If at all possible, every year I try to save a week for storytelling at my church. More and more both Catholic and Protestant churches here in the metro Detroit area are going together to share materials produced for Vacation Bible School
. My Bible Adventures station was this year centered on the stories of Moses and the book of Exodus. The kids especially enjoyed experiencing -- and being many of -- the Ten Plagues of Egypt.
Like a teacher following a curriculum, however, I wished I had time and opportunity to expand on what was expected. I went to my own collection for more. Growing up in a Jewish neighborhood in metro St. Louis, Missouri, I love Jewish culture and have many books of it, including Judith Ish-Kishor's Tales from the Wise Men of Israel. (That link is from a site on poets.) She is mentioned in Wikipedia as being Sulamith Ish-kishor's older sister, who "was a pioneering writer of Jewish children's literature in English."
Nothing like saying a sibling was less important!
As a storyteller I often find children's versions of stories are more tellable. I recommend looking up the way she simplified the story I'm going to post today that she called "Why Moses Stuttered." Unfortunately for Public Domain lovers, Tales from the Wise Men of Israel
's copyright was renewed, but her source, Rabbi Louis Ginzberg
's multi-volume translation of the Legends of the Jews
, is available. Those volumes start with Creation and end with Esther and the Jews in Persia, including "a huge collection of legends on Moses." His interest in the historical and context of Judaism makes his writing a resource of continuing interest.
The "usual suspects" of Project Gutenberg, Internet Archive, and LibriVox, for those who listen to their literature, include the Legends
, but it was most easily scanned in a PDF
from Rick Swartzentrover's site
, which includes over 400 e-books, including the complete Ginzberg Legends
in his section of History, Secular, and Reference books. While there are other sites like those "usual suspects", the Swartzentrover PDF
has extra linkage to make browsing and finding this story easier. If you want resource books of Biblical Commentary or other resources related to religious topics in the Public Domain it's a site worth checking thoroughly for e-books and information such as his atlases, charts, and timelines. His Holman Bible Atlas, for example, might just help me understand who and where were those people I've read about like the Moabites, Canaanites, Amalekites, Ammonites, and the electric lights, er that's a joke, but also the Philistines or places whose names have changed. In telling about the Diaspora and, especially the Babylonian captivity, for example, it helps to compare those spots on old maps with what we call those places today. I mentioned Babylon and had to explain today it would be in Iraq. Swartzentrover definitely includes Biblical resources stretching into the New Testament, but this week most of my focus was Moses.
But for today's story posting, I present the source of Ish-Kishor's more streamlined story for those of us who always found it interesting that an important leader and speaker like Moses called himself "slow of speech" and we would say he stuttered. Along the way in the Ginzberg legend you get a five paragraph review criticizing how the Israelites came to Egypt. For more about Moses and his adopted mother, who was Pharaoh's daughter, read earlier in the story by going to the PDF
RESCUED BY GABRIEL
Moses was in his third year, Pharaoh was dining one day, with the
queen Alfar'anit at his right hand, his daughter Bithiah with the
infant Moses upon her lap at his left, and Balaam the son of Beor
together with his two sons and all the princes of the realm sitting
at table in the king's presence. It happened that the infant took the
crown from off the king's head, and placed it on his own. When the
king and the princes saw this, they were terrified, and each one in
turn expressed his astonishment. The king said unto the princes,
"What speak you, and what say you, O ye princes, on this matter,
and what is to be done to this Hebrew boy on account of this act?"
spoke, saying: "Remember now, O my lord and king, the dream
which thou didst dream many days ago, and how thy servant interpreted
it unto thee. Now this is a child of the Hebrews in whom is the
spirit of God. Let not my lord the king imagine in his heart that
being a child he did the thing without knowledge. For he is a Hebrew
boy, and wisdom and understanding are with him, although he is yet a
child, and with wisdom has he done this, and chosen unto himself the
kingdom of Egypt. For this is the manner of all the Hebrews, to
deceive kings and their magnates, to do all things cunningly in order
to make the kings of the earth and their men to stumble."
thou knowest that Abraham their father acted thus, who made the
armies of Nimrod king of Babel and of Abimelech king of Gerar to
stumble, and he possessed himself of the land of the children of Heth
and the whole realm of Canaan. Their father Abraham went down into
Egypt, and said of Sarah his wife, She is my sister, in order to make
Egypt and its king to stumble.
son Isaac did likewise when he went to Gerar, and he dwelt there, and
his strength prevailed over the army of Abimelech, and he intended to
make the kingdom of the Philistines to stumble, by saying that
Rebekah his wife was his sister.
also dealt treacherously with his brother, and took his birthright
and his blessing from him. Then he went to Paddan-aram, to Laban, his
mother's brother, and he obtained his daughters from him cunningly,
and also his cattle and all his belongings, and he fled away and
returned to the land of Canaan, to his father.
sons sold their brother Joseph, and he went down into Egypt and
became a slave, and he was put into prison for twelve years, until
the former Pharaoh delivered him from the prison, and magnified him
above all the princes of Egypt on account of his interpreting the
king's dreams. When God caused a famine to descend upon the whole
world, Joseph sent for his father, and he brought him down into Egypt
his father, his brethren, and all his father's household, and he
supplied them with food without pay or reward, while he acquired
Egypt, and made slaves of all its inhabitants.
therefore, my lord king, behold, this child has risen up in their
stead in Egypt, to do according to their deeds and make sport of
every man, be he king, prince, or judge. If it please the king, let
us now spill his blood upon the ground, lest he grow up and snatch
the government from thine hand, and the hope of Egypt be cut off
after he reigns. Let us, moreover, call for all the judges and the
wise men of Egypt, that we may know whether the judgment of death be
due to this child, as I have said, and then we will slay him."
