Lament of the patriarchal Israel-curser

When the Hebrew God famously told me, of all diviners, to shut my mouth I should have listened

by Steve Apfel on 10 July 2013 11:07

How beautiful are your tents, oh Jacob, your dwelling places, oh Israel!

For the tribute recited early morning in synagogues thank a pagan prophet for hire. Odder yet, thank a lifetime antagonist of the people he so bountifully blessed. Oddest of all, thank me!

There – my tongue is tripping, gadget of fortune and misfortune, bridge to my soul, mouth organ of militant curses, master of talking donkey, plotter of Israel’s downfall.

When the Hebrew God famously told me, of all diviners, to shut my mouth I should have listened. Day and night, horn-templed, forked tongued, I lay my traps; and everything that happened, happened because of unwitting praise. The nation I planned to annihilate took strength from my words and flourished.  

Granted a wish – only one – I’d take them back, expunge those words in the Book of Numbers. Fame and fortune I’d swap to reverse my blunder. Death would not be too dear a price to relieve a daily torment, when the Jews swell with peacock’s pride while they recite my praise. I, great among all prophets, weaved deadly plights for Israel only to see it prosper.

But, let me not utter falsely. Though my oracle mouth spoke the tribute (may it be struck dumb) I’m not exactly the author. I would have spoken differently.

With the same eloquence, to be sure, but not the time-honoured phrase that fouls up Jewish prayer houses daily. Never in three thousand years (that’s how long ago my echo danced from a desert hilltop) would I laud the Jewish people. The words would stick in my throat.

You will learn of it soon enough, so let me be upfront. I, Balaam the Moabite am not the prophet people go to for blessing. For cursing I was born, not blessing – me, perfidy personified.

Steve Apfel is director of the School of Management Accounting, Johannesburg. He is the author of the book,'Hadrian's Echo: The whys and wherefores of Israel's critics' (2012) and a contributor to, "War by other means." (Israel Affairs, Special Issue. July 2012)

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