The story of Joseph’s seduction and righteous response of purity is well known among all three Abrahamic faiths, for it is written of in both the Bible (Genesis 39) and the Qur’an (Surah 12 [Yusuf]). Recently some emerging Muslim and Jewish leaders met to discuss this story in their traditions with a special emphasis on the woman who seduced him. In the Bible she is merely known as Potiphar’s wife, while in the Qur’an she is named Zuleikha (Potiphar is named al-Aziz). At altmuslimah two Muslim women and two Jewish women post their reflections about this story and its main antagonist.
Here are excerpts from each woman:
The “story of seduction” is therefore constructed to be more about Joseph’s irresistible beauty than it is about Zuleikha’s – or any female’s – charms. – Asma T. Uddin
At every step of the way, Zuleikha embodies the worst in human nature. Yet, of all the figures in the sura of Yusuf Joseph story, Zuleikha is the most real. . . She models what we all go through, the mistakes we make, our pettiness and bad humor, the hurt we inflict on those we love, how we take our own pain out on those around us. Zuleikha is a flesh-and-blood human being. She is our shadow, and as such, we must claim her and love her. – Homayra Ziad
It seems to me that both of these texts show Zuleikha in a negative light. But classical midrash was written by men, who have their own fears and agendas. Over the last few decades, however, a tradition of contemporary feminist midrash has arisen in Judaism. Jewish women have written stories and poems which give voice to Eve and Lilith, Sarah and Hagar, Rebecca and Rachel and Leah. I look forward to the day when Jewish women reclaim Zuleikha, too. – Rachel Barenblat
In the Bible, Potiphar’s wife (the Qur’anic “Zuleikha”) is portrayed as the consummate seductress of the young and beautiful Joseph. She joins the ranks of the other seductresses who tempt virtuous men. We recall Adam and Lilith, Samson and Delilah. In contrast to the Qur’an, Potiphar’s wife is not displayed as a complex character blinded by Joseph’s beauty, nor does she finally confess and repent for her sins. She is merely a foil for Joseph’s virtue. – Marion Lev-Cohen
HT: Talk Islam