Bo by Rabbi David Hartley Mark

Bo: Ramesses II Faces The Final Plagues

Scene: The Royal Throne Room in the Palace of Pharaoh Ramesses II, Light of Ra, Counsellor to Osiris, Consort to Bastet, the Cat-Goddess, and Lord of the Two Lands (i.e., Upper and Lower Egypt).

 The normally neat and well-appointed room is a mess: puddles of a red, blood-like liquid stain the fine sandstone floor. Here and there, kites and ravens peck at the small carcasses of dead frogs. Various insects, ranging from tiny lice to bigger locusts, crawl about the walls, occasionally dropping onto an unwary Court Officer below. Hastily-placed oil torches are scattered here and there, evidence of the Tenth Plague, that of Darkness.

The Royal Throne is, itself, empty: where is the Pharaoh? He has left his fly-whisk and his flail, royal badges of rank, on the floor where he flung them.

Two high-level Court Officials, Yupa and Paharipedjet process into the room—they were not bidden by His Majesty, and risk their lives by doing so. Yupa’s formal title is “Steward, Overseer of works, Overseer of horses of the Lord of the Two Lands,” while Paharipedjet (known to his colleagues and equals as Pahari) is “Steward of the Lord of the Two Lands”; a top adviser to and protector of the Body of Ramesses II Himself. They were educated all of their lives to believe the Pharaoh to be invulnerable, certainly to the demands of two unknown Semitic rabble-rousers, Moses and Aaron. Yupa and Pahari, frightened and demoralized by this attack by unknown forces at the very Heart of the Empire, are taking shelter in the very center of Egyptian Power—while they still can.

Yupa: I tell you, Paharipedjet, Egypt is lost. Oh, woe are we—

Paharipedjet: Will you silence your tongue? The walls have ears, and Horus, the Falcon-god and protector of Ramesses II, will carry your treasonous utterings to His Royal Ears. Be quiet with your treasonous utterings, can’t you?

Yupa: I don’t care anymore—just last night, during that horrid downpour of rain and Darkness, I felt as if I would die. My own, my dear one, my wife Nefer-hotep, cried out for me. I answered her, “I come, I come, My Beloved! Let us flee the city; let us spend the night in the villages.” Our two souls were knit together as one—

Paharipedjet: Cut to the chase, O’ Dreamer-Poet. What happened?

Yupa: I—I—heard her crying out to me, “Husband! Yupa mine! Where art thou?” I tried to rush to her aid—but I could not see her, so thick was the blackness. When I finally reached her, she was—she was—dead of fright. Her face was frozen in a death-mask of fear. I tell you, Comrade Pahari, it almost killed me, too. That cursed Darkness—

Paharipedjet (unconcerned): Dead? Hm. I am sorry for you; she was a fine wench, and a good breeder. (He flicks a locust off the Pharaoh’s Throne)

Yupa: But what was it killed her?

Paharipedjet: Again: keep your voice down. It is clear—at least, to me—that those two Hebrews are sorcerers, poisoning the wells, defiling our sacred Egyptian gods, and other mischief. Why, I have heard that they have even kidnapped our Egyptian children, and murdered them, for their Dark Rites.

Yupa: O my! What is there to do? No Egyptian dares lay hands on them, for fear of their nameless, Invisible God.

Paharipedjet: Have you considered flight? Humph! You are certainly no help to us loyal Egyptians here. You could go to Nubia; you hold a diplomatic passport, which our vassal Nubians must honor—

Yupa (shaking his head): It is impossible. His Majesty has closed the borders; indeed; he plans to build a Wall, to keep the Hebrews from escaping, and to prevent any more from entering the land. Our Royal Infantry will man watchtowers there—not happily; in all the tumult of the Plagues, no civil servant has been paid in weeks.

Paharipedjet: A wall is madness. How will Greater Egypt conduct trade? Where are we to sell our fine cotton, our military gear, papyrus, linen and grain? This will wreck the economy of the Kingdom. I must speak to His Majesty….

