Not long ago the common people began to form mobs and storm the homes of
Israelite women giving birth. These incidents, if allowed to flourish, would lead to anarchy.
Jannes and his son Jambres advised Tuthmose that the only way to harness the rage of the
people was to make his own laws to satisfy them.
The first attempt was an order given to the Israelite midwives that they must suffocate
male children as soon as they emerged from the womb, before they could ever draw breath.
Thus they would never have been alive and it would not be murder. The idea was that the
Egyptian people would be satisfied if they could foresee the eradication of the Israelites as a
people, for within a generation the Israelites would be a nation of women, forced to turn to
the Egyptians for their husbands, and within two generations Israel would cease to exist. And
yet it would have been achieved without battles or bloodshed -- and without public disorder.
In vain did Hatshepsut counsel with her father that to give in to the mob would
weaken the crown still further. The people are not fools, she said. They'll know that you are
obeying them, not ruling them.
But Jannes and Jambres were men, were priests, and Jannes had been Tuthmose's dear
friend in their youth. The foolish law was announced.
Hatshepsut almost laughed aloud when Puah and Shiphrah, the leading midwives
among the Israelites, were hauled into court to explain why Israelite boy children continued
to be born despite the law.
"Israelite women give birth so quickly," Puah explained. "By the time we get to their
houses, the babies are already breathing and they have been given names. We can't very well
suffocate them then!"
What did Father and Jannes think, that the Israelites were so stupid they would
willingly cooperate in their own eradication?
Still Father wouldn't heed Hatshepsut's advice. Instead he followed Jannes's advice
and passed a new law, that newborn Israelite boychildren would be given to the river. Let the
mobs watch and tell the temple guards of the birth of an Israelite baby; if the child was given
to the river, it would still not be murder but rather an act of piety. Everyone would be
content, and the Israelite threat would be eliminated in a generation.
Hatshepsut wept then, pleading with her father -- in private, of course -- to rescind
the order. "No one is deceived!" she cried. "Mobs have committed murder in your kingdom,
and your answer has been to commit their murders for them! What kind of king are you!
Egypt is ashamed!"
She thought her father would kill her in his rage, when she said these things. For days
he did not speak to her. And now he had sent for her -- had sent Jannes to fetch her. She was
sick at heart. Would she be disowned? Set aside and banned from the palace? Oh, please
don't do it, Father! I am your last true friend. Send me away, and you are left alone with
But she would not beg or plead with him. For the sake of his own kingdom she would
beg, but not for the sake of her place within it.
It was a bad sign that he waited for her in open court, with many priests and officers as
witnesses. She approached him, knelt before him, waited for her doom to be pronounced.
He told her to stand.
"For the last time my daughter stands before me," he said.
The last time. She could not stop the tears that leapt to her eyes.
"Follow me," he said to her.
He led the way into the private room where he dressed for ceremonies and met less
formally with aides. He closed the door. Then, to her surprise, he began to weep; he threw
his arms around her and clung to her. "Oh, Hatshepsut, I have been a fool, and you were the
This was not at all how she thought the scene would go. "Father," she said, "you are
never a fool."
"I have been manipulated. Jannes plots with Mutnefert -- I learned of it only today.
He tells me to send you away. To raise Mutnefert to the status of my wife, to make her runty
little loin-goiter into my heir. Tuthmose the Second! And yet I fear that this insult is also the
truth: That I have been as weak in my own way as Mutnefert's spawn would be in his. What
am I now? A killer of babies, a monster, all because Mutnefert has control of ... everything!"
"She controls nothing," said Hatshepsut.
"What do I know except what my officers tell me? Now I learn that they tell me only
what she wants me to know. What power do I have except the obedience of my officers? Yet
I discover that they are more loyal to her than to me."
"Father, think. Jannes is your friend. Isn't it just as possible that he, too, has been
fooled? That his advice was wrong but sincere?"
Tuthmose heard this in silence. Because the idea comforted him? Or because he hated
hearing from her, once again, that he was wrong?
"What are you planning now?" asked Hatshepsut. "Why is this the last time I will ever
stand before you? How will expelling me help you with --"
"Expelling you?" Tuthmose laughed. "Don't be absurd. You were always the best of
my children. Your beauty makes all men in awe of you, yes, but I know that you have always
had the keenest mind in the palace. How many times have you contradicted my advisers!
