Some circumstantial evidence points to the possibility of identifying Imhotep and Joseph. The Wikipedia article on Imhotep notes under the section "Imhotep's Dreams" (emphasis added for comparison):

The Upper Egyptian Famine Stela, which dates from the Ptolemaic period, bears an inscription containing a legend about a famine of seven years duration during the reign of Djoser. Imhotep is credited with having been instrumental in ending it. One of his priests explained the connection between the god Khnum and the rise of the Nile to the king, who then had a dream in which the Nile god spoke to him, promising to end the drought.

This has a lot of similarities to the story of Joseph from Genesis 41:25-36 (NKJV):

25 Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one; God has shown Pharaoh what He is about to do: 26 The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good heads are seven years; the dreams are one. 27 And the seven thin and ugly cows which came up after them are seven years, and the seven empty heads blighted by the east wind are seven years of famine. 28 This is the thing which I have spoken to Pharaoh. God has shown Pharaoh what He is about to do. 29 Indeed seven years of great plenty will come throughout all the land of Egypt; 30 but after them seven years of famine will arise, and all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt; and the famine will deplete the land. 31 So the plenty will not be known in the land because of the famine following, for it will be very severe. 32 And the dream was repeated to Pharaoh twice because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass.

33 “Now therefore, let Pharaoh select a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt. 34 Let Pharaoh do this, and let him appoint officers over the land, to collect one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt in the seven plentiful years. 35 And let them gather all the food of those good years that are coming, and store up grain under the authority of Pharaoh, and let them keep food in the cities. 36 Then that food shall be as a reserve for the land for the seven years of famine which shall be in the land of Egypt, that the land may not perish during the famine.”

The seven years of famine and Joseph's plan he encourages Pharaoh to follow to alleviate its affects, which plan Pharoah puts Joseph in charge of (v.39-41), parallels the ideas that Imenhotep was "intrumental" in "ending" the seven year famine.

The name, Imhotep is Josephs name taken from the name of God as I-Am. If so Abraham knew God's name as I-AM!

So was Joseph known as Imhotep to the Egyptians?

  • 2
    Welcome to Stack Exchange! If you haven't done so already, check out the site tour. and be sure to read the section on what constitutes a good question. In particular, on this site, a specific textual reference needs to be specified as we cannot discuss interpretation of a text if a text is not specified. Also, questions about general history might be better on the history stack exchange. Commented Dec 15, 2015 at 19:42
  • 3
    @MarkMichaelRubenstein: I edited your question to make it fit this site by adding a passage and some historical facts that at least give rise to the question. You should add a reference to support your original statement that "Imhotep is Josephs name taken from the name of God as I-Am." I left that statement in, but it is begging for some facts to support the bare assertion that you make.
    – ScottS
    Commented Dec 15, 2015 at 21:00
  • I think that fact may have been from an article by pseudoarcheologist Ron Wyatt who asserted that imhotep might be "Voice of the God, Im (I AM)" Commented Dec 15, 2015 at 21:14
  • Welcome to Biblical hermeneutics! I think this is a very interesting question, and I gave you an up vote. Thanks for posting. Commented Dec 16, 2015 at 18:24

2 Answers 2


No - this appears unlikely. First, Imhotep means "the one that comes in peace" and does not derive from God's name or mean I AM. The idea that it was appears to be something which was propagated by known and discredited pseudoarcheologist Ron Wyatt.

Furthermore, Imhotep lived from 2650–2600 BC, but according to Seder Olam Rabbah, Abraham would have been born in 1813 BCE. This would place Abraham squarely within the time-frame of the appearances and references to the Habiru people of the Fertile Crescent, thought to be the Hebrews.

If this is, in fact the case, then that would make the Hyksos ("ruler(s) of the foreign countries") the same people group as the Habiru and would coincide with and Exodus from Egypt during the Reign of Ahmose I who ruled 1539–1514 BCE or during the reign of Amenhotep II who ruled 1427–1401 BC, or 1427–1397 BC. Most scholars believe that it was one of the Pharaohs of the 18th Dynasty.

With this Exodus date, and these other factors, it appears unlikely that Imhotep could be Joseph.

