Joseph's Historical Father-in-Law
- Joseph’s Historical Father-in-Law
Genesis 41: 45 tells us that Joseph’s father-in-law was “Potiphera”, an
Egyptian priest from On, where the Egyptian god Ra was honored. The first
two Hebrew letters of the name “Pothiphera” are peh/P – vav/W, which
suggests that the beginning of this priest’s name was pA wa in Egyptian, or in
English: Pawa. Though he was from On, Genesis 41: 45 implies that Pawa had
now moved to Pharaoh’s capital city.
Does that match the historical record?
In seeking to identify Joseph’s historical father-in-law, we’re looking
for (i) a priest of Ra, (ii) from On, (iii) who had now moved to Pharaoh’s
capital city, where he had a high position as a priest and was close to
Pharaoh, and (iv) whose name starts out “Pawa”. What does the historical
record reveal as of Year 14?
“Heliopolis [On] was the city of the sun-god [Ra] whose doctrines deeply
influenced the rest of the pantheon. …May was but one example of the
Heliopolitan officials who were to appear among the young prince’s [Akhenaten’s]
entourage. Others like Bek, and Pawah the High Priest in On, and their
wives, were also destined to play influential roles [at Amarna]….” Cyril
Aldred, “Akhenaten: King of Egypt” (1988), p. 260.
“South of the [Amarna] Central City lay the Main City, which…contained
extensive suburbs of estates belonging to courtiers and high officials…. The
most imposing residences in this area were those of the priest, Pawah….”
Barbara Watterson, “Amarna: Ancient Egypt’s Age of Revolution” (1999), p.
Note that e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g checks out perfectly. The
p-i-n-p-o-i-n-t historical accuracy of the Patriarchal narratives in the context of Year
14 is truly astonishing.
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- At first glance it might seem harmless to accept the traditional analysis
of the name of Joseph’s Egyptian priestly father-in-law, even though, as we
shall see, it does not correlate at all well with the Hebrew letters in the
received text. But in fact that would be lethal, not “harmless”, because
that traditional, erroneous understanding of this Biblical Egyptian name turns
out to have a 1st millennium BCE pattern that could not have applied in an
historical Bronze Age Patriarchal Age.
The conventional view of “Potiphera” is that the first four letters, peh/P
vav/W teth/+ yod/Y, render pA di in Egyptian, meaning “the gift”. On that
basis, university scholars claim that this name is a 1st millennium BCE
name, long post-dating any historical Patriarchal Age in the Bronze Age:
“Potiphar and its variant [Potiphera] are modeled on a very common type of
name, namely p3-di [pA di] + god's name, meaning "He-whom-God-N-gives";
these BEGIN at the close of the New Kingdom [ending 1069 BCE], increase in
frequency in the 21st [1070-945 BCE] and 22d [945-860 BCE] dynasties, and become
very common from the Kushite 25th dynasty [747-656 BCE] to Greco-Roman
times.” Donald B. Redford, “Egypt, Canaan and Israel in Ancient Times” (1992),
But in fact, there’s no way that the first four letters in this Egyptian
name, peh/P vav/W teth/+ yod/Y, render pA di in Egyptian, meaning “the gift”.
From the second half of this same name, we know that Hebrew peh/P, by
itself, is the Egyptian word pA, meaning “the” (where either capital A or 3 is
used to represent Egyptian aleph). So the second letter, Hebrew vav/W,
cannot possibly be an Egyptian aleph, as scholars would have it, because (i)
Egyptian aleph would be rendered by Hebrew aleph, not by Hebrew vav/W, and (ii)
in any event we know that pA is rendered by only a single Hebrew letter
anyway, peh/P. So that vav/W must be a consonantal vav. P W in Hebrew renders
pA wA in Egyptian. As to the third and fourth letters, the Hebrew letters
teth-yod are not the Egyptian word d or di (likely pronounced dji) meaning “
gift”. Teth is Egyptian t; Hebrew dalet/D would be used for Egyptian d or
dj. And just as the Egyptian aleph in pA and wA is not represented by any
separate Hebrew letter, the same is true for the Egyptian true vowel I, which
will not be rendered by its own separate Hebrew letter. So P W+ renders pA
wAt, which comes right out of Akhenaten’s Hymn to the Aten and means “the
distant [god]”. The Hebrew yod/Y that follows is a xireq compaginis, and
functions as a dash, just as in the Amarna Letters name Milk-i-Ilu that
appears at Genesis 46: 17 as MLK -Y- ’L.
My point is that we should not passively accept the great linguistic
stretches that underlie the traditional view of the Biblical Egyptian name “
Potiphera”. Egyptian aleph would not be rendered by a separate Hebrew letter in
this context, and in any event could never be Hebrew vav/W (as opposed to
Hebrew aleph). And Hebrew teth/+ is Egyptian t, not Egyptian d or dj. Rather
than accepting those “more or less in the general ballpark” semi-matches
that university scholars have proposed, we should instead look for
letter-for-letter exact matches. Those purported scholarly semi-matches would have the
most unfortunate consequence of requiring a post-Bronze Age historical time
period. By contrast, note the p-e-r-f-e-c-t , letter-for-letter match of
the first three letters in the name Potiphar, P W+, to pA wAt. The match is
absolutely perfect (where the Egyptian alephs/A are not rendered by a
separate Hebrew letter), with no stretching whatsoever being needed -- so unlike
the fanciful semi-match to pA di that is claimed by university scholars.
wA.ti or wAt appears four times in the Great Hymn to the Aten, describing
Ra/Aten as being a “distant”/wAt god.
Rather than showing that the Patriarchal narratives are “late”, as
university scholars would have it, the Biblical Egyptian name “Potiphera” instead
shows that the Patriarchal narratives are truly ancient, having been written
down in Akkadian cuneiform during the only time period in the Bronze Age
when any significant writing of any kind is attested in south-central Canaan:
the Amarna Age of the mid-14th century BCE.
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