Back to the Index Page


The Egyptian Bondage by August Strindberg


The old worker in ebony and cabinet-maker, Amram, dwelt by the river-side in a clay-hut which was covered with palm-leaves. There he lived with his wife and three children. He was yellow in complexion and wore a long beard. Skilled in his trade of carving ebony and hard wood, he attended at Pharaoh's court, and accordingly also worked in the temples. One morning in midsummer, just before sunrise, he got out of bed, placed his implements in a bag, and stepped out of his hut. He remained standing on the threshold for a moment, and, turning to the east, uttered a low prayer. Then he began to walk between fishermen's huts, following the black broken bank of the river, where herons and doves were resting after their morning meal.

His neighbour, the fisherman, Nepht, was overhauling his nets, and placing carp, grayling, and sheat-fish in the different partitions of his boat.

Amram greeted him, and wished to say some words in token of friendliness.

“Has the Nile ceased to rise?” he asked.

“It remains standing at ten yards' height. That means starvation!”

“Do you know why it cannot rise higher than fifteen yards, Nepht?”

“Because otherwise we should drown,” answered the fisherman simply.

“Yes, certainly, and that we cannot. The Nile, then, has a Lord who controls the water-level; and He who has measured out the starry vault, and laid the foundations of the earth, has set up a wall for the waters, and this wall, which we cannot see, is fifteen yards high. For during the great flood in the land of our fathers, Ur of the Chaldees, the water rose fifteen yards—no more, no less. Yes, Nepht, I say 'we,' for you are of our people, though you speak another tongue, and honour strange gods. I wish you a good morning, Nepht, a very good morning.”

He left the abashed fisherman, went on, and entered the outskirts of the city, where began the rows of citizens' houses built of Nile-bricks and wood. He saw the merchant and money-changer Eleazar taking down his window-shutters while his assistant sprinkled water on the ground before the shop. Amram greeted him, “A fine morning, cousin Eleazar.”

“I cannot say,” answered the tradesman sulkily. “The Nile has remained stationary, and begins to sink. The times are bad.”

“Bad times are followed by good times, as our father Abraham knew; and when Joseph, Jacob's son, foresaw the seven lean years he counselled Pharaoh to store up corn in the granaries....”

“May be, but that is a forgotten tale now.”

“Yes, and have you also forgotten the promise which the Lord gave to his friend Abraham?”

“That about the land of Canaan? We have waited four hundred years for its fulfilment, and now, instead of receiving it, Abraham's children have become bond-servants.”

“Abraham believed through good and through evil days, through joy and through sorrow, and that was counted to him for righteousness.”

“I don't believe at all,” Eleazar broke in, “or rather, I believe that things go backwards, and that I will have to put up my shutters, if there is a failure in the crops.”

Amram went on with a sad face, and came to the market, where he bought a millet loaf, a piece of an eel, and some onions.

When the market-woman took the piece of money, she spat on it, and when Amram received his change, he did the same.

“Do you spit on the money, Hebrew?” she hissed.

“One adopts the customs of the country,” answered Amram.

“Do you answer, unclean dog?”

“I answer speech, but not abuse.”

The Hebrew went on, for a crowd began to gather. He met the barber, Enoch, and they greeted each other with a sign which the Hebrews had devised, and which signified, “We believe in the promise to Abraham, and wait, patient in hope.”

Amram reached at last the temple square, passed through the avenue of Sphinxes, and stood before a little door in the left pylon. He knocked seven times with his hand; a servant appeared, took Amram by the arm and led him in. A young priest tied a bandage round his eyes, and, after they had searched his bag, they took the cabinet-maker by the hand, and led him into the temple. Sometimes they went up steps, sometimes down them, sometimes straight-forward. Now and then they avoided pillars, and the murmur of water was heard; at one time there was a smell of dampness, at another of incense.

At last they halted, and the bandage was taken off Amram's eyes. He found himself in a small room with painted walls, some seats, and a cupboard. A richly-carved ebony door divided this room from a larger one which on one side opened on to a broad staircase leading down to a terrace facing eastward.

The priest left Amram alone after he had shown him that the door required repair, and had, with an unmistakable gesture, enjoined on him silence and secrecy.

