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The Story of Joseph and Aseneth

File photo: Davizro Photography, Shutter Stock, licensed.
It came to pass in the first year of the seven years of plenty, Pharaoh sent out Joseph to go around the whole land of Egypt. Joseph came into the district of Heliopolis where he was collecting grain. Now there was in that city a satrap of Pharaoh who was very rich, wise, and generous, and his name was Pentephres, the high priest of On.  File photo: Davizro Photography, Shutter Stock, licensed.

The following abridgment of the love story of Joseph and Aseneth is derived from the Book of Joseph and Aseneth, which is part of the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha.*

It came to pass in the first year of the seven years of plenty, Pharaoh sent out Joseph to go around the whole land of Egypt. Joseph came into the district of Heliopolis where he was collecting grain. Now there was in that city a satrap of Pharaoh who was very rich, wise, and generous, and his name was Pentephres, the high priest of On.   

Pentephres had a daughter, a virgin of about eighteen years of age who was tall and beautiful and graceful, and looked like the daughters of the Hebrews; and her name was Aseneth. The fame of her beauty spread through all that land, and the sons of the lords and satraps sought her hand in marriage.

But Aseneth despised all their offers because she aspired to marry Pharaoh’s firstborn son. She lived in the beautifully adorned tower of her parents’ home and enjoyed many precious things, had seven maids, and worshiped the gods of Egypt.  

When Joseph came into the land of Heliopolis, he sent twelve men ahead asking to visit Pentephres, and Pentephres rejoiced and prepared to receive Joseph, who was Pharaoh’s viceroy, and known as a mighty man of God.

Pentephres and his wife summoned Aseneth and told her that she and Joseph had much in common and entreated her to marry him. Aseneth furiously responded that she was entirely opposed to marrying a former shepherd and slave, and that she intended to marry the eldest son of Pharaoh.

Aseneth angrily left her father and her mother and ran upstairs and went into her room and stood at the window and watched as Joseph came from the east. He came in a magnificent chariot drawn by four snow-white horses, wearing a white tunic, a purple robe, and a crown with twelve golden rays.

Pentephres and his wife and all his relations, except Aseneth, went out to meet Joseph and bowed to him. Joseph got down from his chariot and gracefully greeted them. And as Aseneth looked down from above, she was cut to the quick and her whole body trembled and she said to herself, “Where shall I go to hide from him for he sees everything because of the great light that is in him. What can I hope for, wretch that I am? I was foolish and reckless to despise him, and I spoke evil of him and did not know that Joseph is the son of God. For who among men will ever father such beauty, and what mother will ever bear such a light?”

Joseph came into Pentephres’s house and sat down and spoke to Pentephres, saying, “Who is that woman watching from the window? Tell her to go away.” Joseph’s intent was to prevent her from soliciting him, for many of the wives and daughters of the lords of Egypt sought to lie with him, and he rebuffed them because he remembered his father’s commandments to have nothing to do with strange women.

Then Pentephres explained that the woman in the window was his daughter of pure and noble character, who would not solicit him. When Joseph heard that, he rejoiced saying that he would receive her as a sister. Her mother went upstairs and brought Aseneth down, and Pentephres asked her to greet her new brother with a kiss.

When Aseneth came near to kiss him, Joseph stretched out his right hand and said, “It is not fitting for one who worships the living God to kiss one who worships the gods of Egypt.” And they gazed at each other, and Aseneth’s eyes were filled with tears, and the spirit cut to their hearts.  

And Joseph put his right hand on her head and blessed her saying:  

Lord God of my Father Israel,

who giveth life to all things,

who calleth from darkness into light,

And from error into truth,

Oh Lord, quicken and bless this virgin,

And by thy spirit renew her mind and heart

that she may be born into a new life,

And be numbered among thine elect,  

And live in your eternal life forever and ever.

It came to pass that Pentephres invited Joseph to stay the night but Joseph declined saying he had much work to do, but that he would return in eight days.

Aseneth rejoiced over Joseph’s blessing and hurried up to her tower and fell on her bed, and in her there was much joy and distress. After a sleepless night, she arose and threw her idolatrous gods of silver and gold out the window. And she fasted, and prayed, and wept, and repented for many days.

And the Lord God sent a messenger and herald whose face was like lightning, and his eyes like sunshine, and his hands and feet like fire. He addressed her by name and told her to go into her chamber and wash, and dress in new a new robe, and adorn herself as a bride. When she returned, he blessed her, saying:

Courage Aseneth, your prayers have been answered

and your name is written in the book of life.

Courage pure Aseneth, you will become Joseph’s bride,

Courage Aseneth, today you enter into a new life,

and your love and lineage will last forever and ever.

The messenger departed and went to speak with Joseph. And thereafter, Joseph returned, and Aseneth went out to meet him, and Joseph told her that the divine messenger had come to him saying many wonderful things about her. And Joseph stretched out his hands, winked, and asked, “Why do you stand so far from me?” And Aseneth fell on his breast, and they kissed for a long time and were filled with the spirit.

As they prepared to eat, Aseneth washed Joseph’s feet and said, “Your feet are my feet, and your hands are my hands, and your soul my soul.” And it came to pass that Pharaoh gave them a great marriage feast and proclaimed a national holiday. And Joseph treasured Aseneth. She later conceived and gave birth to Manasseh and Ephraim.

And it came to pass, that Aseneth wrote a psalm including these insights:   

I did not know the Lord God of heaven,

I trusted in the richness of my glory and beauty,

until Joseph and the herald of God came,

and brought me to the God of ages,

and gave me to eat the bread of life,

and drink the cup of wisdom,

and I became a fruitful queen  

forever and ever.

* The Pseudepigrapha (pronounced sue-duh-pig-ruh-fuh) includes ancient books of questionable origin and accuracy. However, many pseudepigraphic books, including this one, contain elements of truth that are enlightening and inspirational. This version of the ancient story has been interpreted and abridged by Gene Van Shaar.

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