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    from https://www.thetorah.com/article/joseph-and-the-famine-the-storys-origins-in-egyptian-history

    Joseph and the Famine: The Story’s Origins in Egyptian History
    During the reign of Pharaoh Siptah, Egypt had a powerful vizier from the
    Levant named Baya, who dominated even the Pharaoh. Archaeological
    records and climatological studies show that this was right in the
    middle of a lengthy famine that affected the entire Mediterranean.

    Prof.Israel Knohl

    Joseph and the Famine: The Story’s Origins in Egyptian History
    Pharaoh Siptah receives life from the god Horus. John D. Croft / Wikimedia

    Genesis 41 tells of a lengthy famine which, according to the text, lasts
    seven years. The famine is so deadly that people have nothing to eat,
    not only in Egypt, but in the surrounding lands as well. Egypt, however, survives the famine by storing extra grain from previous good years, and
    all the neighboring lands come to Egypt to buy food.

    This famine provides the background for the story of how Jacob and his
    extended family end up in Egypt. They are just one group out of many
    that come to Egypt to buy food. But does this dramatic account of a
    regional famine have any basis in Egyptian history? In other words, do
    we have any historical record of a dramatic or widespread famine that
    might bring many people to move to Egypt on a quasi-permanent basis? One
    such event that we can identify is attested.

    When the Bronze Age Collapsed
    Towards the end of the Bronze Age, in the last decades of the 13th
    century and the early decades of the 12th century B.C.E., the
    Mediterranean world suffered a decades-long series of draughts and
    famines.[1] Many of the more vulnerable lands in the Levant and the Mediterranean were in desperate need of food. Egypt was in a unique
    position to supply food since it depended on the annual inundation of
    the Nile rather than on rainfall.[2]

    This famine began in the final years of Ramesses II, who ruled for 66
    years, from 1279–1213 B.C.E., dying in his early nineties. The Hittite
    Empire in Anatolia (modern day eastern Turkey) was hit particularly hard
    from the beginning and turned to their historic rival Egypt for
    assistance. This is attested in a letter from the Hittite Queen Puduhepa
    to this Pharaoh about a royal marriage between their two houses, where
    she notes that the Hittite princess was given animals as her dowry, and
    tells Ramesses II to quickly take possession of them himself, since “I
    have no grain in my lands” with which to take care of them.[3]

    When Ramesses II’s son Merneptah (1213–1203 B.C.E.) takes over as an old man,[4] he immediately has to contend with the challenges of being the
    only country with an excess of food in the region. In his first year as Pharaoh, Merneptah boasts how “he caused grain to be taken in ships, to
    keep alive this land of Hatti”[5]—in other words, he sends boatloads of wheat to the starving Hittite Empire.[6]

    Of course, Egypt did not send this wheat to the Hittites as a charitable donation. A letter uncovered in Tel Aphek (near Antipatris) from the
    governor of Ugarit to the Egyptian governor of Canaan, describes a
    shipment containing about 15 tons of grain paid for with silver, to
    which the governor of Ugarit added 100 shekels of blue and purple
    (biblical תכלת וארגמן) dyed wool.

    As the Israeli Hittitologist Itamar Singer (1946–2012) notes: “The
    efforts invested in procuring such a relatively small amount of grain
    only emphasize the severity of the situation.”[7] Ultimately, before the advent of the Iron Age, the Hittite Empire crumbled as a consequence of
    both the famine and the invasions from marauders looking for food.

    The famine extended beyond the Levant and Asia minor, throughout the Mediterranean. Greece was affected, and the Mycenean culture, with its luxurious palaces, collapsed. Other civilizations in the Greek and
    Italian islands, such as Sicily and Sardinia, were also destroyed, and
    the peoples of the Greek and Hittite empires began to wander, looking
    for a more hospitable environment.

    This famine is responsible for a wave of destructions in the Levant.
    Emar, a powerful city on the Euphrates in Syria, Ugarit, and many
    Canaanite city-states are destroyed in his period. The Ugaritic texts
    describe the invaders from the sea, showing that the king and his people
    knew what was coming, but were powerless to stop it.

