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Zuleikha (tradition)

José y la mujer de Putifar, oil on canvas, by Antonio María Esquivel, 1854
Zuleika Ceremony
Islamic art
painting on tiles of Mo'avin-Almamalik tekyeh, Kermanshah

Zuleikha (/zuːleɪkɑː/ zoo-LAY-kah; Hebrew: זוליכה‎, romanizedzú-li'-koh; Arabic: زُلَيْخَا‎‎, romanizedzulayḵā) is a minor character in the Hebrew Bible and the Quran, said to be the wife of Potiphar, also known by the title Aziz in Arabic, who falsely accuses Joseph of rape after he rejects her sexual advances, resulting in his imprisonment. Though commonly known as Zuleikha, she is not given a name in the Book of Genesis.


The Bible (Genesis 39:5-20) narrates her treatment of Joseph, slave to her husband Potiphar:

And he left all that he had in Joseph's hand; and, having him, he knew not aught save the bread which he did eat. And Joseph was of beautiful form, and fair to look upon. And it came to pass after these things, that his master's wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; and she said: 'Lie with me.' But he refused, and said unto his master's wife: 'Behold, my master, having me, knoweth not what is in the house, and he hath put all that he hath into my hand; he is not greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back any thing from me but thee, because thou art his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?' And it came to pass, as she spoke to Joseph day by day, that he hearkened not unto her, to lie by her, or to be with her. And it came to pass on a certain day, when he went into the house to do his work, and there was none of the men of the house there within, that she caught him by his garment, saying: 'Lie with me.' And he left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out. [...] And she laid up his garment by her, until his master came home. And she spoke unto him according to these words, saying: 'The Hebrew servant, whom thou hast brought unto us, came in unto me to mock me. And it came to pass, as I lifted up my voice and cried, that he left his garment by me, and fled out.' And it came to pass, when his master heard the words of his wife, which she spoke unto him, saying: 'After this manner did thy servant to me'; that his wrath was kindled. And Joseph's master took him, and put him into the prison, the place where the king's prisoners were bound; and he was there in the prison.

A story about Zuleikha is told in Sefer haYashar, where she was mocked by other aristocratic Egyptian ladies, her circle of friends, for being infatuated with a Hebrew slave boy. Inviting her friends to her home, Zuleikha gave them all oranges and knives to slice them with. While they engaged in this task, Zuleikha had Joseph walk through the room. Distracted by his handsomeness, all the ladies accidentally cut themselves with the knives, drawing blood. Zuleikha then reminded her friends that she had to see Joseph every day. Following this incident, her contemporaries no longer mocked her.[1][2]

Great sinner or great lover

Christian and other scriptural commentators have regarded Zuleikha as a sinner and villainess. Notable exceptions are the great Sufi mystic poets Rumi and Hafiz. For Rumi, Zuleikha's obsession with Joseph is a symptom and manifestation of the soul's great deep longing for God. This, he insists, is true of any person's deep love for another. Jewish commentators also see some good motives in her actions. Rashi comments that the wife of Potiphar saw through astrology that she would have children through Joseph. The astrological calculations however were slightly off. Asenath, her daughter (by adoption, in some accounts) became the wife of Joseph and therefore the wife of Potiphar begot grandchildren (not children) through Joseph.

See also


  1. ^ Sefer Ha-Yashar, Vayeshev. Venice. 1625.
  2. ^ "Joseph". Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901. Retrieved 24 October 2018.