Yupa (shrugging): I tell you what I heard told. All trade is to halt, until His Majesty can deal with this crisis.

Paharipedjet (disgustedly): Oh, His Majesty, His Majesty—I tell you, Yupa, that I believe His Majesty is mad. You do well to flee to Nubia; perhaps far-off Crete would be even better, and safer.

Yupa (shocked): Keep your voice down! How dare you speak like that? That is treason.

Paharipedjet: O come! We have known one another for many years—you agree with me; I know that you do.

Yupa: I cannot stand here, a courtier of Ramesses II, Ra protect him! And listen to you babbling treason—(He tries to turn away; Paharipedjet grabs his arm)

Paharipedjet: Listen to me; listen to me, you sanctimonious lickspittle! Do you not know that Egypt is lost?

Yupa: As a loyal servant of His Majesty, I cannot abide hearing you speak that way. Why, the very walls have ears: you know that Ramesses has servants with hearing-cups on the other side of the walls of this very room. You are playing with fire, Paharipedjet! (Crying, nearly hysterical) Oh, I must go pack, and gather the children—my dear, dead Nefer-Hotep, where are you when I need you?

Paharipedjet: Hush, Fool, and let me think! Those last three plagues, sent by that accursed Moses and his “Invisible God”—whoever heard of an invisible god? See here (he yanks out a small clay idol-amulet  from around his neck) this is Anubis, my guardian god. You can see him, touch him, feel him. THAT is a god, not some Speaking Voice from the Abyss. And the king can do nothing—nothing, I tell you!—to prevent this Invisible God from doing as He likes.

Yupa: For the last time, will you hush? You will get us both impaled!

(He goes to leave; Pahari grabs his arm)

Paharipedjet: I don’t care! The king is mad, I tell you—full of his own megalomania, urged on by that—that—Semitic godling! How could this Hebrew God dare to oppose our mighty Ra, Guardian of the Kingdom, along with the rest of our Divine Pantheon of gods?

Yupa: Never mind—what is that smell? (A Serving-Boy enters, sees the room empty, and turns to leave) You there—Boy! Why does the smell of roasting meat taint the air?

Boy (self-importantly): If it please your Noble Sirs, our Royal Pharaoh has granted permission to the Hebrew slave rabble to make offerings to their—their Invisible God. I am ordered to prepare rosewater to expel the stench.

Paharipedject (Ignoring the Boy; to Yupa): Can you imagine those barbaric Israelites, having the nerve to kill and eat our principal god of the Nile, Khnum, the Ram-God, in our very midst?

Yupa (sadly): I tell you, Pahari, Egypt is lost. If this mob of slaves have taken over in place of our bold Warrior-Pharaoh, I cannot tell what will ensue.

Paharipedjet (forcing a smile): Why worry, Yupa? The smell will dissipate, and I truly believe the worst is over. What else could possibly happen? Perhaps the Pharaoh is not mad at all; perhaps he is merely far cleverer than we, his inferiors. Why, did he not offer the slaves a three-days’-journey into the Sinai Desert, to make their absurd sacrifices, and then return? He is a Master Negotiator, our Royal Ramesses.

Yupa (mournfully): We shall see, Pahari. We shall see. Oh, I must go pack….

(They exit. The Boy flicks rosewater about the room, wrinkles his nose at the smell, and then exits.).

Rabbi David Hartley Mark is from New York City’s Lower East Side. He attended Yeshiva University, the City University of NY Graduate Center for English Literature, and received semicha at the Academy for Jewish Religion. He currently teaches English at Everglades University in Boca Raton, FL, and has a Shabbat pulpit at Temple Sholom of Pompano Beach. His literary tastes run to Isaac Bashevis Singer, Stephen King, King David, Kohelet, Christopher Marlowe, and the Harlem Renaissance.

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