Bible Commentary: Genesis 41

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Genesis 41

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Historical Evidence of the Famine and Joseph

When Joseph is 30, after another two years of imprisonment, God brings about another major step in the plan He is working out. He gives Pharaoh a prophetic dream that no one is able to explain. Finally, the butler remembers the amazing events relating to his prison dream and Joseph’s interpretation. Joseph is summoned by Pharaoh and tells him the meaning of his dream: Seven years of plenty were to be followed by seven years of famine.

Historical confirmation of this time of abundance succeeded by a long period of great food shortage is believed to exist. The following is from a book titled The Signature of God by Grant Jeffrey, 1996, pages 42-43:

A fascinating inscription confirming the Bible’s account of the “seven years of great plenty” followed by the “seven years of famine” (Genesis 41:29-30) was discovered during the nineteenth century in southern Saudi Arabia. This inscription was found on a marble tablet in a ruined fortress on the seashore of Hadramaut in present-day Democratic Yemen. An examination of the writing suggests that it was written [in the patriarchal age]…. This inscription was rendered in Arabic by Professor Schultens and was later translated into English by Rev. Charles Forster. This is his translation of this ancient inscription:

We dwelt at ease in this castle a long tract of time;

nor had we a desire but for the region-lord of the vineyard.

Hundreds of camels returned to us each day at evening,

their eye pleasant to behold in their resting-places.

And twice the number of our camels were our sheep,

in comeliness like white does, and also the slow moving kine.

We dwelt in this castle seven years of good life

—how difficult for memory its description!

Then came years barren and burnt up:

when one evil year had passed away,

then came another to succeed it.

And we became as though we had never seen a glimpse of good.

They died and neither foot nor hoof remained.

Thus fares it with him who renders not thanks to God:

His footsteps fail not to be blotted out from his dwelling.

While remarkable, this should not surprise us too much. After all, the Bible is the Word of God—and it is true despite the arguments of skeptics. The following is also taken from The Signature of God, pages 44-45:

As the book of Genesis recorded, the seven-year famine was so severe in Egypt that Joseph, as chief administrator, had to be very careful in selling food from the precious grain reserves to satisfy the hunger of all the inhabitants of the surrounding countries. Joseph could not sell the grain reserves of Egypt for gold and silver to everyone because of the danger that the grain would run out. When the famine was at its peak, grain was much more valuable than gold or money.

Explorers during the last century discovered a number of other fascinating ancient inscriptions in the Middle East that provided confirmation of facts recorded in the sacred Scriptures…. The greatest treasure of all was a fascinating engraved stone tablet [found in the tomb of a rich Yemenite noblewoman of the patriarchal age] bearing her final inscription which confirmed the biblical account of Joseph’s careful management of the remaining food reserves during the seven years of famine in Egypt.

A Yemenite Inscription About a Famine During the Time of Joseph

In thy name O God, the God of Hamyar,

I Tajah, the daughter of Dzu Shefar, sent my steward to Joseph,

And he delaying to return to me, I sent my hand maid

With a measure of silver, to bring me back a measure of flour:

And not being able to procure it, I sent her with a measure of gold:

And not being able to procure it, I sent her with a measure of pearls:

And not being able to procure it, I commanded them to be ground:

And finding no profit in them, I am shut up here.

Whosoever may hear of it, let him commiserate me;

And should any woman adorn herself with an ornament

From my ornaments, may she die with no other than my death.

(reported in Niebuhr’s Voyage en Arabie, PL. LIX.

Translation by Rev. Charles Forster).

It should be noted here that the above translation appears quite credible, since Frieslander Carsten Niebuhr was a respected pioneer in archaeological exploration of the Middle East and in translating inscriptions found there, having accurately translated many from ancient Persepolis.

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