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A short story by Montague Rhodes James

Aseneth, Joseph's Wife

Title:     Aseneth, Joseph's Wife
Author: Montague Rhodes James [More Titles by James]


There was once a great man named Potipherah, who was high priest of the city of On in Egypt; and he and his wife had no children. One day he went into the temple to offer sacrifice, as was his custom. He went alone, and when he entered the great courtyard of the temple, in the middle of which stood the altar, he was astonished to see a little child lying upon the altar. Without waiting to offer his sacrifice, he hurried back to his wife. "What is the matter," said she, "that you come back so hastily?" "I have seen a wonderful thing," he said; "the gods have given us a child. The gates of the temple were locked, so that no one could get into the court; yet there is a child there, lying on the altar!" "What say you?" said his wife; "what can be the meaning of it?" So they both hastened to the temple, and when Potipherah opened the door of the courtyard, they saw, partly at least, how the wonder had happened; for now there was an eagle perched upon the altar with its wings spread out over the child--it was a little girl, quite newly born--to protect it. They guessed that it was the eagle that had brought the child, but, of course, they could not tell whose it was. It was wrapped in swaddling-clothes, and these Potipherah's wife kept carefully by her; for she thought the time might come when they might be recognised by the parents of the little child; and indeed, years afterwards, this proved to be the case.

In the meantime Potipherah and his wife kept the child and brought her up, and treated her as their daughter; and they called her Aseneth.

She grew up to be very beautiful; she was quite unlike an Egyptian girl, and might have been taken for a Hebrew maiden: tall as Sarah and lovely as Rebekah or Rachel; so beautiful, in fact, that all the sons of the princes and nobles of Egypt were in love with her, and even the son of King Pharaoh himself said to his father, "Give me Aseneth, the daughter of Potipherah, to wife." But Pharaoh said, "Nay, my son, she is not of your rank; you must marry a queen; remember, the daughter of the King of Moab is affianced to you."

But besides being very beautiful, Aseneth was exceedingly proud. There was not a man of all the young nobles whom she would hear of, much less look at. Indeed, hardly any man in Egypt except her own father had ever seen her face; for she lived apart with the maidens who waited on her, in a lofty tower which her father had built specially for her. It was really a noble palace, with ten great rooms, one over the other. The first room was paved with porphyry and lined with slabs of coloured marbles, and the roof was of gold: and it was a kind of chapel for Aseneth. It had golden and silver images of all the gods of Egypt, and Aseneth worshipped them and burnt incense to them every day. The second chamber was Aseneth's own. In it were all her jewels and rich robes and fine linen. In the third were stored the provisions of the house and every delicious fruit or sweetmeat that could be got from any part of the world. The other seven chambers belonged to the seven maidens who lived with Aseneth and tended her. They were all of one age, and as fair as the stars of heaven, and Aseneth loved them dearly.

But to come back to Aseneth's own chamber, which was the most splendid of all. It had three windows, one looking out upon the garden of the tower towards the east, and another towards the south, and the third towards the high-road. Opposite the eastern window stood a golden bed, with a coverlet woven of gold and purple and fine linen.

And no one but Aseneth herself had ever even sat upon that bed, so magnificent and so sacred was it.

Besides all this, the tower had all around it a garden with a high wall of squared blocks of stone. The gates (there were four of them) were of iron, and each was guarded by eighteen stalwart men in armour. The garden itself was full of shady trees, bearing splendid fruit; and there was a springing fountain at one side of it, whose water ran first into a marble trough, and then out of that into a stream which watered all the garden and kept it fresh and green.