When Amram was left alone, and found himself for the first time within the sacred walls which could not overawe a Hebrew's mind, he yet felt a certain alarm at all the mysteriousness, of which he had heard since his youth. In order to shake off his fear of the unknown, he resolved to satisfy his curiosity, though at the risk of being turned out, if he met anyone. As a pretext he took a fine plane in his hand, and entered the great hall.

It was very spacious. In the midst was a fountain of red granite, with an obelisk set upright in the basin. The walls were adorned with figures painted in simple colours, most of them in red ochre, but also in yellow and black. He drew off his sandals, and went on into a gallery where stood mummy-coffins leaning against the wall.

Then he entered a domed room, on the vault of which were painted the great constellations of the northern hemisphere. In the middle of the room stood a table, on which lay a half-globe covered with designs resembling the outlines of a map. By the window stood another table, with a model of the largest pyramid set upon a land-surveyor's board, with a scale of measurements. Close by stood an alidade, an instrument for measuring angles.

There was no visible outlet to this room, but after some search the uninitiated Hebrew found some stairs of acacia-wood leading up through a wooden tower. He climbed and climbed, but when he looked through the loopholes, he found himself always on a level with the roof of the domed room. But he continued to ascend, and after he had again counted a hundred steps and, looked through a loop hole, he found himself on a level with the floor of the domed room. Then a wooden door opened, and an elderly man in half-priestly garb received him with a greeting as though he were a well-known and expected superior. But when he saw a stranger, he started, and the two men gazed at each other long, before they could speak. Amram, who felt unpleasantly surprised, began the verbal encounter: “Reuben? Don't you know me, the friend of your youth, and your kinsman in the Promise?”

“Amram, the husband of Jochebed, the son of Kohath! Yes, I know you!”

“And you here! After you have vanished from my sight for thirty years!”

“And you?”

“I was sent for to repair a door; that is all; and when I was left alone, I wanted to look round.

“I am a scribe in the chief school....”

“And sacrificest to strange gods....”

“No, I do not sacrifice, and I have kept my faith in the promise, Amram. I have entered this temple in order to learn the secrets of the wise, and to open from within the fortress which holds Israel captive.”

“Secrets? Why should the Highest be secret?”

“Because the common people only understand what is low.”

“You do not yourself believe in these animals which you call sacred?”

“No, they are only symbols—visible signs to body forth the invisible. We priests and scribes revere the Only One, the Hidden, under His visible shape, the Sun, giver and sustainer of life. You remember, when we were young, how Pharaoh Amenophis the Fourth forcibly did away with the ancient gods and the worship of the sacred animals. He passed down the river from Thebes proclaiming the doctrine of the Unity of God. Do you know whence he derived that doctrine? From the Israelites, who, after Joseph's marriage to Asenath, daughter of the High Priest of On, increased in numbers, and even married daughters of the house of Pharaoh. But after the death of Amenophis the old order was restored, the King again resided at Thebes, and the ancient gods were brought out again, all to please the people,”

“And you continue to honour the Only One, the Hidden, the Eternal.

“Yes, we do.”

“Is, then, your God not the same as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?”

“Probably, since there is only One.” “It is strange. Why, then, do you persecute the Hebrews?”

“Foreigners are not generally loved. You know that our Pharaoh has lately conquered the Syrian race of Hittites.”

“In the land of Canaan and the region round about, in the land of our fathers, and of the promise. Do you see, the Lord of Zebaoth, our God, sends him to prepare the way for our people?”

“Do you still believe in the promise?”

“As surely as the Lord liveth! And I am told that the time will be soon fulfilled when we shall leave our bondage, and go to the promised land.”

The scribe did not answer, but his face expressed simultaneously doubt in Amram's declaration, and the certainty of something quite different which would soon happen. Amram, who did not wish to have his faith shaken by any kind of explanations, let the subject drop, and spoke of something indifferent.

“That is a strange staircase.”

“It is an elevator, and not a staircase.”

Amram glanced up at the domed roof, and found a new pretext for continuing the conversation, which he did not wish to drop.

“Does that represent the sky?” he asked.


“And its secrets?”

“Ah, the secrets? They are accessible to all who can understand them.”

