Potiphar and Potiphera

Potiphar is an abbreviation of Potiphera. In Hebrew this name means nothing at all. There are no Hebrew words that come close to it. The Egyptian name Phera is a transliteration of Phra, or Ra; the sun-god. http://www.abarim-publications.com/Meaning/Potiphar.html


Damien F. Mackey

“Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘I am Pharaoh, but without your word no one will lift hand or foot in all Egypt’. Pharaoh gave Joseph the name Zaphenath-Paneah and gave him Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, to be his wife. And Joseph went throughout the land of Egypt”.

Genesis 41:44-45

There are some suggestions out there on the Internet that the biblical “Potiphera, priest of On” (Heliopolis) (Genesis 41:45), might be the same as the Old Kingdom’s, Rahotep, about whom we read (http://www.ancientegyptonline.co.uk/p-rahotep.html):

It is generally considered that Rahotep (“Ra is satisfied”) was the son of Sneferu, although it is also possible that he was in fact the son of Huni and therefore the brother of Sneferu. Rahotep held the titles High Priest of Ra at Iunu (Heliopolis) and Director of Expeditions and Supervisor of Works.

Whilst those promoting such an identification can tend to be amateurish, making a rather poor fist of identifying the two names, Potiphera and Rahotep, the connection itself has promise, I think – given the likely location of Joseph to the Old Kingdom and the fact that Rahotep was indeed the priest of On (Egyptian Iunu):

A better effort to link the names, Potiphera and Rahotep, can be found in L’HISTOIRE DE JOSEPH, at: http://www.regard.eu.org/Livres.2/Le.cri.des.pierres/08.php (using a translation of the French):

