Evangelicals skeptical about 'Joseph coins'
Posted on Oct 5, 2009 | by Staff
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Two evangelical archeologists have expressed caution in evaluating reports that ancient Egyptian coins bearing the name and image of the biblical Joseph have been discovered among unsorted artifacts at the Museum of Egypt.
"The scholarly community will need to see the full report and images of the artifacts to make a judgment in regard to the interpretation of these objects as coins," Steven Ortiz, associate professor of archaeology and biblical backgrounds at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, said.
"It is more likely that these are amulets or jewelry. The initial reports are probably based on an initial zeal to support the koranic verses that mention coins associated with Joseph rather than a comprehensive study of the finds," Ortiz told Baptist Press.
Al Ahram newspaper in Cairo first carried a report about the artifacts, and a subsequent report appeared in The Jerusalem Post Sept. 25, based on a translation of the original article completed by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). The research has not appeared in a scholarly journal.
The Post said the significance of the find is that archeologists have located "scientific evidence countering the claim held by some historians that coins were not used for trade in ancient Egypt, and that this was done through barter instead."
MEMRI's translation said the artifacts initially were believed to be charms, but a thorough examination revealed that the objects bore the year in which they were minted as well as their value.
"Some of the coins are from the time when Joseph lived in Egypt, and bear his name and portrait," the report said. "... This [find] prompted researchers to seek and find Koranic verses that speak of coins used in ancient Egypt."
Robert Griffin, an ancient Egyptian history scholar at the University of Memphis, noted that he couldn't make an assessment without seeing the artifacts or scholarly reports, so he wasn't ready to accept the discovery as it is being promoted.
"My initial response is one of skepticism in that the 'interpretation' of the coins is quite subjective," Griffin told BP.
The Al Ahram article said the coins are from many different periods, "including coins that bore special markings identifying them as being from the era of Joseph. Among these, there was one coin that had an inscription on it, and an image of a cow symbolizing Pharaoh's dream about the seven fat cows and seven lean cows ...."
"It's a bit of a stretch, to say the least," Griffin said, "especially when you consider that one of the most prominent goddesses in Egyptian mythology is Hathor, who is represented as a cow or a woman with cow's horns as part of her crown."
Hathor was popular in the late Middle Kingdom and Second Intermediate Period, circa 1800-1600 B.C., which corresponds with the general time period of Joseph, Griffin said.
Also, Al Ahram said Joseph's name appears twice on that particular coin, written in hieroglyphics, "once the original name, Joseph, and once his Egyptian name, Saba Sabani, which was given to him by Pharaoh when he became treasurer."
"I would be interested to see the actual writing of what the researcher claims are the names of Joseph," Griffin said. "The English transliteration he gives for the 'Egyptian name' of Joseph is close in form but not exactly as it would be transliterated from the Hebrew text."
Based on what he knows at this point, Griffin said he would hesitate to say the artifacts are definitive proof of the existence of Joseph in Egypt.
Compiled by Baptist Press staff writer Erin Roach, with reporting by Art Toalston, editor of Baptist Press.