Potiphar and his wife

Joseph and Potiphar's Wife, by Guido Reni 1630
Joseph Accused by Potiphar's Wife, by Rembrandt van Rijn, 1655.
Joseph and Potiphar's Wife, Joseph leaving by Orazio Gentileschi

Potiphar or Potifar (/ˈpɒtfər/)[1] is a person known only from the Book of Genesis's account of Joseph. Potiphar is said to be the captain of the palace guard and is referred in the Quran as Aziz . Joseph, sold into slavery by his brothers, is taken to Egypt where he is sold to Potiphar as a household slave. Potiphar makes Joseph the head of his household, but Potiphar's wife, who is not named in the Bible or in Christian tradition, is furious at Joseph for resisting her attempts to seduce him, and falsely accuses him of attempted rape. Potiphar casts Joseph into prison, from where he later comes to the notice of Pharaoh through his ability to interpret the dreams of other prisoners.

After Joseph's interpretation of Pharaoh's dreams and his subsequent appointment as overlord of Egypt, Joseph (renamed Zaphnath-Paaneah) married Asenath, the daughter of Poti-Pherah priest of On. Poti-Pherah may have been the same person as Potiphar,[2] in which case Joseph would likely have been married to the daughter of the woman responsible for his false imprisonment.

The medieval Sefer HaYashar, a commentary on the Torah, gives Potiphar's wife's name 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.[3][4]

The story became very common in Western art in the Renaissance and Baroque periods, usually showing the moment when Joseph tears himself away from the bed containing a more or less naked figure of Potiphar's wife. Persian miniatures often illustrate Yusuf and Zulaikha in Jami's Haft Awrang ("Seven thrones").


Potiphar (Hebrew: פוטיפר) is the shortened form of the Egyptian name "Potiphera" meaning "he whom Ra gave." This is analogous to the name "Theodore"="God's gift" in the Western world.[5]

Religious references

It is difficult to place Potiphar or Joseph accurately to a particular pharaoh or time period. On the Jewish calendar, Joseph was purchased in the year 2216, which is 1544 BC, at the end of the Second Intermediate Period or very beginning of the New Kingdom. The Torah in which the story appears (see also the Bible and the Quran) was the earliest written of the three: c. 600 BC during the Babylonian Exile. According to the documentary hypothesis, the story of Potiphar and his wife is credited to the Yahwist source, and stands in the same place that the stories of the butler and the baker and Pharaoh's dreams stand in the Elohist text.

According to Dr. G.J. Wenham (IVP New Bible Commentary) execution was normal for rape cases, and thus the story implies that Potiphar may have had doubts about his wife's account.

The Book of Abraham, included in the Pearl of Great Price, one of the standard works of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and by churches of the Latter Day Saint movement, refers to a "Potiphar`s Hill" in Egypt (Abraham 1:10, 20).

Cultural references


See also


  1. Hebrew: פּוֹטִיפַר / פּוֹטִיפָר, Modern Potifar Tiberian Pôṭîp̄ar / Pôṭîp̄ār; Arabic: بوتيفار ; Egyptian origin: p-di-p-rʿ "he whom Ra gave"
  2. http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/12316-potiphar
  3. Encyclopedia Britannica, Joseph (biblical figure)
  4. http://www.reshafim.org.il/ad/egypt/texts/anpu_and_bata.htm
  5. Asimov, Isaac (1967). Guide to the Bible - Old Testament. p. 106.


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