less, and later is was much more.(13)  Modern scholarship places Joseph in Egypt at the time of the Shepard kings, a tradition that has been in vogue for quite some time.  

Egypt, like other great empires with a long history, underwent several periods of political unrest.  These are called "Intermediate Periods." This phrase is used to denote a break in an otherwise more or less reliable king list.  The 15th - 17th dynasties of Egypt are often combined under the title the Second Intermediate Period.  The Hyksos, a people of uncertain origin, are credited with this period of unrest.  They preferred to stay in northern Egypt, but at times held sway over the entire country.  There is much difficulty in naming these rulers.  Some scholars suggest that there were two kings named Apophis (known as Apophis I and II) because there are two known prenomens for this king, Awoserre and Aqenenre.  Other scholars suggest that these names in fact refer to one ruler, and that these two names were used at different times.  It is therefore likely that Apophis I ruled for forty years, from 1580 - 1540 BC.  This ruler, according to Rawlinson, was:

 "...the king who made Joseph his prime minister, and committed into his hands the entire administration of Egypt, was Apepi.  George the Syncellus says that the synchronism was accepted by all.  It is clear that Joseph's arrival did not fall, like Abraham's, into the period of the Old Empire, since under Joseph horses and chariots are in use, as well as wagons and carts, all of which were unknown till after the Hyks“s invasion.  It is also more natural that Joseph, a foreigner, should have been advanced by a foreign king than by a native one, and the favour shown to his brethren, who were shepherds (Gen. xlvi. 32), is consonant at any rate with the tradition that it was a "Shepard King" who held the throne at the time of their arrival.  A priest of Heliopolis, moreover, would scarcely have given Joseph his daughter in marriage unless at the time  the priesthood was in a state of depression.  Add to this that the Pharaoh of Joseph is evidently resident in Lower Egypt, not at Thebes, which was the seat of government for many hundred years both before and after Hyks“s rule."
In a later passage Rawlinson adds: 
"If, however, we are to place Joseph under one of the "Shepherd Kings," there can be no reason why we should not accept the tradition which connects him with Apepi.  Apepi was dominant over the whole of Egypt, as Joseph's Pharaoh seems to have been.  He acknowledged a single god, as did that monarch (Gen. xli. 38, 39)" (p. 146). 

Ussher in his annals of the world suggests that the people were from an area "...bordering upon Egypt, called by the Egyptians Hyksos, meaning Shepard Kings, and invaded Egypt.  They took Memphis and took over all of lower Egypt bordering on the Mediterranean Sea."  The date given for the first ruler, called Salatis, is nineteen years (2084 BC).(14)


Bust of Shepard King Figure 12 (p. 141).  This bust of a "Shepard King" broadly follows the Egyptian style, but has peculiarities - such as the head dress, face and beard - that easily mark it from this period. 

The book by Rawlinson does not give pride of place to the Bible, but clearly uses it as a major source.  The identity of the Pharaoh that oppressed the Hebrews is given special attention: 
"According to the almost unanimous voice of those most conversant with Egyptian antiquities, the "great oppressor" of the Hebrews was this Ramesses. Seti may have been the originator of the scheme for crushing them by hard usage, but, as the oppression lasted close upon eighty years (Ex. ii I ; vii. 7) it must have covered at least two reigns, so that, if it began under Seti, it must have continued under his son and successor.  The bricks found at Tel-el-Maskoutah show Ramesses as the main builder of Pithom (Pa-Tum), and the very name indicates that he was the main builder of Raamses (Pa-Ramessu).  We must thus ascribe to him, at any rate, the great bulk of that severe and cruel affliction, which provoked Moses (Ex. ii. 12), which made Israel "sigh" and "groan" compassion (ib. iii.7).  It was he especially who "made their lives bitter in mortar, and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field" - service which was "with rigour."  Ramesses was a builder on the most extensive scale" (p. 249).
Rawlinson also notes that while some have thought that the term "Apiru" or "Apeiru" - as used in documents of the period - specifically mentions the Hebrews, he notes that the term is often used for "foreign bondsmen" in Egyptian service.

Rawlinson observes that the physiognomies of the two rulers, Seti and Ramesses II, are quite different:
"Seti's face is throughly African, strong, fierce, prognathous, with depressed nose, thick lips, and a heavy chin.  The face of Ramesses is Asiatic.  He has a good forehead, a large, well-formed, slightly aquiline nose, a well shaped mouth, with lips that are not too full, a small delicate chin, and an eye that is thoughtful and pensive.  We may conclude that Seti was of the true Egyptian race, with perhaps an admixture of more southern blood ; while Ramesses, born of a Semetic mother, inherited through her Asiatic characteristics, and, though possessing less energy and strength of character than his father, had a more sensitive temperament, a wider range of taste, and a great inclination towards peace and tranquility" (p. 252).

Before one denounces the above statement, that relies upon the physiognomy of the individual as revealed in sculpture to yield a psychological profile, one must remember that at the time this discipline was regarded as a science.  It thoroughly dates the author and renders the rest of his text highly suspect to modern readers, but was not out of place at the time.


Head of Seti
Head of Seti
Figure 13 (p. 250, 251). The portraits of Seti and Ramses II are compared here.  Unlike some other works of the period the artist has rendered them in Egyptian style, apparently drawn from monuments and not imagination. When the bust of Ramses II is compared with the idealized portrait in figure 7 one suspects that it is holds truer to the original sculpture.  Bust of Ramses II
Bust of Ramses II

map of egypt
Figure 14 (fold out map in front). It is significant that the book contains a map in the front.  This was not usual for the period, as most studies were simply literary based. 
(13) Finegan, J. (1998).  Handbook of Biblical Chronology (revised edition).  Hendrickson Publishers: Mass., p. 220.   
(14) Annals of the World p. 22.

Previous    Next

Title Page