Shemot by David Hartley Mark

Reign of Pharaoh Tuthmosis III (1504-1450 BCE), possible Pharaoh of the Israelite-Slavery-Period. Meeting of the High Court Privy Council, consisting of Officers and Advisers to His Royal Majesty. Item One on the Royal Agenda this fine Spring Morning is Population Control: namely, the preponderance of Apiru’, or Israelites, a Foreign Nation once welcomed into Egypt by the Late Vice-Pharaoh Joseph, known as Tsafnat-Paanayach, Secretary of Agriculture and Plenipotentiary to an earlier Pharaoh, the only Female Pharaoh, possibly Hatshepsut (1498-1483 BCE). But Circumstances have changed, and the Stranger Apiru/Israelite/Hebrews are no longer welcome in the Kingdom.

Present at this meeting, in the Summer Palace, are

–Tuthmosis III, Pharaoh of Egypt; son of Hatshepsut, a vain but intelligent ruler concerned with keeping his subjects content and in thrall to his power, as well as retaining Egypt’s position as top Middle-Eastern-Northeast-African Power, against regional upstarts Hatti and Northern Syria
–Senenmut, Royal Cup-Bearer Lord; that is, Chief Adviser to His Royal Majesty, a holdover from the regime of Hatshepsut;
–Unas, Minister of the Interior and Chief of the Security Services, a Secret Police Chief dedicated to the Survival of the Egyptian Empire, regardless of Methodology;
–General Kamose, Commander of the Royal Egyptian Army and Cavalry, a loyal career soldier; and
–Apophis, Minister of Census and Population Studies, whose Job it is to Number and Sort all Subjects of the Pharaoh—the Egyptians are notoriously xenophobic, which is to say they have a fear and suspicion of Outsiders, including the Hebrews, late their Neighbors and Friends, but not now; surely, not now….

Tuthmosis: What say you, Royal Cup-Bearer Lord Senenmut, about this Issue? We wait upon your words. As you advised our Mother, the late Empress Dowager Hatshepsut, so do we drink your words with eagerness.

(The Assembled Officers smile at His Majesty’s attempt at Wit, since Lord Senenmut’s Official Duties include being Cup-Bearer, or Butler, to the Pharaoh.).

Senenmut: Your Majesty, I can only state now, as I did to your Mother, Osiris rest her Soul! That these Apiru, or Israelites as they term themselves, are a Blight and a Scourge upon the Land, and must be dealt with immediately, in no uncertain terms—that is, to kill them off, entirely, like the vermin they are. Left alone, they might align themselves with an Invading Enemy, and fight with them against us. So much for their gratitude over our Benign Rule, and for all we did for their Forebear, that Joseph!

Unas (Secret Police Chief): I must say, Sire, that, with all due respect to Milord Senenmut, I must disagree. These Hebrews, or Israelites, or whatever they or we choose to call them, are hardly warlike. My secret agents in the field tell me that they are quiet and peaceful, and wish only to be left to dwell among themselves in the Land of Goshen, the district which Tsafnat-Paanayach, their late leader whom you call Joseph—

Senenmut: So do they call him themselves, in their filthy tongue!

Unas: –so do I beg your pardon, Milord Cup-Bearer; I was not yet done speaking, if you will grant me leave. (The Cup-Bearer sits back, fuming) Well. I would advise that, if we view these People as a Threat to the Kingdom, we do as we have always done in such a Situation: I have already placed among them Spies—not only our own Secret Police Agents, but turncoats from among themselves—I mention to you, in particular, agents such as Datan, Aviram, and a young up-and-comer, one Korach, himself a Levite, of their leading tribe—those Apiru whom we have compromised through promises of leadership and advancement—all false, of course. They are our Eyes and Ears in their own community, bringing us any information we may require about possible revolts, revolutions, or the slightest beginnings of resistance to our rule.

Tuthmosis: Hm. What is your thought, Commander of the Army?

Kamose (He is a burly, one-eyed, battle-scarred Warrior, wearing the back-and-breast body-armor of a charioteer, having only just come from Military Maneuvers on the Western Plain, and he speaks bluntly in a deep bass voice, as befits a Career Soldier, used to shouting orders on a battlefield): I have no time for subtleties, Your Grace. I have devoted my life’s blood to defending both my Sovereign, that is, Your Royal Self, and that of Mother Egypt (he sits up, and smites his left breast with his right fist), and will do whatever is necessary to bring these—what-d’ye-call-‘em? Ah-PEE-roos?—into line. I know well the Land of Goshen where they dwell, and I have already torched a score of their hovelly little shacks, before you could say, “Great Scarab Sun-Disk!” Just as a lesson to any of them, in case they might have thought of sabotaging a Pyramid or Sphinx or some such. My men and I have drilled a battle-line of Your Majesty’s finest chariots; we can draw up from twenty to fifty war-wagons within a quarter-hour, and then, Osiris help the rabble who stand in our way! As we smote the Hittites, as we ground the Syrian pike-bearers beneath our chariot-wheels—you recall, Sire, what a splendid day that was, although I lost my eye to an accidental arrow-shot, Ra save the mark!—I looked up at the clouds of heaven, and thought I bespied me a Divine Hawk, that of Horus himself, circling above, and screeching its plaudits to our brave boys! Why, I—

Senenmut (sarcastically): You wax eloquently, General Kamose. Have you submitted this report to your regimental marching band, to have it set to music?