No account of Scripture finds any more confirmations given by archeology than that of Joseph’s life. The arguments which rationalist criticism once used to attack the authenticity of these admirable pages were, one after the other, contradicted by the discoveries. But it is not only the truthfulness of the narrative as a whole that Egyptology has brought to light; It is also its evident unity and extraordinary precision, the extraordinary exactitude of all its details.
The famous Egyptologist Edward Naville, one of the glories of modern archeology, is the man who has perhaps contributed most to making Egypt known to the Pharaohs: “The more one reads History of Joseph and the better one realizes that it had to be written by someone who knew Egypt very well, who had witnessed his customs, and who had also had relations with the officers of the court And with the king himself. Few parts of Genesis show more strikingly the strangeness of critical theory. The whole story is remarkably united. There is no superfluous repetition each part follows the preceding one, quite logically the general tone is the same. In spite of this, we are told that we must not attribute all this history to a single writer, but to four authors who lived in different parts of Palestine and several centuries apart . “If we study the details of Joseph’s story, we shall be struck by the local color and convinced that it was written in the very country where the author had before him some of the customs he describes, And at a time when he still heard some of the names of which he speaks. “When the story of Joseph was written, tradition was very alive among the Hebrews; They knew that they owed Joseph to their arrival in Egypt, their establishment in the land of Goshen, and their present situation. His body had been preserved, embalmed, in a coffin. Thus they certainly knew who he was, and what was the cause of his marvelous elevation. His story presented a very special interest for them, I should even say vital. “The Egyptian names mentioned in the narrative also indicate an author writing in Egypt, possessing a perfect knowledge of the Egyptians as of the Hebrews, as might be supposed in the case of Moses .” ”
M. Edouard Naville thinks that Moses had at his disposal, to write the part of the Genesis which relates to Joseph, a life of Joseph which would have been composed of the time of the son of Jacob and under his orders. This supposition is very plausible. In this connection, let us quote M. Emile Doumergue: “Let us note that in writing, or more probably in having his biography written by one of the many scribes he had at his disposal, Joseph imitated, at least to some extent , The usages of the great Egyptian characters. They had a tomb built for them, and on the walls of this tomb they engraved an inscription more or less long, saying their lives, and especially the favors with which they had been the object of the sovereign. Not very long after the death of Joseph, Ahmes the nautonier, who lived under the reign of the king of the same name, left on the walls of his tomb inscriptions which are true memories . ”
The Egyptian character of Moses’ account of Joseph was also fully acknowledged by archaeologist Sayce: “There is nothing in the testimony of monuments that can cause any doubt about the credibility of biblical narrative. On the contrary, the picture that the Bible gives us admirably agrees in its general features but also in its details, with the picture presented by the monuments. The history of Joseph is essentially Egyptian in color and in full conformity with Egyptian archeology … At the same time this Egyptian element is clothed with a manifestly Hebrew character. Not only is the language Hebrew, but the ideas and point of view that inspire the narrative are also Hebrew. The Egyptian scene which is described here is contemplated by the eyes of Hebrew ( 4 ). ”
Abbot Vigouroux has been able to express forcefully the historical value of our narrative. “In Egypt we shall not find any direct proof of the facts related by Moses in his history of Joseph, but the indirect proofs abound there and are enough to satisfy the most difficult . There is not a detail of his biography which is not confirmed by the monuments and the indigenous documents: everything is exact, it may be said, to the minuteness, and the narration can not have been narrated, therefore, Than on the scene, at a time not far from events. An Israelite writer, who would have written long after the exodus from Egypt, and without having lived there, could never have succeeded in speaking with that irreproachable exactitude, and would not have given his paintings such a local color, When it was impossible to acquire this knowledge except in the very place where they were, so to speak, alive. The Egyptian color of Joseph’s story is so striking that even those who deny the authenticity of the narrative are obliged to recognize it. “The painting of the Egyptian manners by this writer is generally very exact,” says the critic Ewald. “All the exegetes and free-thinking historians are obliged to make the same confession . ”
We shall now briefly review the features of the narrative on which archeology has projected a brilliant light. It is impossible not to be impressed by their number and precision. We will follow the very order of biblical narrative:
1. Jacob made Joseph a tunic of many colors. (XXXVII, 1). We know that the Semites had and still have a marked predilection for motley garments. They liked to wear them on ceremonial occasions or as a sign of pre-eminence. “The same thing is done in the Orient for the favorite children. Purple, scarlet and other fabrics are often sewn together with many. disgust. Sometimes the children of the Muslims wear jackets embroidered with gold and silk of various colors . ”
This practice existed before the time of Joseph. One can see on the walls of the tomb of Hassein a painting representing the arrival in Egypt of amortized leaders under Amenophis II; These ambassadors appear in clothes of several colors, a sign of power.
This meaning of the motley dress explains the intensity of the jealousy of the brothers of Joseph. They saw in her a symbol of the special authority given by Jacob to the son of Rachel.
“Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan.” Reuben said, “Throw them into this cistern which is in the wilderness.” (XXXVII, 17 and 22). It has been possible to identify Dothan, which lies beyond Djenin, situated in the defile through which passes the road from Damascus to Egypt, on leaving the plain of Esdralon. It was an excellent pasture, of admirable fertility. The wells were numerous. This explains the explorer Anderson: “The numerous cisterns carved in the rock, which are found everywhere in Dothan, were to furnish (to the brothers of Joseph) a convenient pit, to lower it, and as these Cisterns have the shape of a bottle, with a narrow orifice, it was impossible for the one who was imprisoned to leave it unless they were given help . One of the current cisterns is still called by the natives: “Khan Jubb Yûsuf” or “Khan of Joseph’s grave”. In summer, a large number of Palestine wells are dry.
3. “Having looked up, they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead; Their camels were loaded with spices, balm, and myrrh, which they carried into Egypt. (XXXVII, 25). These Ishmaelites are also called in chapter XXVII (25, 28, 36) of the “Madianite merchants”. There is no contradiction here: The Midianites inhabited the territory occupied by the descendants of Ishmael. All the details which relate to these merchants and their caravan are rigorously exact. This picture, so picturesque, so alive, is in full harmony with all that we know of those caravans of merchants who constantly traveled from Palestine, and especially from Gilead to Egypt. These travelers carried, in fact, various merchandise much appreciated in Egypt, especially aromatics. We find in the Egyptian inscriptions allusions to the “nek’ot”, the “sôri” and the “lot” mentioned in our verse. The “nek’ot” designates the resin that flows from the tragacanth, a tree that grows on Lebanon, Persia and Armenia. “Sôri” is the balm, resin of a tree that was then very widespread in Palestine. The “lot” (in Arabic “ladan”) is the gum that flows from the branches of the ladanum, whence comes the name “laudanum”. The three kinds of perfumes which the Midianites carried to Egypt are still an object of commerce between the East and Egypt.
“It is certain,” writes the Egyptologist Ebers, “that the Egyptian civilization, as it is known to us by the pharaonic monuments, could not do without a multitude of objects which it was only possible to draw from it The East. Among these are the resinous substances and aromatics which were indispensable for the mummification of corpses; The wood of cedar, which we see under the name of “as”, used for all sorts of purposes, and especially for the construction of boats; The bitumen, and finally incense and perfumes, necessary from the earliest times, not only for worship but also in private life, where they were used with reason in contagious diseases, burning, To purify the air, fragrant woods brought from eastern Palestine and Arabia. This is evidenced by thousands of passages of inscriptions. >
The merchants who traded from Palestine to Egypt did not hesitate, if they could, to buy slaves whom they then resold at a good price in Egypt, where the Semitic slaves were much appreciated.
4. Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, chief of the guards, an Egyptian, bought him from the Ishmaelites, who had sent him down there. (XXXIX, 1). The name of Potiphar was common in Egypt. It is written in Egyptian “P.hotep.Har”, that is to say the gift or the offering of Horus. It should not be confused with the name of “Poti-phera,” the name of the priest of On (or Heliopolis) who gave his daughter Asnath to Joseph. Potiphera is written in Egyptian “P.hotep.Ra”, the gift or offering of Ra (XLI, 50). ….
This I find most interesting.
Let us read it again:

…. Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, chief of the guards, an Egyptian, bought him from the Ishmaelites, who had sent him down there. (XXXIX, 1). The name of Potiphar was common in Egypt. It is written in Egyptian “P.hotep.Har”, that is to say the gift or the offering of Horus. It should not be confused with the name of “Poti-phera,” the name of the priest of On (or Heliopolis) who gave his daughter Asnath to Joseph. Potiphera is written in Egyptian “P.hotep.Ra”, the gift or offering of Ra (XLI, 50).

According to what we read here, Hotep Ra, or Ra Hotep – the Egyptians commonly reversed names – is of the very essence of the Hebrew transliteration of the Egyptian name into “Potiphera”: פּוֹטִי פֶרַע
So, could we have in this most famous statue of Rahotep (and his wife, Nofret) an actual depiction of the biblical Potiphera?

It would remain to be determined if the era of the impressive pharaoh Sneferu (Snofru) can plausibly be accommodated to the revised estimation for the time of Joseph.

Part Two: Potiphar and his wife

“When Joseph was taken to Egypt by the Ishmaelite traders, he was purchased by Potiphar, an Egyptian officer. Potiphar was captain of the guard for Pharaoh, the king of Egypt”.

Genesis 39:1

The difference between the biblical names, “Potiphar” and “Potiphera”, is simply – as we read in the previous article – one pertaining to a variation of theophoric ending, Horus and Ra (Re):

…. Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, chief of the guards, an Egyptian, bought him from the Ishmaelites, who had sent him down there. (XXXIX, 1). The name of Potiphar was common in Egypt. It is written in Egyptian “P.hotep.Har”, that is to say the gift or the offering of Horus. It should not be confused with the name of “Poti-phera,” the name of the priest of On (or Heliopolis) who gave his daughter Asnath to Joseph. Potiphera is written in Egyptian “P.hotep.Ra”, the gift or offering of Ra (XLI, 50).
[End of quote]

The slight variation of the names may not be enough to prompt one to dispute those Jewish traditions according to which Potiphar and Potiphera were the same person. Robin Cohn has written on this (http://robincohn.net/asenath-the-seventh-matriarch/):

Potiphar = Poti-phera?

In the early traditions about Aseneth in the Book of Jubilees, the Testament of Joseph, the Aramaic targumim of Onqelos and Neofiti 1, and many Jewish legends, Joseph’s owner Potiphar is identified with his father-in-law, Potiphera. In Greek, the names are identical. According to Genesis 37:36 the Midianites sold Joseph to Potiphar, a seris of Pharaoh and his chief steward. In older translations seris was translated as eunuch. As a result Potiphar’s characterization as a eunuch brought up the question of how he could have fathered a daughter. Rabbinic traditions not subscribing to the suggestion that Asenath was Dinah’s daughter, proposed that Potiphar conceived Aseneth prior to being made a eunuch or she was the daughter of his wife through other means. Based on modern scholarship, seris more appropriate means “officer” therefore we need not trouble ourselves with how a eunuch could be Aseneth’s father, even if Potiphar is to be equated with Potiphera.
[End of quote]

Following on from these traditions, it is not too far-fetched to suggest that this high Egyptian official could have borne names merely differing as to their theophorics – or, perhaps, that he slightly altered his name to include Ra when he became the priest of Heliopolis, the chief cult centre of Ra.
The following translation shows Rahotep to have been, like Potiphar, a guard and military commander http://www.egyptorigins.org/rahotepandnofret.htm

Inscription for Rahotep
Transliteration Translation
wr-m3.w jwnw w .t.y
wr zH mDH.w 3ms
w .t.y wr js w .t.y wrS pj, nty
z3-n.y-sw.t n.y X.t=f r -Htp.j
wr n.y pj{.t}
jm.y-r3 s-k3j.t Tt
jm.y-r3 mS xrp tm3
z3-n.y-sw.t n.y X.t=f r -Htp.j Unique Chief of Seers of Heliopolis
Chief of the Shrine, Keeper of the Scepter
He being unique who guards Pe,
Bodily Royal Son, Rahotep
Chief of Pe
Overseer of construction and Vizier
Overseer of the Army, Controller of Squadrons
Bodily Royal Son, Rahotep

All this now makes quite possible, too, that Potiphar’s wife was Nofret herself (Genesis 39:6-20).

Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, ‘Come to bed with me!’ But he refused. ‘With me in charge’, he told her, ‘my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?’ And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her. One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. She caught him by his cloak and said, ‘Come to bed with me!’ But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house. When she saw that he had left his cloak in her hand and had run out of the house, she called her household servants. ‘Look’, she said to them, ‘this Hebrew has been brought to us to make sport of us! He came in here to sleep with me, but I screamed. When he heard me scream for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house’.
She kept his cloak beside her until his master came home. Then she told him this story: ‘That Hebrew slave you brought us came to me to make sport of me. But as soon as I screamed for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house’. When his master heard the story his wife told him, saying, ‘This is how your slave treated me’, he burned with anger. Joseph’s master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined.

Part Three: An Egyptian variant tale

“Similarities between the classical Egyptian Tale of the Two Brothers and the Biblical story of Joseph in Egypt and Potiphar have long been noted by biblical authors (J.R. Porter, Illustrated Guide to the Bible, Oxford University Press US, 1998, 50)”.

The story of Moses’ flight from Egypt into Midian was vaguely recalled, later, in the popular Egyptian The Tale of Sinuhe [TTS], but with enough of a resemblance to the original for professor E. Anati to write that TTS had “a common matrix” with the Exodus account of Moses (Mountain of God, p. 158).

And I think that the same may be said of the New Kingdom “Tale of the Two Brothers”, that it has some vague likenesses (as commonly noted) with the biblical sage of Joseph, Potiphar and his wife. And so we read at:

Similarities between the classical Egyptian Tale of the Two Brothers and the Biblical story of Joseph in Egypt and Potiphar have long been noted by biblical authors (J.R. Porter, Illustrated Guide to the Bible, Oxford University Press US, 1998, 50). I will here develop that idea further with a comparison of the two so that readers can draw their own conclusions.
The analysis of the Egyptian Tale of Two Brothers suffers from several main obstacles:

• 1. As with any myth or legend, the Tale of Two Brothers exists in various versions with some differences. Perhaps the best known comes from the Papyrus D’Orbiney, as popularized by Charles Moldenke. The hieratic text with hieroglyphic transcription and Moldenke’s translation is available here.
• 2. Some of the texts are incompletely preserved and are missing significant portions which may contain relevant details. The missing portions of the text make translation more difficult because of missing context. To be sure, this does not by any means invalidate the existing translations, although it may make translations less precise than would be desired.
• 3. The story itself appears to be very ancient, although the accounts we have are later ones. The Biblical story of Joseph and Potiphar is estimated to have occurred cerca 1650 BC, at least if Biblical timelines are believed, although revisionist chronologists have posited the Joseph story as late as 1250 BC. The Papyrus D’Orbiney is associated with the end of the 19th Dynasty cerca 1185 BC. However, in either case we see that the Joseph story is attributed to a period pre-dating the Papyrus D’Orbiney, suggesting that Joseph was the origin of the Egyptian Tale and not the reverse.
• 4. This length of five centuries between the events and the first Egyptian record of them (or less, if one accepts revisionist dating regarding Joseph) raises concern about the likelihood, even inevitability, of various alterations which have occurred over time as history has been transformed into folk tale. In looking at the core essence of the story, we must not be distracted by fabulous elements or later interpolations which we see time and again in Egyptian history, religion, and legend. The fact that flood stories from around the world diverge on some details does not detract from the existence of substantial commonalities, nor does the later deification of early pharaohs detract from their historical personage. Few stories have not undergone significant alteration in their telling over the generations as history becomes legend and legend becomes myth.
• 5. Authors writing from different perspectives or for different purposes often tell the same story in very different ways. The Genesis account contains sparse detail, but the account which it provides appears to be reliable. The Egyptian Tale of Two Brothers provides considerable detail. Some of these details may fill in true elements which are missing from the Genesis story, whereas others may represent later embellishments. As we sift the fabulous from the accounts, we arrive at a core story which shares compelling commonalities.

