The Book of Voices

Biblical Microfictions by Joseph Zitt

Pharaoh (of the Exodus)

(Context: Exodus 1:12)

I am Pharaoh, ruler of all Egypt and god to all the world. Let all the world hear me: I am Pharaoh. I am known to all by many names, some shouted, some more powerfully whispered. But the only one that need survive, the only one that matters, is this: I am Pharaoh, as my father was Pharaoh and his father before him. We are all one god in this succession of bodies. This body may be destroyed, may be lost, or may be laid to sleep beside its ancestors in the grand tomb that my people are building in gratitude, in praise. But the god-king Pharaoh can never die, as this land, this people, this Egypt can never die.

We are a strong people, loyal, good, and proud. Let all the nations of the world know this: We are a strong people. No other nation in the world is like us: when another nation might seem to wound us, we return to the fight stronger than before. When fate seems to tear us away from our belongings, from our families, from the very air and water and earth that we worship and maintain, we flourish, making our gardens, our armies, our culture more vibrant than before.

We all know our places in this world of stones, plants, and animals, demons, gods, and men. We know that our world depends on this order. We all work together to maintain our world for the glory of our gods, and the gods work with men to maintain the world as a place where we can live.

Now we have been attacked, without provocation and without cause, by magicians of the lowest of tribes, by people who have returned our generosity and acceptance with slander and assault. They aim to tear apart the very fabric of our society, shirking the work that the gods have given them, so that they might worship a new puny, cowardly god of their own.

We have not forgotten the history of these tribes. They ran from their own lands to enter ours when they were too weak, too disorganized to survive in the face of famine. When they came to our land, we welcomed them, giving them some of our richest fields in Goshen to maintain as their own. And when they failed at even that task, we gave them honest work. We employed them to build our glorious temples. tombs, and cities, with duties and pay comparable to those of our own people there, those who knew that their place in society was to be on the necessary lowest tier, without whom no society can survive.

Yet now, without reason, without sense, they have decided to quit their work, to tear themselves out of society as one might try to whisk away the lowest few cubits of a pyramid—while the structure might survive, it would have to fight to maintain its stability, and the removed layer, made useless, would collapse on its own. So, too, would our society be shaken, though it would survive, and this layer of people, this lowest of tribes, soon would surely die in the desert, without preparation, without water, without food, without the shelter with which we honor the sun god and protect ourselves from his rays.

They claim that they have been commanded to do this by a tiny, ridiculous god, one so unformed and so vague that they cannot even say what his name is, cannot draw any pictures of him or say where he might live or what aspect of nature he represents. He has no face, no being of his own, and tries to make himself known instead by sneak attacks, by subversion, by whittling away at a grand society from within and trying to turn its own symbols, its own gods against it.

Its chief magician, its supposedly greatest representative, I know far too well. I knew that this Moses was evil from the moment that I first saw him, when he was a baby and I was a child.

We should have killed him, by my father’s command, when he first appeared. He was born to be a slave, the child of slaves, in a year when the god-king had declared that no boys dare be born to those tribes.

But his power to twist men’s will was strong from the instant that he was born. The midwives could not bring themselves to kill him, and, when they tried to hide him by the river, my sister found him. She should have drowned him then and there, but her will to act justly was subverted. She brought him home, where he even struck at the soul of the god-king. My father let him live, let my sister raise him by my side, brought the boy’s own birth-family in to cater to him, to pollute the palace with their presence.

He was always the darling of the court; I, though certain to be the next Pharaoh, was almost forgotten. His every action was seen as charming, as brilliant. When, as my father played with him, the boy tore the crown from his head and stomped it flat, people laughed. When he argued with the teachers, giving no respect to the teachings of the gods, people applauded his wit, even though he needed his brother to speak for him so that people could understand what he barked and mumbled. And when he proved himself to be a soulless killer, striking down an Egyptian for merely doing his job, no one in the palace bothered to say a word to him. He only fled when one of his fellow Hebrews had enough of a sense of justice (so unusual for one of them) to confront him with the evidence of his immorality.

Now he is back, returned from Midian, where he twisted the souls of the priests and got himself married into their highest family. He says that he brings the word of a new god, but his story is so confused that he cannot even recall this supposed god’s name. He says that this god spoke to him not in thunder, not in the roaring of the waters or in the trembling of the earth, but in a tiny voice from a shrub on fire. And he demands that I end the service of his thousands of people, of this entire caste, without preparation, without a replacement plan, without even the slightest restitution for the damage that it would cause to our society, to our economy, to our world.

My first instinct, when we first granted him an audience, was to laugh. I laughed even more when he tried to make his point by having his brother perform an irrelevant stunt with rods and snakes. But then his demands turned to threats, and when we threw him out of the palace, his supposed god began its assaults.

