Thursday, February 17, 2011

Potiphar, Son of Horus

Alice C. Linsley

Potiphar bought Joseph as a slave. Potiphar's wife attempted to seduce Joseph. Potiphera was Joseph's father-in-law and a priest of the Temple in Heliopolis. Heliopolis is Biblical On and was an Ainu shrine.

A reader has asked whether Potiphar and Potifera might be the same person. I think not. There is no reason to assume that the officer of Pharaoh's guard, whose wife attempted to seduce Joseph, is the same man as Joseph's father-on-law who was a priest. The men are ascribed different roles. One is a priest and the other is a warrior. It is more likely that their names indicate their high status in a ancient society that valued hierarchical order. Both names relate to the deity Horus. This is evident from reading the Potiphar Stela which has this designation "Putiphar son of ‘Ankh-Hor".

Potifra is the likely form of the name and it suggests a title. Referring to Proverbs 8:33, Ibn Erza holds that the phrase al-tifra-u means something like "don't change the order."  The verse says: "Listen to my instruction and become wise. Don't change the order." This suggests that the name Potifra was not uncommon among ranking men who were part of the established order in Egypt.

The widely accepted interpretation of Potiphera is that it is derived from the Egyptian Pa-di-Pre, “the gift of the Re.” This seems less likely than my suggestion that the name is related to the word tifra, meaning order. The view that the names Potiphar and Potiphera refer to men of high rank is supported by the stela of Potiphera in Cairo Museum. This is the single extra-Biblical occurance of the name. It dates to the 21st Dynasty (ca. 1070–945 BC).

Horus was regarded as the Deity who established the order in creation and none were to attempt to change that order. Horus set the boundaries of the horizons, the directions of the winds, and the currents of the seas. Horos (oros in Greek) refers to the boundaries of an area, or a landmark, or a term. From horos come the words hour, horizon, horoscope and Horologion (both the book and the wind tower). The association of Horus with the horizon is seen in the word Har-ma-khet, meaning Horus of the Horizon. The association of Horus with the wind is seen in the word Har-mat-tan, referring to the dry wind that seasonally blows across the Sahara.The word horotely describes the rate and boundaries of evolutionary change for a given group of plants or animals.

Societal structure among the ancient Horites

Societies of the ancient world were characterized by castes. The ruler was the highest in rank and those who served him were next in rank. This included scribes, priests, metalworkers and warriors.

In the hierarchical order Joseph would have held a very high rank. This is evident in his marriage to the daughter of the high priest of Heliopolis. Asenath, Joseph's wife, was probably a cousin to Joseph and her first born son belonged to her father's shrine. Ephraim, the younger son, belonged to the House of Jacob. This explains why Jacob gave him the blessing that pertained to the first-born (Gen. 48:14). In 1949, Claude Levi-Strauss recognized that in system where ruling lineage is traced through the fathers the mother and son do not belong to the same household.

Asenath or Asnat combines two ancient Egyptian words: As or Asa, a name for God, and nt meaning Lord, as in tera neter, priest of the Lord. Her name means As or Asa is Lord. The name appears in association with the Divine Name Yahu in Judah (Asayahu). Anath was also called Mari-Anath and many water shrines were dedicated to her. These were places where women came to ask the Creator for children. These were also places of healing (compare to story in John 5). It is likely that Mari-Anath is the same deified mother as Hathor-Mari, the mother of Horus.  

Reproduction of Stela of Potiphera

The stela has four lines of large hieroglyphs written from right to left. They say:

A boon which the King gives Osiris, the Spirit of his Olive-tree, that he may give offerings consisting of bread, beer, oxen, fowls and every good and pure thing on which the god lives to the Ka of the revered, the guardian of the chamber of Ptah who is under his olive-tree, Putiphar son of ‘Ankh-Hor [born of....] mistress of reverence for ever.

Here we find a direct connection between the name Potiphar and Horus. Potiphar is said to be the son of Ankh-Hor. Anhk-Hor means "Horus, may He live forever."  The story of Joseph, like the story of Abraham, winds around Horite belief and practice. In fact, all the rulers listed in the Genesis King Lists were Horites. The Horites were a caste of ruler-priests who were devotees of Horus and his father Ra.

Related reading:  The Enigma of Joseph; The Joseph Narrative; Who Were the Horites?; The Daughters of Horite Priests; The Nilotic Origin of the Ainu; Jesus Fulfills the Horus Myth


Jonathan said...

The stela is certainly an interesting lead. I was suspecting that the name Potiphera must be more of a title, like "Pharoah", than an actual name, and that there was nothing necessarily inconsistent about someone functioning at one instance as an officer of Pharoah (a eunuch?), and a priest of On as well. Then we have these rabbis with some fanciful explainations (midrash) about how Potiphar = Potiphera, while other rabbis teach about how they do not equate: both interpretations are indeed represented, but neither one is taught dogmatically. I was also going on a hunch about the LXX, which appears not to distinguish between the two names. The line of tradition that might be the most readily coherent with the marriage patterns shown by your overall research on the "Ancestors of God" is the one that says Asenath was actually the daughter of Dinah, and because she was not wanted, she got sold into slavery in her youth, just like Joseph did. That would mean that Asenath really was, according to blood, of the house of Jacob, even though the Scriptures say that she was daughter (adopted?) of Potipher. Maybe Potipher purchased Asenath on one slave dealing caravan and then came back through Shechem a few years later to see if he could bargain for more, whereupon he came upon Joseph's evil brothers who were ready to make a deal?

Alice C. Linsley said...

You are a gem, Jonathan! I love what you have written. However, we have to admit that we are speculating. Still, our speculation is based on verifiable patterns in Genesis.

Also, you are lifting up something that many Americans don't understand about slavery in the ancient world. It was mostly high-ranking people who were slaves. The nobles among conquered peoples had greater skills, education, connections, etc. They were the ones taken as slaves. The peasants were ignored or killed if they resisted.

Ross said...

Do you know any good scholars who specialise in the book of Judges? I have an issue I'd like to resolve from chapters 19 to 21 concerning the rape and murder of the Levite's concubine.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Sounds intriguing. What is your issue?

The person I recommend is Patrick Henry Reardon. His scholarship is impeccable.

Ross said...

This issue came up from a discussion on an atheist blog. One of the atheist commentators was arguing that Scripture commands and advocates the subjugation of women to men, and treating them as objects. Citing the story of the Levite who allowed his concubine to be raped and then murdered her, this passage was one of her proof texts.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Yes, the story of the rape and dismemberment of the Levite's concubine is in all the feminist texbooks, so to speak. Feminism is grounded on the principle that women are universally oppressed by the dominant male hierarchy. They take this story out of context and use it as propaganda. They fail to recognize that most of the women named in the Bible are the daughters of ruler-priests and women of high status and influence.

Anonymous said...

Potiphere and Potiphere are the same person. There is no reason to change the ph to f to suit your purpose. Often you will find the interchangeable re with ra because the vowels are implied by the scribe. Also, Potiphere is a corruption of Ap-Ophis-Ra! Now, the student of Egypt can do some real homework regarding the time of this so-called pharaoh!

Alice C. Linsley said...

They may or may not be the same person. The text isn't clear and the Rabbis don't agree. That said, rabbinic interpretation is not authoritative for Christians.

The standard interpretation is that Potiphe-re is a corruption of Ap-Ophis-Ra. I don't buy it. I do believe that Potifre refers to the office of a devotee of Re however.