1605 BC, Assyrian Valley
The battle had been going for most of the day, and Pharaoh Senusret I was tired, angry and determined. The Egyptians were losing. They had travelled far from their homeland to attack the Canaanite armies, led by King Makamaron, who was living in Assyria – and influencing the rising power against Egypt. And besides, Senusret firmly believed in expanding Egyptian power. Unfortunately, the Assyrians ganged up with the Canaanites, creating a superior force.
Without more reinforcements, the Egyptians were doomed. And they knew it. Many soldiers had already fled the battle.
Senusret was ready to call a fallback, when he found himself face-to-face with Makamaron himself.
The two kings sized each other up for a few seconds, knowing that killing the other would demoralise the enemy and potentially bring victory for themselves. Then they started fighting. For a few minutes their swords and shields clashed. Then Pharaoh Senusret heard a familiar cry nearby, and turned to see one of his best generals fall with a spear thrust through him. The distraction was just enough for King Makamaron, who thrust his sword through the Pharaoh. Senusret yelled in pain and shock as he fell to the ground. He saw King Makamaron leering over him, and heard someone start yelling that the Pharaoh had fallen. Then the world went dark.
Pharaoh's summer palace, Tahpanhes
Pharaoh Senusret I's stepson and strongest general, Nubkaure Amenemhat, strolled across the courtyard in front of the palace. It was a beautiful day, and he was expecting news of the battle at Assyria.
He heard a chariot approach. Ah, he thought. Here comes the messenger.
Within a couple of minutes, in through the gates rode a chariot pulled by two weary-looking stallions. Inside was the chariot driver and a soldier. The soldier jumped out, ran to Amenemhat, and saluted. "Great General," he said.
"What news do you bring?" Amenemhat asked.
"General Amenemhat, the news I bear is not good. The Canaanite and Assyrian armies defeated ours in the Assyrian Valley. Our army is retreating with the Canaanites on our heels."
Amenemhat was secretly pleased. It seemed his deliberate withholding of troops – and his secret tip-off to the Assyrian government – had paid off. But there was one more detail. "And the Pharaoh?"
The messenger hesitated before answering. "Pharaoh Senusret, the great god Ra incarnate, was killed in the battle. Killed by the sword of the Canaanite king Makamaron himself."
General Amenemhat privately grinned. His plan had worked perfectly. He could now take the throne as Pharaoh!
The soldier messenger asked, "Shall I send a message to inform the Governor?"
"Yes," Amenemhat replied. "Summon the priests and officials, too."
The soldier nodded and turned away. Amenemhat turned and looked up at his mother, King's Wife Neferu, who was watching through one of the upper windows. He grinned at his co-conspirator.
The elderly Governor Joseph coughed heavily as he lay on his bed. He knew he was going to die soon. He would soon summon his family and give them his final instructions.
As he lay on the bed, Joseph reflected on his incredible life. He was from Canaan, the second-youngest of the 12 sons and one daughter of Jacob. He was his mother, Rachel's eldest son. He had a younger brother, Benjamin, in addition to 10 older half-brothers and an older half-sister, Dinah. His mother had died giving birth to Benjamin, and he had been his father's favourite.
But Joseph's family was not Canaanite. Rather, Jacob was the grandson of Abraham, a Chaldean whom the Almighty God Yehovah had promised would be the father of many nations. He had promised him the land of Canaan for the descendants of his son Isaac. Isaac, in turn, had been told it would be for the descendants of his son Jacob. Jacob was subsequently given the name of Israel by Yehovah.
As a teenager, Joseph had been sold into slavery by his brothers, who were jealous of their father's favouritism towards him. They had, ironically, sold him to a band of Midianites and Ishmaelites – descendants of Abraham, and therefore their cousins. The Ishmaelites and Midianites had, in turn, sold him to Potiphar, a prominent Egyptian who was both Priest of On and chief of the guard.
After being falsely accused by Potiphar's wife, Joseph spent a few years in prison. While there, he correctly interpreted the dreams of two of Pharaoh's officials – his baker and cupbearer – that one would be executed, and the other restored to office. Two years later, Pharaoh Amenemhat was troubled by dreams. Upon recommendation from the chief cupbearer, Joseph was called upon to interpret the king's dream. After correctly interpreting that there would be 7 years of famine, Pharaoh Amenemhat – father of the current Pharaoh Senusret – elevated the humble foreign prisoner to Gobernor of Egypt, a man below only the Pharoh in authority. He was given the new name of Zaphenath-Paaneah, and his prudent actions saved not only Egypt but several surrounding peoples from starvation.
Joseph had reconciled with his brothers during the famine and had moved his entire family into Egypt. Pharaoh had given them the land of Goshen. Joseph's rise from foreign slave prisoner to second-most-powerful man in Egypt had been incredible, and he firmly believed his God Yehovah had looked after him.
Now, Jacob's descendants, known as the Israelites or the Hebrews, were a sizable people. And Joseph, now 110 years old, knew he would soon be leaving them. His wife Asenath, the daughter of Potiphar, had passed away peacefully in her sleep the year before.
A knock sounded on his bedroom door, interrupting his thoughts. "Who is it?"
The door cracked open and Manasseh, the elder of Joseph and Asenath's two sons, poked his head in. "A messenger to see you, father," he said. "He says it's urgent."
"Very well," Joseph replied, making himself sit up on the bed.
Manasseh opened the door and stepped to the side as a soldier walked in. "Lord Governor," he greeted, half bowing before straightening up. "I bring you grave news." Joseph was all ears. "The Pharaoh has been killed in battle, and the Egyptian army is retreating with the Canaanite army in pursuit. General Amenemhat has called a meeting of the priests and officials – tonight."
Joseph slowly exhaled. He had known that, like all mortal men, Pharaoh Senusret must die. He just did not expect to live to see it. Senusret had no son. However, he had a stepseon, Amenemhat, also the strongest general, who would almost certainly try to take the throne. The man was arrogant and despised Joseph and the Hebrews. Joseph dreaded the thought that this man could make himself Pharaoh. He knew what would happen to the Israelites – it had been prophesied – but he prayed it would happen after his death. "Get me my chariot."
Palace of Tahpanhes, that evening
General Amenemhat and the priests, officials and commanders of the army were in conference. The doors suddenly opened, and the elderly Governor of Goshen walked in, escorted by his eldest son. There were audible gasps and murmurs of surprise from those present.
"Zaphenath-Paaneah," Amenemhat said with some surprise. "You haven't attended the Royal Court in some time. Your health forbade it."
"I thought it prudent to make an exception," was the reply. "So, General, what is our course of action?"
"I will become the next Pharaoh," the general replied with some haughtiness. "Tomorrow morning. The news of my stepmother's death has already been proclaimed. At about noon our army will re-enter Egypt. Then the border will be closed. No-one will go in or out. Hopefully, we will hold out against the Canaanites."
"If that is your decision," the Governor commented.
"Yes, Amenemhat snapped. "It is."