Sunday, January 25, 2015

Parshat Beshallach: The Exodus: Egyptian Troop Movements, Nile Delta Military Command Area



“Needless to say, none of these events [i.e., Israelite enslavement and the Exodus] are corroborated by ancient Egyptian records, since the Exodus was a minor affair in Egyptian annals.”
--Peter Clayton, Chronicles of the Pharaohs: The Reign-by-Reign Record of the Rulers and Dynasties of Ancient Egypt. London: Thames & Hudson, 1994.

Egyptian Weekly Army Review
Troop Deployment Report

Year of Osiris, Akhet, Time-of-Nile-Rising,
Reign of His Gracious, Sun-in-His-Splendor-Rising,
Pharaoh Ramesses II

Item: Supply-Sergeant Khufu requisitioned six bows-and-quivers for use by Platoon 6, Chariot Squadron C, Regiment Horus-Hawk-of-Vengeance; three of six quivers were found to be of shoddy workmanship, and returned to the Nubian Factory for repair or replacement.

Item: Corporal Menkaure found to be drunk on barley-beer during 3rd Night Watch, sentenced to receive ten lashes and lose three-days’ pay, it being Middle-Level-Alert due to presence of Bedouin in Northern Boundary Area; sentence reduced by Provost Marshal Judge to five lashes, one day’s loss of  pay, Plea of Mercy, in light of Corporal’s recently losing his mother to Nile Fever; sentence under review.

Item: Troop Movements Yesterday, Nile Delta Military Command Area
Chariot Squadrons F & H, Regiment Osiris-Escort-of-Underworld, Lieutenants Userkaf & Huni Commanding; Capt. Kawab, Overall Commander, Reporting—

1 o’clock am—Sentries Privates Sahure and Waset, stationed on Signal-Tower #4, Eastern Boundary, Great Pyramid District, spot a Dust-Cloud in area of Goshen-Slave-Quarters. Fearful of spreading Plague, there being Reports of such in that area, Sentries wave Red Flags and light Watch-Fires to alert other Signal-Towers in Area.
Private Sahure: “They were Slave Rabble—those Hapiru folk; I do not speak their gibberish, my family being High Egyptian for generations—but I did make out Dancing and Singing amid their march.”
Private Waset: “I smelled some sort of bread baking; it smelled burnt, and they were carrying large boxes of gold and silver, which gleamed in the morning sun.”
Sentries estimate Size of Mob to be 6,000 Men, Women, & Children (Approx.).

2:30 am—Upon spotting the Signal-Fires of Tower #4, Adjutant Unas of Cavalry Troop 8 saddles a swift horse and reports to Regimental Headquarters (RHQ) Regiment Horus-Hawk-of-Vengeance, for Instructions, Lieutenant Colonel (LTCOL) Shepses Commanding.

2:35am—LTCOL Shepses, having received no instructions from the Joint Egyptian Chiefs at Ramesses Palace in Memphis, sends messengers by swift horse to Chariot Squadrons F & H, advising them to “shadow the Hapiru,” and report back to him regarding “any suspicious movements.”

4am—Swift Horse Messenger Subaltern Neithi reports back, “Hapiru are moving towards Nile Delta, following a Flamelike Entity, which may be carried in a brazier. Visual Observation is unclear, there being a Heavy Morning Fog.”

4:10am—LTCOL Shepses orders the Reconnaissance to continue; orders Three Chariot Squadrons to close the distance between themselves and the Hapiru, intending Reconnaissance-in-Force.

5am—Hapiru halt on bank of Nile; their leader, one ‘Mses, is speaking to them. Squadrons draw closer.
Capt. Kawab orders Standard Cautious Battle Approach Drill to Begin: bowmen fit arrows to bows; spearmen unsheathe. Horses pulled back to jog-trot from gallop (See Cavalry Instructions Scroll XXXIV, 5th Ed., “Battle Approach, Cautious, Suspicious of Ambush,” Published by Egyptian War College, Reign of Pharaoh Horemheb.)

5:30am—Sky darkens; water appears to be sinking into the earth. Lieutenants Userkaf & Huni halt their Squadrons, on Capt. Kawab’s order; single horse-and-rider is ordered out to approach ‘Mses, in attempt to parley. Heavy Winds force Rider to return.

6am—Water continues flowing down, as in swamplike action, only much accelerated; Lt. Huni, who studied hydroponics in Pitome Agricultural Academy prior to Army Conscription, theorizes that it might be due to Underwater Seismic Action; his Adjutant, one Private Weni, testifies that he sees a River-Demon floating in the air over the area.
No Conclusion is reached by this Military Court of Justice.

6:15am—Hapiru cross over, dry-shod, through middle track of Nile, exposed through Unknown Means (See 6am Entry, above).

6:20am—Officers confer; Capt. Kawab orders a Volunteer Platoon to Recon the Hapiru Means of Crossing. Three Charioteer-Teams of Platoon 7 Volunteer, Staff Sgt. Renef Commanding, drive down the slope and into the marsh, but find their chariot-wheels caught in the quickly-rising-mud. Before Lt. Userkaf, their Commander, can organize a Rescue Squad, both horses and troops are overcome by Quicksand, and lost. Recommendation submitted for Army Scarab of Merit (Bronze) [Posthumous] to be awarded.
It is observed that, while this Tragic Accident is occurring, the Hapiru on the Opposite Shore are dancing and singing and playing timbrels and drums. Our men express a desire to wreak vengeance on them, but the waters have returned to previous depth, and they are unable to cross.

6:30am—Capt. Kawab orders an orderly withdrawal, and files his Report.


Item: Corporal Osorkon, for sneaking into Barracks late after a Romantic Liaison, is to be jailed for one month, and reduced in rank to Private. 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Bo--What exactly was the Secret Negotiation between Moses and Crown Prince Merneptah of Egypt on that Fateful Night, Prior to the Exodus?

