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Home Forums Existence of the Israelites in Egypt Joseph’s Famine in archaeology

  • Thomas Donlon

    December 20, 2021 at 11:27 am

    Archaeologist Ayelet Gilboa referred to the Bronze Age/Iron Age time in several papers. As a solution to this puzzling time I’m wondering about the famine described in the Bible that Egypt only survived due to the establishment of granaries etc… How hard did the famine hit other regions throughout the area that had no food reserves? Would this result in a period of intense decline, yet without the evidence for military conquest?

  • Michele Rousseau

    January 9, 2022 at 6:28 pm

    I really must look into the Bronze Age as related to the times of Genesis. But, your question does bring to mind a chart shown in one of the Exodus documentaries – might be in the Moses Controversy – which displayed symbols of the governors of the provinces under Pharaoh at that time. It showed how they all became significantly depleted of resources during the famine. In a famine of that significance, I suppose everything, including military defense of all surrounding territories, may have become the property of Pharaoh just to survive.

    • Thomas Donlon

      January 13, 2022 at 6:24 am

      Hi Michele,

      This paper on the Academia website titled Millek, J.M. 2019. “Exchange, Destruction, and a Transitioning Society. Interregional Exchange in the Southern Levant from the Late Bronze Age to the Iron I.” RessourcenKulturen 9. Tübingen: Tübingen University Press.” by
      Jesse Millek covers the complexity of this time frame. It is a PDF document 368 pages long. Maybe you need to freely register to get the paper. I forget but I’ve registered as have a number of other people who frequent, contribute and manage or run the HFS website. But try and see if you can access it. If you download it you can search for the word famine. Or just scan the table of contents at the beginning and you can see sections on famine. I also found of interest and relevance that the late bronze age also showed a marked dip in the amount of gold and silver found from this time frame. That also corresponds with the text about people buying their food from Egypt. While we know the Egyptians had to transfer their wealth to Pharaoh to get food, other nations and people also had to go to Egypt to buy food.

  • Thomas Donlon

    January 15, 2022 at 10:24 am

    How would Joseph’s famine show itself in the archaeological record?

    <div>We would have the concentration of power both within Egypt and from elsewhere wealth would have flowed to Egypt. The rest of the world at that time would have been severely weakened and impoverished. The Egyptians were very compliant with Joseph after the famine. “You have saved our lives” they said to him. (Genesis 47:25)</div><div>


    As for other nations, “And all the world came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe everywhere.” (Gen. 41:57 NIV)

    Seven years of this would really impoverish the world.

    After the second year of famine when Joseph revealed himself to his brothers he said to them. “it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.” (Gen. 45:5 NIV)

    And Joseph told his brothers, “Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay. You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me– you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have. I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.’
    (Gen. 45:9-11 NIV)

    I’m also leaning on the timeline for the destruction of Tall el-Hammam in the late bronze age (? as I understand it) as a time marker. While Tall el-Hammam wasn’t Sodom the evidence is strong that it was destroyed in the same destruction. The same destruction of Tall el_Hammam would likely be responsible (in my view) for the major destruction of Jericho that we see the major wall collapse. So this then requires that the Israelites under Joshua faced a smaller or later rebuilt Jericho. Typically people complained that Kathleen Kenyon was finding Jericho to be destroyed too early. Indications and radiometric dating is putting this within the margin of error to be the same time Tall el-Hammam was destroyed.

    So I believe Joshua and the Israelites attacked Jericho later.

    Any case, the area-wide destruction of Sodom preceded Joseph’s famine. Someone else can figure out how many years (or maybe I will figure it out later?) roughly how many more years in the future that Joseph’s famine happened after the destruction of Sodom and vicinity.

    Incidentally, though Joshua attacked Jericho in the spring, Sodom was also destroyed when the days were long (late spring, early summer) when the angels had enough daylight to walk from Mamre to Sodom by nightfall. And it was in the “heat of the day” that Abraham implored the angels and the Lord to stop for a bit. So the destruction of Sodom according to scripture would also fit the quadrant of the year that the archaeological record of Jericho’s jars full of grain indicates after the spring harvest.

    The blast direction or the direction the walls fell down around Jericho, … this information should be accessible and maybe provide some correlating evidence if it was knocked down in the same blast that hit Tall el-Hammam. Some of the photos of the Tall el-Hammam destruction, that to me indicate a rather random pottery distribution pattern, got mixed up in the academic paper. And so some critics rightly raised concern. However, if the evidence remains solid for the overall blast pattern reported to have struck Tall el-Hammam and if as they suggest this blast also created a destruction pattern at Jericho, then the origin of the Tall el-Hammam blast can be triangulated. The team dealing with this thinks it can be done and believes it does point to the north part of the Dead Sea. But, this may need more investigation and will be helped (or refuted?) by independent confirmation.

    If anyone has any information of how the walls at Jericho fell down… like in what direction … this can be further evidence that a blast took place.

    I might be looking too at some Dead Sea sediment layers from drilling samples showing things like “discontinuity” and spike in Sulphur around the 1,600-1,700 BC time. The spike in Sulphur is really pronounced. Yet, complicating this is that there are spikes in Sulphur at later times too. I could speculate that later spikes might have come from later rain events transporting sulphur dust and dirt from the surrounding area into the Dead Sea. But, this is all speculation on my end. I can’t say anything at this point, except that I find all this interesting and that I should probably try to understand all this better. But, all this is suggestive enough of a correlation with the Tall el-Hammam blast that I can’t say evidence is absent—I can’t wonder at the absence of data. It may be there or it is just noise in the data. Not proof… but the absence of data would be a strong knock on the theory. But enough is happening in the Dead Sea sediment to warrant further research as to if this is strong correlation or not.

    This is all research in progress. Scientist Mark Boslough, who teaches climate change and wrote in Skeptical Inquirer, has been fighting against at least one catastrophic impact theory for decades. Skeptics Michael Shermer and Marc Defant have come around to see evidence for the Younger Dryas Impact Hypothesis and I believe they now both flipped to now support that theory. Mark Boslough though thinks that the theory is so discredited that it is worthwhile to bring up that some people who believe Tall el-Hammam was destroyed by a cosmic blast are also those who promote The Younger Dryas Impact Hypothesis. Mark also notes that some people involved in the investigation or archaeology at Tall el-Hammam have religious inclinations etc that could bias their findings…

    I think now most of the questions doubting the Tall el-Hammam destruction criteria are revolving around questions of character of the researchers and whether all the evidence is yet solid enough even if some pictures of pottery elements got north arrows mixed up. (I’ll set aside chronological concerns as irrelevant.) If true, this will help chronology become zeroed in.

    Again if this all proves solid this will nail down a time marker that can date the time of Abraham and lend strong credence to Joseph’s famine being a disaster at the end of the Late Bronze age or whatever. Remember though, that any significant Joseph’s famine may have a rather fuzzy archaeological boundary. Cultures won’t immediately change and pottery won’t immediately become different after a famine. Just impoverishment, population decline, transfer of money to Egypt. Maybe a loss of skills as tradespeople died and people couldn’t fulfill tax obligations to provide food to overlords if they had no food themselves. This would have caused (for a time) a breakdown in the entire tax system, government structure and government services etc. This could have taken a long time to recover from.

    Another note: Nailing down the destruction of Sodom, scientifically in Dead Sea core samples, then getting a length of time from Sodom’s destruction to Joseph’s famine will allow Joseph’s famine to be identified in the Greenland Ice Core records with such possible culprits as Laki volcanic eruption or other such eruption that would also have altered climate around the world.


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