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 Impossibility of Unilateral Withdrawal from the West Bank

Feb. 19 2019

Since throwing his hat into the ring for the Israeli premiership, the former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz has been reticent about his policy plans. Nonetheless, he has made clear his openness to unilateral disengagement from the West Bank along the lines of the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, stating the necessity of finding “a way in which we’re not controlling other people.” Gershon Hacohen argues that any such plan would be ill-advised:

The political and strategic precepts underlying the Oslo “peace” process, which Gantz echoes, vanished long ago. The PLO has unequivocally revealed its true colors: its total lack of interest in peace, unyielding rejection of the idea of Jewish statehood, and incessant propensity for violence and terrorism. . . . Tehran is rapidly emerging as regional hegemon, with its tentacles spreading from Yemen and Iraq to the Mediterranean Sea and its dogged quest for nuclear weapons continuing apace under the international radar. Even the terror groups Hizballah and Hamas pose a far greater threat to Israel’s national security than they did a decade ago. Under these circumstances, Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank’s Area C, [the only part still under direct Israeli control], would constitute nothing short of an existential threat.

Nor does Israel need to find a way to stop “controlling other people,” as Gantz put it, for the simple reason that its control of the Palestinians ended some two decades ago. In May 1994 the IDF withdrew from all Palestinian population centers in the Gaza Strip. In January 1996 it vacated the West Bank’s populated areas (the Oslo Accords’ Areas A and B), comprising over 90 percent of the West Bank’s Palestinian residents, and handed control of that population to the Palestinian Authority (PA). . . .

This in turn means that the real dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as within Israel itself, no longer revolves around the end of “occupation” but around the future of eastern Jerusalem and Area C. And since Area C (which is home to only 100,000 Palestinians) includes all the Jewish West Bank localities, IDF bases, transportation arteries, vital topographic sites, and habitable empty spaces between the Jordan Valley and the Jerusalem metropolis, its continued retention by Israel is a vital national interest. Why? Because its surrender to a potentially hostile Palestinian state would make the defense of the Israeli hinterland virtually impossible—and because these highly strategic and sparsely populated lands are of immense economic, infrastructural, communal, ecological, and cultural importance, not to mention their historical significance as the bedrock of the Jewish ancestral homeland

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More about: Benny Gantz, Israel & Zionism, Two-State Solution, West Bank