As every schoolboy used to know, the Old Testament is full of good stories, a fact so obvious as to make it curious that English Bible-readers were not stimulated to invent the novel until the end of the seventeenth century. 1 The nearest approximation to a modern novel in the Old Testament is, of course, the Story of Joseph in Genesis, 2 which has all the ingredients to guarantee its popularity—a hero who is 'handsome in both face and figure', 3 as well as being shrewd, sentimental, ruthless, unscrupulous, and, above all, highly successful, presented in a plot which crackles with danger, false accusations, and strong emotion. Joseph survives his elder brothers' conspiracy to get rid of him, prospers in prison after his master's wife had falsely accused him of rape, wangles the dispatch to Egypt of his beloved Benjamin, persuades his aged father to abandon his home and make the journey to Egypt, not to mention his thinking up an ingenious scheme which enabled the Pharaoh to absorb the whole of the country's resources into state-ownership.
In general outline, the Joseph Story closely resembles the favourite text-book in Egyptian schools, The Story of Sinuhe. 4 This, too, was a tale of an exile's success in a foreign country, recounting the adventures of an Egyptian courtier in Palestine, where he married the ruler's eldest daughter, was made 'chief of a tribe of the finest in his land', and settled in