Asenath The Daughter of-Potipherah was a priest of the ancient Egyptian ‘On’
Mother of Manasseh and Ephraim
Origin of the Name ‘Asenath’:
An Egyptian name, meaning “belonging/she belongs to Neith” – the goddess of the western door (Encyclopedia Biblica, Volume 1, page 479).
One of the Midrashim of the Sages about the name’s origin, in Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer 38, states that Jacob, in order to save her from his sons, placed the infant Asenath under a bush named ‘Sneh’, and from there comes the name Asenath.
There is also a connection between the name “Asenath” and the Hebrew words “ones” = Rape and “Ason” = disaster.
The story succinctly describes Joseph’s marriage to the daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, from whom two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, were born.
The fact that Joseph’s sons were born to him from an Egyptian woman led the Sages to explore and expand upon the biblical source and legitimize Joseph’s marriage to Asenath.
Thus, two versions of Asenath’s origin emerged. One version, known from the Midrashic teachings, presents Asenath as the daughter of Dinah who was conceived by Shechem through rape and was adopted by Potiphera. The other version is hidden and originates from an external book, “Confession and Prayer of Asenath, the Daughter of Potiphera the Priest,” in which Asenath is Potiphera’s daughter, who was an idol worshiper and converted out of love for Joseph.
Here are the two versions :
The story begins with Leah’s seventh pregnancy; she had already given birth to six sons. Rachel, still childless, prayed that Leah’s unborn child would be a girl. Due to her prayers, the gender of the unborn child changed, and Dinah was born. After Rachel continued to pray, God granted her a son, Joseph. (Midrash Tanhuma, Vayetze, 157)
Upon meeting Esau, Jacob hid Dinah in a box to protect her from Esau who might have sought her as a wife. This act led to Jacob’s punishment by God. Later, when Dinah was abducted by Shechem, Simeon and Levi avenged her by killing the men of Shechem and rescuing her. (Genesis Rabbah, 70)
Dinah grew up to be modest and humble, and she never left her tent without her parents’ permission. One day, she went out to see a celebration where she was noticed by Shechem, who raped her. Her brothers avenged her by killing Shechem and his men. (Genesis Rabbah, 96)
After Shechem’s rape, Dinah became pregnant and gave birth to Asenath. Her brothers wanted to kill both Asenath and the baby, but Jacob intervened and saved Asenath. He placed a silver amulet around her neck with the Hebrew words “Consecrated to God” written on it and left her under the ‘Sneh’ bush. An angel, appearing as an eagle, took Asenath and placed her on the altar in Egypt, where Potiphera, the priest of On, found her and raised her as his daughter. (Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer 38; Yalkut Shimoni)
Another version states that Jacob, after placing the silver amulet on Asenath, threw her over the walls of Egypt. Potiphera, not Potiphera the priest, found her and adopted her as his own daughter. (Midrash Aggadah on Genesis 41:45)
A couple of years later, a celebration was held to honor Joseph for saving Egypt from famine. Asenath threw her silver amulet, prepared by her grandfather Jacob, onto Joseph, who recognized the Hebrew words “Consecrated to God” and married her. After marrying Asenath, Joseph’s sister Dinah became both his mother-in-law and his sister-in-law, as Simeon married her after Shechem’s rape. (Genesis Rabbah, Parashat Pe, Pesika 11)
Another version states that after putting the silver amulet around Asenath’s neck, Jacob threw her into the walls of Egypt. Potiphar (not Potiphera the priest), found her and recognized her as a “great lady.” He adopted her and raised her as his own daughter. (Genesis Rabbah, Parashat Maaseh VaYishlach, Maaseh 45)
Years later, a celebration was held in honor of Joseph for saving Egypt from famine. All the women of Egypt threw gifts at him, including Asenath, who threw the silver amulet Jacob had prepared. Joseph recognized the Hebrew Letters on the amulet, as his father’s writings, which bore the inscription “Consecrated to God,” and took Asenath as his wife.
Joseph and Asenath: the confession and prayer of Asenath, daughter of Pentephres the priest
One of the external books of the Hebrew Bible, written between the 1st century BCE and the 3rd century CE, by an author from Alexandria. It was translated from Greek into Hebrew by Gabriel Tsoran.
Opinions about the author’s identity, whether Jewish or Christian, differ. According to this composition, Asenath was a former idol worshipper who converted. This work greatly influenced Christian saint legends during the medieval period.
“And the daughter of Potiphera was eighteen years old, a great virgin, and exceedingly beautiful and splendid in her beauty more than all the virgins that were on the earth.” (page 83) Her hand all the sons of the nobles, the governors, and the kings sought her, even the son of Pharaoh desired her as a wife, but Asenath rejected all proposals. Asenath lived secluded and guarded in a very tall tower near Potiphera’s house. At the top of the tower were ten rooms made of gold and precious stones, filled with all sorts of wealth. In one room, she had Egyptian idols that she worshipped, and in seven other rooms, there were seven virgins, each in a separate room. They were Asenath’s maids, and they were all born on the same night Asenath was born, and they were all exceptionally beautiful.