And yet never once have they been right, and you wrong! I have spent these last days
thinking over and over again, if only Hatshepsut were my son! And then it finally dawned on
me. I'm a god, aren't I? And can't a god change a girl into a boy? We Pharaohs wear these
artificial beards -- what's to stop me from putting such a beard on you? If I declare you to be
my son, who will dare to contradict me?"
The audacity of it, the impossibility of it, left Hatshepsut speechless. And yet she also
knew that it was a brilliant stroke. Mutnefert had left her alive all these years because it
wasn't worth killing a girl -- and because she clearly intended Tuthmose to give Hatshepsut to
Mutnefert's miserable calf as his wife. But now the girl would become, not her daughter-in-law, but her Pharaoh and god. And, when Tuthmose died, her husband! The prospect of
Mutnefert's reaction was so delicious that Hatshepsut laughed aloud.
"You laugh -- for joy?" asked Father. "Let it be for joy, because you see the wisdom of
this plan, you see that Amon has placed this idea in my head."
"Father, how can it work? Who would follow me? While you live, yes, but after you
die, who would obey me?"
"You underestimate the power of the name of Pharaoh."
"You underestimate the power of resentment. You would merely create a thousand
new allies for Mutnefert."
"You're smarter than she is," said Father.
"But not more ruthless," said Hatshepsut.
"Not?" he asked. "I think you are as ruthless as my father. I think you would survive,
you would overmaster her, you would rule."
"Or Egypt would collapse in anarchy, in civil war as captains and aristocrats rose up in
revolt against a woman Pharaoh. Do you really want me to die, torn apart by a mob or
tortured by the priests for the blasphemy of wearing the beard and the crown?"
"You haven't had time to think about it," said Father. "Go, think, consider. Down to
the river and while you're gone I will pray to the gods to show you that this idea is truly of
divine origin. You are Pharaoh's daughter when you go to the river, but when you come
back, you must be Pharaoh's son!"
"I will think and I will also pray," said Hatshepsut. "But Father, I hope the gods will
show us both a better road through this swamp of treachery and decay."
With that she kissed him and embraced him and then left through the other door. She
gathered her womenservants and went down the steps to the river. Let the water of the Nile
wash away her confusion. She was being offered the crown of Egypt, not through her
influence on a brother-husband, but in her own right, under her own name. She was also, in
all likelihood, being offered a terrible death -- unless she was strong and clever enough to
make it work. She would have to kill so many rebels that the river would run with blood. O
gods, she cried, caring not which god heard her, for any that might answer her would be her
true god forever. O gods, open the door to life and close the door of death!
Jochabed smeared the inside of the basket with pitch, thick and hot and gloppy; she
made sure there was no break in it, no place where water could get through and drown the
child. Then she covered the pitch with a blanket so it wouldn't get on the baby. She was still
tamping it down when Amram came home. He brought a half-dozen elders with him.
Jochabed glanced up for only a moment, but she saw at once that one -- and only one -- of
the men was beardless and wore a hood over his hair.
"Greetings, Puah," said Jochabed. "I hope no one thought that disguise fooled
"No one took note of us," said Puah, pulling off the hood.
Amram spoke calmly. "We have nothing to fear. I hear the voice of the Lord in my
heart, telling me that this boychild will do mighty works in the name of God."
"I believe you, husband," said Jochabed. "And this basket is what the Lord will use to
save the baby."
Another pain swept over her. They were coming every few minutes now; she knew
that she should already be squatting over the birthing straw.
"What is this basket?" asked Amram.
Miriam answered, because Jochabed could not speak. "Mother smeared it with pitch.
It will float."
"Go," Jochabed said, wincing. "Miriam, go now. Down by the river. Hide in the
reeds there, so no one knows you're waiting."
"What is this insane plan you've come up with?" demanded Amram.
"This insane plan was given to me by God," said Jochabed. "The command of
Pharaoh is to give newborn Israelite boys to the Nile. Well, that's what we'll do -- ourselves!
In a basket that will float!"