Below I have listed Budge’s version of the Tale, adjacent to relevant elements from the Genesis account. Several types of marking are used in analyzing the similarities and differences. Blue text marks significant similarities between the passages. Black text marks details present in one version but not another which neither strengthen nor detract from the similiarities. Red text marks mutually incompatible contradictions between the two stories. Green text annotates elements of the Tale which are obviously mythic or fantastic.
It has been pointed out (D. Stewart, Sr.) that the title “elder brother” and “younger brother” in ancient languages were used as honorifics for master and servant respectively; this is preserved to the present day in Chinese. I also note that the use of “elder brother” as an honorific for a master dates from the earliest times; we see in the records of Sumerian, the first written language, that a master or professor was referred to by his pupils as “big brother” (Kramer, Samuel Noah. History Begins at Sumer. University of Pennsylvania Press: Philadelphia, Third Edition, 1981, 7, 15). We read in the Sumerian composition Enmerkar and Ensukushsiranna, a dispute between two rival rulers, that the capitulation of Ensukushsiranna Lord of Aratta to Enmerkar is accompanied with nomenclature referring Enmerkar as the “big brother,” that is, master:
“You are the beloved of [the goddess] Inanna, you alone are exalted…From the lower (lands) to the upper (lands) you are their lord, I am second to you, From (the moment of conception), I was not your equal, you are the ‘big brother,’ I cannot compare with you ever.” (Kramer, History Begins at Sumer, 230.
Turkish” agabey” (lit. “elder brother”) also means “master.” Thus what a literal interpretation would render “elder brother” and “younger brother” often means “master” and “servant” in context.
The context of the Tale of Two Brothers supports the belief that the two men were master and servant rather than literal brothers; beyond the first line the passages suggest a close mentorship or adoptive type of relationship rather than direct family relationship. At the very beginning the tale notes that the younger brother was “like a son” to the “older brother,” and the “younger brother tells the older brother’s wife: “I have looked upon thee in the light of a mother, and thy husband in the light of a father to me.” Why would the younger brother have to explain that his older brother was “like a father” to him if he was already a direct family member?
In the passages below of Budge’s translation, I have therefore inserted in brackets MASTER for elder [brother] and SERVANT for younger [brother].
Sir E.A. Wallis Budge, Dwellers on the Nile, 115-120

