Was there any city or deity or ruler in Ancient Egypt named On (in Hebrew pronounced "own")? I'm trying to understand what might be the source for the reference in Genesis 41:45:

And Pharaoh named Joseph "Zaphenath Pa'neach (Heb. pron. Tsapna'th Pa'nayah)," and he gave him Asenath the daughter of Poti phera, the governor/priest of On, for a wife, and Joseph went forth over the land of Egypt.

  • 3
    This appears to relate more to Biblical Hermeneutics and probably should be migrated there.
    – user88
    Jul 15, 2013 at 5:28
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    @WorldEngineer The interpretation of the passage would indeed be more suitable for Biblical Hermeneutics, but I think there's also an on topic history question here, On is one of the names of Heliopolis.
    – yannis
    Jul 15, 2013 at 8:07

1 Answer 1


On is the biblical Hebrew name of Heliopolis. Potipherah is only mentioned in Genesis 41:45 (your passage) and 41:50:

And unto Joseph were born two sons before the year of famine came, whom Asenath the daughter of Poti-phera priest of On bore unto him

His rank ("governor/priest of On") and the literal meaning of his name ("he whom Ra has given") imply he might have been a High Priest of Ra.

  • How can we be sure about the identification? Jul 15, 2013 at 8:05
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    @FelixGoldberg On comes from the Egyptian name of the city (ỉwnw -> awen -> on). Heliopolis is the Greek name. Furthermore, Potipherah means "he whom Ra has given", which would be an apt name for the governor / high priest of the city where the main cult of Ra was located.
    – yannis
    Jul 15, 2013 at 8:08
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    It was also called Anu or Iunu in Egyptian. See further: jewishvirtuallibrary.org/heliopolis Jul 9, 2018 at 3:41
  • See also this post which shows the hieroglyph for it: biblicalanthropology.blogspot.com/2016/03/… Jul 9, 2018 at 3:45

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