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Famine in Egypt

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"Joseph Makes Himself Known to His Brethren". by Gustave Doré.

The Famine in Egypt (Abib 2296 AMApril 1707 BC
Nisan 2053 He
Abib 2296 AM
-Abib 2303 AMApril 1700 BC
Nisan 2060 He
Abib 2303 AM
) was a severe shortage of food that lasted for seven-years. It was probably the result of a drought brought on by reduced flow of the Nile river.

The devastation that could have resulted was largely averted by Joseph (the son of Jacob) who foretold the coming of the event and was appointed the Pharaoh's viceroy. As viceroy, he prepared the country by storing up food during the years that preceded the famine.

The Egyptian famine was a pivotal event in the history of the Israelites and the subject of continuing controversy in secular archaeology and Egyptology.

Contents

Biblical narrative

In Teveth 2289 AMDecember 1715 BC
Teveth 2046 He
Teveth 2289 AM
, the reigning Pharaoh had two strange dreams every night. In one, seven fat cows were grazing on the banks of the Nile, and then seven starving cows came out of the Nile and ate the fat cows. Yet the starving cows were no more healthy than before. In the next, Pharaoh saw seven healthy ears of wheat growing from a single stalk. Then seven blasted ears ate the good ears, but remained as blasted as before.

None of Pharaoh's advisers could interpret this dream for him. Then his cupbearer, whom Pharaoh had released from prison two years before, remembered a fellow prisoner who had demonstrated a remarkable facility for interpreting dreams. Pharaoh sent for this prisoner, Joseph, at once.

Joseph disclaimed any ability to interpret dreams by himself, but answered that God gave him the interpretations. Pharaoh told him his dreams, and Joseph answered with a dire prediction. For the next seven years, Egypt would produce food in abundance. After that would come seven years of famine so severe that men would forget the years of abundance. In fact, Egypt might not survive.

Pharaoh asked urgently what he should do. Joseph suggested that Pharaoh have the fifth part of all the grain harvests stored for the next seven years, so that when the famine struck, Egypt would have food sufficient to sustain itself. He further suggested that Pharaoh name a single adviser to take charge of these efforts, and to set all policy regarding farming, the storage of grain, and the distribution of grain during the famine.

Pharaoh's other advisers could think of no person better qualified than Joseph for this post. So Pharaoh chose Joseph to be the ranking adviser, and in fact made him second-in-command in all the realm. An important note here is that Pharaoh introduced Joseph to the Egyptian people as a ruler, carrying him in Pharaoh's "second chariot". The Hyksos introduced the chariot and compound bow to Egypt. This reference clearly establishes that the Hyksos had already arrived in Egypt prior to Joseph's ascension. This necessarily places Joseph within the realm of the Hyksos, including a large portion of the sojourn of Israel in Egypt. Ahmose of the 18th Dynasty deposed the Hyksos. The Scripture says of this in (Exodus 1:8) that a "king who knew not Joseph" arrived and enslaved the Israelites.

During the next seven years, the farms of Egypt produced large quantities of grain. As he had promised, Joseph reserved twenty percent of all harvests in storehouses throughout Egypt.

Then the famine began, and the people of Egypt cried out to Pharaoh for relief. Pharaoh instructed them to speak to Joseph, and Joseph opened the granaries and began his distribution program. (Genesis 41 )

Extrabiblical evidence

The Famine Stele ("Hungry Rock") is an inscription located on Sehel Island in Egypt, which speaks of a seven year period of drought and famine.

Famine Stele

Main Article: Famine stele

A stele (known as Hungry Rock) on the island of Sahal in the Nile River describes a seven-year famine in vivid detail.[1]

The famine is described as follows:

I was in mourning on my throne, Those of the palace were in grief, my heart was in great affliction. Because Hapy [the river god] had failed to come in time in a period of seven years. Grain was scant, Kernels were dried up, kernels were dried up, scarce was every kind of food. Every man robbed his twin, those who entered did not go. Children cried, youngsters fell, the hearts of the old were grieving; legs drawn up, they hugged the ground, their arms clasped about them. Courtiers were needy, temples were shut, shrines covered with dust, everyone was in distress.[1]

The stele states the famine occurred during the reign of Neterkhet, an otherwise unknown king. In addition, Djoser, a third dynasty king who built the step pyramid of Saqqara centuries before the famine of the Old Testament is mentioned in the heading. However, it should be noted that during the Greek period, the island of Sahal was a place for budding scribes to practice their craft, and every piece of flat rock is said to have been used for cutting reliefs and writing hieroglyphic text. Such practice was often done by copying and rewriting texts from earlier periods, and in this case the scribe was writing more than 1000 years later, and therefore the accuracy of the inscription is called into question.[1] The complete text of the Famine Stela is available here.

Tomb of Ameni

In the tomb of Ameni, a provincial governor in the 12th dynasty during the reign of Sesostris I, an inscription was found that is likely a reference to the Biblical famine. It also reads as though Ameni knew the famine was coming and tilled fields not normally in use.

No one was unhappy in my days, not even in the years of famine, for I had tilled all the fields of the Nome of Mah, up to its southern and northern frontiers, Thus I prolonged the life of its inhabitants and preserved the food which it produced.[1]

Important to note however, is that famines were common in Egypt. One look at the Giza plateau and one wonders why Egypt settled in such an unforgiving and arid location. Attempting to intersect famines to the Scripture is a tenuous prospect.

Mount Laki eruption

In 1783, Mount Laki, a volcano in Iceland, erupted and caused 9,000 casualties. Scientists at Rutgers University suggested that this eruption caused a drought in northern Africa. This drought diminished the flow of the Nile, so that its annual inundations were insufficient to irrigate the land of Egypt.[2] This event suggests that famines in the Near East could have happened more than once. The Bible, of course, records a similar famine that affected Canaan in Abraham's time. (Genesis 12 )

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Ashton, John F., PhD, and Down, David. Unwrapping the Pharaohs: How Egyptian Archaeology Confirms the Biblical Timeline p.84, Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2006. ISBN 0890514682.
  2. Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. "Icelandic Volcano Caused Historic Famine In Egypt, Study Shows." ScienceDaily, November 22, 2006. Accessed November 10, 2008.
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