Tale of Two Brother Genesis 39 Comments
There were two brothers, children of one mother and of one father.
Anpu was the name of the elder brother [MASTER], Bata that of the younger brother [SERVANT]. 1. And Joseph was brought down to Egypt; and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him of the hands of the Ishmeelites, which had brought him down thither.
Anpu had a house and a wife, and his younger brother [SERVANT] was like a son to him. He followed after the cattle, he did the ploughing and all the labours of the fields.
Now while the younger brother [SERVANT] was with the cattle every day in the fields, taking them home each evening, and while he was in the stables, the elder brother sat with his wife and ate and drank.
And when the day dawned, and before his brother rose from his bed, he [SERVANT] took bread to the fields and called the labourers to eat in the field.
Behold his younger brother was so good a labourer that there was not his equal in the whole land. 2 And the Lord was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian.
3 And his master saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord made all that he did to prosper in his hand.
4 And Joseph found grace in his sight, and he served him: and he made him overseer over his house, and all that he had he put into his hand.
5 And it came to pass from the time that he had made him overseer in his house, and over all that he had, that the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; and the blessing of the Lord was upon all that he had in the house, and in the field.
6 And he left all that he had in Joseph’s hand; and he knew not ought he had, save the bread which he did eat. And Joseph was a goodly person, and well favoured.
The cattle told him where the best grasses were, and he understood their language. This has no counterpart in Genesis 39, but the parallel of the “younger brother” being able to understand the language of the cattle has obvious parallels to Balaam’s speaking donkey (Numbers 22). The concept of speaking animals does not seem to be an indigenous Egyptian concept, and to my knowledge does not appear to be evidenced in other ostensibly “historical” Egyptian narratives.
And when it was the season for ploughing, the elder brother said, ‘Come, let us take our teams for ploughing, for the land has made its appearance; go and fetch seed for us from the village.’
And the younger brother found the elder brother’s wife sitting at her toilet. And he said, ‘Arise, and give me seed that I may go back to the field, because my elder brother wishes me to return without delay.’ Then she, said, ‘Go open the bin, and take thyself whatever thou wilt, my hair would fall by the way.’ So the youth entered his stable; he took a large vessel, for he wished to take a great deal of seed, and he loaded himself with grain and went out with it.
And she spoke to him saying, ‘What strength is there in thee, indeed. I observe thy vigour every day.’ She seized upon him and said to him, ‘Come let us lie down for an instant’ 7 And it came to pass after these things, that his master’s wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; and she said, Lie with me.
The youth became like a panther with fury on account of the shameful discourse which she had addressed to him.
He spoke to her, saying, ‘Verily I have looked upon thee in the light of a mother, and thy husband in the light of a father to me. What a great abomination is this which thou hast mentioned to me. Do not repeat it again to me, and I will not speak of it to any one; verily I ‘will not let any thing of it come forth from my mouth to any man.’ 8 But he refused, and said unto his master’s wife, Behold, my master wotteth not what is with me in the house, and he hath committed all that he hath to my hand;
9 There is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back any thing from me but thee, because thou art his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?
10 And it came to pass, as she spake to Joseph day by day, that he hearkened not unto her, to lie by her, or to be with her.
11 And it came to pass about this time, that Joseph went into the house to do his business; and there was none of the men of the house there within.
12 And she caught him by his garment, saying, Lie with me: and he left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out. Although the Tale treats her approach as a one-time event, internal evidence of the Tale supports the validity of the Genesis account that the master’s wife tried to seduce Joseph on multiple occasions until the final event. Specifically, the “younger brother” said: “Do not repeat it again to me, and I will not speak of it to any one; verily I ‘will not let any thing of it come forth from my mouth to any man.'” The elder brother’s wife would have had little reason to attempt to have the younger brother killed after he had already sworn silence; the Genesis account makes more sense that Joseph fled and left his garment when she became aggressive after her previous advances were declined, creating a situation which was not easily diffused or ignored.
Behold, the wife of his elder brother [MASTER] was alarmed at the discourse which she had held.
She made herself like one who had suffered violence, for she wished to say to her husband, ‘It is thy younger brother [SERVANT] who has done me violence.’ Her husband returned’ at evening, and found his wife lying as if murdered by a ruffian. And she said, ‘No one has conversed with me except thy younger brother; when he came to fetch seed for thee, he found me sitting alone, and said insulting words to me. But I did not listen to him. Behold am I not thy mother, and thy elder brother is he not like a father to thee? This is what I said to him, and he got alarmed, and did me violence that I might not make a report to thee; but if thou lettest him live I shall kill myself.’ And the elder [MASTER] became like a panther; he made his dagger sharp, and took it in his hand, and placed himself behind the door of the stable to kill his younger brother [SERVANT] on his return at evening to bring his cattle to the stable. 13 And it came to pass, when she saw that he had left his garment in her hand, and was fled forth,
14 That she called unto the men of her house, and spake unto them, saying, See, he hath brought in an Hebrew unto us to mock us; he came in unto me to lie with me, and I cried with a loud voice:
15 And it came to pass, when he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried, that he left his garment with me, and fled, and got him out.
16 And she laid up his garment by her, until his lord came home.
17 And she spake unto him according to these words, saying, The Hebrew servant, which thou hast brought unto us, came in unto me to mock me:
18 And it came to pass, as I lifted up my voice and cried, that he left his garment with me, and fled out.
19 And it came to pass, when his master heard the words of his wife, which she spake unto him, saying, After this manner did thy servant to me; that his wrath was kindled.
When the sun was set, the younger brother [SERVANT] loaded himself with the herbs of the field and came home. And when the first cow entered the stable she said to him, ‘Verily thy elder brother is standing before thee with his dagger to slay thee. Betake thyself from before him.’ The second beast spake “after” the same manner, and when he looked he saw the two feet of his elder brother who was standing behind the door, and placing his burden upon the ground he fled. In his flight the young man prayed to the Sun-god, who straightway caused the two brothers to be divided by a river full of crocodiles, and each brother stood upon an opposite bank. At daybreak the younger brother declared his innocence, and told his brother the true story. 20 And Joseph’s master took him, and put him into the prison, a place where the king’s prisoners were bound: and he was there in the prison. That Joseph was imprisoned instead of being killed in the Biblical account when accused of attempted adultery contrasts with the death penalty for such accusations in societies of the time. The more lenient punishment of Joseph has suggested to other scholars that Potiphar may have had reason to doubt his wife’s story. Rutgers University professort Gary Rendsburg observes: “The fact that [Potiphar] places [Joseph] only in prison suggests that he did not fully believe his wife” (Gary Rendsburg, “The Book of Genesis,” The Teaching Company, Lecture 39, 18:35).
In the Egyptian Tale, we have another parallel to the Balaam story of Numbers 22 with livestock not only speaking but warning the principal character to save him from death.
The story of the Tale and of scripture here, although different, are not mutually exclusive. In view of Potiphar’s power, the crime of which Joseph was accused, the lack of meaningful rights of slaves and servants, and the jurisprudence of the time which often sentenced men to death for far lesser crimes, the Genesis account fails to explain why Joseph was not killed on the spot. It is likely that both histories are correct: Potiphar may have first tried to kill Joseph, and failing that because of miraculous deliverance, had Joseph arrested and cast into prison.

