Dr. Alice C. Linsley
The book of Genesis provides important anthropological information about the early Hebrew, a ruler-priest caste that dispersed out of Africa into Arabia, Mesopotamia, Anatolia, and beyond. I have written about their social structure, religious beliefs, territorial expansion, trade routes, and influence on the populations of the Fertile Crescent and Ancient Near East in my book The First Lords of the Earth; An Anthropological Study. That book explains in great detail the distinctive Hebrew marriage and ascendancy pattern involving two wives and the hierarchy of their firstborn sons.
Understanding the kinship pattern of the biblical Hebrew is important because it proves that the people of Genesis were historical; it identifies Adam and Eve's descendants as Hebrew; and it demonstrates that there were many Hebrew clans besides the clan of Jacob (Israel). Genesis through the lens of anthropology clarifies a distorted picture. The distortion comes from later Jewish midrashim.Midrash is a Jewish or rabbinic mode of interpretation prominent in the Talmud. The centuries-long process of Midrashic accounts began with the redaction of the Bible around 400 B.C. That means that Genesis has a narrative overlayer that comes from anonymous sources dating to nearly 1500 years after the time of Jacob.
Midrash tends to point to God or supernatural intervention as an explanation for why things happened. An example is Mordecai’s declaration to Esther: “Think not with thyself that thou shalt escape in the king's house, more than all the Jews. For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father's house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:12-14)
Potiphar was the high chamberlain and a member of Pharaoh’s court. He is the man with the wife who sought the amorous attention of the handsome young Joseph in her bedroom. Many do not believe that this Potiphar is the same man as an Onite priest by the same name because they do not understand that priests of the ancient world held multiple titles and served multiple roles. This easily could be the same man because the Hebrew priest's duties only took him away from his home for about 2 months of the year. We should not assume that being a priest excludes the other roles described. Consider how the Hebrew priests of Canaan were shepherds, masons, miners, carpenters, farmers, and fisherman as well as priests. There were 24 divisions of priests in Israel because each division only served twice a year at the temple in Jerusalem.
The Potiphar Stela in the Cairo Museum (c.1070–945 B.C.) is the first known mention of this specific name. It indicates that Potiphar/Potiphera was a prominent Egyptian official, keeper of the storehouse of Ptah. The stela speaks of Potiphar as the "son of Horus, may He live forever." Evidently, Asenath and her father were devotees of Horus, the son of God. That means that they shared the same religion as Jacob the Horite Hebrew. The Hebrew believed in God Father and God Son.
It is likely that Potiphar was Joseph’s maternal uncle. Sent-away sons went to live with and serve in the households of their maternal grandfathers. It is likely that Joseph’s mother Rachel was related to a noble Egyptian house and that Potiphar was Joseph's maternal uncle. If that is the case, the marriage arranged by Pharoah between Asenath and Joseph was consistent with the Hebrew custom of marrying cousins.