Bo

Note: for the purpose of this week’s Drash/Commentary, the Reader must accept the possibility that the Pharaoh of the Exodus was the traditionally-accepted one, Ramesses II. I am positing that his son, Merneptah (who in actuality did not succeed his long-lived father until the son was in his sixties) grew up in the palace as a half-brother to Moses, and was by his embattled father, Ramesses’, side during the Period of the Plagues—though there is no evidence of this in the Torah, and certainly none in Egyptian records. The Egyptians were notoriously xenophobic—that is, having a fear of Outsiders, and the same Egyptian word for “stranger” also means “barbarian.”

Night in the Gardens of Luxor. The coolness of the palm trees and hanging plants does a great deal to refresh this man-made oasis amid the surrounding palace walls, following the heat of the day, where many cunningly-designed clay fountains, embellished with gleaming precious and semi-precious stones to reflect the moonlight, as well as mosaic tiles displaying various ritual and mythological symbols from Egyptian folklore and religion, create an exotic and mysterious atmosphere.
Crown Prince Merneptah is seated on a bench by one of the smaller fountains, watching as the multi-colored streams drip from plate to plate, from sphinx to griffin. Suddenly, he looks up, and his hand instinctively moves to the sharp bronze dagger at his belt: Moses suddenly, stealthily emerges from the space between the hanging bushes and the shorter palm trees on the periphery of the Garden. It is surely death on sight for him to be in the precincts of the Royal Egyptian Palace, since his last meeting with the Pharaoh did not end well. Moses enters cautiously, looking about, and prudently stops, about twenty feet from the man with whom he grew up, years ago, in this very Palace. He raises his right hand in salute:

Moses: Hail, Prince of Egypt!

Merneptah: Well. It’s you. Can’t say I’m surprised. Are you ready to surrender?

Moses: Same old Brother of mine. Seven plagues have thusfar occurred—your Mother Nile polluted, dead frogs attracting no end of creepy-crawlies, swarms of flies and locusts eating whatever’s left from the hailstorms my God, El-Shaddai, sent to batter you and your much-vaunted Household Guard into submission, and do I hear, “Take your slave rabble and go!” or--?

Merneptah: --or stay. Stay and die with us. You know, Moses, you never were a good loser.

Moses: You mean, winner. My God says, “Winner take all.” Before the game is done, I—that is, We, my God, my People, and I—will have your Country, your whole bloody Empire, Merneptah, beneath our liberated feet. And we will depart with a Mighty Hand and an Upraised Arm.

Merneptah: Depart? Which way? And how? You’ll have no food, no provisions, not even a safe route to escape on. You Slave Rabble are notoriously poor at logistical planning. That’s why my Army has a Quartermasters’ Corps. There’s no living off the land in the Desert Wilderness, my Hebrew Half-Brother—unless you can eat sand and gobble sunlight—those are the only two things you’ll have in plenty. What will you eat for bread? And where will you find water, if you’re constantly on the move, running away from my razor-scythed chariots, and my battle-hungry cavalry? Hmm? Have you thought that one through now, well, have you? (Pauses, but, when Moses is silent, he continues:) Moses?

Moses (slowly, choosing his words carefully): Our God has told us—me—that He makes us four promises: “And I will take you out—and I will save you from Pharaoh—and I will redeem you from Slavery—and I will take you to be My People.”

Merneptah (folding his arms, leaning back, patiently trying to explain Reality to this country dolt): M-hm. Only where, in that unspeakably dull Hebraic cavern-skull of yours, Moses, there amid the sheep and goats and donkeys and what-all You People find so much pleasure and seeming wealth in herding, did your Desert Deity stop to mention, “And I will feed you”? Hm? Don’t you think, Brother Mine, He might be playing a Monstrous Trick on you, to take you out, confuse you and kill you all in the Fearsome Desert, to take you out of Egypt—this veritable Eden (I believe you call it) of Onions, Leeks, and Garlic!—how much you will hurt your People, and how much they will bellyache and moan, if you dare to remove them from our secure, comfortable Egypt, the only home they’ve known for hundreds of years?

Moses (losing faith, doubting himself, beginning to stutter): But w-we are s-slaves h-here; we m-must leave; G-God has promised us f-f-freed….

(A crack of lightning splits the sky. A roll of thunder follows. Merneptah sighs, looks up.)

Merneptah: Oh, drat. More hail? Really, El-Shaddai. This is too much. Papa won’t be happy about this, I can tell. (Again, he reaches for his dagger, half-draws it, looks through slitted eyes at Moses, up at the darkening sky, thinks again, slides the knife back into its sheath. He sighs) Well. Let’s negotiate then, shall we? Suppose we reduce—yes, that’s it: cut back on working hours for you people. (Takes out a piece of papyrus and a stylus, and begins to calculate) Increase the food supply. We are about halfway through that big storehouse at Karnak—if your mud-and-straw-brick-roasters can just step up their number of bricks by—(does a quick calculation) about half again, we might be able to finish the entire treasure-city by early fall, just around the time that the barley-harvest is coming in—which means beer for both master and slave, doing a great deal to ease the pain of construction. Tell you what: I can’t promise anything, but on my say-so to Papa, you might possibly be crowned King of the Hebrews, around the same time that Papa is planning on making me the Military Governor of Goshen District. What do you say?

Moses: I, I….

(Another clap of thunder; the sky is now completely dark, and great drops of rain begin to fall)

Merneptah: Here: come see. I’ve just about figured the rough numbers. If you and I and your brother Aaron and one of my planners—that young scribe Nety, say; he’s got a good head on his shoulders—could come up with a decent plan that was a win-win, something I could bring before the Royal Privy Council, just to hush up all of this plaguey business, get our slaves—I mean, Workforce back, contented and quiet, why, then, once I’m secure as Governor of Goshen and Environs, I could possibly see my way to making you the first Egyptian Hebrew Ethnarch we’ve had since what’s-his-name—Joseph, that Tsafnat-Paanayach fellow you hold in such repute. Again, Moses: the choice is yours.

