Thursday, April 28, 2005

The real reason for the slavery in Egypt -- Tzefo!

And who is Tzefo, you may ask?

This is what happens when you start reading "Yalkut Me'am Loez," a compendium of Midrash written by a Turkish Rabbi in the 1730's. I swear it must have been the inspiration for Louis Ginzberg's "Legends of the Jews," as it is done in more or less the same format, that of piecing together aggadot (legends) from various sources to generate a continuous and more or less coherent narrative.

Well, Tzefo is the grandson of Esau and the reason why Jewish tradition considers the Roman empire (and, by extension, Western Civilization) to be called "Edom."

Here's the story, as short as I can make it. For more details, see Ginzberg's version.
(FWIW, he spells the name of the main character as "Zepho.")

After Jacob's death, Joseph and his Brothers went to Hebron to bury their father, but gopt into a fight with Esau and his sones and grandsons who claimed prior rights to the place. (Sound familiar?) When the dust settled, Esau and a lot of other Edomites were dead, and Joseph captured Tzefo and brought him back to Egypt in chains.

After Joseph died, Tzefo (who had a big grudge against the Israelites and the Egyptians) managed to escape and joined up with a certain King Agnias of "Africa" (meaning north Africa, i.e., Carthage.) Tzefo was a sort of neocon of his day trying to provoke Angias/"Bush" to fight with Egypt in order to settle scores with Israel. Agnias was avoiding this, and after a lot of intrigue and war, Tzefo abandoned Angias and went to Kittim (Italy), where he eventually became king. He changed his name to janus and his son was named Latinus. Then Tzefo/Janus provoked Agnias into a war, and he wiped the Africans all over the map.

At this point, Tzefo called in his markers with the Edomite relatives and raised a huge army (certainly a larger one than as raised by Mr. Bush to invade Iraq.) This was opposed by a force of 300,000 Egyptians and 150 Israelites. But the Egyptians didn't trust the Israelites, as they thought that the Israelites, being related to the Edomites, might not be reliable allies. [This is a plot hole, if you ask me. The whole reaosn why Tzefo was attacking Egypt was to get the Israelites. If I were an Egyptian general, I'd certainly use the occasion to give the Israelites the honor of being shock troops.]

Before too long, the battle was not going well for Egypt, so they called in the Israelites, who (why is this not a surprise?) wiped the Edomites all over the map. But in the meanwhile, the Egyptians had all fled, leaving the Israelites alone to finish the job.

So the Israelites came back to camp rather pissed at the Egyptian soldiers who abandoned them on the battlefield, and so before you could say "Abu Ghraib" there were a lot of "accidental" "friendly fire" "collateral damage" type incidents, and a couple hundred Egyptian soliders needed some emergency mummification services.

And this was the start of the bad blood between the Egyptians and the Israelites. And given that 150 Israelites wiped out a humongous Edomite/Italian army, perhaps Pharaoh wasn't being totally irrational when he started fearing Israel.

Meanwhile, the Edomite Tzefo/Janus and his son Latinus went off and started the Roman Empire, and the rest, as they say is History. (of a sort.)

Not the usual sort of Bible story they teach in Hebrew School, but I think it would make a rally cool movie, a sword 'n' sandal epic to rival DeMille's Ten Commandments or Ben Hur. I would certainly entertain suggestions for casting.

Anyway, that's the story I told at the seder this year. The traditional story was getting so-o-o-o boring....


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