Here Aseneth lived until she was eighteen years old, beautiful and proud and caring for no one except her father and mother and her seven maidens. Now the year in which she became eighteen was the first of the seven years of plenty, of which King Pharaoh had dreamt in the dream of the seven cows and the seven ears of corn, which is written in the Bible. And Joseph was now travelling over all the land of Egypt to gather together corn to store up against the seven years of famine which were to follow the seven of plenty. And upon a certain day in harvest-time, Potipherah and his wife, who had been away at an estate which they possessed in the country, returned to the city of On; and no sooner had they done so than they received a message from Joseph, saying, "Let me come and rest at your house during the heat of the day." Whereupon Potipherah was greatly rejoiced, and thanked the gods for the honour which Joseph did him by visiting him, and ordered a great banquet to be prepared.

Just at this time, Aseneth, who had heard that her father and mother were returned, came to meet them. She had put on her most beautiful robe, of linen woven with gold, and a golden girdle, and necklace and bracelets of precious stones upon which were engraved the names of the gods of Egypt. And she had a golden diadem on her head, and over it a delicate veil. She hastened to meet her father and mother, and they rejoiced at her wonderful beauty, and made her sit by them, and showed her the gifts they had brought to her from the country--grapes and figs, pomegranates and fresh dates, and young doves and quails for her to tame, to her great delight. Then her father said to her, "My child, sit here with us: I want to speak to you." So she sat down between her father and mother, and her father took her hand and kissed her, and said, "My darling child, do you know that Joseph, the lord of all this land, the man who is going to save the country from the famine that is coming the man whom Pharaoh trusts and honours above all others, is coming to this house to-day? What would you say if I were to offer to give you in marriage to him, to live happily with him for the rest of your life?"

Then Aseneth was very angry; she blushed as red as fire, and darted an ugly glance at her father sideways, and said, "How can you talk to me so, father? Would you give me to a creature like that, the son of a Ganaanitish labourer, who has been in prison--yes, and sold as a slave--and only got out of prison because he contrived to explain a dream of Pharaoh's, for all the world like the old women? Certainly not! If I marry any one it will be Pharaoh's eldest son." So Potipherah, disappointed as he was, said no more; and Aseneth hurried away to her own chamber. But she looked out of the window.

As she went out, there ran in a young man, one of Potipherah's servants, and said, "My lord, Joseph is just stopping before our gates." So Potipherah and his wife and all their retinue rose and went forth to meet Joseph; and the gates of the court towards the east were thrown open, and the chariot drove in, drawn by four milk-white horses with harness of gold; and in the chariot stood Joseph, clad in a tunic of white linen and a blood-red mantle shot with gold. On his head was a crown with twelve great gems, and above each gem was a ray of gold; in his hand was an olive branch with leaves and fruit. But fairer than all his equipment was his face, for he was more beautiful than any of the sons of men. And just as all the young nobles of Egypt were mad about Aseneth, so all the ladies of Egypt were in love with Joseph; but he had not a word to say to any of them, for they were all worshippers of idols, and Joseph worshipped the true God--the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

So the chariot entered the courtyard of Poti-pherah's palace, and the gates were shut. Now Aseneth stood at her window, and when she saw Joseph and the beauty of his countenance, she was smitten to the heart, her knees trembled, and she almost swooned. A great fear came upon her, and she heaved a deep sigh and said, "Alas, alas, what have I said? what have I done? Pity me, O God of Joseph, for it was in ignorance that I spoke against him. Did I not call him a Canaanitish labourer's son? and lo, now he has come into our house like the sun out of heaven. Fool that I was to rail against him as I did! If only my father would give me to him as his slave and drudge, I would serve him till I dropped dead at his feet."

Meanwhile Joseph, who had caught sight of Aseneth standing at her window, had come into the house, and they had washed his feet and set a table for him by himself (for Joseph would not eat with the Egyptians). And he said to Potipherah, "Who was the woman whom I saw looking out of the window when I came in? Some stranger? If so, she must leave this house." "Nay, my lord," said Potipherah, "she is our daughter." And he went on to tell how Aseneth disliked the company of men, and indeed had hardly seen a strange man before that day; and Joseph was glad to hear that she hated strange men, and said, "If she be your daughter, I will love her from this day forth as a sister."

