SDMB weekly Bible Study (SDMBWBS)-Week 25 Genesis 39

Welcome to the SDMB weekly Bible Study (SDMBWBS). This week we will be discussing Genesis** 39**. Since the discussion can turn into a very broad and hijackable thread, we would like the following rules to be adhered to:

  1. These SDMBWBS threads are to deal with the books and stories in the Bible as literature. What I’m hoping to achieve is an understanding of the stories, the time in which they were written, context, and possibly its cultural relevance.

  2. While it is up to the individual to choose to believe or disbelieve any portion, that is not to be the discussion of the thread. If you must, please choose to witness/anti-witness in Great Debates.

  3. The intention is to go through the Bible from front to back in order. While different books are needed to be referred to in order to understand context, please try and keep the focus on the thread’s selected chapter(s)/verse(s).

  4. Since different religions have chosen which books to include or omit, the threads will use the Catholic version of 46 Old Testament Books and 27 New Testament Books. It’s encouraged to discuss why a book was included/omitted during the applicable threads only. BibleHub, as far as I know, is a good resource that compiles many different versions of the verses into one page.(Also the SDMB Staff Reports on Who Wrote the Bible). Please feel free to use whatever source you want, including-and even more helpfully-the original language.

  5. Hopefully we can get through these threads with little to no moderation. A gentle reminder that if a poster comes in and ignores these rules, please use the “report post” function instead of responding.

Links to previous threads:
Genesis 1:1 to 2:25
Genesis 3
Genesis 4
Genesis 5-6
Genesis 7-9:17
Genesis 9:18-10:32
Genesis 11
Genesis 12-13
Genesis 14-15
Genesis 16
Genesis 17
Genesis 18-19
Genesis 20-22
Genesis 23-24
Genesis 25
Genesis 26:1-33
Genesis 26:34-Genesis 28:9
Genesis 30:25-31:55
Genesis 32
Genesis 33
Genesis 34
Genesis 35-36
Genesis 37
Genesis 38

Genesis 39
New International Version (NIV)
Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife

39 Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. Potiphar, an Egyptian who was one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him there.

2 The Lord was with Joseph so that he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. 3 When his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did, 4 Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned. 5 From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the Lord blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the Lord was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field. 6 So Potiphar left everything he had in Joseph’s care; with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate.

Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, 7 and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, “Come to bed with me!”

8 But he refused. “With me in charge,” he told her, “my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. 9 No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” 10 And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her.

11 One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. 12 She caught him by his cloak and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house.

13 When she saw that he had left his cloak in her hand and had run out of the house, 14 she called her household servants. “Look,” she said to them, “this Hebrew has been brought to us to make sport of us! He came in here to sleep with me, but I screamed. 15 When he heard me scream for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.”

16 She kept his cloak beside her until his master came home. 17 Then she told him this story: “That Hebrew slave you brought us came to me to make sport of me. 18 But as soon as I screamed for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.”

19 When his master heard the story his wife told him, saying, “This is how your slave treated me,” he burned with anger. 20 Joseph’s master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined.

But while Joseph was there in the prison, 21 the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. 22 So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. 23 The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.

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I got a request from Dex to post in absentia here for him this week:

A couple notes to add from Wikipedia I thought were interesting:

Potiphar’s wife is not named in the Bible. The medieval Sefer HaYashar, a commentary on the Torah, gives it as Zuleikha, as do many Islamic traditions and thus the Persian poem called Yusuf and Zulaikha from Jami’s Haft Awrang (“Seven thrones”). Because of the Egyptian location wherein the scene is staged, it is not impossible to detect in this biblical tale also a more recent echo of the very old Egyptian fable of the two brothers Bata and Anpu.

Potiphar is the shortened form of “Potiphera” meaning “he whom Ra gave.” This is analogous to the name “Theodore” in our own Western world.

To me, what’s interesting is that this is the first story where a slave or servant does not obey their master (assuming the woman of the house can be a master). It’s also the first male slave mentioned, IIRC, and the first one not to have sex.

As far as I can tell, the Bible doesn’t indicate whether Mrs. Potiphar had any sex appeal. For all we know, she might have been so repulsive that anyone would have had no trouble whatsoever resisting her advances.

Whether Joseph was tempted or not, the tricky part would have been resisting her advances diplomatically. I’ve wondered (and maybe Joseph did, too, in hindsight) whether there might have been a way he could have let her down easy, and turned her down in a way that let her keep her self-respect and didn’t make an enemy of her.

CK Dexter Haven (via stpauler):

Those are indeed two of the interpretations, but there also some who interpret the term to mean he was Pharaoh’s executioner.

Thudlow Boink:

You don’t think "My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” qualifies as such?

Sorry… couldn’t resist…

Potiphar had very few cares
He was one of Egypt’s millionaires
Having made a fortune buying shares in

Potiphar had made a huge pile
Owned a large percentage of the Nile

Meant that I could really live in style

And he did

Joseph was an unimportant
Slave who found he liked his master
Consequently worked much harder
Even with devotion

Poitphar could see that Joseph
Was a cut above the average
Made him leader of his household
Maximum promotion

Potiphar was cool and so fine

But my wife would never toe the line

It’s all there in chapter thirty-nine
Of Genesis

Zev Steinhardt

Of course, the name Potiphera (albeit in two words) comes up later in Genesis. After Joseph is released from prison, he is given Potiphera’s daughter Asenath, as a wife.

