Fragmented Pieces of Parsha Miketz: A Midrash


In my continuing series of documents from the Past, here is a piece which I acquired from the antiquities dealer, Ploni Ibn-Almoni, in the shuq-marketplace of the Old City of Jerusalem during my year abroad many decades ago. Almoni swore that he had secured it from a reliable source: one Dr. Tennessee Smith (1889-1948), an eccentric freebooter and archeologist who hadlocated the tomb of Seti I (reigned 1291-1278 BCE), thought to have been the Pharaoh during the viziership of Joseph the Hebrew. It is supposedly a diary-fragment written by one Djerby, a prison guard during that time, and was found in a clay jar in the southeastern corner of the Valley of the Kings. Dr. Smith translated it from the original hieroglyphics and sold it to the antiquities dealer, prior to his death while flying a surplus Czech ME-109 to join the nascent Israeli Air Force in 1948.

I, Djerby, trusty to Nefaarud, jailer and chief magistrate to Seti, He-Who-Manifests-Amun-Re-Osiris-Isis-and-Horus, and who have served faithfully and without fault to my god-and-father the Pharaoh, do state wholeheartedly that I am tired. Tired of the whole affair, of watching after these court officers, these piddling lickspittles who somehow manage to run afoul of His Majesty. When these highfalutin feet-don’t-smell types come into the prison—MY prison—do they wish, do they want, to comport themselves as prisoners? No, no indeed.

Instead, all they want is Special Service; special food, special mattresses, lined with fine Egyptian cotton, stuffed with goosedown, if you please. Well, I’ve had enough; I’m sick of it. Or I was; at least, until Potiphar brought in his young charge d’affairs, this former chief-of-staff of his, a head-of-household Hebrew, some kid who had apparently run afoul of his wife—what’s her name?—Zuleika? Well, everyone knows what sort of baggage SHE is.

“Leave this boy—Joseph, you say?—leave him with me,” I told Potiphar, “I’m sure I can find a place for him.”

“Not in a dungeon, please, Djerby,” said Potiphar, “I beg you. He’s a delicate sort. And he’s bright—give him a job where he can use his mind. He’s a quick study. Trust me.”

Well, what could I do? Potiphar’s a friend. And he was right: right, indeed. This Joseph was smart: in just two weeks, he had the prison running like a water clock, all humming along. He knew exactly how much fresh straw to order for the royal prisoners; knew when to get the fresh water so that they could have their baths—yes, believe me; they insist on bathing, not like your common, scummy, marketplace thieves; that’s why we have the special section for “Deposed Court Officers.” It’s Pharaoh, you see: he’s a changeable sort—ever since he got that terrific bump on his head when hit by a slingshot in that battle with the Hurrians. Hasn’t been the same since, they say. You never know when some well-meaning courtier is going to get His Royalness into a tizzy by putting the wrong number of seeds into a cookie, or give him his beer in the wrong style mug.

There was that business with the Cup-bearer and the Baker—dreams, I recall. No one could figure them out. Myself, I don’t put too much stock in them. Just live your life, and Amun-Re will look after you; he will, or, perhaps, Osiris. Don’t put too much faith in one god; that’s why there are several. But these two—Herihor, the Cup-Bearer, and Smedjem, the Baker—they were obsessed. So I sent them Joseph; if anyone could cheer them up, it was he. And I was right. In just one week—Herihor, back at work; Smedjem—well, I shouldn’t say; it’s bad luck. (Hanged, you know. Terrible; such a nice fellow, but a really, really, bad baker. Don’t understand how he got the job in the first place. Doesn’t matter now, really.)

And now? Joseph just sits and waits. “What’s the matter, my Joey?” I asked him, just today.

“The Cup-Bearer, Master,” he said to me, smiling, though there were tears in his eyes, “He has not remembered, but has forgotten me.”

“Well, don’t fret,” I said, and patted his back, “Amun-Re will watch out for you.”

“Yes,” he said, “My God will look out for me.”

And so he waits….


(Here ends the fragment)


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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