Who was Joseph's wife in Egypt?

by George Damon

Long before the Exodus, we find in the book of Genesis, chapter 41, that Joseph is restored to prominence in Egypt, with Pharaoh setting him as ruler of Egypt (directly under Pharaoh). Breaking into verse 45, we read of Pharaoh giving to Joseph as a wife, Asenath [ah-SEE-nath], the daughter of Poti-Pherah, priest of the city of On (or Heliopolis). Going on ahead to verses 50-52, Joseph and Asenath later had two sons, the firstborn, Manasseh and the second, Ephraim.

From these verses, it would appear that Manasseh and Ephraim were half-Egyptian, as would be their descendants living today respectively in the United States and Great Britain. Therefore, most of the residents of America and Britain, would appear to be part-Egyptian!

But we have a real dilemma here, in that Joseph, as an Israelite, and as a man close to God, should not be marrying a non-Israelite, the daughter of a Pagan priest.

So, the question here is, did Joseph compromise his faith by marrying an Egyptian woman, perhaps to please Pharaoh, not wanting to offend him, and are we, most of us here today, as descendants of Joseph, therefore, part-Egyptian? To answer this intriguing question of lineage, we must approach the issue from a between-the-lines perspective.

We will begin by briefly looking at what several non-Biblical sources say about Joseph’s wife, Asenath. In the end, we will see that Genesis chapter 46 contains all of the vital evidence necessary to come to a conclusion.

Let’s first look at the apocryphal text of Joseph and Asenath, which, if you read all of it, seems more like a novel than a true historical account but that’s another issue!

Here it is written that Asenath was, for a time kept hidden away, because of her extraordinary beauty, for she was "unlike Egyptian women, slender like Sarah, beautiful like Rebekah, and radiant in appearance like Rachel."

Note that the author of this text includes this enticing innuendo, with out ever stating directly what may be Asenath’s true lineage. Why? Possibly out of reverence for her, by concealing the perceived shame that she was born out of wedlock (as we will look into shortly).

The story indicates that, initially, Asenath did not want to marry Joseph, thinking of him as a vagabond and a foreigner, until she saw him in person, realizing he was not like other men. Asenath rejects her idolatry, converts to Joseph’s God, and they marry.

AD 833, records that Asenath was actually the daughter of Joseph’s sister, Dinah,conceived during her intimacy with Shechem, a Canaanite prince, whether consensual or, according to Josephus, as an act of violence.

As an aside, Genesis chapter 34 records the incident, and the subsequent violent vindication by Jacob’s sons, although nothing is stated as to a pregnancy, or of a child being conceived as a result, perhaps a case of not displaying an inconvenient truth.

A third non-Biblical source,The Legends of the Jews, Volume II, by Louis Ginzberg, published in AD 1910, states that Asenath was indeed Dinah’s daughter, and taken as a baby to the borders of Egypt (with assistance from the angel, Gabriel), but with an amulet fastened around her neck describing the details of her birth. She was found and adopted by the priest, Poti-Pherah, but it appears that her true identity was kept from her.

Now, the three non-Biblical sources that we have just looked at, might be viewed with some scepticism, in that they might not necessarily be true history, and certainly are not accepted as inspired scripture. But these sources are sufficiently enticing (as they were to me!) as to cause one to look more closely at what the Bible itself does say (or perhaps conceals!) about the identity of Joseph’s wife in Egypt. One researcher, I found, has looked into this issue.

Coming down to the present day, we find a relevant article published in 2001, titled Jacob’s Seventieth Descendant by Dr. John Pratt, astronomer and religious chronologist.

Dr. Pratt describes the subject of Asenath in detail, and is able to tie-in certain aspects of non-Biblical sources (such as those we have just discussed) with Asenath’s identity as revealed (or actually concealed!) within Genesis chapter 46. In doing so, Dr. Pratt demonstrates that Genesis 46 alone contains all the information necessary, although in the form of a puzzle, to deduce that Asenath, the mother of Ephraim and Manasseh, was indeed the daughter of Dinah of the House of Israel.

One aspect of this puzzle has to do with recognizing that the words TO Egypt and WITH Jacob to Egypt are not necessarily the same thing. For example, we read of Jacob’s descendants who went TO Egypt, stated in Gen 46:8, which is all-inclusive with no time frame. However, in the previous verses 6 & 7, we read of Jacob’s descendants who went WITH him to Egypt, where a specific time-frame is stated. So keep this in mind. Another aspect of this puzzle involves a couple of mathematical ambiguities in Genesis 46.

Math ambiguity #1 occurs in Gen 46:15 where we find that Leah’s six sons and one daughter, plus the offspring of Leah’s sons, are stated as totaling 33, yet a careful count of these people in verses 8 through 15, adds up to only 32. Josephus (in Antiquities Book II, chapter 7) records (or copies) this exact same ambiguity! Moreover, the grand total count of offspring in verses 8 through 25 adds up to only 69, whereas verse 27 states that all of the persons of the house of Jacob who went TO Egypt were 70. So, one person is missing.

Math ambiguity #2 is similar, and occurs because we are told in verse 26 that 66 descendants went WITH Jacob to Egypt, that Joseph and his two sons were already in Egypt, adding to 69, but that the total number in the house of Jacob who went TO Egypt was 70 (as already mentioned as verse 27). So one person is still missing, no matter how we look at it!

The hypothesis put forth by Dr. Pratt, to resolve this puzzle, is that the missing and unidentified person is actually Joseph’s wife, Asenath! This hypothesis is supported by the following evidence, as four exhibits (summarized for brevity from what Dr Pratt presented):

Exhibit #1: The missing and unidentified person must be Leah's descendant, since Leah had 33 descendants, yet only 32 are listed with her name in verse 15. Given that the missing and unidentified person was Leah’s descendant, that leaves unstated any offspring of Leah’s only daughter, Dinah. So the missing descendant would appear to be Dinah's child.

Exhibit #2: Because only 66 went WITH Jacob to Egypt, then the missing and unidentified 70th person must have already been in Egypt (as were Joseph and his two sons). Indeed, verse 20 mentions not only Joseph and his two sons, but also Joseph’s wife, Asenath! So that brings the total names to four of those who did not make the trip to Egypt WITH Jacob, because they were already in Egypt, adding up to 70 total descendants.

Exhibit #3: Although not specifically stated by Dr. Pratt, Joseph and his family comply with verses 8 & 27, as among those who went TO Egypt, in that: Joseph came to Egypt three years earlier; also his two sons, figuratively, in Joseph’s loins; and Asenath, by default, by her being included in verse 20, one of the many surrounding verses listing those who went TO Egypt.

Exhibit #4: In verses 26 & 27 we are told that the wives of Jacob’s sons were not included in the counting. So is not Joseph's wife, Asenath, disqualified because of that? The answer is that, indeed, none of the wives were counted, that is, all but one. The wording expressly allows Asenath to be the 70th descendant, because she was already in Egypt!

In conclusion, I ask, who was Joseph’s wife in Egypt......that is......was she Egyptian, or was she of the House of Israel? The relevant scriptures appear to conceal the evidence in what appears to be in the form of a puzzle.

Prov 25:2 says that It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter.

The resulting searched-out evidence, as presented, is that Joseph's wife, Asenath, was the daughter of Jacob’s only daughter, Dinah, and that Asenath was indeed of the House of Israel!