Asenath: Midrash and Aggadah

by Tamar Kadari

Asenath is mentioned in the Torah she-bi-khetav: Lit. "the written Torah." The Bible; the Pentateuch; Tanakh (the Pentateuch, Prophets and Hagiographia)Torah as “the daughter of Poti-phera” (Gen. 41:45), who was married to Joseph in Egypt. The Rabbis found it difficult to accept that Joseph, who withstood the wiles of Potiphar’s wife and proclaimed his loyalty to the Lord in the palace of Pharaoh, would marry a non-Israelite woman. The question of Asenath’s origins has significant consequences for the standing within the Israelite tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim, the two sons born to Asenath and Joseph.

There are two Rabbinic approaches to the issue of Asenath’s descent. One view presents her as an ethnic Egyptian who converted in order to be married to Joseph. She accepted the belief in the Lord before she was married and raised her children in accordance with the tenets of Judaism. The second approach argues that Asenath was not an Egyptian by descent, but was from the family of Jacob. God directed matters so that she would end up in Egypt, so that Joseph would find a suitable wife from among the members of his own family. Accordingly, Ephraim and Manasseh are worthy descendents, who continue the way of Jacob.

Asenath the Convert

The traditions that maintain that Asenath was a convert present her as a positive example of conversion, and include her among the devout women converts: Hagar, Asenath, Zipporah, Shiphrah, Puah, the Daughter Of Pharaoh, Rahab, Ruth and Jael (A type of non-halakhic literary activitiy of the Rabbis for interpreting non-legal material according to special principles of interpretation (hermeneutical rules).Midrash Tadshe, Ozar ha-Midrashim [ed. Eisenstein], p. 474). The Rabbis learn from Joseph’s marriage to Asenath that a favorable attitude is to be exhibited to converts, who are to be drawn closer. Thus, Joseph married Asenath daughter of Poti-phera, and Joshua son of Nun, who was a chieftain of the tribe of Ephraim (Num. 13:8), would be descended from this union. The midrash adds that Joseph’s behavior served as an example for both Joshua and David, when they acted charitably with the Gibeonites and drew them closer to Israel (Midrash Samuel [ed. Buber], 28:5, based on Josh. 9 and II Sam. 21:1–9). An additional midrashic dictum notes a number of converts who became members of the families of the righteous leaders of Israel. Thus, Joseph married Asenath, Joshua wed Rahab, Boaz took Ruth for a wife, and Moses married the daughter of Hobab (= Jethro) (Eccl. Rabbah 8:10:1).

Asenath the Daughter of Dinah

The traditions that trace Asenath to the family of Jacob relate that she was the daughter born to Dinah following her rape by Shechem son of Hamor. Jacob’s sons wanted to kill the infant, lest it be said that there was harlotry in the tents of Jacob. Jacob brought a gold plate and wrote God’s name on it; according to another tradition, he wrote on it the episode with Shechem. Jacob hung the plate around Asenath’s neck and sent her away. God dispatched the angel Michael to bring her to the house of Poti-phera in Egypt; according to yet another tradition, Dinah left Asenath on the wall of Egypt. That day Poti-phera went out for a walk near the wall with his young men, and he heard the infant’s crying. When they brought the baby to him, he saw the plate and the record of the episode. Poti-phera told his servants, “This girl is the daughter of great ones.” He brought her to his home and gave her a wet nurse. Poti-phera’s wife was barren, and she raised Asenath as her own daughter. Consequently, she was called “Asenath daughter of Poti-phera,” for she was raised in the home of Poti-phera and his wife, as if she were their own daughter. This narrative teaches that all is foreseen by God. Each of Jacob’s sons was born together with his future spouse, except for Joseph, who was not born together with his mate, since Asenath daughter of Dinah was fit to be his wife. God directed matters so that Joseph would find a wife when he went down to Egypt, and Asenath was suitable for him (Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer [ed. Higger], chaps. 35, 37; A type of non-halakhic literary activitiy of the Rabbis for interpreting non-legal material according to special principles of interpretation (hermeneutical rules).Midrash Statements that are not Scripturally dependent and that pertain to ethics, traditions and actions of the Rabbis; the non-legal (non-halakhic) material of the Talmud.Aggadah [ed. Buber], Gen. 41:45).

