The Famine in Egypt (2296 AM-2303 AM, or 1708 BC-1701 BC) was a seven-year period during which no grain grew in Egypt, or indeed anywhere in the ancient Near East. It is a pivotal event in the history of the Israelites and the subject of continuing controversy in secular archaeology and Egyptology.
In 2289 AM (1716-15 BC), the reigning Pharaoh (probably Sesostris I) had two strange dreams every night. In one, seven fat cows were grazing on the banks of the Nile, and then seven starving cows came out of the Nile and ate the fat cows—and still remained famished. In the next, Pharaoh saw seven healthy ears of wheat growing from a single stalk. Then seven blasted ears ate the good ears, but remained as blasted as before.
None of Pharaoh's advisers could interpret this dream for him. Then his cupbearer, whom Pharaoh had released from prison two years before, remembered a fellow prisoner who had demonstrated a remarkable facility for interpreting dreams. Pharaoh sent for this prisoner, Joseph, at once.
Joseph did not suggest that he could interpret dreams by himself, but said that God gave him the interpretations. Pharaoh told him his dreams, and Joseph answered with a dire prediction. For the next seven years, Egypt would produce food in abundance. After that would come seven years of famine so severe that men would forget the years of abundance. In fact, Egypt might not survive.
Pharaoh asked urgently what he should do. Joseph first suggested that Pharaoh name a single adviser to set all policy regarding farming, the storage of grain, and the distribution of grain. Then he made a specific policy recommendation: that Pharaoh have the fifth part of all the grain harvests stored for the next seven years, so that when the famine struck, Egypt would have food sufficient to sustain itself.
Pharaoh's other advisers could suggest no better candidate than Joseph to be that plenipotentiary adviser. So Pharaoh chose Joseph, and in fact made him second-in-command in all the realm—effectively a viceroy. The language used ("only in matters of the throne will I be greater") makes Joseph's position quite clear.
During the next seven years, the farms of Egypt produced large quantities of grain. As he had promised, Joseph reserved twenty percent of all harvests in storehouses throughout Egypt.
Then the famine began, and the people of Egypt cried out to Pharaoh for relief. Pharaoh instructed them to speak to Joseph, and Joseph opened the granaries and began his distribution program. (Genesis 41 )
As the famine continued, eventually the people of Egypt ran out of money, and so Joseph allowed them to pay the government in livestock for grain. Then even the livestock ran out, so that the people then signed over their land. Thus all land other than those of the priests of the Egyptian religion became crown property.
Secular archaeologists and Egyptologists have found the dating of the Biblical famine difficult. In 1890, Charles Wilbour discovered a stela on the island of Sahal that described a seven-year drought that occurred during the reign of Pharaoh Djoser, said to have reigned during the classical Third Dynasty. However, this stela does not mention a preceding seven years of abundance, or any adviser who ordered that one-fifth of the produce be held in reserve. In fact, it tells a story of anarchy and mutual robbery, hardly in keeping with the Biblical story of how order prevailed in all stages of the crisis, no matter how dire the need became. The stela does mention an increased tribute to be paid to the Egyptian god Khnemu after the famine had ended; that might be more in keeping with the Biblical narrative.
In 1783, Mount Laki, a volcano in Iceland, erupted and caused 9,000 casualties. Scientists at Rutgers University suggested that this eruption caused a drought in northern Africa. This drought diminished the flow of the Nile, so that its annual inundations were insufficient to irrigate the land of Egypt.
This event suggests that famines in the Near East happened more than once. The Bible, of course, records two similar famines that affected Canaan in Abraham's time, and one that affected the land in the time of Isaac. (Genesis 12 ) Thus Pharaoh Djoser could have faced the situation described in the Sahal stela, and this need not have been the only such famine that Egypt suffered. The remarkable feature about the Biblical famine is that Egypt had responsible leadership that kept order during the crisis.
Perhaps the one reason why dating the famine has been so difficult is that Egyptian chronology, once regarded as settled, is now anything but settled. The theory mentioned here, that the Pharaoh of the famine was Sesostris I, has its basis in the new creationist chronology of Tas Walker, who proposed a model more in keeping with the other Biblical narratives, including that of the Great Flood, which sets an upper limit on the length of recorded history.
A new theory
On June 11, 2015, Dr. Terry A. Hurlbut of the Creation Science Hall of Fame, and Dr. Walter T. Brown of the Center for Scientific Creation, developed a new theory based on Brown's Hydroplate Theory of the Great Flood. According to the Hydroplate Theory, the Flood occurred when a subcrustal ocean on earth broke confinement and spewed out of its chamber in a hypersonic jet. Brown estimates that three to four percent of the earth's mass escaped into space to form the Mavericks of the Solar System: meteoroids, comets, asteroids, and Trans-Neptunian Objects. This would definitely include companion asteroids like 3753 Cruithne, which has orbited the sun at a period close to a standard earth year since shortly after the Great Flood broke out.
The new theory states that earth had another, perhaps much larger, companion asteroid. This passed within the Roche limit of either the earth or the moon. (The Roche limit for any astronomical body is the distance within which virtual tidal forces threaten to disrupt a passing object.) The asteroid broke into fragments. Most of these fell to the moon and became the mass concentrations or "mascons" that make the lunar gravity field uneven. (They also provoked the volcanic activity that formed the lunar "maria" and might also have partially melted the moon's core.) But at least one fragment fell to earth. The impact threw up a cloud of dust that drifted over central Africa and disrupted the rain patterns over the sources of the Nile. The Mount Laki precedent shows any meteor strike sufficient to throw up as much dust as a volcanic eruption, could so disrupt the weather and the flow of the Nile. And as was the case with the Great Flood, the chief miracles of the Famine were the placement of Joseph in a position where the then-Pharaoh would notice him, and the Divine warning given to the Pharaoh (probably Djoser) that his kingdom would suffer a dire and long-lasting emergency.
- McDevitt, April. "The Seven Years' Famine." Ancient Egypt: The Mythology, March 25, 2008. Accessed November 10, 2008.
- Roeder, Günther. "The Famine Stele on the Island of Sehel." Translated from the German by Dunn J, 1996. Accessed November 10, 2008.
- Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. "Icelandic Volcano Caused Historic Famine In Egypt, Study Shows." ScienceDaily, November 22, 2006. Accessed November 10, 2008.
- Hurlbut TA, "Energy of lunar month", Creation Science Hall of Fame, published 11 June 2015. Reprinted at Conservative News and Views.