Imua 'Iolani

563 Kamoku Street

Honolulu, Hawai'i

imua@iolani.org

The Ten Plagues

December 6, 2018

 

     In life, most everything has a purpose. In the ten biblical plagues, also known as the Plagues of Egypt, God's purpose was to send 10 plagues to Egypt to convince the Pharaoh to set the Hebrews free and to worship God. When the Pharaoh did not do this, the people of Egypt suffered extreme devastation and calamities. Did this really happen? Or, could the ten Plagues have happened in a natural, biological way, without God lending a helping hand to the Hebrews? Although many people think that God has plagued the Egyptians, I think the Ten Plagues would have occurred either way, with or without the help of God.

     The Bible quotes, “In the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants he lifted up the staff and struck the water in the Nile, and all the water in the Nile turned to blood.” The first of the deadly plagues was the Nile River turning into blood, killing all of the aquatic life. Moses was witnessed to turn water into blood at the lift of his staff; however, modern satellite images prove that the process was possible without God’s help. Some estuaries have a propensity to experience algae bloom. If there is algae in the water, and it comes in contact with oxygen and light, the algae blooms. This is commonly known as the Red Tide. The bloom is a red color. The algae extracts oxygen from the water and secretes toxin into the water, killing the aquatic life.

      The fish and other aquatic life die, but the amphibious frog can rise out of the water. This brings us to the second plague, the plague of the frogs. The Bible says that the an abundant amount of frogs leaped out of the Nile River and would terrorize the Egyptians. Frogs would have been able to escape the toxicity of the water, but they would not have been able to go back in. The frogs start to invade the Egyptians’ land (because Hebrews couldn’t own land back then; they were slaves). Although the frogs could have stayed on land for a while, they would have eventually dried out. That is essentially what they end up doing in the Bible.

     The frogs dried and died out, which invited the third plague: gnats and maggots. Gnats and maggots had made the Egyptians, torturing them with itchy, restless nights. When things die, they are prone to infective bugs, such as maggots and gnats. With no frogs to eat them, the maggots thrived… and hatched.

     Maggots are fly eggs. These eggs hatched, and formed the fourth plague, which is the plague of the flies. In the Bible, the flies irritated the Pharaoh’s people so much that he promised to let the Israelites go. Alas, he did not end up keeping his promise, and the Israelites stayed enslaved.

     The flies swarm in large groups, harming cattle, which is the fifth plague. In the Bible, God put a terrible plague on all of the farm animals, cattle, and camels. These flies are infected with deadly diseases. The flies swarm around the cattle, sting them, and effectively pass on the diseases to the cattle. These animals fell ill from the disease that the flies carried.

     However, the farmers not knowing any better, continue to tend to their cattle. The farmers do not realize that the all of the cattle have fallen ill. They contract a specific skin disease called boils, which is the sixth plague. Boils are often transferred between human and animals, and humans. The first six plagues strike in a logical, biological order.

     “The sequence from the Nile to the cattle to the boils; that’s a logical order. Then the writers of the Bible looked at other phenomenons that were extraordinarily destructive. Hails are incredibly destructive,” said `Iolani Chaplain David Smith. “If you were a farmer of leaf-based crops and hail comes, it will absolutely decimate the crops. So the writers said, ‘Well, we’re gonna use a big hailstorm to be another terrible thing that has to happen.’”

     And that’s exactly what they did. The seventh plague, hailstorms, are a meteorological phenomenon that could have happened at anytime in Egypt. “The hail will fall on every man and animal that has not been brought in and is still out in the field, and they will die,” quoted the Bible. However, in Egypt, hailstorms weren’t rare. Hailstorms had come and gone to Egypt often. Another possibility is that the ash from the volcano eruption that had happened around the time of the Ten Plagues clashed with thunderstorms above, creating a destructive hailstorm.

     The eighth plague is locusts. The writers of the stories have seen locusts, which only come out every six to seven years, swarm. Locusts are large insects that consume every crop in their way, as opposed to hail, which simply beats the crops down. When the entirety of an agricultural belt is destroyed by hail or by locusts, then the people suffer. Their food source is taken from them.

     Darkness, which is the ninth plague, can be explained by the Sahara Desert near them, making them more prone to sandstorms. In the Bible, no one could see for three days straight. Sandstorms can be massive and can cover up the light from the sun for miles. Another explanation is given; the Ten Plagues occurred during one of the largest eruptions in human history. The ashes from this eruption could have possibly blocked out the sun, stretching for miles and lasting for days.

     The tenth plague, however, is harder to explain biologically. The plague is death of the first born infant. The deaths of the firstborn children of the Egyptians can be solved using a bit of thinking. Back in Ancient Egypt, birth mortality rates were extremely high, more than 50 percent. Back then, parents were happy if half of their children matured into adults. Many diseases, such as smallpox that can be cured today, were deadly to infants. Maternal mortality was almost higher than infant mortality. If the mother that gave birth to the child would die, there was no breastmilk for them to feed on. Animals’ milk was the only alternative; however, most Israelite families were too poor, and did not own much cattle. The writers were very familiar with infant mortality. Most children died before their second birthdays. First borns were perceived to be the special children, receiving the inheritance and family legacy. The writers added on the detail that every firstborn infant of the Egyptians would die, making the plague significant.

     “The writers had seen these things happen, and realized how incredibly severe they can be and how devastating they can be to a whole population,” said Chaplain Smith. “So they use these events that they had experienced to write the stories.”

     The Ten Plagues did not necessarily have to happen right after each other. The Bible does not specify when they happened, or for how long. However, the Bible says they happened one after another, which is where the confusion may have stemmed.

     “I don’t think that this story was intended to be historically accurate,” said Chaplain Smith. “It wasn’t their purpose. I think that the writers were storytellers, and it was not their intention for the story to be historically accurate. Their intention was to tell a story about the people coming into freedom. This was a freedom tale about how desperately people want to be free, and it’s a story about how God helped them become free.”

 

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