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Potiphar’s Wife
by [?]

STORY OF JOSEPH REVISITED

For more than six-and-thirty centuries the brand of the courtesan has rested on the brow of Potiphar’s wife. The religious world persists in regarding her as an abandoned woman who wickedly strove to lead an immaculate he-virgin astray. The crime of which she stands accused is so unspeakably awful that even after the lapse of ages we cannot refer to the miserable creature without a moan. Compared with her infamous conduct old Lot’s dalliance with his young daughters and David’s ravishment of Uriah’s wife appear but venial faults, or even shine as spotless virtues.

The story of Mrs. Potiphar’s unrequited passion may be strictly true; but if so the world has changed most wondrously. It transcends the probable and rests upon such doubtful ex parte evidence that a modern court would give her a certificate of good character. It is not in accord with our criminal code to damn a woman on the unsupported deposition of a young dude whom she has had arrested for attempted ravishment. Had Joseph simply filed a general denial and proven previous good character we might suspect the madame of malicious prosecution; but he doth protest too much.

Mrs. Potiphar was doubtless a young and pretty woman. She was the wife of a wealthy and prominent official of Pharaoh’s court, and those old fellows were a trifle exacting in their tastes. They sought out the handsomest women of the world to grace their homes, for sensuous love was then the supreme law of wedded life. Joseph was a young Hebrew slave belonging to Mrs. Potiphar’s husband, who treated him with exceptional consideration because of his business ability. One day the lad found himself alone with the lady. The latter suddenly turned in a fire alarm, and Jacob’s favorite son jogged along Josie in such hot haste that he left his garment behind. Mrs. Potiphar informed those who responded to her signal of distress that the slave had attempted a criminal assault. She is supposed to have repeated the story to her husband when he came home, and the chronicler adds, in a tone of pained surprise, that the old captain’s “anger was kindled.” Neither Mrs. Potiphar’s husband nor her dearest female friends appear to have doubted her version of the affair, which argues that, for a woman who moved in the highest social circles, she enjoyed a reasonably good reputation.

But Joseph had a different tale to tell. He said that the poor lady became desperately enamored of his beauty and day by day assailed his continence, but that he was as deaf to her amorous entreaties as Adonis to the dear blandishments of Venus Pandemos. Finally she became so importunate that he was compelled to seek safety in flight. He saved his virtue but lost his vestments. It was a narrow escape, and the poor fellow must have been dreadfully frightened. Suppose that the she-Tarquin had accomplished her hellish design, and that her victim had died of shame? She would have changed the whole current of the world’s history! Old Jacob and his other interesting if less virtuous sons, would have starved to death, and there would have been neither Miracles nor Mosaic Law, Ten Commandments nor Vicarious Atonement. Talmage and other industrious exploiters of intellectual tommyrot, now ladling out saving grace for fat salaries, might be as unctuously mouthing for Mumbo Jumbo, fanning the flies off some sacred bull or bowing the knee to Baal. The Potiphar-Joseph episode deserves the profoundest study. It was an awful crisis in the history of the human race! How thankful we, who live in these latter days, should be that the female rape fiend has passed into the unreturning erstwhile with the horned unicorn and dreadful hippogriff, the minotaur and other monsters that once affrighted the fearful souls of men–that sensuous sirens do not so assail us and rip our coat-tails off in a foul attempt to wreck our virtue and fill our lives with fierce regret. True, the Rev. Parkhurst doth protest that he was hard beset by beer and beauty unadorned; but he seems to have been seeking the loaded “schooner” and listening for the siren’s dizzy song. Had Joseph lived in Texas he could never have persuaded Judge Lynch that the lady and not he should be hanged. The youngster dreamed himself into slavery, and I opine that he dreamed himself into jail. With the internal evidence of the story for guide, I herewith present, on behalf of Mrs. Potiphar, a revised and reasonable version of the affaire d’amour.