Friday, September 25, 2009

Coins from the time of Yosef, bearing Yosef's name, found in Egypt

This also provides counter-evidence to archeologists' previous claim that they did not mint and use coins in Egypt in the era of Yosef, but instead relied on a barter system.

These coins have Yosef's name (both Yosef and Saba Sabani, perhaps a cognate of Tzofnas Paneach?) and image of a cow.

If true, it is amazing. But I am a bit skeptical of such findings which accord so well to details of the Biblical narrative. Or in this case, the motivation seems to be in justifying aspects of the Koranic narrative. While it is possible that such would have existed, such that it is findable, it also makes sense that some antiquities dealer might make a forgery and tie it in to the Biblical or Koranic account in order to better sell it.

From the Jerusalem Post:
Archeologists have discovered ancient Egyptian coins bearing the name and image of the biblical Joseph, Cairo's Al Ahram newspaper recently reported. Excerpts provided by MEMRI show that the coins were discovered among a multitude of unsorted artifacts stored at the Museum of Egypt.

According to the report, the significance of the find is that archeologists have found 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.

The period in which Joseph was regarded to have lived in Egypt matches the minting of the coins in the cache, researchers said.

"A thorough examination revealed that the coins bore the year in which they were minted and their value, or effigies of the pharaohs [who ruled] at the time of their minting. Some of the coins are from the time when Joseph lived in Egypt, and bear his name and portrait," said the report.

The discovery of the cache prompted research team head Dr. Sa'id Muhammad Thabet to seek Koranic verses that speak of coins used in ancient Egypt.

"Studies by Dr. Thabet's team have revealed that what most archeologists took for a kind of charm, and others took for an ornament or adornment, is actually a coin. Several [facts led them to this conclusion]: first, [the fact that] many such coins have been found at various [archeological sites], and also [the fact that] they are round or oval in shape, and have two faces: one with an inscription, called the inscribed face, and one with an image, called the engraved face - just like the coins we use today," the report added.
and from MEMRI, the following excerpt {they have a larger article than this}:
"The researcher identified coins 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, and the seven green stalks of grain and seven dry stalks of grain. It was found that the inscriptions of this early period were usually simple, since writing was still in its early stages, and consequently there was difficulty in deciphering the writing on these coins. But the research team [managed to] translate [the writing on the coin] by comparing it to the earliest known hieroglyphic texts…

"Joseph's name appears twice on this coin, written in hieroglyphs: once the original name, Joseph, and once his Egyptian name, Saba Sabani, which was given to him by Pharaoh when he became treasurer. There is also an image of Joseph, who was part of the Egyptian administration at the time.
See also PaleoJudaica who considers this junk archeology. Some of his criticisms seems a bit off, in that they appear rather circular. Thus:
Where does one start with this sort of thing? Coins weren't invented until something like the seventh-to-sixth century BCE in Asia Minor.
And how does he know that coins weren't invented before then? Because of existing archeological evidence! Which this would then contradict, as being earlier evidence! It reminds me of the claim that camels were not domesticated in ancient Mesopotamia in patriarchal times. Then, they discovered a figurine of a camel. But it couldn't be a camel, because camels had not been domesticated yet! So it was a horse with odd humps.

Similarly, he writes:
The Joseph story, if it has any historical basis at all, is perhaps a vague memory of events of the Hyksos era or perhaps even later.
This is called begging the question. This was the assumption, based on lack of other evidence. So dismiss the evidence because it contradicts the previous reconstruction? We can similarly dismiss any evidence of David's reign, because Biblical minimalists have determined that he did not exist, or if he did, he was a minor figure in some village somewhere.

Yes, it does not accord with existing notions, which makes it a rather important discovery. If true. Though he makes that point:
There is no archaeological evidence for the existence of Joseph as a real person and any such find would receive immediate, enthusiastic, international attention.
Of course, this might be the international attention. Of course, this might all be a hoax, or overblown. It seems somewhat likely to me. We'll have to see how it shapes up.


Arch said...

And how does he know that coins weren't invented before then? Because of existing archeological evidence! Which this would then contradict, as being earlier evidence!

That would be a good argument if we were talking about an isolated or relatively obscure culture. However, we're talking about Egypt - the most powerful, well-connected, most-traded-with, and most influential culture in the region.

