Friday, March 18, 2011

Genesis 41:44-45 New Name, New Wife, New Life

"Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, 'I am Pharaoh, but without your word no one will lift hand or foot in all Egypt.'  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."  (Genesis 41:44-45 NIV)


Potiphar repeats the fact that although he will remain the Pharaoh, Joseph will have power over every other individual in the land of Egypt.  Potiphar has already given Joseph several tokens of this transfer of power:  his signet ring, robes and a gold chain.  Now he gives him a new name, to indicate his new position.  Pharaoh also gives Joseph a wife!

First, about Joseph's new name:  We can easily grasp the concept of Joseph being given a new name to signify the change which has come about in his life.  Besides, at that time, when the Pharaoh gave you a new name, I am pretty sure that the correct response was something like 'Thank you very much, Pharaoh, sir', because nobody had the privilege of arguing with him about his decisions.

The only problem I have with this fact is that no one can seem to agree about just what this new name -- Zaphenath Paneah -- really means.  The NIV Study Bible merely says that the meaning of Joseph's name is uncertain.  Other commentators take a stab at a translation:

  • "a revealer of secrets" -- (Wesley, Matthew Henry -- who also notes that some translate it as "'the savior of the world'')

  • "the savior of the world" -- (Jerome --although some call this translation 'arbitrary' or 'a gloss'.

Now, about Joseph's new wife, Asenath:

I used to wonder why Joseph would have agreed to marry this Egyptian daughter of a
priest of the city of On.  The Greeks called this city 'Heliopolis' (city of the sun), which was appropriate, because the city was a center for the worship of the sun god, Ra.  In fact, Joseph's new father-in-law's name (Potiphera) meant "He whom Ra has given".  Joseph's wife's name (Asenath) meant 'She belongs to (the goddess) Neith'.  Why has Joseph agreed to marry into the family of those who have apparently worshipped Ra for generations?!  (Potiphera was likely to have been named in honor of  Ra by his parents; so I presume that they, too, must have worshipped Ra.)

Well, I finally have come upon a reasonable explanation.  It was in a commentary on Genesis 41 found here.  The part which is relevant to this post is found in the paragraph entitled "A Promotion by Pharaoh (41:37-45)"  Basically,the author brings up several points:
  • Where else could Joseph obtain a godly wife? His brothers had tried to kill him, and as for Great-Uncle Laban, well, ...?
  • God had not specifically forbidden marriage to any but Canaanites, and even that came after Joseph's time.  (Deuteronomy 20:17-18) 
  • Israelites were permitted to marry captives, after a period of mourning had passed, if they were not Canaanites. (Deuteronomy 21:10-13) [Of course, Joseph's wife had not been a captive, but the principle of marrying foreigners was not forbidden, and we can pretty well assume these women were not God-fearers already, for the most part.]

I still have some questions, but this explanation helps.
On a lighter note, since Joseph is now in charge of all the people of Egypt, how do you think his first meeting with his former master Potipher, and Potipher's devious wife, would have gone?  Fortunately for them, Joseph was not one to seek his own revenge.  I would have loved to have seen the expression on their faces, though!

Also, Potipher (Joseph's former master) is not the same man as Potiphera (Joseph's new father-in-law).  I know, I wondered about that, too, because of the similarity of their names.

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