Based on Exodus 1.
The story of Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt begins long ago, perhaps as long ago as the 13th century BC. The children of Jacob have come with Pharaoh’s blessing to Egypt to join their respected brother Joseph, but their descendants have multiplied, and later Pharaohs see them as a burden, even a threat.
IN the days of the ancient Pharaohs, a Hebrew named Joseph brought his father Jacob, surnamed Israel, and all his family to Egypt, where Joseph was a great man.* But over time, the Pharaohs began to resent these ever more numerous children of Israel. At first they used them as forced labour, building their temples and cities,* but at last Pharaoh ordered every newborn Hebrew boy slain.
One mother, Jochebed, laid her baby boy in a waterproofed basket and hid him among the reeds of the Nile. But Pharaoh’s daughter Bithiah discovered him, and though she allowed Jochebed to wean him, Bithiah insisted on adopting him and giving him an Egyptian name: Moses.
Moses grew up to be a strong Egyptian prince, but he knew his origins and felt for his people. One day,* he found a slave-driver beating a weary Hebrew, and without thinking stepped in and killed the Egyptian. Unfortunately he was seen, and forced to flee Egypt, taking Bithiah with him.*
* See The Story of Joseph (1). The Bible does not tell us which Pharaoh Joseph served under. The various timescales given in Scripture are symbolic, calculated to encourage Jews of the authors’ own generation, forced into exile in Babylon after the fall of Jerusalem in 597 BC, to believe that the appointed time of their own deliverance was near. That said, for this story we will accept the convention that the Exodus took place in the thirteenth century BC, so the time of Joseph would be several generations earlier.
* According to Exodus 1:11, the Pharaoh of Moses’s childhood built the ‘treasure city’ of Pi-Ramesses. That city was originally a summer palace erected in the reign of Ramesses I or possibly in the time of his predecessor Horemheb, to whom Ramesses was vizier. It was subsequently developed into his capital by Ramesses II, shortly after his accession in about 1279 BC.
* The Bible does not tell us which Pharaoh reigned at the time of the Exodus. Cecil B. DeMille’s classic movie ‘The Ten Commandments’ (1956) plumped for Ramesses I (r. ?1292–1290) as the Pharaoh of Moses’s childhood, and his grandson Ramesses II (r. ?1279–1213, the Ozymandias of Shelley’s famous poem) as the Pharaoh of the Exodus. As a Pharaoh of great power associated with Pi-Ramesses, whose firstborn son died young, Ramesses II will do as well as any, and better than most. In Acts 7:22, St Stephen tells us that Moses was forty at this time, though Exodus says only that he was ‘grown’.
* According to 1 Chronicles 4:18, Bithiah married Mered in Midian to the east, where Moses took her. They had three children, Miriam, and Shammai, and Ishbah. This Miriam is not to be confused with Moses’s full sister Miriam, the daughter of his parents Amram and Jochebed.
Based on Exodus 1.