This is a response to the meta call for contradictions.

In Genesis 39, there is a fantastically vivid story of Potiphar's wife seducing Joseph, or rather, attempting to. The result is that Joseph is imprisoned in a prison, where the head of the prison takes a liking to him.

But immediately afterwards, in Chapter 40:4 we read the following:

And the head chef appointed Joseph to be with them, and serve them, and they spent many days arrested.

(if you use a different translation, the "head chef" in the above is more often translated as "head of the guard". The Hebrew is "rosh ha-tabachim", and it refers to "Potiphar", from the previous chapters in all translations.)

The "head chef" is Potiphar (everyone agrees that Potiphar is the referent). What is Potiphar doing supervising Joseph in prison? Why does chapter 39 close off by saying that the head of the prison took a liking to him?

And the head of the prison, saw to nothing in his charge, because Yahweh is with him, and whatever his does, Yahweh makes succeed.

Wouldn't it make more sense that the head of the prison would send him to supervise the others? Why is he still hanging out with Potiphar after Potiphar's wife accused Joseph of trying to rape her? And what is a "rosh ha-tabachim" (head chef) doing in prison anyway?

Why does Genesis 39 throw the rest of the narrative off, by sending Joseph away from Potiphar?

4 Answers 4


I believe Joseph was not both in prison and with Potiphar, because the Bible is clearly speaking of two different people. In the context of the entire chapter, the supposed linkage quickly falls apart. To place a captain in charge of guards in the context of also managing Pharoh's food preparation may be plausible, meaning he could have been the manager OF the chief baker... but there is no evidence to prove it, and it certainly makes no sense to be a captain and a baker... also note the chief baker was put in prison, meaning HE was responsible for all the kitchen staff.

I did find one article where the "Rosh Ha-tabachim" (supposedly meaning Potiphar) translation is discussed in the same context as you described. As I thought, this 'stretched' translation was conceived by secular scholars, most of whom are highly critical of the Bible as a historical, accurate document.

I would also ask, with Potiphar described in great detail upon his introduction, why is he not also listed as 'chief baker' in addition to the text "an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian..." (Gen 39:1)? And why is the 'chief baker', introduced in Gen 40:1), have only that title and not the other two high-ranking titles Potiphar had?

Also note that two different Hebrew terms are used for 'guard' and 'baker'. Per Strong's Concordance:

Guard -- tabbach tab-bawkh' -- properly, a butcher; hence, a lifeguardsman (because he was acting as an executioner); also a cook (usually slaughtering the animal for food):--cook, guard.

The root being: tabach taw-bakh' -- a primitive root; to slaughter (animals or men):--kill, (make) slaughter, slay.

Baker -- 'aphah aw-faw' -- a primitive root; to cook, especially to bake:--bake(-r, (-meats)).

While 'guard' can be translated as 'cook', it is also used as 'butcher' or 'guard', and it is more logical that Potiphar was in charge of guards who either protected important or average people and also performed executions.

Let us review the Bible verses (KJV) in context:

1) Joseph was sold as a slave to Potiphar (Strongs Condordance: Hebrew -- Powtiyphar po-tee-far' of Egyptian derivation: Potiphar, an Egyptian:--Potiphar).

Genesis 39:1 And Joseph was brought down to Egypt; and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him of the hands of the Ishmeelites, which had brought him down thither.

sar sar a head person (of any rank or class):--captain (that had rule), chief (captain), general, governor, keeper, lord, ((-task- ))master, prince(-ipal), ruler, steward.

2) Joseph was very successful in his work for Potiphar, and was put in charge of Potiphar's business operations.

Genesis 39:3 And his master saw that the LORD was with him, and that the LORD made all that he did to prosper in his hand. Genesis 39:6 And he left all that he had in Joseph's hand; and he knew not ought he had, save the bread which he did eat. And Joseph was a goodly person, and well favoured.

3) After his promotion as overseer, Potiphar's wife began to pursue him for sex.

Genesis 39:7 And it came to pass after these things, that his master's wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; and she said, Lie with me.

4) Joseph candidly put offer her advances, but she was filled with lust for him. Ever been obsessed with someone or something?

Genesis 39:10 And it came to pass, as she spake to Joseph day by day, that he hearkened not unto her, to lie by her, or to be with her.

5) One, being alone in the house, she likely thought he would give in to her.

Genesis 39:11 And it came to pass about this time, that Joseph went into the house to do his business; and there was none of the men of the house there within.

6) She passionately grabbed at him, but Joseph literally ran away. Being a powerful man's spouse, I believe it is likely she was beautiful. Joseph, a man like any other, knew his ethics but also his humanity, and he likely understood that perhaps that even one seductive touch might have proved fatal to him.

Genesis 39:11 And she caught him by his garment, saying, Lie with me: and he left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out.

6) She then screamed rape. She first told her servants, but then told Potiphar directly, showing Joseph's torn garment as 'proof'.

Genesis 39:16-18 And she laid up his garment by her, until his lord came home. And she spake unto him according to these words, saying, The Hebrew servant, which thou hast brought unto us, came in unto me to mock me: And it came to pass, as I lifted up my voice and cried, that he left his garment with me, and fled out.

7) Potiphar naturally got very angry, however he did not have Joseph killed, but jailed. Note the jail was 'the kings' jail, not Potiphar's jail.

Genesis 39:20 And Joseph's master took him, and put him into the prison, a place where the king's prisoners were bound: and he was there in the prison.

