Dear Mr Collins,
I am a firm believer in the identity of modern-day Israel. However, a friend who has done considerable research on the subject of the Lost Ten Tribes maintains that Asenath, the wife of Joseph, to whom were born Ephraim and Manasseh, was black. He states that the Egyptians descended from Ham and Asenath was an Egyptian — though the Bible, as far as I know, does not specifically state she was an Egyptian but the daughter of Potipherah, Priest of On. One would, however, assume he was an Egyptian.
My friend concludes that as Asenath was black, then the descendants of Ephraim and Manasseh had to be black and this then completely destroys the belief that the English speaking peoples of the British Commonwealth and the United States are the modern day descendants of Joseph through his two sons.
I have not been able to find any reputable research with information about Asenath. If she were black, it does not seem reasonable to believe that Joseph would have been willing to marry her. We have the record of Abraham making sure that a wife for Isaac was found amongst his own people, and not from the daughters of the Canaanites (Gen 24). One would think that Joseph would have followed the same principle when it came to marriage.
I am wondering if you have any information about Asenath, or Potipherah, Priest of On. If the answer is in one of your publications, please point me to it and I will willingly purchase it.
With many thanks for your consideration of this inquiry.
You ask a good question and the answer tells us much about both the ancient and modern world. Your friend is correct that the Egyptians descended from Ham, but I think you are correct that Asenath was not a black person. An historical analysis supports this view. Allow me to be thorough to answer your question.
No one (to my knowledge) doubts that Egyptians are descended from Mizraim. The Hebrew word translated “Egypt” in the Bible is the Hebrew word for Mizraim (or Mitsraim), who was a son of Ham, as Genesis 10:6 confirms. However, it is a common misconception to think that all Hamites were black. They were not. There is a wide diversity of skin-tones in the descendants of Ham just as there is a similar diversity within the descendants of Shem and Japheth. Japheth’s sons include the Orientals of Asia (Gomer, Togramah, Tarshish, etc.) as well as the Iranians (Madai) and many peoples living within the wide expanse of Russia (Meshech, Tubal and Magog). The Persians (modern Iranians) are generally Mideastern in appearance while many Western Russians and Slavs are closer in appearance to the Caucasians of Europe. Shem’s descendants include the descendants of the ten tribes of Israel (Americans, the British peoples, Scandinavians, many Europeans), the people of Judah (Jews/Israelis), Ishmael (the Arabs), the Turks (Edom/Esau) and various Eastern European and Baltic nations (many of which are descended from Elam, the sons of Keturah, etc.). The modern Assyrians (Semites) also live among the modern Germans. Hungary clearly has Japhethites in their nation as their nation is named after the Huns of Attila and various Hungarians have an oriental appearance. These sons of Japheth and Shem are mentioned in Genesis 10 and in later portions of the book of Genesis.
Ham’s descendants are also varied. They include the African blacks (Canaan), the Pakistani/Afghans (Cush), Ethiopians/Sudanese (Cush), the Libyans and North Africans (Phut) and the Egyptians (Mizraim). All these nations are mentioned in Genesis 10:6. The Indian subcontinent includes many Cushites, but includes an element of Shem as well (the descendants of Abraham’s concubines who “went east” in Genesis 25:6, the remnants of the Indo-Saka kingdoms who were named after Isaac and were kinsmen to the Scythians and Parthians, and the Dravidians (who were founded by “Caucasian”-like refugees from the eastern side of the Parthian Empire when it fell in 227 AD). A posting in the archives of my Ten Tribes blog has a link with extensive evidence documenting the Parthian origin of the Dravidians. An article at my website re: the nation of Japan examines aspects of the modern descendants of Japan and India.
The origins of all the modern nations is far too broad for this blog, but I hope the above illustrates that there is a wide diversity among the descendants of Adam’s three sons. Let’s now get back to Egyptians.
Ancient Egypt included both Upper Egypt (Sudan and part of Ethiopia on modern maps) and Lower Egypt (the Egypt of today). Upper Egypt had dark-skinned people and was inhabited by Cush’s or Canaan’s seed. Moses’ first wife was an Ethiopian or Cushite (Numbers 12:1) Moses was raised in Pharaoh’s household and Moses’ first wife may have been a result of a political marriage to cement ties between Upper and Lower Egypt (the movie, The Ten Commandments, hints at this). However, Asenath, the woman given to be Joseph’s wife was not from Upper Egypt and would have lived near the delta of the Nile (Genesis 41:45) as she was given to Joseph either the day he came out of prison or soon afterwards. In other words, she was a “local” from Lower Egypt. This was the region of Mizraim, not Cush or Canaan. These Egyptians would have been much more light-skinned and they lived so close to the Semitic populations in the Promised Land and near-by (Ishmaelites, Midianites, etc.) that they would have acquired Semitic blood via intermarriage. The sons of Joseph were Ephraim and Manasseh, and Ephraim’s name is based on Mizraim’s name so this confirms Joseph’s wife was from Mizraim, not Cush.
Also consider that Joseph married Asenath circa 1715 BC. Abraham birthed the modern Arab race descended from Ishmael, who was born from Abraham (a Semite) and Hagar (an Egyptian). Genesis 16:3 indicates Hagar, like Asenath, was from Mizraim, not Cush or Canaan. Ishmael was born circa 1900 BC so Hagar’s racial characteristics would have been very similar to that of Asenath. The Bible always reckons tribal descents via patrilineal relationships so the Ishmaelites are all reckoned as Semites because they are Abraham’s descendants (who were destined to become “many” nations–Genesis 17:5). Keep in mind that the descendants of Ephraim and Manasseh would have intermarried extensively with the other Semitic tribes of Israel over the following millennia both in the Promised Land and during their exile so their subsequent generations would have been as Semitic as any other Semites. They were called “Caucasians” when they migrated out of Asia into Europe when their former homelands in Scythia and Parthia fell.
My book, The Origins and Empire of Ancient Israel, includes the time of Joseph’s marriage to an Egyptian (indeed, the color cover of this book depicts an artist’s conception of Joseph and Asenath standing by as Jacob/Israel blesses Ephraim and Manasseh!). It is available for purchase on-line if you click on the “Books” link at the homepage of my website.