Asenath from Guillaume Rouillé's Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum

Joseph and Asenath

Asenath (/ˈæsɨnæθ/; Hebrew: אָסְנַת, Modern Osnát Tiberian ʼOsnaṯ) or Asenith (in modern times sometimes transliterated as Osnat) is a figure in the Book of Genesis (41:45.50; 46,20), an Egyptian woman whom Pharaoh gave to Joseph son of Jacob to be his wife. The daughter of Potipherah, a priest of On, she bore Joseph two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, who became the patriarchs of the Israelite tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim.

Modern scholarship says her name derives from the Egyptian "she who belongs to (the goddess) Neith", and that her name may be phonetically transliterated from the New Kingdom Egyptian hieroglyphs as Ns-Nt.[1]

In Hellenistic texts

Genesis records nothing more about Asenath, but her story is elaborated in the apocryphal Joseph and Aseneth. There, she is a virgin who rejects several worthy suitors in favor of Joseph, but Joseph will not have a pagan for a wife. She locks herself in a tower and rejects her idolatry in favor of Joseph's God Yahweh, and receives a visit from an angel who accepts her conversion. A ritual involving a honeycomb follows. Bees cover her and sting her lips to remove the false prayers to the pagan gods of her past. Joseph now consents to marry her. She bears him their sons Mannaseh and Ephraim.

Pharaoh's son wants Asenath for himself, however, and with the aid of Joseph's brothers Dan and Gad, he conspires to kill her husband. The loyal brother Benjamin interferes, and Pharaoh's son is ultimately slain.

Asenath forgives the conspirators, and she and Joseph rule over Egypt for 48 years, after which they pass the crown to Pharaoh's grandson.

Rabbinical literature

The Midrash Pirke De-Rabbi Eliezer records a view that Asenath was actually the daughter of Joseph's sister Dinah, conceived in her rape by Shechem.[2] Some of the circumstantial textual evidence supporting this view is laid out in an article by John Pratt.

The name Asenath today

"Asenath" or "Osnat" (Hebrew: אָסְנַת, Modern Osnát Tiberian ʼOsnaṯ) is a commonly used female first name in present-day Israel. Asenath is also the name of a character in H.P. Lovecraft's "The Thing on the Doorstep." Other spellings include "Asenith"


  1. IDB, vol1 (1962) 247-248 Janssen, JEOL 14 (1955-56) 68; Schulman, SAK 2 (1975) 238-239.; cf. James K. Hoffmeier, Israel in Egyt (1999) 85, 101 n 79
  2. Pirke De-Rabbi Eliezer, chap. 38.

External links

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