If they had coins and used them in commerce, the idea would have become widespread then, not 1000 years later, as the archaeological evidence indicates.

Coins are also among the most well-traveled artifacts. Being made of precious metals, coins from differing lands could be used anywhere, unlike today, with coins being specific to the issuing countries. So they spread all over. However, there seems to be no record or these Egyptian coins either physically (the coins themselves) or in written records (litst of items left behind recording what was traded and what they were traded for, lists of treasury items, etc.) The MEMRI article mentions a "deben" but it appears that the researcher himself has defined the deben as a coin, not the written records that he is referring to. They could just as easily be referring to a measure.

I not that the article mentions that these objects were originally thought to be charms or ornaments, but that the proposers of the coin idea discard this idea. However, the presented reasons - oval shape, decorated on both sides, found in various locations, does not mean that they are not charms or votives. Various locations means nothing without context, which this article does not supply.

In fact the article mentions nothing about the archaeological context in which these "coins" were found. Without context, it is very hard to make an assesment about an artifact, let alone claim that it is an artifact that will revolutionize our numismatic timeline.

This, however, from MEMRI, is very telling:

" Another telling fact is that the coins come in different sizes and are made of different materials, including ivory, precious stones, copper, silver, gold, etc."

Small oval objects made out ot ivory and precious stones, in addition to silver and gold? That's a "telling fact" that they are amulets, not coins.

It reminds me of the claim that camels were not domesticated in ancient Mesopotamia in patriarchal times. Then, they discovered a figurine of a camel. But it couldn't be a camel, because camels had not been domesticated yet! So it was a horse with odd humps.

That's not a solid argument. We've seen figurines of whales, and no one has domesticated whales yet.

Lions, leopards, wolves, etc. have long been used in sculpture, but these animals have never been domesticated. Sure, the occaisional king had a lion or the like in his "collection", but they were, and are still, undomesticated creatures.

People making figurines or paintings of wild animals that they have seen but have not yet domesticated is not unusual at all.
We've been doing it since we invented art.

joshwaxman said...

"That would be a good argument if..."
a good, solid counter-argument. and i agree that it is not mere absence of evidence, but that we would have expected, etc. still, if the thinking does prevail when evaluating all sorts of new evidence, it would not allow the tide of evidence to turn.

and as i said, i am quite suspicious of this.

re: camels
"That's not a solid argument..."
I was not making an argument for or against domesticated camels, which, btw, i think opinion has shifted on. my point was to give an *actual* example in which a camel figurine was labeled as a horse, because of this type of thinking. fine, label it a camel and give the answer you gave. but that was not was done by the archaeologist in question. it was in fact labeled as a horse, and the thinking behind it was likely precisely what i delineated. so it is not a solid argument i am trying to present, but rather a description of the thinking process. at least if this website is to be believed. (scroll to about the middle.)

all the best,

yaak said...

How about Bereishit 47:14-18, which clearly mentions Kesef?

joshwaxman said...

well, kesef can mean either silver coins or simply silver. that can mean bars of silver, for example.

in chayei sarah, it says וַיִּשְׁקֹל אַבְרָהָם לְעֶפְרֹן אֶת-הַכֶּסֶף אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר. literally, this means that he weighed out the silver.

what to do with the midrash in the gemara that says "vayichan et pnei hair" means that Yaakov established coinage; well, either it is ahistorical and they didn't know it, or else it was intended allegorically, something i already had leanings towards in this particular case.

kol tuv,

yaak said...

Even if it means bars of silver, that disproves the barter system theory.

joshwaxman said...

unless they bartered for gold, which was a commodity. (but you are right, it would contradict the idea that it was solely a bartering system, if bars of gold were regularly used as a form of currency.)

one can say that it disproves the barter system theory. on the other hand, others will say that it disproves the authenticity of the Torah, since it contains an anachronism...


joshwaxman said...

discussion of silver ingots, by weight, can be seen here:

Russell said...

Great find! Won't be surprised if we find out who was Pharaoh at the time... None other than Joseph's son Menashe or Pharoah Menes

Anonymous said...

c'est très bien tout cela ,mais aujourd'hui ,peut-on avancer un nom pour le pharaon et son rêve ,car il était question de ça aussi dans l'article,si j'ai bonne mémoire?
Nous sommes en fin 2011 et personne à ma connaissance ne sait répondre à cette question? curieux?


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