(Shadows are darkening across the Garden. Softly but persistently, cries are heard from a distance, across Egypt—the cries of children, and women, as if bereft. Moses hears, and smiles grimly. Merneptah may hear, but he chooses to ignore them)

Moses? Moses? Just come a little closer, read, and sign! By Osiris’s beard, I command you, sign!

(Moses holds back, clutching his shepherd’s crook a little tighter; he cannot speak; his stutter has overpowered him, but he moves back, toward the shadows)

Where are you going?

(Suddenly, loud voices; Soldiers and Servants bearing torches enter and  illuminate the scene: Messengers have entered, first among them, Nety, the Scribe, in full military rig)

Nety (saluting, arm-on-chest, which Merneptah returns): My Lord Prince Merneptah! The God-King Pharaoh Ramesses commands that you join us and our Royal Bodyguard, sent to guard you from Evil Spirits which are afoot in this Dark Infernal Night—for a Strange and Mysterious Plague, sent doubtless by that Hebrew God, El-Shaddai, is abroad in our Land—the Worst, and Most Evil Plague of All. The first-born, My Prince—the First-Born, as well as all our Egyptian boys, dead when the shadow of this horrific Hebraic God passed over them—

Merneptah (gripping Nety by the arm): What, my boy, too? My son, Seti?

Nety (bursting into tears): Yes, Milord Prince: the young Princeling Seti is dead, lies dead, dead….

Merneptah (turning to Moses, drawing and throwing his dagger, which thunks into a palm tree): Damn you to the Infernal Pit, Moses! Damn you for the Death of my son, my innocent Seti! Where are you? (He begins to sob, and falls to his knees)

(Moses is gone, vanished. Soon, from the Dark, come the Triumphant Voices of the Liberated Israelites, beginning their Preparations for the Exodus, baking Matzote, packing their bags to leave Egypt after 400 years. Their singing and rejoicing cannot drown out the tears and crying of their erstwhile neighbors, once their jailers, now their victims, the Egyptians….)





Sunday, January 11, 2015

Vaera: In Moses's Shadow: The Words of Aaron, Miriam, Pharaoh, and the Chief Sorcerer.

Vaera

Synopsis: Moses and Aaron confront Pharaoh—which one? Ramsses II, Thutmose III, perhaps even Hatshepsut, the Woman Pharaoh—the actual identity is not important to the Torah Narrative, which never gives more details than are considered necessary to tell the Story. The Theme is Clash of the Titans, in this case between Adon-i, God of the Israelites, vs. Pharaoh, god of the Egyptians. Here are some of the Actors:

Pharaoh’s Chief Sorcerer: Since we represent Egypt, the foremost Nation in the World, we constantly meet Challengers to our Power, and then, it becomes necessary for us to show our Mastery over the Forces both Above and Below. We were not overawed by these two back-country shepherds, Moses and Aaron, but it was necessary for us to show immediately that we could overpower them, lest Rumor reach our Slaves, who might be inspired to Revolt.
When Moses, the Leader, cast down his Shepherd’s Crook and it became a Serpent, this was an easy Trick to copy—but we never counted on his Serpent swallowing up ours. Indeed, Sekhmet, our Eldest Sorcerer, remembered the Famous Dream of the Hebrew, Joseph, who had told us often of his Vision of Lean Cows swallowing Fat Ones—and, for no Clear Reason, we all began to tremble.
“This is the Finger of that Desert God, Adon-i!” Sekhmet warned His Majesty, who was too caught up in the Demands of the Shepherd-Brothers to much notice. He will learn, soon enough: these Hebrews are a Force to be Reckoned with. We Magicians know; we rule our lives by Signs and Portents….

Aaron, Brother of Moses: My Baby Brother was never one for putting himself forward—during the time he lived in Pharaoh’s Palace, he never spoke up, but was always in the Shadows, concealing his Hebrewness, passing himself off as an Egyptian; that is, a Quiet, unassuming one.
     The unfortunate Incident in which he slew an Egyptian Taskmaster was, in many ways, an Awakening for him. We did not see him for—how many?—perhaps five years, during which he fled to Midian, that desert village-nation, and made a life for himself there, marrying Tsipporah, the daughter of Jethro, the Village High Priest. He might have lived there, forever, but came back, one day, with a Haunted Look on his face.
“What brings you back to these parts, Brother?” I greeted him.
“You are to be my Spokesman,” he growled at me, and I was surprised at how he had changed; he had always been quiet, and smiling, whenever anyone did him a kindness; it was part of his being able to quickly fade into the Background of whatever place he found himself, sort of an Israelite Chameleon, almost.
“Spokesman for what?” I queried, and he took my arm—gripped it tightly, and  I wondered at how my soft little brother had suddenly changed, as if overnight, into a thin, hawk-nosed, rawboned shepherd, more accustomed to squinting at the sun to tell if a scarce springtime Sinai rain were about to fall, than smiling at a young Royal Lady-in-Waiting of the Royal Egyptian Court in which we both had been raised.
Moses looked at me—stared me down, actually, until I found it hard to stand and take his gaze. This was a man who had spoken with God more than with Mortals.
“We are prisoners here in Egypt, Royal Prisoners, but enslaved, all the same,” he said bluntly and whispering-like, “and I mean to set us free—you, me, Miriam, and the tribal God called Ehyeh-Ahshare-Ehyeh—‘He Who Is,’ He Who appeared to me in the Desert in the Heat of the Day, and gave me a Mission to carry out. Are you for me or for our Enemies, Brother Mine, Brother Aaron?”
“You know I am with you, Moses,” I stammered, frightened of his intensity and clarity of vision.
“Good!” he smiled suddenly, and clapped me on the shoulder, “Then we shall not fail. Come: the game’s afoot.”

