Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Joseph in Egypt: Part VI

This article was published in the Summer 2003 issue of Bible and Spade.


We do not know how many years Joseph served as Egypt’s Vizier (Prime Minister). It is very interesting that he evidently held two key title, Vizier and Chief Steward of the King. This relatively unusual in Egyptian history.

Significantly, the best known examples come from the Middle Kingdom, exactly the period of Joseph’s career. While none of the known officials holding these two posts can be identified with Joseph, it is probable that he was the first to do so and set a precedent.

Two deaths are recorded near the end of the Book of Genesis, that of Jacob and of Joseph himself. Both men were embalmed, or mummified. Today, the popular view is that this was a mysterious process about which we know little or nothing. Such is not the case. With the large number of mummies preserved in museums, we would be poor scientists indeed if we could not reconstruct this procedure. What then were the basics of mummification? (see Adams 1984, and on the popular level, Davis 1986)

Two things were essential to the mummification process. First, the body was dried. A great deal was accomplished in this regard by the naturally dry climate of Egypt. I remember seeing a photograph of a Roman soldier who had died in Egypt and who had been buried in the sand without any kind of embalming treatment at all. His hair was well preserved, as were his teeth, and there was a good deal of skin remaining, too. The Egyptians aided this natural drying process, however. They packed the body with a powdery substance called natron (basically sodium carbonate and sodium bi-carbonates). This chemical is found naturally in several locations in Egypt (Lucas 1962:263ff.).

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