"The Nile flows to the sea!" cried Amram. "Is that where our baby should go?"
"What have you done to provide for him!" demanded Jochabed. "You say that God
has made you promises -- but what have you done to keep them?"
"God does not need the help of man!"
"Whether he needs it or not, he's obviously not going to get it," said Jochabed sharply.
One of the old men piped up. "Is this how your wife talks to you, Amram?"
"Only when she's giving birth," Amram replied. "Women can't be blamed for how
they talk then."
"My son is not going to be handed over to the Egyptians," said Jochabed. Already
another pain was beginning. Had the pain before even ended?
"Come," said Puah. "You have no time for this."
Jochabed shook off the midwife's arm. "It was the midwives who saved our babies a
month ago! And I'm the one today who'll save this son of ours."
"Careful how you take credit to yourself!" cried Amram.
"I take nothing for myself." Jochabed was stung by his accusation. She had only said
"I'm the one" because Amram had been talking as if she were nothing. God does not need the
help of man! Women can't be blamed for how they talk during childbirth! And yet that was
no excuse for her trying to make him feel like nothing in return. Still, he should remember
what was at stake here. She was a woman, yes, but in this case she was not just some
bystander to serve the food and leave the room while the men conversed. "I'm giving my
baby to the Lord," she said softly.
And he understood, because he was the kind of man who listens even through his
anger. "If the baby lives," he said, "it is because the Lord has chosen to let him live. What do
we care who hears the word of the Lord?"
"I believe the Lord has chosen to let him live by being floated on the Nile in this
basket," said Jochabed. "And Miriam will follow along in the reeds, keeping out of sight, to
watch where the basket fetches up."
"What's to stop the Egyptian mob from rushing out and filling the basket with
stones?" demanded another old man.
"Why not go out and suggest it to them?" said Jochabed snidely. "As long as you're
thinking up clever ways to kill Israelite babies."
The old man recoiled as if slapped. "A man could bleed to death from this woman's
"Go, Miriam!" demanded Jochabed.
Amram's hand shot out and caught the girl by her shoulder. Miriam looked up into
his face. "Don't you want the baby to live, Papa?" she asked.
Amram hesitated only a moment longer. "Who am I to stand in the way of the Lord?"
Miriam was out the door in a moment. Little Aaron immediately began to cry.
Amram picked him up and held him; the boy fell still as he began to tangle his fingers in his
Now, at last, Jochabed let Puah draw her away into the back room of the house. She
could feel the baby pushing down between her legs even before she got into place. "He's
already here," she said.
"I'm not surprised," said Puah caustically. "Keep talking that way to your husband,
and this will be your last baby."
"The mother of this baby needs no others," said Jochabed. And then marveled at the
words God had put into her mouth.
Miriam didn't like the river. Other children played there all the time, of course, no
matter how the adults forbade it. And she knew that as long as you stayed close to the village
and watched all the time, the crocodiles didn't pose much danger. They only got hungry now
and then, and they preferred the much larger, less troublesome prey they could get when the
flocks and herds came down to the river to drink. It was the river itself that Miriam didn't
like, the way it moved invisibly among the reeds, tugging at her dress, first this way, then
that, trying to pull her out, pull her down, drag her away. She didn't like the way the bottom
disappeared sometimes, though the reeds were all the same level at the top. The river was
pure treachery, so smooth on top, the water so cool on a hot day, and yet there was death in
it, murder in its heart. Like the Egyptians. Such a darling child, they would say, and pat her
head. And Miriam would answer in her heart: You made my father a slave. You want us all
dead. You are the river, you and all of Egypt. You are the river and as long as we stay beside
you we are in danger of drowning.
