Joseph’s “Coins”

Every time a story surfaces on the internet that is obviously (in my mind) bogus, I prefer to ignore it here.  But after receiving several emails from sharp individuals, I think this one must be worthy of comment.  Instead of just stating that the story about Egyptian coins from Joseph’s time should be ignored, I’ll suggest a few clues that should make you suspicious. 

1) The report claims to prove the biblical account.  I believe the Bible is an accurate historical account, but experience has taught me that most news reports claiming such are untrustworthy. 

2) The discovery was reported by an Egyptian newspaper.  This is not the place where credible scholars break stories. 

3) Coins were not invented until approximately 600 BC.  By anyone’s reckoning, Joseph lived or did not live many hundreds of years earlier. 

4) A statement like this: “Some of the coins are from the time when Joseph lived in Egypt.”  There is no time (singular) when scholars believed Joseph lived. 

There are various theories about when he lived.  No credible source would make this statement without a discussion of when the “coins” date to and how we now know when Joseph lived. 

5) Statements from the Quran about Joseph were used by the archaeologist as credible historical testimony.

6) If it sounds too good to be true…: “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, and the seven green stalks of grain and seven dry stalks of grain.”  7) Never in the report is a date or the name of a pharaoh given!

The story was re-reported as fact by the Jerusalem Post and Arutz-7 (shame on them; their editors must be off for the Yom Kippur weekend).  The only one I’ve seen refuting this so far is Paleojudaica and Joe Lauer, who rightly questions whether this was released on the Egyptian version of April Fool’s Day.

UPDATE: Michael S. Heiser has several helpful comments on PaleoBabble.  I don’t think I was aware of this blog before, but some readers here will certainly want to follow what is dubbed as “your antidote to cyber-twaddle and misguided research about the ancient world.”


10 thoughts on “Joseph’s “Coins”

  1. I'm also reserving judgement but davka see several reasons why possibly this might just be legitimate:
    a) It just happens to be from a source hostile to Israel and Jews
    b) although "coins" persee are not actually known until later "tokens" are known from earlier times. It tickles my fancy to think these creative Jews found a way to keep track of how much food to give each Egyptian … by giving them a token for each installment they deposited.

    Tzon Kal, YBA

  2. Another point Robert Deutsch has made on his mailing list is that these are not even silver "tokens" (based on the published lo-res photo), but ordinary scarabs & gemstones.

  3. I think we should wait and see the evidence before drawing conclusions. After all, the claims are being made by respectable Egyptian experts. The claim that there were no coins before 600BC reminds me of the claim that was made for many years that Moses could not have written the Torah because writing did not exist in his time. We now know that writing existed before his time.

    Also, all the news reports seem to miss the most important aspect of this find. Since they are coming out of a Muslim country, all they have emphasized is that the finding of the coins substantiates a claim in the Quran that coins existed in ancient Egypt. The more important point to me is that if the find proves to be real, it will provide extra-biblical evidence of the existence of a Bible character that most archeologists believe was mythical — namely, Joseph.

  4. Dr. Reagan, even if the claims are true, the publication made an extremely poor case for it. As Todd said, you can't prove anything about "the time of Joseph" unless you first demonstrate when that was, or that he was even called by the name of "Joseph" while residing there. You seem to have missed the entire point Todd (& others) have been making.

  5. A couple more points. According to my handy-dandy Arabic/English Koran, Surah 12:20 says Yusuf's brothers sold him for "a few Dirhams" (the Arabic word in the verse, with a parenthetical modern explanation that they are silver coins; note that I can't read Arabic, but I can easily see that the Arabic word in my "holy book" matches the Arabic word shown in the Wikipedia entry for "Dirham").

    A dirham is an Arabic evolution of a Greek drachma, which was an even later evolution of earlier coinage in Lydia. Even if some standardized Egyptian silver tokens were used for currency in Egypt centuries before minted coinage developed elsewhere, it wouldn't help prove the Koran's text. For the 7th-century A.D. text to be historically accurate (& truly divinely inspired/guided), it would have to know the name of the Egyptian coinage, or refer to it generically as simply "silver", not a specific name of an Islamic/Persian coin. (Compare this to the use of "pym" in 1Samuel 13:21 for a contemporary price paid, a word whose meaning was lost in later centuries, thereby demonstrating the genuinely ancient, historically reliable nature of the story. Also compare Genesis 37:28, which merely refers to "20 [generic] silver".)

    Furthermore, why would Joseph's Hebrew brothers have Egyptian coinage? If the Egyptian coinage were actually that widespread, it would surely have already been found in the land of Israel. And guess what? The ordinary scarabs shown in the press photo have been found throughout Israel. Boy, what a startling coincidence.