Zev Steinhardt

[refrain]…She was beautiful but evil
Saw a lot of men against his will
He would have to tell her that she still was ‘his’…[/refrain]

Plus, he had resisted her (presumably diplomatically) “day after day.” On the critical day, she grabbed him by the cloak. Not much room left for letting her down easy at that point.

Personal note: Sorry, gang, I’m travelling with very limited online access. Should be back to normal for next week.

Historical question: can any Egyptologists shed some light on exactly what Joseph could have been managing while in prison? The text says that the warden put Joseph in charge and left all administration to him, but everything I’ve read about ancient times suggests that there were no prisons as we think of them today.

Most criminals were either fined, flogged, or executed. There were holding cells for people being tortured before execution, or for high ranking hostages or political prisoners, but AFAIK the idea of sentencing someone to a term of years, or even life, is a fairly modern concept.

And even if they did have long-term prisoners, surely all the consideration they got was gruel once or twice a day. What else was there to administer?

Not trying to dispute the text, just trying to learn the historical context.

It’s not entirely clear in the text what type of “prison” this was. While 39:20 makes it clear that it was a place where royal prisoners were kept, it might also seem from 40:3 that it was a private prison run (or administered) by Potiphar himself (note the same title used in 39:1 and 40:3).

It’s also possible that he knew the character of his wife and that Joseph was likely innocent of the charges against him. Nonetheless, he had to take action, to save face. As such, he put Joseph in prison, but made the term as easy as possible.

Zev Steinhardt

Zev Steinhardt

It’s a great question, I hadn’t thought of it before. There is certainly no mention of imprisonment in the bible as punishment for anything. However, according to BIBLICAL ARCHAEOLOGY of March 4, 2010:

Full article:

Tony Sinclair:

How modern can it be, if it’s mentioned in the Bible? Even if one doesn’t believe it’s as much as 3300 years old (its age by Orthodox Jewish reckoning) even the most atheist of atheists will concede that it’s at least 2300 years old.

Well, sure, but you’re responding to an aside I made about my own lack of knowledge on the subject. My question was about Egypt specifically, since it was essentially a theocracy, and even if there were ancient prisons elsewhere, it seems like the more absolute the ruler, the more likely it is that there’s only one penalty for criminals, namely death. For example, in the Mosaic Law, many of the offenses that seem fairly minor to us carry the death penalty, and AFAIK none result in a prison sentence.

And I’m still wondering what there was to organize in that prison. Movie night? A football game against the guards?

Thanks very much for the link. And it gives a plausible answer to my question: if the prisoners were forced to work, like a chain gang, then maybe Joseph was like a trustee supervising them.

No dreams in this passage. Which is striking - Joseph is prominent because of what he does, not what he dreams. This is in contrast to the previous passage and subsequent ones.

I have heard feminists say that Joseph was actually guilty of the attempted rape, and the story is sexist because it assumes the woman was making false accusations.


I’ll take issue with you on this. At Potiphar’s place, Joseph becomes prominent of what he does. And in the next chapter, Joseph will also succeed because of what he does (interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, and suggest what to do about the coming famine.) I think the whole point is that dreams alone don’t mean diddly, it’s what people do about them that counts. (Similarly, it’s not young Joseph’s dreams that matter, it’s the way his brothers interpret them, kidnap him, etc.)

Wow, just wow. Thanks for bringing that up, I’ve never heard that one. Just goes to show how the bible can be twisted for almost any purpose. The position you mention would require (a) assuming that the story is true, but (b) it’s misreported in the only source for it.

From a literary perspective, that makes no sense to me. The story (IMHO) is a brilliant one (ignoring divine origin or human origin, the literary work is astounding), where we see Joseph achieve success as he matures and comes to self-recognition and moral improvement. If he was actually guilty of the rape, then the story loses its whole raison d’etre.

It wasn’t the same person as his former master though. If it’s more or less the same name, why is it given two different forms? In my copy of the Tanakh, there’s Potiphar the master of Joseph, and Poti-phera, priest of On, whose daughter Asenath became the wife of Joseph.

A trivial question, but I’m like that.

(@C K) Right, the refrain repeated several times is along the lines of Joseph is successful at everything because God is with him. I just can’t see that continuing with rape in the picture.

That’s the interesting part of this passage to me- it seems to support something like a Prosperity Gospel- if God is with you, you will have material success. In this case that success extends to Potiphar’s household, “both in the house and in the field,” even though presumably Potiphar does not have God “with him” the way Joseph does. Being a heathen doesn’t exempt him from transitive success through Joseph’s grace, if we can call it that.

There isn’t a clear recipe for achieving this state of grace. I’m assuming rape screws it up. And Joseph suffers setbacks that echo his past misdeeds, like losing the article of clothing thanks to “bad reports”. So there is a kind of system of rewards and punishments in this life for Joseph’s deeds.

What I’m wondering is probably obvious to the more informed: What did Joseph do to get God “with him”? Is it implied to be something repeatable, is it who his parents are, or is it simply arbitrary? Ultimately Joseph ends up commanding a huge number of slaves, which seems monstrous to me, but I suppose is meant to be the further unfoldment of God being “with him”- is that right?

Also interesting that Joseph is the only male portrayed as attractive in the Bible. He’s bald, isn’t he? Elsewhere baldness is presented as a curse.

Obviously I’m not an expert- feel free to fill in the blanks of my incomplete views.