She said this once to her mother, but somehow the words of her mouth were never as
sharp as the words of her heart. Or perhaps it was simply that Mother refused to understand
her, or could not believe that Miriam, as young as she was, could see such dark truth. So
Mother patted her head and said, "Don't fret about what you can't change," though Miriam
had not been fretting and didn't expect to change anything. Didn't Mother understand? The
Israelite people had to leave this land. The famine in Canaan was over. It had been over for
generations. Miriam had listened to all the stories her father told, the tales of Joseph and
Jacob, the promises made to Abraham and Isaac. She knew the truth: The Israelites had
stayed in Egypt out of greed, because Joseph's accomplishments had lifted them to a lofty
place. For generations they had played at magistrate and overlord, and they disdained the
simple life of their ancestors. Father had said as much, hadn't he? And yet somehow he had
never reached the obvious conclusion: That Egypt was not the land of Israel's inheritance. All
these terrible things that were happening to Israel, they were God's way of waking up his
people and telling them they must go home! If the Egyptians had not revolted, driven out the
Pharaohs who knew Joseph, made slaves of the Israelites, and now started killing their
children, would Israel ever have longed to leave?
I am only a child and I see this, thought Miriam. Why can't the adults see it, too?
But they didn't, or didn't speak about it in front of her, anyway. And when Miriam
let them see how she hated the river, they all assumed she was afraid of crocodiles and teased
her about it, when the truth was that it was Egypt she hated. Egypt that had made Israel
Well, I remember God, I remember the land of our inheritance, I have learned the
lessons God is trying to teach us, and I will teach them to Aaron -- and to the new baby, too,
if I have a chance. I will tell all my friends to hate Egypt, I will tell them to long for the land
of our inheritance in Canaan.
In the meantime, though, she waded out among the reeds. Up to her ankles, the water
still warm here in the shallows. Up to her knees, with the mud sucking at her feet, trying to
lock her in place. Up to her hips, as fish and eels slithered among the reeds and brushed
against her. Up to her waist, and now the currents began to reach for her, pull her this way
and that, and all she had to hold onto was a handful of reeds. Here she waited, turning slowly
in the water, watching for Mother to come with the basket, watching for crocodiles to come
up behind her unaware. Watching the birds that came out of the sky, landed on the water,
stood on tall legs, dipped sharply to catch fish and eels, rocked their heads back to swallow the
wriggling captive, then took off again, flying home to their nest. We should have come to
Egypt like a waterbird, to stand in the water, eat, and go away full, instead of letting the river
There was a tumult from the village. As anyone could have predicted, the Egyptian
villagers were shouting, "To the river! To the river!" And there in the midst of them were
Mother and Father. Mother could scarcely walk from the pain of childbearing, yet she held
the basket in her own hands. "I give the baby to the river myself!" she cried.
Some of the Egyptians shouted No, No! -- not out of mercy, but because they wanted
to drown the child with their own hands. But Father spoke now, his voice booming out over
the water. "The law from Pharaoh is that Israelite boychildren must be given to the Nile. We
obey Pharaoh! But if any one of you lays a hand on this basket, you are trying to take what
belongs to the river, and the law will have you then!"
"It's a trick!" shouted someone. But no one else took up the cry. Father and Mother
waded out a little way; Mother set the basket on the water. Father pushed it, farther, farther,
until it was beyond the reeds, out into the slow by inexorable current. The afternoon sun
beat down on the basket. It rocked from the movement of the baby inside, but only for a
moment. The Egyptians shouted in anger, knowing that somehow they were being cheated.
But Miriam cared nothing for them. She kept her eyes on the basket. It was moving slowly,
but she could only move slowly herself. She pulled herself along among the reeds.
On the shore, the Egyptian mob walked along parallel to the ark. Miriam stayed low,
so they wouldn't see her and suspect a trick -- for of course they would assume that Miriam
was there to bring the ark back to shore. The mob grew smaller and smaller as people lost
interest and returned, grumbling, to their homes. But still a handful, a few, and then a pair of
hate-driven Egyptians walked on, watching, watching. What kind of people are you, Miriam
wanted to scream at them, to seek to kill babies because you hate the parents? But she said
nothing. She had more important work to do than screaming at Egyptians.