Miriam: You may think of me as merely a tambourine-player, a dancing troubadour, chanting the praises of the Invisible God, while the lapping wavelets of the Sea of Reeds would later wash back-and-forth over the defeated Pharaoh’s broken and tossing chariot-wheels—but I worked harder and more diligently long before that. While my famous brother stalked about Egypt like a man possessed, I went about my Holy Work more quietly.
I am Miriam, eldest of Amram and Yocheved’s Family, the Fearless Girl-Woman who rescued her Baby Brother from drowning in the Nile, and who assured that he would have both Adoptive Mother and Natural Mother to raise him, living in the lap of luxury, there in the very Palace of his Greatest Enemy—for the God we worship is a Lover of Irony, as are we Hebrews.
All during the Period of the Plagues, I met and taught the Women and Children to carry on our Sacred Customs, those which had nearly been lost during the Debilitating and Demoralizing four-hundred-years of Slavery. I kept our Holy Traditions alive: the Sabbath, which was later perfected at Sinai; the Laws of Family Purity, almost lost when Men would slave all week, and never have a moment’s rest to be with the Chosen-Ones-of-Their-Hearts, their Wives, let alone their Children; and, finally, the Laws of Kashrut, which have kept our People Separate and Special, all through our Long History.
You cannot number Israel unless you Reckon my Work. I am Miriam, Teacher and Guide of Israelite Families. Mark me well, you so-called “Upright, Righteous, Learned Men” so Quick to Forget what you mock as “Women’s Work.”

Pharaoh: How can this Moses claim to speak for an Invisible God? There are no such things; I know, for I am a god myself, and was raised as such. I will battle his God with all the powers I possess, both magical and physical.
Let him smite Our Mother Nile; let him fill our houses and granaries with croaking Toads; let crawling Bugs infest our People and Beasts alike, Disease penetrate the Skin of our very Bodies. I stood on my Royal Balcony to catch a breath of Air, so stale and foul has the Palace stench become, from Dead Frogs and Stinking Skin-Infections….

The Weather is taking a Turn; a Storm of Hail is coming. O God of the Hebrew Tribes! I call You to Wage Open Battle with me! Shall I saddle my horse? Blow, rain! Come, wrack! If I must die, ‘twill be with Harness on my Back….

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Shemote: A Meeting of Pharaoh Tuthmosis III and His Security Services--Do the Hebrews Threaten Egypt?

Shemote

Reign of Pharaoh Tuthmosis III (1504-1450 BCE), possible Pharaoh of the Israelite-Slavery-Period. Meeting of the High Court Privy Council, consisting of Officers and Advisers to His Royal Majesty. Item One on the Royal Agenda this fine Spring Morning is Population Control: namely, the preponderance of Apiru’, or Israelites, a Foreign Nation once welcomed into Egypt by the Late Vice-Pharaoh Joseph, known as Tsafnat-Paanayach, Secretary of Agriculture and Plenipotentiary to an earlier Pharaoh, the only Female Pharaoh, possibly Hatshepsut (1498-1483 BCE). But Circumstances have changed, and the Stranger Apiru/Israelite/Hebrews are no longer welcome in the Kingdom.

Present at this meeting, in the Summer Palace, are

--Tuthmosis III, Pharaoh of Egypt; son of Hatshepsut, a vain but intelligent ruler concerned with keeping his subjects content and in thrall to his power, as well as retaining Egypt’s position as top Middle-Eastern-Northeast-African Power, against regional upstarts Hatti and Northern Syria
--Senenmut, Royal Steward, late adviser to Hatshepsut, and a holdover from her Administration;
--Unas, Minister of the Interior and Chief of the Security Services, a Secret Police Chief dedicated to the Survival of the Egyptian Empire, regardless of Methodology;
--General Kamose, Commander of the Royal Egyptian Army and Cavalry, a loyal career soldier; and
--Apophis, Minister of Census and Population Studies, whose Job it is to Number and Sort all Subjects of the Pharaoh—the Egyptians are notoriously xenophobic, which is to say they have a fear and suspicion of Outsiders, including the Hebrews, late their Neighbors and Friends, but not now; surely, not now….

Tuthmosis: What say you, Royal Steward Senenmut, about this Issue? We wait upon your words. As you advised our Mother, the late Empress Dowager Hatshepsut, so do we drink your words with eagerness (The Assembled Officers smile at His Majesty’s attempt at Wit, since the Chief Steward’s Official Duties include being Cup-Bearer, or Butler, to the Pharaoh.).

Senenmut: Your Majesty, I can only state now, as I did to your Mother, Osiris rest her Soul! That these Apiru, or Israelites as they term themselves, are a Blight and a Scourge upon the Land, and must be dealt with immediately, in no uncertain terms. Left alone, they might align themselves with an Invading Enemy, and fight with them against us. So much for their gratitude over our Benign Rule, and for all we did for their Forebear, that Joseph!

Unas (Secret Police Chief): I must say, Sire, that I disagree. These Hebrews, or Israelites, or whatever they or we choose to call them, are hardly warlike. My agents in the field tell me that they are quiet and peaceful, and wish only to be left to dwell among themselves in the Land of Goshen, the district which Tsafnat-Paanayach, their late leader whom you call Joseph—

Senenmut: So do they call him themselves, in their filthy tongue!

Unas: --so do I beg your pardon, Lord Steward; I was not yet done speaking, if you will grant me leave. (The Steward sits back, fuming) Well. I would advise that, if we view these People as a Threat to the Kingdom, we do as we have always done in such a Situation: I have already placed among them Spies—not only our own Secret Police Agents, but turncoats from among themselves—those Apiru whom we have compromised through money, threats, or quiet torture. They are our Eyes and Ears in their own community, bringing us any information we may require about possible revolts, revolutions, or resistance to our rule.

Tuthmosis: Hm. What is your thought, Commander of the Army?

