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Daughter of Pharaoh

She stood at the water's edge, looking curiously at the papyrus basket entangled amongst the water-plants. Her maids caught up with her and stood, a respectful distance off, awaiting her pleasure.

She looked round and made an imperious gesture. "Bring that to me!"

One of the slave-girls plunged into the water and waded out. She returned, stumbling against the encumbering weed, bearing the basket safely in her arms. She climbed the bank and set her burden down on the grass.

"Open it" commanded her mistress.

A deft movement of the hands and the cover was stripped off, revealing a three-month-old baby, peacefully sleeping. The brilliant Egyptian sun shone straight into its face; it awoke, and set up a cry.

The austere features softened suddenly, and the princess went down upon her knees beside the basket, careless of her garments brushing the dust. Gathering up the child, she stood up, holding it close.

"Beautiful" she said "the most beautiful child I have ever seen. The gods have sent it to me. I shall keep it for my own."

The others crowded round for a closer look as the babe lay cradled in her arms. For a few moments no one spoke.

The infant had quietened and lay peacefully gazing into the rapt face above. The princess looked at it more searchingly. A faint shadow crossed her features.

"This is one of the Hebrews' children" she said. There was another silence, broken at last by one of the maids.

"O lady, child of the sun. Your father the Pharaoh has commanded that all the Hebrews' children shall be cast into the river and drowned, and none may disobey his decree."

The girl stood erect, head held regally, eyes flashing defiance, the while she clutched the baby fiercely and protectively. "I am the daughter of Pharaoh, and I say the child shall live. He is mine, and I shall tell my father so." Then the proud stance crumpled suddenly and she looked beseechingly at her attendants. "But this child will need feeding. . . ." Her strong mouth puckered and her lips quivered.

The others looked around helplessly. One of them suddenly darted into the thicket of papyrus bulrushes lining the river's edge and came back with a trembling thirteen-year-old Hebrew girl who had been hiding there, talking rapidly to her as they approached. The girl made a low obeisance.

The princess motioned her to rise. "Tell me, where can I find a woman who will nurse this Hebrew child for me?"

Miriam answered, a little breathlessly. "Great lady. I can bring you one here and now, if so be that is your wish."

An imperious wave of the hand: "Go", and Miriam was running hard across the greensward to the Israelite village in the distance.

The minutes ticked by quietly. The hum of insects filled the hot air. A crocodile waddled out of the water to sun himself upon the riverbank, and sensing the presence of humans, waddled back again. The three slave-girls talked between themselves in low tones. The princess remained standing, looking down upon the child, eyes betraying the dawning of a determination which belied her youth and gave promise of a future tenacity of character which nothing would shake. When she lifted her head and saw Miriam returning with a mature-looking woman at her side, she came forward a little, noting with some approval the quiet dignity of this woman.

"Take this child away and nurse it for me for so long as it needs your care. Bring it to the palace each day that I may see it for a while and hold it in my arms. I will see that the officers of Pharaoh do not interfere with you. Protect it from all harm, and I will give you your wages." Jochebed advanced and bowed low. She took the child into her own arms and turned away, rejoicing inwardly that she held her son again and that he had been saved from the river. With Miriam at her side she trudged back to the village, conscious of an inner realisation that God had preserved her son for some great purpose which as yet could not be discerned.

The princess watched them until they were out of sight. She turned to her attendants. "Come, let us return to the palace, that I may tell my father what I have done."

     *            *             *             *

The story of Pharaoh's daughter, who rescued the child Moses from the river and brought him up as her own son, is one of the most well-known in the Bible. The Scriptures say nothing more about her, and until comparatively recent years it was not possible to say with certainty just who she was. Progress in historical research has now enabled her identity to be established.