Kamose (embarrassed, he sputters, rises, salutes): I live only to serve my Liege Pharaoh and my Homeland. May Ra, the Sacred Sun-god, save Egypt! Save the Pharaoh! (He salutes again and again)

Tuthmosis: Be seated. Please. (Kamose sits, muttering. Tuthmosis turns back to Unas.) So, Milord Police-General Unas, do you think that Subjugation, a Separation Wall, perhaps, and an Increased Workload upon the Apirus will destroy this Scourge, this Curse that Ra has laid upon our Land? I wish only for a Sense of Security, so that Egypt may flourish. We do have an Image to Project upon the World. The Hittites and Syrians lie in wait; any Sign of Weakness, and they shall be upon us. Reputation, reputation, reputation! Egypt cannot afford to lose its reputation. Our power over Foreigners living in our Midst must, shall, be Absolute.

Unas: Oh, surely, we are proceeding, Your Grace. Spies, torture, increased labor, and, of course, night-raids and arrests by our Special Night Squads. Prison for any and all Rabble-rousers. Everything and Anything to keep Civil Protest down and under control. General Kamose may trust in his Horses and Chariots; I call upon the Name of State Security, and we have suspended any legal niceties in dealing with these Barbarians; jail the Lot of them, I say. They are baking mud bricks and building for us. It should bear rewards. Our Slavery regimen is going well; less food, more buildings; less freedom, more pyramids; less kindness, more treasure-houses. We are flourishing, while they must, and shall, diminish—that is, die, via Natural Selection. Freedom for—what did Kamose call them, Ah-PEE-roo? Pah! I spit on them. They’re not like us; if they were, they would be Egyptian. They are mortals, true; but mortals of a lesser breed.

Apophis (Minister of Population, Main Office, Heliopolis): Oh, excuse me, M’lord Unas. Except for One Thing.

Tuthmosis: Ah, Population Minister Apophis! I have not heard from you, yet. What have you to add?

Apophis (he is a cheery old duffer, has served long in his office, and loves to contradict the younger men): In spite of Milord Secret Policeman Unas’s plans about the tight screws he has placed on our Guests from Joseph’s Time—and I am older than you Gentlemen, including, pardon me, Your Majesty; I have Good Memories of the Fine Work that Joseph did for us, and for our Kingdom, during the Seven Years’ Famine. Yes, I can well recall when there was not a grain of wheat to be had, between here and Memphis—

Tuthmosis (The meeting is going on too long, and he has a new horse to inspect): What is your report, Lord Apophis? Give us your Report, if you please. Now.

Apophis (Coming back from his Memories): What? Report? Oh, yes. (Rustling his papyrus scrolls, and squinting down at them) M-h’m. Yes. Well. It seems that, in spite of Lord Unas’s best efforts at torturing, killing, and otherwise keeping down the Israelites—I continue to call them that; it’s more Respectful, y’know—Population, they are increasing. Gentlemen, the number of Israelites is growing, by leaps and bounds.

Tuthmosis: What?

Unas: Impossible!

Apophis (happily): No, the numbers don’t lie. And I was speaking to the Two Chief Midwives just yesterday. Delightful young women they are, too: lively, and full of life. What were their names—Pifra and Shuah? Something like that—

Unas: Well, this is Totally Unacceptable. I—that is, we—must take Stronger Measures.

Tuthmosis: Well, could you have a report ready for me—let’s say—tomorrow, at Noon? This meeting has already gone on far too long. Let’s see: you, Police Chief (pointing at Unas) and you, General Kamose, should get together with the Captain of the Guard, and see if you can get ahold of those midwives. What, only two? Then this problem should be manageable. But I must go; my new gift horse won’t wait…. No, don’t get up—where’s my Royal Escort? Guard!

(The Officers rise; Tuthmosis exits, in a swirl of Royal Robes, and leaving the faintest scent of sandalwood hanging in the air.)

Senenmut (smiling evilly at his younger colleagues): Well, there you are. So you thought you could dispose of the Apiru so easily? Milady Hatshepsut couldn’t do it. I recall one night—

Unas: With all due respect, Milord Cup-Bearer, could you keep your stories to yourself? We have a Real Problem, here, and not that much time to solve it in.

Senenmut: Let me finish. We were sitting—this was, what? Ten, twelve years ago? And Joseph had just died. Hatshepsut was not all that sad about it. Oh, certainly, Joseph had been a fine adviser, but he had had these—she used to call them, his “spells,” when he would get all, far-away-eyed, and she wouldn’t be able to speak to him. He explained to her that that was how his God spoke to him, how this God-spirit would tell him what to do. It always gave her the shivers; at least, that’s what she told me. That’s the thing with these Hebrews. You can’t just wish them away. There’s Something about them.

Unas (he has been only half-listening to Senenmut, that pest; now, he looks up, startled): What’s that you said?

Senenmut (crossly): I said you can’t just wish the Hebrews away. Why don’t you ever listen to me? You young people—

Unas: I thought you said, “wash them away.” That’s what we’ll do. General Kamose!

Kamose (he has been daydreaming, but is instantly alert): Here, Milord? Sir?

Unas: Assemble your officers and noncoms. Tell them there is a new Order of the Day, to be in effect until I, the Minister of Internal Security, rescind it. All male children of the Hebrews, as soon as they are born, are to be washed away—that is, tossed bodily into the Nile River, as—as—offerings.

Kamose: Drowned? Until dead?

Unas: Yes. Drowned. Is there any other way, you armored ox? (Offhandedly) You may let the girl-babies live. They are no threat to us.

Kamose (saluting): I live to serve (He exits).

Unas (turning to Senenmut and Apophis): And now, we shall see. I will set my wits against this People, this puzzle you and that Old, Dead Woman, your False Pharaoh (he says the name through clenched teeth, as though distasteful), Hatshepsut, found so Difficult. We at some time are masters of our Fates, and I will be Master, now. I will beat those Hebrews yet. Now, go!

(All Exit. Blackout.)

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.

Enjoyed this archived service or article? Click here to donate $3 to OneShul (care of PunkTorah).

Support OneShul on GoFundMe

Leave a Reply