At this point the narrative takes numerous fabulous turns which break with the generally plausible elements up until this point, suggesting later embellishment of an original true history. Previously there have been no fabulous elements except for the animals warning the “younger brother” just as the donkey warned Balaam. At this point the Tale diverges substantially from the story of Joseph which the narrative to this point has closely matched, further corroborating the belief that this was added later.

Part Four:
Asenath an adopted daughter?

“Pharaoh gave Joseph … Asenath … to be his wife”.

Genesis 41:45

In search of the biblical Asenath, we may peruse those named as children (“Issue”) of Rahotep (our Potiphera) in the table below (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince_Rahotep)
Unfortunately, none of these Egyptian names: Djedi, Itu, Neferkau, Mereret, Nedjemib, Sethtet, would seem to me to bear any resemblance whatsoever to the name Asenath.

Prince of Egypt

Statue of Rahotep
Burial mastaba, Meidum

Spouse Nofret

Issue Djedi, Itu, Neferkau, Mereret, Nedjemib, Sethtet
Father Sneferu or Huni

Mother Sneferu’s first wife or Huni’s wife
Religion Ancient Egyptian religion

Occupation Priest of Ra

Asenath is thought to have been an Egyptian name, with some liking to connect it to the goddess Neith (e.g., “she who belongs to the goddess Neith”). “The problem is”, according to B. Scolnic, “that this name does not exist anywhere in ancient Egypt” (If the Egyptians Drowned in the Red Sea where are Pharaoh’s Chariots …, p. 52).
On the same page we learn that Kenneth Kitchen has claimed that Asenath actually means “she who belongs to you”, it being similar to a name formula from Egypt’s Middle Kingdom inscriptions such as “she who belongs to her father/mother”.
If Asenath were an adopted daughter of Rahotep, and, say, a non-Egyptian woman, then this might serve to solve a problem that, according to the following, has been “a big problem with Asenath” for the rabbis (http://www.bethradom.com/brc-blog.html):

In parshat Mikeitz, we continue with the narrative of Joseph. Joseph is in the dungeons, having been framed by Potiphar’s wife for her own crime of infidelity. After proving his value to the Pharoah as an interpreter of dreams, Joseph rises to be ruler of all Egypt, second in command only to the Pharoah, himself. In that time, Pharoah also gives Joseph a wife, Asenath, daughter of Potiphera … with whom he has two sons, Ephraim and Menashe.

The Rabbis have a big problem with Asenath. She is an Egyptian, daughter of a pagan, and the Torah does not mention any kind of conversion. Despite this, her two sons, Ephraim and Menashe, also, supposedly without direct mention of conversion or circumcision, Jacob claims as direct inheritors, to become tribes of Israel, each in their own right. To make things more difficult, Jewish fathers today, continue to invoke the names of Ephraim and Menashe when blessing their sons on Friday nights. To help settle the problem, the rabbis refer to Targum Pseudo-Yonatan which argues that in fact, Asenath was adopted by Potiphera, but was secretly the product of Shechem forcing himself on Dina, Jacob’s daughter.
[End of quote]

The extraordinary situation is nicely accounted for by J. Pratt, in “Jacob’s Seventieth Descendant” http://www.johnpratt.com/items/docs/lds/meridian/2000/puzzle_ans.html

3. The Hebrew Tradition

But could Asenath really have been Dinah’s daughter? To the best of my knowledge, this solution to the puzzle has never been published until now. No one has noticed that these verses in an obscure list of genealogy imply that Joseph’s wife, the mother of the tribe who inherited the blessing of the firstborn of Israel, is also of the house of Israel. Could that really be true?

It turns out that it has long been a Jewish tradition that Asenath was the daughter of Leah’s daughter Dinah by Shechem, a prince in the land of Canaan (Gen. 34:2). It has been thought by scholars that this tradition was no more than a fabrication. It was supposedly invented to explain the otherwise embarrassing fact that Joseph married an Egyptian woman, when Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were all given strict commands to marry in their own family lineage. It has always seemed strange to me, however, that a legend was invented to legitimize Joseph’s wife’s lineage by making her the illegitimate daughter of Dinah and someone from Canaan. Here is one of the many variations of this tradition:

Dinah was already pregnant by Shechem, and bore him a posthumous daughter. Her brothers wished to kill the child, as custom demanded, lest any Canaanite might say ‘The maidens of Israel are without shame!’ Jacob, however, restrained them, hung about his grand-daughter’s neck a silver disk on which were engraved the words ‘Holy to God!’, and laid her underneath a thorn bush — hence she was called ‘Asenath’. That same day Michael, in the shape of an eagle, flew off with Asenath to On in Egypt, and there laid her beside God’s altar. The priest, by name Potipherah, seeing his wife was barren, brought up Asenath as his own child.

