Bend Them Like Hatshepsut

*The last posting* ended with Hatshepsut taking Moses to live with her at the royal palace as her adopted son. She was the daughter and only surviving child of the Pharaoh Thutmose I and his main wife Ahmose. Hatshepsut had had two brothers, but they’d died early. For Egyptian royalty to die early wasn’t unusual because they were so inbred. A prince could marry his sister; or a princess her brother; or a king his daughter, and no-one raised an eyebrow.

On the other hand, if a man-on-the-street Egyptian married his sister, daughter or cousin, people raised their eyebrows. Hence it was rare for a man-on-the-street Egyptian to marry his sister, daughter or cousin, for he didn’t want to go through life with everyone always looking at him and raising their eyebrows.

While an Egyptian royal was free to marry his sister daughter or cousin, this freedom came at a price – which was that his children from these unions would likely have things seriously wrong with them, like receding chins, withered limbs, noses missing, unsightly skin, and diminished intelligences. These were among the countless congenital maladies that afflicted Egyptian kings, being as they were the products of inbreeding.

You would think, then, that the hardy Egyptian people would soon have overthrown their feeble royal kings. If you think this, you forget that in those days – 3500 years ago – there were no radios, televisions, smart-phones, cameras, computers, or any else of the technological wizardry we today take for granted. Hence almost no Egyptian man-on-the -street knew what his royal rulers looked like, let alone knew in what bad congenital shape they were.

Should a king (pharaoh) go out in public, he was covered from head to foot with robes, so you couldn’t see what he looked like. So you couldn’t see his receding chin, or withered limbs, or the hole in his face where a nose would normally be, or his unsightly skin, or know that his intelligence was that of a child. But, no matter how feeble a pharaoh, his authority was unquestioned and his word was law. No matter how silly or barbaric his policies and orders might be, there were no ends of minions to carry them out.

This was the ambiance in which Moses would be surrounded when he went to live with his adoptive mother, Hatshepsut, at the royal palace. He was fortunate, though, in that all the congenital royal feeblenesses seemed to have passed Hatshepsut by. She was, for one thing, endowed of a beauty so sublime, it reduced men in her presence to bowel-evacuating cowering jackals.  Also,  she was luminously intelligent, was intrepidly courageous, knew her own fine mind, and had a basaltic will. She thought herself in every way the better of men, who she could bend any way she liked.

Sources:
– Exodus 2
Women in Scripture
Bible Archeology
The Perplexing Historical Moses

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Gratitude

*In those days, 3500 years ago*, whether in Pharaohnic Egypt or anywhere,  mothers suckled their infants longer than they do today. Today, it’s a year at most. Then – 3500 years ago – suckling could last four years. Even longer sometimes.

This was the one thing Jochebed could be thankful for, because extended suckling enabled her to keep her precious baby boy, Moses, with her for a number of years before he went to live permanently with his adoptive mother, Hatshepsut, at the royal palace in Heliopolis.

Giving up a baby is never easy for a mother, not even today. Jochebed can therefore be excused for extending as long as possible her suckling of baby Moses. Even after Moses had ceased suckling, Jochebed continued to tell Hatshepsut he was still suckling.

“This is amazing”, said Hatsheput to Jochebed one day, “it’s seven years now, and you say Moses still isn’t weaned? He looks healthy to me. I know other boys his age who were weaned long ago, and they look as healthy as Moses. Is there anything the matter with him?”

“Nothing at all, ma’am. Not all babies are the same. You can see, can’t you, that Moses is very, very special? He’s unusually beautiful, and unusually intelligent. So, being unusual, he’s going to be unusual in when he’s weaned. You can’t hurry this. If you do, you could damage him permanently. You want him to be perfect, don’t you, ma’am?”

“Of course. Of course. But if he isn’t weaned soon, I’m going to think you’re not being entirely truthful with me, and I’ll have to act.”

***

Jochebed, realising the game was up, told Hatshepsut when next she visited Moses that he was now ready for his new home at the royal palace.

“I would so like it, ma’am” said Jochebed, “if you could allow me to visit Moses at the palace every now and again, in the way I’ve allowed you to visit him at my home every now and again. My heart is broken at giving him up. If I can’t visit him it’ll be too much for my broken heart, and I’ll die.”

“I’m afraid I can’t allow visits. Moses is going to know only one mother from now on. Which will be me. I want him to forget you completely, which he only can if he never sees you again. I’m frightfully sorry.”

