On Genesis, Part 49: Joseph in Egypt, Sex, Lies and Prison

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On Genesis, Part 49: Joseph in Egypt, Sex, Lies and Prison

Thus far in these chapters describing the lives of the sons of Jacob, we have observed a notable contrast which is illustrated in the accounts of the circumstances of Joseph and Judah, of which certain aspects continue to be illustrated both here in Genesis and in the words of the later prophets. Here we have seen that in Joseph are Figures of the Messiah, as many aspects of the life of Joseph are certainly types for the ministry Christ Himself. Joseph was cast into a pit and left for dead by his brethren, but he was taken out of it and as a result he had become a temporal savior of his people. But Judah, who was present when Joseph was thrown into the pit, had made choices in his own life which had both been a cause of and had served as a type for the circumstances of the later Kingdom of Judah as well as the Judaea of the time of Christ. Where Judah had sexual relations with the Daughters of Diverse Gods he had sired legitimate sons in Pharez and Zarah, but he had also had illegitimate descendants through Shelah, the only surviving son which he had with the Canaanite woman. Then, quite ironically, Judah did not intend to have children with Tamar, as he thought that he was only sleeping with some random whore, and there are probably further analogies which may have been made with that circumstance. Later in the writings of Moses, the sin of Judah would become apparent in the law, and then in instructions to the children of Israel invading the land of Canaan.

However Judah remained responsible for his remaining Canaanite son, so the descendants of Shelah remained with Judah, subsequently they were listed in the accounts of the families of Israel in the Book of Numbers, and their dwelling places in and around the territory of Judah are described in 1 Chronicles chapter 4. In that chapter, in a context which is perhaps 250 years later, it was described that many of them had dwelt in Chozeba, which is ostensibly the same place as Chezib, the place where Judah’s Canaanite sons had been born. Both towns were in the same area, and each of the names had been translated from similar forms of the same word, which means falsehood. That is a fitting place for them, since having been Canaanites they would indeed be sons of falsehood.

So even later, 800 years after the Exodus, in Jeremiah chapter 2 where the prophet is speaking in reference to the remnant of Jerusalem, we read “13 For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water. 14 Is Israel a servant? is he a homeborn slave? why is he spoiled?” The meaning of the phrase “broken cisterns” is illustrated a little further on in that chapter, where Yahweh through the prophet had continued to rebuke them and in a parallelism He said: “21 Yet I had planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed: how then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me? 22 For though thou wash thee with nitre, and take thee much soap, yet thine iniquity is marked before me, saith the Lord GOD.” Race-mixing creates strange vines, and makes stains that cannot be cleansed. That these are allusions to race-mixing with the Canaanites is clarified beyond doubt in the words of the contemporary prophet Ezekiel, where in chapter 16 of his prophecy Yahweh had once again chastised Jerusalem and we read: “1 Again the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, 2 Son of man, cause Jerusalem to know her abominations, 3 And say, Thus saith the Lord GOD unto Jerusalem; Thy birth and thy nativity is of the land of Canaan; thy father was an Amorite, and thy mother an Hittite.” So like Judah, it seems as if at least many of his descendants just couldn’t keep themselves from race-mixing with the Canaanites.

Of course, Judah himself was neither an Amorite nor a Hittite, but his Canaanite wife and his descendants through Shelah had certainly contributed to this aspect of the iniquity of Judah. Then even later, the people of Judah who had returned from the Babylonian captivity had begun to race-mix with the Canaanites once again. So Ezra chastised them, and managed to convince them once again to separate themselves, where we find an exhortation in Ezra chapter 10 where he had told them: “3 Now therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives, and such as are born of them, according to the counsel of my lord, and of those that tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law.” To this the people had agreed.

However even after that, the people of Judah could not help themselves but to race-mix again. So the prophet Malachi, the final prophet of the Old Testament, had used the actions of the patriarch Judah as a type for what was about to come upon Judaea, where he wrote in chapter 2 of his prophecy that “11 Judah hath dealt treacherously, and an abomination is committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah hath profaned the holiness of the LORD which he loved, and hath married the daughter of a strange god.” By the time of the New Testament, Judaea had absorbed all of the Edomites and other Canaanites who had been dwelling in the former lands of Judah and Israel, and converted them to Judaism. Therefore, by his own actions, the patriarch Judah had become a type for what would happen to the people of Judah throughout history, but again, his actions had also been a primary cause of their fate. Just as Judah despised Joseph his brother, and Judah himself was a race-mixer, the Judaeans had despised Christ, but Judaea was a race-mixed nation in the same manner as the sons of Judah.