Asenath as Part of the Family

Gen. 43:24–34 relates that Joseph invited his brothers to eat with him when they went down to Egypt to procure food. In the midrashic depiction, this was a family meal in which Joseph’s wife and children also participated. Joseph sat his brothers before him, “from the oldest in the order of his seniority to the youngest in the order of his youth” (v. 33), and brought the portions to the meal. Joseph gave each one, including Benjamin, his portion, and then he took his own portion and gave it to Benjamin. Asenath took her portion and gave it to Benjamin, as did Ephraim and Manasseh. Thus, there were five portions next to Benjamin, as is recorded in v. 34: “But Benjamin’s portion was five times that of anyone else” (Tanhuma, Vayigash 4). The verse then continues: “And they drank their fill with him,” on which the A type of non-halakhic literary activitiy of the Rabbis for interpreting non-legal material according to special principles of interpretation (hermeneutical rules).midrash comments that all those years during which Joseph had not seen his brothers, he did not imbibe of wine, nor did his brothers until they saw him; now they drank with him, to intoxication (Gen. Rabbah 92:5). In these midrashim, Asenath and her children shared Joseph’s sense of loss all the years that he lived apart from his family, and they also participate in the excitement and joy when he is reunited with Benjamin, his only maternal brother.

The Torah she-bi-khetav: Lit. "the written Torah." The Bible; the Pentateuch; Tanakh (the Pentateuch, Prophets and Hagiographia)Torah relates (Gen. 48) that when Jacob was old and infirm, Joseph came to visit him, together with his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim. Jacob blessed Joseph’s sons and declared that, for him, they were equal to his own sons and they would receive a double land portion. The midrash describes the soul searching that accompanied this decision, which was connected to Joseph’s marriage to Asenath. According to one tradition, when Jacob saw Joseph’s sons and wished to bless them, the Shekhinah (Divine Presence) departed from him. Jacob thought that Manasseh and Ephraim were not the sons of a legitimate marital union, and were therefore unfit to receive a blessing. Jacob asked (v. 8): “Who are these?”, that is, how were these born? (Midrash Statements that are not Scripturally dependent and that pertain to ethics, traditions and actions of the Rabbis; the non-legal (non-halakhic) material of the Talmud.Aggadah [ed. Buber] 48:8). In another tradition, Jacob saw with the spirit of divine inspiration that Jeroboam son of Nebat, an Ephraimite, would erect (statues of) calves, incite Israel to engage in idolatry, and cause five hundred thousand of Israel to fall in a single day (as is related in II Chron. 13:17). Jacob therefore asked: “Who are these?”—perhaps you improperly married the mother of these? Joseph brought before him Asenath and her ketubah (marriage contract) and said (Gen. 48:9): “They are my sons, whom God has given me here [ba-zeh, literally, with this]”: “with this”—with a ketubah and proper marriage. He also showed him that, just as he was circumcised, so were his sons (Midrash ha-Gadol, Vayehi 48:8–9 [ed. Margaliot], pp. 820–21). In another midrashic unfolding, Joseph began his request by saying: “Father, my children are righteous like me.” He brought their mother Asenath before his father and said: “Father, please, even if only on behalf of this righteous woman.” When Jacob saw this, he told Joseph (Gen. 48:9): “Bring them up to me that I may bless them.” Joseph brought them to his father, who began to embrace and kiss them, and rejoiced in them (Pesikta Rabbati [ed. Friedmann (Ish-Shalom)], chap. 3, fol. 12a).


