Two individuals are mentioned in the Bible in connection with the events in Egypt surrounding Joseph(P): Potiphar and Potiphera.
Potiphar is the one to whom Joseph(P) was sold and mentioned in the following verses:
And Joseph ; . . . thither. . . ; . [Genesis 39:1-2]
Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned. [Genesis 39:4]
From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the LORD blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the LORD was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field. [Genesis 39:5]
From the verses in Genesis 39:1-2 it is clear that Potiphar was an officer of the Pharaoh and when we browse Strong’s Concordance for terms and phrases like “Potiphar”, “captain of the guard” and “his master”, we see something really interesting.
Dr. Saifullah then uses a series of Biblical definitions to build his case. First, he correctly cites the meaning of Potiphar – which signifies one “devoted to the sun” – the local deity of On or Heliopolis. He then sites the term for officer [cariyc] and captain [sar] and concludes that Potiphar was a powerful man. This is hardly a surprise to Jews or Christians since the term for captain means, literally, “prince of the Pharoah” – that is, a civil servant of the Egyptian government. The original term for “captain of the guard” has been interpreted in various ways. Some consider it to mean “chief cook,” others, “chief inspector of plantations”. However, the term which seems best founded is “chief of the executioners,” the same as the captain of the watch, or the zabut of modern Egypt.
From the above discussion on Genesis 39:1-2, it is clear that Potiphar was a powerful person of Egypt during the time of Jospeh(P) and the title al-`Azîz which means the mighty or the powerful as used in the Qur’ân fits very well here. Further, it is also to be added that Potiphar probably originated from which means “the one whom Ra has given/sent”.
Yes, Potiphar was a powerful man, but would he have been known as al-Aziz, or a similar Egyptian term, in those days? Why did the Qur’an call him al-Aziz instead of his proper Egyptian name or title? This presents us with a problem, which we will soon discuss.
Ra is infamously known the Sun God of ancient Egypt. It would be inappropriate to use the name Potiphar in the Qur’ân because of the connotations of shirk, i.e., paganism or associating partners with God. Hence the title al-`Azîz is more suitable. And Allah knows best!
Allah, indeed, knows best, but I am shocked at the “Islamic unawareness” of the statement:
It would be inappropriate to use the name Potiphar in the Qur’ân because of the connotations of shirk, i.e., paganism or associating partners with God.
The Qur’an DOES mention Pagan deities:
Sura 37:125 :
Will ye call upon Baal and forsake the Best of Creators,-
Sura 53:19-20 :
Have ye seen Lat and ‘Uzza, And another, the third (goddess), Manat?
The attempts made by Dr. Saifullah to extricate the Qur’an from its difficulties raises some interesting problems. The Qur’an, according to Sunni Muslims, is considered to be the uncreated and eternal speech of a transcendent, non-contingent, self-sufficient, and self-reliant God. However, the self-reliant God apparently must rely on human terms which are not transcendent, but are set in the framework of human history and culture, and are separated by a large span of time from the events in question. The Qur’an could have avoided this problem if it had called Potiphar by his Egyptian name, or title, or at least used an approximate Arabic equivalent of his title, rather than imposing a generic Arabic title which neither he, nor the people of his day, would have recognized. By its use of the generic Arabic term al-Aziz, the Qur’an negates its claim to be the eternal and uncreated Word of God.
Saifullah continues to say:
It is also important to mention that their methodology is that since that Bible says Potiphar, it must be historically true. It is also important to establish missionary logic in this case, which entails the assertion that if the Bible cites the name Potiphar, then the name is historically accurate. Regardless, their argument is circular and no attempt has been made by the Christian missionaries to verify the historicity of person called Potiphar before claiming a contradiction.
In most academic disciplines, the older, or “established” body of knowledge [or paradigm] is challenged by a new paradigm which must conclusively demonstrate that it is a better explanation than the old paradigm in order to be accepted. We do not judge an entire corpus of knowledge by the newest hypothesis or theory put forth. The Bible, in this case, is the older document and the Qur’an provides us with absolutely no proper evidence that the Bible is incorrect. I would never judge the Bible by the claims of any “would be” Prophet, I would judge the “would be” Prophet according to the teachings of the established Prophets of the Bible. If this is circular reasoning, according to Dr. Saifullah’s definition, I wonder if he would ever evaluate the Qur’an and Muhammad according to the teachings of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, Bah’a’ullah, or Elijah Muhammad? Or would Dr. Saifullah tell us that Muhammad said so, therefore it is so? Also, have Muslim scholars conducted any research in order to verify the historicity of a person with the title al-Aziz, or its Egyptian equivalent, in ancient Egypt, or is this question, along with many others, covered by the intellectual embargo on the Qur’an?
After all the noise about the issue, it still remains that “Potiphar”, the name reported in the Bible, is unmistakably Egyptian and likely authentic, while the title “al-`Aziz” used by the Qur’an is Arabic, and certainly not authentic.