Thursday, January 17, 2013

Early Cinderellas: Asenath

From my book, Cinderella Tales From Around the World:

This tale, part of Jewish tradition and often included in Biblical apocryphas, may seem one of the least likely Cinderellas in this collection. However, Graham Anderson discusses the Cinderella links to the story in his Fairytale in the Ancient World. He combines several versions of the tale to make a compelling case for classifying the story as a Cinderella tale, pointing out that Asenath (1) is a persecuted heroine, (2) covered in dirt or ashes, (3) who receives counsel from a heavenly (magical) helper, (4) is identified by a ring (necklace, birth token) as eligible for marriage, and (5) marries Joseph, a prince of his tribe. Not all of these elements appear in the version provided here, but it is one of the most complete versions of the tale available for inclusion in this collection. In some traditions, Asenath is Joseph’s niece, the daughter of his sister Dinah, who was exposed in the desert. An eagle carried the baby with a Hebrew-inscribed ring to Egypt where she was adopted by Pentephres/Potiphar.

If accepted as a Cinderella tale, it is also one of the earliest versions recorded with scholars estimating its first appearance most likely in Egypt between the 1st century BC/BCE and early 2nd century AD/CE.

As a result of Anderson's compelling arguments, the apocryphal version of Asenath and Joseph is included in my book. You can also read more about Asenath on Wikipedia which will refer you to other resources to read her many stories.

Read them all. And then you decide! Is Asenath a Cinderella?

1 comment:

  1. Huh. The only version of Asenath's story I'd heard was that she was Dinah's child with Shechem and was taken by an eagle to Egypt, where the necklace identified her as being from the house of Jacob (all of which was necessary so as to make sure Joseph didn't marry an Egyptian). That she was persecuted or had help from a magical helper is completely new to me.

    Then again, I've never read the apocryphal version of the story. Or even the version in Pirkei D'Rabbi Eliezer, which I think is where it's from. I just remember what my 4th grade teacher told us (it was a Jewish private school, which is why we were talking about this). I think a lot of why I remember it is because it seemed so odd at the time, truth be told.