By Hope Bolinger, Crosswalk.com
Scripture doesn't tell us much about Asenath, the wife of Joseph, the son of Jacob. In fact, this is all we learn about her:
Genesis 41:45: "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."
We later learn that she gives birth to Ephraim and Manasseh. But we don't learn much about her character, her upbringing, or really ... anything. Even Jewish folklore gets a bit murky when you look at the two different Rabbinic schools of thought about her. So why do we need to know about Asenath at all?
There are multiple reasons why we can learn from this high-ranking woman and why she can give hope to the Josephs in our lives. The ones who waited 30 years for such a wife as this. So let's dive into who Asenath is, what Jewish folklore has said about her, and why we should know her story.
Who Was Asenath in the Bible?
It depends on which Rabbinic school of thought you ask. But first, let's consult Scripture.
She was obviously high-ranking enough for Pharaoh to consider giving her to Joseph as a spouse. Now, some have speculated if she was the daughter of Potipher (which would make a full-circle on Joseph's story and Potiphar's wife's false accusations that he raped her), but we have no evidence to suggest this.
According to GotQuestions, the Priests of On worshipped the sun god Ra, so by marrying an Israelite, Asenath escapes the pagan practices of the Egyptians. Because Joseph is such a strong man of God, we have reason to believe he had a strong influence on leading her to learn more about Yahweh. She does give birth to two sons who end up becoming heads of tribes of Israel.
Now I want to pause and take a look at what the names of her sons mean.
Ephraim: For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction (Genesis 41:52)
Manasseh: God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household (Genesis 41:51)
Perhaps Joseph named them. Perhaps they named them together. But it seems that both of them were borne out of some kind of affliction, or at least, endured it.
We have no idea if she went into this marriage willingly or for the usual bride-price that happened in her day. Pharaoh gives Joseph a name that means seer or interpreter, and he gives Asenath as a prize for Joseph properly interpreting Pharaoh's dream about an oncoming famine. Apart from this, we have no other biblical details about Asenath. We can surmise that perhaps Pharaoh could have married her off to someone else or placed her in a harem in Egypt—as that was common for the time—so her marriage with Joseph would've been more optimal than other options before her.
But for conjecture and other guesses about her life, we'll have to explore rabbinic legend for that.
What Does Rabbinic Legend Say about Asenath?
As mentioned before, there are two schools of thought about Asenath's origins.
First, she hails from the land of Egypt. She is fully Egyptian and has spent her whole life learning the ways of the Egyptian religion. She then converts to Joseph's religion and follows in the ways of Yahweh after she marries Joseph. Showing that God has a plan for the Gentiles. We see this in other figures such as Zipporah, Ruth, and Rahab, all who play an important role in the overarching narrative of the Old Testament that bleeds into the New Testament.
The second rabbinic school of thought says she was born out of the rape of Dinah that happens in Genesis 34. This would certainly have a literary element when we think about Joseph's interactions with Potiphar's wife and her false accusations. That both Joseph and Asenath have been born out of or endured hardship before they came together.
A Hellenistic narrative titled "Joseph and Asenath" seems to indicate the couple didn't like each other at first sight, but through divine intervention, they fall in love with each other, whilst avoiding a plot to kill Joseph. Like many texts that appeared in the Hellenistic period, we can't really take it at face value.
But we do know that Joseph marries at 30 years old. He's spent 13 years in captivity. He's been falsely accused of rape, been thrown into prison, and been forgotten. Most of us have a desire to marry, and we have to think Joseph was not an exception to the rule.
So God not only grants him freedom, and a high position, after so many years in the lowest position in Egypt, but he also marries a beautiful, intelligent woman, who gives him two sons. Together, they follow Yahweh, no matter what hardship they faced before.
Why Should We Know about Asenath?
Unfortunately, we don't know which rabbinic legend is true, if either. But we do know that both Joseph and Asenath had experienced some sort of hardships. Asenath either came from a union that was formed in rape, or she would experience some kind of similar treatment in either Egypt's harem or to whomever Pharaoh married her off to.
Even if she had married someone she loved, she would not have learned about Yahweh and his love for her. This would have been a tragic life, indeed. Especially for such an intelligent woman.
So we can learn from Asenath's story that God can rescue us out of difficult situations or families.
We can corroborate this with what the couple named their sons. "Fruitful in the time of suffering" "God has made me forgot my troubles." Out of immense hardship, God produced something beautiful between these two.
We should also know about Asenath because she would've been considered foreign to the Israelites (even if she had been produced from Dinah, according to the one legend). This means that God had a plan for Gentiles from the very beginning. Even though he calls the Israelites his people in the Old Testament, he doesn't hold the Gentiles in the lurch forever. He has them play a part of his plan, even before Jesus steps onto the scene.
Finally, we have to imagine that Joseph was praising the Lord when Asenath came into his life. He'd reached the age of 30 and marriage didn't look like it was going to happen for him. Instead, he'd spent almost half his life enslaved or rotting in a jail cell.
So we can imagine his joy when he receives Asenath as a wife. A beautiful woman who received a strong education.
This can give many of us single Christians hope in the dating world today. With so many people who ghost, who stalk, who don't treat us right, we may think that all the good men and women are gone. And yet, we hear the testimony of our brothers and sisters. That in the moments when they thought they would not find someone, God provided.
This does not guarantee that we have an Asenath in store for us. But it does remind us that God moves behind the scenes and that we will not endure these fiery trials forever. And that out of hardship and difficulty, we can see fruit.
Asenath - Bible Study Tools Dictionary
Photo credit: ©Unsplash/Eunice Lituanas
Hope Bolinger is an editor at Salem, a multi-published novelist, and a graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 1,100 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her modern-day Daniel trilogy released its first two installments with IlluminateYA, and the final one, Vision, releases in August of 2021. She is also the co-author of the Dear Hero duology, which was published by INtense Publications. And her inspirational adult romance Picture Imperfect releases in November of 2021. Find out more about her at her website.
This article is part of our People from the Bible Series featuring the most well-known historical names and figures from Scripture. We have compiled these articles to help you study those whom God chose to set before us as examples in His Word. May their lives and walks with God strengthen your faith and encourage your soul.
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