“You’ve just signed my death sentence. I can’t go on living if I can’t see my baby boy again.”

“I do understand your heartbreak. You’d have to be a monster not to be heartbroken. Time, though, heals everything, even broken hearts. You and Amram can always have another baby. It’ll make you forget Moses so completely you’ll wonder why you were ever sad at giving him up.”

“This is easy for you to say, ma’am. What if I have another boy? He’ll just be drowned in the Nile according to *the Pharaoh’s decree.*”

“You can rest assured,” said Hatshepsut “that my father will lift this decree. I will persuade him to. I have no doubt on this. I know how to wrap him around my little finger. Trust me.”

“With all due respect, ma’am, you don’t know how broken my heart is at giving up my beloved baby boy. You’re young, rich, beautiful. I also know you’re unmarried and have never borne children. I, on the other hand, am getting on in years, am a poor Hebrew slave, and am decidedly not beautiful. I’ve been long-married and have borne three children. You and I are so different, we could be of different species. You simply cannot know how I’m feeling. You cannot even imagine how I’m feeling, so don’t even try.”

“Even though you’re all those things you described yourself as” said Hatshepsut, “you certainly don’t lack courage, for you would surely know I could order you drowned in the Nile for speaking to me in so contumacious a manner. If Moses has inherited even a smidgen your courage he will do great deeds, and his name will be spoken of in awe by all the generations to come. Were he to remain with you, the world would never know of him. By coming to live with me, he will become immortal. You should be grateful for this, not sad.”

Source: Exodus 2, 10

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Gootchy Gootchy Goo

It was a typical July morning in Egypt’s Nile delta. The mid-summer sun was rising into the cloudless sky. The air was muggy. Crows and vultures sat in trees everywhere – the crows screeching nerve-jangling squawks, and the vultures looking down all around for dead animals to feast upon.

The Pharaoh’s only daughter, the beautiful and much-desired Hatshepsut, who lived in the royal palace in Heliopolis, liked to go each morning to the Nile to bathe. On this morning, Hatshepsut, and five ladies-in-waiting, all riding donkeys, wended their way to an area of the Nile bank that offered privacy from onlookers because of clumps of big trees on the bank, and thick masses of reeds in the water just off the bank.

It was in these reeds that Jochebed, earlier that morning, had hidden the *water-sealed bulrush-made basket* with her baby-boy in it. But not so hidden it wouldn’t draw Hatshepsut’s attention.

Jochebed had brought her daughter, Miriam, with her, and had told her to remain close enough, so that when Hatshepsut found the basket and opened it and saw the baby-boy, Miriam would come up and offer to find a woman to suckle the baby if Hatshepsut wished  to adopt him. Miriam would then go off and fetch Jochebed, who would be nearby, and would present her to Hatshepsut as the woman who would suckle the child.

 ***

“What’s that floating out there?” asked Hatshepsut of her ladies-in-waiting.

“Looks like a basket, Ma’am” said Ahset, one of the ladies-in-waiting.

“Odd. I shudder to think what’s in there” said Hatshepsut. “A dead animal?  Putrescent food? I tend to look on the dark side, you know. Living in the palace does that to one. All those intrigues. All those false smiles. I’m the poor little rich girl. I have everything but love. Anyway, I feel I have to know what’s in that basket. Could you wade out and get it? Don’t worry about your wet clothes. They’ll dry. It’s hot enough.”

“There’s a funny noise inside it” said Ahset when she had brought the basket to Hatshepsut.

“That would rule out a dead animal or putrescent food. If it’s alive, it could  be something dangerous, though, like a snake.”

“Doesn’t sound like a snake, Ma’am.”

“Open it.”

Ahset prised open the lid.

“It’s a baby, Ma’am, and a boy. He’s got a circumcision scar. He must be Hebrew.”

“Well, how about that? Oh my goodness, he’s so unbelievably sweet. Gootchy gootchy goo. He’s so, so incredibly beautiful. I’ve never seen a baby-boy so beautiful. I don’t care if he’s Hebrew, I have to have him.”

Miriam, who was close enough she could hear everything, approached Hatshepsut.

“Excuse me, Ma’am. I was nearby and couldn’t help hearing what you said. If you need a wet-nurse to suckle him, I know a woman who would be ideal.”

“Fetch her.”

