The sounds of Joseph has faded. So much so that the Pharaoh
didn’t know him.
The recording of sound in ancient times was mostly through memory and voice. This nature of sound to quickly fade means that its preservation is through consistent sounding. Hence the repeated stories, the songs and epics of ancient times.
This pharaoh and the next aren’t named. Their sound is their oppression. Were the Israelites so disdainful that they couldn’t sound the name of their oppressors? Or was it fear?
The two who are named are the midwives. Shiprah and Puah. Meaning ‘beautiful’ and ‘splendid.’ But their names also sound like the words for ‘horn’ and ‘crying out’. The sound of their names carry connotations that are lost in translation.
However, their naming does denote their importance, especially in the absence of the naming of the pharaoh. Their names were sounded out over the years before this story was written down.
The command of the pharaoh is resisted and they lie to sound their way out of the situation. Here the lie, the misplaced sound is heard as a necessary thing, even a good thing. The fear of God overpowers the command of the pharaoh. The sound of the pharoah is met with resistance and misplaced sounds.
There are several resonances through this text. The baby is put into a basket. The word for basket is similar to the word for ark in Noah’s days. With that resonance, the sounds of the water and the animals echo through this event.
Within the chapter there are cross resonances.
the baby cried. She had compassion on him
The Israelites groaned … cried out, and their cry for help… went up to God. God heard their groaning … and was concerned about them.
God (Elohim) seems distant here compared to the Pharoah’s daughter.
In the initial part of the story only Moses is named. All the other characters are not sounded. They are defined in their relationships and status rather than their names.
Only Moses is named.
Because I drew him out of the water.
he even drew water for us and watered the flock.
Back to the sound of water. The sound of Genesis flows into Exodus and Exodus itself will resonate with water.
I have heard their cry
The cry of the Israelites has now come to me
In a short space God says twice that he has heard the cry.
Previously God called out to Adam and Eve who were hiding among trees. Now God calls from a bush. And God sounds his name to Moses. He is not only the one who does. He is the one who is.
There is a sense that God in his is-ness that he is always hearing and always sounding. This makes for a difficult relationship. Living with children who sound insistently and constantly can be quite difficult. However, Jean-Luc Nancy, the French philosopher says that to be an ‘is’ is always being a ‘being with’.
This makes God not merely a fading sound but a presence that is intangible. Sound and fire are intangibles that can be heavily present.
I will be with you
It is this presence that Moses must sound out to a cynical, oppressed people.
They will listen to your voice
But in what sense will they listen?