    Invading Egypt for Resources
    It is thus not surprising that in this period, many people attempted to
    enter Egypt. Some trickled in as migrants and settled in the Delta,
    while others attempted to invade Egypt in large groups, using force.

    The Merneptah Stele describes one such attempt to conquer Egypt and
    settle it by force during that king’s fifth year (1208 B.C.E.). This
    stele narrates how Merneptah succeeded in defeating a coalition of
    invaders, led by Merey, who attempted to enter Egypt from Libya.[8] The
    goal of this invasion appears to have been to take control of Egypt’s
    grain depots to save themselves from starvation. Merneptah defeated
    them, and, in Egyptian style, extols his victories.

    Another attempt to conquer Egypt occurred towards the end of this half
    century of famine, in 1175, during the 11th year of the reign of
    Ramesses III (1186–1155). A massive coalition of tribes from Greece,
    Crete, Sardinia and other places, what scholars call “the Sea Peoples,” attempted to infiltrate Egypt.

    The most famous of these Sea Peoples are the Philistines, who settled on
    the coast of Canaan in the area between what is now the Gaza Strip and modern-day Tel Aviv. Other groups, such as the Sikil, settled farther
    north, in Dor and Akko. Ramesses III immortalized his victory on what is
    known as the Medinet Habu inscription, which also includes images of the invading troops and the Egyptian counter-insurgency and victory.

    Scientists studying the remnants of plants from Israel and Turkey, and
    all the way to Ireland, have confirmed that this period was catastrophic
    for plant growth.[9] All of this evidence suggests that during this
    fifty-year period, the Mediterranean experienced a long period of
    drought which destroyed societies dependent on agriculture; Egypt, which
    did not depend on rainfall, was spared.

    Backdrop to the Joseph Story
    I suggest this famine serves as the backdrop for the Joseph story. Jacob
    and his extended family are suffering in Canaan from the famine, and go
    to Egypt with bags of hacksilver in order to buy grain.[10] This group
    would have been one of many to do so, and we can hardly expect to find
    any description of it in Egyptian records. But one detail of the Joseph
    saga stands out as something we can look for in the archaeological
    record: Joseph and the role that he played.

    A Non-Egyptian Vizier
    According to the biblical story, after Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dream
    and develops a strategy to store grain for the years of famine, Pharaoh appoints Joseph vizier:

    בראשית מא:מ אַתָּה תִּהְיֶה עַל בֵּיתִי וְעַל פִּיךָ יִשַּׁק כָּל עַמִּי
    רַק הַכִּסֵּא אֶגְדַּל מִמֶּךָּ. Gen 41:40 You shall be in charge of my
    court, and by your command shall all my people be directed; only with
    respect to the throne shall I be superior to you."[11]
    Thus, when the brothers appear in Egypt to purchase grain, they must
    contend with Joseph:

    בראשית מב:ו וְיוֹסֵף הוּא הַשַּׁלִּיט עַל הָאָרֶץ הוּא הַמַּשְׁבִּיר
    לְכָל עַם הָאָרֶץ וַיָּבֹאוּ אֲחֵי יוֹסֵף וַיִּשְׁתַּחֲווּ לוֹ אַפַּיִם
    אָרְצָה. Gen 42:6 Now Joseph was the vizier of the land; it was he who dispensed rations to all the people of the land. And Joseph's brothers
    came and bowed low to him, with their faces to the ground.
    This verse suggests that a foreigner from Canaan becomes a vizier in
    Egypt so powerful that he effectively has control of the government. In
    certain periods, Egypt did have viziers with this kind of power, usually appointed for a Pharaoh who acceded to the throne as a minor.

    These regent-like viziers, however, were typically Egyptians attached to
    the royal family;[12] it would be very unusual for a foreigner to get
    this position.[13] Nevertheless, we do have evidence from the middle of
    the famine period of a foreign vizier or chancellor with that kind of power.

    The Story of Chancellor Baya
    Baya (bꜣy, 𓃝 𓇌—more on this name later) was an important scribe and palace official of northern origin (i.e., Canaan, Transjordan, or
    Syria)[14] during the reign of Merneptah’s son Seti II (1203–1197). When Seti II died without a clear heir, Baya backed the claim of a boy named
    Siptah, who became the next Pharaoh.

