The ‘Joseph and Asenath’ Allegory of Jesus/Simon and Mary Magdalene/Queen Helen
Commentary by John Munter
It is unrecognized by scholars that ‘Joseph & Asenath’ is a Christian allegory that was probably published by the mystery school surrounding Queen Helen of Adiabene and most likely produced as a memorial sometime after the year of her death in 56 CE.
The Biblical story of Asenath is extremely brief in Genesis 41: 45-52 where she is the daughter of a pagan priest of ‘On’ which is Heliopolis that was a storehouse of grain for times of famine and had a Hebrew population. She was given in marriage to Joseph by the Pharaoh and had two sons named Manasseh and Ephraim who were the legendary ancestors of the Samaritans. A good question remains as to why Joseph married the daughter of a pagan priest. This allegorical tale purports to answer that question.
Queen Helen also had two sons and was a Hebrew convert. Simon, as a Samaritan ‘son of Joseph’, also lends himself to the allegory very well. Herod Antipas as “Pharaoh’s son”, the Herodians as half-brothers of Joseph by hand-maidens, and fundamentalists and mystics of the first century represented by Simeon and Levi are also very recognizable.
The first chapter opens with a description of the great wealth of the father of Asenath who was the chief of all the satraps and lords of Pharaoh. Asenath is described as strikingly beautiful and more like a Hebrew than an Egyptian. The plot begins early as the oldest son of Pharaoh wants her for his wife but is advised she is of lower station.
The second chapter is quite remarkable in describing the tower of Asenath as a metaphor for divine Wisdom. It has windows facing all directions but west—or to the Roman world. It has ten rooms with seven, perhaps representing the seven dimensions of the universe populated by seven virgin servants who were all born on the same day as Asenath. The other three rooms may be place-holders for the Trinity but currently holding her Egyptian gods, her earthly pleasures, and her personal wealth. That she always looked out the east window would represent a rejection of the Romans and/or a metaphor for looking toward the sun/Son. Near the house of the tower was an ever-bubbling spring flowing into a cistern which had a river flowing out of it that watered all the fruit trees around the house—an obvious metaphor for the garden of Eden.
The third chapter begins the visit of Joseph who represents Simon/Jesus who sends his twelve advance men or disciples to the father of Asenath. Asenath is only interested in seeing her parents who have just returned from the country. This chapter represents the lack of earthly attraction or interest in Jesus.
In the fourth chapter Asenath comes down from her tower to greet her parents “adorned as the bride of God”—which represents Wisdom. Asenath’s father describes Joseph as a “mighty man of God” and as a virgin and tries to talk Asenath into becoming betrothed to him. Asenath is maddened into a “red sweat” and complains about his being the son of a shepherd, a man of another race, and having slept with his mistress and having been thrown into prison for it—which would refer to the rumors of a relationship between Simon and Queen Helen.
In the fifth chapter Asenath spots Joseph arriving in the viceroy’s chariot wearing a golden crown with 12 jewels that had 12 rays of light coming from them and carrying a royal scepter in his right hand along with an olive branch with much fruit.
In the sixth chapter Asenath repents of her evil and ignorant thoughts in seeing the great light of Joseph who can see all secret thoughts and desires to become his maid servant and slave forever.
In the seventh chapter Joseph begins his meal preparations by washing his feet, sitting separately from the Egyptians, and asking that the woman watching him in the window be sent away since so many of the women in Egypt were lusting after him. These facets betray the foot-washing sacrament that Jesus instituted which represented cleaning the dust and attachments of the world off your body, the Jewish Christian food prohibitions still adhered to, and the purity of the motives of Simon/Jesus. Pentephres explains that his daughter hates all men and they both agree to regard Asenath as the sister of Joseph. This represents the idea that Simon and Helen were regarded as twin souls by their mystery school. The name of Asenath’s father in Genesis is ‘Potipherah’ but the Septuagint version of Pentephres lends itself to an association with ‘Pentateuch’ or what the first five books of the Bible are called.
In the eighth chapter Joseph refuses to give Asenath a kiss in greeting since she was a strange woman who worshipped idols and it wasn’t fitting for someone who eats “the blessed bread of life, and drinks the blessed cup of immortality and is anointed with the blessed unction of incorruption. “ This brings Asenath to tears that touches Joseph and he pronounces a blessing over her that God may “quicken her with thy spirit” so that she may “enter into thy rest”. The ‘rest’ is a mystery school term.
