From Parsonage to Power in the Third Intermediate Period

Photo Credit:, Egyptian Museum, Cairo

In Genesis 50 Jacob’s body was given a royal sendoff, befitting his son Joseph’s position. “So Joseph went up to bury his father. All Pharaoh’s officials accompanied him, the dignitaries of his court and all the dignitaries of Egypt, besides all the members of Joseph’s household and his brothers and those belonging to his father’s household. Only their children and their flocks and herds were left in Goshen. Chariots and horsemen also went up with him.”

Despite Joseph’s royal position, there were still areas where his rule did not reach. In Genesis 47, during a famine, Joseph was able to take control of the land, but he could not control the priesthood. “So Joseph established it as a law concerning land in Egypt, still in force today, that a fifth of the produce belongs to Pharaoh. It was only the land of the priests that did not become Pharaoh’s.

In Egypt, in the 11th century BCE, Ramsses XI’s death marked the end of the 20th Dynasty, and with it the end of Egypt’s New Kingdom. Ramesses XI was replaced by Smendes I, the first king of the 21st Dynasty, thus beginning Egypt’s Third Intermediate Period.

In the Bible’s account, Joseph’s dominion did not extend to the priesthood. This was also the case for Egypt’s 21st Dynasty. The 21st Dynasty rulers controlled northern, or Lower Egypt, In the south, in Upper Egypt, the priests of the god Amun were able to assert control. During the reign of Smendes I, the high priest of Amun, Pinedjem I, declared himself ruler of Upper Egypt. The two power centers married into each other’s families, but Egypt was not unified under a single ruler.

The 21st Dynasty ruled from Tanis, in the eastern Delta in Lower Egypt. The city sat along the once active Tanitic branch of the Nile, but this branch has since dried up. In the Bible, the city was known as Zoan, and it makes an appearance in the prophetic works. In Isaiah 19, he writes that “The officials of Zoan are nothing but fools, the wise counselors of Pharaoh give senseless advice. How can you say to Pharaoh, “I am one of the wise men, a disciple of the ancient kings.”

According to the view that King David began his rule at roughly the beginning of the 10th century BCE, the rule of David and his son Solomon would have been concurrent with the reign of the 21st Dynasty.

The exact nature of the ties between the two regions during this time in unclear from the archaeology alone. The end of the New Kingdom coincided with Egyptian withdrawal from Canaan, and at the beginning of the Third Intermediate Period, Egyptian centralized rule was weaker, not stronger.

In 1 Kings 9, the ties are close. “Here is the account of the forced labor King Solomon conscripted to build the Lord’s temple, his own palace, the terraces, the wall of Jerusalem, and Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer. (Pharaoh king of Egypt had attacked and captured Gezer. He had set it on fire. He killed its Canaanite inhabitants and then gave it as a wedding gift to his daughter, Solomon’s wife. And Solomon rebuilt Gezer).” In the biblical account, Solomon had marriage ties to Egypt and the Egyptian military was active in Canaan.

The pharaoh Siamun ruled for roughly 20 years during the first half of the 10th century BCE. He is believed to have expanded the Temple of Amun at Tanis. On the walls of the Temple of Amun at Tanis there is a relief depicting this pharaoh smiting his enemies. An argument has been extended that this is an image of him smiting the inhabitants of Gezer, based on the Aegean style design of an axe in the hands of possibly a Philistine prisoner, but this interpretation is neither clear nor universally accepted.

The image above is of the funerary mask of the 21st Dynasty pharaoh Amenemope, which was discovered at Tanis. Amenemope would have been a contemporary of King David in the early 10th century BCE.

For the Third Intermediate Period, Third Degree blues: