I have been reading the Jewish work, “Joseph and Aseneth,” for my daily quiet time. The date given underneath the title of the work in my Charlesworth Pseudepigrapha is the first century B.C.E. to the second century C.E. Aseneth was the daughter of Potiphera priest of On in Egypt, and the Pharaoh gave her in marriage to Joseph, according to Genesis 41:45. “Joseph and Aseneth” largely revolves around her conversion from idolatry to monotheism.
I have not yet finished the book, but here are some items from my reading so far:
1. In Joseph and Aseneth 8:10-11, Joseph prays for Aseneth’s conversion, and he seems to describe such a conversion in reference to creation. In the same way that God brought life out of death, truth out of error, and light out of darkness, Joseph prays, so may God renew Aseneth and grant her eternal life. While reading this, I thought about what the apostle Paul says in II Corinthians 4:6: “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (KJV). I was wondering if the comparison between conversion and creation was distinctly Christian, and thus Joseph and Aseneth 8:10-11 was a Christian interpolation, or if it could have been a Jewish concept, too. I do not know the answer to that question, but it did occur to me.
2. After Aseneth converts and marries Joseph, we read a couple of times that Aseneth will be Joseph’s wife forever and ever (21:3, 21). I thought about the Book of Revelation’s statements about the eternal torment of the wicked; Revelation says the torment will go on forever and ever (Revelation 14:11; 20:10). In a discussion about hell a while back, I was arguing that “forever” in the Bible can be temporary (see my post here), and a believer in eternal torment in hell tactfully responded that this is sometimes the case, but that “forever and ever” means eternity. Those passages in Joseph and Aseneth say that Aseneth would be married to Joseph forever and ever. Do they mean that she would be married to him eternally?
They could conceivably mean that she would be married to him for the rest of her life. Exodus 21:6 talks about a procedure by which a man can become a master’s slave forever, and that probably does not mean all eternity, but rather the rest of the slave’s natural life. But “Joseph and Aseneth” does have a concept of an afterlife, or eternal life, so perhaps it does envision them being married forever, as in eternally. If so, that may differ from Jesus’ statement in Mark 12:25 that those resurrected from the dead will neither marry, nor be given in marriage, but would be like the angels in heaven.
Another consideration is that Aseneth in “Joseph and Aseneth” is often likened to a city—-a city of refuge, a city for proselytes. I do not know entirely what that means. Is she simply being called a mother of proselytes because, by her example, she is encouraging other Gentiles to seek the Lord, and she is like a city of refuge in that sense? Would she and the house that she set up somehow be a refuge for the oppressed Israelites in Egypt? In any case, Aseneth’s significance seems to go beyond her earthly life, and perhaps that is relevant to her marriage to Joseph being forever and ever.
3. I am in the part of the book in which Aseneth meets Joseph’s family. She gravitates towards the wise prophet Levi, one of Joseph’s brothers, who secretly teaches her mysteries about God. This stood out to me because it strikes me as inappropriate for a woman who is married to someone else to meet with another man secretly. Maybe it is because I one time read a story about a woman who met with her male pastor for regular Bible study, and they ended up having an affair! But I also wondered how that scene in “Joseph and Aseneth” fit into Judaism’s views of how men were to relate to women, and vice versa.
In Joseph and Aseneth 23, the son of the Pharaoh wants to enlist the help of Simeon and Levi in killing Joseph, their brother. The Pharaoh’s son is upset that Joseph married Aseneth, which the Pharaoh’s son was hoping to do himself. Plus, he heard about how Simeon and Levi slaughtered the Shechemites after one of them raped their sister Dinah. Simeon is outraged by this request, which sounds to him like a command, and he is about to kill the Pharaoh’s son, until Levi reminds Simeon that they are worshipers of God and that they are not to return evil for evil. Levi then refuses the request and says that, if the Pharaoh’s son harms Joseph, he will have to answer to them, and Levi reminds the Pharaoh’s son that they had killed the Shechemites.
This is an interesting story. It is a bit inconsistent, since Levi is against returning evil to evil, even though he did precisely that when he killed the Shechemites; “Joseph and Aseneth” may be trying to portray Levi positively because he would become a priestly tribe. I also wish that Levi, who could read minds in the book, showed some understanding and compassion towards the Pharaoh’s son, as wrongheaded as he was. Still, Levi’s exhortation of Simeon to have a cooler head resonated with me.