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.
Sign Up For Our E-Mail List Get the latest from Mosaic right in your inbox
Sign up now for unlimited access