Joseph and Asenath: Hidden Treasures in Scripture


Hidden Treasures in the Scriptures

by John P. Pratt
reprinted from Meridian Magazine (July 13, 2000) and Meridian Magazine (Aug. 18, 2000).
©2000 by John P. Pratt. All rights Reserved.

The scriptures are filled with many plain and precious truths which gladden the heart and enlighten the mind. But the scriptures also contain many hidden treasures. By this I mean precious treasures which have been purposely hidden. The Lord hides many truths for various reasons to come forth in his own due time. “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter” (Prov. 25:2). This article includes what appears to be a first class logic puzzle found in the scriptures, which the reader is invited to search out. Searching the scriptures in this manner can lead to delicious fruit which has been hitherto unknown.

Why would the Lord purposely hide anything in the scriptures? There are many reasons: One is to hide precious truths from the understanding of non-believers, often to prevent “casting pearls before swine.” Another is to try the faith of his people with prophecies which are hard to understand, and sometimes even misleading, until after they have been fulfilled. And yet another reason to hide truth is to keep the meat of deeper doctrine away from newcomers to the gospel until they have digested the milk of the plain and simple parts of the gospel. When we are ready, the Holy Spirit can enlighten us to understand the more difficult principles.

The parables of Jesus are an excellent example of purposely hidden truths. Sometimes it is said that Jesus taught in parables to make his meanings more clear by speaking in the language of the people, but just the opposite is true. Jesus taught in parables to obscure the true meaning from the spiritually unprepared. After giving a parable, he would often say, “Who hath ears to hear, let him hear” (Mat. 13:9). When the disciples asked the Savior why he taught in parables he explained:

“Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.

“For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.

“Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.” (Matthew 13:11-13)

An excellent example of a difficult prophecy intended to try someone’s faith is the case of two separate prophecies given to Zedekiah, the last king of Judah. The prophet Jeremiah prophesied that Zedekiah would see Nebuchadnezzar face to face and then be taken captive to Babylon (Jer. 32:4-5). On the other hand, his contemporary Ezekiel prophesied that Zedekiah would never see Babylon (Ezek. 12:13).

Because these prophets apparently disagreed, Zedekiah refused to believe them, even on the many other points on which they did agree. Before rejecting the words of the prophets, Zedekiah would have done well to ask himself if there was any way that the statements of both prophets could be totally true. In other words, how could it be that 1) Zedekiah would see Nebuchadnezzar, 2) he would then be taken captive to Babylon, but also that 3) he would never see Babylon. One solution to that puzzle is that Nebuchadnezzar could have made Zedekiah blind just before he was taken to Babylon, and hence he would never be able to actually see that city. That may sound like being very picky with words, but that is exactly what happened (2 Kings 25:7). The Lord has told us repeatedly that he chooses his words very carefully.

The Lord may have given those two prophecies for several reasons. First, the apparent contradiction would try Zedekiah’s faith. Note that it really does look like it was purposely made to appear contradictory because of Jeremiah’s mentioning that Zedekiah would “see” Nebuchadnezzar face to face. Zedekiah had seen him before, so that part is apparently there to make it clear that there would be nothing wrong with Zedekiah’s sight. Another reason for the revelations could be that if Zedekiah did really have enough faith to deduce how both could be true, then he would be warned of exactly what would happen to him if he rebelled. In other words, exercising his faith could lead him to discover a hidden treasure in the prophecies, namely, exactly what would be his fate. And in that case, the apparently deceptive reference to Zedekiah’s “seeing” Nebuchadnezzar would actually turn into a big clue explaining exactly when he would be blinded. Another reason for giving the prophecies could be to show all of us a witness of the precise foreknowledge of God: he knew that Zedekiah would not be blind when captured, but that he would be shortly thereafter.

