The Yosef Coins

Beware of Egyptians bearing gifts.

Coming from different circles, the archeological news last week would have been intriguing and welcome. Finding physical evidence of events in Chumash is always exciting. This is all the more so in the face of the previous certainty of many archeologists that the stories in Bereishis did not match what they thought were the established conditions of the times. Al-Ahram last week (cited by MEMRI) announced that what had previously been thought to be charms were actually coins, proving that Egyptian culture in Pharaoic times had advanced beyond barter commerce to a system of currency. Remarkably, the Egyptians reported that these coins included some that bore the name of Yosef.

The researcher identified coins from many different periods, including coins that bore special markings identifying them as being from the era of Joseph. Among these, there was one coin that had an inscription on it, and an image of a cow symbolizing Pharaoh’s dream about the seven fat cows and seven lean cows, and the seven green stalks of grain and seven dry stalks of grain. It was found that the inscriptions of this early period were usually simple, since writing was still in its early stages, and consequently there was difficulty in deciphering the writing on these coins. But the research team [managed to] translate [the writing on the coin] by comparing it to the earliest known hieroglyphic texts…

Joseph’s name appears twice on this coin, written in hieroglyphs: once the original name, Joseph, and once his Egyptian name, Saba Sabani, which was given to him by Pharaoh when he became treasurer. There is also an image of Joseph, who was part of the Egyptian administration at the time.

They do not provide a source for the Joseph story. It would appear that more of them are using Artscroll than we are using the Koran, since the latter does not seem to include Yosef’s history, at least not according to the multiple search engines I tried, using several keywords.

This report might be more welcome news if any importance could be attached to the findings of Egyptian researchers. There may very well be decent people among them, but their leadership casts significant doubt upon seeing them as a serious bunch.

Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt is a frequent TV spokesman for Egyptian archeology. Earlier this year, he aired his views about Jews, a topic he had obviously given much thought and treated to objective historical research:

For 18 centuries they were dispersed throughout the world. They went to America and took control of its economy. They have a plan. Although they are few in number, they control the entire world…

The reason is that they are always united over a single view. They always move together, even if in the wrong direction. We, on the other hand, are divided. If even two Arab countries could be in agreement, our voice would be stronger. Look at the control they have over America and the media.

On a different occasion, he delivered deep, penetrating insight into the Jewish soul.

The concept of killing women, children and elderly people… seems to run in the blood of the Jews of Palestine. [In fact,] it seems to have become part of the false faith of this people, who is tormenting us in our [own] homeland.
When I speak of the Jewish faith, I do not mean their [original] faith, but the faith that they forged and contaminated with their poison, which is aimed against all of mankind… The only thing that the Jews have learned from history is methods of tyranny and torment – so much so that they have become artists in this field.

We can only hope that some of Hawass’ colleagues are better suited to interpreting the ancient past than he is in understanding the present.

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16 Responses

  1. Joshua Waxman says:

    “They do not provide a source for the Joseph story. It would appear that more of them are using Artscroll than we are using the Koran, since the latter does not seem to include Yosef’s history, at least not according to the multiple search engines I tried, using several keywords.”

    It is there. You probably should have searched for “Yusuf”, which is how they spell and pronounce it. See here:

    I also have my suspicions about it, and (as I wrote in a post on my blog) think that we are (on the whole) more accepting of it because we *want* it to be true.

    kol tuv,
    josh waxman

    [YA – Josh is correct. My thanks. I had searched, using an improper transliteration of Yusuf, which is why I came up emptyhanded. It just goes to show that the authors of the Qur’an must have had access to ArtScroll.]

  2. Bob Miller says:

    If they believe this seriously, they should have impartial experts inspect the “coins”.

  3. CJ Srullowitz says:

    “The reason is that they are always united over a single view. They always move together, even if in the wrong direction.”

    They even figured out, lulei demistafina, the importance of achdus. Halevai!

  4. Michoel Halberstam says:

    Judging by the well known Islamic predisposition to falsify or invent ancient history, one can come to no conclusions at all from what has been reported. I can’t wait to see the follow up ( How Joseph became a Muslim, perhaps, in Egypt no less)

  5. Tzvi says:

    Most (all?) modern experts agree that the concept of coinage as such did not exist before the 7th or 8th century BCE.

    At first glance this contradicts our understanding of most of chumash until we realize that kesef refers to weights of silver & not actual coins. We would still need to reconcile this with chazal (for instance regarding pidyon ma’aser sheni – where they make the limud from V’Tzarta Hakesef to “tzuras hakesef” to require coins & not asimonim.)

