The Pharaoh’s Game: Women Solidarity

A theological reflection by Sean Marie Prythyll A. Patnubay | June 4, 2020

Thesis Statement #6: In the face of Israel’s oppression and Pharaoh’s murderous madness, it is courage, defiance, and compassion of women which serve as the starting point for the liberation from Egypt. These women serve as catalysts for change, and exemplars for the response to Realpolitik, even and most especially in our world today. [1]

Hebrew Midwives, Shiprah and Puah. (source: https://easyyolktoo.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/midwives.jpg)

We find ourselves in Ancient Egypt where the women, although predominantly unnamed characters, played powerful roles throughout the course of history.

Women were the silent workers who capitalized on their cunningness and vision of justice. They played on the very biases that the Egyptians have, that the Pharaoh has, in order to achieve their goals. They were the Hebrew Midwives but whether or not they were Hebrews who helped in the childbirth of Hebrew women or were Egyptians who were tasked to assist in the labor is unclear. One thing that is clear though is their defiance to the rule of a tyrant who declared mass infanticide, mass infanticide targeting the baby boys of that generation.

These Hebrew midwives were Shiprah (fairness and clearness) and Puah (brilliance), who unlike the Pharaoh were honored with names. They banked on playing to the Pharaoh’s Game by claiming that the pregnant Hebrew women were very vigorous and even went to the extent of describing them as chayot (strong and lively), very similar to hayyot (wild animals). This was their excuse as to why they were unable to execute the killing of their babies as the women would have given birth by the time they get to their houses. This was their defiance.

Because of this reasoning from the Hebrew Midwives, the Pharaoh shifted his approach with the infanticide: tashlichu (throw). In this massive kill-on-sight program of the Pharaoh, we are acquainted with three unnamed women:

First was a Levite woman who found her son pleasing to the eye and decided to hide him. This lasted for three months until she realized that the only way one can win is to play to their game and play she did.

Civilizations start near rivers and yet the Nile river became the living graveyard of countless baby boys. It was the site of tashlichu, which means to throw away or discard [into the river]. By playing into the game of the Pharaoh, the Levite woman prepared a basket of reeds covered in bitumen and pitch. Through this preparation, the basket that holds the child becomes waterproof and is able to sustain the journey down the river. Of course, this Levite woman’s action was no surprise to the Egyptians who might have been lurking around the corner. It was mundane, a normal occurrence at that time. She was to send her son to his final destination.

Second was the daughter of the Pharaoh who by an innocuous play of fate: a) altered the course, b) controlled the time stream, c) ironically amended, d) shifted the narrative, or e) all of the aforementioned, by acting on moral impulse. She who was the daughter of the Pharaoh and ultimately an Egyptian did letter e: all of those from mashah (drawing out from the water) and saying these words, “This must be a Hebrew child.”

Third is the sister of the child (who obiter dictum is named after our neighbor university — UP, cough, sorry: Miriam). The presence of the sister in the scripture is the assurance that the Levite woman did not plan for the baby boy to die. Miriam was following the basket closely and upon realizing that it was the Pharaoh’s daughter who picked up the boy, went up to her and asked, “Shall I go and get you a Hebrew nurse to suckle the child for you?”

Women have always been emotional creatures and it is through these emotions that instigated the liberation of the Israelites from the Egyptians. It is shown in the examples presented above that they deal not just with the elements of reason but also, assessing the facts with a heart. They have put distinction towards themselves from the Realpolitik approach by being rooted in emotions, from a mother’s love, a sister’s wit, and a stranger’s affection.

It is hard enough for one to have confidence, character, and command — the beginnings of a Realpolitik mindset — but it is even harder for one to develop courage, defiance, and compassion to combat the patriarchal society and Realpolitik systems in play.

In this dog-eat-dog world where pragmatism is valued, these women made their stand: to be life givers and not life takers.

Start: Defying = Crumbling

When the people start to defy the rule of tyranny, the rule of a tyrant starts to crumble.

This is women solidarity: The women lead the way and the others follow, even in Biblical times.

Moses’ story isn’t just about him; it isn’t even about the women who were integral in the saga of liberation; it is the story of the people who were given their identities and were ultimately saved because the women led the way and the others followed, even in Biblical times.

Such is the case with modern women: former Miss Universe Pia Wurtzbach’s “confidently beautiful with a heart,” the late Miriam Defensor-Santiago who is the Miriam of our generation who is as crafty and quick-witted as the Miriam in the Bible, and our current Vice President Leni Robredo who is the second-in-command to a nation wrought in political unrest and distrust, and power plays — the very situation not much different from Ancient Egypt’s Realpolitik system, where the infants then are the drug users now.

[1] Justin Joseph G. Badion, “Faith, Spirituality and the Church: An Introduction” (Handout, Ateneo de Manila University, 2019), 1–32.

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