“Tell them in a few words.”

“Astronomy is not my province, and I know little of it, but still I will tell you in a few words. The vault up there represents the sky, the board lying on the table, the earth. Now the wise speak thus: In the beginning Earth (Sibu) and Heaven (Nuit) lay near each other. But the god of air and of sunlight (Shu) raised the sky, and set it as a vault over the earth. The fixed constellations which we know form as it were an impression, like that of a seal on wax, of the earth, and when the learned study the stars, they can find out the unknown parts of our earth. Look at the constellations which you know. In the north the Great Bear; in the south, at a certain season of the year, the Hunter (Orion), with four stars at the corners and three stars in the middle. These three we Hebrews call Jacob's Staff, and through the uppermost of them passes the sky-gauge or equator, which corresponds to the earth-gauge where the sources of our Nile are said to be.

“You know also the constellation which we specially love—the River (Nile). Look, how it flees from the Hunter (Orion), and makes as many windings as the Nile here on earth. Therefore he who wishes to learn the hidden secrets of earth must learn them from the sky. Our wise men know only the lands which lie towards the east; but those which lie in the north under the Great Bear are unknown to us, as also are the lands towards the west. But it looks as though the lands of the Bear had great destinies assigned to them. Their numbers are four and three, like those of the Hunter. Three represents the Divine with its attributes, four denotes the most perfect possible: three and four together form the mysterious number seven. To gods sacrifices are offered with the unequal number, three; to men, with the equal number four.

“This is about all that I have cursorily understood of the secrets of the sky. If you now wish to understand some of the secrets of the earth, let us consider the tombs of the Pharaohs. These, apart from their ostensible purposes of being tombs, have also a hidden one — i.e. to conceal in their numbers and proportions the discoveries of the learned regarding the mutual relations of Sibus and Nuits. In the first place, the sepulchre of the Pharaohs, or the Pyramid, operates with the numbers four and three; the base with four, the sides with three. That was indeed one of the secrets of the sky. But the base of the Great Pyramid is 365 ells broad. There you have the 365 days of the year. Now the triple side of the Pyramid is 186 great ells, or a stadium long. There you see where our road-measures come from.

“If you multiply the breadth of the base with the number 500, which is about double the breadth measured in great ells, you obtain a length which is equivalent to 1/360 of the whole orbital path of the sun in a year, since the number of days in a lunar year is 360. This length represents four minutes, and those who live a degree west of us see the sun rise four minutes later than we do.

“This is all I remember about numbers and proportions. If you wish to learn more—for example, why the sides of the pyramid are inclined at an angle of 5l —you must ask the astronomers. The steps to the funereal chamber, on the other hand, are inclined at an angle of 27 . This corresponds to the difference between the axis of the universe and the axis of the earth.”

Amram had listened with special attention to the learned scribe's explanation of the tombs of the Pharaohs, and when Reuben mentioned numbers he concentrated his attention still more, as though he wished to fix something in his mind. Finally he interrupted him, and began to speak: “You just now mentioned 27 . Good! That is not the inclination of the axis of the universe, but of the Milky Way, which probably is the real axis and lies 27 north of the heavenly equator, while the inclination of the earth's axis to the orbit of the sun is 23 . But you have forgotten the third Pyramid, that of Menkheres, the base of which is 107 great ells broad. This number 107 we find again three or five times in the universe; there are 107 smaller suns between the earth and the sun; 107 is the distance of the planet Venus, and also of Jupiter from the sun.”

Reuben started. “What? Where did you get all that? Here you let me stand, and make a fool of me! Where have you learnt that?”

“From our oldest and wisest, who have preserved the memories of their home at Ur in Chaldaea. You despise Assur, you men of Egypt, for you believe the Nile is the centre of the earth. But there are many centres in the infinite. Behind Assur, on the Tigris and Euphrates, there lies another land with another river. It is called the Land of the Seven Rivers, because its river debouches into seven mouths as the Nile does.”

“The Nile has seven arms, as you say, like the seven-branched candlestick!

