How did Joseph Get His Wife? – Joseph and Aseneth 1-22

In the opening paragraph of the book we are introduced to Joseph and Pharaoh and the well-known situation of the famine. Pentaphres a priest in Hierapolis has a beautiful daughter named Asenath. She is described as tall like Sarah, handsome like Rebecca and beautiful like Rachel. The son of Pharaoh desires to marry her, but the king pushes him toward a royal marriage. We are told Asenath has scorned the attention of men and is “scornful and arrogant to everyone.

Image result for joseph and asenethIn chapter 3-6 Joseph visits the priest’s home to collect corn because of the famine. He stays until the afternoon and Asenath prepares herself to meet him. Before he arrives, her father proposes a marriage between Asenath and Joseph. She arrogantly refuses and becomes enraged at the suggestion. When Joseph arrives, however, she sees him dressed in this royal outfit she falls in love with him (she trembles and her knees are paralyzed). The description of Joseph is angelic, prompting David Aune to see a parallel to this passage in the description of Christ in Revelation 1 (See Aune, Revelation 1-5, 72), although the description in both Joseph and Asenath and Revelation is likely a development from Daniel 7 (as Aune himself notes). Expecting a shepherd from Canaan, she was not prepared for “such beauty.” She describes him as a “son of a god.”

Joseph, however, is not a hurry to meet Asenath (chapter 7-9). Only after he is convinced she will not “molest him” does he consent to meet her. Asenath expects him to kiss her, but he refuses since he worships God and she worships idols and eats the food offered to idols. This section is the main crux of interpretation for the study of the book since Joseph describes his worship as eating blessed bread of life and drinking the cup of immortality. This passage has been the subject of lengthy discussions concerning the possibility of finding the Lord’s Supper here as well as potential parallels to John 6 and 1 Cor. 10 (OTP 2:211 note i).

There are at least two possibilities. The most obvious (and easiest to handle) is that this is a Christian interpolation added at a much later date to make it appear as though the Communion was anticipated in the book of Genesis. The second possibility is that the reference to “true worship” as the eating of the bread of life and drinking the cup of immortality is a Jewish concept which may have had an influence on the book of John. This creates all sorts of issues when dealing with the book of John and the sources of imagery chosen in Chapter 6. This is a possibility because the text clearly contrasts the food of Joseph with the “bread of strangulation and the cup of insidiousness.” The reference in the book may be simply “true worship” versus “false worship.” How this influences John 6 (or is influenced by John 6) is a separate issue. Asenath is insulted and “distressed exceedingly” at Joseph’s rather final refusal of her. She resolves to repent, to pray to the God of Israel, and to ask him to “make her alive again” (8:11). Spurned, Asenath returns to her room and bitterly weeps in repentance. Joseph promises to return in a week’s time.

Chapters 10-13 describe Asenath as a model of repentance. She only eats bread and drinks water, she wears sackcloth put ashes on her head. She refuses to be comforted by her attendant virgins and she destroys her idols. Chapters 11-13 are “soliloquies” on repentance.

Asenath’s repentance is genuine and she is reward with a visit from an angelic figure (chapter 14-17). This sequence is the most mysterious in the book and may not be very well understood for as much has been written in it.  This angel calls to her (Asenath, Asenath) to which she responds “here I am,” just as Abraham did at critical points in Genesis (Gen 22, for example). She sees a man very much like Joseph except that he is shining like sunshine. He tells her to have courage and to dress. Her prayers have been heard and she has been accepted by God. He tells her she will be the bride of Joseph and that her name will be “city of refuge.” The heavenly man, who refuses to give his name, gives Asenath a honeycomb “which is the bread of life.” Asenath invites him to sit on her bed (which no one has been in other than herself), and she prepares a table for him.

Image result for joseph and aseneth honeycombHe asks for honeycomb, but Asenath tells him there is none in the store room. He tells her to go and check, and returns with a wonderful honeycomb. She knows the man “spoke, and it came into being,” a spiritual insight. The man blesses her (“happy are you” is the form a beatitude) and he tells her this honeycomb is the bread of life. He breaks off a piece and gives it to her, telling her that now she has eaten the bread of life and drank the cup of immortality. The man then touches the honeycomb, drawing his finger in the shape of a cross (or an X), and his finger became like blood. Innumerable bees began to rise from the comb and surround her mouth. They eat the honeycomb out of her mouth then ascend into heaven. He then blesses the seven virgins who attend Asenath – they will be the seven pillars in the “City of Refugee” (i.e., Asenath). The man disappears while she is putting the table away. She sees a chariot of fire with four horses traveling to the east, and then she realizes either a god or the God has been in her chamber.

Joseph arrives for his second visit in chapters 18-20. Asenath is instructed to prepare herself for his arrival, so she dresses beautifully. She is so striking her foster-father says “At last the Lord God of Heaven has chosen you as a bride for his firstborn son, Joseph.” When Joseph arrives he too is amazed at her beauty and asks her name. She explains to him her decision to no longer worship idols and of her vision of the man from heaven. They embrace for a long time and hold hands.