Potiphera comes to visit his Daughter and proposes to Asenath that she should marry Joseph: “Behold, Joseph, the man of God, has come to us today, and he rules over all the land of Egypt, and Pharaoh has appointed him ruler over all our land, and he breaks all the land, and he delivers us from the approaching famine, and Joseph is a man fearing God, wise of heart, and he is a virgin like this day, and a man of might with wisdom and knowledge, and the spirit of God is in him, and the grace of the Lord is with him. Come, my house, let me give you to him as a wife, and you shall be his bride, and he shall be to you as a bridegroom forever.” (page 85)
Asenath’s response: “Why do my lord and father speak like this, and desire in his words to make me a maidservant to a foreign man, a refugee, and a purchaser with money? Is this not the shepherd’s son from the land of Canaan, and he was abandoned by his own? Is this not the one who lay with his concubine, and his lord cast him into the darkness, and Pharaoh brought him out of the prison because he interpreted his dream? No, for I will take the king’s firstborn son, for he is destined to be king over the land.”
Later When Asenath sees Joseph arriving at her parent’s house from the window of her tower, she gazes upon his beauty and regrets her words. During their meeting, Asenath becomes greatly excited. Joseph blesses her, and she goes up to her room. She falls onto her bed, her body drenched in sweat, weeping and finding solace in her idols. She shuts herself in her room, weeping and unable to eat.
She removes her splendid garments and dresses in mourning attire for her deceased brother. She throws all her finest clothes out of the window to the poor. She shatters the many idols she used to worship, breaking them into pieces and casting them out of the window. She throws out all the abundance of offerings from the royal feast, the wine vessels, and their libations, and she also throws out the honeycomb.
For seven days, Asenath mourns and refrains from eating, lying in ashes. On the eighth day, she rises from her mourning and lifts a prayer to the God of Israel, a prayer of confession, repentance, forgiveness, and supplication. She asks to serve Joseph, saying, “For who among men could bear such beauty, and who else is as wise and noble as Joseph? He is truly a man of God; I entrust him into Your hands. For I love him with all my soul. Guard him with the wisdom of Your mercy, and grant him to me as a servant, so that I may wash his feet, anoint him, and serve him all the days of my life.” (Source, 94)
When Asenath completes her confession prayer, “And behold, the morning star appeared in the east from the heavens, and Asenath saw it and rejoiced… So, listen to me, Lord God.”
Then, a revelation of an angel unfolds before Asenath. The angel resembles Joseph in every way, but his face shines like the sun, his eyes are radiant, his hair glows, and his hands and feet are like polished iron.
And the angel guides her to remove the garments of mourning, to don a new and radiant attire, and to fasten the double-bright belt that belongs to a virgin. Then, she comes before him once again (though he had approached her first). When she approaches him for the second time, he entrusts to her that God has heard her confession, and blesses her with a name that will be inscribed in the Book of Life and will never be erased. At that moment, a depiction of rebirth is presented for Asenath, and Joseph is promised to her as a bridegroom. Her name is changed from Asenath to “City of Refuge,” saying, “For under your wings, many nations will gather and nations will seek shelter in abundance.” (Source, 96). He informs her that he is going to deliver the message to Joseph, that he will come to take her as his wife. The angel instructs her to don a garment of completeness, to wear the choicest jewelry, and to be adorned like a bride.
The angel / divine messenger instructs her to bring him a comb of honey that is on the table in her chamber. The honeycomb is as clear as piled snow, full of honey, and its fragrance is like the scent of life. She brings the honeycomb to him, and he explains to her that from this honeycomb those who have been revealed the secrets of God, those who have repented, will eat. The honey is produced by the bees in the Garden of Eden, and the angels also partake of it. Whoever eats from it will never die. He breaks off a piece of the honeycomb, eats from it, and offers it to Asenath. Then, he places his finger on the eastern side of the honeycomb and pierces it with a finger, and then on the northern side as well, and the finger that touches it turns into blood.
From the honeycomb, snow-white bees emerge, their wings like golden crowns, and they are adorned with purple and blue. They wear golden crowns on their heads, and their stingers are sharp. The bees surround Asenath, and larger bees descend upon her lips. The angel instructs the bees to go to their places, and they fall dead from Asenath. He instructs them again to go to their places, and they fly out into the outer courtyard. Afterward, the angel touches the honeycomb, and fire consumes it, filling the room with a sweet fragrance.
Asenath asks the angel to bless the seven virgin women, her maidens, and the angel blesses them. Then, the angel instructs her to take the table, and it disappears.
Asenath dresses in the attire guided by the angel, purifying and adorning herself. Joseph arrives at her house, and Asenath goes out to meet him with her maidens. Joseph says to her, “Come to me, O holy virgin, for your goodness shines upon me from heaven.” He extends his hands and embraces Asenath, and she hugs him in return. They kiss each other passionately, and their souls rejoice in deep unity. Asenath and Joseph become engaged and receive Pharaoh’s blessing. In time, Ephraim and Manasseh are born to them.
Two years later, Asenath is summoned by Pharaoh’s son, who wishes to marry her. She refuses to marry him due to her loyalty to her husband Joseph. Pharaoh’s son becomes enraged and seeks to kill her. He turns to Joseph’s brothers, Simeon and Levi, offering them a great reward to kill Asenath. They decline his offer. He then approaches Gad and Dan, warning them that he heard Joseph intends to take their property after Jacob’s death, as his sons from the maidservants would not inherit. Gad and Dan take action against Asenath, ambushing and attacking her, but she manages to escape and reaches her remaining brothers.
Her brothers come to her aid, and they overcome Pharaoh’s soldiers. Benjamin strikes Pharaoh’s son with a stone, attempting to kill him, but his brothers prevent him. Pharaoh’s son is returned to the palace, but he dies three days later from his injuries. Shortly afterward, Pharaoh also passes away due to grief over his son’s death. Joseph continues to govern Egypt for 48 more years after Pharaoh’s death and then transfers the monarchy to Pharaoh’s grandson.