Accordingly, Aseneth's mother went and fetched Aseneth, and she greeted Joseph, and he her. Then said Potipherah, "Come near, my child, and kiss your brother." But when she drew near, Joseph put out his hand and thrust her away, and spoke thus: "It is not right for one who worships the living God, and eats the bread of life and drinks the cup of immortality, to kiss one that praises with her lips dead idols, and eats the bread of death from their tables and drinks the cup of deceit." At these harsh words Aseneth was bitterly grieved: she shrank back and looked piteously at Joseph, and her eyes filled with tears; and when he saw how hurt she was, Joseph, who was full of kindness raised his hand over her head and blessed her, praying that God, who gives life to all and brings us out of darkness into light, might give life and light to her soul, and number her among His chosen people, and bring her into the everlasting rest which He has promised to them. So Aseneth went back to her chamber, full of mingled joy and sorrow; and she cast herself down on her bed and wept. And that same evening Joseph left the house of Potipherah and set forth on his journey again. "But," said he, "I will come back to you in eight days' time." Potipherah also and his wife and their servants went back to their country house; and Aseneth and her seven maidens were left alone. And the sun went down and all was quiet.



When everyone else in the tower was asleep, Aseneth, who had remained weeping on her bed, rose up stealthily and crept downstairs to the gate of the tower, where the woman who kept the door was asleep with her children; and as quietly as she could she unhooked the heavy leather curtain that hung in the doorway, and spreading it out on the floor, heaped up upon it all the cinders and ashes out of the hearth, folded the corners together, dragged it upstairs and threw it down on the floor. Then she barred the door of her room securely, and burst into bitter weeping. It so happened that the maiden whom Aseneth loved the best of all her seven companions was awake, and heard the sounds of crying. She was alarmed, and flew to wake up the other attendants, and all of them came to the door of Aseneth's chamber, which was locked and barred. They called to her, "What is the matter, dear mistress? Open to us and let us come in and comfort you." But Aseneth answered from within, "It is nothing but a violent headache. I am in bed, and too tired and ill to get up and open the door. Go back all of you to your beds. I shall be well to-morrow." So they dispersed to their rooms.

And when they were safely gone, Aseneth got up and opened the door of the room in which she kept her dresses and jewels, taking care to make no noise; and from among all her robes she chose out a black one which she had worn, years before, when the only son of Potipherah had died. And she cast off her royal robe and her diadem and veil and girdle, and put on the black robe and girded it with a rope. Next she went to the shrine wherein stood all the golden and silver images of her gods, and took them and threw them out of the window for the wayfarers to pick up; and she took the supper that had been laid out for her of all manner of delicate meats, and threw that into the highway for the dogs to eat. And she emptied the ashes out of the leather curtain upon the floor; she let down her hair and cast some of the ashes upon her head; she smote her breast and wept; and thus she sat in silence and misery till seven days and nights were accomplished.

And on the morning of the eighth day, when it was just dawning, and the birds had begun to twitter in the trees of the garden, and the dogs to bark at the passers-by, Aseneth raised herself a little from her crouching posture among the ashes and turned herself to the window that looked towards the east. She was faint and ill and weary from her long fasting and watching; her tongue was dry as horn, her eyes were glazed, and her fair face was haggard. She bent her head down and clasped her hands together, and crouched down again among the ashes, and said to herself, "It is all over. I have no one to turn to now. My father and mother will cast me off, for I have dishonoured their gods; they will say, 'Aseneth is no daughter of ours.' My kindred will hate me, and all the youths whom I have despised and rejected will rejoice at my humiliation; and Joseph will have nothing to say to me because I am a foul worshipper of idols. Yet," she went on to say, "I have heard that the God of the Hebrews is a merciful God, long-suffering and compassionate, not hard upon those that have sinned ignorantly, if they are sorry for what they have done. Why should I not turn to Him? Who knows if He will not have pity upon my loneliness and protect me? For they say He is the Father of the fatherless, and cares for those who are in trouble." So she rose and knelt upon her knees, with her face turned towards the east, and looked up into heaven and prayed. "Save me," she said, "from those who are pursuing me, before I am caught by them; as a little child when it is frightened runs to its father, and the father stretches out his arms and catches it to his breast, so I flee to Thee. I know that Satan, the Old Lion, is hunting me; for he is the father of the gods of Egypt, and I have insulted them and destroyed their images. I have no hope but in Thee. See, I have cast off all my beautiful robes and ornaments; I sit here in sackcloth and ashes; I have fasted and wept these seven days, because I know that I have done wrong in worshipping dumb idols, and in speaking scornfully against Joseph. But, Lord, I did it in ignorance; save me, and above all watch over Joseph, whom I love more than my own life. Keep him, Lord, in safety, and let me be his handmaid and his slave, if Thou wilt, so that I may minister to him all the days I have to live."

