Moses Mondays: Pharaoh Seeks Council

In the end, it comes down to what Pharaoh believes. While there is conspiracy and intrigue throughout the court and Seti has to take into account the opinions of the assembled priests, especially the powerful priesthood of Amon Ra, it is his opinions and conclusions that count in the end. Besides, Pharaoh has also had his own omens in the form of dreams and the events surrounding his sister, a princess of the royal house, who herself has had visions, the last in the presence of the First Priest of Satis.

In this chapter we will see Pharaoh and Sostris discuss the meaning of Seti’s dreams while last week we saw the First Priest of Amon Ra propose a possible meaning for the day’s events. (See Chapter 12: Subtle Positioning). As Sostris, the First Priest of Satis, Asati’s patron, tries to navigate the dangerous currents flooding this most unusual day, he draws on the historic writings of the Books of the Dead, the funery writings, using the Papyrus of Nu as his source.

Chapter 13: Royal Omens

Sostris saw Seti looking at him intently, as if his deep and penetrating gaze were trying to read the hidden depths behind his every response to Pharaoh’s words. This severe scrutiny made Sostris extremely nervous but he had no escape. His only recourse was to summon up all his practiced calm and detachment.

“I awoke before dawn with the memory of a strange dream,” Seti said. “It is still vivid in my mind’s eye, as if I am still there, still observing the events.”

“It was early morning, just before dawn and I saw two young men hunting birds on papyrus skiffs in the marshes of the lower Nile. One was obviously older than the other and was wearing the sidelock of the royal house. The younger, a youth on the verge of full manhood, used a long pole to navigate his craft through the shallow water. The pole had a curved like Pharaoh’s staff.

“The elder’s hunt had been successful and his skiff was filled with many kills, while the younger had only a few birds. They made their way west to dry ground just as the sun was making its morning climb above the horizon. Once they landed, the younger bowed and out of respect gave his kills to the elder. As they were preparing to leave, a leopard appeared, blocking their path. The elder, who was larger and obviously stronger, advanced against the beast with his spear, prepared to defend their catch. As he was advancing, a snake, hidden in the grass, rose up and attacked him from the rear. The younger swung his crooked pole, catching the snake in mid-strike, quickly twisting the shaft, he tangled the snake in the crook. Then, spinning the staff around, he flung the attacker deep into the marsh behind them. After voicing his thanks, the elder charged the leopard, driving him away.”

Seti looked directly at Sostris and asked, “What is your opinion of my dream?”

Sostris’ mind raced through many possible meanings, uncounted courses of interpretation. A sense of helplessness and failure began to spread over his thoughts as they raced down one blind trail after another. Just as he was about to admit to his Pharaoh that he had no understanding of this omen, an avenue that would blend the day’s events suddenly and unexpectedly opened to him.

“It is possible the elder is your son Ramses, while the younger could be this Hebrew child the gods have given your sister,” he began.

“Continue,” said Seti.

“Could the Hebrew not be an expression of Nu, sent by the gods to protect your son?” and before Seti could respond Sostris continued, “Is it not written, ‘I am the god Nu, and those who commit sin shall not destroy me.’ Have not some counseled that the attempts by the priests of Amon-Ra to destroy the seed of the Hebrews are sin before the gods, a breaking of the law of Ma’at? What if the gods have sent this child as an expression of Nu who cannot be destroyed?”

“Even if that were true,” Seti replied, “how would that relate to my dream?”

Sostris tried to remain calm while his mind struggled to present a convincing argument for the course spreading out with sudden clarity before him. “Let’s take the dream in sequence. First you have one young man whose royal sidelock could represent your son Ramses and another, younger one, whose shepherd crook could represent this Hebrew child. The staff could be a Hebrew shepherds crook. You said the Hebrew shows submission and respect to royal young man, willingly adding his triumphs to that of his lord. That would argue that Ramses has nothing to fear from this child. Second, in the same passage from the Book of the Dead that I have just quoted it also says, ‘I fetter and destroy the hidden serpents which are about my footsteps in going to the Lord of the Two Arms.’ Could the gods have sent this Hebrew to save your son from an unexpected attack? Would not the ‘Lord of the Two Arms’, the arms of upper and lower Egypt, be Ramses? You know that no warrior can fight successfully on two fronts. He needs someone to protect his rear. It would seem the Hebrew has been sent by the gods to do that very thing.”

“Who then are the leopard and the snake?”

Here Sostris needed to tread on dangerous ground. “Could not the leopard be the Hittites, coming to wage war with Egypt? As to the snake, you did not say what kind of snake it was, my Pharaoh.”

Seti could see no hint of evasion or deception in Sostris’ look or demeanor. He had called this one priest to his council because, while he had a deep-seated distrust of the manipulations of the priests of Egypt, he grudgingly shared his father’s respect for this First Priest of Satis. What he said made sense and fit alongside his own thinking, but he would speculate no further in Sostris’ presence.

“Your interpretation is noted,” Seti replied. Motioning to Osri, who was standing in the shade by the entrance to the garden, well out of hearing, he said, “Osiphirah’s scribe will take you through a side entrance to the front of the Hall of Audiences. This audience was private and our discussion of my dream is between us and is to be kept so.”

“I understand, my Pharaoh,” Sostris replied. His mind raced with the implications of this meeting as he turned to follow the scribe out of the garden.

As they left, Seti noticed a small woman flanked by a soldier, waiting at the rear of the garden, near the private entrance to the quarters of Pharaoh. Holding his hand to his eyes to reduce the glare of the noonday sun, he recognized Nari, the chief maidservant of his sister Asati. He beckoned her to him.

As Nari approached she bowed, and waited silently for the Pharaoh to speak.

“Do you have news from my sister?” Seti asked.

“Yes, oh sacred one,” Nari replied. “The princess has sent me to inquire concerning the matters of the morning. She places the life of the gift that the gods have sent her at the mercy of her brother, the divine Pharaoh…”

Seti held up his hand, stopping her. “Go to your mistress and tell her that her ‘gift’ has nothing to fear. The gods, the priests, and Pharaoh seem to be in rare agreement on this matter. Tell her to come to dinner tonight, and to bring her ‘gift’ with her.” Turning to the guard he said, “Escort her safely to the princess.”

The guard saluted and turning accompanied the already retreating Nari toward the private gate.

Seti stood and, with his mind calculating the strategic and tactical implications of all that had transpired, returned to the Hall of Audiences.