Scholar’s Chair Interview: Dr. Charles Aling

I was excited when my next guest agreed to sit in the scholars’ chair for a virtual interview. I have appreciated the work of Egyptologist, Dr. Charles F. Aling, for some time and he was gracious enough to answer some of my questions about people and events related to Egypt, including Joseph, the Hyksos, and the Exodus.

Dr. Charles F. Aling is Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Northwestern – St. Paul and serves as President of the Institute for Biblical Archaeology and President Emeritus of the Near East Archaeological Society.   He graduated from the University of Minnesota with both an M.A. and a PhD, specializing in Egyptology.  Dr. Aling served as Assistant Field Director on two archaeological explorations in Egypt: one in the Valley of the Kings and one at the Karnak Temple in Luxor. He has published over fifty articles in publications such as Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, The Near East Archaeological Society Bulletin, Bible and Spade, and Artifax, and is the author of Egypt and Bible History: From Earliest Times to 1000 BC.  In addition, he was one of the scholars featured in the movie, Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus.

An aerial view of the Karnak Temple at Luxor, Egypt. Photo: Son of Groucho/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

BIBLE ARCHAEOLOGY REPORT: Welcome Dr. Aling! What sparked your interest in Egyptology?

DR. CHARLES F. ALING: When I first began my studies at the University of Minnesota, I was in Pre-Med.  This was not because I had a great interest in medicine but because my father was a doctor and my family expected it of me. But in my sophomore year, I had to take any course I wished that was not science.  I enrolled in basic ancient history, and within 3 weeks, I knew this was the field for me. My doctoral work included all aspects of ancient and medieval history, but my favorite area was ancient Egypt.  I developed a particular interest in the historical accuracy of the Bible

Ay (right) performs the Opening of the Mouth ceremony on his predecessor, Tutankhamun (left), from the wall of Tutankhamun’s Tomb. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

BIBLE ARCHAEOLOGY REPORT: I understand that you once excavated a royal tomb in the Valley of the Kings.  Can you tell us about that experience?

DR. CHARLES F. ALING: In the early 1970’s I served as assistant field director under Otto Schaden for the excavation of the tomb of King Ay, the successor of King Tut, in the Western Valley of the Kings.  I personally found the lid to the king’s sarcophagus.  A few years later I again assisted Professor Schaden in his survey of the inscriptions left by King Ay at the Karnak temple.

The tomb and sarcophagus of Pharaoh Ay in the Valley of the Kings. Photo: Roland Unger/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

BIBLE ARCHAEOLOGY REPORT: You have written that you believe Joseph was in Egypt in the Middle Kingdom period.  Can you summarize why you feel this is the best fit, and highlight some historical clues in the biblical text which support this?

Pharaoh Sesostris III (also written Senusret III or Senwosret III) was the most important Pharaoh of the 12th Dynasty. He may have been one of the Pharaoh’s whom Joseph served. Photo: Brooklyn Museum/CC BY 3.0

DR. CHARLES F. ALING: For a long time I have believed, based on my views on the Bible’s chronology, that Joseph is best dated to Egypt’s Twelfth Dynasty.  While I hold this view for many historical and archaeological reasons, I think one of the key pieces of evidence is that according to Genesis, Joseph was both Vizier and Chief Steward of the King. This is an almost unheard of combination of titles, and the one recorded example we have is from the Twelfth Dynasty, right after the time of Joseph. I believe Joseph’s success in these two roles was copied for his probable successor.

BIBLE ARCHAEOLOGY REPORT: In what way to you think the Hyksos fit into Bible’s chronology?

DR. CHARLES F. ALING: It is my belief that the Hyksos, who were Canaanite rulers of Egypt between the Middle and New Kingdoms, were the kings who began the oppression of the Hebrews.  One indication of this is the biblical statement by the first oppressing king that he feared the Hebrews would become more numerous than his people.  This could certainly not be true of a native Egyptian king.

BIBLE ARCHAEOLOGY REPORT: Throughout your career, you’ve been a supporter of the early Israelite exodus from Egypt in the 15th century.  Can you summarize what you feel are the most compelling arguments for this position?

The head of the Pharaoh Amenhotep II from a sphynx. It is currently housed in the State Museum of Egyptian Art, Munich, Germany. Photo: Osama Shukir Muhammad Amin FRCP (Glasg)/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

DR. CHARLES F. ALING: Regarding the Exodus, the Bible itself (I Kings 6:1) points to an early date (the 1440’s BC).  The probable pharaoh, I believe, would be Amenhotep II of Dynasty 18. I think there is compelling evidence from this king’s reign for this view. For one thing, this king had no serious military campaigns after his early years, and his last campaign of those early years was only into the Gaza region for the purpose of bringing slaves into Egypt. The number of new slaves is staggering: 100,000!  This fact is consistent with having lost the large Hebrew slave population. Also, Amenhotep II abandoned his northern capital and closed the naval base there. But of equal interest is the change in some of the titles of officials. Briefly, there is no proven High Priest of Amon during the next reign, and one of the corollary titles that the High Priest would hold is Overseer of All Priests of Upper and Lower Egypt. A key military officer by the name of Horemhab took the title of Overseer of Priests and was the first non-priest to hold his title in all of Egyptian history. This shows the military holding religious power. All of this material best fits the reign of a king who no longer trusted his priesthood and who handed over key titles to the military.

I would like to thank Dr. Aling for taking the time to share with us his expertise as an Egyptologist and his views on biblical history. I know it was not easy for him to summarize his findings on broad topics in such a short space. For a much fuller analysis of the archaeology and biblical data that supports Dr. Charles F. Aling’s understanding of the chronology related to Joseph and the Exodus, I highly recommend his book, Egypt and Bible History: From Earliest Times to 1000 BC. It is available from Amazon or Wipf and Stock.

You can learn more about the Institute for Biblical Archaeology and Artifax magazine here: http://bibleartifax.com/

Dr. Aling has also written an excellent six-part series entitled, “Joseph In Egypt” which was published in Bible and Spade magazine. It is available from the Associates for Biblical Research here:

https://biblearchaeology.org/research/chronological-categories/patriarchal-era/4050-joseph-in-egypt-part-i

https://biblearchaeology.org/research/chronological-categories/patriarchal-era/4050-joseph-in-egypt-part-ii

https://biblearchaeology.org/research/chronological-categories/patriarchal-era/4050-joseph-in-egypt-part-iii

https://biblearchaeology.org/research/chronological-categories/patriarchal-era/4050-joseph-in-egypt-part-iv

https://biblearchaeology.org/research/chronological-categories/patriarchal-era/4050-joseph-in-egypt-part-v

https://biblearchaeology.org/research/chronological-categories/patriarchal-era/4050-joseph-in-egypt-part-vi

Disclaimer: I allow each archaeologist to answer in his or her own words and may or may not agree with his or her interpretation of their work.

Title Photo: University of Northwestern – St. Paul, Courtesy of Dr. Charles F. Aling

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