Many years later, when Joseph had saved Egypt from famine and made a progress through the land, women threw him thank-offerings. Among them was Asenath who, having no other gift, tossed Joseph her silver disk, which he caught as it flew by. He recognized the inscription and, knowing the she must be his own niece, married her.[5]

In a less miraculous version of this tradition, Jacob himself placed the infant Asenath

near the wall of Egypt. On the same day Potiphar was taking a walk, accompanied by his retinue, and approached the wall. He heard the child weeping and commanded his followers to bring it to him. When he noticed the tablet and read the inscription he said to his followers, “This child is the daughter of eminent people. Carry it into my house and procure a nurse for it.[6]

It is clear from how different these two traditions are that much of these stories are the interpolations of men. All of these legends agree, however, on the core idea that Asenath was the daughter of Dinah and Shechem. The uncertainty seems to be on just how she came to arrive in Egypt and to be adopted by Potipherah.

Another clue is that Joseph is tied to Shechem is that Joseph was buried at Shechem (Joshua 24:32). Why was he buried there, when Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were buried together in Hebron? Shechem later became part of the inheritance of the tribe of Manasseh, Joseph’s son. Now let us turn to early Christian traditions about Joseph and Asenath.

4. The Christian Tradition

A rather different story is told in the apocryphal book Joseph and Asenath, which was a highly respected book of early Christianity.[7] A principal theme is Asenath’s total conversion to Joseph’s religion, facilitated by the appearance of an angel who looked like Joseph (J&A 14:9).
While this book says nothing about Asenath not being the literal daughter of Potipherah, it has many clues that the author knew her true lineage, but also wanted to keep it a secret. Remember, that during past ages, it was a huge disgrace to have been an illegitimate child, so the motive for keeping her lineage secret is obvious. Here are some clues that the author of Joseph and Asenath knew who Asenath really was.

1. The point is made that Asenath does not look anything like other Egyptian women, but that she was “slender like unto Sarah, beautiful like Rebekah, and radiant in appearance like Rachel.”[8] Stating that she looked exactly like the three wives of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, all of whom were from Abraham’s family, has a pretty clear implications about her true lineage, without giving details.

2. The author gives the ages of both Asenath and Joseph’s brother Benjamin correctly, as being 18 years old at the time when Joseph was 30 (J&A 1:4, 27:2). That matches the Hebrew tradition perfectly,[9] although that information is not in the Old Testament.

3. Asenath goes into a soliloquy where she states that she is “an orphan, and desolate and abandoned and hated” (J&A 11:3). Such a surprising declaration is justified by explaining that she means only that she expects to be rejected by her Egyptian parents when she denounces their gods. The evidence that she really was a rejected orphan makes it much more understandable that such an unusual statement would be included.

4. The story speaks of Asenath’s “foster father.” He does not appear to be Potipherah, but rather a steward (J&A 18:2), but it is interesting that the story includes her foster father.

Thus, there are many clues that the author of the Joseph and Asenath knew who she really was. Much of the rest of the book appears to be interpolation and fabrication, or what we might call today a “historical novel.” The great success of recent historical novels seems to be that they are set in a true historical setting. Similarly, it appears that the author of Joseph and Asenath wrote the account to be consistent with all of the historical setting of which he was aware.

5. Conclusion

If it is acknowledged that there really is a true logic puzzle purposely included in Genesis 46, then it is an important discovery because it elevates the tradition of Asenath’s true lineage from being a mere fabrication to being indicated by scripture. But one cannot prove that the logic puzzle was in the mind of the author of Genesis. It could be argued that the puzzle is not there at all, that it is rather just a coincidence that two errors just happen to indicate that Asenath is of the House of Israel. Anyone taking that position, however, should explain why Asenath’s name is in the genealogy list at all, especially in light of the explicit statement that none of the wives is included in the count. This point and all of the other unusual wording can best be explained by recognizing that Genesis does indeed contain all the information necessary to deduce that Asenath, the mother of the two tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, was the daughter of Dinah of the house of Israel.


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