JOSHUA: Moses! There you are at last!
MOSES: Yes, here I am, Joshua.
JOSHUA: I'd almost given up on you.
MOSES: Why, how long have I been up there?
JOSHUA: It's been days and days!
MOSES: Has it? I lost track of the time.
JOSHUA: You've been up there for ever! You might have come down occasionally, to let me know you were still all right.
MOSES: I was communing with the Almighty. It was intense.
JOSHUA: What was it like?
MOSES: It's like a giant shouting into your face.
JOSHUA: Is it? You told me once it was like a still small voice after a great storm.
MOSES: Sometimes it's like that. It can be all kinds of things. It's uplifting. It's sublime. It's terrifying. It's insane. It's like a sandstorm tearing the flesh off your bones.
MOSES: I really didn't realise I'd been up there so long.
JOSHUA: Pretty much everyone else thought you must be dead. They thought I was mad to keep coming here day after day. 'He won't be coming back,' they said. 'He's either dead, or else he's gone wandering off somewhere.'
MOSES: Well, they should know me better than that. I wouldn't just wander off, would I? This is my life's work. I'm the one that brought them out of Egypt.
JOSHUA: That didn't count for anything after a few days. Out of sight is out of mind. You'd be amazed how quickly they lost interest. They stood on the lower slopes gazing upwards for a couple of hours, then they started to get restless. They came back on the second day, but they were already half-hearted about it. They spent the whole day muttering and fidgeting. After that they just lost interest. 'As for this Moses,' they said, 'this man who brought us out of Egypt, who knows what's become of him?'
MOSES: Typical. They're always like that. They're spoilt children. They're an unruly and ungrateful people. 'What did you bring us out of Egypt for? Why didn't you leave us there, where we were happy?' But I'll go down and talk to them. I expect they'll be pleased when they actually see me. Especially when they see these.
JOSHUA: Those? Why, what are they?
MOSES: Tablets of stone, with God's laws on them.
JOSHUA: God's laws?
MOSES: Straight from God himself.
JOSHUA: What, he actually carved them onto the stone himself?
MOSES: No, he didn't actually carve them onto the stone himself. He told me, and I carved them. There's a whole moral code here, for the people to live by.
JOSHUA: Thou shalt not cover thy neighbour's loaf.
MOSES: What? It doesn't say that.
JOSHUA: Yes it does. This bit here.
JOSHUA: This bit.
MOSES: Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife.
JOSHUA: Oh! Right. It's a bit difficult to read, isn't it?
MOSES: Well I was working with primitive tools, and I'm not a stone-carving expert.
JOSHUA: What does covet mean, anyway?
MOSES: It means wish you could possess. Wish you could have your way with.
JOSHUA: Oh! So you're not meant to wish you could have your way with your neighbour's wife.
MOSES: Correct. It's a sin.
JOSHUA: Well, that's me in trouble then.
JOSHUA: Yes, really. I'm always coveting my neighbours' wives. Every time I see a nice-looking wife, I covet her.
MOSES: Well you'll have to stop doing it from now on.
MOSES: Yes, really.
JOSHUA: I'm not sure if I can. I'm not saying I can't stop myself from acting on it. I don't just go around fornicating. I get the impulse, but that's as far as it goes. It's not the coveting that's the sin, is it? It's taking action that's the sin, surely?
MOSES: Thought engenders actions, Joshua. In order to be righteous, we must learn to control not only our actions but our thoughts.
JOSHUA: Well, I think that's asking rather a lot. I sometimes think you need to make a bit more of an allowance for human nature.
MOSES: These commandments come from God. They're not up for negotiation. They are God's word. In order to be saved, we must learn to obey them.
JOSHUA: Good luck explaining that to the people.
MOSES: They're going to have to learn. They either want to be God's people, or they don't.
JOSHUA: That's the whole trouble, though, isn't it? They say they do, but every time it comes down to cases they act as if they don't.
MOSES: They are a stubborn, forgetful and ungrateful congregation.
JOSHUA: But on the other hand, they're only human.
MOSES: Come on, it's time I spoke to them.
JOSHUA: Hold on a minute, Moses.
JOSHUA: The thing is, there's been a bit of a development.
MOSES: What development? What have they done now?
JOSHUA: They've made themselves a brazen bull-calf.
MOSES: They've what?
JOSHUA: They've made themselves -
MOSES: A brazen bull-calf?
JOSHUA: That's right. They all took off their ear-rings and their gold ornaments, melted them down, and made them into a statue of a bull-calf.
MOSES: Hm. That's not so bad in itself.
JOSHUA: Not in itself, no.
MOSES: So what else have you got to tell me?
JOSHUA: That they're now worshipping this bull-calf, and calling it their only god.