The bottom disappeared from under her feet; she held to the reeds, floating, and even
though her head went under the water twice she struggled through to where the bottom was
there under her feet again. On and on, following the ark among the bulrushes. It drew even
with her, passed her, went on ahead of her. O Lord, whispered Miriam in her heart, if I'm to
do anything for this baby, let it happen soon, because I'm getting very cold, and the ark is
farther ahead of me, and soon I'll lose sight of it, and it'll be night, and I'm moving too
quickly to watch for crocodiles, and I'll die here in the river. Not that it matters in thy great
universe of creation whether one little girl lives or dies, but if you let me live I promise you
I'll do all in my power to bring your people home to the land thou gavest them. I also
promise not to pinch Aaron and make him cry when I'm angry at Mother. That's mean of
me and I'll never do it again so if thou wert thinking of punishing me for it by having a
crocodile catch me and pinch me to death between its great jaws here in the water, please
Hatshepsut walked down the stairs toward the water. Her maidservants fluttered
around her like moths, each with some task of great importance, such as draping Hatshepsut's
gown properly on the stairs, or arranging a stray wisp of her hair. Annoyances, really, but
she couldn't tell them off for doing their work too well, could she? If they took pride in it,
then one must endure the annoyance of work too thoroughly done.
She held up a foot; at once her sandal was drawn off and carried away. The other foot;
and she was ready for the water. O gods, she prayed again. O gods, show me the way to
preserve my father's kingdom and keep it out of the hands of evil.
Was it the cry of some waterbird that caused her to look up? She did not know what
she was looking for, only that she looked, and saw, out on the water, something bobbing
along, like a tiny boat, with a flash of red cloth catching the evening sun. Was this something
the gods were showing her? She had to know.
She turned to the nearest of her servants. "Tawaret," she said, "do you see what's out
there on the water? There, near the bulrushes."
Tawaret looked but saw nothing. "Forgive me for being stupid."
"You simply haven't seen it, that's all," said Hatshepsut. "Go fetch it."
The girl looked horrified. "Out in the water? So far?"
"It's only there, by the edge of the bulrushes."
"But the water is deep there and I can't swim."
Hatshepsut was annoyed. "Don't you know that the river will bear you up, when you
go on my errand? Remember who I am, girl."
Thus encouraged, Tawaret splashed her way down the steps into deeper and deeper
water. But when it was up to her waist, it got no deeper. "Oh!" cried Tawaret. "There's a
smooth road under the water!"
Hatshepsut couldn't remember how far out the huge paving stones had been laid. She
did know they were at a downward slope, so that no matter how high or low the water was, a
boat could be drawn up to the steps. So the girl was not likely to fall off and drown. That
would indeed be an annoyance if she did -- Tawaret had a gentle touch with a comb, even
when Hatshepsut's hair was most tangled.
The girl went toward the floating thing, as the river carried the floating thing to her.
"It's a basket!" cried Tawaret.
"Bring it here!"
Tawaret drew it along behind her as she came closer and closer. A basket, yes. But
there was something in it, something moving. A baby. A squalling baby. And the blanket
that lined the basket was of Israelite weave.
At once it became clear to Hatshepsut what the gods were saying to her. She had
asked for the river to show her what to do; instead, the river had boldly taken action and
given her precisely what she most needed. Father's plan was good, but it did not begin to do
what the river had set in motion.
"Look what the river has brought me!" Hatshepsut cried. "A son!"
Moses. The word rang out over the water.
"In fact that is his name," Hatshepsut said. "My father is Tuthmose, which means the
son of Thoth. But this child is my son. I lift him up out of the water and place him in the
royal lineage of Pharaoh!" The baby wriggled in her arms; it was all she could do not to drop
it. She had never held a baby before. She had no idea they were so awkward and
The women listened, awestruck and -- the smarter ones at least -- aghast. "O Lady
Hatshepsut," the oldest one finally said, "can't you see that this baby is an Israelite?"
"Of course!" cried Hatshepsut. "On this day you can see the law of Pharaoh is
fulfilled! No more will Israelite boys be cast into the river, for the gods have chosen the best
of them and brought him here to me!" There, thought Hatshepsut. I've ended that bloody
blot on my Father's record.
"But he's hungry," said Tawaret. "That's why he's crying so loudly."
"He's crying loudly because it is so painful to be born, and this is the moment of his
birth," said Hatshepsut coldly. "He was born when I drew him out of the Nile the way a
mother draws her baby out of the waters of her own body."
No one dared mention to her that women generally pushed their babies out.
Hatshepsut knew, of course, how it was really done. But she was the one composing this song
to be sung through the ages. She would decide how it went.