So here we are compelled to discuss another aspect of the analogy. In Genesis chapter 37 we read: “26 And Judah said unto his brethren, What profit is it if we slay our brother, and conceal his blood? 27 Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmeelites, and let not our hand be upon him; for he is our brother and our flesh. And his brethren were content.” If perhaps this plan of Judah’s had been successful, maybe later he may have received some of the credit when Joseph became the savior of Israel in Egypt. But instead, as it is also described in that chapter, certain Midianites had taken Joseph first, and had sold him to the Ishmaelites, unbeknownst to Judah and his brethren.

Likewise, Paul of Tarsus had written of the Judaeans of his own time, those who were his “kinsmen according to the flesh” and not those of the Edomites, that their failure in respect to Christ had resulted in salvation for all Israel. This is found in Romans chapter 11, in verses 11 and 12, we read that “in their fall is preservation to the Nations … and their defeat the wealth of the Nations”. In other words, the people of Judah failed once again, and through their failure Yahshua Christ was left in the pit, or the grave, where He was esteemed to have been dead. But like Joseph, He emerged from the pit in order to save His people. However once again, Judah had done this in failure, so in the end he cannot take any of the credit. The failures of Judah in respect to both Joseph and to Yahshua Christ had led to the salvation of Israel on each occasion, but not by Judah’s own doing. Rather, Yahweh God Himself has used Judah to accomplish His will for Israel, and only He should get the credit.

Now to briefly discuss the Egypt into which Joseph had been sold, according to our own Genesis chronology, the year in which Joseph had been taken to Egypt was 1688 BC. So according to some chronologies of ancient Egypt, Merneferre Ay was the pharaoh at this time, or according to others, his predecessor Wahibre Ibiau was still pharaoh. The earlier pharaoh is a more plausible choice, but these chronologies vary by as many as seventeen years, and they are only somewhat reliable in many other respects. This is the beginning of the Second Intermediate Period of Egyptian history, in the time near the end of the 13th Dynasty, which ruled at Itjtawy, near Memphis. During this period there were many short-lived pharaohs and dynasties which had ruled over various parts of Egypt at the same time. While some place the event in the time of Merneferre Ay or at the end of his rule, that is arguable, however some time after the end of his rule, the pharaohs of this dynasty are found in Thebes in Upper Egypt on account of the invading Hyksos. [1]

The 14th Dynasty of Egypt is said to have ruled only in Lower Egypt, in the area of the Nile Delta, from about 1725 to about 1650 BC. Some Egyptologists assign other, earlier pharaohs to this dynasty, who had even ruled as early as 1805 BC, but the assignments are contested. The names of many of these pharaohs are known only from much later records, very few of them are known from other monuments, or from their own monuments, and none of them ruled for any significant period of time. [2] In my own estimation, at least most of these pharaohs may have only been contenders, and not actual rulers. Many of these pharaohs are arbitrarily assigned to this dynasty, and may not have been pharaohs at all.

We may also imagine that all, or at least some, of the presumed 14th Dynasty pharaohs may have actually belong grouped together with what is known as the 15th Dynasty, so the 14th Dynasty pharaohs, some of whom are identified by archaeologists as Asiatics or other foreigners, may have only been failed invaders from Canaan in early attempts to take the Delta from the Egyptians, an effort which was finally successful in the establishment of the 15th Dynasty. Once this is understood, it sheds new light on why the pharaoh of the time of Joseph was eager to let Israel inhabit the land in the Delta area which is known as Goshen here in Genesis and the early chapters of Exodus.

The invading Canaanite Hyksos (whose identity was discussed at length by Clifton Emahiser in his Watchman’s Teaching Letter # 38 for June, 2001 and elsewhere) had established what is known today as the 15th Dynasty in the Delta or Lower Egypt around 1650 BC, although it only lasted for about a hundred years until they were defeated by the Egyptians. [3] During this period there happen to be no records of any activity in Scripture, as Genesis is silent concerning the time from the death of Jacob, except for a brief description of the death of Joseph, unto the time of the birth of Moses. But it is evident that Canaanite kings, who are also called pharaohs in this context, had ruled over Israel in Egypt during this time.

