A Mysterious Mummy in Cairo: The Surprising True Identity of Joseph with the Coat of Many Colors
Who was the king who appointed Joseph, of the legendary coat of many colors, as his minister? And during which period of Egyptian history did he live?
Since the start of archaeological digging in Egypt more than a hundred and fifty years ago, scholars have been trying to answer these questions. These were questions to which I devoted twenty-five years of my own adult life.
Patriarch Joseph is said in the Bible and the Quran, to have been sold as a slave into Egypt. It was his own brothers who handed him over to a trade caravan, as they became jealous when Jacob, their father, gave him a coat with many colors. An Egyptian official bought the young Hebrew boy and made him overseer over his house, but when the official’s mistress falsely accused Joseph of trying to seduce her, he was sent to prison. Two years later, Joseph was set free by the Pharaoh, who also appointed him as one of his ministers, when he was able to interpret the king’s dream.
Painting depicting a scene in the Biblical myth of Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors. (Public Domain)
Father to Pharaoh
Later, as a result of a famine in the land of Canaan, the story goes that Joseph’s brothers went down to Egypt to buy corn there. Joseph recognized Jacob’s sons when they arrived, but they did not recognize him in his Egyptian costume; he kept his identity secret.
The famine in Canaan persisted, however, and caused Joseph’s half-brothers to return to Egypt on a second corn-buying mission. On this occasion Joseph invited them to have a meal in his house and, in an emotional moment, he revealed his identity to his brothers. They were ashamed of what they had done to him, when they sold him as a slave, but he asked them not to feel any sense of guilt: “For God did send me before you to preserve life, and He has made me a Father to Pharaoh,” he said.
“Father to Pharaoh”! It was this title that attracted my attention. Egyptian officials were usually given the title “Son of Pharaoh,” but “Father to Pharaoh” was a rare title, and only few people had it. Immediately the name of Yuya came to my mind.
Yuya served as a minister and commander of the military Chariots for Amenhotep III (circa 1405-1367 BC) of the 18 th dynasty. Among his many titles, Yuya bore one that was unique to him , it ntr n nb tawi , ‘the holy father of the Lord of the Two Lands’, Pharaoh’s formal title. The reason for Yuya to get this unique title was the fact that the king, Amenhotep III, had married Yuya’s daughter, Tiye, and made her his great wife, the Queen of Egypt.
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Joseph and His Brethren Welcomed by Pharaoh. By James Tissot, circa 1903. (Public Domain)
Could Joseph the Patriarch and Yuya be one and the same person?
The tomb of Yuya and his wife Tuya was found in 1905, three years after Theodore M. Davis had obtained a concession to excavate in the Valley of the Kings. The site of the tomb, the only one in Egypt to be found almost intact before the discovery of Tutankhamun’s seventeen years later, occasioned some surprise.
Outer coffin of Yuya’s mummy. Excavation assistant beside 2.75-meter (9 feet) outer coffin, shortly after excavation, circa 1905. (Public Domain)
An elaborate box from Yuya and Tjuyu's tomb bearing Amenhotep III's cartouche. (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Davis provided the money, while the actual work was carried out by British archaeologists. There is a narrow side valley in the Valley of the Kings, about half a mile long, leading up to the mountain. Eight days before Christmas of 1904, James Quibell started the examination of this side valley. A month later, he decided to transfer the men back to the mouth of the side valley, and by February 1 they had exposed the top of a sealed door that blocked the stairwell. Within a few days Davis and his group were able to enter the tomb, in which they found the sarcophagus of Yuya and of his wife, Tuya (or Tjuyu, Thuya), including their mummies.
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The mummies of Yuya (left), and to the right, Tuya. (Creative Commons Fair Use)