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I was reading an article today on circumcision a news website I frequent. It displayed a picture from the tomb of Ankhmahor, a high ranking Egyptian official that was, apparently, responsible for mass circumcisions in Egypt. This is the earliest archeological evidence we have for Bris Milah.

My mind immediately went to the story about how Yosef demanded that the Mitzrim circumcise themselves in order to receive grain from his storehouse during the famine. There are other significant similarities between the two personalities which lead me to wonder:

Is it possible to identify the historic Ankhmahor with the biblical Yosef?

More details: Ankhmahor is similar to Imhotep his importance to Egypt, he was called "first" to Pharoah (Yosef was called Av), called "physician" even though he wasn't. The first scene in his tomb is agricultural (referencing the feast/famine?), followed by artisans presenting goods (amassing egyptian wealth), followed by circumcision. Seems to fit the structure of Chumash. Like Imhotep, he was known as a "Ra priest." Imhotep's tomb is unknown, but rumored to be in Saqqara like Ankhmahor's tomb. Ankhmahor's tomb has extremely strong words for people disturbing it, but I can't find anything about the condition of his mummy, or whether it even exists (possibly taken out of egypt?).

But it was really the circumcision that drove the comparison home for me and made everything click.

  • The Torah says Paroh called him "Tzafnat Pane'ach". – Scimonster Feb 24 '15 at 21:15
  • Ive seen suggestions that Joseph was Imhotep. He was a great builder and genius who was second to Phoaroh and considered almost a God to the egyptians – Shoel U'Meishiv Feb 24 '15 at 21:19
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    Dating the Egyptian dynasties is rough. But from the most recent opinions, this Ankhmahor would be 500-600 years too early. – user6591 Feb 24 '15 at 21:27
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    Can an answer to this question be anything more than speculation? – Yishai Feb 24 '15 at 21:39
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    well, a person more knowledgeable than I could discuss what we know about the timelines and see whether one or another answer is plausible. It's technically easy disprove plausibility if there's no way the chronology would work out, it contradicts other evidence, etc. – Isaac Kotlicky Feb 24 '15 at 23:46
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I'll give it a try. There are some inaccuracies in your question that should be clarified before considering the question of Ankhmahor as Yosef.

  1. This is not "the earliest archeological evidence we have for Bris Milah." It was once thought to be, but that award now goes to a recently discovered relief fragment of two children being circumcised, found in the pyramid of king Djedkare from the 5th Dynasty. The children are either from the king's family or of the king with his ka. In any case, the depiction is in a funerary temple and part of the divine-birth myth often attributed to such kings.
  2. The tomb of Ankhmahor is no longer considered a depiction of circumcision. It was once thought to be, but most Egyptologists currently understand the scene as a depiction of pubic shaving as part of the ritual purification of a funerary priest (Grunert, Megahed) or an operation for treating a foreskin infection called paraphimosis (Spiegelman).

Even if we rule out the circumcision, it would be hard to prove Yosef's identity one way or the other. Apart from the evidence you provide in your question, here is more information that supports or detracts from the Yosef assertion:

  • There is no body in the sarcophagus because it was robbed. It's not clear when this happened, but the robbers made a large, round hole in order to physically remove Ankhmahor's body.
  • All Egyptologists agree the tomb is from the Sixth Dynasty, between Teti's reign to Pepy I. As mentioned in the comments, this complicates the match with Yosef by hundreds of years.
  • Ankmahor has at least four sons depicted in his tomb.
  • If Ankhmahor was Yosef, it would make sense that Ankhmahor's most frequent title was "Zzj Sesi," described as "his beautiful name." Perhaps related to Yosef as yefeh to'ar vifeh mareh.
  • His other titles, "overseer of works," "overseer of the great court," "master architect of the king," indicate that he was a vizier of the king.

All that said, considering the chronology and the circumcision debunking, there does not seem much to argue in favor of the position that Ankhmahor is Yosef.

Sources

My sources are academic, so their links won't work unless you have institutional/library database access. But here are the articles I refer to.

  • Grunert, Stefan. "Nicht nur sauber, sonder rein. Rituelle Reinigungsanweisungen aus dem Grab des Ankhmahor in Saqqara." Studien zur Altägyptischen Kultur (2002): 137-151.
  • Kanawati, Naguib. "The Teti Cemetery at Saqqara, v. 2: The tomb of Ankhmahor." Australian Center for Egyptology Reports 9.
  • Megahed, Mohamed, and Hana Vymazalová. "Ancient Egyptian royal circumcision from the pyramid complex of Djedkare." Anthropologie 49.2 (2011): 155-164.
  • Spiegelman, M. "The Circumcision Scene in the Tomb of Ankhmahor: The First Record of Emergency Surgery." The Bulletin of the Australian Centre for Egyptology 8 (1997): 91-100.
  • Thank you for the week written answer! Can you provide links for some of your sources on this? – Isaac Kotlicky Jun 28 '15 at 11:41
  • @IsaacKotlicky: I added the sources to my answer. – Aryeh Jun 28 '15 at 12:36
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    Well done! At least I can read the abstracts... How do you know so much about academic Egyptology? – Isaac Kotlicky Jun 28 '15 at 17:22
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    I really liked your question, so I went to my university library to find as much as I could on the current scholarship of Ankhmahor. That took some time, but was a worthwhile adventure. – Aryeh Jun 28 '15 at 18:29

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