Pentephres proposes marriage and Joseph suggests the Pharaoh give the wedding banquet. We are told Joseph did not sleep with Asenath until after they were married, “It does not befit a man who worships God to sleep with his wife before the wedding” (20:1). This line is important for what it says about sexual morality in Judaism at the time of Christ, but also because Joseph refers to Asenath as wife before the wedding. This is helpful in sorting out the descriptions of Mary in Matthew and Luke. There Joseph can refer to his “wife Mary” and perhaps seek a divorce despite the fact they have not yet been married.

Pharaoh presides over the wedding of Joseph and Asenath (ch. 21) and holds a seven-day banquet for them. Asenath confesses her sin before the Lord in eleven stages (idol worship, trust in arrogance of beauty, etc.). Jacob and the rest of the family move from Canaan to Goshen (ch. 22. Asenath is astounded at his beauty even though he is an old man. She especially likes Levi because he has devoted himself to the service of the Lord.

7 thoughts on “How did Joseph Get His Wife? – Joseph and Aseneth 1-22

  1. Wow! Facinating! I’ve never read that story about Joseph and Asenath.

  2. This story really grabbed my attention and left me with a lot more questions afterwards than I had before reading about it. One point that really caught my attention was all of the parallels to the Last Supper and communion. It is said that both of Joseph and Aseneth have eaten the bread of life and drank the cup of immorality, which is very similar to what Jesus gives the disciples in Matthew 26:26-28. This is very interesting to find out being that this takes place a very long time before the Last Supper occurs. Perhaps this is something that happened often during that time, but it not often talked about in the Bible. It leads me to wonder when this was written since these events are not mentioned in other parts of the Bible. Could this have been written after the Last Supper and was included to intentionally be paralleled to that event? A lot of things that are found in this story, such as the Heavenly man who appears to Aseneth, seem like they would be very important and would be worthy of mentioning in other parts of the Bible, including the New Testament. I think that there are also some valuable lessons that can be learned from this book. One example is that Joseph did not sleep with Aseneth because they did not have their wedding yet, despite Joseph saying that she is his wife. Even though this book is not in our canon of the Bible, I think that it can be helpful to read because it provides some clues as to what life was like during the time it was made.

  3. I have not read this before, I found this to be an interesting read that made me reread and think about what was being said. I find it commendable that he did not sleep with her before the wedding even though he still called her his wife. They both did not want to marry the other when it was first brought up but after they saw each other is when they decided to change their mind about the marriage. This “angelic figure” goes and talks to Asenath. She is not sure if it was God or god as an idol but the honeycomb was a big symbol for her in regards to letting go of her idols and making the decision to marry Joseph. I find it interesting that the “angelic figure” had Asenath get honeycomb even though she knew none was in the room and it happened to be there anyways. Then how the figure left in a chariot. I think that would make anyone think and question what is going on. Soon after this Joseph sees how beautiful Asenath is and wants to have a 7 day banquet to celebrate them getting married.

  4. Wow, this story is interesting to say the least. There are many things that can be taken from this specific story that mimic the way we view marriage. Now there are some parts here that seem a bit weird and off but in general that comes with many stories of the Apocrypha, so that’s not too surprising. The part where you write about an angel that mirrors Joseph’s image that comes to Asenath after her choice to worship the True God of Israel is different and odd. When we think of an insect coming from something into one’s mouth or a reference to an analogy like that, we view it as some sort of evil thing, yet here the bees that ate from her mouth and ascended into heaven was viewed as beautiful. It resembles a sign of surrender and repentance, so good for her despite how unbelievable it is.

    Joseph, however, is a very commendable man when it comes to sticking to his values. This man didn’t lust over Asenath as she did for him, rather he overlooked her and wasn’t overjoyed to meet her acquaintance. During their first time meeting she practically threw herself on him, (any man at that time would have killed for the opportunity, especially coming from the Pharaoh’s daughter) but Joseph was calm and gave specific details on why she wasn’t appealing to him. The reason for being is because Joseph wanted to be evenly yoked with his bride and this is something that wasn’t on the table at first because of Asenath’s dedication to worship idols and gods. But, after all she was beautiful and the Pharaoh’s daughter. He gave her room to change, repent, and turn to the True God of Israel by eating the bread of life and drinking the cup of immortality (participating in “true worship”), which if she wanted to get married to him she would have to do in a week’s time and she did. After agreeing to marry Asenatha, Joseph still stayed true to his values and didn’t give into attraction. There was a waiting period, (that must have been frustrating to Asenatha because this is all new) where Joseph didn’t want to sleep with her until after they were married.

    Taking this story and applying it to how we view marriage today is very similar, as Christians we should remain pure until we are married. We should stray away from the temptations of the world that present us with lust as a good thing and rely on God to satisfy us. This is a beautiful thing God has given us but it should be treated with respect for both parties and God Honoring. Another aspect that can be applied is being evenly yoked in a marriage or relationship for that matter. Joseph knew that if Asenath didn’t practice “true worship” then their marriage wouldn’t work out and eventually burn, so he made an agreement with her if she turned from her ways and repented he would marry her. Christians should strive to be in a marriage or relationship where each person is worshiping God, and walking on the straight and narrow path.

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