by Rabbi David Hartley Mark
Midnight in Heliopolis, Egypt, during the reign of Seti I (1291-1278 BCE). The throne room of the Pharaoh, dark now, in the middle of the night. We see the Cup-Bearer, lately freed from prison, sprawled on the King’s royal throne, normally a capital offense, but His Majesty is safely in bed. The Cup-Bearer, Semnet, speaks:
Who’s there, ha? (drunkenly) Is that you, Stranger? The Royal Soothsayer told me that you would be paying me a visit. Come in, come in, and we will drink your health!
(Waves his winecup around, spilling some of its contents—it is the Pharaoh’s Own Cup, another act of sacrilege, for the Pharaoh is a god, and mere mortals may not use his personal items.)
There now! Have I spilt some of the king’s wine onto the king’s throne? Oh, I am undone, surely—if anyone should discover my trespass and theft, I will die for certain—hanging, drawing and quartering will be my fate, certainly!
(He gives a bitter laugh.)
Well, yes, Stranger, I admit that my crimes are daring, not to say foolhardy, of me—but I have cause to risk my life, cause enough. I do not fear death, nor being escorted into the Afterlife by Anubis and his lot. Why, do you ask? Because my life is done, in any case. Ever since I was imprisoned for neglecting to strain His Majesty’s wine sufficiently—by my neglectful actions, King Seti caught a wine-seed in his teeth! Ha! Can you imagine a worse act of negligence on my part? For his Royal Teeth to catch a common grapeseed—and the Royal Teeth are blackened and rotten, as any one of his queens or concubines will tell you—for that crime, he threw me into prison!
(He drinks, only to find the cup empty. He looks around and examines the wine bottles he has emptied, and becomes disappointed.)
The wine is gone—into my commoner’s belly, I’ll warrant you! Stolen from the King’s Own Wine-Cellar, too. And drinking from his cup! Ha! Crime upon crime, say I….
But Stranger, I will confide in you—I know that you will not tell His Majesty of my sins against the Sacred Personage of Pharaoh. Why am I drunk and seated on the Royal Throne? Because of that accursed Hebrew, that Joseph….
(He sits in silence for a bit, brooding.)
…because I can tell that he will be the end of us all, us native-born Egyptians. I have heard already of his becoming Minister of Agriculture, Vice-Pharaoh, and Minister Plenipotentiary—that weaselly Hebrew! Soon, he will bring the rest of his tribe down here, with their cattle and One-God-isms—why could he not remain in Canaan, where he belongs? Our garrisons in Sinai would have crushed him; but no.
No, you are correct, Stranger: the Hebrews have not yet arrived. But just today, I put my ear to the keyhole of Joseph’s private chambers, and heard him berating his—his—fellow tribesmen. Can you imagine, I heard a rumor that that rabble of sack-hauling, grain-seeking desert Bedouin are his brothers? No good will come of this, surely—
And more news, Stranger: those Hyksos tribesmen, they who ride in chariots swifter than ours, are approaching our gates, and will be here (so my scouts tell me) in but a week’s time. Between the Hyksos and the Hebrews, where are we native Egyptians to go?
Oh, Stranger! Were I the Pharaoh, I promise you, I would be mustering my troops to drive out the Hebrews, this Joseph in the forefront. And I would send three battalions of the Royal Army to thrash the Hyksos, and drive them away! If only, if only….
(Sounds of marching boots coming towards the throne room. The Cup-Bearer throws down Pharaoh’s winecup, and hides behind the throne, whispering fearfully: )
Who’s there, ha? Holy Osiris shield me! If I am caught in here, I am doomed, for certain—
(The door crashes open, and a platoon of Royal Guardsmen enters, led by Captain Mendis. The captain calls out: )
“I heard noises coming from this room—Guards! Go and search—I hope that I was hearing only the voices of dead Pharaohs past, and that no one is here alive, in the Sacred Precincts of our Holy Pharaoh!”
(The Guards search the room thoroughly, and bring forth the Cup-Bearer, who is trembling in fear for his life. They drag him before the captain.)
“Explain yourself, Cup-Bearer! What led you to take such liberties in the Sacred Chamber of our King-god, Pharaoh Seti I, who shines like the sun and reflects like the moon?”
(The Cup-Bearer is shaking with fear, but he answers boldly: )
Do you not fear the double threat of the Hebrews led by Joseph, and the Hyksos, who are fast approaching? Or are you naïve and trusting, like our oaf of a Pharaoh?
(The Captain replies: )
“Silence, blasphemer against His Majesty! As long as I bear a sword and shield to defend my Pharaoh and commander, I fear nothing. Pah! You worry for nothing—and now, your life is forfeit. Take him away!”
(The Guards drag out the cup-bearer, who is crying and protesting. After they haul him through the double doors of the Throne Room, we hear his final scream.)