***

It came to pass, then, that Jochebed got the job of wet-nurse to the baby boy. It tore her heart, but she told herself this was better than that he be thrown into the Nile to drown. Hatshepsut said she would pay her too, until the boy was old enough to come and live with her (Hatshepsut) in the palace.

***

“I’m going to call him Moses” said Hatshepsut to Jochebed, “because I drew him out of the water.”

Source: Exodus 2, 4 – 10

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Amram and Jochebed

Despite the Pharaoh’s edict that each *new-born Hebrew boy* be killed through being thrown into the Nile, Hebrew couples continued courageously to produce children.

One such Hebrew couple were Amram and his wife Jochebed. They already had a daughter, Miriam, and a son, Aaron, but they wanted another baby, and did – a boy.

Never had there been a more beautiful baby boy. Not only did Amram and Jochebed think this, everyone who saw him did too. He was so beautiful he could have been a baby girl.

The boy’s beauty was such that Jochabed became extra anxious that he not be discovered by an Egyptian and thrown into the Nile. So she came up with a plan.

First, she would ensure the baby was completely hidden during his first three months, a period when any human baby is at its most vulnerable. All the while, Amram would build  an elaborate basket out of bulrushes, that he would make watertight with clay and tar. When the baby-boy became old enough, Jochabed would put him in the basket, then take it to a place among the reeds close to the bank of the Nile river, and leave it bobbing on the water where the Pharaoh’s daughter, Hatshepsut, would be sure to see it when she came for her daily bathe there.

Jochebed’s plan made no sense to Amram, who loved his baby boy almost as much as Jochebed did.

“Allow me to explain” Jochebed said to him. “Absent the fruition of my plan, the chances of our dear baby boy being thrown into the Nile to drown are too big for my peace of mind. The thought of even the remotest chance of this happening causes me sleepless nights. It’s a situation I won’t tolerate. My doing nothing isn’t an option. I must do something.”

“I do see your logic, dear Jochebed” said Amram, “but the something you do should have a reasonable chance of success. Otherwise it’s best to do nothing, and just leave everything to fate.”

“This is weak talk” said Jochabed. “It’s not the talk of a strong man, but of a weak and silly woman. To think I let you talk me into marrying you. I had my pick of strong manly men, and I end up with you. What could I have been thinking?”

“We can talk about this another time, but not now” said Amram. “The fate of our dear baby boy is much more important. I can’t think of a more inappropriate moment than now for you to pick a fight with me about something that may have hurt your feelings long ago. It shows how self-absorbed you are. With all my faults, I’m still the best husband you could have. Now, let’s get back to talking about your plan for our baby boy.”

“I’ll be glad to” said Jochebed. “As I was going to explain before you interrupted, I want Hatshepsut to bring up our baby boy. He would become a member of the Pharaoh’s household, and therefore be exempt from being thrown into the Nile by over-zealous Egyptian law-enforcement officials.”

“How’re you so sure Hatshepsut will want to bring our boy up?”

“He is so beautiful, no one can resist him. I just know he’ll have the same irresistible effect on Hatshepsut as soon as she sees him. I’m not worried at all.”

“Well, I am. But, as I always seem to do, I’ll go along with what you say. However, if your plan turns out badly, I’m walking away from our marriage.”

“Is that a threat; or a promise?”

Source: Exodus 2, 1 – 3

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Shiphrah and Puah Have Their Say

With Joseph *finally dying* at the age of one-hundred-and-ten, it was inevitable that his eleven surviving brothers would sooner or later die too. So they did, along with all the others of their generation. The following generation took, then, its place in the sun – the Egyptian sun – which was a harsh and fierce sun, but a sun that nonetheless the new generation of Hebrews – or, if you like, Israelites – thrived in. Well, at least at first.

In their Egyptian refuge of Goshen, the Israelites – or, if you like, Hebrews – conscientiously and innovatingly farmed the land, which eventually became the most prosperous area in all of Egypt. Despite working so hard to achieve this, they still found the time and energy to procreate to the utmost. Thus their numbers grew to an extent that made Egyptians nervous.

A new Pharaoh had ascended the Egyptian throne, and he fanned the flames of these fears. Unfortunately for the Hebrews, this new Pharaoh was not able to put their presence in Egypt into perspective, for he had never heard of Joseph – the Hebrew who had become prime minister of Egypt, and who, through his implementing wise policies, had enabled Egypt to cope successfully with the seven-year famine in the Levant that had devastated Egypt’s neighbours. So, but for Joseph, Egypt would have been devastated too. However, in his ignorance, the new Pharaoh didn’t think about this.

