Potiphar's wife lives on
A recent case raises the question of men being vulnerable to accusations which may have no basis in fact.
We are very sadly all-too-familiar with cases whereby women have been sexually assaulted by men.
In reverse, the ‘honey-trap’ device is often employed in the world of espionage to snare a male secret service agent for covert purposes and elicit the information he can supply.
Meanwhile - as a feature of our burgeoning social-media age - we are now, tragically, seeing spurned lovers using online facilities to shame their former partners when a once-intimate relationship has broken down.
Yet there is another scenario which is less frequent or perhaps under-reported - that of a would-be-lover’s reaction when a sexual advance is rebuffed.
This was the case in an historical account of a Jewish male and his Egyptian boss’s wife. Joseph, as a young man, had been sold as a slave into the service of one of the Pharoah’s chief officials (Gen 39:1). Potiphar was the captain of the guard and the latter thought so highly of Joseph that he appointed him as head of his household (Gen 39:4).
The narrative informs us that 'Joseph was well-built and handsome, and after a while his master's wife took notice of Joseph and said, "Come to bed with me!"' (Gen 39:7) But he refused: “No-one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?" (Gen 39:9).
However the lady persisted.
Tragically for Joseph on the last occasion when he fled from her advances she snatched his cloak and used the garment to fabricate a story. She first told her servants and then her husband that Joseph had made to assault her, but when she had screamed he had fled, inadvertendly leaving his cloak behind. For this Joseph was disgraced and jailed.
But think for a moment how Potiphar’s wife would have felt when Joseph spurned her advances. Denied, rejected, humiliated and angry it is easy to imagine her ‘turning on her former prey’. Though this episode resides in the annals of history it is found in the everyday expression: “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” And with ‘attack being the best form of defence’ the story which Potiphar’s wife invented would also have served to counter any gossip which could have emerged concerning her own immoral behaviour.
And so it is that while some men behave badly, very badly, there are also women who are not beyond reproach and the dynamics of entrapment or false witness. In English law it only needs one woman to make an accusation for the alleged attacker to be charged.
In the recent case involving Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo a trans-Atlantic observer who attended the trial subsequently wrote:
“Now, it used to be that a person was innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. However, in the UK, when it comes to crimes related to sex, it seems to be the reverse: one is effectively presumed to be guilty and therefore one must prove one's innocence. From the get go the presumption of guilt is overwhelming. I saw this at the trial of Dr. Sookhdeo in Swindon, England earlier this year and was present in the courtroom throughout the ordeal.”
Concerning the complainant in that case the observer further stated:
“[Sookhdeo’s] colleagues at the Barnabas Fund headquarters knew her as a serial full body hugger, which was confirmed by board chairman Albrecht Hauser in his court statement. Others witnessed this behaviour, as well. The short length of her skirts (especially in light of her age) was also the talk and derision of some staff members.”
While it is utterly reprehensible for men to force themselves on innocent, vulnerable and unwilling women, it is not always the man who is the guilty party. It is easy to believe that while Potiphar’s wife lies long in her grave, her spirit is still alive and active today.
Footnote: Concerning the wiles of another woman in the history of the Middle East a discussion is currently underway on the spirit of Jezebel: a strong woman married to a weak man.