[b-hebrew] Joseph's Egyptian Name

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Mon Mar 3 09:43:29 EST 2008


1.  In trying to figure out the meaning of the name of Joseph’s Egyptian 
wife, I think that a knowledge of Biblical Hebrew is as important as a knowledge 
of ancient Egyptian.
 
The name of Joseph’s Egyptian wife is:
 
aleph-samekh-nun-tav
 
As we will see in a moment, this is probably:
 
aleph-samekh + nun-tav
 
In Joseph’s own Egyptian name, which we examined earlier on this thread, the 
last two letters of the first part of his Egyptian name are nun-tav.  As 
discussed in that earlier post, most everyone sees that as meaning nTr in Egyptian, 
which is the generic Egyptian word for “god”.
 
Since those identical two letters, nun-tav, also end the name of Joseph’s 
Egyptian wife, it stands to reason that they have the identical meaning:  nTr, 
meaning “god” in Egyptian.
 
It’s the first two Hebrew letters in the name of Joseph’s Egyptian wife that 
have been difficult to analyze.  Here is my own view, which differs from 
other analyses I have seen.
 
As I see it, a majority of Hebrew words that begin with aleph-samekh follow 
the pattern of the aleph being its own separate syllable, “ah”, and then the 
samekh starts a new separate syllable.  Either an express or an implied 
vowel-type sound follows that samekh, and often as not that vowel-type sound is “-ah”
.  So in my view, aleph-samekh at the beginning of a word implies A + S(a).  
A + S(a) in Hebrew could easily be aSA in Egyptian.  In Egyptian, aSA is a 
verb meaning “be abundant”.
 
On my analysis, aleph-samekh + nun-tav means aSA + nTr.  That literally means 
“be abundant”/aSA, “god”/nTr.  The clear meaning would then be “may god 
bless her with abundance”, that is, “(may she be) fertile by god’s blessing”.  
It seems like a fine woman’s name in Egyptian to me.
 
Most analysts say that aleph-samekh means “belonging to” or “she belongs to”
, but it is hard for me to see that.  One analysis says that aleph-samekh 
means “holy”, but I don’t see that either.
 
To me, the most straightforward analysis is to see the samekh here as 
implying a following “-ah” vowel-type sound, and then everything works perfectly.  
Aleph is A.  Samekh is SA, with the implied A vowel sound.  Nun-tav is nTr, 
meaning “god”.  (I see no reason to try to view any goddess as being referenced 
here.)
 
The English transliteration “Asenath” is not too bad as to the first half of 
the name.  I see this name as being aSA-nTr, meaning “may she be fertile by 
god’s blessing”.  Her priestly father understandably hoped that his daughter 
would in due course be able to bear many strong sons, and he was asking for a 
divine blessing in that regard.
 
2.  Let me now briefly mention the fourth and last Egyptian name:  that of 
Joseph’s Egyptian master.  That name ends with PR/peh-resh.  As such, I see it 
as being completely different than the name of Joseph’s Egyptian priestly 
father-in-law (which has an ayin at the end), despite the view by almost all 
analysts that these two names are the same.  In fact, these two names are very 
different.  Joseph’s master has nothing to do with religion, and rather is the 
captain of Pharaoh’s bodyguards at Pharaoh’s palace.  In Egyptian, PR means “house
”.  It is the root of PR-aA, which means “house great”, or “palace”, and 
hence can mean “pharaoh”.  Joseph’s Egyptian master is “devoted to”/Pa-di + 
the “house”/PR (of Pharaoh).  That makes perfect sense to me, especially since 
PR is the Egyptian root of both “palace” and “Pharaoh”.
 
By contrast, when one adds an ayin at the end of such name, that turns it 
into a completely different name altogether.  With the ayin at the end, the last 
part of the name of Joseph’s Egyptian priestly father-in-law is peh + 
resh-ayin, that is, “the”/peh + “Ra”/resh-ayin.  (By the way, there is one isolated 
attested case of pa-ra in the mid-1st millennium BCE, but by that late time 
period that phrase probably had the innocuous meaning of “the sun”, rather than 
being a fitting ancient name for a priest of the sun-god Ra from On.)
 
To summarize, I see the name of Joseph’s Egyptian master as being peh-vav + 
tet-yod + peh-resh, whereas the name of Joseph’s priestly father-in-law is 
peh-vav + tet-yod + peh + resh-ayin.  The first name means “devoted to” 
[literally “the gift of”]/peh-vav + tet-yod/pa-di + “house”/peh-resh/pr, that is, 
Pharaoh’s palace.  That is a fitting name for a non-religious captain of Pharaoh’
s bodyguards at Pharaoh’s palace.  (The tet in Hebrew sounds quite similar to 
a D in Egyptian.  Yet in order to avoid PT/peh-tet, which could be mis-read 
as being the famous Egyptian god Ptah, the Hebrew author wisely added a filler 
vowel-type sound after the peh:  a vav.  So peh-vav + tet-yod is pa-di in 
Egyptian.)  The second name is totally different, meaning “devoted to” [literally 
“the gift of”]/peh-vav + tet-yod/pa-di + “the”/peh/pa + “Ra”/resh-ayin/Ra, 
implying “The One and Only God”.  That is a fitting monotheistic name for a 
priest of On only in the mid-14th century BCE.
 
3.  In conclusion, let me state that I myself think that the author of the 
Patriarchal narratives did a superb job in setting forth authentic Egyptian 
names from the mid-2nd millennium BCE, in all four of these cases.  In my opinion, 
each one of these four Egyptian names makes perfect sense in that historical 
context, despite these names’ unwarranted reputation for being somewhat 
impenetrable.
 
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois




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