Let your Uncle Benji tell you how I came by my name. It’s quite a tale, or should I say ‘tail’, so listen closely.
We are not common rats. I, Benji, am a fifth generation Palace Rat. My very first name was “Eek”, but, given that humans usually threw something at me as they said it, it brings back rather painful memories. Even in the magnificent Palace of Sesostris II, respect is sorely lacking.
I received my real name when I moved to the dungeon. Several poisoned kin in the kitchen proved that I needed to head for safer territory. Although there was less food, the dungeon was the perfect hideout for a rat on the run. My companions here were stinking, swearing men. Unlike rats, the lack of light drove them crazy. I watched as they prayed to their gods. Over time they stopped praying, and started crying. Eventually they were cursing the very gods they had prayed too. It happened every time.
The guard slammed the gate closed behind the new man with a laugh: “Not Potiphar’s mansion anymore, is it?”
The man sat silently in the dark for some time before he started to murmur in an unfamiliar, flowing language. The word I kept hearing, which sent a shiver through my body, sounded like “Yahweh.”
Over the months I watched as he sang or spoke to Yahweh, his god. One day he turned and looked at me. I was ready to run at the first shout of “Eek”, but he was smiling. He held out a piece of stale bread and, strangely unafraid, I scurried over and took it from his hand.
That is how our unusual friendship began. This man, Joseph, gave me the name Benji and told me his ill-fated story of betrayal and false blame, as if I were a real human. I thought his Yahweh must be the weakest god of them all. But Joseph spoke about him with reverence: “Benji, what they intended for evil, Yahweh intends for good. He has sent me here for a purpose.”
Not once did Joseph curse Yahweh.
Things changed in that dark dungeon after Joseph’s arrival. The warden put him in charge of the prisoners and slowly the sounds of crying and cursing were replaced by those of singing and laughing.
I grew old with those men, surprisingly contented. But one day guards came to lead Joseph away, claiming that Pharaoh himself had summoned him.
Frantic with worry, I hatched a daring plan. I would scurry up to the kitchen, through the Women’s Quarters and on to the most dangerous room of all - the Throne Room, where armed men could kill a rat in the swish of a tail.
Executing it wasn’t easy. In the passage outside the kitchen my whiskers trembled with impending danger. Instinctively I leapt into a small opening just as a large cat pounced. Who could possibly think these savages were gods?
It took a while for the cat to leave, and for my shaking to subside enough to continue. I feared for what had become of Joseph in that time.
When I reached the Throne Room, I darted forward between a throng of feet, feeling sandals brush my tail. Finally, squeezed up against a wall, I could see Pharaoh on his throne. Before him stood a man who I did not recognise, for he wore fresh robes and his neat hair framed a cleanly shaven face. Yet, as he smiled, I realised that it was Joseph.
Something extraordinary was happening for the crowd suddenly grew silent. Pharaoh was rising to his feet and taking off his ring. He stepped towards Joseph and as he slipped the ring on his finger, he spoke.
“This man, Joseph, will be second only to Pharaoh in Egypt.”
He flicked his fingers and a man appeared with a dark blue robe, which Pharaoh himself threw over Joseph’s shoulders, and a gold chain, which was placed around my friend’s neck. Joseph turned to face the crowd as a large cheer went up.
“Hail Pharaoh! Hail Joseph! Triumph to Egypt!”
I could again hear Joseph’s voice in the dungeon: “Yahweh has sent me here for a purpose,” and in that moment I knew that there was no god more powerful than Yahweh.
Over the crowd’s applause, a shrill “Eek!” broke through my reverie. Not again! Dashing for safety, I wondered if the second most important man in Egypt could pass a law protecting Palace Rats.
The full biblical account of Joseph’s rise from prisoner to vizier of Egypt, is found in Genesis 39 to 41.
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