One of the first stories to inspire my study of the mandala was the telling of the marriage between Joseph and Asenath. There are several versions of this story, but I chose to depict the mystical one, which is slightly more complex in structure than most. The story is an astrological allegory, in which Joseph represents the Sun and Asenath the Moon. The most common version of the story was written in Greek making the marriage the “hieros gamos” or the union of Helios and Selene. The symbolism is clear, Joseph represents the Savior and Asenath, the Fallen Wisdom. The text is similar to many of the mystery cults that juxtapose good and evil. The story, gleaned from the Jewish Virtual Library proceeds like this:
“The entry of the proselyte into the community is marked by a sacred feast. The neophyte eats “the bread of life,” drinks from “the cup of immortality,” and is anointed with the “function of incorruptibility” (15:4). He is then “renewed,” “reformed,” and “revivified” (8:11; 15:4)”. Joseph and Asenath are then viewed as the representatives of “mystical Judaism,”hitherto endorsed as viable amid much controversy. The text is the product of Egyptian Jewry, but is not necessarily the work of a Therapeut (Essene). The author may have been an Egyptian of the Chora (“region,” i.e., outside of Alexandria) converted to Judaism, or, more probably, the Jewish issue of a mixed marriage. Joseph and Asenath must have been composed shortly before the Jewish revolt against Trajan. Joseph and Asenath is also of interest, since the story is repeated in the passions of Saint Barbara, Saint Christine, and Saint Irene. Joseph and Asenath is also the basis for the Persian tale Yūsufo Zuleikhā. There is an English translation by E.W. Brooks, Joseph and Asenath (1918). 1
For me the story is about the marriage between Earth and the Universe, Heaven and humans. In each age we create a new reality out of the ancient stories. As it states in the Siddur.
In each age we are challenged by our ancient teaching.
At each age we stand face to face with truth.
In each age we add our wisdom to that which has gone before…