Rehabilitating Pharaoh

Inspired by an Arnold Kling post, I’ve been thinking that we Jews, especially those who consider ourselves Progressives, have been way too hard on Pharaoh in our recounting of the Passover story. Consider Pharaoh’s achievements:

(1) Green jobs: The Hebrews built the cities of Pithom and Ramses while emitting no greenhouse gases beyond their own carbon dioxide.

(2) Technology forcing: Pharaoh wanted to conserve natural resources, so he withheld the straw from Hebrews that they had been using to make bricks. Free market naysayers and straw industry lobbyists claimed that this would cripple the brickmaking industry, but instead the Hebrews adjusted.

(3) Zero population growth: Pharaoh first enslaved the Hebrews, and then ordered that all male Hebrew babies be killed. But, hey, look at it from his perspective: the Hebrews were multiplying like rabbits, so Pharaoh engaged in a little population control. After all, how much more environmental devastation could the fragile Nile/desert ecosystem take? The human footprint had to be controlled. Bonus: Had Pharaoh succeeded, he would have created a society with no male hierarchy.

(4) Multiculturalism: In contrast to the ethnocentrism of modern Zionism, the Hebrews in Egypt under the Pharaoh’s regime were multicultural. When they left Egypt, they took their “mixed multitude” (Heb. Erev rav) friends with them.

(5) The Al Gore of 1500 BCE: Rivers filled with frogs. Plagues of locusts. Cattle dying. No wonder Pharaoh didn’t let the Hebrews go. His heart wasn’t “hardened,” as the Jewish version goes. He just thought these were the natural consequences of global climate change.

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