    Siptah's foot, Wikimedia
    Some believe Siptah was the son of Seti II, others that he was the son
    of the rebel king Amenmesse, who attempted to usurp the throne from Seti II.[15] From his mummy, we know that Siptah was crippled with a deformed
    left foot (pes equinovarus), perhaps as the result of polio or a
    congenital malformation;[16] he ended up dying while still a teenager,
    having reigned only five or six years.[17]

    During the first few years of his brief reign (1197–1191 B.C.E.),
    Twosret (or Tausert), the wife (and sister) of Seti II, functioned as
    his guardian (the same way Hatshepsut did for Thutmose III).[18] By
    Twosret’s side, serving as chancellor, and to some extent as regent, was Baya.

    In two different inscriptions, Baya is described as the one “who
    established the king on the seat of his father.”[19] To quote University
    of Bristol Egyptologist Aidan Dodson, “Bay[a]’s boast is particularly striking: for a man to claim to have been installed by a king in his
    father’s place is quite normal; for a man to have done so for the king
    is without parallel.”[20] This claim is unprecedented, since according
    to Egyptian religio-political beliefs, one of the gods was responsible
    for choosing the next pharaoh. Perhaps Baya’s foreign origin made him
    less sensitive to Egyptian cultural norms. In any case, the controversy
    over the accession of Siptah allowed Baya to boast about being the one responsible for his taking the throne as Pharaoh.

    According to Egyptian records, Baya’s title was both Treasurer and
    Vizier or Chancellor (scholars seem to use these translations
    interchangeably), and in his letter to Ugarit, he signs as Egypt’s Major General. In other words, Baya was, essentially, in charge of everything,
    at one time or another.

    Another sign of Baya’s importance is the statue of a Mnevis Bull—an important part of the sun cult—found with Baya’s name and titles on it
    in the Mnevis Bull cemetery in I͗wnw, biblical On (אוֹן).[21]

    Finally, Baya’s tomb also reflects his significance.

    Baya’s Tomb (KV13)
    Due to the importance the afterlife in Egyptian religion, important
    Egyptians spent their lives and fortunes preparing their tombs. Baya,
    despite being a foreigner, was no exception. Quite remarkably, Baya’s
    tomb (KV13) was built in the Valley of Kings in Thebes/Luxor, which was generally reserved for Pharaohs and their families (royal wives,
    princes, etc.).

    Though not unprecedented—Amenemipet, vizier to Amenhotop II and Thutmose
    II, was buried in KV48[22]— Baya’s tomb was carved right next to that of Twosret (KV14).[23] Moreover, the immense size of this tomb, with
    multiple rooms and decorations, is unprecedented for a non-royal.[24]
    Finally, the carvings on the walls depict Baya with funerary gods,
    imagery generally reserved for Pharaohs.

    Baya’s Yahwistic Name
    The name Baya is unusual. For a long time, Egyptologists wrote his name
    as “Bay” (many still do), since hieroglyphic and hieratic writing does
    not have short vowels, and his name is spelled in Hieroglyphics 𓃝 𓇌 𓀀 namely, the syllable ba (bꜣ), the letter y, and then a determinative
    meaning “man.”[25]

    Nevertheless, as a letter of his to King Ammurapi of Ugarit was found in
    the Urtenu archive (RS 86.2230), with the name spelled Beya in Akkadian cuneiform, a syllabic writing which includes short vowels, we know it
    was pronounced with a final vowel sound “a.”[26] (The shift between Akkadian Beya and Egyptian Baya is a relatively minor pronunciation
    adjustment, common when names travel between languages.)

    As Baya has no obvious meaning in Egyptian, most scholars assume it is a Semitic name. But what does it mean? Here the Bible may help us.