The 16th Dynasty of Egypt is said to have been vassals of those Canaanite Hyksos of the 15th Dynasty, and some of its pharaohs may have themselves been Canaanites. Some pharaohs assigned to this dynasty had evidently been contemporary with or perhaps should have been identified with the 14th Dynasty, however later pharaohs, from about 1648 BC, were independent and had ruled Upper Egypt from Thebes until about 1582 BC. [4] There was also an unnumbered Abydos Dynasty during this period, which ruled a portion of Upper and Middle Egypt from Abydos in Upper Egypt from about 1650 to 1600 BC. [5]

The 17th Dynasty ruled Upper Egypt from Thebes from about 1585 BC to 1550 BC. The last king of this dynasty, Kamose, began a war against the Hyksos of the Delta which brought an end to the 15th Dynasty. However the pharaohs of the 18th Dynasty were of the same family as those at the end of the 17th, and Kamose apparently had the first pharaoh of the 18th, Ahmose I who was either his brother or his son, as a co-regent for about a year before his death. [6] So Ahmose I would complete the war against the Hyksos victoriously, and the 18th Dynasty would rule over all of Egypt, and ultimately it would also come to rule over all of Canaan and much of Syria as far as Carchemish. [7] The Egyptian princess of the account of the infancy of Moses in the early chapters of Exodus was a daughter of the pharaohs of these dynasties, where men with names such as Kamose, Ahmose, Ramose and Thutmose had ruled Egypt, and with that we can understand why the princess had named as Moses the child which she retrieved from the water, as it was her family name and therefore she was professing an act of adoption. The princess was almost certainly Hatshepsut, who would later rule Egypt herself, while Moses was in the land of Midian. However there are contentions over Egyptian chronology throughout this period, and some of them place the history of the 18th Dynasty at a somewhat later time than we would have it.

So if we accept this popular version of Egyptian chronology, which is always debatable regardless of the source, then with this background, Joseph had come to Egypt around 1688 BC, he would have been freed from his subsequent time in prison around 1675 BC, and Jacob and his family joined him in Egypt around 1665 BC, according to our own Biblical chronology. Since they were settled in Goshen by a pharaoh who is described as an Egyptian, then we would assert that the Hyksos had not yet come to rule Lower Egypt, which includes the area of the Delta. In this light, it may become evident that the 14th Dynasty pharaohs were indeed merely early Canaanite chieftains who were trying to take the Delta from the Egyptians, and while all of their tenures were quite short-lived, most of them are also very poorly documented. This should be a subject of further study, but even the academic Egyptologists are highly divided in their assessments of this period of Egyptian history. Furthermore, it seems that all of them also accept the Jewish claim that Joseph did not go to Egypt until 1544 BC, which is patently ridiculous.

As we have said, Joseph went to Egypt in 1688 BC, and Jacob with his family had followed twenty-three years later. Jacob had died around 1648 BC, and Joseph not until about 1595 BC. According to the popular chronologies of Egypt, the Hyksos had ruled Lower Egypt from about 1650 to about 1550 BC. Then Moses was born around 1530 BC, nearly twenty years after Egypt had been reunified under Ahmose I. This timeline leaves nagging questions as to whether the Hyksos were actually the Israelites, however that proposal is quite dubious since Israel could not have been an entity formidable enough to drive the Egyptians from their own lands and even from their capital city at such an early time, regardless of whether Joseph was in a position of power in Egypt. There is also no indication in the Biblical account of the lives of Jacob and Joseph which would support that proposal. Rather, while the Israelites themselves would also have been considered by the Egyptians to have been Canaanites, or at least, to have been Asiatics like the Canaanites, it is much more likely that dwelling in Goshen they would have fallen subject to the pharaohs of the Canaanite 15th Dynasty. It is either these pharaohs who had subsequently enslaved them, and that Ahmose I had kept them in slavery when he liberated the Delta region and gained it back for the Egyptians, or perhaps it is possible that they were not enslaved until Ahmose I had recaptured the Delta, where, knowing that they were also Asiatics, he had enslaved them. This is conjecture, but there is no indication in Scripture that Israel was enslaved until after the death of Joseph, in 1595 BC, which is only about 65 years before the birth of Moses.