One final example illustrates how the Lord also can give apparent contradictions in order to squelch hecklers. When the Sadducees asked him which of seven brothers would have the wife they shared during life, he astonished them by declaring that they didn’t understand the scriptures because in heaven there is no marriage nor giving in marriage (Mat. 22:23-30). They were confounded and soon all the questions to trap him stopped. But what did he mean? Is that true that there is no marriage in heaven? His answer was consistent with modern reveal truth from at least two different perspectives. First, the people mentioned in the question would not have been married for eternity in the temple and hence would have remained separate in the next world. And secondly, there really is no marriage in heaven. It is an earthly ordinance and must be done by mortals standing as proxies for those who have died. But the Savior had no desire to actually enlighten his antagonists, nor to tell them that the wife could belong to the first husband to whom she could later be sealed in the temple. The answer he gave served his purpose well, although it hid part of the truth.

With these examples in mind, let us now consider what appears to be a first class logic puzzle found in Genesis. I discovered it a few years ago when what appeared to be a blatant mistake in arithmetic jumped out at me. The account of Jacob going to Egypt states that 66 of his descendants made the trip with him, and that Joseph and his two sons were already there, for a total of 70 (Gen. 46:26-27). Such an obvious apparent error was amazing because no mistakes in arithmetic had been found in a detailed analysis of all of the ages of the patriarchs. So then I decided to read carefully the boring list of all the names of his 70 descendants. The result was the discovery of what appeared to be another mistake! The number of names on the descendant lists did not all match the numbers given. Could it really be that there are two mistakes in the same story a few verses apart from each other, or could there be a “solution” to this puzzle in which there would be no mistake at all?

It now appears to me that this story is indeed a classic logic puzzle which was purposely included in Genesis to hide some information. This puzzle has been on my web site for three years now and many people have solved it to varying degrees. It is included here for you to try. The answer is a hidden treasure worth knowing. I have never yet published the solution, but it will be given in full in this column next month.

The only “hint” is to find a solution that makes every statement be completely true, just as we did in the case of Zedekiah above. The entire puzzle is below. References to the Bible are given so that you can check for yourself that it really is there, but do not try to do the puzzle directly from the Bible. Ambiguities of translation have been resolved, so you can solve it best by just looking at the summary given here. Knowing that these hidden treasures exit, and perhaps even trying this puzzle, might awaken in us a desire to more diligently search and ponder the scriptures, to feast on the delicious hidden fruit found there.

Jacob’s Missing Descendant

Jacob’s extended family at the time he moved to Egypt is listed in the Bible, but some information about one descendant may have been purposely hidden. If there is no mistake in the following summary and interpretation of the Biblical account, what can you logically deduce about the identity of Jacob’s missing descendant?

1. All seventy living souls of the house of Jacob, including all of his living male and female descendants, were in Egypt when he arrived there with those who accompanied him. (Gen. 46:6, 27).

2. Sixty-six of Jacob’s descendants came to Egypt with him. This count includes only Jacob’s literal offspring; none of his sons’ wives is included (Gen. 46:26).

3. Except for Joseph and his two sons, who already resided in Egypt (Gen. 46:27), Jacob took with him all of his son(s), his sons’ son(s), his daughter(s), his sons’ daughter(s) (Gen. 46:7), and all of his great-grandchildren (“little ones,” Gen. 46:5).

4. These are the names of Jacob’s descendants when they had all arrived in Egypt, along with subtotals for each of his four wives (Leah, Zilpah, Rachel, and Bilhah):

a. Leah had 33 living descendants. Her sons were Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun, and her daughter was Dinah. Reuben’s sons were Hanoch, Phallu, Hezron and Carmi. Simeon’s sons were Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jachin, Zohar, and Shaul the son of a Cannaanitish woman. Levi’s sons were Gershon, Kohath and Merari. Judah’s sons were Er, Onan, Shelah, Pharez, and Zerah, but Er and Onan had died previously. Pharez’ sons were Hezron and Hamul. Issachar’s sons were Tola, Phuvah, Job and Shimron. Zebulun’s sons were Sered, Elon and Jahleel (Gen. 46:8-15).

