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    The new king didn’t know – Sh’mot

    PharaohExodus 1:8 says, “There arose a new king over Egypt who knew not Joseph”.

    The Talmud wonders how this can possibly be true. After all that Joseph had done for the country, surely his name would be recorded, remembered and honoured!

    The view of the rabbis – followed by so many of the commentators – is that he did actually know about Joseph but pretended not to.

    What a sad reflection on human nature! No appreciation… Off the scene, soon forgotten… no gratitude to the national saviour once time has moved on!

    Some scholars, however, find good grammatical reasons to support the literalist reading. What does the text say after all? Vayakom melech chadash, there arose a new king.

    We would have expected, “There was another king”, i.e. one king left the scene, his son took over. Ibn Ezra points out that vayakom indicates that the new king was an upstart outsider who jumped in and usurped the throne, beginning a new regime, a new dynasty, a clean sweep.

    Probably he wasn’t even an Egyptian, and his seizing of power was the result of discontinuity, not continuity with the past.

    What had previously been had now gone for good, and Joseph with it. The new king “knew not Joseph”. He had no idea of Egyptian history and didn’t even care very much.

    Sforno, on the other hand, says that the new Pharaoh probably did consult the national records and may well have found Joseph’s name there, but without realising Joseph’s connections with the Hebrew people.

    In other words, the new king knew of Joseph in theory, but did not know who this Joseph was or that he had Hebrew family.

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