Genesis 41:45 ff makes her the daughter of Poti-Pherah, priest of On (Heliopolis) and the wife of Yoseph. This is more complex than at first seems, because Poti-Phera (פוטי-פרע) is in fact a corrupt form of the name Poti-Phar (פוטיפר), who was Yoseph's master on his initial arrival in Mitsrayim (Genesis 39), and whose wife's attempts to seduce him were the cause of his imprisonment. The first half, Poti (פוטי), is the ancient name for Libyan Egypt; the second half, Phera, comes from the same root as Pharaoh (פרע); so that both are in fact versions of the name of the King of Egypt himself, who served as priest-king and who, at the time of the Hyksos, had both his capital and his central shrine - to the sun-and-corn god, incidentally, whose own story bears a remarkable similarity to that of Yoseph - at Heliopolis, or On in the Egyptian. Thus all three of Yoseph's masters in the story turn out to be the same person, and in marrying Asnat, he is in fact marrying the king's own daughter.

Knowing how the ancient mythologies worked, and especially the way in which royal prerogative gave priest and priestess status to key figures in the ruling family, we ought to be able to show that the wife of the Dauphin - for that is what Yoseph was, as Vizier or Viceroy: the son or son-in-law of the king ruling in the king's name as an effective Regent - would have served in the capacity of High Priestess. And indeed this is so, as the name Asnat makes clear.

The Septuagint clearly links her (Genesis 46:20) with Neith, the Egyptian Minerva who became Athene to the Greeks, and who was previously Anat, the wife of Canaanite Ba'al, with her central shrine at Beit Anatot, or Bethany. That the Hittite-Aramaean Hyksos should have brought her worship with them to Egypt makes perfect sense; they set up her temple at Heliopolis, the "city of the sun-god", but merged her with the existing cult of Isis, which was in all respects identical anyway. Isis is reflected in the first part of her name - "As"; the second part retains "Nat", one of the alternate names for Neith. The same procedure of amalgamation occurs frequently, as in Yo-Av, Ish-Ba'al, Eli-Yahu, Melchi-Tsedek and innumerous other Biblical names.

Yoseph's own Egyptian name (Genesis 41:45) was Tsaphnat-Paneyach (צפנת פענח), a name the Bible is careful not to translate or explain; however I shall. The verb Tspahan (צפן) means "to hide" or "conceal". Paneyach (פענח) is "the face". Why should someone be called "his face is hidden"? Answer: because he is the sun, or the sun-god, whose face "no man shall see and live" (Exodus 33:20). Or at the very least that god's representative on Earth. Think Yevarechecha ("May YHVH bless you, and keep you. May he make his face shine on you and bless you. May he turn his face to shine on you and bring you wholeness" - Numbers 6:24-26), and Histir Panav, the Jewish notion that evil enters when YHVH does the opposite of the Yevarechecha, and deliberately turns his face away from shining on you.

Thus, in the final analysis, what is reduced to a mere romance in the Genesis tale, must originally have been a Hyksos myth of the assimilation of their cult into that of the Egyptians whom they conquered and ruled: the marriage of the Egyptian sun- and corn- god, whom the Hyksos called in Aramaic Yah-Suph, "the god of the reeds" (a possible explanation here of how Yah came later to be thought of as masculine), but whom the Egyptians preferred to remember by his Egyptian name: Osher or Osiris.

Midrash and Targum Jonathan both name Poti-Phar's wife as Zuleika, which means "
fair; brilliant and lovely" in Arabic, though the legend that this is her name really belongs to the pre-Moslem Arabs, and is then retained in later Moslem tradition (hadith) despite the fact that the Qur'an does not name her, except as "the wife of al-Aziz" (Qur'an 12:30). Both of the two major Sufi poets, Rumi and Hafiz, retain the tradition in their works, and Byron borrows the name for his heroine in "The Bride of Abydos".

Given that the traditional tale of the sun-god has him marrying either his mother or sister, can we deduce that Poti-Phar's wife should really be named Asnat?

Ezra 2:50 has Asnah (
אַסְנָה) for a man's name and taken to mean "a storehouse", which is also interesting in the context of Yoseph.

Copyright © 2015 David Prashker
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