The oldest servant insisted on substance as well as style, however. "No matter why the
baby cries now, neither you nor any of us has milk to give it, and I doubt it has the teeth for
"Then we'll find a nurse," said Hatshepsut.
At that moment, a voice cried out from the bulrushes -- the voice of a child. "O great
lady!" cried the child. "I know a woman who would be the perfect nurse for the baby!"
Everyone turned to look at the reeds where the voice was coming from. A wet and
shivering girl in peasant garb emerged and slowly made her way through the water toward the
stone steps. "Look what else the river has produced for us," said the old servant.
"Quiet," said Hatshepsut. "This woman you know -- could she begin service
immediately as the baby's nurse?"
"Oh, yes," said the girl.
"Then bring her to me -- not by the river, by the road." She turned to Tawaret. "You
go with her, and take soldiers, so no one will dare to interfere with your errand. Tell no one
where you are going -- let this girl run ahead and lead you."
"Yes, Lady Hatshepsut," said Tawaret. "But the girl is wet -- may we dry her first?"
"No!" cried the girl. "I mean, thank you, it's very kind of you, but the wind will dry
me off as I run, and Mother -- the woman I know -- the nurse -- she wouldn't want any
"Then go," said Hatshepsut.
The Israelite girl took Tawaret's hand, and together they walked up the stairs to the
palace. Hatshepsut handed the baby to the old servant.
"What do you want to bet that the nurse she's fetching just happened to give birth to a
boy today?" said the old servant.
"If the gods have arranged things so kindly, so be it, and we are grateful," said
Hatshepsut. "But if anyone ever says that I am not the true mother of this child, which was
given to me by the river, that will be the last thing they ever say. You might mention this to
anyone you know who might be disposed to idle gossip."
Abashed, the old servant fell silent and carried the baby up the stairs.
"Don't drop him," said Hatshepsut. "He'll be Pharaoh someday, so it would be just as
well if we didn't break open his head on the first day of his life."
Jochabed sat in the midst of the women, refusing to grieve. "My son is not dead," she
said. "I have not lost him -- God has him." But the other women chided her. "You should
keen for him, silly woman. It's unnatural to be so calm."
And in the front room, surrounded by elders, Amram bore their criticism calmly.
"The people are furious that you tricked them," said one. "You shamed yourself by letting
your wife rule you in this," said another. "You're guilty of the baby's murder now, since you
put him on the water yourselves," said a third. To all of them, Amram said nothing; and
when he did speak, it was not to them, but to God. "O Great Lord of Israel, God of
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, O Lord who preserved Joseph and raised him out of the pit and
out of prison, from the hands of his brothers, from the hands of a lying woman, and from the
hands of the executioners of Pharaoh, O Lord be with my son!"
This is what they were doing when the noise began in the village, first among the
Egyptians, then in the streets of the Israelite quarter.
The elders leapt to their feet. "The mob is coming to kill us all! Quick, hide!"
The women clutched at Jochabed. "Oh, see what God will do now, to make you
All were at the door in a moment. And instead of a mob, they saw a procession of
Egyptian soldiers, with a finely dressed woman at their head. Behind them, Egyptian peasants
came like an invading army. It took a moment to realize that running before this troop was a
small Israelite girl.
"Miriam!" cried Jochabed. "Miriam, what happened!"
"Mother!" shouted Miriam. In moments she fell into her mother's arms, trembling
with cold, stammering with excitement. "Mother, a great lady lifted him up out of the water
and named him Moses!"
"Named him?" asked Jochabed. "Then she will save him alive?"
By now the fine lady had arrived.
"Is this the one?" asked Jochabed.
"Oh, no," said Miriam. "This is the one who got all wet bringing the basket to shore."
The fine lady spoke. "Woman, the house of Pharaoh has need of a wet-nurse. This
girl says that your breasts have milk and yet you have no child to suckle. Is this true?"
Oh, yes, it was true.
"Then come with me."
"It's a trick," murmured one of the elders. "You can't trust an Egyptian," whispered
another. "They'll never let your wife come back," said an old woman to Amram.
"I am this woman's husband," said Amram. "I wish you would tell me, great lady,
what child it is that she would suckle. Is it yours?"
