Lindsey Painter’s Fine Article on Mrs. Potiphar
In her well-researched and balanced article (“Is Mrs. Potiphar to Blame?” Spring 2019 Adventist Today magazine), Lindsey Abston Painter fails to take into consideration another cultural factor in Mrs. Potiphar’s defense: that Mr. Potiphar may in fact have been a eunuch. I have read that it was quite common in the Ancient Near East for young men who served at Court to be castrated. Thus Daniel in Babylon was likely a eunuch when he served in the Court of Nebuchadnezzar and Nehemiah was also possibly a eunuch when he served in the Persian Court. Because Joseph was a young Hebrew slave not yet serving in Pharaoh’s Court, he most likely had not been castrated. If this is true (and Ms. Painter should check my hypothesis with an authority on Ancient Egyptian history), then what Mrs. Potiphar wanted—sex—was simply impossible for Mr. Potiphar to provide, so she sought it elsewhere.
I’ve often thought that the fact that Mr. Potiphar had Joseph imprisoned instead of having him executed immediately (as the law allowed) suggests that he, too, didn’t really believe Mrs. Potiphar’s story about Joseph raping her. Yet he was caught between the “rock” (Joseph’s integrity) and a “hard place” (his wife’s accusation), so he had to do something to vindicate his wife’s and his family’s honor.
My compliments to Ms. Painter for a fine article!
Dr. Brian E. Strayer
Professor Emeritus of History