  • 1
    Abraham and Joseph are not historical persons and it is thus futile to try to determine when they are supposed to have lived. The Exodus is not a historic event. The chronology of the Seder Olam is based on a purely artificial timeframe which puts the Exodus exactly 1000 years before the beginning of the Seleucid era. The identity of the Hyksos with the Hapiru is not mainstream historical opinion. I could go on...
    – fdb
    Commented Dec 16, 2015 at 0:17
  • 2
    @fdb Abraham and Joseph were historical persons and it is justifiable to determine when they lived. The Exodus is a historic event. The chronology of the Seder Olam may be inaccurate (and may mislead), but cannot be discounted as artificial simply because an exact 1000 years is represented. Mainstream historical opinion on the identity of ancient peoples shifts and may not be accurate. I could go on... Dogmatic statements can be made either way, but the Bible has been deemed history for millennia, and its text considers itself as such, so interpretation is grounded in it as history.
    – ScottS
    Commented Dec 16, 2015 at 0:39
  • 2
    There is some wiggle room in the genealogy, and Seder Olam is not the only one to give (roughly) this approximation for dating Abraham, Joseph and the Exodus based on Biblical Genealogies. My point was not to say that "this definitely is the exodus" Just that Joseph != imhotep. The Identity of the Habiru and Hyksos is far from certain and no scholar would say definitively that either group is the Hebrews. Neither group also would say it is definitely not the Hebrews, but most would probably say it is more likely than not. Both groups, and the hyksos expulsion are historical. I could go on... Commented Dec 16, 2015 at 1:03
  • 1
    @ScottS. “the Bible has been deemed history for millennia”: This is the sort of argument you can use in a faith-based chat room, not in a forum devoted to the objective study of Biblical hermeneutics.
    – fdb
    Commented Dec 16, 2015 at 10:18
  • 2
    @fdb: We disagree on this. The "objective study of Biblical hermeneutics" in part requires that one understand the view of the writers. You only quoted part of my statement, the following "its text considers itself as such" was to point out the later Bible authors deem the Pentateuch as historical, so there is justification for determining when persons mentioned lived. Also, many historical "facts" in Scripture have been verified by archaeological and historical studies, so there is certainly "objective" reasons to deem the Bible to have historical value about persons, places, and events.
    – ScottS
    Commented Dec 16, 2015 at 15:38


Opinion about the history of Israel (and the world) shift with knowledge and reflection. One proposal states:

Two separate studies have dated Abraham to sometime during the Early Dynastic or the Old Kingdom periods in Egypt. John Ashton and David Down (2006) have dated him to the Fourth Dynasty while this author (McClellan 2011, p. 155) has given a range of dates from the 2nd–6th Dynasties.

The proposal there is primarily based off Mesopotamian history, not Egyptian history. The above quote is just linking to Egyptian history. If such a proposal is true, especially as early as the 2nd Dynasty, variously dated as early as 2890 BC and as late as whenever one deems the 3rd Dynasty to start.

The start of the 3rd Dynasty as it relates to the early Abraham dating is significant for the question here, because the general consensus (i.e. Wikipedia reporting) is that Imenhotep was in the "Old Kingdom" period as well, during the 3rd Dynasty, variously dated somewhere from 2686 to 2520 BC; the report states of this variation, "It is not uncommon for these estimates to differ by more than a century" (recall that shifting historical opinion).

So in other words, if that early dating of Abraham could be sustained, then identification of Joseph with Imenhotep is at least possible.

However, other numbers from within the Biblical text itself would need to be considered for whether they would allow such an early dating. If we assume Imenhotep = Joseph for purposes of conjecture, and one takes the death date of Imenhotep estimated in the Wikipedia article (2600 BC), then how does Israel's history work out for the 1600 or so years to King David (assuming his reign did begin roughly 1010 BC)? The documented times in the Bible allow for about 900-1000 years between Joseph and David, so how would one such as McClellan account for the time span between? Of this I am not sure.

So some studies indicate at least a possible dating that early for Joseph, but for myself, I would need to see a larger body of work regarding some other historical aspects before moving the identification to even the plausible category. This is research I have not done, and so I would not make such an identification yet (if ever).

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.