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Chronicles of Jerahmeel, by M. Gaster [1899], at


LIV. (1) The sages say that when God brought the plague of the firstborn upon the Egyptians, He started first upon their gods, as it is said, 'I shall execute judgment on all the gods of Egypt; I am the Lord.' And what was this smiting of their gods, since they were but images of stone? They were broken up into small pieces; every idol of wood rotted and became a heap of dust, and all idols of silver, brass, iron and lead were melted to metal sheets on the ground; and when the Egyptians were drowned in the Red Sea fire descended upon their gods and consumed them, as it is said, 'And in the abundance of Thy majesty, Thou wilt overthrow all those who rise up against Thee.'

(2) The sages further say that before the plague of the firstborn descended upon them Moses went among the firstborn in Egypt and said to them, 'Thus saith the Lord, About the time of midnight I shall go forth in the midst. of the Egyptians, and all their firstborn shall die.' Thereupon all the firstborn went to their fathers and said, 'All the plagues which Moses foretold have come to pass; he now says that all the firstborn are to die.' 'Go to Pharaoh,' replied their fathers, 'for he is a firstborn.'

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[paragraph continues] Going to him, they said, 'Send this people away, for if you do not, all the firstborn will perish.' Pharaoh immediately ordered his servants to go and smite them, and he said, 'I have once declared either my soul shall be taken or those of the Israelites, and now you wish them to be sent away.' Each one of them took his sword and slew his father, as it is said, 'The smiting of the Egyptians by their firstborn.' Nevertheless, at midnight, all the firstborn were slain, as it is said, 'And the Lord smote all the firstborn of the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, i.e., his son, who also died. And Pharaoh and his servants arose in the night on that account. (3) If an Egyptian married five wives, having had five sons, the next day these sons were found dead, because they were all firstborn to their mothers. In the same manner, if a woman had married five times and had obtained a son of each husband, all these sons died, because they were all firstborn to their fathers. Thus was fulfilled the statement that 'All the firstborn of the land of Egypt should die.' In the event of a house containing no firstborn, the eldest in the house died. The house wherein the firstborn had died long before, the dead came out again from the grave and died anew within the house, causing great wailing. Therefore it is written, 'There was no house into which death did not enter.'

(4) As soon as Pharaoh saw that his son, the son of his wife, and the sons of his servants were dead, he meditated within him that Moses had never once yet lied to him, and said to his servants, 'All the time that he was near me he used to appease; and he prayed before his Creator, and we were then healed of all our plagues. But, a little while ago, I was incensed against Moses, and said to him, "Thou shalt not any longer look upon my face." Therefore it is incumbent upon myself to go to seek him.' Pharaoh and all his servants accordingly rose from their beds with great weeping, and Pharaoh, going the round of all the streets, inquired, 'Where is Moses? Where is Moses? Where does he dwell?' When the Israelites saw

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him they laughed, saying to him, 'Pharaoh, where art thou going, and whom dost thou seek?' 'It is Moses your master that I am searching for.' 'Here he lives, here he lives,' said the children, all the while laughing at him, until he at last said, 'Arise, go forth from among my people.' But the Israelites took no notice of him until he went to Moses’ house and said, 'I entreat thee, O my lord, pray to God for us.' But Moses and Aaron and all the Israelites were at that moment in their several houses, eating their paschal lambs and singing praises to the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, and sitting at home, and no one went out of his house, because God said to the Israelites, 'And no man of you shall go out of his house until the morning.' (5) So that when Pharaoh came to Moses’ door, Moses said to him from within his house, 'Who art thou calling?' 'I am Pharaoh,' said he. 'Why dost thou thyself come to me? Surely it is not customary for kings to come to men's houses, and, moreover, at night-time.' 'I entreat thee, go forth and pray for us, for there is no man left in Egypt that is not dead.' 'But I cannot go forth, for I have heard it from the mouth of God, saying, "You shall not go forth."' 'I beseech thee,' said Pharaoh, 'stand at the window and let me behold thy pleasant face.' 'But,' added Moses, 'didst thou not say to me, "Thou shalt no more see my face"?' 'I said this to thee before the firstborn died, but now they are already dead. Thou hast indeed never lied before me: now, why are they all dead?' And Moses said, 'Dost thou wish them to be brought to life again?' 'Yes,' said he. (6) 'If so, then raise thy voice and say, "O children of Israel, behold ye are free men, behold ye are your own masters. Now arise and go forth from the midst of my people. But now ye were the servants of Pharaoh, henceforward ye are the servants of God."' These words Pharaoh repeated. 'Say them again.' And Pharaoh did so. Say them a third time.' And Pharaoh said them a third time. When Pharaoh raised his voice, it was heard in all the land of Egypt, a distance of forty days or 400 parasangs.

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[paragraph continues] (7) And in that night he called Moses and Aaron and said to them, 'Arise, go forth from among my people.' 'But why dost thou trouble me the whole night?' said Moses. 'Because,' answered Pharaoh, 'I am a firstborn, and I fear lest I die.' 'Do not fear this, because thou art destined for greatness.' And the Egyptians forced Pharaoh, and persuaded him to send the Israelites from among them, as it is said, 'And the Egyptians strengthened themselves to hasten the people out of their land, for they said, "Behold we shall all of us die."' But God answered them, saying, 'By your life you shall not all of you die here, but I shall destroy you in the sea.' When the Egyptians were drowned in the sea, fire descended upon their gods so that they were consumed.

(8) Among these Egyptians there were two wizards whose names were Joḥanai and Mamre. As soon as they entered the sea and saw that the waters encompassed them, by means of their wiles they flew into the air as high as the firmament. There was not another nation in the world so much addicted to witchcraft as the Egyptians. Thus our sages have said, 'Ten measures of witchcraft descended into the world: nine parts the Egyptians took, and one remained for the rest of the world.' Joḥanai and Mamre were the princes of witchcraft, and, from their great knowledge of it, they ascended to the firmament; nor were Michael and Gabriel able to do anything against them. They therefore cried to God in supplication, saying, 'O Lord of the universe, these wicked men who oppressed Thy children with hard bondage dare to stand here without fear, and not only this, but they dare to defy even Thee.' (Whence do we know that God Himself descended in Egypt? Because it is said, 'I shall go down with thee to Egypt.') 'Now, if it is Thy will, O Lord of the universe, execute punishment for Thy children.' At this God immediately ordered Metatron, saying, 'Throw them down and cast them to the ground, but be careful that they only fall into the sea.' Metatron accordingly cast them forcibly into the midst of the sea. It was then that the Israelites broke forth with the 'Shirah' (the

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song), 'And in the abundance of Thy majesty Thou hast overthrown those who rise up against Thee.'

(9) 'The nations heard it and trembled,' The sages say that when the Egyptians pursued the Israelites and beheld them, they were seized with great fear and dread, and did not wish to enter into the sea after them. God therefore sent Gabriel to them, and he appeared like a mare entering the sea. Pharaoh's horse immediately followed into the sea after it, and he was followed by all the Egyptians. Then spake God to Moses, saying, 'Stretch forth thy hand over the sea, and the waters shall return upon the heads of Pharaoh and his chariot and his riders.' Moses thus stretched forth his hand upon the sea, which was cleft asunder and rent. When the nations of the world heard the report of the exodus from Egypt, and the rending of the Red Sea, they trembled, and in terror fled from their habitations.

Next: LV. The Rebellion of Korah