The Ancient Egyptian Setting of the Joseph Story

Analysis of the Joseph story reveals details of the narrative that demonstrate a setting in ancient Egypt and even suggest a specific time known as the 2nd Intermediate Period. The account begins with a clear distinction between Joseph and his brothers, apparent by happenings such as Jacob giving Joseph a tunic of many colors (Genesis 37:3). Tunics of many colors were in style during the Middle Bronze Age in Canaan, as exhibited by the clothing of migrants from Canaan depicted on the walls of the Tomb of Khnumhotep II (Newberry, Beni Hasan).

The Early Israelites at Egyptian Heliopolis/On (iwnw)

Heliopolis (the Greek name for the city), or iwnw (the ancient Egyptian name for the city), was the capital of the 13th nome (district) of ancient Egypt, dating back to the time of Narmer and the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt. The Egyptian name of the city, perhaps pronounced Aonu or Awenu, means “pillar.” This city name likely originated from the Egyptian creation epic stating that Heliopolis was the location of the original mound of creation which arose out of the primordial waters.

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