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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.

  • 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
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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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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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    Nice answer, +1. Though not necessarily a Jewish one. – ezra Jan 25 '18 at 18:08
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I came across an interesting answer by Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim. The answer presumes Photiphera is the same as Potiphar. He writes:

...Pharaoh was in his position - not without intelligence. Upon summoning Joseph from prison to interpret his dreams, Pharaoh was cognizant of the future political problems faced with elevating an imprisoned Jew to viceroy status. More to the point, Pharaoh was appointing one accused of rape. This would not wash well with his subjects, or his country. How would Pharaoh deal with this? I believe with the following answer, we unveil insight into Pharaoh’s wisdom. Pharaoh attempted to dispel any rumors of Joseph’s ill repute by giving him this specific woman for a wife. Who in their right minds would believe that Joseph attempted rape of a woman, the wife of Poti-Phera, and then marries her very daughter? Pharaoh caused Egypt to believe that the rape accusation was not true. Further, Poti-Phera’s wife would no longer accuse Joseph, as any accusation would bring shame to her daughter, and to herself. In addition to silencing the wife of Poti-Phera, Pharaoh sought to silence Poti-Phera himself about Joseph’s alleged rape attempt. What do people desire more than anything else? More than money? Power. Pharaoh again displayed his cunning by granting a status of priest to Poti-Phera, in exchange for his silence. At first, Poti-Phera was not referred to in the verses as a “priest”. This is changed afterwards to silence him. Finally, Pharaoh’s changing of Joseph’s name was an attempt to transform his Hebrew slave reputation, into an Egyptian icon. One’s name creates a perceived status. We now see how these ideas are all connected, and why God desired them to be in one passage. All of the elements in this passage aim towards Pharaoh’s one goal of denying Joseph’s alleged wrongdoings. But what about “Joseph going out on Egypt”? What is the Torah’s lesson of placing it here? I believe it is to show that regardless of Pharaoh’s success in rendering Joseph into a leader acceptable by the Egyptians, Joseph never shed his identity as “Joseph the Righteous”. It was still “Joseph” who went out upon Egypt, and not the fabricated, Egyptian veneer “Zaphnas Paneach” created by Pharaoh...

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If you want to say that the Torah is trying to impress us with the fact that Yosef was given the daughter of a most important priest, it's enough that it mentions this once. Why would the Torah mention this twice more in conjunction with the birth of Efrayim and Menashe? If he was an idolatrous priest, why would these great tzaddikim need his Yichus connection mentioned? This would be an especially strong question against those that hold Poti Phera was Potifar. If so, why would the Torah make a point of being "Meyaches" these tzadikim to such a Menuval?!!!

Not at all likely!

It is much more likely that the word "Ohn" does not refer to the city of Heliolopolis. Rather, it's the precursor to the ancient Greek word "aion", which means "ageless". Thusly we derive the modern English word "eon", meaning a billion years.

Assuming this is correct, Poti Phera was really the priest of Ohn, "The Ageless (Eternal) One" - meaning, Hashem, as was Malki Tzedek before him! This is why he was not only Zocheh to be the father-in-law of Yosef, but also to be mentioned twice more as grandfather of Efrayim and Menashe.

It's likely Poti Phera's Kedusha was recognized and he was therefor elevated to be the chief of all priests in Egypt, even those of other deities. It's also likely that "Phera" was a title, not part of his name, as almost no one else in the Torah has a second name. So, just as Pharaoh meant "ruler of the political and military class", "Phera" was likely the title of the chief of the priestly class.

Yerachmiel Henig

  • welcome to Mi Yodeya Yerachmiel! Thanks for sharing the interesting answer. Consider registering your account to best utilize the various features of the site. Consider also taking the following short tour and / or reading the following short Beginners' Guide. Consider also dejargonfying the answer. Not everyone has the same degree of background, and necessarily knows, what a menuval is, for example. – mevaqesh Jan 5 '17 at 7:12

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