A few years ago I wrote a satire piece titled Answers from Genesis: Reclaiming the Biblical Authority of Joseph’s Global Famine. It was meant to call attention to the fact that Hebrew words used in Genesis 41 to describe the severe famine at the time of Joseph are the same as those used in the Creation Account of Genesis 1 and 2 and Noah’s Flood in Genesis 6-9. An example of this language can been seen in verses 56 and 57 (ESV) of Genesis 41 which reads: “So when the famine had spread over all the land (erets) Joseph opened all the storehouses and sold to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe in the land (erets) of Egypt. Moreover, all the earth (erets) came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe over all the earth (erets).”
My understanding of the original text follows the conventional interpretation of this passage by orthodox biblical expositors over many millennia; namely the term all the earth is used to indicate either the known world at that time (accommodationist) or is hyperbole to emphasize the importance of the event (i.e. everyone came from everywhere to come to the fair).
My purpose for the satire account was to illustrate that when young-earth apologists insist upon a static literal interpretation of certain words or phrases that support their positions, there can be great consequences. If they are fair and apply a consistent hermeneutic they must also interpret both the Great Flood and the severe famine in Joseph’s time as truly global (planet-wide) events. Furthermore, this interpretation would require that people from the entire earth would have been fed by Joseph’s storehouses of food. As such, even native North and South Americans and Australians must have also experienced this same seven-year famine and, minimally, representatives of each people group around the world would have traveled to Egypt to obtain food from Joseph.
The same observation might be made of Paul’s statement in his letter to the Colossians, when he says that the gospel already had been ‘preached in all creation under heaven’ (Colossians 1:23). Was Paul intending his audience to understand that the gospel had been presented to the Native South Americans or Aboriginal Australians at this time?
However, it has come to my attention that Dr. Nathaniel Jeanson, developmental biologist on staff at Answers in Genesis, has been promoting* the same literalistic reading of this passage that I was satirizing. First proposed in their in-house journal in December of 2019, (Testing the Predictions of the Young-Earth Y Chromosome Molecular Clock: Population Growth Curves Confirm the Recent Origin of Human Y Chromosome Differences) he has expanded upon those initial thoughts in a series of seminar-style videos made with Ken Ham in recent months (in particular see episodes 21, 22 and 23 of the series: The New History of the Human Race).
Through this media, Jeanson has expressed his conviction that the most consistent interpretation (i.e. the same hermeneutic that leads to young-earth interpretation of Genesis 1) of the Joseph narrative in Genesis 41 is that a severe, worldwide famine must have occurred several hundred years after the Flood, during the time of Joseph. In a bit of twist, as compared to what I had satirically proposed, he hypothesizes that at the time of Joseph people had not yet migrated to the Americas having just left Babel a few hundred years earlier (Note, this requires that the earliest that man arrived in the Americas would be just 3,800 years ago!). He uses a new secular-to-YEC “time calibration tool” he has created—more about this in our next post—to suggest that civilizations were geographically limited to the Middle East region at the time of Joseph. He also calculates, using his Y-chromosome method, a past population size for the whole world at Joseph’s time of between 5-10 million males.
Jeanson seems to have taken to heart—not to say that he has read it—the sentiment from the end of my satire piece:
“This is ultimately about the authority of God’s Word, which plainly teaches that the Famine of Joseph was global in extent. Indeed, if the text of Genesis 41 clearly teaches—as it does—that the Famine of 1700 B.C. was global and we reject that teaching, then we undermine the reliability and authority of other parts of Scripture, including John 3:16. God’s Word is trustworthy and authoritative in all that it affirms.
These and many more biblical, theological, and scientific considerations make the compromise of a mere local famine, so often promoted by liberal seminary professors, totally untenable. This is all ultimately about the authority of all of God’s Word, which plainly teaches that the Famine of Joseph was global in extent.
We all have the same data. It’s really a question of the worldview we interpret that data though and when viewed with the right worldview “glasses” the biblical and scientific evidence support a global famine.
It is time to recognize and defend the historicity of one of the most profound events that has taken place in earth’s history. No less than biblical authority is at stake.”**
I should say that I do commend Dr. Jeanson, over other young-earth apologists, for more consistently applying young-earth interpretive principles. Using the same logic and linguistics that cause him to conclude that the Great Flood was truly planet-wide, Jeanson applies the same to Joseph’s Famine and the Tower of Babel. If the “entire planet” was flooded, then, similarly, “all of humanity” gathered to build a tower and, also, to be fed by Joseph. Jeanson looks for confirming evidence in human migration patterns observed through remnant patterns of genetic variation, the correlation of climactic events that could cause famine (e.g. Ice Age) and even linguistic patterns.
Of course consistency in applying interpretive principles can be applied to the point of absurdity. If the interpretive principles were incorrect from the start, then consistency only results in providing a consistently wrong interpretation. (Garbage in, garbage out.) Anyone who seeks truth from scripture should determine if one’s own interpretation leads to unrealistic predictions (or situations). At a certain threshold, it may be that there is an issue with the initial interpretation. As with life, we should then return to see if there is an alternate, valid interpretation that is a better fit. That is an important observation that challenges each one of us but is especially pertinent to the young-earth hermeneutic.
What I was attempting to communicate in my satire piece stands. The hermeneutic that guides the young-earth understanding of scripture, consistently applied, will lead invariably to Jeanson accepting as dogma the extent of Joseph’s famine. There will be no physical evidence that can cause doubt about this interpretation of scripture for any such effort to use physical evidence to make that adjustment will necessarily also bring the young-earth interpretation into question. Rather, all evidence will be reinterpreted in light of the truth. That people lived in Australia during Joseph’s famine will be denied or else hypotheses for how people traveled from Australia to Egypt during those seven years will be proposed, in order to accommodate one’s scriptural interpretation, but not the other way around.
There can be no physical evidence that could dissuade Jeanson from abandoning what he believes* the scriptures demand. However, I believe that he may be open to testing the hypothesis that peoples had not settled in the New World prior to the time of Joseph. At least the geographical extent of peoples that make up the whole world should be an open and testable question within the young-earth paradigm.
Let’s help him settle that question in our next post when we evaluate the evidence for advanced human occupation of the New World at the time of the last Ice Age. An event Jeanson proposes may have been the cause of a global drought and famine referenced in Genesis 41.
*It is important to acknowledge that Dr. Jeanson says he is still exploring this idea of the universality of Joseph’s famine and universal migration to Egypt though he sounds fairly convinced of that interpretation. He realizes that this is not the traditional understanding of this passage but he believes that the language of the text appears to require this global famine as much as it does a global flood in Genesis 6-9 and that peoples came from all parts of the world, not just the locally-known world, to get food. It seems to be his starting assumption as he now explores how the evidence from creation and human history might be reinterpreted to fit the plain reading of the scriptures. Nevertheless, we should treat his proposals as provisional until he commits to this relatively novel interpretation of Genesis 41. Interestingly, one wonders if the physical evidence he seeks to confirm his provisional interpretation might influence his evaluation of the Genesis 41 passage?
If he can’t find supporting physical evidence of a global famine during this time or clear evidence in genomics that point to people having come from the whole earth back to Egypt will he reconsider his interpretation of Genesis 41? Will Jeanson allow physical evidence to suggest problems with an interpretation of the text? These are important questions that challenge each one of us, but are especially pertinent to one who holds the young-earth position.
** This text was copied from The New Answers Book 3 published by leading Young Earth Creationist’ apologetic ministry Answers in Genesis, except that I replaced references to Noah’s Flood with Joseph’s Famine.
Editing provided by Michael Callen