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There appears to be something strange about Potiphar telling people in her home that she called out in a loud voice.

Genesis 39:14:

וַתִּקְרָ֞א לְאַנְשֵׁ֣י בֵיתָ֗הּ וַתֹּ֤אמֶר לָהֶם֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר רְא֗וּ הֵ֥בִיא לָ֛נוּ אִ֥ישׁ עִבְרִ֖י לְצַ֣חֶק בָּ֑נוּ בָּ֤א אֵלַי֙ לִשְׁכַּ֣ב עִמִּ֔י וָאֶקְרָ֖א בְּק֥וֹל גָּדֽוֹל׃

She called unto the men of her house, and spoke uto them, saying: ‘See, he brought in a Hebrew man to us to mock us; he came in to me to lie with me, and I cried with a loud voice.

Rashbam on Genesis 39:14:1:

ואקרא בקול גדול - לפי שאתם רחוקים ממני, שאילו לא הרימותי קולי היה שוכב עמי בעל כורחי.

(Sefaria's English translation)

ואקרא בקול גדול, because you were so far away from me. If I had not raised my voice so greatly he would have raped me.

However, a few verses earlier, it says:

Genesis 39:11:

וַיְהִי֙ כְּהַיּ֣וֹם הַזֶּ֔ה וַיָּבֹ֥א הַבַּ֖יְתָה לַעֲשׂ֣וֹת מְלַאכְתּ֑וֹ וְאֵ֨ין אִ֜ישׁ מֵאַנְשֵׁ֥י הַבַּ֛יִת שָׁ֖ם בַּבָּֽיִת׃

And it came to pass on a certain day, when he went into the house to do his work, and there was none of the men of the house there within.

Rashi on Genesis 39:11:1 (excerpt):

ויהי כהיום הזה.

My synopsis / translation:

"It was a day of sport (merriment) - their holiday where all of them went to the house of idol worship."

So, it doesn't seem as if there were men immediately outside that would have been able to hear her screaming. And, I assume that (in her fib) if she said she called in a loud voice, she was calling for help, not just a loud voice to Yosef alone. I.e., she meant someone else to hear it.

So, Potiphar's wife (as well as her husband, whom she repeats this lie to), knows that there was no one in the house to hear her screaming. Did they not pick up on the idea that she had to be lying?

Note: I'm discounting any other hatred they may have had towards the "Hebrew man" that eventually jailed Yosef. I'm merely focusing on the question if any commentary discusses if anyone - the men from the household or her husband knew that she had to have been lying, and, if anyone, perhaps, reacted to her lying.

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  • Yeah, I think that's the point, she told a really obvious lie and everyone stupidly believed her. – SAH Dec 4 '15 at 16:00
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    @SAH That's certainly a possibility. Or, perhaps, they chose to ignore the lie. However, something tells me that if they believed her, they probably would have killed Yosef rather than jail him. – DanF Dec 4 '15 at 16:52
  • i think it's obvious Potiphar believed Yosef because otherwise there would be no reason not to kill Yosef. Every moment that it is known Yosef is alive brings shame upon Potiphar's wife, which is exactly what Potiphar wanted to have happen. – Aaron Dec 4 '15 at 18:00
  • @Aaron You're 1st sentence is confirmed in the answer, below. I'm not sure if there is any proof of the 2nd statement. There's some possibility that even the Egyptian enuchs, then, may have had a concept of Shalom Bayit. – DanF Dec 4 '15 at 18:11
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    I don't understand why this is a question. She called because Yosef was attaching her; she had to call loudly because people were distant; and no one heard her because they were too distant. Makes sense to me. – msh210 Dec 6 '15 at 4:30
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A few commentators have focused on the issue of who believed her. From what I have seen among a few commentaries, there seems to be a concensus among Ramba"n, Ibn Ezra and some others that Potiphar did not believe his wife, completely. I have chosen Sforno's translation, since it's one of the more concise ones.

I am focusing on a different verse, which explains that Potiphar got angry and put Yosef in jail, rather than kill him, immediately. (See Ramba"n, on this verse) who explains that this would hav ebeen the common practice to execute someone known to have had relations with a lord's wife.

