Read Moses, Man of the Mountain Online

Authors: Zora Neale Hurston

Moses, Man of the Mountain

Moses, Man of the Mountain
Zora Neale Hurston

With a Foreword by Deborah E. McDowell
Series Editor: Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

To
Edwin Osgood Grover

In all the signs and wonders which the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh, and to all his servants and to all his lands, and in all that
mighty hand
and in
all the great terror
which Moses showed in the sight of all Israel!

Deuteronomy 34:11–12

Contents

Chapter 1

Have mercy! Lord, have mercy on my poor soul!” Women…

Chapter 2

The sun was setting. Under the brilliant, cloudless Egyptian sun…

Chapter 3

Amram and Caleb got off and plodded on home. Amram…

Chapter 4

Amram bowed his head for a space, then straightened tensely…

Chapter 5

All the little stars crept back into heaven and the…

Chapter 6

Inside the royal palace affairs went on unconscious of the…

Chapter 7

The seven red mares rushed the sun across the sky,…

Chapter 8

The announcements were made. The very next day after the…

Chapter 9

Moses didn’t have any more notion of killing that Egyptian…

Chapter 10

All night he traveled and thought. He found his unformed…

Chapter 11

Which way he was going when he got rested, Moses…

Chapter 12

Moses sat there by the spring of water. He saw…

Chapter 13

That evening it was Moses and Jethro, armed to the…

Chapter 14

Zipporah of the tawny skin. Zipporah of the flowing body.

Chapter 15

The years went by with a loping gait and left…

Chapter 16

One day Moses came walking up and looking tired and…

Chapter 17

Moses sat up on the mountain passing nations through his…

Chapter 18

Jethro was very helpful when Moses told him about it.

Chapter 19

Moses talked with Aaron and got more aggravated and put…

Chapter 20

Moses was back in Egypt and the people of Goshen…

Chapter 21

Therefore Moses took his rod in his hand and went…

Chapter 22

Goshen was a land of moving feet. Feet, torchlights and…

Chapter 23

Moses walked up the high steps of the palace next…

Chapter 24

Moses made no move to see Pharaoh for a whole…

Chapter 25

Next day at the palace Moses told Pharaoh, “The Lord…

Chapter 26

Night came walking through Egypt swishing her black dress. The…

Chapter 27

The people cried when Moses told them. He had expected…

Chapter 28

Next morning Pharaoh woke up and looked out of the…

Chapter 29

It was late afternoon of the second day when Moses…

Chapter 30

The next morning everybody was around Moses’ tent soon after…

Chapter 31

The next day bright and early Moses was on the…

Chapter 32

Moses spent the whole next day counting up and dividing…

Chapter 33

Next day at a good hour, Moses went up on…

Chapter 34

Moses stayed up on the mountain so long because it…

Chapter 35

Moses lifted the freshly chiseled tablets of stone in his…

Chapter 36

And how is the black Mrs. Pharaoh making out this…

Chapter 37

The months and years went by. Moses had long ago…

Chapter 38

The other decision Moses kept to himself. But with his…

Chapter 39

They wandered in the wilderness and wandered and sickened and…

Chapter 40

Israel met nations and fought and conquered and moved on…

M
oses was an old man with a beard. He was the great law-giver. He had some trouble with Pharaoh about some plagues and led the Children of Israel out of Egypt and on to the Promised Land. He died on Mount Nebo and the angels buried him there. That is the common concept of Moses in the Christian world.

But there are other concepts of Moses abroad in the world. Asia and all the Near East are sown with legends of this character. They are so numerous and so varied that some students have come to doubt if the Moses of the Christian concept is real. Then Africa has her mouth on Moses. All across the continent there are the legends of the greatness of Moses, but not because of his beard nor because he brought the laws down from Sinai. No, he is revered because he had the power to go up the mountain and to bring them down. Many men could climb mountains. Anyone could bring down laws that had been handed to them. But who can talk with God face to face? Who had the power to command God to go to a peak of a mountain and there demand of Him laws with which to govern a nation? What other man has ever seen with his eyes even the back part of God’s glory? Who else has ever commanded the wind and the hail? The light and darkness?
That calls for power, and that is what Africa sees in Moses to worship. For he is worshipped as a god.

In Haiti, the highest god in the Haitian pantheon is Damballa Ouedo Ouedo Tocan Freda Dahomey and he is identified as Moses, the serpent god. But this deity did not originate in Haiti. His home is in Dahomey and is worshipped there extensively. Moses had his rod of power, which was a living serpent. So that in every temple of Damballa there is a living snake, or the symbol.

