Is This Yosef?
Did Archeologists Find Evidence of Yaakov Avinu and Yosef Hatzaddik in Egypt?
Approximately 120 years ago, in the town of Tuchów, which is not far from Tarnów, Galicia (Southern Poland), the townspeople had finished building a Klauss-Beis Medrash and the Bobover Rav, Rabbi Shlomo Halberstam, was invited to participate in its inauguration.
On Friday evening, after Maariv, the Bobover Rav went home to prepare himself for the tisch, while his son, the Kedushas Tzion, stayed behind in the klauss to be ma’avir-sidra. While being ma’avir-sidra he looked at the commentaries in his Malbim Chumash and was surprised to find a certain pshat which didn’t sit well with him:
And Yisrael saw the sons of Yosef, he said: “Who are they?”1Bereishis 28:8.
The Hebrew clothing style was different from the Egyptian ones. Yosef and his sons, being courtiers, were dressed in the royal attire, as we find that the house of Rabban Gamliel changed clothing due to respect for the monarch.
Therefore, Yaakov wondered and asked: “Who are they?”
And Yosef said to his father, “They are my sons!” They are tzaddikim and G-d fearing. The reason they are so strangely dressed is that, “G-d has given me here.” They were born here in the royal palace, and that is how they have to be dressed.2Malbim, Bereishis 48:8.
The Kedushas Tzion didn’t like this approach, since one of the reasons3This is not a Midrash, and is not mentioned by Chazal, the earliest known source for this saying is Midrash Lekach Tov, which was authored in the very late Geonic period. For a lengthy discussion about this topic, see Rabbi Shmuel Ashkenazi, Alpha Beisa Kadmaisa, Jerusalem 2000, pages 619–627. that the Jews were redeemed from exile was in the merit that shelo shinu levusham–”they did not change their original attire.” How, then, can it be that Yosef Hatzaddik did so? For this reason, the Kedushas Tzion set forth a different explanation of the verse.4Pri haKerem, Vayechi 1999; see Kedushas Tzion, Parshas Vayechi.
The question remains: Did Yosef and his children indeed change their clothing or not.
Where is the Land of Goshen?
Let’s return to Egypt. Let us try and figure out where our forefathers lived. Perhaps we can find something there which will give us a clue, and help to solve the dress-code mystery.
When Yosef invited his father and family to join him in Egypt, he said,5Bereishis 45:10. “You will dwell in the region of Goshen, where you will be near me.”
This is indeed where they agreed to settle:6Bereishis, 46. “He [Yaakov] had sent Yehudah ahead of him to Yosef, to point the way before him to Goshen. And they came to the region of Goshen.”
Finally, the plan was enacted as “Yosef ordered his chariot and went to Goshen to meet his father, Yisrael.”
Yaakov Avinu tells his sons to explain to Pharaoh why Goshen is the most suitable place for them, from Yaakov’s point of view, and also from Pharaoh’s point of view: “You shall answer, ‘Your servants have been breeders of livestock from the start until now, both we and our fathers,’—so that you may stay in the region of Goshen. For all shepherds are abhorrent to Egyptians.”
We see from this that Goshen was a very suitable location for livestock to graze in.
From Sefer Yehoshua, we know that the region of Goshen borders Gaza:7Yehoshua 10:41.
Yehoshua conquered them from Kadesh-Barnea to Gaza, all the land of Goshen, and up to Gibeon.
To understand this better, let’s read some verses in Parshas Beshalach:8Shemos 13:17.
Now when Pharaoh let the people go, G-d did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although it was nearer. G-d said, “The people may have a change of heart when they see war, and return to Egypt.”
There are many routes a person can take to go from the center of Egypt to Israel. The route could be closer to the Mediterranean Sea, passing by the Philistines or it can go southward, closer to the Red Sea. The length of these routes is the same.
However, Goshen is in northern Egypt and borders Gaza. This is where one finds the Nile Delta. We can clearly understand the logic behind, “So Hashem led the people roundabout, by way of the wilderness at the Sea of Reeds.” The straight line to Israel is right through the center of the Philistines. To go south, through the Red Sea/Sea of Reeds, involves making a huge detour.
