Dating the Joseph Story (Part 1)

Putting the puzzle pieces together

Okay, so before we go any further, I guess now is the time to address the elephant in the room.

If you’ve been reading my blog posts with a critical eye, you’ve probably started to wonder:

Wait. Is she treating the Bible as a historically-accurate document?

I am aware that doing so is something that is near-sacrilege in the academic community, and, to be frank, it is not popular in certain parts of the religious community, either. I am also aware that how I answer this question will determine for some people whether or not they continue reading this blog.

Here is my answer.


I am treating the Bible as a historically-accurate document, and not just as “a book of wisdom and parables”.


Because I don’t think God is a liar.

Why would God give us a book of wisdom and parables that treats every fake story in it as historical fact? How is that anything near wise? And if it were parables, I’m pretty sure it would say so, since every time Jesus uses a parable in the Bible, the text is very clear that this is a parable.

Now, I am not saying that the Bible is not a literary document. It employs metaphor; anyone who reads it can see that. But I am saying that one can tell the difference between the figurative language and the text meant to be historical documentation. Whether or not you go with the idea of historicity is up to you, but God gave us that book with no fine print about “feigning historicity for effect” attached.

I could go on this tangent for a long while and drag in archaeological and historical research, and if anyone wants me to, let me know in the comments. Just don’t be mean about it. I love discussion and discourse. I’m simply not into internet trolls masquerading as academics, or academics moonlighting as internet trolls.

In the meantime, if you’re still with me here (either because you’re down with treating the Bible as a historical document or chill with me doing it, kudos for either) I wanted to talk about when I decided to set the Joseph story historically, and why.

Please note that I am not trying to date our earliest-known writings of the story, since that is its own can of worms and the earliest text we have is not necessarily the earliest text that ever existed. Wars over dating lexical structure and literary style are never any fun anyway.

What I am trying to do here is to show you the strategy I used to get a ballpark estimate for the time the story took place. Note that there are multiple ways to do this based on your interpretation of Biblical dates and what they refer to. This is strictly my thought process, though others have arrived at similar conclusions (and many have arrived at different ones). Not also that I said ballpark. Because that’s all we have here, folks, when push comes to shove.

Important Date 1:

The reign of King Solomon. Scholars ballpark his reign as beginning in the mid-900s BC based on Babylonian records and Biblical chronology. The Bible gives a further dating point for his reign because he was the King who built the First Temple (for reference, the famous Wailing Wall in Jerusalem is the only remnant of the Second Temple). In 1 Kings 6:1, the Bible says that this building project began 480 years after Moses did the whole “Let my people go” thing.

Important Date 2:

Exodus 12:40 also says that the Hebrew people were living in Egypt for 430 years, until Moses did his thing.

Why were they in Egypt?


This places Joseph in Egypt (again, ballpark, mind you) around 1880 BC. Otherwise known as the 12th Dynasty, Middle Kingdom.

This is a relatively unknown time to us in certain respects, since the 12th Dynasty capital, Itjtawy, has never been discovered, though archaeologists have a pretty good idea where it is and preliminary exploration and satellite imagery seem to agree they’re on the right track.

When I explored the idea of placing Joseph here (there’s other schools of thought that would place him elsewhere in time due to different interpretations of the dates above), there were some fun results.

Again, this is all ballparking, but some funny things happened in Egypt that I thought could feasibly be natural consequences of placing Joseph during this time. At first I thought I could list them all in this post, but the chain reaction of “funny things” is actually rather long. SO, join me next time if you want to watch me get super nerdy about archaeology and ancient history.

I hope you do!

(Do you have any questions you want me to answer? Topics you want me to cover? Comment below, and don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @headdeskliz .)

Published by headdeskliz

Elizabeth Jacobson is the author of Not by Sight: a novel of the patriarchs. She lives and teaches in sunny California and loves fantasy, science fiction, and historically-based Christian fiction. She has multiple other titles in the works.

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