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The Mishnah and Talmud have a way of giving a point of view, but can misdirect us from יהוָֹה. What’s the big picture of the book of Genesis and what does it foreshadow? The B'resheet is much more than just a beginning? It contains story upon story with renewed beginnings of hope. Followed by continuous falling into sin and starting all over all over with the similar story of a new beginning and renewed hope of a marriage covenant relationship leading us back to GOD. We are looking at Hebrew circular reasoning of a beginning resulting in its conclusion, but it is not the end for it is a new beginning without seemingly without end. Joseph’s death in a pit and in prison is not death, but a new beginning of life and renewed relationships with God, family and marriage.

How could Aseneth have raised her son's "according to the tenants of judaism" if those were not given up til Sinai under Moses? I find that explanation a little self-serving. G-do says "my ways are not your ways and my thoughts are not your thoughts." I think we need to remember that before we spout off theories that don't make sense.

The bible does not say that Joseph married his sister's daughter. Joseph is Asenath's Uncle!
The bible does not say that Dinah was pregnant, nor with child when they brought her home.
But the bible does say, not to go beyond what is written.

god bless with this evidence wishing yuo all long life

thank you god be with you all

This article offers options on what went down.  However this statement is incorrect: "Asenath raised her children in accordance with the tenants of Judaism."  (Joseph was not a Jew as bloodline Jews only came through Judah, his brother.)   Jews are not all of Hebrews, not anymore than Californians are all of Americans from the USA and at best today's Jews are just a percentage and are only part of the tribe of Judah Pharez branch only.  Today's Jews historically are a mix themselves of Khazarians and Edomites with bloodline Judah Pharez branch decendants, check your history!  There might be actually more non-Hebrews calling themselves Jews than the true bloodline.  So much for the modern State of Israel (land base) being the real Hebrews.  Asenath didn't bring her sons up in Judaism. Judaism wasn't even a thing then.   

This is amazing.  I just listened to the apocryphal book Joseph and Asenath and it says that she looked like a Hebrew not an Egyptian - when I heard it I knew that the writer of the book was making a strong point that Asenath wasn’t an Egyptian and was a Hebrew.  This lends credibility to the oral tradition saying that Asenath was the daughter of Dina.

"Thus, Joseph married Asenath, Joshua wed Rahab, Boaz took Ruth for a wife, and Moses married the daughter of Hobab (= Jethro) (Eccl. Rabbah 8:10:1)." ????

Rahab married Salmon, not Joshua!!!

It seems to me that the blood was mixed many times over the centuries. Add to that the fact that the 10 tribes seem to have assimilated into the other nations of the world and mixed their blood with them since they went missing. Could that be the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham to bless all nations of the earth through him? There may well not be one human being left on earth who doesn't have Abraham's blood in him

In reply to by Mike Flint

Or perhaps only One.

In reply to by Mike Flint

Wow so many folks get scared of the thought that Asenath the Egyptian could possibly be Black (like Moses wife). Keep in mind maybe Adam & Eve were black who made Albino children who decided to multiply & be productive throughout the world. This is why til' this day you still see blacks that make white children with blue eyes and all (and this is ongoing). Two whites can never make black children, so fear on the part of the writers inventing that she was always a Hebrew doesn't pass (they make me suspect that they are hiding the truth due to shame). Most likely the Jews were embarrassed to reveal why they couldn't reveal one true story about Asenath & it definitely sounds like there was a color issue like Miriam had against Moses Ethiopian wife then Miriam got hit with leprosy for her eyes sinned against Moses wife God's creation. God continuously displays His love for the nations so why we who believe in Him as Jews & those that are Christian hate/react as though our bloodline couldn't be mixed with certain nations, color, & certain backgrounds just because society makes them look like outcast. Some of us Jews react as though no other nation can say they are jews unless you have a certain complexion then we'll receive you. Isn't the faith about being set apart for God Almighty to do His great works through us as His vessels? So why aren't we changing the world as the people of God by loving God's entire creation which are the different nations that are here on this planet. We keep conforming to govt. standards on how to treat others different from ourselves & that's not right. So what's the big deal if Asenath was a black woman God can use any of us human beings to do His work. That's why most people don't join either Judaism, Christian, or Catholic circles because those in power in those religious settings seem to always display whites as the only holy ones and not be real with their accounts of who God's people truly are (resemblance of the nations). Lastly, I can't understand why some white jews act as though there's no Chinese jews, African jews, Latino jews etc. They only tend to accept the European jews as their descendants from Russia for example, but that curly or wavy hair I see that they have obviously screams African descent somehwere down the line, but they deny it too afraid to even say it. Only the African genes produce curls no true asian, indian, nor European straight hair can suddenly produce curls unless they get with Africans they'll have wavy or curly hair. Still can't understand why some of God's people choose to hate rather than love others as themselves.