Much more did Aseneth say in her prayer, but it is not written down here. When she had ended, the morning star was just coming up in the east, and Aseneth rejoiced when she saw it and said, "Can it be that God has heard my prayer, and that this star is the herald of the light of the great day?" Then, in that part of the sky where the star was shining, there opened a little cleft in the heavens, and a bright light shone out of it: so dazzling that she fell on her face upon the ashes. And in the next instant there stood over her a man who was all flashing with light; and he called to her, "Aseneth, rise up." "Who can this be who calls me?" she said; "my door is barred and the tower is high. No one can have come into my chamber." So she did not look up; but the man called to her again, "Aseneth, Aseneth!" And at last she answered, "Here am I, lord: tell me, who art thou?" He answered, "I am the Prince of all the army of heaven; rise up and stand on your feet, and hear my words." Then for the first time she looked at him, and saw that he was in all things like Joseph, with royal robe, and crown and sceptre; but his face, and hair, and hands and feet were bright like the sun, and his eyes pierced like lightning; and again she was afraid, and fell on her face. But he said, "Do not be afraid; hear what I am come to say to you." Thereupon she rose and stood up, weak as she was; and he bade her go into her inner chamber and put off her black robe, and the sackcloth and ashes, and bathe herself in clear water, and array herself in the noblest of her robes, and come back to him.

Now when this was done, and she had returned to him, fresh and beautiful as formerly, he spoke kindly to her, and blessed her and said, "God has heard your prayer: He has looked upon your sorrow and tears, and has forgiven your sin. Be of good cheer, for your name is written in the Book of Life, and shall no more be blotted out. From this day forth you shall eat the bread of life and drink the cup of immortality, and be anointed with the oil of joy. And a new name shall be given you, even the name of the City of Refuge; for as you have come to God for refuge, many shall in like manner come to Him through your example by repentance. And now, behold, this day I shall go to Joseph, and tell him that which has befallen you, and he shall come to you this very day and make you his bride. Make ready therefore and array yourself in the bridal robe that is laid up in your chamber, and put upon you all your elect ornaments, and prepare yourself to meet him."

When Aseneth heard this joyful news, she fell on her face at the feet of the messenger and gave thanks to God; and, said she, "My lord, stay yet a little while, I pray you, and sit upon this couch, and I will set a table before you, and bread, and you shall eat; and I will bring you wine old and fragrant, and you shall drink, and so go on your way." For she did not know that it was an angel who had come to her. And he said, "I will do so: hasten therefore and make ready."

