Zaphenath Paneah in Egyptian | Foundations

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Zaphenath-paneah is a name given by Pharaoh to Joseph in Genesis in the Bible. (I assume readers know who Joseph is. Joseph of the coat of many colours and the 7 years famine.)

The world says that Joseph is not yet agreed to have been found in Egyptian history by anyone. Though there are a number of scholars who have put forward theses for which Egyptian dynasty Joseph was in, and some like Wyatt claim Joseph has been found and they have given evidence for this. Rohl claims a certain statue is of Joseph, though his theory is doubtful.

The various different dynasties that Joseph has been suggested to have been in Egypt during are:
2nd dynasty (me? Palmer, one or two other people)
3rd dynasty (me, Wyatt, Moller, Palmer, Hoeh, Walker)
4th dynasty (me, Hoeh)
5th dynasty (me? Courville, Wyatt)
11th dynasty (Rohl, Clarke)
12th dynasty (Rohl, Alford, Bullen, Courville)
13th dynasty (Bullen)
14th dynasty (PSBA)?
15th/16th dynasty (Bey, Compton, conventional)
17th dynasty (Jerome)
“immediately before 18th dyn” (Bey)
18th dynasty (Marquart, Jeremias, Mercer, Barton, Rancke, Boysen, Albright, Osman, Sullivan)
19th dynasty (2018 linkedin group comments)
19th-20th dynasty (Sayce, PSBA, others).
22nd dynasty (PSBA)?

We see that there are 3 suggested periods: 2nd-5th, 11th-20th, 22nd? and 4 main rival placement theories (3rd-5th, 11th-12th, 15th-16th, 18th).
The 17th-22nd dynasties are too late even in conventional chronology (which itself is too long/old).
The conventional 15th/16th dynasty placement is too late because the conventional chronology is too long/old in comparison to the bible and Herodotus etc. So the dynasties dates will be lower/later and Joseph must be earlier. They also have Joseph’s date abit later than the biblcal date. Also the 15th-16th dynasties don’t have much matches with all the details of the Genesis account.
The 11th-14th dynasties are also too late because the supposed match of Joseph’s 1800s biblical date with the conventional date of the 12th dynasty is a false match because the conventional dates are too long/old. Plus Joseph is earlier in overall biblical history, while the 11th-12th dynasty is later in overall Egyptian history.
The 2nd-5th dynasties are the most likely period.

In any case, these are the 4 main rival Joseph placement theories. In our debates with people who hold the other 3 placement theories one of the disputes is which theory has the correct match for Joseph and Zaphenath-paneah. We wish to show here that the others’ Zaphenath and Joseph candidates are weaker and ours are stronger.

Variant spellings of the Biblical name:
Zaphenenath /
Zap(h)(e)nat(h)-pa(‘a)nea(k)h /
Zaf’en-ath_pan-ay’ah /
Zaf’uh-nath-puh-nee’uh /
Z/s-p-n(-t(_p-‘-n-h) /
Sapenat_pa'(e)ne(c)ha /
Safnatpa’neah /
Ts(o)phnath-Pa’neach /
Tsaph(e)nat(h)_pa’ne(a)ch(a) /
Zaph(y)net(y)/nthy/naty P’an(c)h (Samaritan)
Tsethaentiphans (Jubilees)
Thafneos (Gildas), or

Various different theoretical original Egyptian (or Hebrew) renderings of the Biblical name:
Zatenaf/Zat-en-aph / Zat(h)nap(h),
Za-p-u-nt-p-a-anch / Za-pa-v-nt-pa-aa-ankh(u),
Zaf-nti-pa-ankh / Zoph-ent-pa-ankh(u), or
Tsaphan/spn/sapan/zdphan/zaphan-paneach, or
Se(d)-p-nute(r)-ef-onh, or
D’fnt / T’f(n

Various different theoretical original Egyptian or Hebrew meanings of the Biblical name:
“the one who has godlike wisdom”,
“the master of the school of learning”,
“(the/a) expounder/revealer/discoverer of (godly) secrets”,
“revealer of a secret”
“a finder of (godly) mysteries”,
“the man to who mysteries/secrets are revealed”,
“one who reveals mysteries”,
“he who explains hidden things”,
“to hide(, treasure, store up, secret) + to (decipher, solve, decode,) interpret”,
“stored beautiful rest”,
“treasury of glorious rest”,
“overseer/minister of the storehouse of abundance – he of the excellent/gracious spirit”,
“the arbitrator/judge whose position is to pay/dole out provision”,
“my provision is god”,
“(the) provider of food (by the living God)”,
“(the) God speaks (or has spoken), (and) he lives”,
“he/the-one who makes clear the ways of the living god”,
“son of the (one and only) God who is eternal life”,
“Ipet & Neith speak and he lives”,
“… is alive, the life”,
“he/she who is called Anakh/life”,
“he who is called Ipi(ankhu)” (“a common name for a foreigner/slave in Egyptian society”),
“governor of the district of (the (place of) life/living one”,
“sustainer of life”,
“bread giver of life”,
“nourisher of the living one”,
“the one who furnishes the nourishment of life”,
“the one who furnishes the sustenance of the land”,
“the nourisher of the 2 lands”,
“saviour/preserver of the/a age/world”,
“salvation of the age”,
“healer of the world”,
“the powerful governor of Egypt”,
“governor of the Sethroite nome”
“head of the sacred college”

The fact that there are so many different theoretical original Egyptian renderings and meanings of the Biblical name from just as many “experts” shows that they really have no real idea of a correct original Egyptian name/person match. They are all only theoretical, they are all visibly unlikely, and they are all unproven. No one has found any prominent person matching Joseph who has any name like any of the theoretical original renderings.

