The Big-Ears Pharaoh

The Bible in the British Museum

© The Trustees of the British Museum

This is Senusret III, also known as Sesostris III.  This statue is in Room 4 in the British Museum.

All our sculptures of Sesostris III have two distinctive features.  The first is the expression on his face, which different people have described as “care-worn,” “somber,” or “grave” — no one knows why.

The second?  His statues have massive ears (click through on the picture to see better).  Other Twelfth Dynasty Pharaohs have big-eared statues, so he isn’t unique, but Sesostris III seems to set the standard.  Again, no one knows why — but there may be a story here, if he is the Pharaoh of Joseph’s time.

Joseph’s Pharaoh?  The Dates Seem to Match

© The Trustees of the British Museum

This statue of Sesostris / Senusret III (also in Room 4) is more famous than the one above — I thought I’d give both.

Was this the Pharaoh who knew Joseph?  No one knows, but there are reasons to believe it might have been “Big Ears.”

Babylonian records date Jerusalem’s fall in 586 B.C.   Using the records of Kings and Chronicles, the start of Solomon’s reign was 970-960 B.C.  Then, I Kings 6 takes us back 480 years to the Exodus from Egypt, about 1445 B.C.:

I Kings 6:1

And it came to pass in the four hundred and eightieth year after the children of Israel were come out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month Zif, which is the second month, that he began to build the house of the LORD.

Israel was in Egypt 430 years, starting in 1875 B.C.:

Exodus 12:40-41

40 Now the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years.
41 And it came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty years, even the selfsame day it came to pass, that all the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt.

Here (1875 B.C.) is where it is a little uncertain.  Galatians 3:17 could mean this date is Abraham’s.  Or, it may be the date Jacob (rather than Joseph) entered Egypt.  So it isn’t ironclad — but 1875 B.C. is probably near the time Joseph entered Egypt.

If Biblical dating has some uncertainty, so also does Egyptian chronology.  The most common guess is that our big-eared Pharaoh, Senusret III, reigned from about 1880 to 1840 B.C. (partly co-regent with his son) — about the same time as Joseph.

Senusret’s Egypt and Joseph’s Egypt

Genesis 39:4

And Joseph found grace in his sight, and he served him: and he made him overseer over his house, and all that he had he put into his hand.

Joseph (an Asiatic) was a household slave.  A papyrus (Brooklyn Museum) from this period shows that Asiatic slaves in Egypt in the XII-XIIIth Dynasty often had less onerous tasks than native Egyptian slaves, and many had the title “Household Servant” (Associates for Biblical Research).

Genesis 39:20

And Joseph’s master took him, and put him into the prison, a place where the king’s prisoners were bound: and he was there in the prison.

The same papyrus tells of prisons in Egypt in this time-period.  This was very rare in the Ancient Near East — if there was a prison, it was usually a debtor’s prison.

Genesis 41:14

Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him hastily out of the dungeon: and he shaved himself, and changed his raiment, and came in unto Pharaoh.

Senusret III (as with all native Egyptians) is clean-shaven — Egyptian Pharaohs wore false beards.  Joseph shaved before appearing before Pharaoh (suggesting a native Egyptian Pharaoh, which fits Senusret’s date for Joseph).

Genesis 47:20

And Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh; for the Egyptians sold every man his field, because the famine prevailed over them: so the land became Pharaoh’s.

Senusret broke the power of the feudal nobility (Encyclopaedia Britannica) — no one knows how.  If Senusret III was Joseph’s Pharaoh, perhaps Genesis 47:20 explains it.

So, was Senusret III the Pharaoh who knew Joseph?  We can’t know for sure, but many things in the Biblical account fit his time period.

Those Ears?

Edwards and Anderson speculate that Senusret’s statues may have had huge ears because he wanted to be known as a ruler who listened to his people.  Joseph’s Pharaoh listened to wise counsel, and showed concern for his people by putting aside food for them for the lean years to come.  He listened even when a Hebrew slave came out of prison with a message from a foreign God — a God who could send dreams, and give their interpretation.

A wise ruler who listens just might be able to unite his people, quell fractious nobles, become one of the most powerful Pharaohs ever, conquer enemies, and bring in peace and prosperity — and that’s what Sesostris III accomplished.  We don’t know for sure who Joseph’s Pharaoh was, but maybe there really is something to those big ears.

***

Sources for this series:

Summary post for the series, with links to other articles on Bible-related artefacts:
The Bible in the British Museum

About Jon Gleason

Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
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10 Responses to The Big-Ears Pharaoh

  1. Patrick Heeney says:

    Love this series Bro Jon! Keep going!

  2. Lujack Skylark says:

    I agree Senusret III is the pharoah Joseph first served. Genesis 47:13-17 states the Canaanite Hyksos exchanged horses for bread. A horse skeleton was found at Buhen Nubia dated to Senusret III’s reign. Check out: http://www.danielpipes.org/comments/195225 (&) http://www.danielpipes.org/comments/195173 for a complete match in Egyptian and Israel’s history.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Thank you for the comment and the links. (I edited the links to make it easier for people to click through and read them.

      Interesting reading. There are enough uncertainties about the Egyptian records that a “complete match” may be a step too far, but as I said previously in my Rosetta Stone post, Egyptian history has opened up a lot of understanding of historical details.

      Your links date Solomon about fifty years earlier than most conservative Biblical scholars do. Do you have support for that date? Most scholars use known dates from Babylonian / Assyrian history (which can be pinned down because of references to eclipses) to identify the date of the Babylonian Captivity, and then work backwards to Solomon using the records of Kings / Chronicles.

      The first link appears to refer the 430 years to Abraham’s visit, not Joseph or Jacob. I’m not sure I agree.

      It’s an interesting study. I wish I had more time for it.

      • Lujack Skylark says:

        I used the 586 B.C. date as most historians do as Solomon’s Temple destruction and using the reign of the Judah kings running them backwards Solomon’s reign is 1019-979 B.C. according to the reign of years given in the books of Kings and Chronicles. Rehoboam’s 5th year would be 974 B.C. (1 Kings 14:25) some 521 years after the Exodus. Egyptian king Shishak attacks Jerusalem in the 521st year and Shishak died a few months later. Running the reign of Egyptian kings backwards Thutmose III dies in 1495 B.C. not 1434 B.C. Egyptian king Akenaton’s reign is then 1424-1407 B.C. Assyrian king Ashur-Uballit then reigns 1413-1376 B.C. Ashur-Uballit gives Akenaton tribute. The Assyrian kings reign…
        Enlil Nirari II 1375-1364 B.C. Arik-Dan-ill 1363-1350 B.C.Adad-Nirari I 1349-1315 B.C. Shalmanesar I 1314-1284 B.C. Tukulti-Ninurta I 1283-1247 B.C. wars with the Syrians children of the East who flee into Israel and Egypt. (Judges 6:3) Ashur-Nadin-Apal 1246-1229 B.C. Ashur-Nirari III 1228-1221 B.C. Enlil-Kudur-Usur 1220-1216 B.C. Ninurta-Apal-Ekur 1215-1202 B.C. Ashur-Dan I 1201-1156 B.C. Ashur-Reshi-Ishi 1155-1138 B.C. Tiglath-Pilesar I 1137-1099 B.C.
        Ashur-Apal-Ekur 1098-1096 B.C. Ashur-Bel-Kala 1095-1078 B.C. Enlil-Rabi 1077-1071 B.C. Eriba-Adad 1070-1065 B.C. Shamshi-Adad 1064-1059 B.C. Ashur-Nasir-Pal 1058-1040 B.C. only able to defend Assyria’s original borders from the Aramaen/Syrians. King David 1059-1019 B.C. won victory over the Aramaen/Syrians. Shalmanesar II 1039-1028 B.C. Ashur-Nirari IV 1027-1022 B.C. Ashur-Rabi II 1021-981 B.C. Ashur-Reshi 980-976 B.C. Tiglath-Pilesar II 975-944 B.C. Ashur-Dan II 943-921 B.C. Adad-Nirari II 920-900 B.C. Tukulti-Ninurta II 899-893 B.C. receives inlaid ivory furniture from Phoenicia. Israel’s king Ahab 921-899 B.C. built the House of Ivory. (1 Kings 22:39) Ashur-Nasir-Pal 892-868 B.C. Shalmanesar III 867-833 B.C. Shamshi-Adad 832-820 B.C. Adad-Nirari III 819-792 B.C. Shalmanesar IV 791-781 B.C. Ashur-Dan III 780-763 B.C. Ashur-Nirari V 762-754 B.C. Tiglath-Pilesar III 753-734 B.C. has a military alliance with Judah’s king Ahaz 741-725 B.C. Assyrian king Shalmanesar V 733-729 B.C. Sargon II 728-712 B.C. destroys Ashdod Israel in 727 B.C. Egyptian pharoah Shabaka loses a war against Sargon II as Isaiah 20:1-5 indicates. Sennacherib 711-688 B.C. army destroyed in 711 B.C. when he tries to take over Jerusalem in king Hezekiah’s 14 year. Hezekiah 725-696 B.C. Assyrian king Esarhaddon 687-676 B.C. Ashur-banipal 675-633 B.C. Assyrian kings Ashur-Etil-Llani and Sin-Shar-Ishkun 632-629 B.C. Sin-Shar-Ishkun 628-612 B.C. Ashur-Uballit II 611-605 B.C. general who retreats to Haran. Babylonian king Nabopolassar and Ummanmandu attack his forces and they are repelled. Assyrian troops retreat to Charchemish in 608 B.C. Pharoah Necho II (2 Chronicles 35:20) slays Israel’s king Josiah in 608 B.C. Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar destroys the Assyrians and their Egyptian allies in 605 B.C. I hope you like the research.

