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Longing in Egypt: A solution for male infertility in the Joseph story (Genesis 39)

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  • UserDr. Diana Lipton (Theology and Religious Studies, King’s College, London)
  • ClockMonday 27 October 2008, 17:00-18:30
  • HouseCRASSH, Seminar Room.

If you have a question about this talk, please contact Zeynep Gurtin-Broadbent.

In Exodus 23:26, God makes a significant promise, conditional on Israel’s rejection of Canaanite worship: ‘No woman in your land shall miscarry or be barren’. Presumably, Israel failed to keep her part of the bargain; there were barren women in the land, before Sinai (Sarah) and after (Hannah). But why did God specify women when he made this promise? Were there no impotent or infertile men in ancient Israel? We know about men who had daughters, but failed to produce a male heir. Zelophehad had daughters but no sons, and his daughters negotiated a hereditary holding among their father’s kinsmen (Num. 27:7). Sheshan gave his daughter to his Egyptian slave, Jarha, and her son Attai continued Sheshan’s family line (1 Chron. 34-35). And we know about men who died childless, perhaps infertile, perhaps not. Ideally, their brothers married their wives, and the first son they had was accounted to their dead brother’s name (Deut. 26:5-6). We know, too, that levirate marriages such as these sometime failed, leading women to take more extreme measures to secure descendants for their dead, childless husbands (Gen 38:12-19, Ruth 4:7-10). But were there options for childless men who did not die? I read the story of Joseph’s encounter with Potiphar’s wife as the exploration of one option: Potiphar the Egyptian eunuch employs Joseph the Hebrew slave to impregnate his wife, mirroring Sarah’s enlisting of Hagar the Egyptian slave to provide a child for Abraham (Genesis 16).

This talk is part of the Cambridge Interdisciplinary Reproduction Forum series.

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