And this worship of Moses as the greatest one of magic is not confined to Africa. Wherever the children of Africa have been scattered by slavery, there is the acceptance of Moses as the fountain of mystic powers. This is not confined to Negroes. In America there are countless people of other races depending upon mystic symbols and seals and syllables said to have been used by Moses to work his wonders. There are millions of copies of a certain book,
The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses
, being read and consulted in secret because the readers believe in Moses. Some even maintain that the stories of the miracles of Jesus are but Mosaic legends told again. Nobody can tell how many tales and legends of Moses are alive in the world nor how far they have travelled, so many have collected around his name.

So all across Africa, America, the West Indies, there are tales of the powers of Moses and great worship of him and his powers. But it does not flow from the Ten Commandments. It is his rod of power, the terror he showed before all Israel and to Pharaoh, and THAT MIGHTY HAND.

T
HE
A
UTHOR
.

H
ave mercy! Lord, have mercy on my poor soul!” Women gave birth and whispered cries like this in caves and out-of-the-way places that humans didn’t usually use for birthplaces. Moses hadn’t come yet, and these were the years when Israel first made tears. Pharaoh had entered the bedrooms of Israel. The birthing beds of Hebrews were matters of state. The Hebrew womb had fallen under the heel of Pharaoh. A ruler great in his newness and new in his greatness had arisen in Egypt and he had said, “This is law. Hebrew boys shall not be born. All offenders against this law shall suffer death by drowning.”

So women in the pains of labor hid in caves and rocks. They must cry, but they could not cry out loud. They pressed their teeth together. A night might force upon them a thousand years of feelings. Men learned to beat upon their breasts with clenched fists and breathe out their agony without sound. A great force of suffering accumulated between the basement of heaven and the roof of hell. The shadow of Pharaoh squatted in the dark corners of every birthing place in Goshen. Hebrew women shuddered with terror at the indifference of their wombs to the Egyptian law.

The province of Goshen was living under the New Egypt and the New Egyptian and they were made to know it in many
ways. The sign of the new order towered over places of preference. It shadowed over work, and fear was given body and wings.

The Hebrews had already been driven out of their well-built homes and shoved further back in Goshen. Then came more decrees:

  1. Israel, you are slaves from now on. Pharaoh assumes no responsibility for the fact that some of you got old before he came to power. Old as well as young must work in his brickyards and road camps.
  • a. No sleeping after dawn. Fifty lashes for being late to work.
  • b. Fifty lashes for working slow.
  • c. One hundred lashes for being absent.
  • d. One hundred lashes for sassing the bossman.
  • e. Death for hitting a foreman.

2. Babies take notice: Positively no more boy babies allowed among Hebrews. Infants defying this law shall be drowned in the Nile.

Hebrews were disarmed and prevented from becoming citizens of Egypt, they found out that they were aliens, and from one new decree to the next they sank lower and lower. So they had no comfort left but to beat their breasts to crush the agony inside. Israel had learned to weep.

T
he sun was setting. Under the brilliant, cloudless Egyptian sun thousands of Hebrew workers were struggling with building stones. Some of their backs were bloody from the lash; many of them were stoopy from age and all of them were sweaty and bent and tired from work. The Egyptian foreman gazed at the drooping sun in awe and breathed with reverence: “Ah, Horus, golden god! Lord of both horizons. The weaver of the beginning of things!”

Amram, struggling with the help of another man to move a heavy stone into place in the foundation, heard him and looked up.

“Horus may be all those good things to the Egyptians, brother, but that sun-god is just something to fry our backs.”

“I heard him what he said,” the other worker whispered back. “If Horus is the weaver of the beginning of things, he’s done put some mighty strange threads in his loom.”

“And still and all I used to admire him too, before this new government come in, didn’t you?”

“Uhuh. I used to admire everything in Egypt. But the palms and the plains ain’t scenery to me no more. They just look like suffering to me now.”

“They look that way to me too, now,” Amram whispered back, “and the worst part about it is, my wife is going to have another baby.”

“I heard about it, Amram. What you going to do? Take her off in the wilderness like I did mine?”

“Don’t know exactly, Caleb. One man was telling me he hid his wife out in a boat until it was all over. Turned out to be a girl so it was all right.”

“How soon you expecting?”

“Of course you can’t never be sure exactly, but we figure in two or three days more. I’m planning on hunting up some good cave or some place like that the secret police don’t know about yet. Thought I’d take tonight to locate a place. Will you go along with me?”

“Sure I will. You got the midwife engaged?”

