Asenath

The Egyptian-born Asenath was the daughter of Potipherah, priest of On. Some sources dispute that she was the flesh-and-blood daughter of Potipherah, asserting that he was unable to impregnate his wife. What isn't disputed is that Asenath's destiny was to be with Joseph, son of Jacob.

After Joseph was imprisoned by the pharaoh, and then correctly interpreted the ruler's dreams about seven years of abundance in Egypt to be followed by seven years of famine, the pharaoh gave Joseph control over all of Egypt. He called Joseph by the name of Zaphnathpaaneah, or “revealer of things hidden” (Genesis 41:45). The pharaoh gave Asenath to Joseph for his wife; Genesis doesn't reveal how old Asenath was when she married Joseph, but he was thirty.

Egyptian land at that time was fertile, harvests were good, and food was plentiful. Asenath, whose name means “gift of the sun god,” bore Joseph two sons. He named the firstborn Manasseh, “For God, said he, hath made me forget all my toil, and all my father's house” (Genesis 41:51). He named his second son Ephraim, “For God hath caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction” (Genesis 41:52). Both Manasseh and Ephraim grow up to lead their own Hebrew tribes.

When the famine hit Egypt and all of the lands around it, the storehouses were full of grain, because God had given Joseph the insight to fill the storehouses in preparation for the coming lean years. People from other lands, including Joseph's father and brothers, came to Egypt seeking food. Joseph introduced them to the pharaoh, and the ruler gave Jacob the Patriarch the best land for his family, and good pastures for their sheep. Joseph lived to be 110, long enough to see his sons become leaders of their own tribes, and to enjoy his son's grandchildren.

The Bible says nothing more about Asenath, but there is a story in Jewish midrashic literature that states that Asenath was actually Joseph's niece, the daughter of his sister Dinah following Dinah's rape by Sechem.

There is another story about Asenath found in an apocryphal account of the couple. In that story, Asenath is a virgin pagan. Joseph, repelled by the idea of a pagan wife, rejects Asenath. reeling from the bitterness of his rejection, she enters a tower to fast and pray, and undergoes a conversion. A visit by an angel, and a ritual that involves honeycomb, result in Joseph changing his mind. He marries her, and she bears their two sons. However, the pharaoh's own son harbors a smoldering desire for Asenath. He hatches a plan to kill Joseph. Benjamin, one of Joseph's brothers, foils the plan, and the pharaoh's son perishes instead. Asenath and Joseph govern Egypt for forty-eight more years before the pharaoh's grandson takes power.

Who was Sechem?

Sechem, the son of King Hamor, saw Dinah attending a nature festival. He raped her, but then fell in love with her and wanted to marry her. He begged his father to help. The king asked Jacob for the girl; negotiations resulted in the nonHebrew men of the village undergoing circumcision. But when they were too sore to move, Dinah's brothers, Levi and Simeon, took their revenge, killing all of the men, including Sechem and his father.

Still other sources assert that the priest Potipherah fell sick, and his illness resulted in his inability to father any children. Potipherah, those sources assert, likely adopted Asenath and gave her to Joseph after Joseph interpreted his dreams.

Another version of the story has Dinah giving birth to a baby girl whose presence in the home of Jacob and his sons was intolerable, because it served as a constant reminder of the disgraced Dinah. Jacob decided to send the girl to Egypt, where she might be adopted. He made the child a gift of a necklace and an amulet. Words in the amulet stated that the baby's name was Asenath, and she was the product of a violent tragedy. By some divine hand, baby Asenath was adopted by the priest Potipherah in Egypt. Later, she became Joseph's wife.

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