Hence the Pharaoh kept saying at rallies, “My fellow Egyptians, these Hebrews have become too many and too strong for us. We must take precautions to see that they don’t increase any further; or we shall find that, if war breaks out, they will join the enemy and fight against us, and become the masters of Egypt. We just can’t have that.”

***

In order that their spirits be broken and their libidos dampened, the Hebrews were made into slaves, and, ironically, *through the very same laws* that had enabled Joseph to make Egyptian workers into slaves long ago.

Day by day, year by year, from sun-up to sun-down, the Hebrews now toiled in the fields and in the mines and on construction sites, while being lashed with the whips their Egyptian overseers wielded with relish. All this under the unrelenting rays of the fierce Egyptian sun and attendant mugginess.

If the Pharaoh thought this would end Hebrews proliferating he was dead wrong. Through their belief in God, they found meaning in their servitude. So their spirits remained unbroken and their libidos undampened. They continued multiplying.

Eventually realising this, the desperate Pharaoh summoned Shiphrah and Puah, who were the two chief Hebrew midwives. After the usual introductory pleasantries, the Pharaoh said, “You are to instruct the midwives who report to you that they are to kill all the boy-children they deliver. The girl-children, though, may be spared.”

“Please Your Majesty” said Shiphrah, “why are you ordering this? This does sound very odd, and very cruel, and goes against everything we, as midwives, hold dear. May we ask the reason for this order?”

“I normally give orders with no explanations” said the Pharaoh. “But I’ll be nice, and will make an exception for you. I have simply found it necessary for the good of Egypt that the numbers of Hebrews must not increase. And how better to bring this about than by killing all Hebrew boy-babies by throwing them into the Nile?”

The other midwife, Puah, chipped in, “Your Majesty, quite apart from the barbarity of your plan, killing all Hebrew boy babies at birth won’t be possible, not even remotely possible. You see, because Hebrew women have to work so hard and so long each day, they’ve become in such good physical shape that giving birth is quite easy. Also, you can’t most times even tell if a Hebrew woman is with child because she’s in such good physical shape. To give birth, she needs only to squat down somewhere, and the baby comes out, and she goes back to work in the fields the next day. Hence we, as midwives, help deliver only a small percentage of Hebrew babies born.”

“Even given what you say” said the Pharaoh, “you still deliver some boy-babies. Each boy baby you kill will still help stabilise your numbers. Now, I’m finished talking. Do as I order, else you’ll be very sorry.”

Shiphrah and Puah went back to their duties.

Source: Exodus 1

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Joseph Elucidates

Having *wailed their anguish* Jacob’s sons went about burying him. This involved more than just digging a hole and dumping Jacob’s corpse in it, as might have been appropriate had Jacob been just any old Canaanite, instead of a Founding Father of the new nation of Israel that he was.

According to their father’s instructions the twelve sons of Jacob carried the body to a field called Machpelah, which was near Mamre, that Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham, had bought as a family cemetery from *Ephron the Hittite*. After lugging the body under the scorching Levantine sun to Machpelah field, the sons then had to locate the cave there where Jacob said he must be buried.

Having finally found the cave, the sons dug a big hole inside it, in which they reverentially laid Jacob’s body. They then re-filled – also reverentially – the hole. After that, Joseph gave a short eulogy of his now buried father to the throng who had gathered. Next morning everyone embarked on the long journey back to Goshen, in Egypt.

***

Once back in Goshen the brothers, excepting Joseph, gave voice among themselves to the troubling thoughts that had assailed them during the journey back.

“I’m going to guess we’re all thinking the same thing” said Reuben, the eldest.

“What might that be, brother?” said Simeon, the second eldest.

“Well…….you know……..about what little brother Joseph could now do to us in revenge for what *we did to him before*. I mean, I don’t think his thoughts about us can be kindly, despite his benign exterior.”

“You have a point, brother. What do you suggest?”

“I’ve thought this all out. Let’s tell little brother Joseph that our father Jacob had told us to ask him to forgive us for what we did to him all those years ago, for we were young and foolish and acted like the young and foolish do, and that we didn’t mean him any harm, for we returned to the well and he was gone, so there was nothing we could do.”

