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Biblical/Doctrinal Studies:
Desert of Discipline Series

Joseph, the Grand Vizier
(Genesis 41)
by Ed Vasicek

The sermons and presentations in this series will be, by nature, uneven. Some weeks will have more Bible and less Egyptology. Other weeks will be vice-versa. I could solve this by speaking for two hours at a shot, thus giving us a balanced mixture, but instinct tells me that this approach would not be the most popular. So last week's presentation caught us up on some necessary Biblical information; this week we will build on that from the Egyptian perspective as we ask the question, "Was Jospeh Imhotep?"

From Wikipedia: "Imhotep...is the first architect and physician known by name in written history. As one of the officials of the Pharaoh Djosèr, he designed the Pyramid of Djzosèr (Step Pyramid) at Saqqara in Egypt around 2630-2611 B.C., during the 3rd Dynasty. He may also have been responsible for the first known use of columns in architecture. His name means 'the one who comes in peace.'"

Imhotep also served as chancellor to the pharaoh and high priest of the sun god Ra at Heliopolis. He was said to be a son of Ptah... He was revered as a genius and showered with titles. The full list of titles is: Chancellor of the King of Lower Egypt, First after the King of Upper Egypt, Administrator of the Great Palace, Hereditary nobleman, High Priest of Heliopolis, Builder, Sculptor and Maker of Vases in Chief. Imhotep is credited as the founder of Egyptian medicine, and as author of the Edwin Smith papyrus, detailing cures, ailments and anatomical observations...

Two thousand years after his death, his status was raised to that of a god. The location for Imhotep's tomb is still unknown. One fringe theory is that Imhotep has strong similarities to the biblical Joseph. Some have suggested the biblical Joseph is a composite created by the authors of the Torah from a Hebrew individual and Imhotep, the authors confusing Imhotep for Joseph.

National Geographic, January 1995, "The annual Nile flood, which inundated surrounding fields every autumn before farmers sowed their seed, failed seven years in a row. Djoser asked Imhotep where the source of the river lay. The pharaoh intended to travel there to interrogate the river gods and beg them to show mercy on his people.

"But Imhotep replied that sacred [God] books had given him the answer.... The floods returned, and the famine was over...."

Anyone who studies Egyptology on even a superficial level knows of Imhotep. He had a mind as great or greater than Da Vinci and Einstein. Perhaps no one in all time advanced architecture as much as he: he invented the column, he invented the use of quarried stone for building, and he invented the pyramid.

The Edwin Smith papyrus is the world's earliest known medical document, written around the 17th century B.C.E., but thought to be based on material from as early as 3000 B.C.E. It is an ancient textbook on trauma surgery, and describes anatomical observations and the examination, diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis of numerous injuries in exquisite detail. The papyrus contains the first descriptions of the cranial sutures, the meninges, the external surface of the brain, the cerebrospinal fluid, and the intracranial pulsations. The surgical procedures in the Egyptian Edwin Smith papyrus were quite rational given the time period. As well as having magical incantations against pestilence, it also contains a prescription for a wrinkle remover using urea, which is still used in face creams today.

The Edwin Smith papyrus shows that the heart, vessels, liver, spleen, kidneys, ureters and bladder were recognized, and that the blood-vessels were known to come from the heart. Other vessels are described, some carrying air, some mucus, while two to the right ear are said to carry the breath of life, and two to the left ear the breath of death.

Imhotep is credited as the founder of Egyptian medicine and the original author of the papyrus...

(source: Wikipedia)

Main idea: Joseph was a key figure in Egyptian history, but was he Imhotep?

  1. The Pros and Cons of Equating Joseph with Imhotep

    1. Striking similarities.

      1. Both Joseph and Imhotep were Grand Viziers. Genesis 41:41-43, "So Pharaoh said to Joseph, 'I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.' Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph's finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. He had him ride in a chariot as his second-in-command, and men shouted before him, 'Make way!' Thus he put him in charge of the whole land of Egypt."

      2. The priestly connection between Joseph and Imhotep.

        Imhotep was priest in Heliopolis. Of Joseph, we read, "Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, 'I am Pharaoh, but without your word no one will lift hand or foot in all Egypt.' Pharaoh gave Joseph the name Zaphenath-Paneah and gave him Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, to be his wife. And Joseph went throughout the land of Egypt." (Genesis 41:44ff)

      3. Both were noted to be godlike. Imhotep was titled, "Son of the Ptah, the Creator God." Of Joseph, we read Pharaoh saying, "So Pharaoh asked them, 'Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?' Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, 'Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.'" Genesis 41:38ff

      4. Imhotep was serving when there was a famine for seven years followed by seven years of plenty. With Joseph, it was the reverse. But the numbers are the same. The Joseph account makes more sense. In the Imhotep account, Imhotep saves 10% of the crops for famine (afterward), in the Joseph account, 20% beforehand.

        Many famines in Egypt, but not seven years in a row. Only mentioned once in Egyptian history, and that was in connection with Imhotep.

      5. When asked to interpret the famine, Imhotep said, "I need advice from God." When Pharaoh asked Joseph to interpret his dream, the text says, "I cannot do it," Joseph replied to Pharaoh, "but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires." (Genesis 41:16)

      6. The building design of Imhotep's Step Pyramid was similar to the Sumerian Ziggurats, of which the tower of Babel was the first. Imhotep used stones rather than bricks. Joseph's great grandparents, Abraham and Sarah, were originally from the region where the ziggurats were built...they may have passed on the design.