Rameseis and Goshen
Rameseis was part of a province called Goshen:9Rashi on Bereishis 47:11.
Yosef settled his father and his brothers, giving them holdings in the choicest part of the land of Egypt, in the region of Rameseis, as Pharaoh had commanded.
We find many times in the Tanach10Shemos 12:37 & Bamidbar 33:3. that the place from where the Jews left Egypt was Rameseis, rather than Goshen. So, these two places are either the same, or are very close to each other.
One of the earliest Jewish historians was a misyaven, a Hellenistic Jew named Artapanus. Not much remains from his writings, other than some sections which were copied by other historians. Artapanus is quoted by Eusebius of Caesarea:11Eusebius of Caesarea: Praeparatio Evangelica, Book 9, Chapter XVIII.
Artapanus says, in his book Concerning the Jews, that after the death of Abraham, and his son Mempsasthenoth,12A discussion for itself. and likewise, of the king of Egypt, his son, Palmanothes succeeded to sovereignty. This king behaved badly to the Jews, and first, he built Kessan, and founded the temple therein, and then built the temple in Heliopolis.
Artapanus refers to Goshen as Κεσσαν, which reads phonetically as ‘Kessan’.
More recently, the following item of information about the location of Goshen was brought to light:
In 1885, Édouard Naville identified Goshen as the 20th Nome of Egypt, located in the eastern Delta, and known as ‘Gesem’ or ‘Kesem’ during the twenty-sixth dynasty of Egypt (672–525 BC). It covered the western end of the Wadi Tumilat, the eastern end being the district of Succoth, which had Pithom as its main town. It extended north as far as the ruins of Pi-Ramesses (“the land of Rameses”), and included both cropland and grazing land.13Source: Wikipedia; accessed 1 November 2020. The source given is John Van Seters, “The Geography of the Exodus,” in Silberman, Neil Ash (editor), The Land That I Will Show You: Essays in History and Archaeology of the Ancient Near East in Honor of J. Maxwell Miller (Sheffield Academic Press, 1997) pp. 267–269, ISBN 978-1850756507.
Kessan/Goshen is described as being located near Pi-Ramesses, and Succoth. Indeed, Rameseis was the gathering point of the Jews right before they left Egypt, and their next stop was Succoth:
The Israelites journeyed from Rameseis to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, aside from children.14Shemos 12:37.
They set out from Rameseis in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the first month. It was on the morrow of the Passover offering that the Israelites started out triumphantly, in plain view of all the Egyptians.15Bamidbar 33:3.
Once we know Goshen’s location, then we know where to begin digging!
Circumstantial Evidence or History?
We are about to present some archaeological findings that provide circumstantial, not factual evidence. Through these findings, we can infer what may have taken place millennia ago in Mitzrayim. There is, as of yet, no direct historical evidence that connects the findings in the way that we present them herein.
It cannot be denied, however, that when applying midrashei Chazal, one could disqualify each piece of evidence. However, for the purpose of this article, we will present you with the sources from Chazal which verify the evidence, as much as possible.
Tell el-Dab’a and Rameses
Professor Manfred Bietak is a Professor of Egyptology at the University of Vienna, as well as the Director of the Austrian Archaeological Institute, in Cairo. Bietak led the excavations at modern-day Tell el-Dab’a. There they found a Canaan/Syrian style settlement, in which people continue living with their old traditions.
In the introduction to his book Avaris, The Capital of the Hyksos, Recent Excavations at Tell el-Dab’a, (British Museum Press 1996), Professor Bietak writes:
Excavations at Tell el-Dab’a in the eastern Nile Delta have been conducted by the Austrian Archaeological Institute, Cairo, and the Institute of Egyptology of the University of Vienna from 1966 to 1969 and from 1975 to the present. The site has been known since 1885 when Edouard Naville made soundings for the Egypt Exploration Fund. In 1928 Mahmud Hamza, excavating to the north of Tell el-Dab’a in the area of Qantir, suggested it be identified with the site of Piramesse, the Delta residence of the 19th Dynasty and Biblical town of Rameses.
