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Genesis 41:45 JPS

And Pharaoh called Joseph's name Zaphenath-paneah; and he gave him to wife Asenath the daughter of Poti-phera priest of On. And Joseph went out over the land of Egypt.

וַיִּקְרָא פַרְעֹה שֵׁם-יוֹסֵף, צָפְנַת פַּעְנֵחַ, וַיִּתֶּן-לוֹ אֶת-אָסְנַת בַּת-פּוֹטִי פֶרַע כֹּהֵן אֹן, לְאִשָּׁה; וַיֵּצֵא יוֹסֵף, עַל-אֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם.‏

Genesis 41:50 JPS

And unto Joseph were born two sons before the year of famine came, whom Asenath the daughter of Poti-phera priest of On bore unto him.

וּלְיוֹסֵף יֻלַּד שְׁנֵי בָנִים, בְּטֶרֶם תָּבוֹא שְׁנַת הָרָעָב, אֲשֶׁר יָלְדָה-לּוֹ אָסְנַת, בַּת-פּוֹטִי פֶרַע כֹּהֵן אוֹן.‏

Genesis 46:20 JPS

And unto Joseph in the land of Egypt were born Manasseh and Ephraim, whom Asenath the daughter of Poti-phera priest of On bore unto him.

וַיִּוָּלֵד לְיוֹסֵף, בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, אֲשֶׁר יָלְדָה-לּוֹ אָסְנַת, בַּת-פּוֹטִי פֶרַע כֹּהֵן אֹן--אֶת-מְנַשֶּׁה, וְאֶת-אֶפְרָיִם.‏

Why is it so important to know that Poti-phera is a priest of On? Genesis appears to be making a point here.

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Also at hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/q/7714 (same asker). –  msh210 Dec 20 '13 at 16:56
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Yes, but the context is different. I wanted the hermeneutics answer and an answer from the context of Judaism. –  Dan Andrews Dec 20 '13 at 17:04
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Dan, welcome to Mi Yodeya, and thanks very much for bringing this astute observation here! I hope there are interesting explanations in the traditional Jewish commentaries. You may also be interested in other material we have in the parshanut-torah-comment area. –  Isaac Moses Dec 20 '13 at 17:06
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Yes, @DanAndrews, I was providing a reference, not blaming. –  msh210 Dec 20 '13 at 19:35

2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

The sefer אוצר השמות חלק ח here in his discussion of the name Potiphera says that there is a dispute amongst the Rabbis whether Potiphar (Bereishis/Genesis 39,1), the chief executioner of Pharaoh, and Potiphera are the same person or not.

According to the opinion that they are two different people the question is easily answered - the Torah says that Potiphera was the priest of On to distinguish him from Potiphar.

According to the opinion that they are the same person, he explains that there is no contradiction between the two titles that the Torah gives him, because it was normal in previous times that a senior priest would be present at the judgement of one who was sentenced to death.

And the reason why he was first described as being the chief executioner was because in connection with his purchase of Yosef the Torah emphasizes his judicial position in order to understand the events that follow - his putting Yosef in prison. But in connection with Yosef marrying his daughter the Torah emphasizes his being the priest of On, to teach that Pharaoh elevated Yosef so much that he was able to marry a daughter of one of the priests of Egypt, someone who very great in wealth and honor.

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Related (on Potiphera ?= Potiphar): judaism.stackexchange.com/q/26134/472 –  Monica Cellio Dec 21 '13 at 22:57

In ancient Egyptian society, the role of priest was very important. Religion guided every aspect of Egyptian life. Even though ancient Egyptian religion was based on polytheism, the people believed that the gods lived in the temples. Only priest were allowed to enter the sacred areas and approach statues representing the god or goddess.

The city of On (Heliopolis) was one of the oldest cities of ancient Egypt and the capital of the 13th lower Egyptian nome. Its name means, "City of the Sun" or "Eye of the Sun". Putting that in perspective of the fact that Egypt's primary cult was the cult of Ra and the High Priest of Ra was stationed there. The High Priest of Ra was known as wr-mꜢw, which is translated as "Greatest of Seers." (Elizabeth Frood, John Baines, Biographical texts from Ramessid Egypt).

The writer of Genesis may have felt that it was important to know the influential status that Poti-phera had. Having his daughter (Asenath) taken as a wife, would have suggested how respected Yosef / Joseph / Zaphenath-paneah became. This fact illustrates the story of Joseph.

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