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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.

Read more at theTorah.com

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

Mahmoud Abbas Comes to the UN to Walk away from the Negotiating Table

Feb. 22 2018

On Tuesday, the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, addressed the United Nations Security Council during one of its regular discussions of the “Palestine question.” He used the opportunity to elaborate on the Palestinians’ “5,000-year history” in the land of Israel, after which he moved on to demand—among other things—that the U.S. reverse its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The editors of the Weekly Standard comment:

It’s convenient for Abbas to suggest a condition to which he knows the United States won’t accede. It allows him to do what he does best—walk away from the table. Which is what he did on Tuesday, literally. After his speech, Abbas and his coterie of bureaucrats walked out of the council chamber, snubbing the next two speakers, the Israeli ambassador Danny Danon and the U.S. ambassador Nikki Haley, . . . [in order to have his] photograph taken with the Belgian foreign minister.

Abbas has neither the power nor the will to make peace. It’s the perennial problem afflicting Palestinian leadership. If he compromises on the alleged “right of return”—the chimerical idea that Palestinians can re-occupy the lands from which they [or their ancestors] fled, in effect obliterating the Israeli state—he will be deposed by political adversaries. Thus his contradictory strategy: to prolong his pageantry in international forums such as the UN, and to fashion himself a “moderate” even as he finances and incites terror. He seems to believe time is on his side. But it’s not. He’s eighty-two. While he continues his performative intransigence, he further immiserates the people he claims to represent.

In a sense, it was entirely appropriate that Abbas walked out. In that sullen act, he [exemplified] his own approach to peacemaking: when difficulties arise, vacate the premises and seek out photographers.

Read more at Weekly Standard

More about: Mahmoud Abbas, Nikki Haley, Politics & Current Affairs, United Nations