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The counsellors and elders of Egypt came to Pharaoh, and spake unto him, saying: "Behold, the people of the children of Israel are greater and mightier than we. Thou hast seen their strong power, which they have inherited from their fathers, for a few of them stood up against a people as many as the sand of the sea, and not one hath fallen. Now, therefore, give us counsel what to do with them, until we shall gradually destroy them from among us, lest they become too numerous in the land, for if they multiply, and there falleth out any war, they will also join themselves with their great strength unto our enemies, and fight against us, destroy us from the land, and get them up out of the land."

The king answered the elders, saying: "This is the plan advised by me against Israel, from which we will not depart. Behold, Pithom and Raamses are cities not fortified against battle. It behooves us to fortify them. Now, go ye and act cunningly against the children of Israel, and proclaim in Egypt and in Goshen, saying: 'All ye men of Egypt, Goshen, and Pathros! The king has commanded us to build Pithom and Raamses and fortify them against battle. Those amongst you in all Egypt, of the children of Israel and of all the inhabitants of the cities, who are willing to build with us, shall have their wages given to them daily at the king's order.'

"Then go ye first, and begin to build Pithom and Raamses, and cause the king's proclamation to be made daily, and when some of the children of Israel come to build, do ye give them their wages daily, and after they shall have built with you for their daily wages, draw yourselves away from them day by day, and one by one, in secret. Then you shall rise up and become their taskmasters and their officers, and you shall have them afterward to build without wages. And should they refuse, then force them with all your might to build. If you do this, it will go well with us, for we shall cause our land to be fortified after this manner, and with the children of Israel it will go ill, for they will decrease in number on account of the work, because you will prevent them from being with their wives."

The elders, the counsellors, and the whole of Egypt did according to the word of the king. For a month the servants of Pharaoh built with Israel, then they withdrew themselves gradually, while the children of Israel continued to work, receiving their daily wages, for some men of Egypt were still carrying on the work with them. After a time all the Egyptians had withdrawn, and they had turned to become the officers and taskmasters of the Israelites. Then they refrained from giving them any pay, and when some of the Hebrews refused to work without wages, their taskmasters smote them, and made them return by force to labor with their brethren. And the children of Israel were greatly afraid of the Egyptians, and they came again and worked without pay, all except the tribe of Levi, who were not employed in the work with their brethren. The children of Levi knew that the proclamation of the king was made to deceive Israel, therefore they refrained from listening to it, and the Egyptians did not molest them later, since they had not been with their brethren at the beginning, and though the Egyptians embittered the lives of the other Israelites with servile labor, they did not disturb the children of Levi. The Israelites called Malol, the king of Egypt, Maror, "Bitterness," because in his days the Egyptians embittered their lives with all manner of rigorous service.[6]

But Pharaoh did not rest satisfied with his proclamation and the affliction it imposed upon the Israelites. He suspended a brick-press from his own neck, and himself took part in the work at Pithom and Raamses. After this, whenever a Hebrew refused to come and help with the building, alleging that he was not fit for such hard service, the Egyptians would retort, saying, "Dost thou mean to make us believe thou art more delicate than Pharaoh?"

The king himself urged the Israelites on with gentle words, saying, "My children, I beg you to do this work and erect these little buildings for me. I will give you great reward therefor." By means of such artifices and wily words the Egyptians succeeded in overmastering the Israelites, and once they had them in their power, they treated them with undisguised brutality. Women were forced to perform men's work, and men women's work.

The building of Pithom and Raamses turned out of no advantage to the Egyptians, for scarcely were the structures completed, when they collapsed, or they were swallowed by the earth, and the Hebrew workmen, besides having to suffer hardships during their erection, lost their lives by being precipitated from enormous heights, when the buildings fell in a heap.[7]

But the Egyptians were little concerned whether or not they derived profit from the forced labor of the children of Israel. Their main object was to hinder their increase, and Pharaoh therefore issued an order, that they were not to be permitted to sleep at their own homes, that so they might be deprived of the opportunity of having intercourse with their wives. The officers executed the will of the king, telling the Hebrews that the reason was the loss of too much time in going to and fro, which would prevent them from completing the required tale of bricks. Thus the Hebrew husbands were kept apart from their wives, and they were compelled to sleep on the ground, away from their habitations.

But God spake, saying: "Unto their father Abraham I gave the promise, that I would make his children to be as numerous as the stars in the heavens, and you contrive plans to prevent them from multiplying. We shall see whose word will stand, Mine or yours." And it came to pass that the more the Egyptians afflicted them, the more they multiplied, and the more they spread abroad.[8] And they continued to increase in spite of Pharaoh's command, that those who did not complete the required tale of bricks were to be immured in the buildings between the layers of bricks, and great was the number of the Israelites that lost their lives in this way.[9] Many of their children were, besides, slaughtered as sacrifices to the idols of the Egyptians. For this reason God visited retribution upon the idols at the time of the going forth of the Israelites from Egypt. They had caused the death of the Hebrew children, and in turn they were shattered, and they crumbled into dust."

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