Now, turning back to our Genesis narrative, before Joseph would be in a position to save his people in the coming famine he must suffer even further trials, very much like Christ Himself. Thus we shall commence with Genesis chapter 39:

1 And Joseph was brought down to Egypt; and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him of the hands of the Ishmeelites, which had brought him down thither.

As we have already discussed here, it is difficult to assign Joseph, as well as this Potiphar, to any particular pharaoh. So the chronology of the most likely candidate, Wahibre Ibiau, is uncertain but it is at least somewhat plausible. We must consider him the most likely candidate, because the pharaoh referred to here is not necessarily the pharaoh who released Joseph from prison, thirteen years after this. Then we may imagine that Merneferre Ay is the pharaoh who released Joseph from prison, because he ruled Egypt for nearly 24 years, and none of the pharaohs after him had ruled Egypt long enough to be both the pharaoh of the dream which Joseph had interpreted, and also the pharaoh who welcomed Jacob to Egypt ten years later, which was evidently the same pharaoh.

But it is possible that Merneferre Ay was the pharaoh during this entire time, as he did rule for a long enough time, although it was barely long enough for all of these things to have occurred during his rule. It is 23 years from the time when Joseph went to Egypt to the time when Jacob had stood before pharaoh. The truth is, however, that the chronologies of the pharaohs of Egypt differ among academic historians, and for many of them information is quite scarce, so the differences may never be settled.

According to another presumably authoritative source on ancient Egypt, Ibiau, who is called Ia-ib, ruled from 1692-1681 BC, and Ay from 1681-1657 BC, which very well fits our own chronology of the life of Joseph. The same source informs us that no 13th Dynasty pharaoh other than Ay can possibly fit the story of Joseph, as none of them but him had ruled Egypt for a period which exceeded 12 years. Three pharaohs come close, Ia-ib and two pharaohs who ruled for 11 and 12 years respectively, in the late 18th century BC. But they ruled at least a few decades before the time when Joseph could have gone to Egypt. Examining the time that Joseph was in prison and the events of Genesis chapter 40, it is at least 2 years from the time when Joseph had interpreted the dreams of the butcher and the baker in prison, to the time when the baker recommended him to pharaoh, and then it is about 10 more years to the time when Jacob had come to Egypt, and from the context of these accounts, those 12 years must have all been in the reign of the same pharaoh. [8]

Earlier we had mentioned the fact that the Jewish calendar has the year in which Joseph had gone to Egypt as 1544 BC. This is according to Seder Olam, a work of Jewish chronology from the 2nd century AD. [9] So Jews, because they have practically everything else wrong about the Old Testament, and especially the chronology, will never be able to find the Israelites in Egypt. But we would also assert that the long Canaanite rule in the Delta certainly had helped to obscure the period during which Israel was in Egypt.

The name פוטיפר or Potiphar is said to be of Egyptian origin and transliterated into Hebrew, and Gesenius and other sources define it as meaning “who belongs to the sun” [10] or “belonging to the sun”. It was transliterated at Πετεφρης or Petephras in the Septuagint. So this is another indication that at this time, Lower Egypt and the area of the Delta were still under Egyptian rule. Ostensibly, it must have fallen to the Canaanite Hyksos later in the life of Joseph, but the Bible is silent on the years in Egypt from the death of Jacob and Joseph unto the birth of Moses, at which time it was once again under Egyptian rule, and Israel is still dwelling in Goshen.

Where the King James Version has officer here, the word is סריס or saris, which is also translated elsewhere in that version as chamberlain and eunuch. Strong’s asserts that the word is derived from “an unused root meaning to castrate” (# 5631). Here the use of the term is a projection of what seems to be an aspect of Mesopotamian culture on the Egyptians. While it is evident that Egyptian rulers did have certain servants castrated, this Potiphar could not have been castrated, since he had a wife. Surely that would be known among the Egyptians. Gesenius defines the term primarily as “a eunuch, one castrated” and then as “any minister of the court, although not castrated”, and cites this very verse in that context. [11]

2 And the LORD was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian.

We are not informed as to what Joseph could have known or perceived concerning the God of his fathers, and once again we must mention the fact that Jacob had only told his sons to put away their strange gods when he had reached Bethel, while Joseph was still with him, so Joseph must have also been a subject of that demand even if he was only a teenager at the time. As we have also explained, Joseph’s primary childhood influences must have been his pagan mother and his older brothers with Leah, his pagan aunt, and their handmaids, who were also pagans. But regardless of whether Joseph himself had any firm concept of the God of Abraham, the God of Abraham was certainly with him, and in him the promises to Abraham would continue to be fulfilled.

