Sunday, April 29, 2012

Asnat, Granddaughter of Yaakov and Who?

In trying to tease out Asnat's likely matriline genetic haplgroup, I note that Jewish tradition teaches:

Asenath is mentioned in the Torah as “the daughter of Poti-phera” (Gen. 41:45), who was married to Joseph in Egypt. The Rabbis found it difficult to accept that Joseph, who withstood the wiles of Potiphar’s wife and proclaimed his loyalty to the Lord in the palace of Pharaoh, would marry a non-Israelite woman. The question of Asenath’s origins has significant consequences for the standing within the Israelite tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim, the two sons born to Asenath and Joseph.

There are two Rabbinic approaches to the issue of Asenath’s descent. One view presents her as an ethnic Egyptian who converted in order to be married to Joseph. She accepted the belief in the Lord before she was married and raised her children in accordance with the tenets of Judaism. The second approach argues that Asenath was not an Egyptian by descent, but was from the family of Jacob. God directed matters so that she would end up in Egypt, so that Joseph would find a suitable wife from among the members of his own family. Accordingly, Ephraim and Manasseh are worthy descendents, who continue the way of Jacob. 

As we've seen in previous posts, given the ancient genetics of North Africa, it is unlikely that Asnat carried a Native African mtDNA haplogroup, even if she was an Egyptian. In fact, the long 400 year sojourn of the ancient Hebrews in Egypt as told in Torah, highly suggests that the Divine had some very important truth hidden there, in Egypt. This long heavy sojourn in Egypt which came about AFTER the time of Yosef and Asnat has a secret hidden in it - but I will get to that, bear with me.

Rabbis have grappled with the maternal descent of Asnat, suggesting that she was the daughter of Dinah (Dinah herself the daughter of Jacob by Torah and putatively by Leah by the Rabbis' conjecture) who was raped by a non-Hebrew. According to the Rabbi's thinking, the sons of Leah wanted to kill Dinah's half-blood child (Asnat), but instead they shipped her off to Egypt. This doesn't make sense to me. I can't see strong matriarchal Leah allowing her sons to do this to her granddaughter. This explanation by the Rabbis is not congruent with the reality of the strong personalities of the matriarchs. More likely, I think, is that Dinah was indeed the daughter of Jacob and some other unnamed woman, and that, like Sarah did with Hagar and Ishmael, Leah wanted to get rid of Dinah and her unnamed mother. Dinah's rape by a non-Hebrew gave Leah the political opportunity to advance her wish to exile Dinah and her nameless mother. This makes more sense - a woman's jealousy catalyzed Dinah's (and her nameless mother's and ultimately Asnat's) exile to Egypt rather than did male hatred of a helpless female infant (who wouldn't inherit anything anyway, unlike Joseph). Like Sarah didn't want to share her son's inheritance with Ishmael, neither did Leah want to share with Dinah's unnamed mother (who likely had no sons at this point, only a daughter named Dinah) her status as a mother of Israel. Sharing her status with her half-sister Rachel was bad enough. Leah would tolerate her half-sister (maybe - what exactly was the cause of Rachel's long bout with barrenness, an ancient anti-pregnancy potion not really made of Leah's famous mandrakes?), but she wouldn't tolerate another woman (just as Sarah wouldn't tolerate Hagar, although clearly, the Divine brought this nameless woman into the fold as a Matriarch of Israel despite Leah's attempt to exclude her from it). This makes perfect sense.

If my more likely explanation of Asnat's status as a Hebrew daughter of Jacob (and some other unnamed woman) is true, then the mystery opens up in our understanding in an even more revealing way - to enable us to possibly discover the original genetic matrilines of the ancient children of Israel. First, we must recognize, that in Torah, the Divine does not instruct Dinah's mother to return to the Hebrew tribes to be under the thumb of Leah (as was Hagar with Sarah). Instead, Dinah's mother and her daughter Asnat, were allowed, like Joseph, to go to Egypt and to be protected there. While there, Jospeh and Asnat hook up with destiny. Interesting story, this story, I think.

Importantly, given the way Asnat and her unnamed mother have been treated by tradition - the unnamed mother unrecognized as a Matriarch of Israel in her own right to this day (which I hereby rectify on behalf of my ancestors in the name of Asnat) and Asnat as a legitimate daughter of Israel - coupled with the 400 years of slavery in Egypt suffered by the children of Leah who lived in Goshen perhaps because of this lack of recognition, makes me think the Divine was trying to make a strong point, which never actually seemed to penetrate into the ancient thinking of the children of Leah. Even the Divine knows when take on another strategy for working it into recognition, as clearly that exile wasn't working. Even today, the strange ancestry of Moses troubles the minds of the children of Leah as to why Moses, with his strange Hebrew-Egyptian connections (like Asnat), was chosen by the Divine to lead the ancient Hebrews out of Egypt. Asnat was the (adopted?) daughter of a Egyptian priest, as Moses was the (adopted?) son an Egyptian princess. Coincidence or the working of wyrd?

In the counting of the Omer at Tel Shelmesh, Asnat is associated with hod shebetiferet – hidden truth:

Asnat is hidden in Potiphar's home to save her life. She receives this compassion because although she was born from a cruel act, she is a pure soul. Later, in spite of the secrecy around her birth, she discovers ways of honoring all the pieces of her identity. Hod can signify hiddenness, and tiferet can mean truth. Asnat is hod shebetiferet – hidden truth. We are most like Asnat when we open to the secrets of our past and allow our truth to be revealed.

How appropriate this speaks for the Matriarch, Asnat.

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