JOSHUA: I'm afraid it's true, Moses.
MOSES: A brazen calf? A calf they made themselves with their own gold?
JOSHUA: Yes, I'm afraid so.
MOSES: So they've turned their back on the God of their forefathers - and on me - after the ten plagues, after the angel of the Lord passed over them and slew all the firstborn of Egypt, after the waves of the sea stood aside to let them through dry-shod - after they were guided through day and night by a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire -
JOSHUA: It's probably just a fad.
MOSES: A fad! A fad! Probably just a fad!
JOSHUA: Don't get into one of your passions.
MOSES: Oh, why was I ever born, to be ground to pieces like this, between these unruly people and this unrelenting God? I was once a prince in Egypt! You talk about gold ear-rings and ornaments - the palace where I lived was loaded with gold! My slaves wore necklaces and wristbands of gold! You talk about fornication? - I could have any woman I desired. I only had to gesture to a woman, and she jumped naked into my bed. Why couldn't I be happy? Why couldn't I know when I was well off? But God was eating into my heart. God said to me 'Forget your princedom - you're living a lie - you belong to the tribe of Israel - you see the injustices the Israelites are suffering - stand up in front of Pharaoh, and tell him to let the Israelites go free'. Why did I have to listen? Why didn't I just refuse? I said to him 'No, God, I'm not the right person for this job, I can't talk to Pharaoh, choose somebody else' - but he wouldn't hear me; he wouldn't give me any choice. 'Moses, I have chosen the Israelites as my people, and I have chosen you as my prophet.' That's what he said. 'Now do as I command.' And since that day I've never had a moment's peace.
JOSHUA: I'm sure it hasn't been easy.
MOSES: When we got to the shores of the Red Sea they said 'Why did you bring us out of Egypt? We were happy there! Now we're going to drown in the waves, or be slain by Pharaoh's armies. You said you were going to save us, but you brought us here to die on this shore!' So then the waves parted and let them through dry shod. But when we got to the other side they said 'Why did you bring us away from our homes? Now we're going to perish in this wilderness with nothing to drink!' So I struck the rock with my staff, and water gushed out. But they were happy for about five minutes, and then they said, 'Why did you ever disturb us, when we were living in a land of plenty? Now there's nothing to eat, and we're going to starve here in this desert!' So God sent mana from heaven for them to collect every morning. But still they're not happy! I go up into the mountain to talk to God, and I'm gone for a few days, and when I come back down they've forgotten everything, and made themselves a new god out of a brazen calf!
JOSHUA: That's the situation. Now you've got to decide what to do about it. I daresay they'll change their minds once they see you again.
MOSES: What about my brother Aaron?
JOSHUA: What about him?
MOSES: What was he doing while all this was going on? He's meant to be the High Priest.
JOSHUA: He was the one that made the bull calf.
MOSES: What! You mean he betrayed me! My own brother!
JOSHUA: Moses, you don't know what it's been like down there. Things were really getting out of hand. Everything was breaking down. Everyone thought you were gone for good. And you know what Aaron's like.
MOSES: What do you mean?
JOSHUA: Well, I know he's your brother, and he's the High Priest and everything - but - well, I've never been able to work him out. Who's side's he on? What does he really believe? I haven't got a clue. At times he gives the impression that all he cares about is ritual - any ritual's better than no ritual - he doesn't care about God, or you, or morality, or right and wrong, or any of that stuff - just as long as there's a ritual, and he's in control of it. Then there are other times when you can't tell whether he's being ironic or not. He'll go through a whole elaborate performance, with that poker face of his, and at the end of it you find yourself thinking 'He didn't actually mean any of that. If anything, he meant just the opposite.'
MOSES: Well, he's got an odd sense of humour.
JOSHUA: So he got them to give him all their gold ear-rings and ornaments, and then he melted them down and made this bull-calf. And then he said to them, 'Behold, O Israel, behold the golden calf. This is your one God, O Israel. This bull-calf will save you. Bow down and pray to the bull-calf. Worship the bull-calf.' And of course nobody knew what to think.
MOSES: You mean he was making fun of them.
JOSHUA: Perhaps he was. Perhaps he wasn't. But then a woman who had been unable to give milk suddenly found that her milk was starting to flow - and a man who had been unable to walk got up and said that his legs were better...
MOSES: And they thought it was the golden calf.
JOSHUA: That's right. Next thing you know, the blind were starting to see, lepers were cured, children on the point of death were recovering, the barren were conceiving... And then it just kind of snowballed.
AARON: Moses! Back from the mountain at last, I see.
MOSES: Brother Aaron.
AARON: Not dead or wandered off, then.
MOSES: Of course not.
AARON: What a relief. How pleased the people will be.