b. Zilpah had 16 living descendants. Her sons were Gad and Asher. Gad’s sons were Ziphion, Haggi, Shuni, Ezbon, Eri, Arodi, and Areli. Asher’s sons were Jimnah, Ishuah, Isui and Beriah, and Serah was their sister. Beriah’s sons were Heber and Malchiel (Gen. 46:16-18).

c. Rachel had 14 living descendants. Her sons were Joseph and Benjamin. In Egypt, the sons of Joseph and his wife Asenath, daughter of an Egyptian priest, were Manasseh and Ephraim. Benjamin’s sons were Belah, Becher, Ashbel, Gera, Naaman, Ehi, Rosh, Muppim, Huppim, and Ard (Gen. 46:19-22).

d. Bilhah had 7 living descendants. Her sons were Dan and Naphtali. Dan’s son was Hushim. Naphtali’s sons were Jahzeel, Guni, Jezer and Shillem (Gen. 46:23-25).

Jacob’s Seventieth Descendant

Applying strict logic to an account in Genesis leads to discovering a startling hidden treasure in the scriptures. Our science editor gives the answer to the scriptural puzzle presented last month.

In last month’s article, “Hidden Treasures in the Scriptures” we looked at what appears to be a first class logic puzzle in the Book of Genesis (Gen. 46:5-27). At first the problem looks like a simple mistake: the record implies that Jacob had seventy descendants when he arrived in Egypt, and yet only sixty-nine appear to be listed. Now let’s look at the solution, which indeed has been a hidden treasure in the scriptures. The answer is important because it is strong evidence from the Bible of a Jewish tradition that has been thought by scholars to be merely a fanciful fabrication. Not only does it add to our knowledge of Biblical history, but the solution likely affects your genealogy because Jacob’s seventieth descendant is likely to be your own ancestor!

The problem, which is given in full in last month’s article (above), arises from the following two apparent inconsistencies in the Biblical record. Jacob had four wives, and the number of descendants of each is given along with a list of their names. The first problem is that it claims Leah had 33 living descendants, but only 32 names are listed with her. Secondly, it makes a big point that 66 descendants made the trip to Egypt with Jacob, and that Joseph and his two sons were already there, for a total of seventy. Both statements seem to be missing somebody, so the question arises whether it is possible to reconcile all the statements.

Most modern scholars assume that Moses wrote the Book of Genesis himself, or that it was written down centuries after Moses from oral traditions. Thus, they tend to overlook human “errors” and usually don’t even mention this problem at all. On the other hand, ancient Jewish commentators studied every word of Genesis because they understood that the entire book was given as a revelation from God to Moses. Therefore, any apparent inconsistency demanded a real explanation. Although it does not appear that they deduced the correct solution, it is instructive to review the solutions which they offered.[1]

1. Ancient Solutions

One solution given by Jewish commentators near the time of Christ was that Jacob is to be counted with the 69 to bring the total to 70. This is also the usual solution given by modern Bible commentators, if they mention the problem at all. That solution will not work, however, because the numbers of descendants given for each of the four wives do indeed add up to seventy (Leah 33, Zilpah 16, Rachel 14, Bilhah 7), so clearly it was not the author’s intent to include Jacob himself in the count. Other solutions were that another son of Dan, or that Asher’s daughter Serah, or even that the Holy One of Israel would complete the count.