“Yes, that’s all fixed up. Going to send my boy Aaron and my girl Miriam along to help around generally. They can do little things around and watch out for spies. Old Puah, the midwife, knows her business all right and she’s just as loyal as she can be, but she’s getting kind of old, you know.”

“That’s right. It’s good you got a sizeable boy and girl to run errands and to stand watch. It’s liable to happen while we are at work, you know.”

“Oh, yes, and that’s how come I want to find a place and get it sort of fixed up with a quilt or two for my wife to rest on and some water and things like that so when the time comes I won’t need to worry. It’s a sin and a shame our wives can’t even have a baby in peace.”

“And that’s just the reason I want to go with that delegation to see old Pharaoh tonight. You know a bunch of us are going tonight to see him to protest these new decrees, don’t you?”

“Sure, but I don’t believe it’ll do a bit of good. Still and all I want to go just to see what he’s going to say this time. But it makes me fighting mad to see him sit up there, him and his so-called advisors, and laugh right in our faces. Reckon we’ll
get back from our little cave hunt in time to go along with the rest?”

“Hope so. I just don’t see how he can keep on putting out all these decrees and making ’em meaner all the time. He’s got to give us some kind of a justice sooner or later.”

“You think so, Caleb? I don’t. I saw his eyes last time. That man loves to see us suffer. He loves to see us hurt and ache. That’s how come he lets us come—to be sure he’s griping us good. I’ve about made up my mind that these protests ain’t doing us no good at all.”

“You reckon, Amram?”

“Sure. You all talk like somebody else made these laws and Pharaoh don’t know nothing about ’em. He makes ’em his own self and he’s glad when we come tell him they hurt. Why, that’s a whole lot of pleasure to him, to be making up laws all the time and to have a crowd like us around handy to pass all his mean ones on. Why, he’s got a law about everything under the sun! Next thing you know he’ll be saying cats can’t have kittens. He figures that it makes a big man out of him to be passing and passing laws and rules. He thinks that makes him look more like a king. Long time ago he done passed all the laws that could do anybody good. So now he sits up and studies up laws to do hurt and harm, and we’re the only folks in Egypt he got the nerve to put ’em on. He aims to keep us down so he’ll always have somebody to wipe his feet on. He brags that him and the Egyptian nation is eating high on the hog now.”

“Well, it’s his time now, be mine after while, maybe.”

“Maybe is right. He’s got us in the go-long and I just don’t see no way out unless he was to die and a better man come along.”

“It certainly is hard, Amram, getting use to being a slave.”

“And look what he done done! Passed a law we can’t go in the temples no more. He says their gods ain’t our gods.”

“Like what other gods do we know anything about. It gives you a real empty feeling not to have no gods anymore. If we
can’t go to the temples in Thebes and Memphis and Luxor, we could build us one in Goshen and sacrifice, Amram. Maybe if we do that they might help us to get our rights back again.”

“Caleb, those temples were built by Egyptians and those gods were made by Egyptians. Gods always love the people who make ’em. We can’t put no faith in them.”

“Don’t say that, Amram. That don’t leave me no way to turn at all. Makes me feel like my insides been ripped out.”

“Well, Caleb, I’m giving it out just like I figured it out. We just ain’t got no out that I can see. Anybody depending on somebody else’s gods is depending on a fox not to eat chickens. I don’t see no way out but death and, Caleb, you are up against a hard game when you got to die to beat it.”

The foreman was coming so they quit whispering and speeded up their work for a while. It was about dark and they knew they couldn’t work much longer anyway. The foreman glanced at them in passing and went on. They began to whisper again right away, under pretense of adjusting a rope for lifting a stone.

“Caleb?”

“I hear you, Amram.”

“Wouldn’t it be swell if some of us hid knives in our clothes when we went to see Pharaoh?”

“It sure would. But they always search us, don’t they, before they let us in.”

“I know, but it is something nice to think about, ain’t it?”

“Sure is.”

“Right now, everybody’s nerve is gone, but someday, maybe not in our time, but, he’s bound to meet his match first and last.”

“That’s a long time to wait, Amram, but I reckon it is the best we can do. I hate myself for not trying it even if they all kill me for it.”

“That’s what I hate ’em for too, making me scared to die. It’s a funny thing, the less people have to live for, the less nerve they have to risk losing—nothing.”

“Where’d you get that good word from, Amram? It sure is the truth. I know it by myself.”

“Oh, you learn things as you go along. I hope I don’t have another boy, Caleb. Even if the soldiers don’t find him and kill him, I don’t want him feeling like I feel. I want him to be a man.”

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