I read an article by a Christian scholar who believes the Egyptian God Imhotep to be none other than Joseph in the Bible, deified and exaggerated to fit Egyptian beliefs. The step pyramid, which was the first pyramid to ever be built in Egypt, is historically credited by the Egyptians to be the work of Imhotep, one of the very few Egyptian Gods to actually be living among them. This scholar claims, contrary to popular opinion, that the step pyramid was not built as a place for the tombs of kings (like all of the other pyramids). Instead it was built to store large amounts of food such as grain, which was found inside the very large bins within the pyramid. It was one of the most interesting articles supporting Biblical events that I have ever read.
The reason I am so eager to find evidence of this event and the whole reason I started looking into ancient Egyptian history in search of clues, is because my history teacher (a 22 year professor at Cal State Fullerton and now volunteering to teach at Saddleback college) recently stated in class that he doubts the famine in Genesis ever happened because there has never been more than a two or three year drought near the nile river in all of antiquity. If it is not too much to answer me, please respond. I am interested to hear your thoughts.
I am afraid you are the victim or two biased people. On the one hand, there are believers who concoct wild ideas out of their head in the hopes that they will get a little bit of fame and perhaps find some support for the biblical stories where there is none. On the other hand there are those who do not believe in God, who take it as their goal to undermine faith in the Bible at every turn. I believe you would do well to take what both of these men say with one very large grain of salt.
About the first claim, I believe this is a case of argument by scenario. In other words, someone concocts an interesting story and then filters through all evidence, legitimate or otherwise, in order to create support for a theory which, if viewed by reputable scholars, will fall apart completely. I have seen this pattern dozens of times. One of the favorite mines for such wild ideas is Egyptology. Some people have the idea that we know a lot about the history of Egypt. In some sense that is true. Because of the treasure trove of archaeological information from Egypt we know quite a bit about the culture and the religion of the country. What we know surprisingly little about is the detailed history of Egypt. There are whole sections of the timeline of Egyptian history about which we know very little if anything.
Now, let us for a moment consider the possibility that the step pyramid was built to store grain. First of all, I am EXTREMELY doubtful about this. A pyramid is a very poor structure for storing grain. Bottom line, pyramids are not particularly hollow. They are almost solid structures with relatively small hollowed out rooms or tunnels. I believe you should check out for yourself why virtually all scholars reject this idea. Second of all–and this is an even bigger caveat–is that even if the step pyramid was used to store grain, this would give rather scant evidence for the story in Genesis. If one can prove that at some point in their history the Egyptians stored large amounts of grain, that would not prove that the story of Jospeph is true. I urge you to check out with a skeptical eye the claim that there were "large bins with grain in them" in the step pyramid. This is almost certainly either a bold faced lie or an carefully contrived misstatement.
I wish I could say that I believe this "Christian scholar," but unless he can supply hard evidence, which I doubt very much he can, you would do well to not go with his theory. I myself wish that evidence would be discovered which supports the claim that Joseph did in fact do what is described in Genesis, but I am skeptical of unsubstantiated claims. There is a long history of believers hearing such a scenario with scanty evidence and pushing it forward as fact, only to have to retract later.
As for the gentleman at Saddleback (by the way, I used to teach at Saddleback), I believe you can assume that he is just about equally biased against the Bible and the story of the coming of Joseph and Jacob to Egypt. To be honest, I believe his comment will hold up better to the evidence than those of the person who claims that Imhotep is Joseph. Bottom line, we do not have smoking gun evidence of the presence of Joseph in Egypt. Bear in mind that these events happened around 1800 BC. We know relatively little details about what was happening at that early date.
As for his claim, what he is saying is that we do not have any hard evidence of a drought which extended for seven years. The leap from saying that we do not have a record of a seven year drought to the statement that it never happened. If all he is saying is that we do not know of an extended seven year drought then that is fine. However, lack of evidence is not evidence of lack. In other words just because we have not yet found a clear cut inscription mentioning a seven hear drought does not mean it did not happen. There are stretches of several dozens of years in the history of Egypt about which we know almost nothing. It is a large and unjustified leap from saying that so far we do not know of such a drought to stating that, therefore, the story of Joseph is probably not true.
There are plenty of events recorded in the Old Testament about which we have good, solid archaeological evidence. You can go to the power point "History, Archaeology and the Bible" at my web site for a number of examples. We have proof that David lived, that Hezekiah defended Jerusalem, that Jehu offered tribute to Sennacherib and dozens of other Old Testament events. We have suggestive evidence for such events as the conquest of Canaan under Joshua, the destruction of Soddom and Gomorrah and others. However, if we do not at this time have direct evidence to support the story of Joseph in Egypt, this does not mean that it did not happen. In fact, the general accuracy of biblical history lends credence to this event. However, do not forget that to a significant extent we believe many of the events recorded in the Old Testament on the authority of the Bible itslef. Like it or not, belief in many of the events recorded in Genesis needs to be based on faith–on the inspiration of the Bible.
Like you, I would really be encouraged to have direct evidence of Joseph. However, I believe it is irresponsible to form and publish theories such as the one about Imhotep. This tends to make Christians look foolish and blatanty biased, which does not help skeptics come to belief.
That is my view on the issue.
John Oakes, PhD