Potiphar

POTIPHAR (pŏt'ĭ-fêr, Heb. pôtîphara‘, whom Re has given). One of the pharaoh’s officers mentioned in Genesis in connection with Joseph’s sojourn in that land. He purchased Joseph from the Midianites and made him head overseer over his house. When Joseph was falsely accused by the wife of Potiphar, he threw Joseph into prison (Gen.39.1-Gen.39.20).


POTIPHAR pŏt’ ə fər (פֹּֽוטִיפַר; LXX πετεφρης; for meaning, see below). Name of the Egyp. official who purchased Joseph from the Ishmaelites/Midianites (Gen 37:36; 39:1).

Name.

Potiphar is a name of Egyp. origin, beginning with Egyp. Pa-di..., “Whom...(some deity) has given.” This is clear from Potiphera (Egyp. Pa-di-Para), “Whom P’Ra (sun-god) has given,” and most authorities would consider Potiphar as an abbreviated form in Heb. of Potiphera. If so, both the captain of the guard and the high priest of Heliopolis bore the same name, but would not be the same person. It is not at all unknown for more than one dignitary to bear the same name at other periods of Egyp. history. The form of the name Pa-di-X is commonest from the twenty-first dynasty onward (c. 1085 b.c., ff.), but examples go back into the New Kingdom of the time of Moses (cf. J. Vergote, Joseph en Égypte [1957], 148). In Genesis, it may well represent a “Mosaic” modernization of a Middle-Egyp. Didi-ra with the same meaning.

Person.

Potiphar, an Egyp., was an “officer of Pharaoh,” and “captain of the guard” (Gen 37:36; 39:1). For officer, the term sārīs is used. This word is prob. the same as Akkad. sa-res-sarri, and followed the same shift of meaning from “official, courtier,” to the more restricted meaning of “eunuch.” One would expect the early meaning “official” (and it is this) and not the later meaning “eunuch’” that significantly fits the narrative (Potiphar was married, Gen 39:7). “Captain of the guard” would be in Middle-Egyp. a leader of the bodyguard (shd-smsw, “Instructor of Retainers”). But Vergote (op. cit., 31ff.), prefers to render the term as a butler (Egyp. wdpw), in parallel with the baker and cup-bearer (ERV, “butler”); however, Genesis 40:1-4 would favor the usual rendering of “captain of the guard,” as this term also refers to prison keeper.

Bibliography

K. A. Kitchen, JEA, XLVII (1961), 159, 160; K. A. Kitchen, Ancient Orient and Old Testament (1966), 165, 166.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(poTiphar; compare Egyptian Potiphera (Ge 39:1 f)): A high Egyptian official who became the master of Joseph. It is particularly mentioned that he was an Egyptian, i.e. one of the native Egyptian officials at the Hyksos court.