Friday, February 12, 2010

Moses ReMix: God as Mommies, as "Other" Daughters

Below is an excerpt from the chapter "Exodus," by Judy Fentress-Williams, in The Africana Bible: Reading Israel's Scriptures from Africa and the African Diaspora. HT David Ker

      The metaphorical language of the Bible is like music, allowing the story of exodus to move from event to tradition and organizing motif.  It can be retold with differing emphasis, resulting in a remix that seeks not to replace earlier accounts but to affirm and respond to earlier accounts.  For example, if the exodus is the point of orientation for Israel's identity and imagination, then the exile becomes the "anti-exodus" and the return to the land is a second exodus, all variations on a theme.  In the prophetic tradition, the familiar language and images of the exodus are remixed to offer a new understanding of who God is.  Take the example of the prophet Amos:
"Are you not like the Ethiopians to me, O people of Israel? says the LORD.  Did I not bring Israel up from the land of Egypt and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir?" (Amos 9:7)
      The inclusivity of a remix stands in contrast to the practice of sampling.  In sampling, a small segment of a recording is repeated, or looped, to form the foundation of another song.  Sampling allows a song to cross genres and to fit into other settings.  It is a way for music to live on in subsequent generations, as the example of James Brown makes clear.  However, taken from its original arrangement, the small piece of music takes on a different character.  The inherent danger of sampling is that the subsequent generations do know the song in its entirety, the original artist, or the context....

      Moses's basket is discovered by the daughter of Pharaoh, who not only rescues the baby but hires the child's mother to be his wet nurse.  This story of deliverance stands out from what has gone before because the daughter of the Pharaoh is "other" by virtue of her ethnicity, gender, and position.  Like the previous stories we have examined, her rescue of the child involves the collaboration of others.  What is most noteworthy in this account is the way that Pharaoh's daughter "prefigures" God's action in redeeming Israel.  In 2:6, we read:  "When she opened it, she saw the child.  He was crying and she took pity on him.  'This must be one of the Hebrews' children,' she said."
      Pharaoh's daughter saw the child, heard him (he was crying), and took pity on him.  That action preceded her decision to keep him as her own.  In Exod. 3:7, we hear YHWY say to Moses:  "I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters.  Indeed I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians."  Like Pharaoh's daughter, God see, hears, and has pity.
      Pharaoh's daughter rescues and names the child, making him her own.  His name, Moses, works across language lines.  His Egyptian mother named him Moses because "I drew him out of the water" (2:10).  In Egyptian, the name Moses is likely derived from Thutmose, meaning "child of."  In Hebrew, it means the one who draws out," not "one drawn out" as Pharaoh's daughter claims.  Here we can conclude that although Moses's adoptive mother had one thing in mind when she named him, there was another plan for his life embedded in that name.
      Thus far, the would-be delivered Moses is delivered again and again by women who model God's act of redemption.  Each act of deliverance tells the reader something about how and why God will deliver Israel.  In the story of the midwives, we learn that God will deliver Israel in defiance of Pharaoh and that God will dupe the Egyptians ruler.  In the second story, we observe that Israel is God's child and that God's devotion to God's people is fierce like that of a mother to her baby.  In the third story, we see that God's act of redemption will be made manifest through the collaboration of unlikely people.  God's act of redemption is not limited by gender or race of any of the lines of division created by humans.
      Moses was nurtured by two women and most likely loved them both.  As a result, he had two languages, two cultures, and two peoples.  His upbringing demanded multiple consciousnesses.  If he was connected to two peoples, how did he understand the prophetic words he uttered, "Let my people go"?  Moses's multiple identities afforded him a perspective that revealed that the work of redemption was about more than two people.  God's work of redemption is relentless in its intentions to work across our designate boundaries so that all of God's people have the opportunity to be redeemed.

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