MOSES: Everybody knew where I was. And I've been doing exactly what I said I was going to do.
AARON: Which was - ?
MOSES: Talking to God.
AARON: Oh yes. Now I remember. Talking to God. And how was God?
MOSES: God was God.
AARON: Of course. And what are these?
MOSES: Tablets of stone, with God's laws on them. A new moral code, for the people to live by.
AARON: Ah. Excellent. Excellent strategy. Exactly what we need at this juncture. Something new for them to focus their minds on.
MOSES: But while I've been getting these, I gather you've been creating a bull-calf.
AARON: Oh, you've heard about the bull-calf.
JOSHUA: I've just been telling him.
AARON: Thank you, Joshua. But I wouldn't say that I created it.
JOSHUA: I thought you made it with your own hands.
AARON: Only to the same extent that Moses created these tablets of stone.
MOSES: What does that mean? What are you saying?
AARON: There was a vacancy, and the bull-calf filled the vacancy. These things arise for a purpose. If God hadn't wanted there to be a bull-calf, there wouldn't have been any bull-calf.
MOSES: You mean God spoke to you?
AARON: Oh no, Moses, I'm not the one that God speaks to. You're the one that God speaks to.
AARON: In any case, I think we can forget about the bull-calf now.
MOSES: Now that I've come back, you mean, with these laws from God.
AARON: Yes, that, of course. Naturally, that will make all the difference. But also, the people do seem to have rather lost interest of their own accord.
JOSHUA: You mean they've stopped believing in it?
AARON: They seem to have lost faith. The people have once again grown sick of their lot. Some of them blame the bull-calf. Some of them say the bull-calf is punishing them. But they complain about eating mana every single day. They long for meat.
MOSES: Meat! God sends them mana, and they demand meat!
AARON: They say that when -
MOSES: Don't tell me. When they were slaves in Egypt they had meat. All they had to do was ask for meat, and they got meat. Why did they ever come here to this wilderness, to perish for lack of meat?
AARON: Specifically, quail.
AARON: They long for the taste of roasted quail.
JOSHUA: To be fair, quail is extremely nice. I wouldn't say no to a roasted quail myself.
MOSES: I'll give them quail. I'll stuff them so full of quail it'll be coming out of their nostrils.
AARON: And the other development is that a number of new prophets have arisen.
JOSHUA: Prophets! New prophets! I don't like the sound of that.
AARON: The people are now tired of the bull-calf, and tired of the wilderness -
JOSHUA: And tired of the lack of meat.
AARON: Precisely. Tired of their lot, in short. They lack leadership. They lack a sense of direction. They lack a sense of purpose. So individuals have begun to speak up, claiming that they can hear the voice of God. They know what the people should do. They know God's wishes for them. The people have flocked to these new prophets. But of course they all contradict each other.
JOSHUA: I don't like the sound of that, Moses. That sounds like a recipe for chaos.
MOSES: Let them prophecy!
JOSHUA: What, any man that wants to, getting up and claiming to know the mind of God? Each prophet leading the people in a different direction?
MOSES [furiously]: Let them all be prophets! What do I care? Why should I be the one to lead them? Why should they listen to me more than anyone else? Let them worship a golden calf, let them eat quail until it comes out of their nostrils, let them follow their false prophets until they divide into factions and fight against each other and kill each other! Let brother fight against brother! Let parents fight against their children! Let them all perish here in the wilderness! Why should they listen to me? Why should they listen to God? Why should they listen to anybody but themselves? Let each individual be the centre of the universe! Let greed and selfishness be their law! As for these laws here, the laws of God, let them be smashed to pieces! Forget them! Forget them forever!
[He throws the stone tablets on the ground and smashes them.]
JOSHUA: So that's the end, is it? You're just going to give up on the whole thing, are you?
AARON: We need to re-establish some control.
MOSES [slowly]: I'll tell you what I'm going to do.
MOSES: I'm going to go down there and grind that bull-calf into powder, and I'm going to throw it into their water, and I'm going to make them drink it.
AARON: Superb. A supremely theatrical gesture, and a brilliantly apt punishment, rolled into one.
MOSES: And I'll tell you what you're going to do, Joshua.
MOSES: You're going to draw your sword, and go down to the camp, and gather together the Levites, and go to the people, and kill all the bull-worshippers and the false prophets. Kill them all.
JOSHUA: What, kill them?
MOSES: Yes, kill them. Slaughter them. Put them to the sword. Let the earth drink their blood.
JOSHUA: What, really?
MOSES: Yes, really.
JOSHUA: But wasn't one of the laws on those stone tablets 'Thou shalt not kill'?
[Pause. Moses looks down at the tablets.]
MOSES: But I've just broken the stone tablets.