A Biblical painting by Rembrandt called Jacob Blessing the Children of Joseph gives a prominent place to Jacob’s daughter-in-law Asenath. Joseph is Jacob’s son. He is just to the right of the elderly Jacob in the painting. Standing a little apart from the two men is Asenath. She is Joseph’s wife and the mother of Joseph’s two sons Manasseh and Ephraim. Although Joseph is a popular Old Testament character few people know his wife’s name. Asenath didn’t even make it into Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s famous musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. But she is clearly introduced in the Bible.
Pharaoh gave Joseph ………..Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, as his wife. Thus Joseph gained authority over the land of Egypt. Genesis 41:45
Joseph becomes powerful by marrying the daughter of an Egyptian priest. This idea troubled early Christians who believed it was wrong to marry someone of a different faith. How could the godly Joseph marry a pagan woman? The Bible doesn’t explain the situation so an early Christian writer decided to. In the first century AD someone wrote a book called Joseph and Asenath. I read David Cook’s translation of the book. It’s an interesting story.
Asenath was a beautiful virgin and lived with ten other virgins in a tower. She’d had many suitors but had rejected them all. When she saw Joseph she was immediately attracted to him and wanted to bear his children. He rejected her because she worshiped idols. After a visit from an angel of God who shared a magical honeycomb with Asenath she abandoned her own gods to worship Yahweh. So Joseph married her and they had two sons both of whom became fathers of great nations.
I feel sorry for Asenath. In the Biblical version of her story she is given to Joseph by the Pharaoh. Did she have anything to say about it? In the apocryphal story she is forced to change her faith to that of her suitor Joseph so he will accept her. Could Joseph not have respected and valued her faith?
So often in Biblical stories women are afforded only one or two lines in a much longer story about a MAN. What a shame! Asenath was probably every bit as interesting and inspiring as Joseph.