So first she set before him a table; and as she was going to fetch the bread he said to her, "Bring a honeycomb also." But at this she stopped, and was troubled in her mind, for she knew that there was no honeycomb in her store-room. "Why do you stop?" said the angel. "Sir," she answered, "let me send a boy to the farm which is near by, and he shall fetch you a honeycomb in a moment." "No," said he, "you need only go into your store-room, and you will find one upon the table; bring that to me." "Sir," she answered, "I know that there is none there." But he said, "Go and you will find it." She went therefore and found the honeycomb, as he had said; it was large, and as white as snow, and full of honey, and the smell of it was as the breath of life. She wondered greatly, but she would not delay, and she brought it out and put it on the table before the angel. Then he called her to him, and as she moved towards him he stretched out his right hand over her head, and again she was afraid, for she saw sparks and flashes of fire coming from it, as if it were of heated iron; so that she gazed upon him earnestly in astonishment. But he smiled and said, "You are blessed, Aseneth, for you have seen some of the secret things of God; it is of this honeycomb that the angels eat in Paradise, and the bees of Paradise have made it of the dew of the roses of life in the garden of God; and whosoever tastes it shall not die for ever." Then he put forth his right hand and took a piece of the honeycomb, and tasted it, and gave a portion to Aseneth, and she ate it; and he said, "Now you have received the food of life, and your youth shall know no old age, and your beauty shall never fade." And again he stretched forth his right hand and drew his finger across the honeycomb from the east side of it to the west, and from the north side to the south, and where his finger touched it there was left a track of the colour of blood. And immediately there came out of the honeycomb a multitude of bees. They were white like snow, and their wings were purple and scarlet, and they swarmed about Aseneth and made honey upon her lips. Among them there were some that made as though they would have stung her, but these the angel rebuked, and they fell to the ground dead. But after a while the angel said to the bees, "Go to your place," and at that they rose up in a swarm and flew out of the window and up into the sky. Then he touched with his rod the dead bees upon the floor, and said to them, "Go ye also to your place," and they came to life and flew out of the window, and settled upon the trees in the garden of Aseneth. And for the third time he stretched out his hand and touched the honeycomb upon the table, and straightway there burst forth a flame, and consumed the honeycomb--but upon the table it left no mark--and the sweet smell of the burning filled all the chamber.

Then said Aseneth, "Sir, I have seven companions, maidens who have been brought up with me, and I love them as sisters: may I not call them, and you shall bless them as you have blessed me?" So she called them in, and made them stand before the angel, and he blessed them; and thereafter he said to Aseneth, "Take away the table." And as she turned aside to lift it, he was gone. But through the window she saw in the sky a chariot and four horses shining like fire, going into the heavens towards the east, and the angel standing in the chariot. Then she said, "Ah, foolish that I am! I knew not that it was an angel out of heaven that came into my chamber, and now, behold, he is going back into heaven to his own place. Pardon me, my lord, and spare thy handmaid, for it was in ignorance that I spoke so boldly before thee!"

While she was still wondering, there came in a messenger and said, "Joseph, the mighty one of God, is on his way hither." And immediately Aseneth sent for the steward of the palace and bade him prepare a great banquet, and make all things ready; but she herself, remembering the words of the angel, went into her inner chamber and adorned herself as a bride, in shining robes, and upon her head she put a crown of gold which had in the midst, over her forehead, a great jacinth stone and six other precious stones round it; and she covered her head with a veil of wonderful beauty. Then she called to one of her maidens, who brought her a basin of pure water, and when she saw the reflection of her face in the water she was astonished at the beauty and freshness and brightness of it. Just then the steward of the palace came in to say that all was ready, and he too was struck with amazement at the sight of her, and said, "Lady, what is the cause of this wonderful beauty? Can it be that the God of heaven has chosen you to be the bride of Joseph, His elect?" And while he was yet speaking, the sound of Joseph's chariot-wheels was heard without.

Then Aseneth hastened and went down to meet Joseph, and her seven maidens followed her, and they all stood in the porch of the palace. And when Joseph saw Aseneth he also marvelled, and said, "Who art thou, maiden?" And she answered, "Thy handmaid Aseneth; and I have cast away all my idols and they are gone." And she went on and told him of the coming of the angel to her. And he rejoiced. Then they came near and embraced one another, and she led him into her father's house and made him sit on her father's throne; and Joseph said, "Let one of the maidens come and wash my feet." But Aseneth said, "No; from henceforth I am your handmaid: your hands are my hands, your feet are my feet, and your soul is my soul: none other shall wash your feet but I." So she compelled him, and washed his feet. And after that he kissed her again, and made her sit down beside him, on his right hand.