The best ancient solution was probably deduced as follows. First, Leah had 33 descendants but only 32 are listed as making the trip, so the missing descendant must be from Leah. Second, 66 made the trip, 3 were already in Egypt, and yet the total in Egypt when Jacob arrived in Egypt was 70. Therefore, one might have been born just as they crossed the border into Egypt. The proposed person was Jochebed, the mother of Moses, who was Levi’s daughter and Leah’s granddaughter (Exo. 2:1, 6:16-20). That answer should technically be disqualified on at least two counts. First, the puzzle states that Jacob took with him all of his sons’ daughters, so that should include her, even if carried in the womb. Secondly, the Bible specifically states that Jochebed was born to Levi after he arrived in Egypt (Num. 26:59). That did not stop the commentator from inventing this detailed description of her birth, which is clearly a taylor-made solution to our problem:

Such was the manner of Jacob’s arrival in Egypt. He came with his whole family, sixty-nine persons they were in all, but the number was raised to seventy by the birth of Jochebed, afterward the mother of Moses, which took place when the cavalcade had advanced to the space between the one and the other city wall.[2]

Why should Jochedbed, rather than any other unnamed infant, be chosen for this very clever solution to the problem? She was a particularly good candidate because she was said to be very old at the time of Moses birth. There is a tradition of uncertain origin that she was 130 years old at his birth.[3] That’s forty years older than Sarah at the birth of Isaac! In any case, if she were 130, and if Moses was 80 when he delivered Israel from bondage (Exo. 7:7) then the total stay in Egypt would have been 210 years (if she had been born as they entered). That is close to the traditional 215 years for the stay in Egypt.[4] When the apocryphal Book of Jasher was compiled from Jewish traditions, this commentary had become so well accepted that Jasher explicitly states that Jochebed “was born unto them in their going down to Egypt” (Jasher 59:9), a rare example of actually changing the Biblical record that she was born after they arrived in Egypt. Moreover, the length of the sojourn in Egypt according to that book was cut from 215 years down to 210 years (Jasher 81:3, compare Ex. 12:40), apparently just to fit this very solution to this puzzle.

2. The Solution

Now let us turn to what I propose is the real solution, which does not require any additional information or Biblical background to see, but which can be deduced only from the information given in the “puzzle” itself. In other words, it could be deduced if all the names were changed to fictitious names, so that the puzzle could be solved independent of the rest of Biblical history.

1. We are told 66 descendants made the trip to Egypt, that Joseph and his two sons were already in Egypt, but that the total number in the House of Jacob on arrival was 70. The first possibility is that Jacob is the 70th person.

2. Jacob cannot be the 70th person because the totals for each of the four wives adds up to 70, so Jacob is not included in the count.

3. The person must be Leah’s descendant because she had 33 and only 32 are listed with her name.

4. Because only 66 made the trip, the 70th person must have been in Egypt already (or perhaps born at the moment they crossed the Egyptian border!?).

5. Except for Joseph and his two sons, Jacob brought with him all his sons and his sons’ sons and his daughters, and his sons’ daughters, and also all of his great-grandchildren. At first, this wording might sound like a verbose way to state that Jacob brought all of his descendants with him except for Joseph and his two sons. But closer inspection shows that the list fails to include his daughters’ children. Jacob only had one daughter, so the missing descendant must have been his daughter Dinah’s child. There are many such examples in the scriptures where it looks like the Lord is going on with needless detail, when actually great truths are hidden in what is not said. Every word which proceeds forth from his mouth is carefully chosen.

6. Now for the surprise. The Bible states, “These are the names of the children of Israel,” (Gen. 46:8), and there are indeed 70 names which follow. The seventieth name, which appears to be extra, is that of Asenath, the wife of Joseph. Her name is given in the verse about those who were already in Egypt, so that brings the total names to four of those who didn’t make the trip.

7. But wait. Weren’t we explicitly told that none of the wives of the twelve sons of Jacob were included in the count? So isn’t Joseph’s wife Asenath disqualified because of that? It is this point which convinced me that these verses qualify as a truly classic logic puzzle. The best puzzles have misleading clues, designed to make the puzzle difficult, such as we saw in point 5 above in the way the list of those making the trip was worded. A careful reading shows that the puzzle stated that none of the wives is included in the count of the 66 who made the trip (Gen. 46:26). So all of the wives but one are disallowed! The wording expressly allows Asenath to be the seventieth descendant. Such misleading and yet technically correct statements are the bread and butter of logic puzzles.