According to I Chronicles 2:11, Salma begat Boaz. Salmon married Rahab the harlot, not Joshua.

In reply to by gigi

Chronicles I chap 2 makes NO mention of Rahab !!! What you smoking ?

In reply to by Guru

Agreed. I read through it, as well. Then just for the sake of their potential typo, I went and looked in II Chronicles, and there's nothing there either.

In reply to by gigi

...and Boaz married Ruth, a Moabitess. But again, there seems to be a "splitting-of-hairs" in this unwillingness to accept that Joseph would marry a non-Israelite woman, when one considers that 400 -430 years later, during the wilderness wanderings Moses' own sister would take similar issue with Moses' marriage to a Cushite/ Ethiopian woman. And as the Scriptures bear witness, the Lord heard the murmuring and settled the matter Himself. I wonder now, have these rabbis not learned the lesson of putting the Lord to the test from their own history?

In reply to by George

Ruth was not of Moabite/Canaanite blood, she happened to be living "in the land of Moab" at the time, as were many other Israelites, due to the famine in their own land. There is no Canaanite blood in the pure line of Jesus.

In reply to by gigi

Salmon didn't marry Rahab the Harlot, he married Rachab, an Israelite. There is no Canaanite blood in the pure line of Jesus.

How can the sons of Joseph and Asenath be considered Jews as the offspring of a marriage requires the female to be Jewish to pass on the Jewish line? It appears that since Asenath was an Egyptian the children would also have to be considered Egyptians according to the law. Was this overlooked by the Old Testament writers?

In reply to by Robert McDowell

It's pretty clear from most of the Bible that descent follows the father's line. It was around the time of the Mishna that the decision was made to have descent for purposes of ethnic identity go by the mother. One theory is that the change was made in the wake of the Bar Kochba rebellion and the Hadrianic decrees, when so many men were killed and women raped that without the change the future of Judaism was in serious question.

In reply to by Binyamin Weinreich

I agree with your statement, and would add that this also became part of the train of though as the unfortunate event of the holocaust, also saw women raped. However, I am not certain that God sees it that way. At the end of the day, there is one law and one Lawgiver. ALL those that abide by that law and believe in the One Lawgiver, "whether natural born or grafted in" will abide in His house

In reply to by Robert McDowell

How could this issue rise to such a level of concern as whether according to the Law, when the Law hadn't been given...wouldn't be given until Sinai?

In reply to by Robert McDowell

sorry to blow smoke but not only Asenath was a Goy but Rebecca too she was a Syrian ... Ì¢‰âÒAnd Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah to wife, the daughter of Bethuel the Syrian of Padanaram, the sister to Laban the Syrian. ... Now the tribe wants war with Syria

In reply to by Robert McDowell

Well Joshua. ..who took Moses ' place ce from Asenath.

In reply to by Robert McDowell

Aseneth is the daughter of Dinah..Blood of Jacob...grafted into the vine by divine province

In reply to by Anonymous

Your rabbies wrote these wrong history to prove that asenath was a jew

In reply to by Robert McDowell

The bloodline comes from the Father,not the mother.

Joseph meets Asenath (Asenath throws the Idols out of the Tower), Brussels 1490-1500, artist unknown. Source: Bodes Museum Berlin, via Wikimedia Commons

How to cite this page

Kadari, Tamar. "Asenath: Midrash and Aggadah." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on April 23, 2021) <>.


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