In the ninth chapter Asenath retires to her top storey, weeps, and repents of her false god worship. Joseph is offered a nights lodging but he refuses saying he has a lot of work to do in all the other districts but will be back in eight days to spend the night. The eighth day represents the day of the resurrection and spending the night represents the initiations of Simon/Jesus which happened at night.
In the tenth chapter Asenath locks herself in her upper room for seven days, throws out her window all of her best wardrobe, her gold and silver gods, and all her choice food. She dresses in black and weeps into the pile of ashes she poured around her until it becomes thick mud.
The eleventh is an extremely short one sentence about Asenath looking up from her pile of ashes on the floor on the eighth day. Presumably this is a metaphor for looking up to heaven. The shortness of the chapter emphasizes the importance of this act of looking up to heaven.
The twelfth chapter begins the prayer of confession of Asenath. She flees like a “child to his father and his mother” so as not to be devoured by the lion that would be a reference to materiality. The children of the lion were the gods of the Egyptians she says and both are fathered by the devil. This would seem to be the apologetic response from Jewish Christians to the charge that Simon had brought foreign influences in from Egypt. At the end the Lord is described as “father of the orphan, and champion of the persecuted, and the help of them that are oppressed”.
In the thirteenth chapter Asenath recounts her penitential actions of donning sack cloth and ashes, sprinkling the floor with her tears so it is muddier than a public thoroughfare, and fasting from food and drink for seven days. She confesses about Joseph to God that she “did not know he is thy son”. Finally she requests to be the servant of Joseph “so that I may wash his feet and serve him and be his slave for all the days of my life.”
The fourteenth chapter opens dramatically with a ‘Son of Man’ –type figure appearing out of a great light coming from where the morning star had just arisen who looked just like Joseph with a robe, crown, and royal staff. The difference was that his face, eyes, and hair were like lightening, fire, or the rays of the sun. He said that he was “Commander of the Lord’s house and Chief Captain of all the host of the Most High”. He told her to clean up, put on the double girdle of her virginity, and a new garment she had never worn before. Asenath cleaned up, put a girdle around her breast and one around her waist, put on a “new and brilliant” robe, and put on a lovely veil.
In The fifteenth chapter the man from heaven told her to take off the veil “For today you are a pure virgin and your head is like a young man’s.” This harkens to the theology of the androgenous Primal Adam such as at the end of the Gospel of Mary where Levi exclaims about Mary: “Surely the Savior knows her very well. That is why he loved her more than us. Rather let us be ashamed and put on the perfect man and acquire him for ourselves as he commanded us”. The man from heaven then said that her name is written in the Book of Life, she would partake of the sacraments that day, and she would be given as a bride to Joseph. Her new name would be “City of Refuge” for “many nations” of penitents she would harbor since “Penitence is the Most High’s daughter” who constantly intercedes for everyone. This reflects iterations of the Sophia Mythos where there are higher and lower Sophia’s. Penitence “has prepared a heavenly bridal chamber for those who love her”. This sentence puts this allegory squarely in the lineage of Bridal Chamber Christianity extending from the sermons in Dialogue of the Savior to later works like the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Philip. The man from heaven tells her to wear her “wedding robe, the ancient robe, the first that was stored away in your room, and deck yourself in all your finest jewelry, and adorn yourself as a bride and be ready to meet him”. This refers to the donning of the original robe of light in preparation for the marriage with one’s twin soul that was lost in the creation of ‘Adam and Eve’.
In the sixteenth chapter the man from heaven tells Asenath to go into her inner room and bring him a honeycomb. Asenath at first thinks to send a servant as if this an outer world request but is obedient and finds the mysterious honeycomb that was “white as snow” and “it’s smell was as the breathe of life” in her “inner room” which smells of myrrh and asks if it came out of the man from heaven’s mouth. Myrrh was used by Nicodemus in the burial of Jesus. The breathe of heavenly life also has a reminder of earthly death. He tells her: “The bees of the Paradise of Delight have made this honey and the angels of God eat of it, and no one who ever eats of it shall ever die”. The man from heaven then treats the honey like the eucharist giving some to himself and some to Asenath. After this the man touched the comb on the east and the path of his finger became like blood and he did the same on the north edge. The blood symbolism pretty clearly refers to the blood of Jesus. The eastern direction can refer to the rising of the sun and the light of the Son. The north was the direction of prayer at night to what was considered the throne of God which was the Big Dipper and the Pole Star since they never dipped below the horizon and were a symbol of eternity. From the honey arose bees as white as snow with irridescent wings and golden diadems on their heads which flew around Asenath from toe to head. The man told them to go to their places in the plural so they all dropped dead at Asenath’s foot and left materiality. When he told them to go to their place in the singular they arose and flew to the courtyard around Asenath’s tower. This change of number can represent the unseen and multiple dimensions on the one hand and the singularity of the material dimension on the other and where the presence of Asenath represents the incarnation of delight or ecstasy in it.