    So in sum, if Joseph's brothers sold him for a few non-silver scarabs, then this proves that Muhammad ad-libbed the portions of the Koran that deviate from the original Hebrew texts he plagiarized, & demonstrates that he's basically a false witness.

    I suppose this was a newsworthy discovery after all!

  6. I'll have to say that G.M. Grena has represented the truth very well. But if I may add a little, I think it might be helpful.

    Joseph died in 1610 BCE during the second intermediate period. It is most likely that he ruled as viceroy under the Hyksos Pharaoh Apophis. 40 years later, in 1570 BCE, Ahmose conquered the delta region of lower egypt, finishing the military campaign of his father Seqenenre, and his brother Kamose, to reunite the two Egypts. Ahmose was the pharoah "who knew not Joseph". Upper Egypt had been paying tribute to Lower Egypt, and Ahmose was apparently emotionally upset, not just because his father and brother were killed in the war, but because during the second intermediate period of the Hyksos rule the land of Egypt was under foreign control. The two lands of Egypt had been previously united under Narmer, and he felt like he was the natural successor who should rule over the two lands–not some foreign interloper. The result was that he began a campaign to destroy any remembrance of the Hyksos rule. In the process, a statue was destroyed that David Rohl identifies as representing Joseph. On page 366 of his book "Pharaohs and Kings: a Biblical Quest," he describes the broken statue of Joseph with his red hair, and coat of many colors. The face is carved away to erase the memory of the hero of Lower Egypt. The statement is made by the new pharoah that something must be done about the Israelites because "they are more and mightier than we." Applying a little math shows that the total male population of Israelites who were old enough to fight in war was about 2500 men. The population of Memphis at that time was about 40,000 people. So what did he mean that they were more and mightier? After 40 years from the death of Joseph, his memory was still fresh in the minds of the people of lower Egypt. The people of the delta region held Joseph and his brothers and sons in high regard for saving Egypt from its darkest hour. The Israelites had tremendous political influence which made them "more and mightier." Israel was to be in a land not their own for 400 years. The clock started when Jacob turned 19 years old (in his 20th year). Abraham was told that sometime during that period they would be abused. That abuse, or slavery, began with the pharaoh Ahmose who had no regard for Joseph, and would last for 127 years until the Exodus in 1443 BCE.

    Moses began to record the Bible in 1443 BCE and would continue to write the Penteteuch for 40 more years. There is a unique Hebrew word that Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Lexicon lists as an unknown word that may indicate "money". Strongs Concordance lists it as meaning "money" (H7192). Anyone who exchanges his produce or cattle for silver so he can go on a long trip would not carry a scale around with him to weigh out the shekel weight, but would prefer to have known masses of silver to distribute to merchants he might meet on his journey. It's only logical that the concept of money would develop quickly because it is a solution to a simple problem. It is said by some "authorities" that money did not exist before 600 BCE. Previous men of this elite group of "authorities" stated with certainty that writing did not exist before about 1000 BCE, but it did (as we now know). Others, with equal certainty, stated that Nineveh and the Assyrian empire, and the Hittites never existed. Others stated that David and Joseph and Moses were all figments of Jewish imagination. We now have extra-biblical proof of David, Nineveh, Assyria, and the Hittites–and now Joseph. It is interesting that in the last 250 years of critical "Bible study" carried on by men doing their best to discredit the Bible, not one of their claims have been found to be correct. The Bible has been found to be true in every respect. Even the mythical cities of Ubar and Troy have been found, though famed archeologists claimed they didn't exist.

  7. The Koran was written after 600 CE, 2000 years after the time of Joseph. Muhammad wrote about money in that earlier time. So what. If Muslims want to use this as proof that the Koran is right on some point, then let them. Without their desire to do so, the coins would have remained buried until Christ returned.

    Why is it that scarab tokens of ivory, copper, silver, gemstones, etc. should not be considered as money? We use copper (plated zinc) for pennies, nickel for nickels, and at one time, silver for dimes, quarters, halfs, and dollars–not to mention gold for 5, 10, and $20 coins. This is only a natural progression to make money more flexible.

  8. My previous comments may cause some to believe that I support the idea that what they found were indeed coins. That is not my position at all. Like Dr. Reagan, I believe we should keep an open mind until substantial evidence can be presented (Pro 18:13) on which a judgement can be made. I have still not seen any clear photographs of "coins" with cows and grain on them, or any showing Joseph's name and a valuation. Do these photos even exist?

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