Thursday, January 03, 2008

Vaera, Bo: Executing Judgments Against The gods of Egypt

A bit of free associating, here.

In parshat Bo, in Shemot 12:12:

יב וְעָבַרְתִּי בְאֶרֶץ-מִצְרַיִם, בַּלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה, וְהִכֵּיתִי כָל-בְּכוֹר בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, מֵאָדָם וְעַד-בְּהֵמָה; וּבְכָל-אֱלֹהֵי מִצְרַיִם אֶעֱשֶׂה שְׁפָטִים, אֲנִי ה. 12 For I will go through the land of Egypt in that night, and will smite all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD.
What is the point of punishing a dumb idol, or a non-existent deity?

The same is mentioned in Bemidbar 33:4, in parshat Masei.

ד וּמִצְרַיִם מְקַבְּרִים, אֵת אֲשֶׁר הִכָּה יְהוָה בָּהֶם--כָּל-בְּכוֹר; וּבֵאלֹהֵיהֶם, עָשָׂה ה שְׁפָטִים. 4 while the Egyptians were burying them that the LORD had smitten among them, even all their first-born; upon their gods also the LORD executed judgments.
Both occurrences refer to the same incident within the narrative. Perhaps the intent is that the sheep, held sacred by the Egyptians, was being slaughtered, for that was the context in the pasuk in Bo. But not explicitly so in the pasuk in sefer Bamidbar.

Perhaps we could say this is not executing judgments against the gods of the Egyptians, but using their "gods." This was the link to parshat va`era, but the rather noticeable fly in the ointment is that this is future tense, not judgments God executed in the past.

But the nice link would have been as follows. Not that Hashem smote the Nile, but that he used the Nile, which they worshiped, as a means of punishing them. And the next plague, of frogs, was also associated with one of their deities, that of Heqet, a goddess of fertility. Apparently, according to Wikipedia,
To the Egyptians, the frog became a symbol of life and fertility, since millions of them were born after the annual inundation of the Nile, which brought fertility to the otherwise barren lands.
Heqet was usually depicted as a frog, or a woman with a frog's head, or more rarely as a frog on the end of a phallus to explicitly indicate her association with fertility. She was often referred to as the wife of Khnum. The beginning of her cult dates to the early dynastic period at least. Her name was part of the names of some high-born Second Dynasty individuals buried at Helwan and was mentioned on a stela of Wepemnofret and in the Pyramid Texts. Early frog statuettes are often thought to be depictions of her.
Furthermore, as discussed last week, some say that midwives called themselves servants of Heqet.
Some claim that—even though no ancient Egyptian term for "midwife" is known for certain—midwives often called themselves the Servants of Heqet, and that her priestesses were trained in midwifery.

Even without this explicit connection to a fertility goddess, it is clear that there is a parallel between these frogs which covered all of Egypt, and the Israelites who were also numerous. And how Pharoah commanded the midwives (perhaps associated with Heqet) to kill the Israelite baby boys, and how he commanded the Egyptian people to case Israelite baby boys into the Nile (source of the frogs). There may well be deliberate middah keneged middah here.

And Pharaoh's request, in Vaera, to get rid of the frogs:
ו וַיֹּאמֶר, לְמָחָר; וַיֹּאמֶר, כִּדְבָרְךָ--לְמַעַן תֵּדַע, כִּי-אֵין כַּה' אֱלֹהֵינוּ. 6 And he said: 'Against to-morrow.' And he said: 'Be it according to thy word; that thou mayest know that there is none like unto the LORD our God.
ז וְסָרוּ הַצְפַרְדְּעִים, מִמְּךָ וּמִבָּתֶּיךָ, וּמֵעֲבָדֶיךָ, וּמֵעַמֶּךָ: רַק בַּיְאֹר, תִּשָּׁאַרְנָה. 7 And the frogs shall depart from thee, and from thy houses, and from thy servants, and from thy people; they shall remain in the river only.'
Perhaps similar to a desire on the part of Moshe that Pharoah send out all the Israelites from Egypt...

Back to the idea of executing judgments against deities, it is not like there is no other Biblical evidence of this. Perhaps, then, as part of the plague of the death of the firstborn, idols also were smashed in various ways. The parallel I am thinking of is what was done to the idol of Dagan, in I Shmuel 5:

א וּפְלִשְׁתִּים, לָקְחוּ, אֵת, אֲרוֹן הָאֱלֹהִים; וַיְבִאֻהוּ מֵאֶבֶן הָעֵזֶר, אַשְׁדּוֹדָה. 1 Now the Philistines had taken the ark of God, and they brought it from Eben-ezer unto Ashdod.
ב וַיִּקְחוּ פְלִשְׁתִּים אֶת-אֲרוֹן הָאֱלֹהִים, וַיָּבִאוּ אֹתוֹ בֵּית דָּגוֹן; וַיַּצִּיגוּ אֹתוֹ, אֵצֶל דָּגוֹן. 2 And the Philistines took the ark of God, and brought it into the house of Dagon, and set it by Dagon.
ג וַיַּשְׁכִּמוּ אַשְׁדּוֹדִים, מִמָּחֳרָת, וְהִנֵּה דָגוֹן נֹפֵל לְפָנָיו אַרְצָה, לִפְנֵי אֲרוֹן ה; וַיִּקְחוּ, אֶת-דָּגוֹן, וַיָּשִׁבוּ אֹתוֹ, לִמְקוֹמוֹ. 3 And when they of Ashdod arose early on the morrow, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the ground before the ark of the LORD. And they took Dagon, and set him in his place again.
ד וַיַּשְׁכִּמוּ בַבֹּקֶר, מִמָּחֳרָת, וְהִנֵּה דָגוֹן נֹפֵל לְפָנָיו אַרְצָה, לִפְנֵי אֲרוֹן ה; וְרֹאשׁ דָּגוֹן וּשְׁתֵּי כַּפּוֹת יָדָיו, כְּרֻתוֹת אֶל-הַמִּפְתָּן--רַק דָּגוֹן, נִשְׁאַר עָלָיו. 4 And when they arose early on the morrow morning, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the ground before the ark of the LORD; and the head of Dagon and both the palms of his hands lay cut off upon the threshold; only the trunk of Dagon was left to him.
ה עַל-כֵּן לֹא-יִדְרְכוּ כֹהֲנֵי דָגוֹן וְכָל-הַבָּאִים בֵּית-דָּגוֹן, עַל-מִפְתַּן דָּגוֹן--בְּאַשְׁדּוֹד: עַד, הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה. {פ} 5 Therefore neither the priests of Dagon, nor any that come into Dagon's house, tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod unto this day. {P}
ו וַתִּכְבַּד יַד-ה אֶל-הָאַשְׁדּוֹדִים, וַיְשִׁמֵּם; וַיַּךְ אֹתָם בעפלים (בַּטְּחֹרִים), אֶת-אַשְׁדּוֹד וְאֶת-גְּבוּלֶיהָ. 6 But the hand of the LORD was heavy upon them of Ashdod, and He destroyed them, and smote them with emerods, even Ashdod and the borders thereof.

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