Sforno on Genesis 39:19:1:

ויחר אפו

על שהתרעמה מפני שהביא לה איש עברי לצחק בה כי אמנם לא חרה אפו על יוסף בזה שהאמין יותר לדברי יוסף אבל נתנו בבית הסהר להראות שהאמין לה לכבודה ונשתמש ביוסף בבית הסהר כאמרו ויפקוד שר הטבחים את יוסף אתם:

My translation:

"Because she complained to him that he brought in a Hebrew man to "make sport" (the Hebrew term לצחק is often used to refer to sexual relations. Apparently, Potiphar's wife was in a way, faulting her husband for having hired Yosef specifically for the purpose of sexual relations - see below). Nonetheless, Potiphar wasn't angry at Yosef, because he believe the words of Yosef more (than his wife.) Thereforem he placed Yosef in jail to demonstrate that he believed her, and they utilized Yosef while he was in jail, as we see a few verses later.

Excerpt from Ramban on Genesis 39:19:1:

ויהי כשמוע אדוניו

וכך אמרו בבראשית רבה (פז י) רבי אבהו אמר בשעת תשמיש ואני תמה כי אדוני יוסף סריס היה ואשתו בנעוריו נשאה והם דרשו (שם פו ג) סריס פרעה מלמד שלא לקחו אלא לתשמיש

In Breishit Rabba, he cites Rav Avahu who says that Potiphar was a eunuch, and he took a wife when he was young (perhaps prior to his castration?? - my comment). Thus, he hired Yosef for the purpose of having sexual relations with his wife.

The last idea would explain why he wasn't that surprised by what she said. Yet, Potiphar, also knew that she had requested Yosef to lie with her multiple times and that Yosef refused. That, probably added to his doubt of his wife's story.

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In Bamidbar Rabba 87 9 here we find Potiphar telling Yosef he actually does not believe his wife's story and knows Yosef is innocent. But he was compelled to lock Yosef up so as to stop people from saying that the children of Potiphar were illegitimate.

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  • Hat tip Baby Seal:) – user6591 Dec 6 '15 at 19:10
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So one reason why it might have been deemed believable is brought by the Targum Yonasan, Bereishis 39:14

וְרָמַת חֶלְבּוֹנָא דְבֵיעָתָא בְּדַרְגְשָׁא וּקְרַת לְאַנְשֵׁי בֵיתָהּ וַאַמַרַת חָמוּן שִׁכְבַת זַרְעָא דְאַטִיל דֵין דְאַיְיתִי רִיבּוֹנְכוֹן לָנָא גְבַר עִבְרָאֵי לְמִגְחוֹךְ בָּנָא עַל לְוָתִי לְמִשְׁכּוֹב עִמִי וּקְרִית בְּקָלָא רָמָא

She threw the white of an egg on the bed, called to the members of the household and said, "See the seminal emission that this man has scattered - the Hebrew man who your master brought to jest with us. He came in to lie with me, and I cried out in a loud voice."

I.e. she tried to frame Yosef with clear 'evidence'. (Note the Gemara in Gittin 57a which talks about how an egg white has the appearance of semen).

It was only on further examination, through the advice of the priests that they found it to be egg white (Targum Yonasan, Bereishis 39:20):

וּנְסִיב עֵטָתָא רִבּוֹנֵיהּ דְיוֹסֵף מִן כּוּמְרָנַיָא דְבַדְקַן דְחֶלְבּוֹנָא הוּא וְלָא קְטַל יָתֵיהּ וְיַהֲבֵיהּ בְּבֵי אֲסִירֵי אָתַר דַאֲסִירֵי מַלְכָּא אֲסִירִין וַהֲוָה תַמָן בְּבֵית אֲסִירֵי

Joseph's master took advice from the (Egyptian) priests, who discovered on closer examination that it was the white (of an egg). So he (Potiphar) did not put (Yosef) to death, but put him in prison, the place where the king's prisoners were imprisoned. And he remained there in the prison.

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