How the Torah Uses Egyptian Words and Customs to Color the Joseph Story

Dec. 22 2017

This week’s Torah reading of Vayigash concludes the narrative of Joseph’s rivalry with his brothers, his ascent from Egyptian slave to Pharaoh’s vizier, and his eventual reconciliation with his estranged brothers. Examining the various literary techniques employed in this text, Gary Rendsburg notes the frequent use of Egyptian words and reference to Egyptian custom. For instance:

The term aḥu appears in [Pharaoh’s] dream about the cows. It derives from the Egyptian word meaning “reed-grass.” Pharaoh [also] grants Joseph the Egyptian name Tsafnat Pa’neaḥ [after making him his chief adviser]. The name is meaningless in Hebrew, but it reads well as the Hebraized form of the Egyptian phrase “the god says, ‘he has life.’” Many readers will recognize the Egyptian word ʿnḫ, “life” (usually anglicized as ankh) preserved in the final three consonants of the Hebrew phrase. . . .

[Similarly], in ancient Egypt, dream interpretation was a valued art; in fact, we possess two extensive dream-interpretation manuals from ancient Egypt. . . . It is no surprise, [then], that the largest concentration of dreams and dream interpretation in the Bible takes place in the Joseph narrative: his own two dreams in Genesis 37, the dreams of his two fellow prisoners in chapter 40, and Pharaoh’s dreams in chapter 41.

[Furthermore], Joseph shaves before his audience with Pharaoh. This reflects the fact that Israelite and other Semitic adult males wore beards, but the Egyptians were clean-shaven. Thus begins Joseph’s acculturation process, as he commences the transformation from a Hebrew lifestyle to an Egyptian one.

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More about: Ancient Egypt, Hebrew Bible, Joseph, Religion & Holidays

The Dangers of Diplomacy with Iran

Aug. 21 2018

Although President Trump’s offer to meet with President Rouhani of the Islamic Republic was rejected, the possibility of direct negotiations remains. Ray Takeyh and Mark Dubowitz warn that Tehran could use talks to stall and gain leverage over Washington:

The mullahs understand that just by staying at the table, Americans usually offer up concessions. [They] are betting that the Trump administration may become weaker over time, preoccupied with domestic politics. Best to entangle America in protracted diplomacy while awaiting what the regime expects will be midterm Republican losses in Congress and the return of a more flexible Democratic president to power in 2021. This is what [Supreme Leader Ali] Khamenei probably meant when he stressed that negotiations have to wait until America is softened up.

Diplomacy would surely blunt the impact of U.S. pressure. The mullahs believe they can undermine the escalation of [U.S.] sanctions by being diplomatically flirtatious and know well that America seldom disrupts negotiations with military action. Indeed, as a prelude to the talks, Iran may even resume its nuclear activities to frighten the Europeans and gain leverage by putting even more pressure on Washington to adjust its red lines.

Should negotiations begin, the Trump team should take sensible precautions to avoid the predicament of the Obama negotiators. The administration will need to maintain its maximum-pressure campaign and its negotiating demands. . . . Any negotiations with the Islamic Republic should be time-limited, and Washington must be prepared to leave the table when it confronts the usual pattern of regime bombast and mendacity.

Donald Trump should insist on direct talks with the supreme leader, as he did with North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un: Rouhani is a lame duck without any real influence. The administration also should demand that Europeans join its sanctions policy targeting Iran’s ballistic-missile program, support for terrorism, and human-rights abuses as a price for their participation in the talks.

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More about: Ali Khamenei, Donald Trump, Hassan Rouhani, Iran, U.S. Foreign policy