8. Thus, the solution to the puzzle is that Joseph’s wife Asenath is the seventieth descendant of Jacob, being the daughter of Dinah.

Now let’s look at Hebrew and Christian traditions which support this conclusion.

3. The Hebrew Tradition

But could Asenath really have been Dinah’s daughter? To the best of my knowledge, this solution to the puzzle has never been published until now. No one has noticed that these verses in an obscure list of genealogy imply that Joseph’s wife, the mother of the tribe who inherited the blessing of the firstborn of Israel, is also of the house of Israel. Could that really be true?

It turns out that it has long been a Jewish tradition that Asenath was the daughter of Leah’s daughter Dinah by Shechem, a prince in the land of Canaan (Gen. 34:2). It has been thought by scholars that this tradition was no more than a fabrication. It was supposedly invented to explain the otherwise embarrassing fact that Joseph married an Egyptian woman, when Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were all given strict commands to marry in their own family lineage. It has always seemed strange to me, however, that a legend was invented to legitimize Joseph’s wife’s lineage by making her the illegitimate daughter of Dinah and someone from Canaan. Here is one of the many variations of this tradition:

Dinah was already pregnant by Shechem, an bore him a posthumous daughter. Her brothers wished to kill the child, as custom demanded, lest any Canaanite might say ‘The maidens of Israel are without shame!’ Jacob, however, restrained them, hung about his grand-daughter’s neck a silver disk on which were engraved the words ‘Holy to God!’, and laid her underneath a thorn bush — hence she was called ‘Asenath’. That same day Michael, in the shape of an eagle, flew off with Asenath to On in Egypt, and there laid her beside God’s altar. The priest, by name Potipherah, seeing his wife was barren, brought up Asenath as his own child.

Many years later, when Joseph had saved Egypt from famine and made a progress through the land, women threw him thank-offerings. Among them was Asenath who, having no other gift, tossed Joseph her silver disk, which he caught as it flew by. He recognized the inscription and, knowing the she must be his own niece, married her.[5]

In a less miraculous version of this tradition, Jacob himself placed the infant Asenath

near the wall of Egypt. On the same day Potiphar was taking a walk, accompanied by his retinue, and approached the wall. He heard the child weeping and commanded his followers to bring it to him. When he noticed the tablet and read the inscription he said to his followers, “This child is the daughter of eminent people. Carry it into my house and procure a nurse for it.[6]

It is clear from how different these two traditions are that much of these stories are the interpolations of men. All of these legends agree, however, on the core idea that Asenath was the daughter of Dinah and Shechem. The uncertainty seems to be on just how she came to arrive in Egypt and to be adopted by Potipherah.

Another clue is that Joseph is tied to Shechem is that Joseph was buried at Shechem (Joshua 24:32). Why was he buried there, when Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were buried together in Hebron? Shechem later became part of the inheritance of the tribe of Manasseh, Joseph’s son. Now let us turn to early Christian traditions about Joseph and Asenath.

4. The Christian Tradition

A rather different story is told in the apocryphal book Joseph and Asenath, which was a highly respected book of early Christianity.[7] A principal theme is Asenath’s total conversion to Joseph’s religion, facilitated by the appearance of an angel who looked like Joseph (J&A 14:9).

While this book says nothing about Asenath not being the literal daughter of Potipherah, it has many clues that the author knew her true lineage, but also wanted to keep it a secret. Remember, that during past ages, it was a huge disgrace to have been an illegitimate child, so the motive for keeping her lineage secret is obvious. Here are some clues that the author of Joseph and Asenath knew who Asenath really was.

1. The point is made that Asenath does not look anything like other Egyptian women, but that she was “slender like unto Sarah, beautiful like Rebekah, and radiant in appearance like Rachel.”[8] Stating that she looked exactly like the three wives of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, all of whom were from Abraham’s family, has a pretty clear implications about her true lineage, without giving details.

