It seems strange that a new king came to the throne who was unaware of Yosef. After all, Yosef had been instrumental in saving the nation from disaster, and not only that, but he concentrated power in Pharaoh’s hands and consolidated the monarchy.
One traditional response is that he pretended not to know. Very often we feel embarrassed by the extent of our indebtedness and we try to escape an obligation by “forgetting”. Although this is a view expressed in a Midrash that is two thousand years old, it is one of Freud’s important “discoveries” that we often forget that which is uncomfortable to remember.
Another suggestion is that this was indeed a new king. New dynasties often try to obliterate the memory of those who came before, particularly if they achieved power by revolution. Freud was fascinated by Moses; in his book Moses and Monotheism, he suggested that when Ahknaton overthrew the old dynasty he established a new monotheistic regime. Moses got the idea from him, so that when Moses was overthrown and was out of favor with the new regime, he took up with the Jews and became their leader.
Most Egyptologists reject the idea that Ahknaton was a monotheist. And Freud’s theory includes the strange but very Freudian notion that the Jews assassinated Moses (as sons want to remove their fathers so that they can have their mothers to themselves) and then “re-created” a new legend.
But the idea that Ahknaton’s coup would explain the negative attitude to Yosef has some supporters. As indeed does the theory that the Hyksos who invaded Egypt were sympathetic to shepherds and thus to the sons of Yaakov, unlike the returning old dynasty who saw the sons of Yaakov as a Fifth Column.
From our point of view, the issue is not the past so much as the future, and oppression of the new regime is the painful catalyst to the emergence of a new nation. The message is relevant today.