Joseph in Bible(very important)

Hello everyone! Recently read in the encyclopedia Britannica about Joseph (Old Testament). It says that the story of Joseph is a literary work. The Egyptians had a similar tale, but the author of the story of Joseph removed mysticism and myths. If Joseph was not there was neither Jacob nor Isaac? How do you find a compromise for yourself?

I guess I would have to read it. But personally, I simply accept that he’s a real person and that the Egyptian tale is a hyperbolic retelling of the Jewish story.

Osiris is the Egyptian model, from over two thousand years before the Joseph novella was published. There is no reason to believe that any of these heroic figures are any more historic than King Arthur or Beowulf.

All the narratives in the Bible are a literary works. This doesn’t tell you anything about whether or not the stories were based on historical figures or not. Lots of cultures fit their historical heroes into existing frameworks of hero stories. The fact that there are similarities between Joseph and other literary heroes is a feature of word literature. Just like there are similarities between movies about superheroes or fairy tale princesses, even though they tell the stories of different characters.


Well there’s no reason why something can’t be both a literary work and actual history, or even a literary work and hard science. The diaries of people such as Samuel Pepys, Anne Frank and Winston Churchill are literary works. Autobiographies of famous people are literary works. Heck, even On the Origin of Species and A Brief History of Time are literary works.

Being a literary work just means that it expresses itself in an eloquent, engaging, memorable and noteworthy manner. That has no bearing whatsoever on whether it is rooted in reality or not.


It’s a superb story with the most tenuous historicity* which cannot be surprising about legendary, mythic, allegorical, archetypal, heroic, impossible (four generations spanning four hundred years) figures set in a story one and a half thousand years before it was crafted by a culture with the historiographic standards of Saxon England at best. I’d like to believe in Abraham, that the Israelites were Babylonians rather than Canaanites. But knock a century off his lifespan for a start. The atavistic part of me longs for it to be so as I was an Anglo-Israelite worshipper of God the Killer for decades.

*‘would coincide with the Semitic parties known to have visited the Egyptians circa 1900 BCE, as documented in the painting of a West-Asiatic procession of the tomb of Khnumhotep II at Beni Hasan. It might be possible to associate Abraham to such known Semitic visitors to Egypt, as they would have been ethnically connected.’

Do I understand you correctly? Joseph is something like Rodion Raskolnikov from Dostoevsky? A fictional, but well-developed character through whom the author wants to convey something to the reader?

I understand this, it’s just that the encyclopedia Britannika focuses on the fact that Joseph is a fiction and a fairy tale (if I understood correctly), so I wonder if Joseph is really a fairy tale how to be a Christian in this case?

thanks for the answer, Christie. Many sources claim that Joseph and other Old Testament characters are not even a myth, but just a fairy tale, so I am worried if this is really a fairy tale, then how to relate to this Christian, since the Old Testament is important for Christianity precisely as history

tell me please are you a Christian or an atheist? (just wondering if this is personal you can not answer). Or maybe you are from some other religion?

I will always answer according to faith Alex. So yes, by the gift of faith I’m Christian. By reason I’m atheist.


Now I’m intrigued by the Joseph story. Rodion is one of my most favorite story characters. If Joseph is in his league I should read it.

Interesting. I’d say I’m an atheist because of the way the concept of God gets elaborated. I nonetheless have faith in a fundamental mystery which animates my experience which I hold in high regard.

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Dostoevsky is my favorite writer. I read absolutely all of his works, some of them several times


The Bible is literature. That just means that the narratives are finely crafted works of art using language. It was created by talented composers and editors who were trying to make something beautiful and transcendent.

Literature can be fictional or historical. Historical works can be more or less objective and accurate. Historical works, especially ancient ones, can mix in legends or myths or other not quite factual embellishments. I think Joseph is a historical figure. I don’t think this can be “proven” one way or the other. How much of the literary narrative in the Bible is raw fact and how much is embellished to make a great story is something we can’t know for sure. I do think that the narrators main intention was not to record objective historical facts. I think their intention was to communicate overarching truths about how God interacts with people and how he sees his people Israel.