“That betokens the Light of the world, which shall shine from every land where a river divides itself in order to flow into the sea. The rivers, you see, are the blood-vessels of the earth, and as these carry blue and red blood alternately, so our land has its Blue Nile and its Red Nile. The Blue Nile is poisonous like dark blood, and the Red is fertilising, life-giving, like red blood. So everything created has its counterpart above in heaven and below on earth, for all is one, and the Lord of all is One—One and the Same.”

Reuben kept silence and listened. “Speak on!” he said at last.

Amram therefore continued: “The tombs of the Pharaohs have also grown out of the earth on which they rest. The first or Great Pyramid is built after the pattern of sea-salt when it crystallises in the warmth of the sun. If you could look through a dewdrop into a salt-crystal, you would find it built up of an infinite number of squares just like the Great Pyramid. But if you let alum crystallise, you will see a whole field of pyramids. Alum is the salt deposited in clay. There you have the salt of the earth and of the sea.

“But there is another kind of pyramid with blunted corners. That is the original form of sulphur when found in chalk. Now we have water, earth, and chalk with its fire-stone. There is still a third kind of pyramid with blunted edges; these resemble crystallised flint or rock crystal. There you have the foundation of the mountains. A closer examination of the Nile-mud will discover all these primary forms and substances—clay, salt, sulphur, and flint. Therefore the Nile is the blood of the earth. And the mountains are the flesh, not the bones.”

Reuben, whose Egyptian name was Phater, had regarded Amram while he spoke with alarm and amazement. When the latter had ceased to speak, he began, “You are not Amram the worker in ebony and cabinet-maker.”

“I am certainly a worker in ebony and cabinetmaker, but I am also of Israel's priestly line. I am the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham. I am a Levite and the husband of Jochebed. Miriam, and Aaron are the children hitherto born to me; one unborn I still await. Now I go back to my work; show me the way!”

Phater went in front, but led Amram by another way than that by which he had come. As they passed by an open door, which led into a large hall lined with bookcases, Amram stopped, full of curiosity, and wished to enter, in order to look at the numerous books. But Phater held him back by his garment, “Don't go in,” he said; “the place is full of traps and snares. The guardian of the library sits concealed in the middle of the hall, and guards his treasures jealously. He has had the floor made of dried willow-withes, which creak when they are trodden upon. He hears anyone stealing in, and he hears if a scribe touches the forbidden books. He has heard us, and he is feeling after us! Don't you feel as if cold snake-tongues were touching your cheeks, your forehead, your eyelids?”

“Yes, I do.”

“It is he, stretching out the fingers of his soul, as we stretch out an arm. But now I cut off the feeler which wants to examine us.”

He took out a knife, and made a cut through the air in front of them.

Amram felt a sudden glow, and at the same moment saw a great adder writhing on the ground in its death-struggle.

“You practise magic arts here?” he said.

“Did you not know that?”

“I did not expect it.”

At the same instant the wall seemed to open, and they saw a mass of Nile mud in which crocodiles and snakes twined round each other, while a hippopotamus trampled threateningly with its forefeet.

Amram was alarmed, but Phater took out an amulet in the shape of a scarabaeus, and, holding it as a shield in front of him, he passed through the terrible shapes, which dissolved like smoke, while Amram followed him.

“The magician only cheats our eyes,” said Phater, and as he waved his hand the whole appearance vanished.

Now they stood again in the first hall, and, pointing to the Nilometer, Amram said, “Famine!”

“There is no doubt of that. Therefore all superfluous mouths should be stopped.”


Phater saw that he had made a slip of the tongue.

“I mean,” he said, “Pharaoh must consider how to get corn.”

“He would find a Joseph useful just now.”

“Why?” broke in Phater more vehemently than he intended. “Don't you know that Joseph the son of Jacob brought the Egyptians to be Pharaoh's bond-slaves. Your chronicles and ours relate that he made the peasants mortgage their land in return for help during the seven lean years, and that, by his doing so, Pharaoh became sole possessor of all the land of Egypt.”

“You are not Reuben; you are Phater the Egyptian, for if you were an Israelite, you would not have spoken thus. Our ways part. I go to my work.”

Amram laid his hand on the door, and Phater glided into the shadow of the columns and vanished. But Amram saw by his bent back that he had evil designs.

       * * * * *

When Amram came home in the evening, he found that his wife had borne a son. He was like other healthy children, but did not cry; after the bath he was wrapped in linen and laid in the darkest corner of the cottage.

