Let Her Speak for Herself: Nineteenth-Century Women Writing on the Women of Genesis

By Marion Ann Taylor; Heather E. Weir | Go to book overview

§90 Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lillie Devereux Blake
(1815–1902) and (1833–1913)

Elizabeth Cady Stanton47 was a prominent advocate for women's legal, social, and spiritual equality. Lillie D. Blake48 was a suffragist, writer, women's rights activist, and president of New York City Woman's Suffrage League. She was a contributor to Stanton's Woman's Bible project.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lillie Blake both commented briefly on Potiphar's wife. Stanton's comments are of interest in that she agrees with Cornwallis's negative assessment of the character of Potiphar's wife.49 After criticizing Potiphar's wife's character, Stanton expressed a wish for a female counterpart to the "noble, high-minded, virtuous" Joseph.

Blake's interesting comments offer a more empathetic interpretation of Potiphar's wife, who, she claimed, was a wife in name only. Blake's claim was based on a literal translation of Potiphar's title; most translators call him 'Pharaoh's officer' but this phrase could be translated, in some contexts, 'Pharaoh's eunuch.' Blake based her comments on the literal translation of the Bible by Julia Evelina Smith (1792–1886) who translated the entire Bible from the original languages numerous times during her life.50

47 For more biographical information about Stanton, see part 5, "Leah and Rachel—
Founders of the House of Israel."

48 For a fuller biography of Blake, see part 1, "Eve—Mother of Us All."

49 More positive interpretations of Potiphar's wife existed in nineteenth-century com-
mentaries. Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown's A Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Old
and New Testaments, citing John G. Wilkinson, Topography of Thebes and General View of Egypt

(London: J. Murry, 1835), portrayed Potiphar's wife as "not worse than many of the same
rank, and her infamous advances made to Joseph arose from her superiority of station" (40).
Egyptian literature often portrayed women much more negatively than the biblical portrayal
of Potiphar's wife. See for example the Egyptian Tale of Two Brothers. One critical edition of this
story can be found in Susan T. Hollis, The Ancient Egyptian "Tale of Two Brothers": The Oldest
Fairy Tale in the World
(Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990).

From Elizabeth Cady Stanton, ed. The Woman's Bible (New York:
European Publishing Co., 1895), 65–66.

POTIPHAR'S wife surpasses all the women yet mentioned in perfidy and dishonor.

Joseph' s virtues, his dignity, his honor, go far to redeem the reputation of his ancestors, and the customs of his times. It would have been generous, at least, if the editor of these pages could have given us one woman the counterpart of Joseph, a noble, high-minded, virtuous type. Thus far those of all the different nationalities have been of an ordinary low type. Historians usually dwell on the virtues of the people, the heroism of their deeds, the wisdom of their words, but the sacred fabulist dwells on the most questionable behavior of the Jewish race, and much in character and language that we can neither print nor answer….

E.C.S.

The literal translation of the first verse of chapter xxxix of Genesis is as follows:

"And Joseph was brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, Pharaoh's eunuch, chief of the cooks, an Egyptian bought him of the Ishmaelites who brought him down."

These facts which are given in Julia Smith's translation of the Bible throw a new light on the story of Joseph and the woman who was Potiphar's wife only in name.

L.D.B.

-438-

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