Categories: Joseph, Women in the Old Testament
- Asenath means “gift of the sun” or “gift of the sun-god.”
- She was an Egyptian princess, aristocratic, and high-born.
- She was the daughter of Potiphera, a priest of Heliopolis or On, which was the main site of worship for Ra, the sun god.
- She was probably literate and well-educated.
- Pharaoh honored Joseph by giving him Asenath as his wife.
- No doubt, this arranged marriage sent a message to Egyptians that Joseph was now “one of them.” It indicated that Pharaoh fully accepted him and he was to be integrated into the Egyptian court as well as the Egyptian way of life.
- Asenath, of course, would have had no input in this arrangement.
- Together, she and Joseph had at least two sons: Ephraim and Manasseh.
- These sons would become the progenitors of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh.
- That is about all that is known from Biblical texts.
- Yet, some Jewish rabbis could not accept the fact that two of the tribes were descended from a non-Israelite mother. They, therefore, claimed that Asenath had converted to Judaism before the children were born.
- Another possibility is that she is Dinah’s daughter from the encounter with Shechem. When she was born, she was carried to Egypt on angels’ wings and adopted by Potiphera.
- Jacob put a special plate around her neck with the story of her birth. That is how Joseph recognized her and was able to restore her natural heritage.
- An apocryphal book, Joseph and Asenath, greatly expands on her life story.
- According to that narrative, she is described as being around 18 - tall, beautiful, and graceful – “more like a Hebrew woman than an Egyptian.”
- Her fame is legendary, and many men seek to marry her.
- Among them is Pharaoh’s eldest son, but Pharaoh will not allow it.
- For her part, Asenath “despised all men and regarded them with contempt.”
- No man ever saw her because she remained in a tower within the house.
- The tower has many rooms. Within the main room stand innumerable idols, and Asenath worships them all.
- Months into his job, Joseph arrives at the home of Potiphera, where he is invited to dine.
- Asenath hears that her parents have returned home and dresses in all her finery to greet them.
- They are delighted to see her, and Potiphera brings up the notion of marrying Joseph.
- Asenath flatly refuses, reminding him of Joseph’s past –he had been accused of rape, had spent time in prison, and was a foreigner.
- She hurries back to her room, intending to avoid meeting Joseph. Yet, she sees him from her window, and “her whole body trembles.”
- She very much regrets speaking evil of him and calls him the “son of God.”
- Joseph sees her too, but thinks she just wants to seduce him because that’s what’s been happening throughout his travels.
- Potiphera, however, tells him she is no stranger but their daughter and his sister (though she is, technically, the daughter of his sister).
- Joseph is overjoyed, primarily because she detests men (just as he detests women).
- They are introduced, and Potiphera suggests they greet each other with a kiss.
- Joseph demurs, saying he will not kiss lips that have blessed idols.
- Asenath is in tears and goes to her room, where she repents of all her gods.
- For seven days, she does not taste food or drink.
- She prays, dresses in sackcloth, and covers herself in ashes.
- On the eighth day, an angel appears and tells her she has found favor with the Lord. • He asks her to retrieve a honeycomb from one of her rooms.
- The angel breaks a piece off and puts it in her mouth.
- Bees come up from the comb and settle on her lips, thereby cleansing them.
- After the angel leaves, a young servant tells Asenath that Joseph is on his way back.
- This time they embrace and “receive new life in their spirit.”
- The wedding is planned, but Joseph wants to have Pharaoh give him Asenath.
- Pharaoh does the honors and proclaims a seven-day celebration.
- This is when the seven years of plenty come to an end, and Joseph’s family moves to Egypt.
- After visiting them one day, Asenath and Joseph are returning to their home when Pharaoh’s son sees her again.
- He sends for Simeon and Levi and, after commending them for singlehandedly killing all the men of Shechem, orders them to kill Joseph for “stealing” Asenath away from him.
- Simeon and Levi flatly refuse and threaten Pharaoh’s son, who takes them at their words.
- Yet he cannot stop thinking about Asenath.
- Word comes to him that Dan and Gad (eldest sons of the maidservants) are estranged from Joseph and might be more amenable to his request.
- He deceives them by saying Joseph plans to cut them off as soon as Jacob dies.
- Pharaoh’s son wants them to kill Joseph, and he plans to kill his father.
- Pharaoh’s son is unable to get to his father, so he decides to assist Dan and Gad.
- On that day, Asenath wants to go to their estate in the country. Joseph is unable to accompany her, but assures her that God will keep her safe.
- The brothers attack Asenath and her entourage, but she manages to escape.
- Levi foresees what is happening, and the remaining brothers go to her defense.
- Benjamin is with her in the chariot when Pharaoh’s son comes upon them.
- He hits Pharaoh’s son with a stone and kills the fifty men with him.
- The other brothers kill the troops that have accompanied Dan and Gad.
- Dan and Gad still hope to kill Asenath, but as they approach she prays to God, and their swords drop out of their hands and turn to dust.
- They quickly fall to the ground and beg for forgiveness.
- She sends them into the woods so she has time to think. The other brothers want to kill them, but she prevents them from doing so.
- They take Pharaoh’s son back to his father and tell him everything.
- Three days later the son dies from his wounds.
- Pharaoh is overcome with grief and dies at the age of 109. He gives his crown to Joseph.
- Joseph and Asenath rule for 48 years. Then Joseph returns the crown to Pharaoh’s grandson.