Now the very first thing anyone should resolve is which dynasty or period Joseph was in Egypt during. But one can’t do this by matching biblical dates with conventional Egyptian dates because the conventional dates of the dynasties are wrong and are too old/long. Instead one has to find synchronisms between the Biblical and the Egyptian, and roughly guess the approximate date from all we know about Egyptian history (including that we know that Joseph and Moses must come sometime before the conventional placements, and including comparing the overall dynastic Egyptian timeline with the overall Biblical timeline). We searched all through dynastic Egyptian history and we found that only the 3rd-4th dynasties period has the most matches with all the details of the Genesis story of Joseph. No other dynasty or period has as many matches with all the details in Genesis.
During and after working out which dynasty or period matches the details in the Genesis story one should be able to find matches for the name and person Zaphenath-paneah. There is one most likely match and a few other possible matches for Zaphenath-paneah in the 2nd/3rd-4th/5th dynasties.

Possible 2nd/3rd-4th/5th dynasty candidates for Zaphenath-paneah:

SanakhteSekhemhet / Djoserty-ankhHuni (compare Puh-nee’uh spelling of Paneah)SneferuZazamankh/Djadja-em-ankhSaophis ComastesSphinx/SheshepankhShepseskaf

Despite sceptics and “expert” critics opinions and despite even my own doubts/uncertainties, Sekhemhet remains the only best possible match for Zaphenath(-paneah) in name and nature. Anyone can see that Sekhem-het and Zaphen-ath are very similar and each part/word/syllable/letter may match (eg every letter corresponds except for the second h which could be dropped/omitted or transposed: S-e-kh-e-m-(h)-e-t & Z-a-ph-e-n-a-th).

Some people claim that Zaphenath is a title and Paneah is the name. But this is unproven theory. If anything Zaphenath is more likely the name and Paneah/Ankh “life/live” an added label.

Surely it is much better to find a matching name and person and then do the linguistics, rather than first coming up with theoretical original renderings and then looking for a name/person match. They may make it all seem/sound expert to do it their way around, but they were guessing without any real key, and with all their “expert” theoretical renderings they have nevertheless failed to find any matching so-named prominent person.

Now for those experts who dispute the possible Sekhemhet/Zaphenath names match here are some possible evidences which show that it may not be so certain/sure that the two names can’t match linguistically:

Firstly some versions of the two names are pretty similar

Tsaph(e)nat(h) / Zap(h)(e)nat(h)
Sekhem(k)het / Se(s)chemchet / “Szehemhet” / “Sejemjet”


Sokhem + (k)het


The a & e definitely can interchange.

The n & m can interchange in/between some languages.

The Hebrew ts/s/z or (p)s could match the Egyptian s/sz. (The s in Sekhemhet is represented by the folded cloth glyph and the letter was “originally unvoiced”.)
Sekhemkhet is written in hieroglyphs S-sekhem-khet, and the double Ss may make the match with the Hebrew ts even more likely?
Or the T- could be a click prefix added in front of the s?
There are a number of possible examples of Egyptian s matching Semitic ts/s/z inlcuding Egyptian ser “rock” & Hebrew tzur/zur “rock”, etc.

The final t(h) & t match.

The second (k)h in Sekhem(k)het could be omitted/lost in Hebrew, or the (k)h/h might be transposed from in front of the et/at to after the et/at?

Hyphen in same place in both names.

The only more challenging letters/sounds match is the p(h)/f’ & kh/h/ch in the middle, but in studying all the variant renderings of Zaphenath this does seem possible. In the 24 consonant Egyptian alphabet it is at least uncertain what Hebrew y and f/ph would be in old kingdom Egyptian. P(h) & ch interchange in/between some languages like Hebrew (eg Peleg/Chalak), and p & h interchange in/between some languages. Palmer says “I had noticed that the P in the Hebrew is found in the Egyptian as Kh, and in recent times that became listed as an Ch as for the twisted rope, but strangely enough not a regular H.”

