The Exodus Decoded: Exhibit D

After leaving Beni Hasan, Jacobovici cuts to Avaris, where the voiceover and video suggest a large-scale archaeological dig occurring for the sole purpose of finding Joseph’s signet ring—Jacobovici’s Exhibit D. Jacobovici claims that not only was Joseph’s signet ring found in precisely the time and place that Jacobovici’s hypothesis predicted, but that “Professor Manfred Bietak found no less than nine seals worn by Joseph’s court officials.” The evidence for a connection to Joseph? According to Jacobovici, “Inscribed right on them is the Hebrew name Yakov, Joseph’s father.” Then, with pictures of strong-looking Egyptians and robed men carrying guns, Jacobovici implies that Bietak would open up about a link between these seals and the biblical Jacob if not for the pressure of the Egyptian government. Here Jacobovici takes a detour into conspiracy theory, suggesting that the Egyptian government is actively and literally covering up (with dirt and plants) evidence of the biblical exodus.

Cheards in usa

As of April 2011, Spokeo could find 332 people named “Chris Heard” living in the USA. One of them—not me—wrote a book about filmmaker James Cameron. Will a filmmaker in the future follow Jacobovici’s lead and imagine the biblical scholar Chris Heard and the film critic Chris Heard to be the same person?

Let’s leave aside Jacobovici’s conspiracy theories and focus on the seals or scarabs themselves. The name on the seals is variously transliterated as Yaqub-hor, Ya’aqob-har, and so on. A man named Yaqub-Hor ruled Egypt as the second king of the Fifteenth Dynasty, a line of Hyksos kings (see Michael Rice, Who’s Who in Ancient Egypt [London: Routledge, 1999], s.v. “Yaqub-Hor”), and his name has been found on seals over a wide geographic range. The itself doesn’t stand out as remarkable, and names like Ya’aqub-el, Ya’aqub-a’, Ya’aqub-‘am, and so on are found in Akkadian sources from a variety of sites across a range from the 19th to the 17th centuries BC (Abraham Malamat, History of Biblical Israel: Major Problems and Minor Issues [Leiden: Brill, 2001], 12). In other words, lots of ancient parents named their children “Yaqub” or “Jacob,” with a number of variations, and a considerable number of Bronze Age individuals who spoke one Semitic dialect or another bore this name (never mind speculations about the many “Jacobs” who never inscribed their names on anything durable). Many biblical characters share their names with non-biblical figures, and this should come as no surprise to anyone who knows at least a few dozen other human beings. Out of approximately 150 students in my Religion 101 classes during the semester when The Exodus Decoded first aired, there were two Jillians, two Jacquelines, two Alexanders, two Taras, two young men surnamed Coffey, and two young women named Nichole Johnson (of noticeably different ethnicities). Three of my colleagues on the Pepperdine Religion Division faculty at the time bore the name “Ron” (one has since retired), and I also know a Ron Stevens, a Ron Hendel, and even Ronald McDonald. The mere coincidence of a name means nothing.

Jacobovici wants to interpret the “Jacob-har” seals in relation to the biblical Jacob’s son, Joseph, who is said in Genesis 37–50 to have had a cabinet-level position in charge of food rationing, to describe the job somewhat anachronistically. In The Exodus Decoded, Jacobovici doesn’t really explain why he thinks that Joseph’s seal would have borne the name of his father, Jacob, instead of himself. The whole point of a seal of this type is to serve as a kind of signature, making it important that the person identified on the seal be the person who is actually authorizing the document. Based on this general consideration, I would expect Joseph’s signet ring to have his own name on it, or the pharaoh’s, but not his father’s. Moreover, the biblical narrative is really quite explicit on this point: Joseph’s signet ring was previously on pharaoh’s hand (see Genesis 41:42), and by the chronology of Genesis 37–50, Joseph received this ring nine years before Jacob migrated to Egypt (Genesis 41:42 stands at the beginning of the seven years of plenty, and Jacob identifies himself to his brothers during the second year of the famine, according to Genesis 45:6). Again, the whole point of Joseph bearing this ring is that it enables him to act as pharaoh’s proxy, and it is impossible to imagine that pharaoh’s signet ring would be inscribed with the name of Jacob, Joseph’s father, seeing that pharaoh had just met Joseph himself and would not meet Jacob for nine years to come. Moreover, the biblical Joseph narrative implies that he carried out his official duties under the Egyptian name Zaphenath-paneah (Genesis 41:45), so it makes no sense that he would inscribe his father’s Semitic name—a name that would carry no authority—on his signet ring(s), if he had the authority to produce new ones. The only thing that makes sense in terms of the biblical Joseph story, and for that matter in terms of the operation of ancient governments, is that Joseph’s signet ring would have born the symbol or name of the authority figure that was granting him power—namely, the pharaoh.

The idea that the “Jacob-har” seals and scarabs were minted or commissioned by Joseph and inscribed with his father’s name simply has no merit and makes no sense in the context of either the Joseph novella or ancient governance. What makes perfect sense, on the other hand, is that these seals belonged to officials authorized to act in the name of the Hyksos king Yaqub-hor, who has no connection with the biblical Jacob except for sharing a relatively well-attested Bronze Age Semitic name.