And as they were talking together, Potipherah and his wife and their household entered the palace, having returned from the country; and they were amazed, and rejoiced at the sight of Joseph and Aseneth. And when they learnt all that had happened, they rejoiced yet more; and Potipherah said, "To-morrow I will call together all my kinsfolk and prepare your marriage feast." But Joseph said, "Nay, but I will first go to Pharaoh and speak to him concerning Aseneth, that I may take her to wife; for he is to me as a father."

So on the next day Joseph departed to see Pharaoh, and forthwith Pharaoh sent for Potipherah and his wife and Aseneth; and in their presence he blessed Aseneth, and joined her hand with the hand of Joseph, and crowned them with golden crowns, and made a great feast for them lasting seven days; and all the land of Egypt rejoiced. So Joseph and Aseneth were married; and after that two sons were born to them, even Ephraim and Manasseh, in the house of Joseph.



Now when the seven years of plenty were over, the years of famine began, and Jacob and his sons came to dwell in Egypt in the land of Goshen, as it is told in the Bible. Then Aseneth said to Joseph, "Let me go and see your father and greet him." So Joseph brought her to Jacob, and his brethren met him and did him obeisance at the door of the house, and they entered in. And when they saw Jacob, who was sitting upon his bed, Aseneth was struck with amazement at the sight of him, for he was noble to look upon. His head was white as snow, his beard was long, flowing over his bosom, his eyes were bright and flashing, and his muscles and limbs were those of a giant. And Aseneth fell on her face before him; and Israel said, "Is this thy wife, my son Joseph? Blessed shall she be of the Most High God." Then he called her to him, and she fell on his breast and he kissed her, and they rejoiced together. After that he inquired of her concerning her parents; and Aseneth told him how an eagle had brought her and laid her upon the altar of the temple of On; and she showed him the swaddling-clothes in which she had been wrapped. And Jacob knew that they belonged to his own daughter Dinah; and thus it was made known to him that Aseneth was of his own race, and he was the more glad.

And when they departed from him, Simeon and Levi accompanied them with the other sons of Leah and Rachel; but the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah would not go with them, for they hated Joseph. And of all Joseph's brethren, Aseneth loved Levi the most, for he was a prophet and a seer, and could read the signs of the stars of heaven.

Now it happened that as they were on their way to visit Jacob, the eldest son of Pharaoh was on the city wall, and he saw Aseneth and loved her immediately, and could think of nothing but how he might make away with Joseph and take Aseneth for his own wife. And after a few days he sent secretly to Simeon and Levi, and said to them, "I know that you are mighty men, and that with your two swords alone you defeated the men of Shechem and overthrew their city. I have sent for you because I wish to make you my friends, and, if you will do what I ask you, I will give you riches and lands and houses--in a word, all that you can desire. Now what I would have you do is this. You must know that I have been bitterly wronged by your brother Joseph: he has married Aseneth, who was betrothed to me long ago. Join with me therefore and help me to kill him, and I will take Aseneth to wife, and you shall be my brothers. If you refuse, I will slay you." And with these words he drew his sword and flourished it at them. At this Simeon, who was a man of hot temper, was enraged, and would have drawn his own sword and cut down the prince; but Levi, who could read his thoughts, trod upon his foot and made signs to him to be quiet, and whispered, "Why be angry with this fellow? We are God-fearing men, and must not render evil for evil." Then Levi said calmly and mildly to Pharaoh's son, "Why does my lord speak thus to his servants? We can do no such wickedness against our brother and against our God. Let us hear no more such evil words; but, if you will not be persuaded, know that our swords will be drawn against you." With that both the brothers drew their swords, and when the son of Pharaoh saw them he crouched upon the ground in terror, for they flashed like flames of fire and dazzled his eyes. But Levi said, "Get up and do not be frightened: only take care that you say nothing more of this kind against our brother Joseph." And they went forth from his presence.

