April 22, 2007 1 Comment
My wife pointed out to me that my previous post should have been titled “beware of Egyptians bearing baskets” because beware is intransitive in the imperative. Good catch, Mrs. Marcus!
individualism for the masses
Ancient history again.
Tuthmosis III became the pharaoh of Egypt when he was 2 years old. His step-mother, daughter of the previous king, insisted on becoming regent, a position she so successfully turned into de facto rulership that Tuthmosis III didn’t rule Egypt until he was 30 years old.
During those 28 years, the queen regent and de facto king, Hatshepsut, seems to have focused on two goals: legitimizing her usurpation and building new buildings.
Susan Wise Bauer writes, "in the ancient world, the number of buildings a king put up was considered a direct index of his success, and Hatshepsut wanted no question as to her greatness" (p. 209).
Meanwhile, the de jure king was off with the Egyptian army, kept away from the halls of power, so to speak. The military, it seems, did not care for the queen’s emphasis on domestic policy. They were itching to fight. So when Hatshepsut died, and Tuthmosis III finally took the throne that had technically been his for almost three decades, his reign focused on foreign policy — that is, he took his army out and kicked some ass. Historian James Henry Breasted called him "the Napoleon of Ancient Egypt" (Bauer, p. 209n).
Here’s my favorite passage from this chapter:
This campaign appears to have frightened the countryside. Semitic warlords from nearby cities began sending gifts to Tuthmosis III, doing their best to make peace with the angry young man in the south. Those cities that resisted were attacked, and sacked, in Egyptian campaigns that stretched over the next few years. Joppa, on the coast [now Tel Aviv], tried to make a deal instead of surrendering unconditionally; according to a later story, the king of Joppa agreed to visit the Egyptian commander in order to discuss peace terms, was served a banquet, and then was knocked unconscious and stuffed into a back room. The Egyptian commander went out and told the king’s charioteer that the Egyptians had decided to surrender to Joppa, and that the Charioteer should return quickly and tell Joppa’s queen that her husband was on his way with prisoners. A procession of captive Egyptians soon appeared on the horizon, carrying baskets of plunder from the Egyptian camp. But each basket contained an armed warrior; when the queen of Joppa threw the gates open, the warriors burst out of their baskets and forced the city to surrender.
(Bauer, p. 208)
 Steindorff and Steele, p. 58.
[Steindorff, George, and Keith C. Steele. When Egypt Ruled the East. 2d ed. (revised by Keith C. Steele). Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957.]
That’s not what this post is about, though.
While I’m reading ancient history on the weekends (as a break from the sort of thing I read and edit all week; as remedial self-education; and as preparation for homeschooling), I keep thinking of the great science fiction novel, Dune (even though the socio-politics of Dune have much more in common with medieval history than ancient).
In reading up on Dune — hoping Wikipedia will explicate the cultural and historical allusions that were part of the feeling, reading the novel, of being immersed in rich context and deep reference — I discover this fascinating link between the fabled Kwisatz Haderach of the Dune universe, and the Hebrew term kefitzat haderech. (I should have recognized ha derech as meaning “the path” or “the way” but kefitzat is wholly alien to me.)
At its most mundane level, kefitzat haderech is “a Hebrew equivalent of the English expression ‘short cut.’” But in Jewish folklore, it is “the ability to jump instantaneously from one place to another or travel with unnatural speed. The term is originally used in Midrashim to explain anomalies of travel in the Hebrew Bible. In East European Jewish folktales, especially those associated with the Hasidic movement, kefitzat haderech was utilized by various revered holy men.”