It was Labib Habachi who, after excavations to the west of Tell el-Dab’a as an inspector of antiquities, first advanced the theory that the site should be identified with Avaris, the capital of the Hyksos. At the same time, he endorsed the original view of Mahmud Hamza that Qantir was Piramesse because he had retrieved portals from houses belonging to high officials of the Ramesside period from the nearby El-Didamun canal. Previously, Mahmud Hamza had found vestiges of a palace of Seti I and Rameses II at Qantir.
The majority of Egyptologists, however, followed the theory of Pierre Montet and others that Avaris and Piramesse were located at Tanis. It is the overwhelming evidence from our many seasons of excavations that has finally changed the general opinion of scholars. Today Avaris and Piramesse are identified with Tell el-Dab’a and Qantir respectively. Together they cover an area of approximately 12 sq km from Qantir in the north to Ezbet Gayel and Ezbet Gezira el-Baghl in the south.
Yaakov Avinu’s ‘Mittelsaal Haus’
Chazal tell us about the house of Yaakov Avinu in Mitzrayim:16Bereishis 46:28.
And he had sent Yehudah ahead of him to Yosef, to point the way before him to Goshen.
The Midrash says:17Bereishis Rabbah 95:3.
Rabbi Chanina the son of Rabbi Acha, and Rabbi Chanina [argue].
One says, to prepare for him a house to live in.
One says, to prepare for him a beis va’ad, where he could teach and all the shevatim would be learning therein.
What did the house of Yaakov Avinu in Goshen look like?
The Egyptologist, David Rohl, is the author of many books on this topic, which are based on the research and archeological findings of the above-mentioned Professor Bietak. Rohl writes:18Rohl, David M. Exodus – Myth or History? Published 2015 by Thinking Man Media, Chapter 7.
In the city of Avaris – at the stratigraphical level of its foundation – the Austrian excavators uncovered an unusual building, to the west of the main mound in an agricultural field which they designated ‘Area F’. A few feet below the plowed surface, they came across the foundations of a large villa laid out in the ground plan of a north Syrian dwelling. The Austrian archaeological mission used the German classification for this type of building, known as a Mittelsaal Haus or, ‘middle-room house’, because of the basic plan centered on a large room or open court surrounded by smaller rooms. This was the earliest building in Area F, dated to the late 12th Dynasty and within the level designated Stratum H on the main Tell A. This foreign design suggested to Manfred Bietak that its owner was from Syria which, of course, was the homeland of Abraham and his descendants. In the historical model, I am proposing here, this would have been the house of Jacob, constructed upon his arrival in Goshen in Year 2 of the famine.
The ‘12th Dynasty’ refers to the Egyptian royal dynasty that ruled during the years when the Jews were enslaved in Egypt. It is difficult to provide exact dates, due to the discrepancies between the Masoretic way and the secular way of calculating dates.
Discovering Yosef’s Palace
When Yosef identified himself to his brothers, his cry was very loud:19Bereishis 45:2. “His sobs were so loud that the Egyptians could hear. And so the news reached Pharaoh’s palace.”
Although Yosef was given the second-highest position in the country, and even though Pharaoh had told Yosef,20Ibid., 41:40. “You shall be in charge of my court, and by your command shall all my people be directed; only with respect to the throne shall I be superior to you, “ Yosef still had his own palace.
What can we discover about Yosef’s palace? And what can these discoveries tell us about Yosef? David Rohl continues:
Some time later, in the following Stratum G/4, a much grander residence was constructed over the Mittelsaal Haus. This mansion – it has been referred to as a ‘small palace’ – is much more Egyptian in character, built for a person of high status, with all the trappings of wealth and power. Let me walk you around it, starting in the central court.
The impressive building is fronted by a portico of twelve wooden columns. Passing through the colonnade, you enter a large hall, the roof of which is supported by four more columns. The floor is made of mudbrick, plastered, and painted white. This hall most likely served as both an audience chamber for receiving guests and as a family room. At the back of the reception room is a doorway leading to a robing room and washroom. In the corner of the hall, another door leads to a substantial-sized bedroom with a raised platform at the far end, representing the largest bed known from the ancient world! Across the other side of the hall is another large, long room which either served as a bedroom for the rest of the family or as a storeroom.
