Why did Joseph marry Asenath, the daughter of an Egyptian priest? Didn't this violate God's instructions against marrying a pagan nonbeliever? Genesis 41:44-46 reads as follows:
"Pictures showing us, the Modern English Nations and there colors compared to Ancient Egypt and Israel, makeing us the 13th and 14th tribes of Israel, Jacobs blessings that lead us form the bondage of Egypt(Mizraim)"
"Pharaoh also said to Joseph, 'I am Pharaoh, and
gave him as a wife Asenath, the daughter of Poti-
Pherah priest of On. So Joseph went out over all
the land of Egypt. Joseph was thirty years old when
he stood before Pharaoh king of Egypt."
We also read, in Genesis 46:20: "And to Joseph in
the land of Egypt were born Manasseh & Ephraim, whom Asenath, the daughter of Poti- Pherah priest of On, bore to him." In Genesis 48, we read the stirring account of Jacob's adoption of Joseph's two sons (Genesis 48:5); his blessing of the two sons; his placing his name (that of "Israel") on them (v. 16); and his "setting Ephraim before Manasseh," Joseph's firstborn son (v. 20). Jacob prophesied that Manasseh would become a great people, but that Ephraim would be "greater than he, and his
descendants shall become a multitude of nations" (v. 19). We know from history that Manasseh became the United States of America, while Ephraim became Great Britain and the
Commonwealth of nations -- quite literally "a multitude" of nations.
With this background, let us begin to answer why
Joseph submitted to Pharaoh and accepted from
him, in marriage, Asenath, the daughter of Poti-
Pherah, the priest of On.
Some propose that Poti-Pherah and Asenath were
not pagan worshippers. Jamieson, Fausset and
Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible, states:
"[Joseph's] naturalization was completed by this
alliance with a family of high distinction. On being
founded by an Arab colony, Poti-pherah, like
Jethro [father-in-law of Moses], priest of Midian,
might be a worshipper of the true God; and thus
Joseph, a pious man, will be freed from the charge
of marrying an idolatress for worldly ends."
This conclusion is not necessarily negated bythe fact that Poti-Pherah and Asenath were called with
pagan names. The Ryrie Study Bible comments: "In
order to 'Egyptianize' Joseph, Pharaoh gave him an
Egyptian name and an Egyptian wife. The meaning
of his Egyptian name is uncertain. Asenath means '
she belongs to Neith' ( a goddess of the Egyptians).
On is the city of Heliopolis, a center for the
worship of the sun god, Ra." Still, the fact that
Joseph's wife and his father-in-law were called by
such names does not prove that they were pagan
worshippers. Pharaoh gave Joseph an Egyptian
name which could, in some contexts, refer to an
Egyptian god (compare the Nelson Study Bible).
However, it is interesting that the Bible, apart from
this passage in Genesis 41, never uses this name to
refer to Joseph.
The New Student Bible comments: "Proud
Egyptians did not care for Hebrews. In order that
Joseph's ethnic past be erased as quickly as possible,
Pharaoh gave Joseph an Egyptian name and
married him into a prominent Egyptian
Joseph gave his own sons Hebrew names, however,
a practice that suggests he maintained his own
In addition, Soncino points out that the Hebrew
word for "priest" in "priest of On," i.e., "kohen," can
also be translated as "ruler," as is the case in 2
Samuel 8:18. In that passage, the Authorized
Version says, "chief
rulers," while the New King
James Bible says, "chief ministers." In any event,
the meaning in 2 Samuel 8:18 is clearly not one of
a religious function. Accordingly, Soncino suggests
as a possibility that in Genesis 41:45, Poti-Pherah
was not a "priest" of On, but a "ruler" of On.
Others feel strongly that Joseph's wife and father-inlaw
were pagan worshippers at the time of Joseph's
marriage. If so, such a marriage would have been
against God's law. Abraham insisted that his son
Isaac would not marry
a wife "from the daughters of
the Canaanites," but from his own family and
country (Genesis 24:3-4). Later, God specifically
prohibited the Israelites to "make a covenant with
the inhabitants of the land [of Canaan] where you
are going, lest it be a snare in your midst" (Exodus
34:12). He warned them not to "take of [an
idolater's] daughters for your sons, and his daughters
play the harlot with their gods and make your sons
play the harlot with their gods" (Exodus 34:16).
In this light, the following statements by the
Commentary are quite interesting:
"The name given Joseph is an Egyptian one
probably meaning, 'the God speaks and he hears'...,
a pagan testimony to the reality of God in Joseph's
life. Potiphera is pure Egyptian, meaning 'he whom
Re gave,' and is essentially the same name as
Potiphar. Asenath means 'belonging to (goddess)
Neith.' Potiphera was priest of On, one of the most
influential offices in Egypt. Joseph married into one
of the most prominent priestly families in Egypt,
but they were nevertheless pagan. Isaac and Jacob
had secured wives from their own cultural
background. Joseph did the very thing which the
others sought to avoid. Could this deed possibly
have met with God's approval? The writer of the
Joseph story is silent, but that silence does not
necessarily mean assent... It does not appear to be
coincidence that the descendants of Joseph and
Asenath, the principal northern tribes of Ephraim
and Manasseh, were always addicted to idolatry.
The golden calves of Jeroboam I in North Israel
were based upon experiences during the flight from
Egypt (cf. Ex. 32:4 with 1 Kings 12:28). Thus the
silence of this section of Genesis is followed by the
judgment of history."
It is noteworthy that the modern descendants of
Ephraim and Manasseh are likewise steeped in
paganism and idolatry. Religious feasts such as
Christmas or Easter are being celebrated, which
have nothing to do with true Christianity, but
which are clearly derived from pagan worship. For
more information, please read our free booklet,
"Don't Keep Christmas." You may also want to read
the Editorial in Update #89, dated April 18, 2003,
titled, "Why We Don't Celebrate Easter."
Whether Asenath was a pagan idolatress or not, it
is clear that God never allowed His followers to
marry unbelievers. This is true today for Christians,
as it was always true in God's eyes -- since God does
not change. We read in 1 Corinthians 7:39 that a
marriage should be conducted "only in the Lord."
However, we are also told that a believing mate is
not to divorce from his or her unbelieving mate, if
the "unbelieving" mate is pleased to dwell with the
believer, and that their children are "holy," having
access to God (1 Corinthians 7:12-14). Ephraim
and Manasseh's descendants did not have to
become idolaters. They could have continued to
follow God. The same can be said about the
modern descendants of Ephraim and Manasseh.
God warns them today, through His Church, of
impending disaster. They COULD listen and
repent of their evil deeds, as the ancient Ninevites
did (compare the book of Jonah). The question is,
21Manasseh, Ephraim; and Ephraim, Manasseh: and they together shall be against Judah. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.
King James Version (KJV)
8For the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin; and within threescore and five years shall Ephraim be broken, that it be not a people.
9And the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is Remaliah's son. If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established.
King James Version (KJV)
3And the spirit of Egypt shall fail in the midst thereof; and I will destroy the counsel thereof: and they shall seek to the idols, and to the charmers, and to them that have familiar spirits, and to the wizards.
King James Version (KJV)
8And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.