The lady laughed. "I am no great lady. I am only a slave, as you are. It is my mistress
who gave birth to a child today. The river brought the baby to her, the way a rush of water
brings other women's babies."
"And who is your mistress?" asked Amram.
"Who else can send soldiers for a wet-nurse?" asked the slave-lady. "Who else can bring
her into Pharaoh's house? I serve Hatshepsut, the daughter of Pharaoh. The baby is her son.
She calls him Moses. Someday he will be Pharaoh."
The crowd fell silent at the astonishing news.
"I will go with you," said Jochabed. "I will be proud to give milk to the son of
Pharaoh's daughter." She embraced Amram, then walked stiffly toward the soldiers.
"What's wrong with you?" asked the slave-lady.
"Forgive me," said Jochabed. "It happens that I gave birth to a child today."
"But you said you had no one to suckle."
"He was given to the river, and the river carried him where it wished."
"How kind the gods are!" cried the slave-lady. "Can we be less kind ourselves?
Soldiers, carry this woman gently to the palace. Let her feet not touch the ground from here
to there." And though she was a slave, they obeyed her, because of the authority of her
Miriam watched as they carried her mother away. Aaron began to cry. "Don't
worry," Miriam said to him. "She'll come home every day, or take you with her. Nothing
bad will happen to you, because your little brother will be Pharaoh one day."
Thus she was the first to put into words what no Israelite had dared to hope. But now
that it was said, Amram could say it too, and loudly. "It will be better than the days of
Joseph!" he said. "For Joseph was only next to Pharaoh. Moses will be Pharaoh! This is why
God brought us to Egypt! Because this kingdom will be ours! For one of the sons of Israel is
now adopted into Pharaoh's house!"
But Miriam understood that Father was making a mistake, though she said nothing to
him about it. It was Aaron who would grow up hearing the truth from her. "Canaan is the
land of our inheritance, not Egypt," she said. "Your brother was lifted up by God, but not to
be Pharaoh. Israel does not belong in Egypt. Israel belongs to another land." God had made
promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He would not break them now.
The ceremony was not long; it did not have to be. It was enough to have Mutnefert
watching from the edge of the room as Tuthmose brought his daughter Hatshepsut beside
him, and beside her an Israelite nurse held Hatshepsut's newborn son in her arms. Word had
already spread about Hatshepsut's bold move, and already Mutnefert's allies were plotting
how to persuade Tuthmose to nullify this mad action. Give the throne to an Israelite?
They had no idea what this ceremony was really for. So they remained stunned and
silent as Tuthmose began the marriage of his daughter, Hatshepsut, to himself. "She is my
wife now," he said, "and I adopt her child as my own. In fact, I am already father of this
child, for it was I, Pharaoh, god of Egypt, who caused this baby to be placed on the Nile, and
I, Pharaoh, god of Egypt, who caused my daughter-wife to recognize the child as my gift to
her, as all sons are gifts of the husband to the wife, and of the wife to the husband."
Thus all the maneuvering based on Hatshepsut's lack of a husband were swept away.
Pharaoh himself claimed fatherhood and took Hatshepsut into his protection as his wife.
And, as his wife, she and all her offspring permanently outranked Mutnefert and her precious
But even this was not enough for Tuthmose. For now he took a ceremonial false beard
from his steward and placed it on Hatshepsut's chin. "I also declare my daughter to be my
son! Hatshepsut is a woman when she is my wife and mother of the baby Moses. But she is a
man when she appears in this court and rules Egypt as Pharaoh." With that he took the
double crown of Egypt from his own head and placed it on hers. "See this miracle that I,
Pharaoh, god of Egypt, have performed for you today! I have made a man out of a woman!
A son out of a daughter! And I have made her Pharaoh on the same day that I also made her
my wife. Let anyone who speaks against this miracle be blotted out, him and all his children!
Egypt, behold your Pharaoh!"
Whereupon Hatshepsut reached out and took the baby from Jochabed's arms. "Egypt,
behold the son of Pharaoh!"
The court bowed down, every one of them, even Mutnefert; and Hatshepsut saw with
pleasure that the old snake was smiling, pretending to be joyful. She had made her decision --
she would do nothing openly against Hatshepsut now.