How does one recognize it as a Jewish house? Well, look for the extensions. It seems that this habit of ours dates back some time!
Rohl continues his description of the palace:
At a later stage, two suites of rooms were added to the front of the palace and, in between the old and new sections, a courtyard was created, with the twelve-columned facade of the original hall on its south side, and the west, north, and east sides formed by a colonnade of smaller columns. In the center of the courtyard was a fired-brick water container, served by a duct cut into a trench, bringing water from beyond the west wall of the court. The two suites were identical (with three rooms) but a mirror image of each other. On either side ran two corridors enabling visitors to the complex to bypass the twin suites in order to reach the inner courtyard and main hall. In front of the extension, a colonnade of nine columns was erected as the new façade to the complex. It is possible that there may have been a second floor to the palace, as stairs were found leading up to either the roof or a suite of bedrooms.
The Tombs of the Shevatim?
The palace has its own graveyard, which contains 12 main tombs!
In the garden, behind the palace, a tomb has been prepared for Joseph. Here his brothers had already been buried21This is incorrect, as Yosef was the first of the brothers to die. in large brick-vaulted chambers…
Though there are several smaller burials in the garden, the model of the whole palace complex made by the Austrian mission shows eleven of the large vaulted tombs, plus one other very special tomb, which we are now going to discuss in some detail.
At the back of the garden and separate from the other vaulted tombs, Bietak and his team unearthed the remains of a burial quite unlike the others. As with most of the archaeology in Area F, only the foundation level remained, the upper part having been plowed away in the centuries of agricultural activity in the fertile eastern delta that followed the pharaonic age. But enough remained to work out what had once stood here.
The excavators exposed a large, almost square base of mudbricks, attached to the front of which was a small chapel. Bietak determined that the base once supported a mudbrick pyramid. This in itself was remarkable, because, for the period of pharaonic history up to the New Kingdom, pyramids were the exclusive prerogative of kings and their queens. No official or commoner had ever been granted a pyramid to house his mortal remains. Yet here, the high official who had lived in the Area F palace had been given just such an honor. This marked the man out as someone very special.
When the archeologists began to dig into the substructure of the pyramid, they found a mudbrick dome, mounted on a rectangle base. This was the burial chamber of the tomb.
But there was something very strange about this chamber … there was nothing in it. No coffin, no bones, no pottery, no mummy beads, no weapons, no gold or semi-precious stones … nothing … except a few fragments of white limestone…
Does a missing body represent anything? We are well-acquainted with Egyptian grave robbers, so perhaps this pyramid was a victim of grave robbers?
Rohl denies this theory:
But where was the body? Tomb robbers don’t steal pottery or bones. They go for treasure. There is no intrinsic value in bones. It seems for all the world that this was not a robbery or vandalism, but rather a pious act of removal. The body had been taken out along with all the grave goods. The tomb had been stripped clean. Not one shred of the burial remained.
Rohl continues describing what they found in the Tomb. He concludes that those twelve tombs are those of the twelve brothers, and that the empty tomb is Yosef’s, whose bones were taken by Moshe Rabbeinu to Eretz Yisrael.
According to pshat, only Yosef’s bones were taken from Egypt.22See Shemos 13:19, and Yehoshua 24:32. But, Chazal mention in many places,23See, for example, Yerushalmi, Sotah 8b. that the bones from all the twelve brothers were taken to Eretz Yisrael. According to drash, as the Abarbanel explains it:24Abarbanel, Bereishis 15:12.
And the bones of Yosef, [Klal] Yisrael brought up with them when they went out of Mitzrayim, and they buried them in Shechem. But, the bones of the other shevatim, were left in Mitzrayim. Since they were judged to exile in their lifetime, when they died it didn’t part from them.
One can find traces of this idea in other places in Chazal as well:25Mechilta D’Rabbi Yishmael 13:19.
The Sages taught us: Come and see how beloved mitzvos are to Moshe Rabbeinu. As, at the time of the Exodus, all the Jewish people were involved in taking the plunder from Egypt, and he was involved in the performance of mitzvos, as it is stated:26Mishlei 10:8. “The wise in heart will take mitzvos.”