Eighty years before the Exodus there was a Pharaoh in Egypt named Thutmose I (The name used to be read Thothmes but Thutmose is the more modern usage.) This Pharaoh had one daughter, Hatshepsut, who grew up to become a vigorous and accomplished woman, and after her father's death ruled Egypt by the force of her own personality to such effect that she is acknowledged the most famous and greatest queen of Egyptian history. The events recorded in Exodus concerning the Oppression, the life of Moses, and the Exodus, fit so closely to the historical dates of this king and his successors as to leave no doubt that Thutmose I was the Pharaoh who ordered the slaying of the Hebrew children and Hatshepsut was the one who adopted Moses. His own inscriptions, still extant, tell how he did the same thing to the Nubians in the land south of Egypt, whom he had conquered, leaving none of their males alive.

Princess Hatshepsut was about twenty-one years of age at the time. Born of a great military leader, descended from a line of military conquerors, she was herself resolute, strong-minded, determined and a born ruler. After her father's death in later years she arrogated to herself the position and privileges of Pharaoh and reigned as Pharaoh for thirty-five years, bringing Egypt to a state of almost unprecedented prosperity and peace. One might well wonder why such a woman should take it upon herself to adopt a child of the despised Hebrew slaves.

The answer might well lie in the realm of her domestic circumstances. It was customary at that time for the son of Pharaoh to marry one of his sisters, this was because the royal title descended through the female line. Hatshepsut had no brother, but there was a half-brother, born to Thutmose I by one of his concubines. The princess was married to him, probably at sixteen or less, as was the then practice. Her husband, however, was a weakling and effeminate, he died not many years later - and it may well have been that Hatshepsut, after about five years of marriage, despaired of presenting her ailing husband with an heir who would be of royal blood, and finding this healthy-looking babe in the river, conceived the idea of passing him off as her own and eventually making him heir apparent to the throne. Josephus says she did in fact put this proposal to her father and he concurred, but Josephus was probably romancing, although he may have had access to sources of information denied us today. But one might well ask what other motive this highly born princess could have had in acting as she did. And if this be the true hypothesis - and it is difficult to construct another fitting the case so well - the temptation that presented itself to Moses as he grew up was a far more crucial one than is generally supposed. He could, upon the death of his reputed mother's husband, become Pharaoh of Egypt, with all the power and glory which that entailed. As the reputed son of Hatshepsut he would possess a royal title to the throne. He could then have removed the burdens of his fellow-countrymen and restored to them the favours they had enjoyed in the days of Joseph.

When Moses was eleven years of age the old Pharaoh, Thutmose I, died, and his son succeeded as Thutmose II. Hatshepsut had already acted as Regent for her father during his last few failing years, and now she took full control and assumed the title of Pharaoh herself, consigning her husband Thutmose II to a minor role. In another seven years he was dead, having in the meantime given his wife a daughter, Nefrura, and, like his father, had a son by one of his own concubines.

By this time Moses was approaching twenty years of age and was rapidly becoming "learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and mighty in words and deeds" as Stephen said of him at his trial (Acts 7.22). If there is any basis of truth in Josephus' story that Moses achieved distinction by leading an army into Ethiopia and conquering that land this would be the time he did so; more likely though this is another of Josephus' romances, although it is a fact that such an expedition did take place.

Meanwhile a constitutional crisis had arisen. With the death of Hatshepsut's husband a new Pharaoh must succeed. He need not necessarily be descended through the royal female line himself provided he was married either to Hatshepsut or to her daughter Nefrura, both of whom held the right of succession. If the Queen had actually intended to put Moses forward as the rightful Pharaoh this would be the time, either by a nominal marriage to his reputed sister Nefrura, then only three years old, or to Hatshepsut herself - the Pharaohs of this dynasty were not particular about relationships in marriage. In either case Hatshepsut intended to remain the real ruler, as in fact she did eventually.

At this juncture the priesthood came into the picture, rather hurriedly. They may not have been too sure about their sovereign's ideas and intentions regarding Moses. They may or may not have known that he was a Hebrew but they must have known that he was not the natural son of the queen and her husband or they would have had no option but to acquiesce in whatever action she took. There was a quiet plot hatched and the next that the queen knew about it was that her stepson, born to her husband by his concubine, and now about eight years of age, had been publicly proclaimed Pharaoh Thutmose III.