2. The author gives the ages of both Asenath and Joseph’s brother Benjamin correctly, as being 18 years old at the time when Joseph was 30 (J&A 1:4, 27:2). That matches the Hebrew tradition perfectly,[9] although that information is not in the Old Testament.

3. Asenath goes into a soliloquy where she states that she is “an orphan, and desolate and abandoned and hated” (J&A 11:3). Such a surprising declaration is justified by explaining that she means only that she expects to be rejected by her Egyptian parents when she denounces their gods. The evidence that she really was a rejected orphan makes it much more understandable that such an unusual statement would be included.

4. The story speaks of Asenath’s “foster father.” He does not appear to be Potipherah, but rather a steward (J&A 18:2), but it is interesting that the story includes her foster father.

Thus, there are many clues that the author of the Joseph and Asenath knew who she really was. Much of the rest of the book appears to be interpolation and fabrication, or what we might call today a “historical novel.” The great success of recent historical novels seems to be that they are set in a true historical setting. Similarly, it appears that the author of Joseph and Asenath wrote the account to be consistent with all of the historical setting of which he was aware.

5. Conclusion

If it is acknowledged that there really is a true logic puzzle purposely included in Genesis 46, then it is an important discovery because it elevates the tradition of Asenath’s true lineage from being a mere fabrication to being indicated by scripture. But one cannot prove that the logic puzzle was in the mind of the author of Genesis. It could be argued that the puzzle is not there at all, that it is rather just a coincidence that two errors just happen to indicate that Asenath is of the House of Israel. Anyone taking that position, however, should explain why Asenath’s name is in the genealogy list at all, especially in light of the explicit statement that none of the wives is included in the count. This point and all of the other unusual wording can best be explained by recognizing that Genesis does indeed contain all the information necessary to deduce that Asenath, the mother of the two tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, was the daughter of Dinah of the house of Israel.


The author wishes to thank Wiliam L. Walker, Jr. for introducing me to the Asenath traditions which helped me to solve the puzzle, and David Barker for helping to research the subject.


  1. Neusner, Jacob, Genesis Rabbah, The Judaic Commentary to the Book of Genesis, A New American Translation (Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press, 1985). Vol III, pp. 319-324.
  2. Ginzberg, Louis, The Legends of the Jews, (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1948), vol II, p. 122.
  3. For example see The Book of Jasher (Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Artisan Sales, 1988), which implies that Jochebed was 130 at Moses birth (Jasher 59:9, 68:2, 68:11, 73:1-2).
  4. The 430 years mentioned in Exo. 12:40 was interpreted to be 215 years from Abraham’s entering Canaan until Israel entered Egypt, followed by another 215 years in Egypt. See the Jewish historian Josephus in Antiquities, XIV.xv.2.
  5. Graves, Robert & Patai, Raphael, Hebrew Myths (New York: Greenwich House, 1964), p. 237. See also Ginzberg, op. cit., II: 38.
  6. V. Aptowitzer, “Asenath, the Wife of Joseph,” Hebrew Union College Annual (New York: Ktav Publishing, 1924), Vol. I, pp. 239-255.
  7. Burchard, C., “Joseph and Asenath,” in Charlesworth, James H., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (New York: Doubleday, 1985), 195 states, “Joseph and Asenath is one of the best attested and most widely distributed books included in this collection.”
  8. Joseph and Asenath 1:8, translation from Ginzberg, op. cit., II:170.
  9. For example, Jubilees 30:2 says Dinah was 12 at the time of her union with Shechem. Joseph and Dinah were the same age, which would make Joseph about twelve years older than Asenath, so Asenath being 18 when Joseph was 30 makes sense. And Benjamin was born at Bethlehem shortly after the incident at Shechem, as the family traveled to Hebron (Gen. 35:18).
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