3 And his master saw that the LORD was with him, and that the LORD made all that he did to prosper in his hand.

Only with Yahweh God may a man truly be blessed with any honest prosperity in this world. Even Solomon had lamented at the vanity of the works of his own hands, in Ecclesiastes chapter 2: “11 Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.” So ultimately Solomon discovered that a man is blessed merely if he himself could enjoy his own works, as he wrote in chapter 3: “22 Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his own works; for that is his portion: for who shall bring him to see what shall be after him?” In other words, after a man passes his worldly works may be gone, but with that he should not be concerned. Then even later in Ecclesiastes chapter 9, speaking of the works of the righteous, Solomon wrote: “1 For all this I considered in my heart even to declare all this, that the righteous, and the wise, and their works, are in the hand of God: no man knoweth either love or hatred by all that is before them.” Then where he continues, after describing how the righteous and the wicked both come to the same end in this world, he beckons men to righteousness: “7 Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works. 8 Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment.” Joseph may not have known Yahweh, and his brothers may have despised him because he was brutally candid, and honest to a fault, but it is evident that his works were righteous.

So because he was blessed in the fruit of his hands, Potiphar could not help but to notice:

4 And Joseph found grace in his sight, and he served him: and he made him overseer over his house, and all that he had he put into his hand. 5 And it came to pass from the time that he had made him overseer in his house, and over all that he had, that the LORD blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake; and the blessing of the LORD was upon all that he had in the house, and in the field. 6 And he left all that he had in Joseph's hand; and he knew not ought he had, save the bread which he did eat. And Joseph was a goodly person, and well favoured.

In verse 6 we see that not only did Potiphar make Joseph the steward of his entire estate, but he also had found Joseph trustworthy to the degree that Potiphar did not even worry or ask Joseph to make any accounting concerning the affairs of his estate. The same could have been said of his father Jacob, where Laban had profited greatly from Jacob’s management of his flocks.

In that same verse, where the King James Version has it that “Joseph was a goodly person, and well favoured”, the New American Standard Bible has “Joseph was handsome in form and appearance.” The Septuagint seems to elaborate even further, where Brenton has the corresponding Greek to read: “Joseph was handsome in form, and exceedingly beautiful in countenance.” That reading is a quite straightforward and literal interpretation of the Greek. These alternate readings certainly seem to better explain the motivations behind the actions of Potiphar’s wife, which are now presented:

7 And it came to pass after these things, that his master's wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; and she said, Lie with me. 8 But he refused, and said unto his master's wife, Behold, my master wotteth not what is with me in the house, and he hath committed all that he hath to my hand; 9 There is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back any thing from me but thee, because thou art his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?

Even before the laws at Sinai, adultery was considered to be a grievous trespass against one’s fellow man. Here Joseph professes an understanding that it is also a sin against God, so he must have learned some things about his God from his father. There is an Egyptian legend which is very similar to this account of Joseph in the house of Potiphar, which is one of the pagan stories of the surrounding nations which is sometimes used by critics in their undue condemnations of the Hebrew Scriptures. In Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, it is called The Story of Two Brothers, and it is dated to the time of the 19th Dynasty, which is actually at least 400 years after the time of Joseph. [12]

In the story, a younger brother lived with his elder brother and his wife, and worked his estate with him. The relationship between these brothers was very similar to the way in which Joseph was trusted and treated by Potiphar. So after some time, the wife began to admire the strength of the younger brother, and invited him to bed. The younger brother rebuked her angrily, but promised not to tell her husband, if she would stop her advances. Later, the wife was worried that he would tell her husband, so she pretended to have been beaten, and when her husband found her at home in the evening, pretending to be sick, she told him that his brother beat her because she refused to sleep with him. So the elder brother sought to kill the younger, but the younger brother survived, and vindicated himself in the end, after which it was the untrustworthy wife who was killed by her husband as punishment. There are more twists in the story than this, which are graphic and even macabre, as the younger brother had permanently disfigured himself in the presence of the elder, as a testimony of his truthfulness. But this is sufficient to exhibit the parallels with our Biblical account of Joseph and Potiphar.

