Mizraim, an energetic but worldly son of Ham, married Jehonabit, a beautiful daughter of Shem. She was a good wife, and he appreciated her. However, he did not appreciate her piety. Although she never reproved Mizraim when he got drunk or indulged in some other vicious habit, her lovely eyes assumed a painfully sad expression that pierced his soul like a searing knife. It quickened his conscience and haunted him day and night.
Instead of changing his ways, he blamed the Lord for giving his wife such unreasonable feelings. He looked about for some way to discredit the Creator.
Nimrod had similar feelings, and he decided to act. At this time, Noah and all his descendants were living in the plain of Shinar. Under the leadership of Noah, the entire community was worshiping the true God, but Nimrod planned to foist a new polytheistic religion on the people.
He proceeded with caution. He would first gain popularity by tickling the egos of his relatives. He would build a magnificent city and a tower that reached the heavens. By directing these projects, he would become the de facto leader of the community. When his influence and popularity were sufficiently great, he would reveal his new religion.
His plan worked. When the city was nearly completed and the construction of the tower was well under way, Nimrod instituted his new religion. The majority, including Mizraim, went along with the innovation. Those who were brave enough to oppose him openly suffered persecution.
Then the Lord stepped in. He miraculously altered the brains of the people so that they could no longer speak the language that they had learned. Instead, each family spoke a different language. Since they could not understand each other, they could not work together. They began to leave the city and migrate to different parts of the world.
Mizraim, his wife, and a few other members of his family spoke the same language. This small group left the city. They wandered about for a year and finally settled in the delta of the Nile River.
Mizraim devoted considerable attention to religion. He was confronted with a minor difficulty. His new language did not have any names for the deities that Nimrod had invented, and the names Nimrod had given them sounded exotic and unsatisfactory. So Mizraim decided to start from scratch. He invented a new religion that differed in many respects from the one that Nimrod had taught him.
His descendants proved to be poor disciples of his religion. As they spread over Egypt, they varied the concepts of their ancestor. Such variation was often accidental, but sometimes a charismatic leader courted popularity by deliberately inventing a new god.
Jehonabit did not accept the new religion. She continued to honor the true Creator of heaven and earth. His name was Neter in their new language, and Jehonabit honored His name.
In the years following the deluge, people did not live as long as they had in the antediluvian world. However, they still enjoyed a measure of longevity. As a result, Jehonabit was able to give birth to several children while she and her husband were living in the Nile Delta, even though she was already 56 years old when they left the plain of Shinar. She also saw many of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren before she died. She faithfully told all of them about the wonderful works of Neter.
Her husband did not like it, but he loved his wife, so he did not interfere with her instruction. Instead, he undermined her instruction in the following way. As his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren matured, Mizraim told them that they were too old to believe in Neter. He claimed that his wife had made up stories about Neter to divert their minds.
After thus discrediting Neter, he showed the superiority of his new religion. Since no one was supposed to make pictures or images representing Neter, no one knew anything about His appearance. In contrast, everyone knew what his own gods looked like. He himself had made a few statues representing them, and one of his gifted grandchildren had lavished his skill on the gods he loved. His productions were immortal masterpieces.
Not everyone was convinced by the arguments of Mizraim, but they all outwardly conformed to his religion.
Mizraim did not want his wife to know what he was doing, but she soon found out. Her health gradually began it fail.
Mizraim did not notice what was happening to his wife. He thought that she was just getting old. However, Pepi, one of her grandchildren, was more observant.. He loved his grandmother dearly, and he knew what was troubling her.
Pepi did not believe in the new religion, but he had been afraid to proclaim his faith. However, when he saw the distress of his grandmother, he decided to encourage his friends to worship the true Creator of heaven and earth. When people started to listen to him, Mizraim put him in prison.
This blow was more than Jehonabit could bear. Her condition worsened, and it seemed as if she would soon die.
Mizraim loved his wife more than he hated Neter. In an attempt to save her, he released Pepi from prison and agreed to honor the name of Neter. Her condition improved somewhat, and she held on to life for twelve more years.
Mizraim kept his promise in a diabolically clever manner. He incorporated Neter into his new religion and even allowed him to retain most of His attributes. However, he claimed that Neter had created all the other gods, and encouraged the people to continue worshiping them.
Mizraim then claimed that Neter did not want anyone to worship Him. He correctly pointed out that Neter did not want people to make statues of Him. Generalizing from this fact, he fooled the people into thinking that Neter did not like it when people talked about Him, made sacrifices to Him, or worshiped Him in any other way. Mizraim told them that Neter was so lofty and sublime that He became irritated when mortals tried to honor Him with their clumsy, imperfect words and deeds.
When Jehonabit died, Mizraim briefly considered removing Neter from his cosmology. However, he decided to leave things the way they were, partly out of respect for his deceased wife, partly because he feared the reaction of the people.
As a result, while the gods of Egypt were as numberless as the stars of the heavens, the ancient Egyptians knew that there was an eternal, almighty God who created all things. On occasion, the name of Neter found its way into ancient inscriptions, but the Egyptians rarely talked about Him.
When Joseph told the Pharaoh that God could interpret dreams, he knew that the young Hebrew was talking about Neter. This knowledge disposed him to favor Joseph and treat his father and brethren with kindness.
A later Pharaoh noticed that Neter favored the Israelites. He became jealous and enslaved them. In the end, Neter showed the Egyptians His glory when He sent Moses to deliver them from bondage.
(This short story was inspired by a statement of Wallis Budge quoted in “Ancient Egypt: Myths and Legends.” This author claimed that in spite of their polytheism, the ancient Egyptians “believed in one great god, self-produced, self-existent, almighty and eternal, who created the gods, the heavens, and the sun, moon, and stars in them, and the earth and everything on it, including man and beast, bird, fish, and reptile.” According to Budge, the Egyptians did not try to represent this sublime Being because His attributes were beyond human comprehension. In the rare instances when they mentioned Him, they simply called Him “Neter,” the exact meaning of which is unknown.)
One problem for conservative Christian scholars is the rapid immersion of the human race in idolatry at a time when Noah was still alive, according to Biblical chronology. A possible solution is deliberate suppression of the true religion by influential leaders. While my short story is fiction, there may be elements of truth in it. I have also written another short story on the same theme. Its title is “Nimrod and the Tower of Babel.”
“Ancient Egypt: Myth & History”; published by Geddes & Grosset