In THE BIBLE chapters 37-50 of the very first book, GENESIS, one could find the narrative of the life of Joseph, the eleventh son of Jacob. There are many episodes that have been narrated, but the episode that brings out Joseph’s DEVOTION TO DUTY and HIS SEXUAL PURITY relates to this one episode where Potiphar’s wife (Potiphar was the captain of the Guards of the Pharoah of Egypt), pursues Joseph , who was a slave then at Potiphar’s house, with vehemence and shamelessness.
Potiphar’s wife’s name is not given in the Bible, making it a little cumbersome to be identified as Potiphar’s wife everytime and not by her own distinct name. However it should be pointed out that Thomas Mann, the German Novelist had overcome this problem by naming her MUT-EM-ENET in his novel JOSEPH AND HIS BROTHERS. However, since i write this blog entirely based on the Bible, she shall remain Potiphar’s wife with no distinct name- just like Lot’s wife, Noah’s wife etc. etc.
Genesis ch.39 says as follows:-
39:7 It happened after these things, that his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph; and she said, “Lie with me.”
further down Potiphar’s wife says:-
39:12 She caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me!” He left his garment in her hand, and ran outside.
In the Bible there have been many female characters who have seduced powerful men to their doom, like Samson being seduced and the truth extracted to his detriment by Delilah; Jael inviting Sisera to her home/tent and driving a tent peg into his temple; Herodias extracting an irrevocable promise from, her husband and erstwhile brother-in-law, Herod through Salome; Esther using her status and charm to get Haman executed and in the Catholic Bible the story of Judith.
What sets these seductions different from that of Joseph’s story?
All the characters viz. Samson, Sisera, Herod, Xerxes and Holofernes had already reached their respective positions of eminence. Here we find that Joseph had not yet reached any position of eminence or prominence. Only by hindsight we know that he was on his way up. But at that point, maybe 2-3 years before he was promoted as the Governor of Egypt, he was a MERE SLAVE. And in the words of the accusing Potiphar’s wife A HEBREW WHO HAS COME TO MOCK THE EGYPTIANS. When Joseph has food for the first time with his brothers, he (who was accorded the status of an Egyptian) would not sit with them as it was INFRA DIG to have food with the shepherdic Hebrews. So we can imagine the contempt with which the Egyptians must have held the nomadic Hebrews!!
But Potiphar’s wife says LIE WITH ME!
It was not a sudden passionate invitation from his master’s mistress. It was the culmination of a mind imbued with the very thought of Joseph, the Hebrew. Potiphar’s wife could have had any MAN, but for her Joseph was THE MAN. The man who though placed below in station of life, yet worthy enough to climb the bed of his master!! That inner worthiness was first discovered by Potiphar’s wife much before the butler and the baker had had the opportunity to discover. POTIPHAR’S WIFE WAS THE FIRST DISCOVERER OF JOSEPH’S WORTHINESS.
But Joseph did not go for it. Joseph is stated to have said, ” howI could indulge in this wickedness against my master Potiphar”. He waited for RECOGNITION. An official RECOGNITION. He had dreamt that he would be elevated in life, but he did not want the unofficial clandestine relationship with Potiphar’s wife which was fraught with troubles. He was waiting for that OFFICIAL RECOGNITION WITH HOPE.
It is quite possible to imagine that had he become the paramour of Potiphar’s wife she could have obtained further concessions from her husband for Joseph. But he had already reached a point of saturation, so far as Potiphar’s house was concerned. His last step could have been the matrimonial bed of Potiphar (there are stories which say that Potiphar was a Eunuch and that his marriage was more ceremonial than real). Joseph must have been acutely aware of the fall that could come about from that liaison- the other slaves might not want the Hebrew to become that powerful and therefore might sneak the secret to Potiphar somehow!!
But JOSEPH was wise. He HOPED and waited. He ran away leaving behind his clothes. I am sure Joseph would have had the strength and the wisdom not to leave his clothes in the hands of the wailing Potiphar’s wife, had he been the attempted rapist- as claimed by Potiphar’s wife. But he had no other consideration- HE WAS FLEEING AGAINST HIS OWN RISING TEMPTATION. He was fleeing his own youthful lust. Therefore he had no time to consider if his clothes could become evidence of his attempted rape of Potiphar’s wife.
Joseph is thrown into the jail and uses his administrative and executive skills to establish his preeminence over the other inmates. With hope he divines, and foretells the fates of the King’s butler and baker. But it takes 2 more years before he is rescued and brought out and honoured.
FOR WE KNOW THAT ALL THINGS WORK TOGETHER FOR GOOD TO THEM THAT LOVE GOD.