      • Jon Gleason says:

        Well, interesting. You’ve obviously spent a lot more time on the Egyptian and Assyrian historical chronology than I have. The experts are divided, because Manetho obviously isn’t fully reliable. It would be easier to nail it down if the Scriptures named the earlier Pharaohs, but they don’t.

        I do think you are off a little bit on the time of Solomon. There are some co-regencies in there that I suspect you are missing. But it’s a very busy week for me (baptismal service Sunday, and other stuff happening as well), so it may have to wait until next week before I can take the time to write on it.

  3. Lujack Skylark says:

    The Saudi Arabians are spending a great deal of money trying to discredit our Bible. The Palestinians are even claiming Moses and Jesus were Palestinians. I am interested in showing the Bible as a historical accurate book while secular writers write the Bible as being a book of myths and mere legends. Thank you for taking an interest in history.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      It’s a worthwhile task, if you have the time to put into it. You probably read my post on a Clay Cylinder and Skepticism and Apologetics. If not, I’d encourage you to read it. Essentially, what you are describing is an apologetics task, which is worthwhile but has its limits.

      I operate primarily under the approach that the truth and historicity of the Bible can be supported but can never really be proven. The skeptics will always find a reason to disbelieve, and believers will always accept it as true even when we can’t find external evidence to prove everything.

      Do you have your own site?

  4. Lujack Skylark says:

    I don’t have my own site yet. I just study ancient history. I was surprised historians never correlated Assyrian, Babylonian,Biblical,Egyptian,Hittite and Mitanni history together. This history confirms the accuracy of our Bible and the historical accuracy of our Bible shown to our world might lead some to reject the Moslem revisionist whom write non-Moslems out of history stating Moses and Jesus Christ as Palestinians. What is to counter false history? Real history. How does the non-believer in Israel believe the Jews lived in Israel in ancient times? History. Sure many people today do not like history but a few will believe and to those few, they will discover the truth. People should know the truth about Israel. Its 2012 and the historical connections should be made. And they who turn many to righteousness will shine like the stars in heaven…taking action at a time when knowledge shall be increased..(Daniel 12:3-4) Shouldn’t we increase knowledge?

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