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Happy Passover! April 18, 2008

Posted by Jim Berkin in Books, Cooking, Food, General.
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Like most Jewish holidays, Passover boils down to the theme of “They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat!”

I’m particularly fascinated by the story of the Exodus, mostly because of the mysteries surrounding it. With all the material we’ve literally uncovered on ancient Egyptian history, we’ve yet to find any sort of Egyptian version of the story. Granted, the Pharaohs weren’t exactly big on recording their losses all over their tomb walls, but there are some very strange clues and anomolies from material they did leave behind that drive right to the heart of my “I love a mystery!” nature.

There are numerous theories out there on examining the 10 Plagues Of Moses from a scientific standpoint and so forth, but I’m more interested in placing the event into its true chronology, identifying the Biblically un-named Pharaoh of the Exodus, and perhaps even pinpointing the identity of Moses. David Rohl’s Pharaohs & Kings radically rearranges the long accepted chronology of placing the Exodus within the reign of Rameses II (something cemented into people’s minds from watching Charlton Heston trounce Yul Brynner every year in rebroadcasts of The Ten Commandments) and puts it a lot earlier, though as much as I found his arguments interesting, his evidence didn’t really convince me.

Ahmed Osman’s numerous theories on this time period vary from temptingly logical to “Are you out of your mind??” but I did enjoy Stranger In The Valley Of The Kings, his book that theorizes that the biblical Joseph was the same person as the Egyptian Yuya, whose mummy rests in the Cairo museum, and whose descendants intermarried with the royalty of his day and spawned the monotheistic Pharaoh Akenaten. What we can deduce of Yuya’s biography from his mummy and intact tomb seem to match up with a lot of the Joseph story, and Osman’s use of Biblical clues are particularly compelling, especially as he strings together some interesting interpretations of odd verses from the Joseph story in Genesis and matches them up with the accepted chronology and knowledge of the Pharaohs to argue his case. Osman’s other theories claiming that Moses WAS Akhenaten are a bit much for me, but his Joseph theory is a pretty good one. Now, a lone monotheistic Pharaoh choosing the ONE non-anthropomorphic God as the one TRUE God showing up close enough to the time of the Exodus is enough to make me think the ancient Hebrews were having some sort of effect on Egyptian culture, and a lot of scholars wonder if Akhenaten influenced Moses or vice-versa, but Osman’s narrative of competing interests in Egyptian religio-politics of the day are fairly convincing, and when I pair them up in my mind with Bob Brier’s The Murder Of Tutankhamen, I get a wonderful I Claudius-esque story of intrigue, murder, and battles between faith and power. Fun fun fun!

A decent comprehensive look at Moses & the Exodus story can also be found in Jonathan Kirsch’s Moses: A Life, which runs a tad long but explores numerous takes on the Moses story, analyzing the Biblical story as well as variations found in Josephus, the Midrash, Talmudic sources, and so on.

But in the end, what are we left with? That’s right… a Good Brisket!

First, I take a decent sized brisket, maybe 3 pounds or so, and trim off nearly all of the layer of fat on its underside. Then, I salt, pepper & paprika both sides before browning it with some olive oil in a deep pot or dutch oven.

Remove the brisket from the pot and add some aromatics to the oil: some shredded carrot, celery, onion & some minced garlic. Stir it all around until it’s translucent and (duh!) aromatic. Then add some chopped tomato (one 15 ounce can for a brisket this size works well)

Then I add a cup of chicken broth and a cup of a good red wine (cabernets and chiantis work well), put the meat back in, bring to a boil, cover, and let simmer for 3-4 hours or until fork tender, turning the meat every half hour. You can also put it covered in a 300 degree oven for the same time. At the end, remove the brisket, cover it with foil and let it rest while you reduce the gravy in the pot by about half and adjust the seasoning. Slice the brisket against the grain, return to the pot and mix it all together.

It’s even better as reheated leftovers. I have NO idea as to the scientific reason why, much like I have NO idea who the Pharaoh of the Exodus was. But I know what I like!

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