The BBC puts an interesting light on the historicity of the Joseph narrative. The question one has to ask oneself is what truth value one wants to attribute to anything one hears, sees or reads, and why.


The (obsolete) BBC kids article says ‘There is no record of who built the canal, but for thousands of years it has only been known by one name. In Arabic it’s the Bahr Yusef.’.

For a moment my yearning soared.

I’d like a source on that claim. Arabic hasn’t been spoken in those parts for thousands of years yet, it’s got another six hundred to go. Until the C7th Coptic Egyptian and Koine Greek was spoken, the Greek was replaced by Arabic for the next three centuries in a patois. It will be during this time that the name Bahr Yusef arose, post hoc.

Note the italics below indicating exaggeration and fallacy by the BBC (teaching kids isn’t their main remit) - at least they archived this 12 years ago.

The Bahr Yussef (Arabic: بحر يوسف‎; “the waterway of Joseph”[1]) is a canal which connects the Nile River with Fayyum in Egypt.

In ancient times it was called Tomis (Ancient Greek: Τωμις) by the Greeks which was derived from its Egyptian name Tm.t “ending canal” and was still in use after the Arab conquest, translated into Arabic as al-Manhi (Arabic: المنهى‎).[2] It was also known as “the Great canal” (Ancient Greek: διῶρυξ Μεγάλη) or “the canal of Moeris”.[3] The modern Arabic name refers to the prophet Yusuf, the Quranic counterpart of the Biblical Joseph.[2]

In prehistoric times, the canal was a natural offshoot of the Nile which created a lake to the west during high floods. Beginning with the 12th dynasty, the waterway was enlarged and the Fayyum was developed to enlarge Lake Moeris. The canal was built into the natural incline of the valley, creating a channel 15 km long and 5 m deep that sloped into the Fayyum depression. The canal was controlled by the Ha-Uar Dam, which was actually two dams that regulated the flow into the lake and out of the Nile. As the surrounding area changed at about 230 BC, the Bahr Yussef eventually became neglected, leaving most of Lake Moeris to dry up creating the depression that exists today and the modern province of Al Fayyum.

The Bahr Yussef still exists today, feeding water northwards into the Birket Qarun, parallel with the Nile.

The C7th Muslim Arab conquerors of Egypt knew the story of Joseph and fallaciously applied it to the Ending Canal - as it was known for the thousands of years prior. Nothing in Egyptian (which is not Arab of course) and Greek history for 2500 years mentions Joseph.

The historicity of famine isn’t significant in the light of that.

thanks for that Wikipedia link, making me dig a bit more into the subject. The ice core is an independent way of obtaining a reference date for the great famine. It will be interesting to see how this effects the timelines of the ancient Egyptian history and claims like Joseph and Imhotep refer to the same person. Are they likely to refer to the same starvation period or were there several? The article about the ice core makes an interreting read on the climate change

You’re welcome marvin. The trouble with the ice core data being correlated with the 7 years famine of Egyptian and Jewish legend is what else is in the ice core data. How many other famines? The Imhotep=Joseph trope is an old one, when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail: ’ The Upper Egyptian Famine Stela, which dates from the Ptolemaic period (305–30 BCE), bears an inscription containing a legend about a famine lasting seven years during the reign of Djoser. Imhotep is credited with having been instrumental in ending it. One of his priests explained the connection between the god Khnum and the rise of the Nile to the Pharaoh, who then had a dream in which the Nile god spoke to him, promising to end the drought.’.

Did God have to do all this to ensure a milieu in which to incarnate?

The question was if it happened or if it is fake reality and if it changes the value you associate with other historic events. Does the presence of absence of king Arthur change the truth value of the presence or absence of Queen Elisabeth the first or second? Did it change history?

I am intrigued that you think that Imhotep is credited by you with ending the famine. I thought he was credited with helping to survive it and ensuring the economic prosperity of the dynasty - and the survival of many tribes, not only his own as a consequence of it.

What is your hammer and nail analogy about.

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