THERE’S AN OLD EGYPTIAN STORY about a married cougar of a woman trying to seduce a young man. Some students of the Bible have wondered out loud if that’s where the Genesis writer got his idea for the similar story of Joseph and the wife of Potiphar, “captain of the guard for Pharaoh, the king of Egypt” (Genesis 39:1).
Relax. Most Bible experts say it’s too much of a stretch.
Joseph, you might remember, didn’t get along with his 10 big brothers because he was a spoiled, tattletale bragger. So his brothers did what we would all like to do with some of our relatives. They sold him.
Potiphar bought him.
In all of the Bible, only Joseph and his mother Rachel are described as drop-dead gorgeous. “Joseph was well-built and handsome, and Potiphar’s wife soon noticed him. She asked him to make love to her” (Genesis 39:6-7).
Later, the Mrs. didn’t ask. When she hit on him that time, she grabbed him. Joseph ran.
It was a hit and run.
The Mrs. cried rape.
Potiphar didn’t seem to believe his wife’s story – that a handsome and intelligent young man decided it would be a good idea to rape his slave-master’s wife. So he merely put Joseph in prison, a token punishment that would protect his wife’s reputation.
Tale of Two Brothers is an ancient Egyptian tale that dates to at least 1200 BC, about the time many scholars say Moses lived. (Tradition says Moses wrote Genesis, though many Bible experts say the book was compiled from a collection of stories many centuries after Moses.)
In this Tale of Two Brothers, a young brother named Bata lives with his older brother Anpu and Anpu’s wife. They farm and herd cattle.
Anpu’s wife makes a move on young Bata. He had come in from the field to get some corn seed to plant. She’s sitting there brushing her hair.
“Stay and play with me,” she said, not referring to checkers or any other games people play fully clothed.
“You are like a mother to me,” he replied.
That’s not what you say to a cougar.
Furious with him, she decided to destroy him. So she beat herself with a slab of fat. Then she told her husband that little bro beat her when she refused to have sex with her.
Big bro grabbed a knife and went after little bro, who was in the stable.
Fortunately, a talking cow warned little bro: “Your older brother is waiting for you in the dark. He has a knife to kill you. Run.”
Long story short, the brothers find themselves separated by a canal infested with crocodiles. That gives little bro time to tell big bro what really happened.
Little bro then swears he is telling the truth. Instead of swearing on a Bible, he swears on “his flesh,” a polite way of referring to male parts. He cut them off where he stood and tossed them in the canal.
Then he fainted.
Big bro couldn’t help little bro. So he went home, killed his wife with a knife, and fed her to the dogs.
Tale of Two Brothers goes on, until both brothers rule the country.
Most Bible experts seem to agree that beyond the storyline of the cougar seducing a young man and then taking out her anger on him, there’s not much of a link to the Genesis story.
Just so you know.
The Bible: A History in a new edition
This book won the NONFICTION BOOK OF THE YEAR award when it was published in England. Lion Books is now releasing a text-only edition. That brings the cost down so more folks can afford it.
It comes out next month, in May. Amazon has made it available for pre-ordering.