    Yah and Beyah
    In the Bible, the name YHWH has an abbreviated form, Yah (יה). Yet in
    two verses, the name is written ביה (Beyah). The first example appears
    in Psalm 68, which I have argued elsewhere, is a very ancient

    תהלים סח:ה שִׁירוּ לֵאלֹהִים זַמְּרוּ שְׁמוֹ סֹלּוּ לָרֹכֵב בָּעֲרָבוֹת
    בְּיָהּ שְׁמוֹ וְעִלְזוּ לְפָנָיו. Ps 68:5 Sing to God, chant hymns to
    His name; extol Him who rides the clouds; Beyah is His name. Exult in
    His presence.
    The term “rider of clouds,” was the epithet in ancient times for the western-Semitic storm God Adad/Hadad, known by his epithet Baʿal (“the master”). This verse emphasizes that the deity who controls rain and
    clouds is Beyah, the Israelite God, and not Baʿal.

    The second reference to Beyah appears in the book of Isaiah:

    ישעיהו כו:ד בִּטְחוּ בַי־הוָה עֲדֵי עַד כִּי בְּיָהּ יְ־הוָה צוּר
    עוֹלָמִים. Isa 26:4 Trust in YHWH for ever and ever, for Beyah YHWH is an everlasting Rock.
    Later rabbinic liturgy seems to have a version of this name as well.
    During the confession of the high priest on Yom Kippur, the Mishnah
    writes (m. Yoma 6:2):

    אנא השם עוו פשעו חטאו לפניך עמך בית ישראל Please, Hashem! I have done
    wrong, I have transgressed, I have sinned before You, Your people the
    house of Israel. אנא בשם כפר נא לעונות ולפשעים ולחטאים שעוו ושפשעו
    ושחטאו לפניך עמך בית ישראל Please, Bashem! Forgive the wrongdoings, the
    transgressions, the sins which I have committed and transgressed and
    sinned before You, Your people the house of Israel.
    The great Israeli historian, Gedaliahu Allon (1902–1950), explained that
    in both cases shem should be understood as a stand in for YHWH, and thus
    Bashem equals Beyahweh or, in the short version, Beyah or Beyahu.[28] To explain this unusual term, Allon pointed to the two verses quoted above,
    and suggested that the divine name with the prefix b is an alternate
    form of the name without the prefix. Allon stopped short of explaining
    the meaning of this epithet, which I think should be understood against
    the backdrop of the Egyptian documents.

    In Yahwa-Land
    The geographical list in Amunhotep III’s Soleb Nubian temple, dated to
    around 1350, mentions various nomadic tribes, shaswe (šꜣsw, ) living in various lands. The area near Nomad-land Seir was Nomad-land Yahwa
    (yhwꜣ(w), ). Another list from Ramesses II also mentions the nomads
    living in this land.

    As I noted in my, "YHWH: The Original Arabic Meaning of the Name,"
    TheTorah (2018), this is also the area in which a group called Jacob-el,
    likely proto-Israelites, are said to have lived.[29] In other words, the
    name of the Israelite deity YHWH and the land Yahwa are connected. In
    fact, the Bible twice describes YHWH as coming from the area of Seir,
    the area where Yahwa-land is also found:

    דברים לג:ב יְ־הוָה מִסִּינַי בָּא וְזָרַח מִשֵּׂעִיר לָמוֹ Deut 33:2
    YHWH came from Sinai; He shone upon them from Seir שופטים ה:ד יְ־הוָה
    בְּצֵאתְךָ מִשֵּׂעִיר בְּצַעְדְּךָ מִשְּׂדֵה אֱדוֹם Judg 5:4 O YHWH,
    when You came forth from Seir, advanced from the country of Edom,
    Looking at the Egyptian evidence together with that of these biblical
    poems, it seems as if YHWH/Yahwa is both the name of the deity and the
    name of the land. This pattern is attested in the ancient Near East:
    Ashur, for example, was the name of both the area of Assyria and its
    high god. I suggest that the meaning of the obscure Beyah “in Yah(wa),”
    is “the deity who is manifest in the land of Yahwa.”

    In short, Baya/Beyah has a Yahwistic theophoric name, though it is
    strange that it contains only the divine element.[30] It is thus likely
    that Baya was a proto-Israelite, part of the Jacob-El clan from
    Nomad-land Yahwa, who migrated to Egypt during the famine.