Kamose (He is a burly, one-eyed, battle-scarred Warrior, wearing the back-and-breast body-armor of a charioteer, having only just come from Military Maneuvers on the Western Plain, and he speaks bluntly, as befits a Career Soldier): I have no time for subtleties, Your Grace. I have devoted my life’s blood to defending both my Sovereign, that is, Your Royal Self, and that of Mother Egypt (he sits up, and smites his left breast with his right hand), and will do whatever is necessary to bring these—what-d’ye-call-‘em? Ah-PEE-roos?—into line. I know well the Land of Goshen where they dwell, and I have already torched a score of their hovelly little shacks, before you could say, “Great Scarab Sun-Disk!” Just as a lesson to any of them, in case they might have thought of sabotaging a Pyramid or Sphinx or some such. My men and I have drilled a battle-line of Your Majesty’s finest chariots; we can draw up from twenty to fifty war-wagons within a quarter-hour, and then, Osiris help the rabble who stand in our way! As we smote the Hittites, as we ground the Syrian pike-bearers beneath our chariot-wheels—you recall, Sire, what a splendid day that was, although I lost my eye to an accidental arrow-shot, Ra save the mark!—I looked up at the clouds of heaven, and thought I saw a Divine Hawk, that of Horus himself, wheeling above, and screeching its plaudits to our brave boys! Why, I—

Tuthmosis (sarcastically): You wax fairly eloquent, General Kamose. Have you submitted this report to your regimental marching band, to have it set to music?

Kamose (embarrassed, he sputters, rises, salutes): I live only to serve my Liege Pharaoh and my Homeland. May Ra, the Sacred Sun-god, save Egypt! Save the Pharaoh! (He salutes again and again)

Tuthmosis: Be seated. Please. (Kamose sits, muttering. Tuthmosis turns back to Unas.) So, Milord Unas, do you think that Subjugation, a Separation Wall, perhaps, and an Increased Workload upon the Apirus will destroy this Scourge, this Curse that Ra has laid upon our Land? I wish only for a Sense of Security, so that Egypt may flourish. We do have an Image to Project upon the World. The Hittites and Syrians lie in wait; any Sign of Weakness, and they shall be upon us. Reputation, reputation, reputation! Egypt cannot afford to lose its reputation. Our power over Foreigners living in our Midst must, shall, be Absolute.

Unas: Oh, surely, we are proceeding, Your Grace. Spies, torture, increased labor. Prison for any and all Rabble-rousers. Everything and Anything to keep Civil Protest down and under control. General Kamose may trust in his Horses and Chariots; I call upon the Name of State Security, and believe we have suspended any legal niceties in dealing with these Barbarians; jail the Lot of them, I say. They are baking their mud bricks and building for us. It should bear rewards. Our Slavery regimen is going well; less food, more buildings; less freedom, more pyramids; less kindness, more treasure-houses. We are flourishing, while they must, and shall, diminish. Freedom for—what did Kamose call them, Ah-PEE-roo? Pah! I spit on them. They’re not like us; if they were, they would be Egyptian.

Apophis (Minister of Population, Main Office, Heliopolis): Oh, excuse me, M’lord Unas. Except for One Thing.

Tuthmosis: Ah, Population Minister Apophis! I have not heard from you, yet. What have you to add?

Apophis (he is a cheery old duffer, has served long in his office, and loves to contradict the younger men): In spite of the Lord Minister Unas’s plans about the tight screws he has placed on our Guests from Joseph’s Time—and I am older than you Gentlemen, including, pardon me, Your Majesty; I have Good Memories of the Fine Work that Joseph did for us, and for our Kingdom, during the Seven Years’ Famine. Yes, I can well recall when there was not a grain of wheat to be had, between here and Memphis—

Tuthmosis (The meeting is going on too long, and he has a polo match to participate in): What is your report, Lord Apophis? Give us your Report, if you please. Now.

Apophis (Coming back from his Memories): What? Report? Oh, yes. (Rustling his papyrus scrolls, and squinting down at them) M-h’m. Yes. Well. It seems that, in spite of Lord Unas’s best efforts at torturing, killing, and otherwise keeping down the Israelite—I continue to call them that; it’s more Respectful, y’know—Population, they are increasing. Gentlemen, the number of Israelites is growing, by leaps and bounds.

Tuthmosis: What?

Unas: Impossible!

Apophis (happily): No, the numbers don’t lie. And I was speaking to the Two Chief Midwives just yesterday. Delightful young women they are, too: lively, and full of life. What were their names—Pifra and Shuah? Something like that—

Unas: Well, this is Totally Unacceptable. I—that is, we—must take Stronger Measures.

Tuthmosis: Well, could you have a report ready for me—let’s say—tomorrow, at Noon? This meeting has already gone on far too long. Let’s see: you (pointing at Unas) and you, General, should get together with the Captain of the Guard, and see if you can get ahold of those midwives. What, only two? Then this problem should be manageable. But I must go; the horses won’t wait…. No, don’t get up—where’s my chariot? Guard!

(The Officers rise; Tuthmosis exits, in a swirl of Royal Robes, and leaving the faintest scent of sandalwood hanging in the air.)

Senenmut (smiling evilly at his younger colleagues): Well, there you are. So you thought you could dispose of the Apiru so easily? My Lady Hatshepsut couldn’t do it. I recall one night—

Unas: With all due respect, Milord Steward, could you keep your stories to yourself? We have a Real Problem, here, and not that much time to solve it in.

Senenmut: Let me finish. We were sitting—this was, what? Ten, twelve years ago? And Joseph had just died. Hatshepsut was not all that sad about it. Oh, certainly, Joseph had been a fine adviser, but he had had these—she used to call them, his “spells,” when he would get all, far-away-eyed, and she wouldn’t be able to speak to him. He explained to her that that was how his God spoke to him, how he would learn what to do. It always gave her the shivers; at least, that’s what she told me. That’s the thing with these Hebrews. You can’t just wish them away. There’s Something about them.

Unas (he has been only half-listening to Senenmut, that pest; now, he looks up, startled): What’s that you said?