The next day before sunrise Amram went again to his work in the Temple of the Sun, and was again led into the chamber with his eyes bandaged. There he was left alone without receiving any counsel or advice regarding what he was to do. This carelessness seemed to him like indifference, and indicated a general laxness in the temple servants. Therefore he again entered the columned hall. He looked uneasily at the Nilometer, in which the water had sunk. There was no hope of the fifteen ells of water which the earth needed for the harvest of the year.

He stepped out on the terrace, which looked towards the east, and entered an open colonnade. But before he went farther, he took the precaution of dropping small pieces of papyrus to show him the way back. He went through narrow courtyards, but took care not to climb steps; his experience of yesterday had warned him. At last he found himself in a forest of pillars whose tops were crowned with lotus-buds, and, as he listened, he heard what seemed a faint song of children's voices from the roof. He laid his ear to a pillar, and heard it more clearly, like the ringing music of zither and harp. He knew that this was caused by the sun, which had already warmed the stones of the roof, and was about to ascend the sky.

He went forward, and suddenly saw a terrace upon which stood a sacrificial altar. From the terrace, a flight of stairs flanked with sphinxes descended to the river. Thence there sloped a valley, bounded on the east by the mountains of the Red Sea. At the altar there stood a priest in a white linen robe with a purple border. He had raised his arms towards heaven, and stood motionless. His hands were quite white, since the blood had sunk into his arms, and the face of the old man seemed astrain with the strength he had invoked from above. Sometimes his body shuddered as though streams of fire ran through it. He was silent, and gazed towards the East. Then the shining edge of the sun's disk rose above the mountain-ridge, and the white hands of the priest became transparently crimson like his face. And he opened his mouth and said: “Sun-god: Lord of the splendour of rays, be Thou extolled in the morning when Thou risest, and in the evening when Thou descendest. I cry to Thee, Lord of Eternity, Thou Sun of both horizons, Thou Creator who hast created Thyself. All the gods shout aloud when they behold Thee, O King of heaven; my youth is renewed when I see thy beauty. Hail to Thee, as Thou passest from land to land, Thou Father of the gods!”

He stopped speaking and remained standing, his arms outstretched towards the sun, as though he absorbed warmth from it.

Then in the forest of pillars a rattle of arms was heard, which ceased immediately, and forthwith a stately beardless man appeared, clothed in purple and gold. His walk was as noiseless as that of a panther's, and he seemed to glide over the floor which reflected his image, a bright shadow which followed him as he went. When he came out on the terrace the sun cast behind him a gigantic dark shadow which lay there like a carpet.

“Already at prayer, thou wisest of the wise!” was Pharaoh's greeting to the Chief Priest.

“My lord has called me, thy servant has obeyed. My lord has returned to his land after long and victorious campaigns in far and foreign countries. Thy servant greets Pharaoh to his face.”

Pharaoh sat down on a chair of state, his face turned towards the rising sun, and began to speak like one who wishes to set his thoughts in order. “My chariots have rolled over the red soil of Syria, my horses have trampled the highways of Babylon and Nineveh; I have crossed the Euphrates and Tigris, and marched through the region between the two rivers; I have come to the land of the Five Rivers, and seen the Seven in the distance, where the Land of Silk begins, that stretches towards the sunrise. I have returned on my traces and gone northward towards Scythia and Colchis. Wherever I went I heard murmurs and saw movements. The people have awaked; in the temples they prophesied the return of the gods; for men had been left alone to manage their affairs and to guide their destinies, but had done both badly. Justice had become injustice, and truth, falsehood; the whole earth groaned for deliverance. At last their prayers reached the throne of the All-merciful. And now the wise, the gentle, the saintly proclaim in all tongues the joyful message, 'The gods return again. They return in order to put right what the children of men have thrown in confusion, to give laws and to protect justice.' This message I bring home as a spoil of victory, and thou, wisest of the wise, shalt receive it first from thy lord.”

“Thou hearest, my Lord Pharaoh, what is spoken over the whole circle of the earth; thine eyes see farther than the stars of heaven and the eye of the sun!”

