xii + 218 pp.
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£55 / $90 / €65
Joseph and Aseneth
A Christian Book
Joseph and Aseneth, a book of the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, is a love story about the biblical Joseph and his Egyptian wife Aseneth which, in richly symbolic language, tells how the idol worshipper Aseneth was converted to belief in the one God. In recent decades, it has featured prominently in discussions of Second Temple Judaism as a testimony to a Hellenistic diaspora Judaism that neither observed the rules of conversion to Judaism (giyyur) nor cared much for the laws of the Torah.
Rivka Nir offers a completely different understanding. Joseph and Aseneth, she argues, teaches us nothing about Second Temple Judaism. Rather, its vocabulary, ideas, symbols and structure become fully comprehensible only when viewed against the background of Syriac Christianity of the third and fourth century. In this setting, Aseneth and Joseph are symbolic and typological images: Aseneth symbolizes the church, Joseph is a prototype of Christ, and their marriage is a symbolic representation of the eternal marriage between Christ and the church. Aseneth’s religious transformation should be understood as conversion to Christianity, an example for polytheists to follow. Turning our attention to the central role virginity plays in the story, Nir addresses the problematic scene of the honeycomb and the bees, reading it as a call to those joining the church to take a vow of virginity and resolve to lead a life of sexual abstinence.
Through Nir’s detailed analysis of the symbols and metaphors of Joseph and Aseneth in a Christian context, the book coalesces into a tightly integrated and meaningful whole, on both the theological and the symbolic levels.
Rivka Nir is a lecturer in the Department of History at the Open University of Israel.
Chapter 1. Aseneth — Jewish Proselyte or Christian Convert? 23
1. Could Aseneth Be a Jewish Proselyte? 23
2. Aseneth as a Model of a Christian Convert 38
Chapter 2. Aseneth as the ‘Type of the Church of the Gentiles’ 67
1. Aseneth as ‘City of Refuge’ 67
2. Bees as a Symbol of Virgins in the ‘City of Refuge’ 90
Chapter 3. Joseph as the Prototype of Christ 116
1. Joseph as the Sun God Helios 116
2. Joseph as an Olive Tree 124
3. The Man of God as a Reflection of Joseph 127
Chapter 4. Aseneth as Joseph’s Bride: The Marriage of Christ and the Church 136
1. The Bridal Garment: ‘like light in appearance’ 136
2. The Kiss of Joseph and Aseneth 143
3. The Marriage of Joseph and Aseneth 149
Chapter 5. Christian Ethics in Joseph and Aseneth 22–29 159
1. ‘It is not right for a man who worships God to repay his neighbor evil for evil’ 160
2. Aseneth as Symbol of the Christian Church 166
3. ‘It is not right for a man who worships God …’ as Expressing the Proper
Christian Ethic 169
4. Levi and the ‘Unspeakable Mysteries’ 170
[A]n excellent book, clearly written, carefully referenced and well worth reading for an insight into this remarkable ancient tale. She has considerably advanced and enhanced the discussion. Barrie Wilson, Biblical Theology Bulletin.
[T]his highly readable book represents an important contribution to the field and will certainly become part of the standard reading for anyone working on this story. Jonathan Wright, Journal of Theological Studies.