In the seventeenth chapter the man dissolved the honeycomb in fire which gave off a refreshing scent and blessed all the handmaids of Asenath. He disappeared suddenly in a fiery chariot.
In the eighteenth chapter, Asenath on hearing Joseph was coming, ordered a dinner and dressed in her “finest robe that shown like lightening”. She wore a girdle of precious stones, golden bracelets and boots, an expensive necklace, a veil, and a golden crown with costly stones. The stones represent eternity, perpetual virginity, and the mind of God in this context. Asenath was transformed in the process of her dressing since her “face was like the sun and her eyes like the rising morning star”.
In the nineteenth chapter Asenath descends with the seven virgins to the gate to greet Joseph. This can represent descending into the physical world and maybe from seven unseen dimensions and bring- ing that consciousness with her. Joseph greets her in calling her a virgin and asks for an embrace since he has heard all about her from heaven. They embrace for a long time and “received new life in their spirit”. The point of the chapter is that they are one spirit.
In the twentieth chapter Asenath invites Joseph into her house and washes his feet saying they were her feet as well. Her parents return and a wedding is planned.
In the twenty-first chapter Pharaoh blesses the wedding declaring that Joseph “is the first born son of God” and that Asenath would be called “Daughter of the Most High” and put golden crowns on their heads. He declared that anyone doing any work during the seven days of the wedding would be put to death. This represents the immateriality of the wedding. Bringing the union down into physical consciousness cannot help but kill the real spirit of it. After the wedding Joseph and Asenath conceived and bore two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. This corresponds in real life to the two sons of Queen Helen who each became the King of Osrhoene successively.
In the twenty-second chapter Asenath and Joseph visit his father, Jacob, and Joseph’s brothers in Goshen. Brother Simeon guards them on the left hand but Levi is profiled who guards them on the right hand. Brother Levi is clearly the Disciple Levi taking such an active part in dialogues with Jesus in Dialogue of the Savior and the one who wrote the first extant written gospel in Hebrew. Asenath loved Brother Levi because he was a prophet and could see letters written in heaven which he interpreted for Asenath privately. He could also see the place in heaven where Asenath had her rest. The word ‘rest’ of course, is mystery school terminology.
In the twenty-third chapter, “Pharaoh’s eldest son” who in real life in this allegory is Herod Antipas becomes jealous of Asemath’s marriage to Joseph. He butters up Simeon and Levi and tries to bribe them to help him kill Joseph so that he can have Asenath. Simeon who portrays the fundamentalists reacts angrily and rushes at Pharoah’s eldest son with his sword. Levi trods on his right foot—which may be a sly reference to James the Just being thrown off the Temple and breaking his leg—and rebukes him about his violent intention in “repaying evil for evil”. At this point—very oddly—“Simeon’s” name changes to “Simon” as if Simon Peter is being referred to. Levi , then, addresses his “neighbor”, the Pharaoh’s son, saying they could not ever do anything so evil and to not say anything more about this to anyone or the brothers would be forced to take up swords against him. Pharaoh’s son collapses in fear and Levi comforts him.
In the twenty-fourth chapter the plot thickens with Pharaoh’s son going to Dan and Gad who are brothers of Joseph but children of the maid-servants of Leah and Rachel. These two represent the Herodians who considered themselves Hebrews but were not ‘Jewish’ or Samaritan. They were told Joseph was plotting against them to supplant them so Dan and Gad agreed to his plan. Pharoah’s son would kill his father, the Pharaoh, and Dan and Gad would kill Joseph. The oddity of this plan in real life was that shortly after the Crucifixion of Jesus, Antipas was accused by his cousin before the Roman Emperor of building up a large and threatening military force, deposed from his position, and banished from Palestine. When Asenath was going to her country estate without Joseph but with six hundred and fifty soldiers, Dan and Gad laid an ambush with two thousand men. Pharaoh’s son would kill his father and then take fifty archers to catch Asenath when she fled the ambush. These numbers probably roughly correspond to the number of Samaritan pilgrims going up the mountain before the Samaritan Massacre in 36 CE and the number of troops sent to intercept them by Pilate.
