Kee Teesa: Egyptian Army Interrogation of an Israelite Refugee

Kee Teesa: Egyptian Army Interrogation of an Israelite Refugee

by Rabbi David Hartley Mark

Lt. Djer, Duty Officer of the 18th Regiment, Royal Egyptian Cavalry (“Jaws of Anubis,” Chariot borne), leaned back on his cloth-and-wood army field chair and yawned. He got up, scratching his shaven, bald head, and peered out the tent-flap: almost midnight, by the Moon. He frowned—why must he, an Honors Graduate of the Royal Egyptian Military Academy (Heliopolis), always be assigned to night duty, the midnight shift, here at the Army Forward Operations Base? He, who could bear down from a galloping, fast-moving war chariot, and lance a jackrabbit—had he not received honors for Horsemanship at the Academy? He should have been asleep in his tent, alongside Lt. Nefer (who snored), ready to rise at the crack of dawn, to conduct maneuvers with his squadron. All his troopers needed practice. Private Twosret handled a chariot-lance as if it were a harrow from his father’s farm, and Corp. Hotep had fallen out of the chariot—fallen out, could you believe it?—when his starboard horse stumbled during a rough turn.

And now, Djer had to watch the hours move by, slowly, with nothing to do save fill out report-forms on clay tablets, to send back to Royal Military Headquarters, where no one, it was assured, would read them. He yawned, and stretched—when would this end? He—

The tent-flap burst open, to admit Captain Sobek, Commander of Djer’s overall unit, the 22nd Division of Horse (“Rays of Ra in His Glory”), along with Sgt.-Major Yunet, his aide.

Djer snapped to attention: “Officer on deck!” all thoughts of sleep and early rising to field exercises, forgotten. The two privates who were dozing jumped up, as well. Djer knew that the Regiment’s duty, besides field maneuvers, was to prevent the entry of illegal aliens—for that reason, he and his men had been sent to this obscure outpost—it was a wasteland, but crucial for guarding the boundaries of Blessed Mother Egypt.

The Captain returned the salute: “At ease, Lieutenant.” Djer breathed more easily—Sobek was not out to surprise his men and find them derelict of duty; some other military matter concerned him. Removing his helmet, the captain turned and ordered: “Guards—bring in the prisoner!”

Two burly Military Police dragged in an emaciated man clothed in rags—his body was covered with welts; he had crawled though he had crawled through the Field-of-Thorns which the soldiers had used to block the entrance, both to their Army Camp, and to the border itself. There was also a wall, built of sturdy sandstone, ordered specially by Pharaoh Merneptah to keep out “illegals.”

“Kill these vermin on sight,” the Royal Edict had been given to the Army.

Lt. Djer recognized the man as a Hebrew: he was sunburnt—clearly, he had been a pyramid-construction slave, prior to wandering in the desert with Moses the Rebel Hebrew.

These filthy Hebrews, Djer thought, It’s not enough that they nearly destroyed our nation with their plagues, led by their abominable Invisible God; now, must they attempt to re-enter our land?

The Hebrew stood weakly between the MPs, leaning on them; the two muscled soldiers recoiled from him as from something unclean.

Capt. Sobek turned to the Lieutenant: “Go fetch Scribe Nemhet to record the proceedings of this field-command  hearing.”

“May the Lieutenant ask respectfully, to what purpose, Sir?” asked Lt. Djer. He knew the captain to be a by-the-scroll officer, but did not wish to do anything that might endanger his future army career.

“I intend to question the prisoner,” returned Capt. Sobek, “We must best understand the mind-set of these savages, to prevent them from invading our kingdom as in Joseph’s day,,” said the captain, “Send for Nemhet, posthaste!” Lt. Djer nodded to one of the privates who stood at attention behind him. The boy raced into the night.

When the scribe entered the tent, soft clay tablet in hand, the captain began: “Here, in the presence of Royal Egyptian Army officers and  personnel, in accordance with Emergency Field Directive A-444, I will question this Prisoner, who is suspected of invading an Army base unauthorized. I charge him with spying….

Gripped between the MP’s, the Prisoner began to wail: “I am innocent—have you no water, Kind Sirs? Water, please!”

The captain raised his hand as if to strike; the prisoner fell silent. “Give him water,” Sobek commanded, and the sergeant gave him a clay jug-full. The prisoner gulped it down.

“Not so fast, Hebrew,” said the captain, in a gentler voice, “You will get a cramp.”

The prisoner nodded. “Are you better, now?” asked the captain.

“Yes,” whispered the scrawny Hebrew. Djer could not help but notice how puny the Prisoner seemed, held between the two burly MPs.

How could this ragtag mob of slaves defeat us, the strongest Empire in the world? he thought.