One would understand why the praise of chacham leiv yikach mitzvos – “The wise in heart will take mitzvos”, was given to Moshe, if only Yosef’s bones were taken up. Yosef made Klal Yisrael swear to him that they would in turn make an oath with their offspring to bring his bones out of Mitzrayim with them.27Shemos 13:19. But, if the bones of all twelve shevatim were taken up, Moshe had shared his good deed with another eleven people! So, this source indicates that Moshe only took up the bones of Yosef.
There is another point of view, that each shevet took the bones of their own forefather out of Mitzrayim. If so, we can ask where were the children of Yosef? Why did they leave it to Moshe Rabbeinu? We are not answering that question now, as we are going with the opinion of the Abarbanel.
Perhaps, Moshe did act alone, in the way that the Abarbanel explained. If we take the Abarbanel’s position, of pshat, we can grasp the idea of there being 12 tombs, 11 of them filled with bones and the twelfth one empty.
The Statue in the Tomb
Let’s go back to Yosef’s youth, and the habits of his earlier years. Rashi, at the beginning of Parshas Vayeishev, writes:28Bereishis Rabbah 84:7.
“Yosef was seventeen years of age…”29Bereishis 37:2., and it further says “He was a youth”, rather that he did youthful things. He touched up his eyes, he picked up his heels, he fixed his hair.
Let’s continue to the next passuk:
Now Yisrael loved Yosef more than all his sons, for he was the child of his old age; and he had made him a kesones passim.
What is a kesones passim? A kesones is a shirt, tunic or vest. It is a garment that covers the upper part of the body. What does “passim” refer to?
There are quite a few explanations, but the Radak explains it as follows:
The word ‘pas’ is related to the same word in Daniel 5:5 pas yada—the palm of a hand. The cloth was made of differently colored surfaces, similar to garments of soft wool which are made in several differently colored stripes or sections.
Now let’s see what we can find about the kesones passim. David Rohl writes about the little pyramid and the findings in the garden of the smaller palace:
But there was something very strange about this chamber … there was nothing in it. No coffin, no bones, no pottery, no mummy beads, no weapons, no gold or semi-precious stones … nothing … except a few fragments of white limestone. They then discovered a ‘robber’s tunnel’ cut down from the chapel into the burial chamber … and in that tunnel there were much larger pieces of the same limestone.
When these pieces were reconstructed, they turned out to be the head and upper torso of a colossal statue which must have once stood in the chapel, before the pyramid. It was clear that this was the cult statue of the deceased person who had been buried in the tomb…
The lower half of the statue had disappeared almost completely (with a foot and part of the seat found scattered in the cemetery) …
The head of the colossus had been savagely attacked with an ax, causing several large gashes across the top of the head. The eyes had been gouged out … one of them having been found just outside the tomb lying on the surface of the garden. The whole of the lower part of the face – the nose, mouth and chin – had been smashed off. But, in spite of all this savage desecration enough remains to tell us something about the man.
Amazingly, because the fragments had been buried in the ground for three thousand years, the paint on the surface of the statue was still visible. This showed that the man was yellow skinned. Now, Egyptians were always depicted with a dark brown or reddish skin color. Women were shown with pale yellow skin … as were Asiatics from the north. So, our official buried in this tomb was an Asiatic or Semite. This is confirmed by the fact that, in his right hand, he holds across his right shoulder a throw stick as his insignia of office. These throw sticks (shaped a little bit like a boomerang) were weapons employed for hunting fowl and were regularly used by Egyptian artists to depict Asiatics. In fact, the hieroglyphic determinative for the word Aamu (‘Asiatic’) is the sign for the throw stick. There is no doubt therefore that the statue represents a high official of the Egyptian state who was of Asiatic origin.
The representation of the hair on the statue is also very intriguing because it is carved in a series of neat striations or grooves, giving the appearance of someone who has been carefully coiffured. But, most strikingly, the hair has been colored red. This man was yellow skinned and with flame-red hair! This hair color is very much a trait of northerners and not typical of the black or dark-brown-haired Egyptians.