“And yet only my ear has heard, but my intelligence has not grasped what the gods have revealed to me in a dream. Interpret it for me.”

“Tell it, my lord.”

“I saw nothing, but I heard a voice, when sleep had quenched the light of my eyes. The voice spoke in the darkness, and said, 'The red earth will spread over all lands, but the black shall be dispersed like the sand.'“

“The dream, my lord is not hard to interpret, but it forebodes nothing good.”

“Interpret it.”

“Very well; the red earth is Syria, as thou knowest, my lord, where live the wretched Hittites, that is the hereditary land of the Hebrew, Canaan. The black earth is that of the Nile, thy land, my lord.”

“Again the Hebrews, always the Hebrews! Centuries have passed since this people wandered into our land. They have increased without disturbing us. I neither love nor hate them; but now I fear them. They have had to toil, of late more severely than ever, but they do not murmur; they are patient as though they expected something to happen.”

“Let them go, my lord.”

“No! for then they will go, and found a new kingdom.”

“Let them go.”

“No, I will destroy them.”

“Let them go.”

“Certainly I will destroy them.”

“But thy dream, my lord.”

“I interpret that as a warning and exhortation.”

“Touch not that people, my lord, for their God is stronger than ours.”

“Their God is that of the Chaldaeans. Let our gods fight. I have spoken; thou hast heard; I add nothing and retract nothing.”

“My Lord, thou seest one sun in the sky, and believest that it shines over all nations: do you not believe that there is one Lord of the heaven who rules the destinies of all nations?”

“It should be so, but the Lord of heaven has made me ruler over this land, and now I rule it.”

“Thou rulest it, my lord, but thou rulest not wind and weather; thou canst not raise the water of the Nile by one inch, and thou canst not prevent the crops failing again this year.”

“Failing? What does the Nilometer say?”

“My lord, the sun has entered the sign of the Balance, and the water is sinking already. It means famine.”

“Then I will destroy all superfluous and strange mouths which take the bread from the children of the country. I will annihilate the Hebrews.”

“Let them go free, my lord.”

“I will summon the midwives, and have every boy that is born of a Hebrew woman destroyed. I have spoken; now I act.” Pharaoh rose from his chair, and departed more quickly than he had come. Amram sought to find his way back, but could only discover one piece of papyrus. Then he remained standing and feared much, for he could not find his way.

The sun had risen, and there was no more music in the forest of pillars, but silence. But as Amram listened he began to be aware of that compressed stillness which emanates from a listener, or from children who do something forbidden and do not wish to be discovered. He felt that someone was near who wished to be concealed, but who still kept his thoughts directed towards him. In order to satisfy himself Amram went in the direction where the silence seemed to be densest. And lo! behind a pillar stood Phater. He did not show a sign of embarrassment, but only held out his open hand, in which lay all the pieces of papyrus, which Amram had strewed as he went.

“You must not strew pieces of papyrus on the ground,” said Phater with an inscrutable smile. “Yes—I am not angry, I only wish you well. For now you will follow me, and not return to your work, which was only a trap set for your life. You must return to your house, and take care that your new-born child is not killed. You see that Reuben-Phater is a true Israelite, although you would not believe him.”

Amram followed him out of the temple, and went home.

       * * * * *

Jochebed went about in Pharaoh's garden watering cucumbers; she went to and fro with her watering pot between the Watergate that opened on the river and the cucumber-bed. But sometimes she went through the gate and remained for a while outside.

Miriam, her daughter, pruned the vines which grew against the garden-wall, but seemed to direct her attention more towards the broad walk which led up to the summer palace of the princesses. Her head moved like the leaf of the palm-tree when the wind blows through it, looking sometimes towards the Watergate, sometimes towards the great walk, while her hands carried on her work. As her mother delayed her return, she went from the wall down to the gate, and out to the low river shore where the bulrushes swayed in the gentle south wind. A stonechat of the desert sat on a rock by the river, wagged its tail, and flapped its wings, as though it wished to show something which it saw; and chattered at the sight of something strange among the bulrushes. High up in the air a hawk hovered in spiral circles, eyeing the ground below. Miriam broke off some lotus-buds and threw them at the stonechat, which flew away, but kept its beak still pointing towards the rushes. The girl girt up her dress, waded into the water, and now saw her mother standing, hidden up to her waist in a forest of papyrus-reeds, bending over a reed-basket with a baby at her breast.