sent and called for all the wise men of Egypt, and they came, and the
angel Gabriel was disguised as one of them. When they were asked
their opinion in the matter, Gabriel spoke up, and said: "If it
please the king, let him place an onyx stone before the child, and a
coal of fire, and if he stretches out his hand and grasps the onyx
stone, then shall we know that the child hath done with wisdom all
that he bath done, and we will slay him. But if he stretches out his
hand and grasps the coal of fire, then shall we know that it was not
with consciousness that he did the thing, and he shall live."
counsel seemed good in the eyes of the king, and when they had placed
the stone and the coal before the child, Moses stretched forth his
hand toward the onyx stone and attempted to seize it, but the angel
Gabriel guided his hand away from it and placed it upon the live
coal, and the coal burnt the child's hand, and he lifted it up and
touched it to his mouth, and burnt part of his lips and part of his
tongue, and for all his life he became slow of speech and of a slow
this, the king and the princes knew that Moses had not acted with
knowledge in taking the crown from off the king's head, and they
refrained from slaying him. God Himself, who protected Moses, turned
the king's mind to grace, and his foster-mother snatched him away,
and she had him educated with great care, so that the Hebrews
depended upon him, and cherished the hope that great things would be
done by him. But the Egyptians were suspicious of what would follow
from such an education as his.
There you have it as related by Ginzberg. Ish-Kishor doesn't name nor give Gabriel a role in the greatly condensed discussion by Pharaoh's advisors. She omits Balaam's complaints, condensing it to a prophecy that the Egyptian gods warned about the overthrow of Pharaoh. Instead she plays up the suspense in Moses making his choice.
Is this accurate history? Did it happen this way, or as I am sometimes asked, "Is that true?" I do believe in Biblical truth, but this is legend and fits my answer of "If you believed the story while it was told to you, then it was true for you." Another way of putting it is to call it Midrash
, which Wikipedia quotes the Hebrew scholar, Wilda C. Gafney, as saying
"They reimagine dominant narratival readings while crafting new ones to
stand alongside—not replace—former readings. Midrash also asks questions
of the text; sometimes it provides answers, sometimes it leaves the
reader to answer the questions."
Modern midrash I recommend can be found in the books
of Rabbi Marc Gellman
, like Does God Have a Big Toe?
and God's Mailbox
. Of course, like the book by Ish-Kishor, they're not Public Domain.
Now for my Public Domain "fine print."
is part of a series of postings of stories under the category,
"Keeping the Public in Public Domain." The idea
behind Public Domain was to preserve our cultural heritage after the
authors and their immediate heirs were compensated. I feel
strongly current copyright law delays this intent on works of the
20th century. My
own library of folklore includes so many books within the Public
Domain I decided to share stories from them. I hope you enjoy
discovering new stories.
the same time, my own involvement in storytelling regularly creates
projects requiring research as part of my sharing stories with an
audience. Whenever that research needs to be shown here, the publishing
of Public Domain stories will not occur that week. This is a return to
my regular posting of a research project here. (Don't worry, this
isn't dry research, my research is always geared towards future
storytelling to an audience.) Response has convinced me that "Keeping
the Public in Public Domain" should continue along with my other
postings as often as I can manage it.
Public Domain story resources I recommend-
are many online resources for Public Domain stories, maybe none for
folklore is as ambitious as fellow storyteller, Yoel Perez's
the International Folktales Collection. I have long
recommended it and continue to do so. He has loaded
Stith Thompson's Motif Index into his server as a database so
you can search the whole 6 volumes for whatever word or expression
you like by pressing one key. http://folkmasa.org/motiv/motif.htm
email list for storytellers, Storytell,
discussed Online Story Sources and came up with these additional
- You may have noticed I'm no
longer certain Dr. Perez has the largest database, although his
offering the Motif Index certainly qualifies for those of us seeking
specific types of stories. There's another site, FairyTalez
claiming to be the largest, with "over 2000 fairy tales,
folktales, and fables" and they are "fully optimized for
phones, tablets, and PCs", free and presented without ads.
Between those two sites, there
is much for story-lovers, but as they say in infomercials, "Wait,
Story-Lovers - http://www.story-lovers.com/ is now only accessible
through the Wayback Machine, described below, but Jackie Baldwin's
wonderful site lives on there, fully searchable manually (the Google
search doesn't work), at https://archive.org/ . It's not easy, but go to Story-lovers.com snapshot for October 22 2016 and you can click on SOS: Searching Out Stories to scroll down through the many story topics and click on the story topic that interests you.
going to find many of the links on these sites have gone down, BUT
go to the Internet Archive
Wayback Machine to find some of these old links. Tim's
site, for example, is so huge probably updating it would be a
full-time job. In the case of Story-Lovers, it's great that
Jackie Baldwin set it up to stay online as long as it did after she
could no longer maintain it. Possibly searches maintained it.
Unfortunately Storytell list member, Papa Joe is on both Tim
Sheppard's site and Story-Lovers, but he no longer maintains his old
Papa Joe's Traveling Storytelling Show website and his Library
(something you want to see!) is now only on the Wayback Machine. It
took some patience working back through claims of snapshots but finally
in December of 2006 it appears!
as of this writing whose stories can still be found by his website
is the late Chuck Larkin - http://chucklarkin.com/stories.html.
I prefer to list these sites by their complete address so they can
be found by the Wayback Machine, a.k.a. Archive.org, when that
becomes the only way to find them.
can see why I recommend these to you. Have fun
discovering even more stories!