      7. Imhotep was a cutting edge physician and Joseph had doctors in his service:

        "Joseph threw himself upon his father and wept over him and kissed him. Then Joseph directed the physicians in his service to embalm his father Israel. So the physicians embalmed him, taking a full forty days, for that was the time required for embalming." (Genesis 50:2)

      8. Both came to Pharaoh while he was in distress. The inscription near the Nile reads: "I was in distress on the Great Throne"

        In Genesis 41:8, Pharaoh is unusually distressed because of disturbing dream.

      9. Imhotep died at the age of 110. Joseph died at the age of 110 (Genesis 50:22-26).

        (source: The Exodus Case by Dr. Lennart Moller)

    2. Major problems.

      1. Timing.

        1. Egyptian chronology can be floated for centuries; nonetheless, the Biblical Joseph is thought to have lived 700 years after Imhotep; it might be possible to make the chronology fit, but this is very far from mainstream dating.

        2. and worshipped pagan deities…does not fit Joseph.

      2. Divergences.

        1. Joseph not associated with architecture.

        2. Although Joseph was given in marriage to a priest's daughter, Imhotep was an actual priest.

        3. Joseph's background was in shepherding, not construction.

  2. Pastor Ed's Suggested Answer

    1. Inaccuracies expected after 1,000 years.

    2. A bias against the enslaved Hebrews.

    3. An amplified bias after the exodus.

    4. Senusret III: A better fit.

      The Eleventh (all of Egypt), Twelfth, Thirteenth and Fourteenth Dynasties of ancient Egypt are often combined under the group title, Middle Kingdom.

      Twelfth Dynasty
      Name Dates

      Amenemhat I

      1991–1962 B.C.

      Senusret I (Sesostris I)

      1971–1926 B.C.

      Amenemhat II

      1929–1895 B.C.

      Senusret II (Sesostris II)

      1897–1878 B.C.

      Senusret III (Sesostris III)

      1878–1839 B.C.

      Amenemhat III

      1860–1814 B.C.

      Amenemhat IV

      1815–1806 B.C.


      1806–1802 B.C.

      The chronology of the Twelfth Dynasty is the most stable of any period before the New Kingdom.

      (Source: Wikipedia)

      He conquered Nubia, parts of Asia and even a small part of Europe (Thrace – part of Turkey/Bulgaria).

    5. Imhotep was a composite figure.

    6. Were Joseph and Imhotep the same person? No and Yes.

      Joseph's life was combined with the life of Imhotep to form a "larger than life" Imhotep.

      Illustration: The Legend of King Arthur and the real Governor Arturus.

      So Imhotep is a combination: the real genius architect, Imhotep, who invented the column, oversaw the first building made of stone, and made medical contributions; Joseph, who may have been thought to be the reincarnation of Imhotep, saved Egypt from famine and made the Pharaoh more powerful and wealthier than anyone on earth in all history up to that time and was noted to interpret dreams.

      Like Imhotep, Joseph had not come up through the royal family, and, like Imhotep, he surfaced in the midst of a Pharaoh's reign.

      In addition to the legendary Imhotep being the real Imhotep and Joseph, other legends and myths grew around him, resulting in his eventual deification.

  3. Lessons for Us

    1. Many religions have distorted elements of truth.

      1. All cultures have the legend of the flood.

      2. Many cultures have a legend of the Virgin Birth.

      3. Many religions have the promise of a returning religious leader.

      4. Two interpretations: common source and distortion or one religion borrowing from the other.

    2. Influence is temporary.

      1. Nothing can permanently lock-in truth.

      2. Joseph had great influence, no way to make it eternal.

      3. Dead Pharaohs had their tombs plundered, names erased, history changed.

    3. Appreciation is a short-term motivator.

      1. Once the generation arose who knew not Pharaoh, no loyalty to Joseph's people remained.

      2. People are uncomfortable working from a debt of gratitude.

    4. People reinterpret the past to suit their agendas.

      1. This is true in marriage.

      2. It is true in the workplace.

      3. It is true in politics.

      4. It is true regarding how history is interpreted.

      5. Really honest people are rare birds.

      6. If I am right, what Joseph did was attributed to the more politically correct Imhotep.

    5. High profile believers do not make a believing nation.

      1. American Christians are under the delusion that if we can do things as good as the world, if we can publicize the famous personalities that are believers, people will flock to Christ.

      2. The truth is that the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit because they are spiritually discerned.

      3. Genuinely saved people are drawn to Christ because the Spirit of God works within them to create a hunger for being right with God.

    6. Godly leaders can make a difference, but people remember the difference, not their godliness.

    7. The Kingdom of God is weak or strong based upon the grass roots.


The world wants Imhoteps, not Josephs.

But God wants us to be Josephs, not Imhoteps. He wants us to fear Him, to be willing to go against the crowd, to be filled with godly wisdom.

Pastor Ed

Highland Park Church   516 W. Sycamore St. Kokomo, Indiana, 46901 USA   (765)452-1779    church@highlandpc.com    Main Service: Sun 10:30 a.m.