“Mother,” whispered Miriam, “Pharaoh's daughter is approaching; she comes to bathe in the river.”

“Lord God of Israel, have mercy on my child!”

“If you have given the child enough to drink, hasten and come.”

The mother bowed herself like an arch over the child; her hair hung down like an insect-net, and two tears fell from her eyes on the little one's outstretched hands. Then she rose, placed a sweet date in its mouth, softly closed the cover, murmured a blessing, and came out of the water.

A gentle breeze from the land swayed the rushes and crisped the surface of the river.

“The basket swims,” she said, “but the river flows on; it is red with blood and thick as cream. Lord God of Israel, have mercy!”

“Yes, He will,” answered Miriam, “as He had mercy on our father Abraham, who obtained the promise, because he obeyed and believed, 'Through thy seed shall all the families on the earth be blessed.'“

“And now Pharaoh slays all the first-born.”

“But not thy son.”

“Not yet.”

“Pray and hope.”

“What? That the monsters of the river do not swallow him, that the waves of the river do not drown him, that Pharaoh's executioners do not kill him! Is that the hope?”

“The promise is greater, and it lives: 'Thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies.'“

“And then Amram thy father has fled.”

“To Raamses and Pithom, where our people toil in the buildings; he has gone there to warn and advise them. He has done well. Hush! Pharaoh's daughter comes.”

“But she cannot bathe in the blood of our child.”

“She comes, however. But she is the friend of the poor Hebrews; fear not.”

“She is her father's daughter.”

“The Egyptians are our cousins; they are Ham's descendants, and we are Shem's. Shem and Ham were brothers.”

“But Ham was cursed by his father Noah, and Kanaan was Ham's son.”

“But Noah said, 'Blessed be the Lord God of Shem, and let Kanaan be his servant.' Have you heard? Shem received the promise, and we belong to him.”

“Lord of Hosts, help us; the basket drifts with the wind! It drifts towards the bathing-house,—and the vulture up there in the air.”

“That is a hawk, mother!” Jochebed ran up and down the bank, like a dog whom its master has deserted; she beat her breast, and wept great tears.

Steps and voices were audible. “Here is Pharaoh's daughter!”

“But the Lord God of Israel is watching over us.”

The two women hid themselves in the reeds, and Pharaoh's daughter appeared with her attendants at the watergate. She stepped on the bridge leading to the bath-house, which was a hut of coloured camel's skin, supported by pillars which stood in the bed of the river. But the basket drifted against the bridge and excited the curiosity of the princess. She remained standing and waited. Jochebed and Miriam could not hear what she said on account of the wind, but by her quiet movements they saw that she expected some amusement from the strange gift brought by the river. Now she sent a slave to the bank. The latter ran and broke off a long reed, which she handed to her mistress, who fished for the basket and brought it within reach. Then she knelt down and opened it. Jochebed saw two little arms outstretched. The princess laughed aloud, and turned to the women. She uttered an expression of joy, and then lifted the infant, which nestled in her maiden bosom and felt about in her white robe. Then the princess kissed it, pressed it to her breast, and turned back to the shore.

Miriam, who had now lost all fear, stepped forward and fell on her face. “See, Miriam,” said the princess, whose name was Temma, “I have found a baby. I have received it from the Nile, and therefore it is a child of the gods. But now you must find a nurse for it.”

“Where shall I find one, noble princess?”

“Search! But you must find one before evening. Do not forget, however, that it is my child, since I drew it out of the water. I have given him his name, and he shall be called Moses. And I will have him educated so that he becomes a man after our mind. Go in peace, and find me a nurse!”

Pharaoh's daughter went with her child up to the palace, and Miriam looked for her mother among the reeds, where she had waited and heard what Pharaoh's daughter had said and resolved.

“Mother, Pharaoh's daughter will bring up Amram and Jochebed's son. Ham's children will serve Shem's. Praised be the Lord, the God of Shem! Now you believe in the promise, mother!”

“Now I believe, and God be praised for His great mercy!”


Back to the Index Page