But he could not restrain himself, for he was half-mad with anger and fear and with love of Aseneth. And after some days his servants said to him, "Do you know that the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah are at enmity with Joseph and Aseneth? They will do all that you ask of them." So he sent for them, for Dan and Gad and Naphtali and Asher, and they came to him in the first hour of the night; and after he had greeted them he sent away his servants, and said to the brethren, "Listen to me. Life and death are before you; choose which you will have: will you die like women or fight like men? I overheard your brother Joseph saying to my father Pharaoh, 'Dan and Gad and Naphtali and Asher are no brethren of mine; they are the sons of my father's handmaids, and I am only waiting till my father dies to make an end of them and their families. It was they who sold me to the Ishmaelites, and I am going to repay it into their bosom.' And my father said, 'It is well spoken: you have leave to take any of my bodyguard and deal with them as you will.'" Then Dan and Gad and their brothers were sorely troubled, and they said, "O sir, help us, and we will be your servants for ever." And he said, "I will. Hear me now: this night I will kill my father Pharaoh--for he is the helper of Joseph--and do you for your part slay Joseph. Then I will take Aseneth to wife, and you shall be my brethren and joint heirs with me in the kingdom." So they said, "We will do so, and thus it shall be: we heard Joseph say to Aseneth that she should go to-morrow into the vineyard, for it is the time of vintage. We therefore will go this night into the bed of the river and hide among the reeds; and do you take with you fifty archers upon horses, and go on before. Then will Aseneth come and fall into our ambush, and we will kill the men that are with her, and she will flee in her chariot and fall into your hands, and you shall do to her as seems good to you. As for Joseph, while he is mourning for Aseneth we will kill him; but first we will slay his children before his face." And Pharaoh's son rejoiced greatly, and sent them forth with a great body of mighty men, and they went and hid themselves in four companies among the reeds of the river on either side of the road.

Yet Naphtali and Asher murmured against their elder brothers Dan and Gad, saying, "To what purpose are you conspiring again? Did you not sell Joseph for a slave before, and, lo! he is become lord over all Egypt? Now therefore, if you imagine evil against him, he will call upon God, and fire will come down out of heaven and devour you, and the angels of God will fight against you." But their elder brothers were angry and said, "What then would you have? Are we to die like women? Not so!" And the counsel of Naphtali and Asher did not prevail with them.

In the same night the son of Pharaoh rose up and went to his father's chamber with intent to slay him, as he had promised; but when he came to the door the guards stopped him and said, "What is my lord's will?" He said, "I desire to see my father, for I am going away to-morrow to visit my vine-yard which I have newly planted." And they said, "Your father is ill and has not slept until now, and he gave us commandment that no man should come into his chamber, no, not if it were his firstborn son." So he went away in a rage, and took fifty archers with him on horses and went on before, as Dan and Gad had said.

Aseneth also arose early in the morning and said to Joseph, "Lo, I go to the vineyard as you appointed; but my soul is troubled greatly at being parted from you." But Joseph said, "Be of good cheer; the Lord is with you and will keep you as the apple of an eye. As for me, I go to distribute corn to the people of the land, that no man in Egypt may perish of hunger." So Aseneth went her way; and as she came to the place of the ambush by the river, the men that were in hiding rushed out upon her, and slew all the guard that were with her, even six hundred soldiers and fifty runners; and Aseneth fled away upon her chariot.

Now Levi, though he was afar off, saw in the spirit what was being done--for he was a seer--and told his brethren of the peril of Aseneth; and they girded every man his sword upon his thigh, and took up their shields and their spears and ran swiftly after Aseneth.

And as she fled on before, suddenly she saw the son of Pharaoh in the way, and the horsemen that were with him. Then was Aseneth in great fear, and she called upon the name of her God.

