Pot'iphar (Heb. Potiphar', פּוֹטַפִר, contraction of פּוֹטַי פֶרִע, Potipherah [q.v.]; Sept. Πετεφρής), an officer of Pharaoh, probably the chief of his body- guard (Ge 39:1). B.C. cir. 1810. Of the Midianitish merchants he purchased Joseph. The keeper of the prison into which the son of Jacob was eventually cast treated him with kindness, and confided to him the management of the prison (Ge 27:36; Ge 39:1); and this confidence was afterwards sanctioned by the "captain of the guard" himself, as the officer responsible for the safe custody of prisoners of state (Ge 40:3-4). It is sometimes denied, but more usually maintained, that this "captain of the guard" was the same with the Potiphar who is before designated by the same title. It is possible that this "captain of the guard" and Joseph's master were the same person. It would be in accordance with Oriental usage that offenders against the court, and the officers of the court, should be in custody of the captain of the guard; and that Potiphar should have treated Joseph well after having cast him into prison is not irreconcilable with the facts of the case. After having imprisoned Joseph in the first transport of his choler, he might possibly discover circumstances which led him to doubt his guilt, if not to be convinced of his innocence. The mantle left in the hands of his mistress, and so triumphantly produced against him, would, when calmly considered, seem a stronger proof of guilt against her than against him; yet still, to avoid bringing dishonor upon his wife, and exposing her to new temptation, he may have deemed it more prudent to bestow upon his slave the command of the state prison than to restore him to his former employment. SEE JOSEPH.
Potiphar is described as "an officer of Pharaoh, chief of the executioners (סרַים פִּרעֹה שִׂר הִטִּבָּחַים), an Egyptian" (Ge 39:1; comp. 37:36). The word we render "officer," as in the A. V., is literally "eunuch," and the Sept. and Vulg. so translate it here (σπάδων, eunuchus); but it is also used for an officer of the court, and this is almost certainly the meaning here, as Potiphar was married, which is seldom the case with eunuchs, though some, as those which have the custody of the Kaaba at Mecca, are exceptions, and his office was one which would not usually be held by persons of a class ordinarily wanting in courage, although here again we must except the occasional usage of Muslim sovereigns, whose executioners were sometimes eunuchs, as Haruen er-Rashid's Mesrli, in order that they might be able to carry out the royal commands even in the harems of the subjects. Potiphar's office was "chief of the executioners," not, as the Sept. makes it, "of the cooks" (ἀρχιμάγειρος), for the prison was in his house, or, at least, in that of the chief of the executioners, probably a successor of Potiphar, who committed the disgraced servants of Pharaoh to Joseph's charge (Ge 40:2-4). He is called an Egyptian; and it is to be noticed that his name contains that of an Egyptian divinity. He appears to have been a wealthy man, having property in the field as well as in the house, over which Joseph was put, evidently in an important post (Ge 39:4-6). The view we have of Potiphar's household is exactly in accordance with the representations on the monuments, in which we see how carefully the produce of the land was registered and stored up in the house by overseers, as well as the liberty that women of all ranks enjoyed. When Joseph was accused, his master contented himself with casting him into prison (ver. 19, 20), probably being a merciful man, although he may have been restrained by God from acting more severely. After this we hear no more of Potiphar, unless, which is unlikely, the chief of the executioners afterwards mentioned be he. If he were actually a eunuch, we may the more easily account for his wife's conduct. SEE EUNUCH.