Senenmut (crossly): I said you can’t just wish the Hebrews away. Why don’t you ever listen to me? You young people—

Unas: I thought you said, “wash them away.” That’s what we’ll do. General Kamose!

Kamose (he has been daydreaming, but is instantly alert): Here, Milord? Sir?

Unas: Assemble your officers and noncoms. Tell them there is a new Order of the Day, to be in effect until I, the Minister of Internal Security, rescind it. All male children of the Hebrews, as soon as they are born, are to be washed away—that is, tossed bodily into the Nile River, as—as—offerings.

Kamose: Drowned? Until dead?

Unas: Yes. Drowned. Is there any other way, you armored ox? (Offhandedly) You may let the girl-babies live. They are no threat to us.

Kamose (saluting): I live to serve (He exits).

Unas (turning to Senenmut and Apophis): And now, we shall see. I will set my wits against this People, this puzzle you and that Old, Dead Woman, your False Pharaoh (he says the name through clenched teeth, as though distasteful), Hatshepsut, found so Difficult. We at some time are masters of our Fates, and I will be Master, now. I will beat those Hebrews yet. Now, go!



Sunday, December 28, 2014

Vayechi--1000 BCE: Torah in the Making--Two Royal Davidic Scribes Argue Over How to Write "Jacob's Blessing"

Vayechi

1000 BCE. The Royal Scriptorium, a writing-office/warehouse more pretentious in name than reality, in King David’s Palace, Jerusalem: it is a cavernous room chock-full of clay tablets, animal-skins in various stages of tanning-preparation for writing, clay jugs ready for inscribing with the names of their contents, rolls of papyri stacked in every conceivable corner, and even a stack of stone plaques next to several hammer-and-chisel sets, which will be used for more-permanent legislative displays.

In one corner badly-lit by a flickering olive-oil lamp, two Royal Scribes, Tsuribaal and Kuttav, are having a quiet chat over some herbal tea, during a break from sharpening their reed pens, which they will dip into vegetable-dye-ink and apply to parchment-scrolls. They are, as Hebrews have done since time immemorial, discussing vigorously—that is, arguing over—the content of the Blessing of Jacob, this week’s Torah portion, but, back then, merely a section of prose-poetry recording the pre-monarchical tribal saga of the Israelites.

Tsuribaal: Kuttav, you have it all wrong. Reuven was Jacob’s firstborn, way-back-when, and there remain large numbers of Reuvenites still living in this tribal portion. See here (flourishing a chart which he plucks expertly from a pile in the corner): the Royal Census of the first year of King David’s reign, peace be upon him! I know there was a Census, for, my word upon it, a plague followed. Plagues always follow any reckoning. That is why I have never given the Chief Scribe, Pedahtzur (whispering)—that fat, oily fish of a  bureaucrat, who talks more than he will ever write, and leaves the minute recording to us lowlier souls—an exact count of the fresh papyri and the bags of clay we got two months ago from Ashdod.

Kuttav (speaking with exaggerated patience): I cry you pardon and mercy, Master Tsuri—Judah is the biggest tribe. I am a Judahite, as is our King, God preserve him! And that is what I will write Jacob’s Blessing to mean. Now, leave me, Tsuribaal; I work better on poetry when I am left alone. You go count the bags of hops in the other storeroom; there’s a good fellow. Where’s my Text on Poetical Parallelism--?

Tsuribaal: Not so fast! Did you forget that we were both assigned to write the Blessing? It is most important that we show the smooth transition in leadership from Reuven to Judah. And what shall we do with Shimon and Levi? You can’t just have two major tribes disappear like that.

Kuttav: Hmph—where are your mighty Tribes of Shimon and Levi today? I saw a Levite-worker at the Offerings-Tent here in Jerusalem where the Ark of the Covenant is kept, and he was covered with soot and blood,  hardly impressive—not to disparage the Ark itself, though why David is not allowed to build a Holy Temple, I am not sure. For me, it all comes down to that business with Dinah and Shechem, back in the Jacob-Saga. Even given that she was a very, shall we say, sheltered young girl, was it a—and please, Tsuribaal, forgive me for speaking so bluntly—seduction, or something other than that?

Tsuribaal: Goodness—you’re going to have to clean that up—there may be small children reading this Book! Can’t have any goings-on like that in a Holy Book, Kuttav. And it’s a Royal Chronicle, to boot.

Kuttav: I write what I see—that is, in my Mind’s Eye. We are not mere record-scratchers on clay lumps, Lord Tsuri; we are the Royal Historians, and, as such, are obligated to record our People’s History, as well as their Interactions with the Dweller-Between-the-Cherubim.

Tsuribaal (shaking a finger in Kuttav’s face): Don’t get all High-and-Mighty with me, Master Kuttav. I sat next to you during Scribal Arts Class, and even slipped you some answers on the Phoenician Language Short-Answer part of the Final Exam, when the Proctor was nodding off. In fact, Kuttav, were it not for me, you would be a mere Royal Customs Clerk, sizzling beneath the hot sun on the docks there in Yaffo, counting barrels of olive oil and Mei Raglayim naphtha being sent off to Hodu and Kush, instead of sleeping on cool marble and fresh linen in the Palace Dormitory and canoodling with that little kitchen-doxy of yours from Lower Issachar! (He stops, fuming)

Kuttav (soothingly): Now, Tsuribaal, calm yourself. I’m sure we can work something out about Dinah. You certainly cannot argue with the long-standing Tradition that Shimon and Levi took up arms and attacked the men of Shechem when they were—shall we say—indisposed.

Tsuribaal (tapping his lip): Yes, that’s true.

Kuttav: Nor that Reuven made his move on leadership by claiming Jacob’s concubine, Bilhah, and that Jacob was—was—(hesitates)

Tsuribaal: Can we not say, “Jacob heard of it”? Meaning, he did nothing. We play the entire incident down.