But Benjamin was in the chariot with her. Now he was a lad of nineteen years, beautiful exceedingly, and strong as a lion's whelp. And when he saw the men, he leapt down from the chariot and caught up a round stone out of the brook and threw it at the son of Pharaoh, and smote him on the left temple, so that he fell from his horse half-dead.

Then Benjamin leapt up upon a rock by the way-side, and called to the driver of the chariot, "Give me stones out of the river bed." And he gave them; and with fifty stones Benjamin slew the fifty archers that were with Pharaoh's son; every stone smote a man on the temples.

Moreover, the sons of Leah, Reuben and Simeon, Levi and Judah, Issachar and Zebulun, pursued after the men that had laid wait for Aseneth, and fell upon them suddenly and cut them to pieces; but the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah fled before them, saying, "We are undone; and now, behold, the son of Pharaoh is dead, and all they that were with him. Let us at least slay Aseneth and Benjamin, and flee into the woods." So they pursued after Aseneth, and came upon her with their swords drawn and dripping with blood. And she was greatly afraid, and said, "Lord God, who didst save me from false gods and from the corruption of death, and didst say, 'Thy soul shall live for ever,' save me now from the hands of these wicked men!" And God heard her prayer, and straightway the swords of the men fell out of their hands and crumbled into dust.

Then they were very sore afraid, saying, "The Lord fighteth against us." And they fell down on their faces and besought Aseneth, saying, "We have imagined evil against you, and the Lord hath brought it back upon us. But now have pity upon us, and save us from the wrath of our brethren." And she said, "Go then and hide yourselves in the reeds until I appease them and turn away their anger. Only the Lord be judge betwixt me and you." Then they ran and hid among the reeds; and their brethren the sons of Leah came running like harts to overtake them. And Aseneth lighted down from her chariot and fell on their necks weeping and rejoicing; and they said, "Where are our brothers the sons of the handmaids?" that they might kill them. But Aseneth said, "I beseech you, spare them, for the Lord saved me out of their hands and broke their swords, and, behold, there they lie, like wax melted before the fire. Let it suffice you that the Lord hath fought against them on our behalf, and spare them, for they are your brethren and the sons of your father Israel." Then said Simeon, "Why doth our sister say so? Nay, but we will hew them in pieces with our swords, for they have done evil against Joseph and against our father and against thee also this day." And Aseneth took hold upon Simeon's beard and kissed him, and said, "Do not, my brother, in anywise render evil for evil: the Lord shall judge between us; and now, see, they are fled afar off. Forgive them, therefore, and spare their lives." Then Levi came near and kissed her right hand; for he knew that his brethren were in hiding among the reeds, but he would not reveal it to the others lest they should fall upon them; and he loved Aseneth because she would save them alive.

Now the son of Pharaoh, who was fallen from his horse, began to recover himself, and sat up and spat blood out of his mouth, for the blood ran down from the wound on his temple into his mouth. And Benjamin saw it, and ran and drew the sword of the son of Pharaoh (for as yet Benjamin bare no sword upon his thigh), and would have slain him; but Levi hasted and caught his hand, saying, "It is not right for us that fear God to trample upon him that is fallen, or to afflict our enemy to death. Put back the sword into its place and help me, and we will tend his wound, and if he lives he shall be our friend." Then Levi helped up the son of Pharaoh from the ground, and washed the blood from his face and bound up his wound with a bandage, and put him upon his horse and took him to Pharaoh his father, and told him all that had happened. And Pharaoh rose up from his throne and blessed Levi. But on the third day after, the son of Pharaoh died of his wound.

And Pharaoh mourned sore for his firstborn son, insomuch that he fell sick and died, being a hundred and nine years old, and left his crown to Joseph; and Joseph reigned alone in Egypt forty and eight years, and thereafter gave the kingdom to the younger son of Pharaoh, who was a sucking child when his father died. And thenceforth Joseph was called the father of the king throughout all the land of Egypt.

[The end]
Montague Rhodes James's short story: Aseneth, Joseph's Wife