An Egyptologist tried to claim that the phonetics of the two names can’t match. However, the phonetics are only modern theoreticalreconstruction, and the correct phonetics of some Egyptian letters is not certain/definite, and the phonetics could also have changed over the 2000 years of dynastic history. And when we look at our list of all the expert theoretical original renderings of the name Zaphenath we see alot of contradicting suggested matching Egyptian/phonetic letters/sounds. We can’t be sure which of the below possible matches are the right ones:

The following are the possible matches for each name’s letters in the other language:

Z/S/Ts – ds/dj/j/d (cobra/snake)? t/tj/tsch (cord/line to lead cattle)? s (folded cloth)? s (bolt/lock)? s/sh/sch (pool/pond/lake)?
a/o – a/3 (hawk/vulture)? a/c/’ (forearm)? u/w (quail/chick)? u/w (rope)?
p(h)/f(‘) – f (horned snake)? p (chair/stool)? h (reedshelter/court)? h (braided flat plait/wick)? h (placeta)? h (animal belly with teats)? h/kh (sieve)? a/c/’ (forearm)?
e – e/i/y (reed)?
n – n (water)? n (crown)?
a – a/3 (hawk/vulture)? a/c/’ (forearm)?
t(h) – t (bread)? t/th/tsch (line to lead cattle)? h (court)? h (braided flat plait)? h (placeta)? h (animal belly with teats)? h/kh (sieve)?

(P)s – p (chair)? s (folded cloth)? s (bolt)? s/sch (pond/lake)?
o – u/w (quail)? u/w (rope)?
(n) – n (water)?
th – t (bread)? t/th/tsch (line to lead cattle)? h (court)? h (braided flat plait)? h (placeta)? h (animal belly with teats)? h/kh (sieve)?
o – u/w (quail)? u/w (rope)?
m – m (owl)? m (rib)?

S/Sz – tsade? samekh? shin? zayin?
e/o – aleph? ayin? he?
kh/ch/h – heth? he? qoph? kaph? gimel? ayin?
e – aleph? ayin? he?
m – mem?
(k)h/k(h)/ch – heth? he? qoph? kaph? gimel? ayin?
e – aleph? ayin? he?
t – teth? taw? tsade?

Moreover, its possible that the letters may not individually each all match but the parts/words/elements/syllables may match. The Semitic alphabet did not come into existence until the time of the Phoenicians, long after Moses and Joseph. The word “write” first occurs in the bible after Dophkah in the 40 years Wilderness wanderings. Or the names might not even match, its possible only the meanings match, maybe using similar but not cognate words.

One of the suggested meanings of Zaphenath-paneah “the powerful governor of Egypt” is maybe similar to the meaning of Sekhemhet “powerful (in) body”. And Joseph’s name “the all-comely” in a Jewish source may be similar too.

Tsaphan/sapan/zaphan means “to hide(, treasure, store up, secret)”, “hid, protected”

S(e)khem can mean “power, might” or “vital force”, “scepter”, “to have power”, “(noun) a power”, or “(to) prevail, shut place, to imprison” or “a shrine or sacred house, shrine (of the bearer), the shrine of the child Horus” or “secret shrine” or “most holy place”,or “grey haired”, “the perogative of divine beings and not used by humans”.

So although we can’t prove for certain whether Zaphenath does (or doesn’t) match Sekhemhet, the experts criticisms are not definite proof that they can’t/don’t match.

See our other article on Joseph and Sekhemhet for all the other matches of the two persons apart from the possible name match.

Additional note on Joseph and Imhotep.

Joseph was only called Zaphenath when he was appointed over the land of Egypt. He must have been known under the name Joseph before that when he was in Potiphar’s service and in prison and when coming before Pharaoh. So its probable that there is also a match for the name Joseph in the dynasty or period which Joseph was in Egypt during. A number of scholars have shown that Joseph and Imhotep have alot of matches or similarities and that they seemingly may be the same person. On our own investigation we tried to prove that they were not the same person, but we found that the quantity and quality of the matches are not easy to dismiss and we were forced to accept that they seemingly probably are the same person despite a few differences. We also came to see that the name Imhotep is seemingly quite probably an Egyptian rendering of the name Joseph.

Imhotep’s name is variously rendered Imhotep / Iemhetep / Iimhtp / Iymhtp / Iu-em-hept / *Ja-im-hatap / Jjmhtp / Imouthes, and some of these renderings are similar to Joseph/Yahuwseph especially if the -em- is omitted like in similar Egyptian names/words such as Shemsu/Shasu, Romt/Rot, Aa-en-ru/Aaru (or if the m interchanges with w). Both Imhotep and Joseph have similar corresponding first, middle and last letters I/J – (a/e) – h – o – t – e – p, or I – u – h – e – p, and J/Y – (a) – (h) – o/u – s – e – ph. Furthermore, note that Rohl suggested Inyotef may match Joseph, and we see that Inyotef is similar to Imhotep.

The meanings of Im and Imhotep are uncertain/disputed, with 3 suggestions being “he who comes in peace”, or “content is Iy”, or “the voice (or mouth) of Im (or I Am)”.

See our iwillnotbeassimilated blog post on Joseph and Imhotep for a list of many other similarities of the two persons.

Imhotep is the best of all the suggested candidate name matches for Joseph in the 2nd/3rd-4th/5th dynasty:

Others suggested matches in other later dynasties like Inyotef, Amenophis, Yuya, Osarsiph, are unlikely for various reasons.

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Author: Jesse Powell