Mesu Andrews. The Pharaoh’s Daughter. Waterbrook Press, 2015. See here to buy the book.
Waring: Spoilers ahead!
This is the first Mesu Andrews novel that I’ve read. I’ve been wanting to read it for a while. I decided to check it out of the library because I will be receiving a complimentary review copy of its sequel, which is about Moses’ sister Miriam. I returned The Pharaoh’s Daughter to the library recently, so I will be writing this book write-up based on my memory of its contents.
The Pharaoh’s Daughter is set during the reigns of Akhenaten, Tutankhamun, Ay, and Horemheb. According to conventional chronology, these Pharaohs ruled in the fourteenth century B.C.E. Mesu Andrews said in the Appendix that she chose to assume a thirteenth century date for the Exodus. That does not necessarily mean that she is misdating Akhenaten, Tut, Ay, and Horemheb. Maybe she thinks that Moses grew up during the fourteenth century, but the Exodus would occur later, in the thirteenth century. That is not implausible, from the biblical narrative’s standpoint. Moses, after all, lived a long time.
Anippe is the daughter of Akhenaten and the brother of Tut. Anippe is Akhenaten’s daughter through a concubine. Anippe’s mother died while giving birth to another baby, and that has made Anippe fearful of childbirth. She fears that Anubis, an Egyptian god of the underworld, will snatch her and her baby were she to give birth. Anippe has a sister, Ankhe. Ankhe is emotionally unstable in that she gets anxious and upset easily. As a result, Ankhe is considered unsuitable for royalty and is made a servant. Anippe was raised by Horemheb, a military official.
Akhenaten dies, and Tut takes his place. That may not be entirely accurate, for there was a woman who reigned in between Akhenaten’s death and Tut’s ascension to the throne. But perhaps that could be reconciled with Mesu Andrews’ portrait. Maybe the woman reigned until King Tut was old enough to rule.
There are a lot of Hebrews in the Delta. They were the Semites who stayed behind after other Semites, the Hyksos, had been expelled. King Tut’s wife is unable to have children, and his advisor, Ay, suggests that this could be because the overpopulation of Hebrews in the Delta has disrupted maat, or order. Ay convinces Tut to order the death of every newborn Hebrew baby boy. In this story, Tut is the Pharaoh of Exodus 1.
Anippe wants to give her husband a son but is afraid of childbirth. She thinks that her prayers are answered when she finds a Hebrew baby floating in a basket on the Nile. She names him Mehy. She learns that the boy’s original family gave him another name: Moses.
In the biblical story, Moses is slow of speech (Exodus 4:10). Mesu Andrews provides a scenario for how Moses developed a stuttering problem. Moses beholds the brutality of Tut’s successors (I forget which one, Ay or Horemheb) after Tut’s untimely death. That scars Moses.
Eventually, Pharaoh Horemheb learns that Anippe adopted a Hebrew. Ankhe let it slip out in one of her outbursts. Anippe is ordered to be put to death. What happens instead is that Anippe assumes a Hebrew identity, takes the Hebrew name Bithia (which means daughter of God), and marries Mered, who recently lost his wife Puah. Mered, his sons, and Bithia are mentioned in I Chronicles 4:17-18. Puah was one of the midwives who saved Hebrew baby boys from death, according to Exodus 1:15.
Moses does become aware of his Hebrew identity. At the same time, he is trained in the Egyptian military. He is rather arrogant. He tends to look down on the Hebrews and to identify more with the Egyptians. He believes that he will have to assume the identity of Seth reborn, which apparently means assuming a chaotic personality and thus being an effective threat to the enemy on the battlefield. Anippe and others try to convince Moses that this does not have to be his destiny, and that he should embrace the God of the Hebrews, who is a moral and stable deity. It will be interesting to see how Moses develops as a character in the sequel.
I enjoyed the first seventy pages of the book. The rest of the book somewhat bored me. I had difficulty following what was going on. Still, I am willing to read more Mesu Andrews books, in addition to the review copy that I will be receiving, on account of her research and the interesting questions that she explores.
What were some of the interesting questions that she explored? Well, there is her comparison of Israelite and Egyptian religion. Assessing the accuracy of her comparisons may entail a lot of research. Were the Egyptian gods really flawed and flippant, whereas the God of Israel was a vast improvement? Did ancient Israelite religion have that evangelical idea of God strengthening people and solving their psychological problems (i.e., fear, resentment)? Did Egyptian religion lack those themes? I have opinions, based on some things that I know, but not the encyclopedic knowledge I need to answer these questions, in a manner that does them justice.
Another interesting question that stood out to me in this book is what it meant to be a man. Mered’s son threatens to expose that Anippe has assumed the identity of Bithia. That could bring death, not only to Anippe, but also to those who participated in this ruse. Mered tells his son that he wants to be a man, and part of being a man is recognizing the effects of one’s actions on other. Good point.
One quibble that I have: Akhenaten, of course, is known for demolishing the worship of other gods besides Aten. Tut later came and restored the worship of those gods. There is only one reference to this in the entire book, as far as I can recall. Mesu Andrews should have interacted with it more. That would have enriched the theological content of the book, which is not to suggest that it wasn’t rich already, for it was.
I liked how Andrews introduced each chapter with a Bible verse, sometimes from Exodus, sometimes not.