This god has no signature powers, no symbols of its own, so it has to make do with perverting the symbols of our own powerful gods. He changes the water of the life-giving Nile into blood; he causes the frogs to swarm and occupy our houses; he kills the frogs and causes them to stink and bring lice, then for the lice to become flies, then to have them bring sickness to our beasts. And then he attacks and perverts the very sun and rain and sky, bringing us darkness and thunder and hail.

And Moses and his brother come to us each time and present their increasing demands. And each time he twists our will a little more, and not only do we not kill him on the spot, but we weaken and accede, for the moment, to his demands.

But our gods are strong, and their ways are just, and each time, once we are out of the power of his soulless eyes, reason returns. And the gods strengthen our hearts, and we return to the right paths, standing up for the truth of our gods’ ways against the oppression of that puny supposed god, and we stand firm, as our towers, as our temples, as the truth of our lives must stand.

He claims that there will be one more plague, that his god will attack the very heart of our houses. He claims that he will attack the truth of our dynasties, that the first-born sons of our families will die.

He will have no effect. We are strong, and will not bow, will not bargain with those whose only power is the will to bring terror to our land. I am a first son, and I declare that I am prepared to die, if I must, to affirm the truth of our gods. And my own first-born has sworn that he, and his own infant first-born, would happily sacrifice themselves for the glory of our gods.

For we know that we go on to life beyond life, that this life is but a preparation for the glories of the everlasting life to come. I am a god, but I have incarnated myself as apparently human so that I might guide my people into building our cities of tombs, so that the wonders that we accumulate may accompany us when we return to the next world. Those of the people who are not or are not yet gods have this same belief, this same knowledge in their hearts that whatever they might suffer in this life will make their lives stronger and sweeter beyond the grave.

Let them strike us, then, from all directions, from within and from without. Let them cause our bodies to burst with boils and our souls to fester with the madness of the dark. We will prevail. Our gods will prevail. Our truth will prevail.

For I know that this is what history will remember, will say of me, of my people (for I and my people are one): that the more he was oppressed, the more he increased his power and extended his reach. For on the day when time ends, all Pharaohs, all the people of this land will arise and rejoice across all history. On that day, we will be the kings in every land. On that day, we will all be gods. We will be one. Our name will be one.

(Next: Moses)


February 2, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. Naming this was a challenge. Most people think of this character as simply “Pharaoh,” but there are several in the Bible. (I’d already written about another one, Pharaoh Hophra.) I had thought to name him “Pharaoh (Exodus)”, but I had forgotten that there were actually two in the story, since the one who “knew not Joseph” died in Exodus 2:23 and was replaced by this one. He was actually in charge when the Exodus happened, so “Pharaoh (of the Exodus)” seemed to fit.

    This is the last of the posts for which chance operations select the subjects. I think the 39 voices (including next week’s “Moses”) cover the range of stories about as well as can be expected by those methods.

    I’m going to start writing intentionally chosen voices. These may include Adam, Lot, Dinah, Miriam, Jephthah’s daughter, and a totally fictional character, Elisheva, created to tie it all together.

    I’ve found it interesting, by the way, to see unexpected patterns in what chance chose. My method was to go to line numbers in a plain text English translation of the Bible, then select the first name that didn’t refer to someone about whom I’d already written. This ended up with an abundance of kings, since more of the Bible than I’d expected is about them, and a dearth of women. Not only is much of the Bible written from a male perspective, but many of the important women (the Daughter of Jephthah, the witch of Endor, the wives of Potiphar and Lot, etc) don’t have recorded names, so my method missed them. Many also exist in stand-alone stories that aren’t referenced elsewhere, such as Ruth, Esther, and Deborah. (And it’s also been interesting to see how many of the names were chosen from verses in much later stories that point back to those characters; most of the voices from the book of Genesis actually were chosen by verses in other books that mention them.)

    Next week’s entry, “Moses”, is actually a bit of a cheat, since it was written before the others. Writing it gave me the idea for the book, though I only decided recently to include it. That it appears as poetry rather than prose seemed like it could be a problem until the text for Asaph also developed as poetry.

    After that, the posts will slow down a bit, not appearing every week, but hopefully without too much of a gap. I have a personal hunch of how many more posts there will be, and how long it will take to do them, but I’ not saying it publicly in case I’m wrong 🙂

    Comments, as always, are welcome on this and other posts. You can find a list of the pages so far by following the “Index” link at the top of the page. The “Bibliography” link leads to books that I’ve enjoyed researching in the course of the project. That list will, no doubt, continue to grow.


    Comment by bookofvoices | February 2, 2008 | Reply

  2. s/Hebrews/Habiru/ would be more authentic while still, I think, recognizable.

    Comment by John Cowan | February 2, 2008 | Reply

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