8) From this point there is no mention whatsoever of Potiphar, etc. Everything that follows is focused on Joseph's prison experience. Though circumstances have again grown very dark, the Lord continues to show Joseph that He is with him.

Genesis 39:20-22 And Joseph's master took him, and put him into the prison, a place where the king's prisoners were bound: and he was there in the prison. But the LORD was with Joseph, and shewed him mercy, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison. And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph's hand all the prisoners that were in the prison; and whatsoever they did there, he was the doer of it.

9) The idea of the 'head chef' being Potiphar himself really makes no sense at all. You quote no verses, so I can't comment on them. However the KJV text clearly states the obvious, persons in charge of the butlers and the bakers.

Genesis 40:1-3 And it came to pass after these things, that the butler of the king of Egypt and his baker had offended their lord the king of Egypt. And Pharaoh was wroth against two of his officers, against the chief of the butlers, and against the chief of the bakers. And he put them in ward in the house of the captain of the guard, into the prison, the place where Joseph was bound.


The answer to this question can be found in Chapter 40, verse 3: וַיִּתֵּ֨ן אֹתָ֜ם בְּמִשְׁמַ֗ר בֵּ֛ית שַׂ֥ר הַטַבָּחִ֖ים אֶל־בֵּ֣ית הַסֹּ֑הַר מְק֕וֹם אֲשֶׁ֥ר יוֹסֵ֖ף אָס֥וּר שָֽׁם: And he put them in jail, the house of the head of the slaughterers to the jailhouse--the place that Joseph was imprisoned there.

And Chapter 41, verse 10: פַּרְעֹ֖ה קָצַ֣ף עַל־עֲבָדָ֑יו וַיִּתֵּ֨ן אֹתִ֜י בְּמִשְׁמַ֗ר בֵּ֚ית שַׂ֣ר הַטַּבָּחִ֔ים אֹתִ֕י וְאֵ֖ת שַׂ֥ר הָאֹפִֽים: And Pharoah got angry at his servants, and he put me in jail in the house of the head of the slaughterers--me and the head of the bakers.

It is clear that regardless of how you understand the regular role of the head of the slaughters (שַׂ֣ר הַטַּבָּחִ֔ים), Potiphar had a jail on his estate in which prisoners were held. This may be because the slaughter referred to was the slaughter of humans, i.e. Potiphar was the head executioner (See Rashbam on Genesis 39:1) and the head jailer (Genesis 39:21) was subordinate to him. Or it may be because Potiphar happened to have the space on his estate to house a jail and Pharoah, being king, used it for his prisoners. But either way the verses are clear that jail was on Potiphar's estate.

It is therefore not surprising that when high profile prisoners (maybe even friends of Potiphar) came into the prison, Potiphar had Joseph (who Potiphar knew was a very skilled servant) be their personal attendant. (See Ibn Ezra on Genesis 40:4).


Here it is more important to understand the authors intention. By "author", I mean "the Holy Spirit". We all know how the story goes- Creation / The fall of man, the birth of Jesus Christ, the life of Christ, death of Christ, subsequent authority of Christ, and salvation for man.

In Genesis, chapter 37, Joseph plays the part of Adam in "The fall of man"- a favored son, clothed in the glory of God(v.3). He dreams that his father will bow down to him and is rebuked by his father(v.9,10), he was sentenced to die(v.20), striped of his glory(v.23). Instead of being killed, he was detained and sold into slavery(26,27).

Since the progression must be complete and there is no "miraculous birth story" in Joseph's tale- insert Jacob and Tamar (chapter 38). Interesting to note that Tamar (who plays the part of Mary) receives all of the symbols of authority of her son's father(v.18)

We resume the metaphorical story of The life of Christ in chapter 39. Potiphar, the captain of the guard, plays the part of Satan. His wife(playing the part of the Pharisees) falsely accuses Joseph, he is striped naked and this is where we pick up the prison story...

The prison story serves as a metaphor for the death and ressurection of Christ where his body(bread baker) is hung on a tree, but his spirit is restored(cup bearer).

Pharaoh's dream sequence serves as a metaphor for the authority of Christ where Joseph is put in charge of all Egypt second only to Pharaoh(Pharaoh playing the part of God the Father).

The progression ends with the salvation of all the people as Joseph distributes grain(the Eucharist) to all the people.

I can say for sure that, while no metaphor is perfect, it would make sense to have Potiphar(Satan) in charge during the "prison scene". The details are there for continuity sake. The overall metaphor of the complete progression is the authors main objective. When the progression ends, it begins immediately again with the next metaphor.(This recurring metaphor - creation, fall of man, birth of Christ, life of Christ, Death and resurrection, authority of Christ, and salvation for man is the entire Old Testament.)


This is because chapter 39 is by the Jahwist author, J, while the surrounding story is Elohist. The dreams and their interpretation is Elohist, while the female seduction (like all strong stories from a female point of view) are due to J.

The J story is just interpolated inside a narrative that fits better without Joseph even having been imprisoned. This is one of the places where the J/E seams are apparent.

But possibly only so as to resolve this tension, intepreters have sometimes interpreted "Rosh ha-tabachim" (Potiphar) as the "head of the guard" instead of the more natural "head of the meat-slaughterers/preparers" or "head chef". It sounds like a totally wrong interpretation, which is only demanded by the mutual consistency of J and E stories in the order presented (which is not at all necessary, given that they are textually separate).


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