Moses Mondays: Omens

The world of the Egyptians was filled with signs, omens, and portents. They saw spiritual significance in almost everything. One of the major challenges I faced, one that caused me the biggest intitial problem, was how to have Moses’ arrival on the scene coincide with the necessary expectations of the Egyptian priests and even Pharaoh himself. I had to figure out how to have it appear that the Egyptian gods were actually supporting the arrival of Moses into the household of Pharaoh. The story had to work from two polar opposite perspectives: internally the Egyptians have to see their gods as accepting and predicting the arrival of Moses and at the same time the reader and Moses’ family needs to see the hand of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob ordering events to his own ends. The hardest part was making it all believable to the Egyptians, especially the dream of Pharaoh. It all had to fit together to produce the desired result later in chapters 12 and 13, and work for later events surrounding the battle of Kadesh. Pharaoh’s dream is a prophesy almost twenty years in fulfillment.

See also Chapter 6: The Temple of Satis

Destiny’s Passage
Copyright 1993-2004 William G. Meisheid

Chapter 7: Omens and Portents

As he held the unconscious princess, Sostris wondered if she were having another vision. The princess had been a great blessing to the priesthood of Satis. Asati being named in honor of the goddess had helped Satis’ status as the princess’ father Pramesse grew in importance in the court of Horemheb. She had even been a favorite of the childless Pharaoh. When Horemheb made Pramesse, Pharaoh after him, everything changed for those favored by the new royal family. “Pramesse never forgot either the prophecy or me,” Sostris thought. “One of his first projects as Pharaoh was to begin building this temple for Satis in Memphis.”

As the princess grew, her father sent her to Sostris to be inducted into the cult of her patron, which had kept him close to Pramesse’s household over the years. “My rise took time,” he remembered. “Almost 20 years, but I was patient, not greedy.” He mused how every possibility had worked to both his and Satis’ advantage as the goddess rose to great heights in the minds of the people. Many of the faithful were beginning to honor her as the First Mistress of the gods. After the recent drought in the South and the low Nile, which barely flooded the fields, the offerings to her for a favorable inundation had increased dramatically. In the marketplace prayers to her could be heard on the lips of the people.

“That could change,” he thought. Princess Asati’s favor was threatening to become a curse. Her barrenness was becoming a blot on the name of the goddess. It threatened to undo the many years of careful scheming. “What else can I do?” he asked himself. “I have employed every known remedy of Egyptian medicine and temple lore to the problem. I have even tried exotic potions from Babylon and invoked the magic fertility rites of the Nubians. Nothing has worked.”

Then he had a sudden inspiration: “I might be able to use this foundling child and the dreams of the princess to deliver Satis from this stain on her image.” Before he got too carried away, however, he cautioned himself that this was a dangerous road and required extreme caution. He had been told the child might be of Hebrew origin which would complicate everything.

The powerful Theban priesthood of Amon-Ra hated the brothers of Zaphnath-paaneah, whom the Hebrews called Joseph. They believed that the aberrations of the false Pharaoh, Akhenaten, were due to the Hebrew’s influence on the Pharaoh and the priests of his god, Aten. It was widely accepted within the Egyptian priestly community that the arrogance of the Hebrews’ God had infected the mind of Akhenaten. The idea of one supreme deity had nearly caused the destruction of Egypt. The rein of Ma’at in the lives of men had almost disappeared.

After the overthrow of the deceived one and his solar god, the priests of Amon-Ra had grown even more powerful than before their humiliation. It was at their urging that Ramses had reissued the death decree on all newborn Hebrew males, originally instituted by Haremheb, begun its strict enforcement. The priests of Amon-Ra were determined to remove this threat to their supreme position, despite the argument by some that it went against the law of Ma’at.

Two priests came and took the unconscious princess from Sostris. They carried her to his quarters while he presided over the completion of the rituals and sacrifices. Nothing else happened out of the ordinary. Considering the portents in the air, Sostris considered that in itself might be a sign pointing to the significance of what had happened to the princess.

As he left the House of Morning, he saw two of the priests that he had sent out earlier on inquiries returning. They looked anxious. He motioned them to come quietly to him and bid them speak.

The senior priest, Satyu, the son of Sostris’ elder sister, spoke first. “Noble one, as you instructed, I went to the Temple of Hapy. The priests of the Nile god were greatly excited. This very morning, they saw a hippopotamus give birth, an event they considered an especially good omen, though they have not yet given an interpretation.”

Without answering, Sostris turned to the younger priest, Satemra, an orphan who had been raised in the temple. He was obviously disturbed by his tidings and seemed hesitant to speak. Conquering his impatience, Sostris spoke to him gently. “What is it that worries you so, my son?”

“You sent me to the Temple of Amon-Ra, oh noble one, since they are not familiar with my appearance. A great disturbance broke out among the vendors, who were setting up their stalls in the nearby market. A pilgrim, sleeping at the door of the temple, overheard a great commotion within the god’s house and has been voicing it around the marketplace all morning. He says the priests opened the doors to the Noas to find a vulture perched on the head of the god. It took flight, but not before desecrating the god with its droppings. The priests considered this a powerfully evil omen and tried to keep it hidden, but the pilgrim heard their disputing. The story has given wings to my fear, oh my father. Is not the vulture one of the common forms our goddess takes to visit the land of the living?”

Sostris was stunned. This revelation overwhelmed the pleasure he felt over the first report. Calling on all his reserve, he tried to calm the young priest. “Don’t jump to conclusions, my son. There is much going on that you don’t know or understand. Go and help prepare the midday offerings and I will answer your questions later.” As Satemra reluctantly left, Sostris turned to Satyu. “Look after him. Advise him not to talk about the omen to anyone until we have inquired of the goddess.” His nephew bowed and hurried after the retreating boy.