    Baya’s Abrupt End
    Tomb KV13 was never completed; it has no funerary goods inside, nor was
    his mummified body ever placed inside. For a long time, the fate of Baya
    and why he never used his tomb remained a mystery. The mystery was
    solved, however, when French Egyptologist Pierre Grandet combined two
    broken parts of an ostracon, which yielded the following:

    Year 5 III Shemu the 27th. On this day, the scribe of the tomb Paser
    came announcing “Pharaoh—Life! Prosperity! Health!—has killed the great enemy Bay(a).”[31]
    This suggests that in the fifth year of his reign, Siptah has Baya
    executed as a traitor. Whether this was instigated by him or Twosret,
    perhaps Baya spoke too boldly when he had scribes write that he was
    responsible for Siptah’s accession to the throne, or the royal family
    feared that Baya might try to accumulate even more power. Enemies of the Pharaoh do not receive burial rights in the valley of the kings—thus,
    the unfinished tomb.[32]

    Joseph and Baya
    The biblical story of Joseph and the Egyptian records about Baya do not
    tell the same story. According to the records, Egypt did not suffer
    during the famine, and Baya didn’t get his position by interpreting a Pharaoh’s dream. The famine was fifty years not seven, and Baya did not
    live to see years of plenty because he was executed by the Pharaoh.
    These are only some of the many differences between the accounts.
    Nevertheless, it is hard to ignore the points of correspondence:

    Both are foreigners from the north who work for Pharaoh.
    Both serve during a time of famine.
    Both have a combined job description of vizier and treasurer.
    Baya serves as a kind of regent to a child pharaoh, and Joseph, in his conversation with his brothers, states that God: וַיְשִׂימֵנִי לְאָב
    לְפַרְעֹה וּלְאָדוֹן לְכָל בֵּיתוֹ וּמֹשֵׁל בְּכָל אֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם. “has
    made me a father to Pharaoh, lord of all his household, and ruler over
    the whole land of Egypt” (Gen 45:8).
    Baya has a connection to On (Heliopolis), and Joseph is said to have
    married the daughter of the priest of On (Gen 41:45).[33]
    Both have Yahwistic names.[34]
    Both took Egyptian names: Baya takes the name Ramesse Khamenteru, and
    Joseph, Tzafenat Paaneach (Gen 41:45).[35]
    As Oxford professor of Bible Jan Joosten has recently shown,[36] the
    language in which the Joseph story was written is Classical Biblical
    Hebrew (CBH), from the monarchic period. This fits with source-critical analysis, which shows that much of the story was part of the northern
    Elohistic source, written around the 8th century B.C.E., not much before
    the destruction of the northern kingdom in 722 B.C.E.

    This, however, does not mean that the story dates to this period.
    Instead, traditions about this once powerful Hebrew vizier were passed
    down by the Jacob-El/proto-Israelite group for centuries, and entered
    Israel with the settlement of this group in the Cisjordan. Naturally,
    the stories about Joseph/Baya were embellished over time, and adjusted
    to fit other parts of the Elohistic narrative.

    In addition to the story which became the core of the Pentateuchal
    account, we have other, independent, references to this figure in
    biblical poetry:

    תהלים פא:[ה]ו עֵדוּת בִּיהוֹסֵף[37] שָׂמוֹ בְּצֵאתוֹ עַל אֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם
    Ps 81:[ 5 ]6 He made it a decree in Joseph, when he went out over the
    land of Egypt.
    Why this once powerful vizier is called Joseph in the later biblical
    tradition but Baya in contemporary Egyptian documents is a matter of speculation, but the bottom line is that the biblical character Joseph
    overlaps significantly with the historical person Baya. Thus, I suggest
    that the memory of the powerful Hebrew Baya/Beyah, who became Egypt’s
    vizier, more powerful than Pharaoh himself, was the basis for the story
    of Joseph the vizier, who ran Egypt during the time of the great famine.

    View Footnotes
    Prof. Israel Knohl is the Yehezkel Kaufmann Professor of Bible at the
    Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a senior research fellow at the
    Shalom Hartman Institute. He holds a Ph.D. in Bible from Hebrew
    University. Knohl’s... Read more
    JosephEgyptBible's HistoricityElohist (E)YHWH
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