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Thursday, July 8, 2010

Potiphar’s Wife: A Woman Who Cried Rape

"…and after a while his master's wife took notice of Joseph and said, 'Come to bed with me!' But he refused. 'With me in charge,' he told her, 'my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?' And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her. One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. She caught him by his cloak and said, 'Come to bed with me!' But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house." -Genesis 39:7-12

Potiphar was a rich Egyptian businessman who traveled a lot for his work, leaving his wife alone to her own devices back at home. Potiphar’s wife was not named in Genesis, and for working purposes, let us call her Mrs. Potiphar. At this point in the Bible, (which many scholars believe it is around 1550 BC) Joseph had already been sold in to slavery by his jealous older brothers, and he had been bought by Potiphar.

Potiphar had promoted Joseph to be the household slave. When Potiphar was not in the house, Mrs. Potiphar would try to seduce him, but he refused her. Time after time, she continue to come on to him, but he still held his ground, and refused her. One time when she came on to him, she grabbed him by his garment, but pushed her away and tried to escape. Mrs. Potiphar called upon other men in the house and told them that Joseph had raped her.

Interestingly, Egyptian law said that a woman had to show physical evidence that she was raped to prove that she was not guilty of fornication. Mrs. Potiphar probably got scared after Joseph had fled, she likely realized that she finally crossed that line, and was frightened that Joseph would tell her husband on her, and Mrs. Potiphar likely thought that he life was on the line.

When Joseph had fled, there was likely no one in the immediate area, so she might have went around the room and started to knock bowls, plates, and other things around, to make it seem like there was a struggle. She had Joseph’s garment, so she perhaps shredded it up a little to seem that she was grabbed it during the struggle.

Additionally, Mrs. Potiphar waited until there was a servant within earshot, because she began to scream for help, to show that she was refusing Joseph’s seduction.
If she would go fourth and claim that she was raped and did not have physical evidence, she was playing Russian roulette to persuade others that she was not guilty. Mrs. Potiphar was taking a big chance, but she likely thought it was worth it, and seemingly, she made a good show of it. Mrs. Potiphar would have been good at football, because she knew that a good defense was a good offense. Mrs. Potiphar had confronted Mr. Potiphar and kept referring to Joseph as “that Hebrew”, and told Mr. Potiphar that he had brought her in to “mock us”.

Mr. Potiphar made an interesting move after he had heard his wife’s performance. Mr. Potiphar had sent Joseph to prison which suggests that Mr. Potiphar did not fully believe his wife, possibly because she had pulled some other mischief before. Back then, the punishment for even attempted rape was to kill the perpetrator and to throw the body to the dogs. Interestingly, if the husband believed that the wife was lying, and had some evidence, they could extend the same courtesy to her.

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