The limestone statue of an Asiatic man from Tell el-Dabca, also known as „Joseph statue”, was reconstructed from fragments found in three different tombs. The fragments were from the head, fist, fringe of garments, fragments of seat and base, right shoulder, and left foot. The statue is believed to be of a high official of Asiatic origin who lived in the late 12th Dynasty and resided in a palace at Avaris. It is thought that he was the founder of the settlement, which was made up of Semitic people from Palestine. The statue’s discovery has led to speculation that it could be the cult statue of the patriarch Joseph from Old Testament times.
The story of Joseph in Genesis is a well-known biblical tale that spans several chapters. Joseph is the favorite son of Jacob, and his brothers are jealous of him. They sell him into slavery in Egypt, where he becomes a servant in the house of Potiphar. Joseph is falsely accused of a crime and thrown into prison, but he interprets the dreams of two fellow prisoners, which eventually leads him to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. Joseph becomes Pharaoh’s second-in-command and saves Egypt from famine. His brothers come to Egypt seeking food, and Joseph reveals himself to them, forgives them, and brings his family to live in Egypt.
Who was Joseph?
Joseph is a very important figure in the Book of Genesis as he is one of the twelve sons of Jacob, who was later renamed Israel, and played a significant role in the history of the Israelites. According to the Bible, Joseph was favored by his father and had a special gift of interpreting dreams. His brothers were jealous of him and sold him into slavery in Egypt, where he rose to become a powerful advisor to the Pharaoh. Joseph’s wisdom and foresight saved Egypt from a seven-year famine and led to his family’s reunion and migration to Egypt. Joseph’s story is also significant because it foreshadows the Israelites’ eventual enslavement and exodus from Egypt.
How Joseph statue was discovered?
It all started with the discovery of a cemetery at Tell el-Dabca by the Austrian Archaeological Institute, containing tombs that date back to stratum d/2, which is the oldest cemetery unearthed at Tell el-Dabca to date. The cemetery is believed to have been used exclusively for funerary purposes, and an area of about 3500 m2 with 45 tombs have been excavated so far. The tombs are predominantly mud brick built chambers covered with mud brick vaults, which were set into pits, and most people were interred individually. The remaining funerary ensembles represent an intriguing mixture of Egyptian and non-Egyptian features, with overwhelming majority of the ceramic tomb goods being Egyptian in shape, fabric, and production, but specific symbolic goods, such as weaponry, are exclusively of Syro-Palestinian types. They start the reconstruction of a limestone statue of an Asiatic man found in the area, with fragments from various tombs. The cemetery continued to be used in the following stratum d/1, forming an elite and organized necropolis of homogenous appearance, focused on a palatial structure erected in the north, and thus dubbed “Palace Cemetery”. The older tombs of stratum d/2 were generally respected and not disturbed by new construction.
The archaeological context and possible original placement of a statue based on the discovery of its scattered fragments in plundered tombs from the late 12th Dynasty to the mid-13th Dynasty. The fragments include the head, right fist, fringes of garments, and parts of the inscribed base. It is suggested that the statue was originally set up in tomb p/19-Nr. 1 or tomb p/21-Nr. 1, both of which had large superstructures, but only the former contained fragments of the statue. The tomb had been completely plundered, and bone fragments from the burial chamber can be assigned to two individuals, an adult male and a mature female. Further fragments, such as a left foot, were discovered in other tombs in the same cemetery.
The reconstruction of the statue of an Asiatic man of Tell el-Dabca
- All that remains of the cult statue found in the pyramid tomb at Avaris is the upper part of the head and the right shoulder. The lower part of the face has been smashed off and the inlayed eyes gouged out.
- Across the right shoulder you can see the upper part of the official’s sceptre of office – in this case a ‘throw stick’ which was the symbol of an Asiatic (a foreigner from Palestine/Syria).
- Remnants of the original paint survive on the forehead and the neatly sculpted hair. The man was depicted with pale yellow complexion – the colour Egyptian artists used to distinguish northern foreigners from native Egyptians who were illustrated with brown complexions. The hair colour of the statue was flame red.
The first thing I had to do was to reconstruct the face. This was not such an easy task as I found it difficult to find an appropriate statue head that was in a reasonable enough state of preservation. I finally chose the famous statue of Osorkon I which was found at Byblos and now resides in the Louvre Museum in Paris. I pasted that into the statue head and repaired the nose with the following results.
It was then necessary to find a typical seated statue from the late Middle Kingdom to serve as the body of the statue. I chose the small statue of an Egyptian high official, named Nemtinakht, from the 13th Dynasty on exhibition in the Genf Museum. He is shown wearing a full-length cloak with the dedication inscription running down the centre in a vertical column of hieroglyphs.
The final step was to paint the statue in the typical colours of the day for Asiatic visitors to Egypt. The source for both the pattern and the colours was the famous wall painting from the tomb of Khnumhotep at Beni Hassan depicting a group of Asiatics entering Egypt. This painting would have been made just a generation before the time of Joseph in the New Chronology.
Putting all this together we end up with the restored statue of a high official of Asiatic origin who once lived in the eastern delta in the late 12th Dynasty. He resided in a palace at Avaris which had been constructed right at the beginning of the city’s life. In all probability he was the founder of the settlement – a settlement of semitic people from Palestine. This high official was buried in a pyramid tomb which, when opened by the Austrian archaeologists, was found to be empty, apart from the shattered remains of the statue. The big question is, could these broken fragments represent the surviving remains of one of the most valuable relics from Old Testament times – the cult statue of the patriarch Joseph? Time may eventually tell.
Unearthing the Secrets of Avaris:
The Astonishing Discovery of Joseph’s Statue in Ancient Egypt’s Semitic Palace and Tomb
Discover the incredible story of how the archaeological findings in Avaris point to the existence of Biblical Joseph and his Israelite family. Egyptologists David Rohl and Charles Aling discuss the discovery of a Semitic palace and tomb, as seen in the documentary ‘Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus’. Get ready to be amazed by the evidence that sheds new light on one of the most fascinating stories in human history.