WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 01, 2018)—The Egyptian vizier ‘Abdiel lived in the 14th century B.C.E. and likely served two pharaohs, Amenhotep III and Amenhotep IV (better known as Akhenaten). Egyptologist Alain Zivie began excavating ‘Abdiel’s magnificent tomb in Saqqara, Egypt (near Cairo) in the 1980s. Replete with hidden chambers, the tomb had four levels. While battling collapsing rocks due to water erosion on the cliff above, Zivie and his team carefully uncovered the various rooms. Finally, in 1987, they discovered the tomb’s burial chamber with the remains of ‘Abdiel, his wife Tauret, and his son Huy. Each had been buried in three coffins and with extraordinary grave goods.
After nearly four decades of research, Zivie offers a new analysis of the high-ranking ‘Abdiel and his tomb in his article “Pharaoh’s Man, ‘Abdiel: The Vizier with a Semitic Name,” published in the July/August 2018 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
‘Abdiel’s name is unusual. In Egyptian, it is ‘Aper-El. ‘Aper is the Egyptian way to render the Semitic word ‘abed, which means “servant.” So, Zivie believes that the vizier’s name actually would have been pronounced “‘Abdiel.” The second part of his name consists of the name of the god El, the head of the Syro-Canaanite pantheon. Thus, “‘Abdiel” means “servant of the god El.” El is also the generic Semitic term for “god” and one of the names of the Israelites’ deity in the Hebrew Bible.
‘Abdiel had many titles, including “chief of the town, vizier,” “general of the horses,” “chief in the entire land,” “messenger of the king” (ambassador), and “father of the god” (senior advisor who knew the pharaoh as a child).
An official (possibly of foreign origin) with a Semitic name, meaning “servant of the god El,” who became a vizier in ancient Egypt, may remind many of the figure of Joseph in the Bible. Zivie is quick to clarify that he is not identifying ‘Abdiel with Joseph, nor is he claiming that Joseph was a historical person.
There are similarities between the Biblical figure of Joseph and the vizier ‘Abdiel. Both have Semitic names (and likely origins) and rise to prominent positions in Egypt. However, although these commonalities are striking, it is not possible to correlate the two—based on the existing archaeological evidence. Nevertheless, the vizier ‘Abdiel was an important, intriguing figure in 14th-century Egypt.