Noson Waintman

Pharaoh Father of Propaganda

  1. Pharaoh Father of Propaganda

Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who knew not Joseph. 9 And he said unto his people: ‘Behold, the people of the children of Israel are too many and too mighty for us; 10 come, let us deal wisely with them, lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there befalleth us any war, they also join themselves unto our enemies, and fight against us, and get them up out of the land…. 13 And the Egyptians made the children of Israel to serve with rigor…23 And it came to pass in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt died; and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage. 24 And God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. 25 And God saw the children of Israel, and God took cognizance of them. Exodus 1:8-10, 13,2:23-25

Edward Bernays, the “father of public relations,”(1) is often cynically referred to as the father of propaganda, but the Pharaoh of the Exodus is a much earlier strong contender for that title. Pharaoh was a totalitarian who, like all his ilk, made extensive use of propaganda and like all propagandists eventually lost the ability to differentiate between actual truth and his own truth. In short, Pharaoh got drunk on his own Kool-Aid.

Pharaoh engaged in the classic techniques of the propagandist. He “othered” the Jews, reducing them to less than people, he claimed that they were not the valued members of Egyptian society that they were, he misused economics to create rationalist technocratic arguments against the Jews, and he accused the Jews of being an internal threat. The worst part of it all, at least for him, was that it was all in his head and the inevitable result was that he brought down the wrath of God upon him.

“Othering” is what social scientists call treating others as different and inferior to the dominant group (2). Pharaoh “othered” the Jews by claiming not to know who they were and how they had contributed to his society and indeed had saved it through the person of Joseph. “A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph.” (Exodus 1:8) Whether this Pharaoh did not have a personal relationship with Joseph, the sort of relationship that would have kept him from thinking of Joseph and his people as not valued members of Egyptian society or whether he acted as if he did not know Joseph, the lesson is the same. It is more difficult to persecute and murder people who are your friends, colleagues, and neighbors, it is easy to persecute and even murder people who you don’t “know.” People who are not your friends, who are no longer colleagues and neighbors are much easier targets. And so Pharaoh “did not know Joseph.”

Besides “othering” the Jews, Pharaoh also claimed that they were not the valued members of Egyptian society that they were. He set up an “us” vs “them” mentality. He created two groups, “his people,” and “the Jews.” “And he (Pharaoh) said to his people, ‘Look, the Israelite people are much too numerous for us.’” (Exodus 1:9) The Jew, no matter his contribution to Egyptian society, indeed his contribution to the Pharaohs themselves in creating a system of serfdom subjected to the Pharaoh, is no longer to be considered part of “his people.” They are not Pharaoh’s subjects, he has no responsibility to them.

Pharaoh then adopted an economics-based rationalist technocratic approach to the Jews. A famine mentality against the people who taught him how to survive a famine. “The Israelite people are much too numerous for us.” In other words, we the “native” Egyptians would love to have them, but they are taking too many resources away from “us.” We would love to have them, and we would love to support their way of life, but we just can’t support them in our economic system, the excuse of technocratic totalitarianism of all ages.

And then, like the totalitarian propagandist he was, Pharaoh claimed that the Jews were a clear and present danger, an internal threat, fifth columnists, insurrectionists. “Lest they multiply, and it comes to pass, that, when there befalleth us any war, they also join themselves unto our enemies, and fight against us.” They were a threat to the Egyptian way of life. Therefore it was prudent and even moral to, “deal wisely with them.”

Pharaoh was seemingly successful. The Egyptian people, or at least the elite, lined up behind him in his campaign. If they had had newspapers or TV stations in his day, he would have seen in-depth features confirming his arguments against the Jews.

The problem was that it was all in his head. And the result was eventually his fantasy collapsed. This was after a while, perhaps even after he died, but eventually, “God heard their groaning,” and He sent Moses to redeem the Jews and He decimated Egypt.

One can create and sustain fictional realities for whatever reason, perhaps the greatest example of this in modern times was Ceaușescu, the Communist dictator of Romania, who seemed to believe all of his considerable propaganda and was reportedly shocked at the populist revolt against him and his eventual lethal defenestration (3). 

Pharaoh may have wanted to shore up power with his base like modern propagandists often want to, and totalitarian fantasies like Pharaoh’s can last for two generations or so like in the USSR, or around three or four like the actual slavery in Egypt (4), but eventually, at some point, the sand castle of imagination will tumble down. 

And then even a Pharaoh will be humbled.


  1. Held, L. (2009, December 1). Psychoanalysis shapes consumer culture. Monitor on Psychology, 40(11).

  2. Griffin, Gabriele. “othering.” A Dictionary of Gender Studies. : Oxford University Press, . Oxford Reference. Date Accessed 11 Apr. 2023 <>.

  3. Ilie, Corne. “The History of Romania in One Object: Ceaușescu’s Personality Cult in  Paintings.” The History of Romania in One Object: Ceaușescu’s Personality Cult in Paintings, The Romanian Cultural Institute, 27 July 2020,

  4. Rosenfeld, Dovid. “Duration of Slavery in Egypt.”, Aish, 20 Dec. 2021,

About the Author
Noson Waintman obtained his M.S. from the Zicklin School of Business of the City University of New York and his B.A. and Rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva University. A native of Canada, he currently resides in Rehovot, Israel.
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