So the Story of the Two Brothers shares the same general theme with this account of Joseph, where the wife is an aspiring adulteress, but once she is refused she deflects her infidelity onto the object of her desire in order to protect herself. However that is the end of the similarity, although the story also serves to demonstrate the fact that for the ancient Egyptians, adultery was a grave trespass, and death was a worthy punishment for adulterers. Therefore it helps to support the Biblical account, rather than somehow discrediting it. In an Egyptian mortuary text known as The Protestation of Guiltlessness which is esteemed to date from as early as the 18th Dynasty, we read in part:

O Aadi, who comes forth from Heliopolis, my mouth has not gone (on unchecked).

O Djudju-serpent, who comes forth from Busiris, I have not argued with some one summoned because of his property.

O Wamemti-serpent, who comes forth from the place of judgment, I have not committed adultery.

O Maa-Intef, who comes forth from the Temple of Min, I have not defiled myself.

In the original inscriptions, there are many more such professions in this list wherein the deceased professed not to have committed murder, not to have loaned money at usury, and many other things which may be considered sins. The salutations at the beginning of each profession are said to have been the names of the forty-two gods who were esteemed to have sat with Osiris, the Egyptian judge of the dead. [13] It is interesting, that the Egyptians imagined at least many of these gods who helped to judge the dead to be serpents.

But adultery was not always treated so severely in the near East. In many respects it seems to have been relative to the practice of pagan rituals which included sexual acts. So in the Middle Assyrian laws which date to at least as early as the 14th century BC, we find the following:

13: When a seignior's wife has left her own house and has visited a(nother) seignior where he is living, if he has lain with her, knowing that she was a seignior's wife, they shall put the seignior to death and the woman as well.

That is commensurate to Biblical law, but now there are granted exceptions:

14: If a seignior has lain with the wife of a(nother) seignior either in a temple-brothel or in the street, knowing that she was a seignior's wife, they shall treat the adulterer as the seignior orders his wife to be treated. If he has lain with her without knowing that she was a seignior's wife, the adulterer is guiltless; the seignior shall prosecute his wife, treating her as he thinks fit. [14]

So evidently, a husband and wife, both of them being pagans, could agree to go down to the local temple and practice all the adultery that the husband may tolerate, or that he may even enjoy. If a husband chose not to punish his wife, he could not punish her paramours. [Just like today, ancient pagans were also cuckolds, and often addicted to pornography. Then evidently, their laws were also written so as to leave space for their perversions.]

Returning to the account of the wife of Potiphar:

10 And it came to pass, as she spake to Joseph day by day, that he hearkened not unto her, to lie by her, or to be with her.

The restraint exhibited by Joseph here stands in stark contrast to the lack of restraint which is evident in the actions of his brothers in Canaan. But Joseph was also a slave who was put into a dangerous position, from which he had no easy escape. If he reported the actions of this woman to her husband, he himself may nevertheless have been blamed, and the result would depend on the emotions of the husband, especially where there is no evidence which Joseph may have produced.

So the persistent wife had evidently awaited her most favorable opportunity, and also, where Moses had written that “it came to pass”, it is evident that it took some time for that opportunity to arrive, perhaps weeks or even months:

11 And it came to pass about this time, that Joseph went into the house to do his business; and there was none of the men of the house there within. 12 And she caught him by his garment, saying, Lie with me: and he left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out.

Where it says “and got him out” the meaning is better expressed in the New American Standard Bible, where the phrase reads “and went outside.” Here it is apparent that the woman had become sexually aggressive at the first opportunity which she had been afforded. Where “she caught him by his garment” a struggle is evident, and Joseph must have taken at least some seconds or more to get out of his garment, so that he could escape without having to actually wrestle with the woman.

