Author's Bias | Interpretation: conservative
Inclination: dispensational | Seminary: none

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Of Egyptian Words, Geography, and Culture

The author exhibited knowledge of Egyptian names. For example: Joseph's name Zaphenath-paneah means "Nourisher of the Land of the Living One (Pharaoh)." Asenath means "The Favorite of Neith (an Egyptian goddess)." Potiphera means "The Gift of Ra (the Egyptian sun god)." On, in the Egyptian writing language of Coptic, was one of the three major cities in Ancient Egypt located near the Nile river delta and was the center of sun worship.

Then Pharaoh named Joseph Zaphenath-paneah; and he gave him Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On, as his wife. And Joseph went forth over the land of Egypt. (Gen 41:45)

The author exhibited knowledge of Egyptian cities. Exodus 1:11 mentions the cities of "Pithom and Raamses." According to archeologists, there are two possible sites for Pithom: Tell el-Maskhuta and Tell er-Retabah. Most believe that Tell el-Maskhuta is Pithom and excavations indicate that it was likely a grain storage city. The archeological location of the city of Raamses remains unknown, but the biblical text suggests that its function was similar to Pithom. These "storage" cities are believed to be military or garrison strongholds that not only stored supplies but also were a part of the eastern defenses of Egypt.

So they appointed taskmasters over them to afflict them with hard labor. And they built for Pharaoh storage cities, Pithom and Raamses. (Ex 1:11)

The author exhibited knowledge of Egyptian court manners and customs. For example, the term "Pharaoh" does not mention the name of the current Egyptian king, as was the custom of the Egyptian official language. The Israelites did not begin recording the names of the Pharaohs until King Solomon's time. This subtle point should cause the destructive critic to wonder, if the Pentateuch was written after the time of King Solomon as they presuppose, why isn't the name of Pharaoh listed?

Pharaoh's dreams play a determinant role in Joseph's life, and archeologically, from 2000 BC onward, Egyptian literature surpasses neighboring civilizations in the number of recorded dreams and their interpretations. Thus the prominence of dreams adds additional evidence that the account was written contextually within its correct time frame.

The Hebrew word used for "magician" (in other translations "wise men") originated from the Egyptian term har'tom, which means "chief reader." Some Egyptian texts describe har'tom as one who is knowledgeable of astrology and horoscopes and with a skill in writing and deciphering hieroglyphics. Other texts describe them as magicians.

Now in the morning his spirit was troubled, so he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt, and all its wise men. And Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was no one who could interpret them to Pharaoh. (Gen 41:8)

Another Egyptian court mannerism can be seen in Genesis 41:41-44. Derived from Egyptian origins, the Hebrew term "signet ring" (taba'ath, from the root word taba', which means "to sink down," refers to impressing into clay) gives the owner authority to sign documents with the equivalence of royal authority. Fine linen" was derived from the Egyptian word šēš. "Bow the knee" was from the Egyptian expression 'abrēk. Gifts of "gold necklace" and the "second chariot" are consistent with the intent of Pharaoh of introducing and validating his representative to the people.

Pharaoh said to Joseph, "See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt." Then Pharaoh took off his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph's hand, and clothed him in garments of fine linen and put the gold necklace around his neck. He had him ride in his second chariot; and they proclaimed before him, "Bow the knee!" And he set him over all the land of Egypt. Moreover, Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Though I am Pharaoh, yet without your permission no one shall raise his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt". (Gen 41:41-44)

Another mannerism involves process of embalming mentioned in Genesis 50:2-3, 26. While the period of embalming varies, 40 days as one possibility among many, Jacob and Joseph were embalmed in the Egyptian manner. Joseph was "placed in a coffin," which, during this period, was a coffin with a portrait face at the head end. Seventy days of mourning was characteristically Egyptian and Joseph's death at 110 years was significant to Egyptians as being the ideal life span and signifying divine blessings upon him.

Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father. So the physicians embalmed Israel. Now forty days were required for it, for such is the period required for embalming. And the Egyptians wept for him seventy days. (Gen 50:2-3)

So Joseph died at the age of one hundred and ten years; and he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt. (Gen 50:26)

The author exhibited knowledge Egyptian society and culture. For example, the rescue of Moses contains many Hebrew words that originated from Egyptian such as "wicker basket," "pitch," reeds," and "bank of the Nile." Moses' name originated from the Egyptian term "Water-son."

Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a daughter of Levi. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was beautiful, she hid him for three months. But when she could hide him no longer, she got him a wicker basket and covered it over with tar and pitch. Then she put the child into it and set it among the reeds by the bank of the Nile. His sister stood at a distance to find out what would happen to him. The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the Nile, with her maidens walking alongside the Nile; and she saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid, and she brought it to her. When she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the boy was crying. And she had pity on him and said, "This is one of the Hebrews' children." Then his sister said to Pharaoh's daughter, "Shall I go and call a nurse for you from the Hebrew women that she may nurse the child for you?" Pharaoh's daughter said to her, "Go ahead." So the girl went and called the child's mother. Then Pharaoh's daughter said to her, "Take this child away and nurse him for me and I will give you your wages." So the woman took the child and nursed him. The child grew, and she brought him to Pharaoh's daughter and he became her son. And she named him Moses, and said, "Because I drew him out of the water". (Ex 2:1-10)

In this example, the source and containers of water are archeologically correct for Egypt at this time.

Then the LORD said to Moses, "Say to Aaron, 'Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt, over their rivers, over their streams, and over their pools, and over all their reservoirs of water, that they may become blood; and there will be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, both in vessels of wood and in vessels of stone'". (Ex 7:19)

This example describes seasonal agricultural facts consistent with Egypt.

Now the flax and the barley were ruined, for the barley was in the ear and the flax was in bud. But the wheat and the spelt were not ruined, for they ripen late. (Ex 9:31-32)

This example describes the type of food known and archeologically confirmed for lower classed Egyptians, and its use is appropriate within the context of former Hebrew slaves.

We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, (Num 11:5)

Compared to all other books of the Old Testament, Genesis and Exodus stand out as having the greatest number of Egyptian words. The author had to have a very close interaction with both Hebrew and Egyptian cultures and at all socioeconomic levels: royalty, priesthood, and commoner. For destructive critics who believe that the Pentateuch was written during the first millennium in Canaan, the use of Egyptian terms would not have made sense for the Israelis of that time unless an attempt was made to explain them. The apparent lack of explanation for Egyptian terms lends support to the idea that the original audience was familiar with Egyptian culture.

Only Moses had the education and background to be the author. He was raised in the court of Egypt and had the benefits of a royal education.



Return to:

Why Moses? He was an Eyewitness

See other reasons for Mosaic authorship:

1. Of Egyptian Words, Geography, and Culture

2. Of Desert Atmosphere and Lifestyle

3. The Bible Attests to Mosaic Authorship


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Series: Did Moses author the Pentateuch?
Moses: Literary Artist

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Series: Did Moses author the Pentateuch?
Beyond Literary Criticism


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