But she would plot, Hatshepsut knew it. Yet Mutnefert would never dream of the
final move in Hatshepsut's game. For when her father died and Mutnefert began to plot again
-- for there was no chance that she would not -- Hatshepsut would simply marry Mutnefert's
miserable boy (pretentiously named Tuthmose after his father, though he resembled him in
nothing but looks). She would make him co-Pharaoh -- Tuthmose II -- but the name was all
he would get, for she would force him to adopt Moses as his heir and then lock him away in
hedonistic confinement with a well-stocked household of concubines, trotting him out for
ceremonies but otherwise cutting him and his mother away from all real power. Thus the
integrity of Pharaoh's house would be preserved, but Mutnefert would never again have
power in the kingdom.
And word had reached the palace that already the loyalty of the Israelites had been
cemented. Instead of being on the verge of revolt, this skilled and educated people would be
her loyal allies. It would be years before they noticed that despite the fact that Moses was an
Israelite, and heir to the throne, they were still slaves. And even then, they would be patient
in bondage, believing that someday Moses would be Pharaoh and once again prefer them
above the people of Egypt.
It was Hatshepsut's job to make sure he grew up knowing how to govern -- including
the skill of playing one group off against another. Moses would know that the Israelites were
no more his people than the Egyptians were. Pharaoh is a god, not one of the people at all;
the people are his to command, and never to command him. That's the wisdom her son
would grow to understand. And if he did not understand it, then he did not deserve to rule.
Hatshepsut did understand, and did deserve to rule. And if it took being turned into a
man by her father, well, so be it. Her own miracle would be to turn this Israelite baby into a
god. What miracles would the baby perform, when he became a man? The gods would have
to show him when he came into his power. Hatshepsut could not keep any promises beyond
her own lifetime, and so she would make none.
After all the pain, after all the dread, after all the rage that had torn at her heart, it
came to this: jostling along in a sedan chair, up the broad stairs into the royal residence, to
find herself installed on cushions, where they brought her baby to her, washed and wrapped
in linen, hungry for her, as she was hungry for him. As she unwrapped him and held his
naked body to her breast, feeling his warmth against her, the milk flowing out of her, their
hearts beating, his fast, hers slow, she kept thinking, over and over, He lives, he lives.
O God, she prayed, thou hast heard the words of thy daughter Jochabed. Thou hast
seen the child that was in my womb and thou hadst mercy on him. I will bless thy name all
the days of my life. My voice will be heard in all Israel, declaring that the love of God is not
gone from his people. For the child of my body has been chosen, the babe at my breast has
been named, and the Lord watches over him.
Sated for the moment, the baby dozed. His lips came away from her nipple, the
whitish fluid still clinging to his lips. "Don't sleep yet, you lazy boy," she whispered. "You
have to drink from both or mama will be uncomfortable."
Then she realized what she had said. Mama. She could not let him call her mama.
Another woman would hear that name from his lips, when he first learned to talk.
For a moment it stabbed at her, a pang of regret that could so easily become
resentment, anger, jealousy.
No! Though she made no sound, she shouted it in her heart. I will not be angry. I
will not be ungrateful to the Lord. I asked for the life of my child, and it was given. In his
mercy, God has even let me be the one whose breast he will suckle from. I will be grateful
every day of my life. I will hold no anger in my heart. O Lord, help me keep all darkness
from my child's life. Never let him learn of it from me.
The baby woke again, his brief nap over. She brought him to her other breast and he
attached himself to it, greedy with the innocent need of infancy. What man are you, hidden
in this tiny body? What have we made here, God and Amram and I? What is the path of
your life? Whatever it is, God has chosen it. Walk boldly on it, my little son, when you let
go of my hand and take your own steps into the world, walk boldly, for God will never let go
of your hand, he will hold it always, if you only trust him.
That is what I will teach you, if I can. That is the knowledge that will flow into you
with my milk. In the darkest hour, in the night of fear, the hand of God is there for you, his
path is open before you, life or death, whatever gift he gives to you, step out with courage,
hold to him with faith, for he will lead you to joy, and no one else knows the way.
To joy he will lead you, like my joy in this hour. Of all women, who is more blessed
Copyright © 1997 Orson Scott Card