The common Egyptian garment at the time was also generally the only garment which would be worn by slaves, which was the shendyt or shent, among other variations of the name. It was a loincloth similar to a skirt or a kilt. Commonly made of linen the shendyt was a sort of kilt tied in front in a knot which was worn by all Egyptians. Although slaves and commoners were often without any clothing, Egyptians of higher classes had also worn shendyts, and even the pharaohs themselves. However they also had more luxurious clothing, such as tunics or kalasiris dresses. [15]

Now there were no other men in the house when this happened, so what is next described must have transpired after some time, even several hours later:

13 And it came to pass, when she saw that he had left his garment in her hand, and was fled forth, 14 That she called unto the men of her house, and spake unto them, saying, See, he hath brought in an Hebrew unto us to mock us; he came in unto me to lie with me, and I cried with a loud voice: 15 And it came to pass, when he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried, that he left his garment with me, and fled, and got him out.

Most likely, the other servants were also Egyptians, since Joseph is singled out for being a Hebrew and the woman uses that reason as if it strengthened her allegation against him. It may also be suspected that these servants may not have been favorable to Joseph, as he was relatively young and he was probably still relatively new to the household, yet Potiphar had promoted him above all of his other servants. Furthermore, it seems that the woman had told the male servants these lies in advance, in the hope that they support her with rumors when she finally tells them to her husband:

16 And she laid up his garment by her, until his lord came home. 17 And she spake unto him according to these words, saying, The Hebrew servant, which thou hast brought unto us, came in unto me to mock me: 18 And it came to pass, as I lifted up my voice and cried, that he left his garment with me, and fled out.

Garments were scarce and very likely they were also costly beyond the reach of a typical slave, so Joseph would not have been able to replace his own without stealing it from another. Then furthermore, even if he replaced his own, his testimony would have been inferior to that of his master’s wife. So while we are not informed as to what response he may have made to these accusations, it may have been better for him to say nothing, and there is no indication here that he had made any defense.

19 And it came to pass, when his master heard the words of his wife, which she spake unto him, saying, After this manner did thy servant to me; that his wrath was kindled. 20 And Joseph's master took him, and put him into the prison, a place where the king's prisoners were bound: and he was there in the prison.

Joseph must have known, or at least suspected, that his life was as good as finished when he fled from the wife of Potiphar and his garment was left behind. But he willfully chose to flee rather than to commit adultery with another man’s wife, as such adultery was morally prohibited in Egypt and in many other nations even before the law was given at Sinai. But unlike Judah, and especially unlike Reuben, Joseph seemed to have been much more worthy of fulfilling the prophetic role as a type for Christ, since he resisted this temptation in spite of the risk of losing his own comfort, or even his own life.

There are many mentions in ancient inscriptions of prisons and law courts for criminals and those seeking to have injuries addressed. As early as the 5th Dynasty, Egyptian pharaohs had appointed viziers who were charged with overseeing prisoners and law-courts. From a document titled The Vizier of Egypt and dating to the 15th century BC in the reign of 18th Dynasty pharaoh Thutmose III we read the following, from a subsection titled The Judicial Seating of the Vizier:

(1) The regulations for the sitting of the Mayor and Vizier of the Southern City and of the Residence in the Hall of the Vizier. As for everything which this official, the Vizier, shall do while holding hearings in the Hall of the Vizier — he shall sit upon a judgment-chair, with a matting on the floor, a matting over him, a cushion under his back and a cushion under his feet, a [cape] upon him, a sceptre at his hand, and the forty leather straps spread out in front of him, the Chiefs of Southern Tens on two sides in front of him, the Overseer of the Cabinet on his right hand, the Supervisor of Clients on his left hand and the Scribe of the Vizier beside him, one confronting another, with every man opposite him.

Let one be heard after his fellow, not permitting the last to be heard before an earlier. If one who is earlier should say: "There is no one hearing near me," then he is to be taken in charge by the messengers of the Vizier. [16]

So with this it is evident that early Egypt certainly did have in place the prisons, courts and a system of criminal justice which is described here in these chapters of Genesis. Now, once he is in prison, Joseph continues to be shielded by Yahweh, the God of his fathers, and it is evident that it was certainly the will of God by which Joseph was in prison:

21 But the LORD was with Joseph, and shewed him mercy, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison.

Just as Yahweh God had blessed the deeds of Joseph and they were noticed by Potiphar, He continues to bless the deeds of Joseph and now they are noticed by the prison-warden. This, in my opinion, serves to reflect the noble nature of these Egyptians, since they could recognize and reward a man who acted righteously and whose works were blessed by God. Earlier, Laban had recognized this in Jacob, but he immediately sought to turn it to his own advantage. However where Potiphar had recognized it in Joseph, so long as Joseph was with him he took no care to notice the wealth of his estate, and as the King James Version has it, “he knew not ought he had, save the bread which he did eat.” So just like Joseph, in that aspect Potiphar was also the unfortunate victim of an adulterous wife, since he lost an excellent steward to her unrighteousness.