Kuttav: Yes, that is a fine compromise; I agree to settle for that language, vague though it be.

Tsuribaal (smiling triumphantly): Agreed, as well. This is a Royal Chronicle, after all, not some Arabian Nights Harem Tale.

Kuttav (writes): Done and done. Now, how are we to leave in no uncertain terms the unassailable fact that Judah, the Royal Tribe of our Awful Sovereign and Liege Lord, David the Most-High-King, Peace be Unto Him! And his Progeny (whosoever that Progeny may be; there are so many of them, but who am I, a mere Scribe, to criticize?), may reign forever?

Tsuribaal: I am there, M’Lord Kuttav, once again, ahead of you, with a nice bit of poetry I recall from our late Writing-Master Achikam, in Scribal Arts Class, you may recall: “The scepter shall not depart from—what’s that tribe, again?—Judah”—yes, Judah.

Kuttav: To which I will add, “…Until Judah reaches Shiloh.”

Tsuribaal (suspicious; he gives up nothing without a fight): “Shiloh”? What’s that?

Kuttav: A nice distinction. We may understand it many ways—it can be Shelah, one of the Judahite clans, and the one to which I myself belong—I consider it an honor, and a bit of poetic license, to insert myself into the text—sort of an echo of my—I mean, our—own labors on this royal-tribal-memorial project. Or, it could be “shai lo,” meaning, “until a tribute is brought to him,” that is, to the ruler at the time, that ruler being a descendant of David, which will help to shore up the Davidic House against any rivals—one never knows; remember the tussle David had, seizing the Throne away from Saul and the Benjaminite Tribe? Beyond that, David and his descendants will solidify their hold on power, so much so that the other tribes, indeed, all the tribes and nations of our known world, extending all over the Back of the Land-Turtle and from one corner of the Firmament to the Other, will bring him tribute, and all Humanity will pledge their loyalty to him.

Tsuribaal: Hm. A nice bit of poetry, that. (Puts down his reed quill and says, half-mockingly) I defer to your poetical and political skills, Master Kuttav.

Kuttav: Thanks; couldn’t have done it without your assistance (Tsuribaal narrows his eyes and glares); I mean, help. Any more of that herbal tea left—or, if we’re done, my mind and throat are dry. M’lord Tsuri, the workday’s almost done. Could I interest you in a mug of barley beer?

References


Kugel, James. How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture, Then & Now. NY: Free Press, 2007. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Vayigash-- Two Little Israelite Boys Discuss Their Future in the Caravan Down to Egypt

Vayigash

An Israelite Caravan, c. 1886 BCE. A Hot, Dry, Dusty Day in the Sinai, descending from Canaan to Egypt. Men shouting directions and being ignored, Women comforting their Children, a Solid Mass of Cattle—goats, sheep, donkeys, cows, camels, all united in a loud cacophony of animal-cries rising up to Heaven. In the midst of the Tumult, Two Small Boys are walking, holding short sticks, and trying to guide an Elderly She-Donkey which is mostly ignoring them. They are cousins Yoni ben Pallu and Dov ben Zerach, of the Tribes of Reuven and Judah, respectively. Yoni is ten; Dov is seven.

Yoni: Move, Duvdevan! You’re slowing us down. We will have to stay back in Canaan, for sure, and never get to see Egypt. Move along, or I will use my mighty donkey-whip on your bony backside, see if I don’t!

(He waves his little branch menacingly in the Donkey’s face. The Donkey brays, tosses its head, and ignores him.)

Dov: Yoni, will we see the Pyramids? Granny says that they are built of mud-brick, and reach from the Earth to the Sky, all the way up to where the Great God Elohim has placed the planet-wanderers in the Rakiah, the Firmament. Is that so?

Yoni (uncertain): Granny tells a lot of stories. Is this your Granny or mine?

Dov: I don’t know; I’m not sure; there are so many Grannies….

(The Donkey begins to veer off the path, and Both Boys scramble to grab its rope-harness, and pull its tail back, lest it barrel into the cows before it.)

Yoni: Poor Old Duvdevan! She’s almost blind, you know.

Dov: Is that why Poppa gave her to you?

Yoni: I suppose so; Poppa won’t let me have a dog; he says they’re unclean. (The Two scuffle along in the dust, for a few steps)

Dov: I hear that there are Giant Statues in Egypt, too. And Cousin Joseph is the King’s Special Assistant.

Yoni: What’s a Statue?

Dov: I don’t know. Are we to live in Egypt forever?

Yoni: Last night, after you went to bed with the other babies, Grandpa Reuven let me stay up. He took me to Great-Grandpa Jacob’s tent. He is so old—so old! He made a speech, and Reuven repeated it after him. Great-Granny Leah and Aunty Zilpah were moving their lips—I suppose they were remembering it; my Papa said they are the Rememberers for all of us, and will pass the Story down, so it’s never forgotten.

Dov: What was the Story, Yoni? Pass it down to me!

Yoni (frowning): Have I forgotten it? No. Great-Grandpa said something like, ‘All of us, My Children, will leave tomorrow. I must go down and see my son, Joseph, before I die.’ And he clenched his fists and moved his hands in the air, as if he were arguing with Someone, only there was no one there. And then, he said, ‘I will not fear to go down to Egypt, for Elohim, the Judgment-God, the God who has forever brought me down and up throughout my life, who has blessed me with my many sons, in particular with Joseph and Benjamin, the sons of my beloved Rachel, God rest her soul!—will make my great-grandsons and their children into a Great Nation, and will bring them out of Egypt with a Mighty Hand and an Outstretched Arm.” And then, he began to cough, suddenly, and Leah and Zilpah laid him back on his sleeping-mat, and Papa carried me out; I was so tired….

Dov: Does Elohim have hands and arms? Where can I see Him?

Yoni: You can’t see Him, Little Fool! The Great Elohim lives in the Mountains of Moab, beyond the Sea of Salt. That’s what Great-Uncle Levi told me. Uncle Levi knows a lot; he has the Sacred Scrolls.

