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Reconstructing Joseph’s coat of many colours
In 1987, a statue was excavated at Tell ed-Daba (Avaris) in the eastern Nile delta (biblical Goshen) by an Austrian professor named Manfred Bietak, Director of the Austrian Institute for Egyptology in Vienna, which was believed to be the "great Asiatic vizier of Amenemhat III”. Amenemhat III was pharaoh of the 12th Dynasty around 1860 BCE to 1814 BCE. The vizier of Egypt was second only to pharaoh.
In the book Pharaohs and Kings, Egyptologist David M. Rohl described the statue: “The sculptor has captured him in the prime of life, his upright seated posture full of dignity and assuredness, as befits the chief minister of the Black Land. The vizier’s face is painted in pale ochre – the standard pigment used by the Egyptian artists to indicate the skin colour of a northerner heralding from the Levant. Although he is an Asiatic, Joseph does not carry the usual beard. He is clean shaven. “
Genesis 41:14 also cites Joseph as clean shaven: Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him hastily out of the dungeon: and he shaved himself, and changed his raiment, and came in unto Pharaoh.
And “One of the most unusual features of this remarkable statue is the coiffure or wig. Joseph’s hair is flame red, fashioned into what can only be described as a mushroom-shape. It has been carefully trimmed and is neatly curled under at the back and sides. Across his right breast the vizier holds his insignia of office. Pharaoh holds the crook and flail, but Joseph hold his ‘throw stick’ – the Egyptian hieroglyphic symbol used to denote a foreigner. The imagery of the cult statue is telling us to recognise a man of foreign origins – but a man who has become completely integrated in the highest reaches of Egyptian culture.”
In Joseph and his brothers there are lessons for the seekers. (Quran 12:7)
Rohl believed that stately sculpture was Joseph and that Joseph’s Egyptian name was Zaphenat-Pa aneah, a Hebrew metathesis of Djeduenef that means “he who is called”. He then went on to create a computer-generated image of Joseph as a red-haired man with a coat of many colors. One that is “similar to the costumes worn by the Asiatics represented in the tomb of Khnumhotep at Beni Hasan, with rich reds and blues trimmed with black and white to produce a simple but effective geometric pattern of stripes and rectangles.”
Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colors. (Genesis 37:3)
Khnumhotep was a royal court manicurist who lived in the ancient Egyptian city of Saqqara at about 2400 BCE. In his tomb were murals of Asiatics who arrived in Egypt in vividly coloured garments. Noting the biblical connotation that the coat Jacob gave Joseph was a subject of envy amongst his brothers, historians suggest Joseph’s coat to be in the likeness of Khnumhotep’s. But it is a well known fact that Khnumhotep was buried together with Niankhkhnum much like a married couple and has been repeatedly cited by historians as evidence of gayism. So though his costume was multi-coloured, was it necessarily how Joseph’s looked like?
The methods for obtaining different ornaments with the same symmetry group, by a change of the shape of the fundamental region or of the shape of an elementary asymmetric figure belonging to it, can be traced in the ornamental art of Neolithic, the ancient civilizations and primitive peoples. The star with a circle in the center was an icon in designs of the Neolithic period.
The hexagram has also long been a magic sign of preservation and protection against destruction. It was used for protection in Babylonia (2000 BCE). In the bronze age (1900 BCE), this symbol is used in ornaments and magic in many civilizations and in regions as far apart as Mesopotamia and Britain.
One of earliest legendary rulers of China, traditional dates 2852 BCE to 2738 BCE was reputed to use trigrams (ba gùa) stacked as hexagrams. The philosophy was refined over time and I Ching was completed around the time of Han Wu Di (Hàn Wu Dì) during the Han Dynasty (circa 200 BCE).
In 800 to 600 BCE, the hexagram was a general symbol representing the art of alchemy. The hexagram is formed by uniting the gestalt Water Triangle with the Fire Triangle. The combination formed the symbol for fire water, the essence or spiritus of wine: alcohol. It was also the sign for quintessence, the fifth element, making it among the most important motifs from the world of alchemy alongside gold, sulphur, mercury and the pentacle. In modern times, Rudolf Steiner adopted it in anthroposophy.
Though in those earlier days, this symbol bear no religious significance, it was revered as the "Shield of David” by the Jews and served as a seal in ancient Palestine in 6th century BCE. It was also the sign of Solomon’s dominion over demons that he inscribed on his ring (950 BCE – 922BCE).
Sometimes called the six-pointed star, the six inner staves of the hexagram resembles the North star, our guide for navigation and compass to true North, a reminder of our connection to the heavens and to the cosmos.
These same staves are also the familiar glyph of a snowflake. Each snowflake is made up of from 2 to about 200 separate crystals. Snow crystals are nature’s hexagonal prism of light. If not shaped as a long needle like a spike, snow crystals usually have six sides. Some crystals have hollow column that is shaped like a six-sided prism. There are also thin, flat six-sided plates and intricate, six-pointed stars. The shape that a snow crystal will take is dependent upon the temperature at which it was formed.
Ice crystal columns are formed in the highest clouds at temperatures of -30°F. The star shaped crystals form in clouds of 3° to 10°F. Plates form from 10° to 18°F, needles form from 23° to 27°F and plates reappear from 27° to 32°F. As the snow crystals grow they become heavier and fall towards Earth. If they spin like tops as they fall then they may be perfectly symmetrical when they hit the Earth. But if they fall in a sideways fashion then they end up lopsided. Falling snow crystals clump together to form snowflakes.
Within the shape of the hexagram is a hexagon, a polygon popular for prisms. When natural white light is diffracted through a prism, colors refracted through prisms appear in a fixed order - violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange, red (or vice versa starting from red). Much like the rainbow, nature’s prism that comes with every spring shower.
Colour was a popular method of cure even in ancient times. This form of medicine is based on the belief that the human body is composed of energy fields. `Colour halls' were used for healing in ancient Egypt, China and India. Some 2500 years ago, Pythagoras applied colour light therapeutically to create harmonious colour and colour combinations for discovering inner emotions. Thus it should not surprise us if colours worn can affect one’s emotions and character.
And stripes are not the only way to present multi-colours. Hexagrams being thus popular, could the rainbow-coloured coat given to Joseph perhaps be multi-coloured in geometry? Perhaps in the likeness of the traditional Japanese asa no ha (meaning “hemp leaf”) pattern. A regular geometric pattern representing overlapping hemp leaves still in print today. Because hemps flourish in growth, the Japanese believe this pattern brings good fortune to the wearer. This pattern are often used for clothes of newborn children and the favourite of wives of merchants.
This hemp leaf pattern is also sometimes called the Cairo lattice as the pattern occurs frequently as tilings on the streets of Cairo.
The nobles in Asiatic cultures are reputed for their interest in geometric and ornamental patterns for their garments. Being a part of this rich culture, how would Joseph’s famed rainbow coat have looked like? I think it’s worth a thought…
• BCE stands for "Before the common era", a more religiously neutral nomenclature equivalent to BC "Before Christ"
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