Setting the Stage for Beginnings
Since this story is set in an unfamiliar time and place and is about the Egyptian beginnings of one of the most important personages of the ancient world, Moses, this section gives some of the background necessary for a better understanding of the story.
There is no way to know for sure exactly when Moses was born and when the subsequent events of his life took place. Popular entertainment (Ten Commandments, Prince of Egypt) has set his story during the life of two Pharaohs, Seti 1 and Ramses II. The Lawgiver Chronicles uses a similar time frame, though Moses is eleven years younger than Ramses and the Exodus takes place later, during the reign of Ramses II’s son, Meremptha.
Titus Flavius Josephus
We know from the writings of the first century Jewish historian, Josephus, that the Egyptians knew from the moment Moses was taken from the water that he was a Hebrew. Josephus also tells us that during this time in their history, the Egyptians were very concerned about prophecies that foretold the coming of a Hebrew who would pose great dangers for Egypt. During this time frame all male Hebrew children were put to death and the reasoning of the Egyptian priests was that not to destroy every male was risking the possibility that the one spared might be the one who was prophesied.
In the Antiquities of the Jews: Book II: Chapter 9:2 Josephus records, “One of those sacred scribes, who are very sagacious in foretelling future events truly, told the king [pharaoh], that about this time there would a child be born to the Israelites, who, if he were reared, would bring the Egyptian dominion low, and would raise the Israelites; that he would excel all men in virtue, and obtain a glory that would be remembered through all ages.”
In the Antiquities of the Jews: Book II: Chapter 9:7 Josephus adds, “God himself, whose providence protected Moses, inclining the king to spare him. He was, therefore, educated with great care. So the Hebrews depended on him, and were of good hopes great things would be done by him; but the Egyptians were suspicious of what would follow his education.”
This knowledge that the Egyptians knew that Moses was a Hebrew goes against the storyline used by the two productions mentioned above, as well as most of the other authors who have written stories about the life of Moses. They all get around the problems of the edict and the fact that even the household of Pharaoh was subject to the laws of Egypt, by using the plot line that the princess hid the fact that Moses was Hebrew. Beginnings has remained true to the evidence of Josephus. In order to do so, it must solve the problems that being Hebrew created for Moses as well as the princess, the priests of Egypt, and Pharaoh. It has to answer why he wasn’t killed like the rest of his brethren.
Events leading Up to Beginnings
Our story takes place during one of the most tumultuous epochs of Egyptian history. The year is 1292 B.C. and for over a generation religious and political conflict has battered the institutions and people of Egypt.
The chaos began sixty years earlier in 1350 B.C. with the institution of the Pharaoh Akhenaton (also know as Amenhotep IV). His wife was the well-known Nefertiti (the beautiful woman has come), whose sculpture resides in Berlin’s Altes Museum. Beginning in the fourth year of his reign, Akhenaton began to restructure the Egyptian religion toward monotheism, declaring to all of Egypt that there was only one god, represented to the people by the sun. The name of this supreme god was Aten.
In the beginning, to counteract the resistance of the various priesthoods, Akhenaton merely raised Aten to preeminence, placing him first among the Egyptian deities while still allowing the other gods a lesser place. In Aten, Akhenaton saw a merging of the three most important aspects of deity found in the main Egyptian gods: Ra, Amun, and Horus. These included light & sun, creator & wind, and protector & savior.
In the fifth year of his reign, this disruptive Pharaoh began constructing a new capital city, called Akhenaton (The Horizon of Aten), about midway between Memphis and Luxor to the south, creating a religious and political center that was free of what he saw as the corrupting influences of the former gods of Egypt.
Then, in year nine of his reign, Akhenaton declared Aten to be the sole god of Egypt and declared that he as Pharaoh was the sole intermediary between Aten and the Egyptian people. While this built on the previous position of the pharaoh as the primary link between the gods of Egypt and her people, the difference this time was that all of the former priests and gods no longer had a place before the people. Only Akhenaton and his newly formed priesthood had any religious standing.
This destroyed the influence of other priests of Egypt removing their primary source of religious and political power. Then Akhenaton went further and issued a universal ban on all idols representing the former gods and began defacing the temples of Amun, who was the new god’s chief rival in the minds of the people. Up to this time, the priests of Amun had been the most powerful religious force in Egypt.
In trying to bring such a radical change to the religious/political face of Egypt, Akhenaton had three serious problems:
First, internal opposition arose around the priests of Amun, which by the time of our story had joined with the priests of Ra and combined their gods into a single power divinity, Amun-Ra.
Second, as this internal strife played out, external opposition developed from Egypt’s traditional allies and the enemies who had begun encroaching on her borders. This problem became even more severe with the rise of a new power to the north and west, the Hittites, who began to stretch their military and diplomatic muscle.
Third and last, one of the first recorded pandemics struck the ancient world. Modern investigators think it was an influenza virus which began in Egypt and then swept throughout the Middle East. It devastated the ancient world. It killed the Hittite king, temporarily slowing that threat. The Egyptian people, roused by the deposed priests, saw this destructive epidemic as the revenge of the historic gods of Egypt on what they now began to call Akhenaton’s heresy.