22 And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph's hand all the prisoners that were in the prison; and whatsoever they did there, he was the doer of it. 23 The keeper of the prison looked not to any thing that was under his hand; because the LORD was with him, and that which he did, the LORD made it to prosper. [Speaking of Joseph.]

The Septuagint also has this last passage to read somewhat differently: “23 Because of him the chief keeper of the prison knew nothing, for all things were in the hand of Joseph, because the Lord was with him; and whatever things he did, the Lord made them to prosper in his hands.” Just like Potiphar, the prison warden trusted Joseph to the point that he had entrusted everything to him, perceiving that Joseph was a righteous man who was favored by God, or from his pagan Egyptian perspective, by the gods. Therefore knowing that his prison was in the hands of such a righteous man, he had no need to monitor the minute affairs which he had entrusted to Joseph. So in this aspect also, on these several occasions Joseph is a type for Christ, as only Christ Himself may justly administer His Kingdom.

With this, here it also cannot go unnoticed that nearly all of the sins which had caused significant turns in the lives of men throughout the Book of Genesis are related to sexual immorality or a lack of sexual restraint. This is the case in Genesis chapter 3 and the fall from grace of Adam and Eve, in Genesis chapter 6 and the causes of the flood, in Genesis chapter 9 and the incest committed by Ham, in Genesis chapter 19 and the destruction of Sodom, in Genesis chapters 26 through 28 and Esau’s poor selection of wives, in Genesis chapter 34 and the rape of Dinah, in Genesis chapter 35 and the incontinence of Reuben, in Genesis chapter 38 and Judah’s choice of a wife, the sin of which is not yet evident at this point in Scripture, and finally, here in Genesis chapter 39 and the acts of the adulteress who sought to corrupt Joseph. Paul of Tarsus had written that the love of money is a root of all evil, and that is certainly true. But evil has other roots, and in these many cases it was certainly the love of sexual gratification, on the part of one party or another.

While sexual indiscretion often brings men to their destruction, or lands them in prison, sometimes Yahweh uses the sins of men for good, and such is the case with Judah’s indiscretion with Tamar, and also here in this account of the indiscretion of the promiscuous wife of Potiphar.


1 Thirteenth Dynasty of Egypt, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thirteenth_Dynasty_of_Egypt, accessed March 7th, 2024.

2 Fourteenth Dynasty of Egypt, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourteenth_Dynasty_of_Egypt, accessed March 7th, 2024.

3 Fifteenth Dynasty of Egypt, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fifteenth_Dynasty_of_Egypt, accessed March 7th, 2024.

4 Sixteenth Dynasty of Egypt, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sixteenth_Dynasty_of_Egypt, accessed March 7th, 2024.

5 Second Intermediate Period of Egypt, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Intermediate_Period_of_ Egypt, accessed March 7th, 2024.

6 Kamose, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kamose, accessed March 7th, 2024.

7 Ahmose I, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahmose_I, accessed March 7th, 2024.

8 13th Dynasty (1783-1640), The Ancient Egypt Site, http://www.ancient-egypt.org/history/2nd-intermediate-period/ 13th-dynasty/index.html, accessed March 8th, 2024.

9 Year 2216 – 1544 BCE – Joseph is sold by his brothers, Seder Olam – Revisited, https://www.seder-olam.info/seder-olam-g19-joseph.html, accessed March 7th, 2024.

10 Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament, translated by Samuel Prideaux Tregelles, Baker Books, 1979, p. 668.

11 ibid., p. 595.

12 Ancient Near Eastern Texts Related to the Old Testament 3rd edition, James Pritchard, editor, 1969, Harvard University Press, pp. 23-24.

13 ibid., pp. 34-35.

14 ibid., p. 181.

15 Clothing in ancient Egypt, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clothing_in_ancient_Egypt, accessed March 8th, 2024.

16 Ancient Near Eastern Texts Related to the Old Testament, pp. 213-214.

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