“So. We begin,” said the captain, “Sit the Prisoner down. What is your name, for the record?”

“An it please you, Your Worship,” replied the Hebrew, “I am called Mephiboshet ben Khareoo’Shoshana.”

“You are to address me as Captain,” returned the officer. “So, your father was Egyptian, your mother Hebrew. By Egyptian law, you are a bastard, guilty of mixing the blood of pure Egypt with your pagan race.”

The Hebrew nodded mournfully, “I have lived with this all of my life, shunned by both Hebrew and Egyptian. After the plague of—begging your pardon, Captain—the Firstborns’ Death, I escaped with the Israelites, but they have not accepted me as pure Hebrew. And so, I left the Camp of Moses, and now wish to return to Egypt.”

“You cannot do that, by our laws,” said the captain, sharply, “for you did not apply for refugee citizenship; you are an illegal entrant, and I accuse you of spying.”

The Hebrew whispered, “By the beard of the Lord, I am no spy, but a refugee with no place to dwell. I cry you mercy, Captain. Mercy, please….”

“Describe the condition of Enemy Moses’s camp,” the captain interrupted, and, turning to Lt. Djer, he added, “Headquarters wishes for us to keep track of the escaped enemy-Hebrews. I hear from Headquarters that orders may come down to attack them, in revenge for all the destruction they caused. Why, the shock may have led to Pharaoh Ramesses II’s death.”

Lt. Djer nodded. “May I question the prisoner?” he asked Capt. Sobek. Sobek nodded.

“Prisoner!” said Lt. Djer, “Our scouts have seen a pillar of smoke, pillar of fire, in the midst of your camp. We have also seen lightning and heard thunder, even during a clear, sunlit day. Are you conjurors, to make these strange phenomena appear?”

The Hebrew slumped, wearily. “All that is caused by our God, who commanded our Moses to ascend the mountain called Sinai—”

“What is the strategic value of this mountain?” demanded Capt. Sobek, “Perhaps Rebel Moses is organizing a ragtag force of armed shepherds, to rush down from Sinai and catch us unawares.”

“Sinai is not a Place for war,” said the Hebrew, “It is where our Lord God will deliver to us His sacred Law, a Law of Peace.”

“What law is this?” asked Capt. Sobek, “I know no law save that of Pharaoh Merneptah, All hail our Pharaoh, Light of the East!” The soldiers saluted; the civilian scribe fell to his knees, and did obeisance to his sovereign lord.

“Did all your people receive this—this—Law?” asked the captain, “Answer quickly, and completely, you were best.”

“Some did,” agreed the Prisoner, “but others implored the brother of Moses, High Priest Aaron, to build them a simulacrum of a calf. He resisted, but did so, in the end. And these rebels did bow down and worship.”

“Hm,” said Lt. Djer, “I am surprised that so many have clearly lost faith in your invisible God. What happened when your Chief Magician, Moses, returned and beheld the Calf?”

The Hebrew began totremble: “Moses ground it to powder. He then ordered his Levite tribe to go through the camp, and slay all those who committed abominations before the Calf. So much blood and slaughter—it horrified me—I prepared to escape the camp—”

“Prisoner!” called out the captain, no stranger to massacres—he himself had led the slaughter of hundreds of Girgashite prisoners and their families, just three moons prior—“But then, if your Moses returned and made peace, why are you here, spying on our troops and weaponry?”

“I—I—” stammered the Prisoner, “I, knowing my half-breed status, felt it better to run away from the camp. I did not wish to die at the hands of Levites; my mother was a Benjaminite.”

Capt. Sobek turned to Lt. Djer: “What say you, Lieutenant? Does this Hebrew’s tale ring true?”

Djer furrowed his brow, in thought: “I am not certain, Captain. He might be speaking the truth, or he might have been sent to spy out our camp, and then return to Magician Moses.”

The captain slammed his hand on the army-desk, causing the scribe to jump.

“We cannot take chances. As Commander and Magistrate of this Forward Operations Base, I rule that this Hebrew is guilty of penetrating our Wall, and invading our land—his illegal status is clear,” he decided, “Take this offal out of my command tent, and execute him by lancing.”

The Prisoner began to wail in fright, but not for long: the MPs dragged him out quickly. The captain and lieutenant began to follow: Egyptian law required them to witness the procedure.

The privates stood on the prostrate prisoners’ hands, and the larger MP readied his spear. There was one short cry, and then silence.

“Good riddance to a spy,” said Capt. Sobek. The lieutenant nodded, though his hands were shaking. He had never before witnessed a drumhead execution. The hot desert sun was rising: the captain returned to the tent to check the scribe’s report, while the lieutenant went to his barracks-tent to sleep for an hour before field maneuvers—if he was able to sleep.

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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