Towards the end of Akhenaton’s reign, his wife, Nefertiti, was elevated to co-regent. After the pharaoh’s death, in year nineteen of his reign (so believe he was poisoned), Nefertiti ruled alone, and for a short time was the most powerful woman in the ancient world. To stabilize Egypt’s religious and political turmoil, she abandoned the god Aten and the religion of her husband and moved the capital of Egypt back to Thebes. She hoped this would placate both the people and the still powerful priesthood of Amun. Nefertiti ruled only for a short time, disappearing from the official records less than year after her husband’s death. However, the move back to Egypt’s historic civil and religious polity had begun.
After Nefertiti, Tutankhamen (the King Tut of recent renown) ascended to the throne in 1336 B.C., marrying Nefertiti’s daughter, Ankhesenamen. He built many temples devoted to the one he declared the true sun god, the combined god Amun-Ra, and he issued a royal decree rejecting the cult of Aten. During the reign of Tutankhamen, Egypt began an earnest restoration of her historic religious heritage and the reestablishment of the traditional gods to their former place in the life of Egypt. The young pharaoh died in the tenth year of his reign, probably from a gangrenous infection of his leg several days after severely breaking it in a riding or chariot accident.
His wife, Ankhesenamen, sent messages to the Hittite King, seeking one of his sons as a husband, to help her rule. The Hittite King accepted, but the prince was murdered on his way to Egypt. In desperation, Ankhesenamen married Ay, a commoner who had risen to power under Akhenaton and was Tutankhamen’s Grand Vizier. Ay succeeded in outmaneuvering the General of the Armies, Haremhab, to become the new Pharaoh in 1327 B.C.
Ankhesenamen quickly disappeared from the records, but her husband, Ay, continued to rule for four years. He sustained the efforts to restore the traditional gods of Egypt to their former glory and actively courted the favor of the priests of Amun-Ra, whom Tutankhamen had also championed. After Ay’s death, Haremhab, the formerly passed-over general of the armies, succeeded in sweeping aside Ay’s chosen successor and taking the throne for himself. Haremhab had always believed that he was destined to be Pharaoh, and he made his conviction a reality in 1323 B.C.
Haremhab went further than any of his predecessors and began removing all references to the former beliefs of Akhenaton. He also desecrated the tomb of Ay, whom he believed to be a traitor, smashed his sarcophagus, and even usurped his mortuary temple for his own use. With the support of the priests of Amun-Ra, he began washing the memory of Aten and Akhenaton from the memory of Egypt. He was so successful that Akhenaton became viewed as a heretic and was called the “Pharaoh who is Not Named.”
Haremhab embarked on a period of broad reform in which the power of those who had risen to prominence under the “heretic” was broken. He succeeded in deposing most of the former officials of Akhenaton and confiscated their lands and property. Many of the former first families of Egypt were reduced to the level of common servants. In our story, the chief maidservant of Princess Asati, Nari, is the daughter of one of those deposed officials.
Beginnings and its speculative history postulate that Haremhab was the Pharaoh who initiated the edict against the newborn sons of the Hebrews. He acted at the behest of the priests of Amun-Ra, though he was very lax in its enforcement. Our story, which works within the available historical information, argues that the priesthood of Amun-Ra believed that the Hebrews were responsible for infecting the Pharaoh who is Not Named with their monotheistic religious ideas. This fact, coupled with the prophecy that out of the Hebrews would come a leader who would cause great hardship for Egypt (recorded in Josephus), gave power to the argument of the priests of Amun-Ra that the Hebrews must be destroyed and their heresy cleansed from the memory of Egypt. To diminish the hardship on the economic and social fabric of Egypt (who depended on the Hebrews for much of the menial labor), they would accomplish this purification by killing all of the newborn males, which would effectively wipe out their enemy in one generation as the existing Hebrew male population grew old and died off.
Haremhab, however, had a serious problem: he was sterile. Even though he took several wives in succession, he failed to gain an heir. After reigning for twenty-seven years, in which Egypt effectively regained its former social and religious heritage, Haremhab passed the throne, with the support of the Egyptian priests, to his chosen successor. He selected a military man like himself, his General of the Army, Pramesse, who already had an heir and strong son, Seti, who in turn had two sons of his own. Following Haremhab’s death, Pramesse was instituted as Ramses I, the first Pharaoh of the Nineteenth Dynasty, in 1295 B.C.
Upon Ramses’ ascension to the throne, Egypt experienced the greatest inundation of the Nile in living memory, further helping to seal the beginning of this new dynasty in the minds of the Egyptian people. In our story, seeking to firm up the support of the priests of Amun-Ra, the new pharaoh began the first rigid enforcement of Haremhab’s edict against the Hebrews. Soldiers now searched the villages for newborn Hebrew males, no longer relying on the midwives to enforce the will of Pharaoh. However, Ramses ruled for less than two years before his son, Seti I, the Pharaoh of our story, succeeded him. Seti, according to our story, in order to solidify the support of the priests of Amun-Ra around the fledgling dynasty, continued the rigid enforcement of the Hebrew edict, despite his feelings that it went against the law of Ma’at, the Egyptian concept of law, morality, truth, justice, and the will of the gods.
Into this perilous scene, a unique Hebrew boy is born, a child who is destined to change the future of the human race, to set the stage for the world as we know it. While his parents initially were able to keep his birth a secret, his discovery and horrible death was only a matter of time. In an effort to save him, his parents set in motion a bold plan that succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. Our story takes place on the day that their plan was set in motion.