Dov (thoughtfully): If Egypt is so wonderful, I will never leave; I will build a great house, as big as King Pharaoh Senostris’s Palace, and live there forever.

Yoni (patronizingly): Says you. But Grampy Jacob said that the Great God Elohim told him there will be a day when we must leave. Egypt will not be our Home forever.

Dov: How can you live in a Place and it not be your Home?

Yoni: A Home is—a Home is—where it belongs to you, not to Someone Else. A Home is where you look around, and all the tents belong to you; the people are either relatives or close neighbors, and you all speak the same language. No one can come into your home and force you to do something you don’t want to do. That’s not the Whole Thing, but that’s an Important Part. Canaan will always be our home, and Egypt will never be—not entirely. It’s so hard to explain to you, Dovvy!

Dov: But the Egyptians will be nice to us. Uncle Joseph has promised it, and he is the second Most Powerful Man in Egypt. Why would that ever change?

Yoni: I don’t know—but don’t forget what Great-Grandpa said: “I will take you out,” says the Great God Elohim.

Dov: I just don’t understand—watch out, Duvdevan! (The Boys chase the Donkey, as it shambles off)


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Miketz: The Tent of Joseph's Brothers: Reuben and Judah Tussle Over Who Shall Lead--and What About Young Benjy?

Miketz

An Egyptian Night, approx. 1895 BCE, during the reign of Pharaoh Senusret II. The tent of Joseph’s brothers. Reuben and Judah sit at the head of a tribal council. The other brothers, all except Shimon, who remains a hostage in Joseph’s jail, are assembled in a half-circle.

Reuben: It is all happening as I said it would: because you fools could not keep yourselves from killing Joseph, we are all suffering the consequences. I myself had to return home to care for Papa, and could not leave you alone and leaderless. Jealous wretches! How could you?

Judah: Do not vaunt yourself over us, Brother. We all know of your pretensions to Power. That business with Father’s concubine, Bilhah—did you think you could take the tribal leadership from him so easily?

Dan (drawing a dagger, and coming forward): Yes, Reuben, defend that action! My brother Naphtali and I are ready to fight you for our loving Mother’s honor, at a time and place of your choosing. Or, it could come—the knife could slip into your back—at any time, or place, dear half-brother. You, you mother-violator! (All the Brothers murmur angrily)

Reuben (retreating to a corner of the tent): Peace, Brothers, Peace! Can you not see, this is the plan of that Egyptian Sorcerer, that kohl-eyed grain merchant, to sow dissension amongst us, and make it impossible for us to unite against him? I—I—(he stops, stammering helplessly)

Judah (rising, coolly): Perhaps this is where a better speaker than the Eldest Brother might take over, Reuben. Step down.

Reuben (sweating, nervous, looking about wildly, and seeing no one supporting his leadership): I—I protest! I—

Judah (eyes narrowing, in a menacing whisper heard by all): Step Down!

(Reuben does so, shamefaced, hanging his head, and slumping to his knees)

Judah (continuing, more cheerfully): Now, Brethren all, little birdies in their nests agree—who will have me as Leader? (Hands go up) Let me count—yes, yes, that’s a fairly solid majority. Good. Any objections? (Levi raises his hand.) Brother Levi?

Levi: I am older than you, by a year, and have already proven my mettle, along with Brother Shimon.

Judah: Proven it, you mean, by killing helpless Shechemites recovering from their own, self-induced, deluded Brit Milah, Covenant of Circumcision, and then abducting Sister Dinah from Prince Shechem’s harem? You call this warriorhood? Leadership? What say you, Brothers All?

(The Brothers mutter dissent.)

Judah: So that’s done. Sit down, Levi. Your part’s already been played out.

Levi: I—

Judah: Sit. Down. Now!

(Levi reluctantly sits.)

Judah (continuing): Now, Brothers, this Egyptian Necromancer requires a firm hand. We are Hebrew Shepherds; let us make a sheep out of him. We are many; he is but One; a wise and clever man, but we have the wisdom and cunning of our father Jacob, and the assistance of El-Shaddai to guide us through. We have enough grain to get us home, and can certainly come up with a means of bamboozling this man into giving us more, when this is gone. We must protect our Dear Little Benjy-Boy with all of our might. He is, as you know the Apple of Papa’s eye. (The Brothers collectively groan) Oh, enough of that; deal with it. Hm. (Looking about.)
Where is Zebulun? I sent him to the Pharaoh’s Palace, to see if the Grain-Master had changed his mind….

Asher: About what?

Judah (frowning): About requiring us to bring Benjamin next time ‘round, Camel-brain. It will kill Father, and we don’t yet have a solid Line of Succession—not with Reuben over there thinking his little thoughts of leadership (points to Reuben, sulking in a corner of the tent), and I am certain that Shimon, once he gets out of Egyptian Jail, will have an Opinion about that, too. Let me think. Let. Me. Think.

(Zebulun rushes in, out of breath.)

Zebulun: Judah! That Egyptian Lord is willing to forgo Benjamin’s coming down to Egypt—on one condition.

Judah: Which is--?

Zebulun: That he executes Shimon on Suspicion of Espionage.

Judah: That, we cannot do. Well, Boys, the die is cast. This might kill the Old Man. Close your grain-bags, and saddle up. What to do? What to do?

Gad (examining his grain bag): God of the Wilderness! Great Baal!

Naphtali: What is it, Brother?

Gad: My money—the money I had bought grain with—is all here?!

(The Brothers all cry out, as they make similar discoveries, and then begin to sing and rejoice.)


Reuben: Quiet! Don’t you see, you Fools, that we are now caught by that ugly, evil Vice-Pharoah, in his kohl-eyed Spider’s Web? Now, he has us, for a few pieces of silver, and we will never escape…. Oh, woe, woe—what shall we tell Father? Poor Benjy—poor, poor Benjamin….