Finally, we need to walk around to the back of the statue to view the surviving right shoulder. When I saw this, I nearly dropped my camera in the excitement. Although the colors here are very faded. I could just make out a series of vertical stripes, above which were curved stripes wrapping around the nape of the neck. This statue was wearing an Egyptian collar and a multicolored coat. I could make out red and black stripes, plus a pigment which had disappeared but which may have been cream, yellow or light blue.
After writing about the discovery of the figure wearing a striped coat/shirt, David Rohl, summarizes the chapter:
To me – and I hope to you – this all pointed towards one conclusion. Without searching for it … and it has to be said without realizing it … the Austrian archeological mission at Tell ed-Daba had found the lost city of the Israelites located in the heart of the biblical land of Goshen. They had unearthed the house of Jacob and the palace of the vizier Joseph with its twelve-columned facade representing the twelve sons of Jacob. They had found the twelve main tombs in the palace garden, one of which is a pyramid tomb with a colossal cult statue of its occupant, which once stood in the chapel attached to the tomb.
We can suggest, that maybe, when Moshe Rabbeinu came to take Yosef’s bones, he saw the statue. Since making a statue of a human is not halachically permitted, perhaps Moshe smashed that statue, and ruined the face!
The archeologists also describe another incredibly detailed item in that location. It was a bulla (plural bullae), a soft-clay seal impression. Steve Law writes regarding this find:30patternsofevidence.com; accessed 11 November 2020.
The find was uncovered from the ancient city of Avaris, modern Tell el-Daba, in Egypt’s northeast Nile delta. Excavations by the Austrian Archaeological Institute of Cairo at the site were conducted for several years in the 60s and then from 1975 onward until today. Manfred Bietak was the director of the digs from 1966 – 2009. In 1979 his team discovered an intriguing little cylinder seal on the floor level of the Middle Kingdom palace.
Seals were very common in the ancient world and were typically used to press into clay or some other soft substance, to put an owner’s stamp on commercial and legal documents or products, and for tamper-proofing, whatever was inside a container. Seals were often worn around the neck or as rings by officials or their representatives. They could bear a single image (as would be the case with a ring) that would require only a single push into the soft clay (bulla), or they could be in the form of a small cylinder that would be rolled on the clay to impress a longer sequence of images.
What do the images represent?
Let us remind ourselves of the blessings of Yaakov (and Moshe Rabbeinu) to the shevatim:
- Yosef: “Like a firstling bull in his majesty, he has horns like the horns of the wild ox.”
- Reuven: “Unstable as water, you shall excel no longer.”
- Yehuda: “Yehudah is a lion’s whelp.”
- Dan: “Dan shall be a serpent by the road; a viper by the path.”
- Zevulun: “Zevulun shall dwell by the seashore; he shall be a haven for ships.”
- Gad: “Gad shall be raided by raiders, but he shall raid at their heels.”
- Shimon & Levi: “Simeon and Levi are a pair; their weapons are tools of lawlessness.”
The bulla that was discovered includes images of:
- Horns of the wild-ox
- Unstable water
- A lion
- A serpent/viper
- A ship
- Perhaps a military base
- A person with weapons
The bullae have more images. Rabbi Michael S. Bar-Ron, is the rav of Beth Midrash Ohel Moshe, in Beit Shemesh. In his article “The Seal of Joseph in his Palace at Tell el-Dab’a,”31See here or on www.academia.edu. he presents other explanations for the other characters on the bulla. There seems to be some connection between the bulla and the seal of Yosef and/or of the shevatim.
Yosef’s Dress Code
Let us now return to our original question of whether Yosef kept to his traditional clothing style.
The above-mentioned statue, which is the sole representative of the missing grave of the pyramid, was painted with a striped coat/shirt, with an Egyptian collar.
If we assume that this statue is indeed one of Yosef, we can conclude with a suggestion that Yosef kept the original kesones passim ‘style’, but that he adopted an Egyptian collar. That would be a kind of compromise position between the views of the Malbim and the Kedushas Tzion.
However, we don’t have anything more than circumstantial evidence. So, as to the different opinions of the Malbim and the Kedushas Tzion, we can conclude, eilu v’eilu divrei Elokim chayim–both these and those are the words of the living G-d!32Eruvin 13b.
Printed in Kankan issue 17