“What have we to lose?”

***

When the brothers went to Joseph and said to him what they’d agreed to say to him, Joseph said, “My brothers, that is patently a lie. It confirms our father’s very perceptive view of you that *you are scum*. Nonetheless you need have no fears. Really. I mean this. I, as our father’s favourite, now wear his mantle of God’s representative on Earth. So that when you now speak with me, you’re speaking with God. Hence whatever I do to you, it’s really God doing it. God wishes not to harm you. Therefore I won’t harm you.”

“That’s awfully good of you” said Reuben.

“If you’d been listening properly you wouldn’t have said that” said Joseph. “It’s not awfully good of me. It’s awfully good of God. Let me elucidate. If you hadn’t thrown me down the well, the Midianites wouldn’t have found me, so they wouldn’t have sold me to the Ishmaelites, so I wouldn’t have got to Egypt, so I wouldn’t have been re-sold to Potiphar, whose wife wouldn’t have accused me of molesting her, so I wouldn’t have been put in jail, so I wouldn’t have met there the baker and butler of the Pharaoh, so I wouldn’t have interpreted their dreams, so I wouldn’t have got to interpret the Pharaoh’s dream, so he wouldn’t have made me prime minister, so I wouldn’t have administered successfully the famine, so I wouldn’t have got you all into Egypt from Canaan where you would surely have died from the famine there. Do you get the picture now?”

***

Joseph and his brothers remained in Egypt the rest of their lives. Joseph lived to be one-hundred-and-ten. This was not as long as his great-grandfather Abraham’s one-hundred-and-seventy-five; and not as long as his grandfather Isaac’s one-hundred-and-eighty; and not as long as his father Jacob’s one-hundred-and-forty-seven.

Still, Joseph’s comparatively short one-hundred-and-ten wasn’t to be sneezed at. After all, how many men today – despite cushy lives that the people of those very long-ago days couldn’t even imagine – live to be one-hundred-and-ten?

Source: Genesis 50, 12-26

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Mourning of Egypt

As soon as Jacob had *stopped breathing*, Joseph threw himself on him, weeping and kissing his face. This sort of behaviour is what prime ministers exhibited then – 4000 years ago. Today they behave more circumspectly. At least outwardly they do. What a difference 4000 years makes.

After having composed himself, Joseph ordered the physicians in his service to embalm Jacob’s body. This was done in forty days. Compared with today this was a long time. Today, embalming takes no more than an hour, although applying the cosmetics, and dressing and casketing the body may take several hours. Still, it’s a lot less than the forty days this used to take.

The Egyptian nation officially mourned Jacob’s death for seventy days. This says much for Egyptians then, given that Jacob was a Canaanite Hebrew.

Then there was Joseph’s promise to Jacob that when he died, he would accompany his body from Goshen (in Egypt) to his native Canaan where he would be buried next to his (Jacob’s) grandfather Abraham, and father Isaac. In those days – 4,000 years ago – this journey took at least 11 days. So it would take 11 days to get there, and 11 days to return. And not to speak of the few days it would take in Canaan arrange the burial and burial service.

Joseph could therefore count on being away at least a month from his official duties as prime minister of Egypt. How would Egypt cope in his absence? This was on Joseph’s mind when he asked the Pharaoh for official leave.

“That’s quite alright old chap” said the Pharaoh. “Honouring his father’s dying request to be buried in these circumstances, no matter how inconvenient and onerous they are, is what any decent prime minister would do. Egypt, now on a firm economic and political footing thanks to your stewardship, will do just fine while you’re away. To show my appreciation for what you’ve done for Egypt, I’m going to let you take the dignitaries of my court and the dignitaries of all Egypt with you – all these in addition to your own household and your father’s household. I’m therefore putting much trust in you, that I just know you, as prime minister of Egypt, will honour.”

Hence the retinue that Joseph took with him on this journey to Canaan was large.

***

On arrival at the threshing floor of the area of Atad, which was beside the Jordan river, in the vicinity of which the burial would take place, Joseph and his retinue set up camp. He decreed seven days of mourning for his father. Whereupon everyone began wailing loudly, so loudly that the local inhabitants, wanting to keep on the good side of the prime minister of mighty Egypt, renamed the area Abel-mizraim, which in today’s English means “mourning of Egypt”.

Now, all that remained was to go ahead with the actual burial.

Source: Genesis 50, 1-11

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