  6. S. says:

    >It would appear that more of them are using Artscroll than we are using the Koran, since the latter does not seem to include Yosef’s history, at least not according to the multiple search engines I tried, using several keywords.

    More likely they’d use Rav Saadya’s Tafsir, or even something like this, than Artscroll.

  7. Ori says:

    Michael, IIRC the Orthodox Muslim position is that Yusuf, Ibrahim(= Abraham), etc. were good Muslims. They followed Sharia as best they could, just as the Orthodox Jewish position is they followed Halacha as best they could. In both cases, the actual laws were given to humanity later by a prophet who was greater than all the others and whose name starts with M.

    The Muslim belief is that later Jewish generations corrupted the word of G-d, substituted Isaac for Ishmael as the son G-d asked Abraham to sacrifice, etc.

  8. Nathan says:

    Dear Tzvi,

    If my memory is correct, Abraham and Sarah publicized
    the miraculous birth of Isaac by minting coins.

    On one side there was an image of a young man and woman.
    On the other side of the coins, there was an old man and woman.


  9. Tzvi says:


    I assume that is from a medrash?

    As noted above, if you feel the need to reconcile what chazal said with modern day science, than that is another case that would need reconciliation.


  10. Shalom Rosenfeld says:


    It’s always possible that in fact some Biblical Jews did use coins, and it just hasn’t been found yet by archaeologists … we never know …

    There are midrashei aggada involving coins, such as the one with various Biblical figures minting them (I believe this is cited in the [Little?] Midrash Says). To suggest that the darshan (have to check this midrashic source, is it chazal or much later) may have employed an anachronism to get across the message (in this case, that Avraham and Sarah were spreading news of the miracle), IMHO, does not violate 13 Ikarim per se. (Though there could be other explanations.)

    How about the medrish (also appears in the piyut for Shabbos Shekalim) that Hashem showed Moshe a fiery half-shekel coin, “this is what the Jews will give for the Temple” … well, eventually they would develop coins, so they would …

    Tzvi, your case is halacha (pidyon maaser sheni) as found in the mishna, which is a stronger question than a medrish aggada. See the Sefer HaMitzvos LaRambam, who says the reason it has to be a “coin”/”money” per se is so it can readily converted to food in Jerusalem — anything that isn’t “money” has to be bartered instead, which involves an additional effort. So the requirement is that is has to be “money”; the question then becomes how to define “money.”

  11. dr. bill says:

    Tzvi and Nathan, When chazal use what appears to be an anachronism, either unknowingly or in order to communicate a point, it behooves us to understand the underlying halakhic principle or homiletic message. Neither denying the occurrence or a literal interpretation is in order. Both of your examples may need to be dealt with that way.

  12. Bob Miller says:

    What was the intrinsic difference between (1) gold and silver objects (bullion) marked to indicate their weight and (2) coins? Mainly that coins were more standardized and thus more widely accepted. Nowadays, coins normally have a metal value far below their face value (like a solid form of paper money) but originally the two values were pretty close.

  13. JoelG says:

    See Shabbos 33b, bottom of the daf: according to Rav, Yaakov minted coins.

  14. Tzvi says:


    Thanks for your reply. Regarding ma’aser sheni – would a stamped weight on a silver ingot satisfy the drasha of tzuras hakesef?

  15. Shalom Rosenfeld says:


    Yes and no. (Surprise.) Do archaeologists indicate whether the old bullion was marked for its weight? I don’t know. (When Avraham weighed the silver for Ephron, was that just a formality and/or way of double-checking, or was it just establishing the value by the weight of silver?)

    Any sort of marking suffices for it to not be “asimon”, i.e. blank, but the Mishnaic requirement is that it be “cash” as determined by its marking (whatever marking that might be) and not “bullion.” To paraphrase from the Mishna (“matza matbea shel melachim rishonim …”): the old US half-dollars contain what’s now about a dollar’s worth of silver. They are valid for pidyon maaser sheni only because the US government still recognizes them as legal tender (at the 50-cent value). But a pre-1776 Colonial … shilling? Doubloon? or whatnot could look like a coin, contain a significant amount of gold/silver, and be marked with all sorts of letters and numbers, but it can’t be used today for pidyon maaser sheni because it would have to be bartered for its value, not used as government-accepted currency.

    Again, this is the Halacha as we know it, which assumes that there is such thing as “currency.”

  16. Bob Miller says:

    Normal wear and tear, or shaving by cheaters, could reduce the metal weight of official silver or gold coins (e.g., those with the king’s name, image…). That possibility could make people want to reweigh them. So Avraham, if he paid with real coins, might have weighed them for Ephron to demonstrate their wholeness.

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