A Pit of Poisonous Snakes

The sons of Jacob (Joseph’s brothers) shortly after *crossing Egypt’s border*, went to the dwelling of the Canaanite-Egyptian interpreter they’d used last time. The brothers and the interpreter then went to Joseph’s official residence to present themselves to him.

Several hawk-faced, gimlet-eyed, sword-wielding guards were slouching around in front of the residence.

“We wish to see the de facto prime minister,” said the oldest son, Reuben.

“You’ve an appointment, have you then?” said one of guards who thrust two fingers into Reuben’s nostrils and pulled upwards, forcing Reuben on tiptoe.

“Not exactly. You see, we’re from Canaan, and we spoke with the de facto prime minister last time we were here. He said for us look him up when next we visit, and here we are,” said Reuben.

The guard removed his fingers from Reuben’s nostrils, and tugged on a string attached to a bell above the tent’s flap that was opened by Joseph himself.

“Do you know these men, sire?” said the guard.

Joseph looked at his brothers. When he saw Benjamin he began trembling. Then he said to the guard, “I believe I do know them. All of you resume your posts. I’ll take care of this.”

Joseph leaned inside and said sotto voce to someone in there, “Take these men to the guest tent where they can wash and otherwise make themselves presentable. Then kill a goat and prepare a mouth-watering savoury meal, because these men are to eat with me at mid-day.”

Joseph disappeared indoors and another man appeared, bronzed, of a military bearing, with a chiselled face and creased but kindly eyes.

“Let’s go,” he said, and began leading the brothers away from the residence.


The brothers were nervous as they walked. They began chattering among themselves in their native Canaanite.

“I do hope they won’t kill us for the silver we have in our sacks,” said Asher.

“There’s got to be more of those tough guards than we saw at the front of the de facto prime minister’s tent. Maybe they’re lurking out there in the bushes and will cut our throats and make off with our silver,” said Gad.

“I’ll hear no more of this talk,” said Reuben. “It behooves us to remember who we are. We’re Hebrews, sons of Jacob. Nothing frightens us.”

Nonetheless, Reuben felt it prudent to sound out the man leading them, by saying, “We wish to assure you we’ve come here only to buy food.”

When the man said nothing, Reuben became jittery, and continued, “Y-y-you sh-sh-should know that the s-s-silver that s-s-someone put in our s-s-sacks last time, well,  w-w-we’ve b-b-brought it back because that s-s-someone may have made a mistake. W-w-we’ve b-b-brought even more s-s-silver to buy f-f-food.”

“Relax,” said the man, “it was your God, the God of your father, who put the silver in your sacks.”

“You saw Him do this?”

“Not exactly. But thoughts that He did, assailed my mind with such force that I had no doubt He did.”

When the brothers reached the guest tent, the man led them in, where they saw Simeon.

“You didn’t half take your time coming back, did you brothers,” said Simeon, who, by his haggard appearance, hadn’t had an easy time as a hostage. “I’ve been in hell, I tell you. All the time you were away, I never knew which day would be my last. My guards kept telling me that if you all didn’t return soon, the de facto prime minister would assume you were never coming back and would have me done away with, using any one of the barbaric ways they do away with people in Egypt, like cast into a pit of poisonous snakes, thrown in boiling water, buried alive, stoned to death, strangled,  beheaded,  you name it. I must have died a thousand deaths dwelling each day and all day upon the terrible things that might happen to me at any moment on the caprice of the de facto prime minister.”

The brothers murmured their sympathies. “Notwithstanding the trauma you’ve undergone, the important thing is, we’ve come back, so you can put your shattered mind at rest,” said Reuben.

“You know, don’t you, that you’re all to eat with the de facto prime minister shortly?” said Joseph’s man, who was in fact the steward.

“We didn’t, but we’re honoured he would have us eat with him,” said Reuben.

“First, though, you’ll have to wash and put on clean garments, for the de facto prime minister is big on cleanliness and doesn’t like bad smells,” said the steward, who ordered bowls of washing water be brought in, as well as fresh garments.


The brothers now clean and fragrant-smelling, were led back to Joseph’s tent. When they saw Joseph there they bowed low.

Joseph looked at Benjamin with the same intensity he’d done earlier, and said to him, “Are you the youngest brother, the one your brothers told me about?”

“I must be, mustn’t I, since you saw my brothers last time and so knew I wasn’t among them, and now I am,” said Benjamin.

“Show more respect to the de facto prime minister, you impudent lout,” growled the steward.

“Leave this to me,  steward,” said Joseph, who said to Benjamin, “You’ve a good grasp of logic, young man. You may make a fine lawyer some day.”

Whereupon Joseph hurried from the room and began weeping. The brothers could hear the sounds of the weeping and looked at each other, puzzled. Soon, Joseph came back and seemed composed.

“Serve the food,” he said to the servants, in a voice that sounded like he might weep again.

The servants began putting food on the room’s three tables. Joseph took his place at the first table, the Egyptians who were there, sat at the second. The brothers were directed to the third.

“Please don’t be offended that you have to eat by yourselves,” said Joseph to the brothers, “it’s just that Egyptians find it detestable to eat with Hebrews.”

The brothers began tucking in, and saw that Benjamin’s serving was five times more than theirs.

Source: Genesis 43, 16-34

This entry was posted in Asher, Benjamin, Gad, Jacob, Joseph, Reuben, Simeon and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to A Pit of Poisonous Snakes

  1. Richard says:

    I am a huge admirer of your transmutations of the Bible legends and the freshness, humour and insights of your writing.

  2. Richard says:

    … and of the perfected, quiet, consistent, easy flow and richness of your expression.

  3. Man of Roma says:

    I agree with Richard.

  4. Christopher says:

    Why did my teachers at school never tell me this?!!

  5. Man of Roma says:

    There’s evidence many good writers were bad students.

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