After hearing their reports, the morning’s other events only heightened Sostris’ concern. With his concern increasing by the minute, and a growing apprehension beginning to fester in the back of his mind, Sostris hurried to his quarters where the princess, still unconscious, had been placed on a couch. As he approached she began to moan softly. He did not want to awaken her, since she might be under the influence of a sacred vision, and it would be a sacrilege to disturb her. Sending everyone out, he sat down to wait for her to regain consciousness.

As Asati’s mind began to clear, the luminous image slowly dissolved into the mundane but anxious face of the real Sostris, seated quietly in front of her. As her head stopped slowly spinning and the soft buzzing in her ears faded, Asati quickly realized she had had a genuine vision, a true portent and not just the dreams of the previous night. It was her first in all the years she had been an initiate in the cult of Satis.

“Are you all right, my princess? You have been away for almost an hour,” Sostris asked.

Asati slowly sat up. Her mind lingered on the child she had been holding. She could still feel his weight in her arms. She did not respond for several minutes while she regained her bearings. Finally, looking at Sostris’ questioning face, she simply said, “I had a vision.”

“We thought so, my princess. That is why we had them bring you to my quarters. We did not wish to disturb the will of the goddess. Can you tell us about it?”

Asati noticed that Sostris was using the official we. He only did this with her when he wanted to emphasize his role as First Priest. He obviously thought the vision was a revelation of the goddess. She was not so sure. She saw nothing in her dreams last night or in this vision that alluded to Satis. It was not the Nile before her, or the inundation, but the sea. Something very strange was happening. Though she had known this man all her life, being dedicated to the goddess right after her birth, she suddenly felt a need to be careful about what she revealed to him, as if she could no longer trust him. This impulse perplexed her. Until she understood this peculiar feeling she decided to give him only the barest details.

She told him about the dream of the child and how she found the baby in the basket along the Nile. Asati studied his face for any hint of his true feelings. She did not tell him about her other dreams, which she herself had not even had time to think about. It wasn’t until she related his shining presence at the end of her vision, that she saw any reaction in his face. A sudden twinkle appeared in his eyes and the slightest evidence of a smile started on his lips but quickly vanished. She marveled that she had never noticed this practiced control before now. Had he always been this way? Maybe she had never looked so closely before. The growing sense of danger had sharpened all her senses.

As Asati talked about her dream and the events of the morning, Sostris’ mind raced back and forth along the avenues of possible outcomes, but now even a close scrutiny of his face revealed nothing of his deliberations. His success at court was related in no small way to his patience and his ability to hide his true thoughts. He always presented the appropriate image, but underneath his controlled appearance was an agile mind, adept at playing the intrigues of power and privilege. He never joined in the games of hounds and jackals that were so popular at court and the endless round of parties, except to lose graciously, but not too quickly, enhancing his practiced image of benign incompetence. In this way, it was easy for him to take responsibility for any his failures and to give Satis the credit for any of his successes. It fit what everyone had come to expect of him.

As the princess related her recent vision, especially the way it ended, Sostris had no trouble recognizing that something spiritually significant was happening and immediately began to grasp the implications. He, like most First Priests, walked the narrow line between belief in the powers of their gods, and the natural cynicism that plagues those forced to deal with the demands that leadership and court intrigue place on religion. Compelling forces were at work around the princess and this foundling child, who was surely a Hebrew. Sacrifices and research would be needed before a complete course of action could be plotted, but he knew he would have to find a way around the Pharaoh’s enforcement of the edict on all newborn Hebrew males. More was involved here than the desires of the priesthood of Amon-Ra or even the will of the divine one, may he live forever, the great Seti. It appeared that the law of Ma’at was asserting itself.

Turning and looking directly at Asati, he said with a measured tone, “It is obvious that Satis, with the help of the Nile god, has sent you this child, my princess. However, her purpose is still a mystery.” Asati remained quiet, only nodding her head while her eyes continued to scan his face as he spoke.

“Our first concern has to be Pharaoh’s enforcement of the edict. Having the child under your protection is only a temporary answer. Pharaoh must either grant him immunity or rescind the decree, which is unlikely. You should go home and keep these events to yourself, while we intercede with the goddess for a solution to this dilemma.”

The talk of protection and intercession sent a cold pang through Asati’s already bruised core. “Won’t the news be already on the wind? Surely this will be a topic in the markets by this afternoon.”

“Yes,” Sostris replied, “but it will only be a rumor. We need time to formulate a plan. We shall offer additional sacrifices to the goddess and enlist the aid of the priests of Hapy, since they have had a favorable omen. Several of our priests haven’t returned from gathering information at the other temples, so we still don’t know how widespread these portents are.”

“Does that matter?”

“It matters a great deal. We need to know how many of the gods are involved in this affair and whether they have taken sides.” He remembered the incident in the temple of Amon-Ra and an involuntary shudder rippled down his spine. “Please go home and see to the child, my princess. I will send my servant to you when I know more.”

Asati rose and moved toward the door to leave. At the threshold she paused for a moment, looked back at Sostris, and said, “When my husband returns from his campaign against the southern bandits, he may be more difficult than my father and all the gods.”

Sostris listened without response, and watched her turn and disappear. “Another complication,” he thought, “but a secondary one and still distant. First, I need to find out who else has returned and what they have learned.” As he entered the temple garden, he saw several small coteries of priests engaged in animated conversations. Sostris signaled them over to a collection of shaded seats near his private garden, where he often held audiences. He could see the problems enlarging in the concern written on their faces