The Accounting Historians Journal Vol. 8, No. 1 Spring 1981
Harry Zvi Davis BARUCH COLLEGE
NOTE ON THE FIRST RECORDED AUDIT IN THE BIBLE
Abstract: According to an early commentary on the Bible, Joseph is the first auditor of accounting records in the Bible.
According to one of the earliest commentaries on the Bible (Onkelos, circa 2nd century C.E.), an audit of accounting records is mentioned in the story of Joseph.
Joseph was the manager of Potifar's household. All of the house-hold assets were entrusted to Joseph (Genesis 39:4, 8) and all trans-actions of the household were under his authority (Genesis 39:6, 9).
All indications point to the fact that Potifar's household was the equivalent of an ancient estate. While the size of his household is not explicitly discussed in the Bible, it may be inferred from a num-ber of passages. Potifar was an "officer of Pharaoh's, the captain of the guard" (Genesis 39:1) who even had the power to jail Joseph (Genesis 39:20). There are multiple references to the men—pre-sumably slaves—of the household (Genesis 39:11, 14). Joseph's rise to power as manager of the household is gradual (Genesis 39:2, 4, 6, 8-9). The clear implication is that the estate had an hierarchi-cal structure.
Since Potifar's estate was a large enterprise, Joseph presumably delegated authority to subordinates. As manager, he would have to periodically check the records of his subordinates.
The Bible refers to Joseph's work once.
And it came to pass on a certain day, when he [Joseph] went into the house to do his work, and there was none of the men of the house there within (Genesis 39:11).
The Bible does not specify the nature of Joseph's work. Onkelos, however, explains the words "his work" as ״ הינבשח יבתכב קרבמל,״ which can literally be translated "to check the records of account."