There was not much Hatshepsut could do about it. She had been tricked into a position where she must marry her stepson and so legitimise his election, although he was so young. It made no practical difference; the queen still ruled and for the next twenty-odd years she carried Egypt to a high degree of prosperity, sending a fleet of trading ships on a noteworthy expedition to a far-distant land and receiving in consequence a vast assortment of tropical trees, plants, animals and native products such as Egypt had never seen before. She also engaged in an extensive building and beautifying of various temples the ruins of which still remain as testimony to her greatness.

During this period there are references to a powerful noble who acted as her adviser and was the architect of the temples she had built, named Senenmut. This man appears to have enjoyed her full confidence and acted as tutor to her daughter Nefrura. He is depicted as having been born of undistinguished parents and occupied a prominent position at court. It is tempting to identify this individual with Moses but present evidence is against it. The tomb of Senenmut is known and it was desecrated by Thutmose III after the death of Hatshepsut. It was common for Egyptian notabilities to prepare tombs for themselves long before their death and there is no real evidence that Senenmut ever occupied it.

He disappears from the records at a time corresponding to six years before Moses' flight into Midian. If it should one day turn out that Senenmut and Moses are one and the same, which is questionable, there are ten statues of Moses as an Egyptian noble in existence in the world's museums to-day.

About this time, Thutmose III, now a young man of twenty-three, asserted his rights as Pharaoh against the dominance of Hatshepsut, who was some thirty years his senior. From now on he took an active part in the government. At some time before this there must have occurred the crisis referred to in Heb. 11.24-26 "By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of the anointed greater riches than the treasures of Egypt". It is impossible to say whether this decision on his part created a rift between himself and the queen which involved his banishment from the royal court, or whether he stayed on in perhaps a less honorable position. The denouement must have been embarrassing for the queen. The insulting remark of the aggressive Israelite in Exod. 2.14 "Who made thee a prince and a judge over us?" does not sound as if Moses enjoyed any very high status at that time.

After about six years' joint rule with Thutmose III, and just forty years from the birth of Moses, Hatshepsut disappears from history. It is not known whether she died or was murdered by Thutmose III, who was always jealous of her dominance. In his hatred he defaced all her monuments and inscriptions so that the recovery of her history has been more than usually difficult. It is significant though that the time of her death coincides with the flight of Moses to Midian. The Pharaoh who "sought to kill him" was Thutmose III, who would certainly have no liking for this pillar of the former regime. Thutmose in his turn died about eight years before Moses returned from Midian, which is in accord with Exod. 2.23.

There is no reason to believe that the lot of the Israelites was any better under Hatshepsut than it was under her father or her successor. The contemporary Egyptian historian Ineni says of her "all Egypt laboured with bowed head for her" and the implication of the narrative in the first two chapters of Exodus is that the hard labour of Israel endured throughout her reign. The incident of the taskmasters occurred just at the end of her reign although perhaps just after her death and when her successor was getting himself established as sole ruler. It might well be that Moses, probably brought up to believe that he was an Egyptian, and her son, found out the truth and broke with her in order to take the side of his oppressed brethren. Despite the rather romantic flavour of the story of Moses' adoption in Exodus, the cold fact is that Pharaoh's daughter was a masterful and dominant character who ruled Egypt with wisdom and insight but with ruthless firmness for thirty-five years and suffered no one to thwart her will.

The God of Israel meant nothing to her; she was an ardent devotee of the gods of Egypt and clung tenaciously to the doctrine that she was born in direct descent from the gods and Divinely ordained to rule.

God said to her grandson, the Pharaoh of the Exodus "in very deed for this purpose have I raised thee up, for to shew in thee my power, and that my name may be declared in all the earth" (Exodus 9,16). In just the same way did the Lord raise up this Egyptian princess to afford his chosen instrument for Israel's deliverance that knowledge and skill which was to constitute so essential a part of his training for his destined task.


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