The Christ in Prophecy Journal

The Five Names of Joseph

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Does archeology prove that Joseph was real?

Tim Moore: I am delighted to have Dr. Douglas Petrovich, an expert in ancient Near-Eastern languages and biblical archaeology, here to help us in connecting the dots of the Old Testament to prove that the Bible is demonstrably true. Doug made a fascinating discovery about the Exodus and Jewish history in Egypt that yet again substantiates the biblical accounts as being historically accurate.

Doug Petrovich: One of the causes for biblical archaeologists becoming laughing stocks in secular universities around the world has been the lack of evidence for the Israelites living in Egypt for the 430 years that the Bible describes in Exodus 12:40-41. Recently, though, evidence from Joseph’s lifetime and from Moses’ lifetime has been uncovered.

In the course of earning my Ph.D. from the University of Toronto, my first minor was in the Egyptian language, which means learning hieroglyphics. I found Egyptian hieroglyphic inscriptions with the identification of five biblical figures: Jacob, Joseph, his two older sons Ephraim and Manasseh, and Manasseh’s obscure son named Shechem. So, in inscriptions like these, we are able to see the very figures from the Bible leap off of the page.

We also now have archaeological documentation from Moses’ lifetime. There’s evidence connected to the tenth plague on Egypt consisting of animal burials from the time of Amenhotep II, who clearly was the Exodus Pharaoh. These mass animal burials include the four animals that were found in the book of Exodus in chapters 11 and 12: dogs, cattle, sheep, and goats. The majority were sheep and goats, and they were found having been buried in their first year of age. Many of them had been killed by a merciful blow to the back of the head, showing that it was a purposeful killing.

The mass burial fits perfectly with the Passover event, fitting the instructions that the Israelites had in taking an unblemished sheep or goat, killing it, and then eating some but not all of the meat. Remember, the first Passover wasn’t a feast, so the Israelites just ate some small amount of the meat and placed the blood over their doors so that the Angel of Death would pass them by without harm. That’s why we see mass carcasses buried in many places throughout the palatial district, meaning where the palaces were located. If archaeologists were to excavate the areas on the sites where the Jewish communities had actually been living, surely they would find a lot more mass animal graves. But, there are already these four animals found in the area right around the palace itself.

Tim Moore: I love the biblical story of Joseph because his life can be so instructive to us today. Joseph had a life that was filled with ups and downs. He went into the pit of despair, so to speak, literally being cast into a dungeon, and yet he never lost faith. Even as opportunities arose for him to be faithful to God, he wasn’t dejected or downcast, rather he was always looking for a way to still be faithful.

The Lord rewarded Joseph’s faithfulness and he eventually rose back to prominence. We read that Joseph came to his greatest prominence serving as Pharaoh’s number two man in the kingdom. He was given a new Egyptian name — Zaphnath-Paaneah. I love what that name means in Egyptian — “God speaks” or “He lives.” Joseph’s life and testimony of the living God convinced this pagan ruler Pharaoh that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob lives and speaks. After all, God had clearly spoken through this young man. And so, we can know that this same God still lives. He still speaks today through His Word and through the testimony of those who are faithful to Him.

Doug Petrovich: There are actually five names in total given to Joseph, one being Hebrew and the other four being Egyptian. One of these Egyptian names, the one you mentioned, is recorded in the Bible, and the others I found in recorded history.

Joseph had two names given him shortly after the name Zaphnath-Paaneah had been bestowed upon him, as we read in Genesis 41:45. After Joseph had already established himself in Egypt and had prepared the nation for the famine, he then filtered water from an offshoot of the Nile called the Bahr Yussef. He filtered that water to the west. Essentially, it’s a plain, but he filtered it there in such a way that he built a dike that allowed a controlled amount of water to flow inside this valley. The plain became the best-irrigated land in all of Egypt, and some would even say the entire region of the Near East. From then until now, at least until the twentieth century, this area called the Fayyum has served as Egypt’s breadbasket. The Roman Empire survived on the breadbasket of Egypt in the Fayyum because of the amazing amounts of grain that could be cultivated there. So, what Joseph did there was really important.

After Joseph built all of this, we read about two names that he is given. I’m going to give the English translation — “the king of the gods is at the forefront.” Think about that for a minute — the king of the gods is at the forefront. What happened when Joseph was about to interpret the dream for Pharaoh the King? Remember how in the dungeon he was all dirty and he had a scruffy beard, but the Egyptians shaped and cleaned him all up and bathed him before they stuck him in front of the king? Before he’d even heard the two dreams that the king had wanted to be heard and interpreted, Joseph had declared that his interpretations were not from him for God would give to Pharaoh a favorable answer. We all know that Joseph was going to interpret those dreams, but before he’d even heard them, he’d given credit to God and moved the credit away from Himself. What did he do? He put “the King of the gods” at the forefront. That’s why they called him “the king of the gods is at the forefront.”

In the ancient world, you didn’t receive your name at birth. You received your name when something in life distinguished you.

There’s another name for Joseph that’s really important — Sa-Sobek. It is translated as “son of the God who provides for Egypt through the life-giving waters of the Nile.” Doesn’t that describe Joseph perfectly with the off-shooting of water in the dike at Lahun from the Bar Yussef to create this cultivated land?

Later in Joseph’s life, the two names had been conflated into one, making for Joseph’s fifth name — Sobekemhop — “the God who provides for Egypt through life-giving waters of the Nile is at the forefront.” That was Joseph’s Egyptian name at the end of his life.

Tim Moore: The beautiful thing about Joseph’s life is how even as he testified to his brothers, who he could have been very resentful toward for selling him into slavery, and how he could have instead sought revenge against them, Joseph yet said to the effect, “You sending me here was not your plan, it was God’s plan for me to be able to preserve your life.” So, Joseph does become a type of Jesus Christ. He is one who extends life-giving water, not just from the waters of the Nile, but the life-giving providence and blessing of God to the Jews and then on to the nations.

The fact that Joseph’s providence of foresight in creating that dike which would provide life-giving water to Egypt that would last for generations and hundreds of years even to this day, is simply amazing. We in turn should respond to what God has revealed through Joseph, that whatever our circumstances, we still can be the ones pointing to and giving credit to God and sharing that life-giving testimony of Jesus Christ.

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Tim Moore

Colonel Tim Moore serves as the Director and Senior Evangelist of Lamb & Lion Ministries. He leads pilgrimages to Israel and is the host of the television program Christ in Prophecy.


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