In the twenty-fifth chapter, Pharaoh’s son tried to gain entry to the suite of the Pharaoh with the ruse that he had to go off soon and harvest grapes from his grapevines. This may be a subtle Christian reference to Herodian’s like Paul the Apostle behind the creation of the Roman Church. Pharaoh complains of illness and the son’s plans are foiled. The son takes his fifty archers and lies in wait for Asenath. Brothers of Dan and Gad complain to them that their plan is defying heaven and Joseph could send down fire from heaven and burn them up. This relates to Simon conceiving like Heraclitus that the primal concept is fire. It is no coincidence that Jesus says in Logion 10 of the Gospel of Thomas: “I have cast fire upon the world, and see, I am guarding it until it blazes.”
In the twenty-sixth chapter Asenath is afraid to go alone to the country but Joseph is too busy distributing corn to the poor to go. In real life, Queen Helen and her son, King Izates, were famous for saving Jerusalem for years with imported grain. The ambush succeeds and all of Asenath’s soldiers are killed—just as most of those at the Samaritan Massacre are butchered-- and she flees in her chariot. At the Samaritan Massacre, as well, Simon Magus probably escaped the initial massacre by not arriving on time but was hunted down, betrayed, and arrested later.
In the twenty-seventh chapter Benjamin is sitting in the chariot with Asenath facing Pharaoh’s son and his fifty archers on horseback. He topples and severely wounds Pharaoh’s son with a stone from his slingshot and then does the same for the other fifty horsemen. This reprises the work of King David who Jesus was supposed to be descended from. Brother Levi, who heard of these evil deeds from God since he was a prophet, rounded up five other sons of Leah and came to the rescue and killed the two thousand troops of Dan and Gad by themselves. Benjamin represented the Samaritans and the sons of Leah represent the Jews who all went in delegations to Pilate’s Roman over-lord in Syria to complain about the Samaritan Massacre which got Pilate deposed and sent back to Rome to answer for it. Possibly the role Antipas played in pushing Pilate into the execution of Jesus according to the Gospel of Peter (and possibly into the Samaritan Massacre as well) may have helped sour the Romans on Antipas and into deposing him a year later. Dan and Gad, when they saw their plans foiled, determined to kill Asenath and then flee to the woods. Asenath prayed and the swords fell from hands and crumbled. In the Rabbinic tradition disguised as Nakdimon she is a miracle worker as well.
In the twenty-eighth chapter Dan and Gad are so shocked at the miracle-working of the ‘swords to dust’ that they collapse and beg forgiveness of Asenath and her protection from the wrath of their brothers. Asenath tells them that their brothers are men of God and do not repay evil for evil but nevertheless they should go hide in the woods until she can effectively intercede for them. When the brothers arrived it was Simeon, especially, who argued with Asenath about killing Dan and Glad but Asenath argued effectively that she was miraculously protected and so God was in charge.
In the twenty-ninth and last chapter, Pharaoh’s son arouses from his head injury and sits up. Benjamin approaches to finish him off but Levi accosts him saying that he should not be repaid evil for evil—a theme which has become dominant in this allegory. Levi binds up his wound, puts him on his horse, and takes him to the Pharaoh in a replay of the Good Samaritan story. The Pharaoh was so grateful that he “made obeisance to Levi on the ground”. However, the son of the Pharaoh died three days later. The Pharaoh grieved for his son and died at the age of one hundred and nine. He left his kingdom to Joseph who ruled it for forty-eight years who, then, gifted it back to the Pharaoh’s grandson. This last point was an important argument to the Romans that Christians were not looking for earthly power even though Joseph had two sons of his own. The numbers may be significant. The ‘three days later’ reprises the length of time Jesus was in the tomb. The ‘forty-eight years’ is almost a fifty year Jubilee cycle. The great age of the Pharaoh almost approximates the age of some long-lived and virtuous Old Testament figures. The story ends on a main point of the allegory that in gifting back the crown to the grandson of Pharaoh rather than keeping it for his own sons and being ‘like a father’ to the grandson of Pharaoh Joseph demonstrated that Christians are not bent on earthly power or expecting some hereditary theocratic dynasty from the family of Jesus.