Exodus Plagues: Scientists and Sorcerers
By: William J Jackson
Interestingly enough the ten plagues of Egypt are a very popular topic for our entertainment industry. Many high profile networks have presented documentaries dedicated to explaining the events of those days; *National Geographic, **the History Channel and the ***Discovery Channel just to name but a few. All these docudramas present a hoist of theories and reasons for the phenomenon of the plagues. If HaShem wanted to rely on His natural assets why not? But we should be cautioned not to explain away the miracle by overlooking the details in the Torah.
Turning the Nile Red (Exodus 7:20): Many biologist report that an algae could have turned the Nile red. This would have resulted in fish dying and it’s waters becoming putrid thus supporting Exodus 7:18. This algae could have been the Burgundy Blood algae (1) a toxic bacterium species that get’s it’s name from it’s color. Other theories have gases or silt turning the Nile river red. The problem is in Exodus 7:17. Here G-d states he will turn the Nile waters to “blood”. The Hebrew word used is “dam” (Strong’s 1818) which means blood only. The word for red is “adom” (Strong’s 122). Why wouldn’t that word be used if HaShem was just turning the Nile red? Also lets look deeper into the text. In Exodus 7:19 HaShem did not limit himself to the Nile, He said all the bodies of water to include ponds. He even mentioned water in stone and wood vessels. Yes algae, silt or even gases could contaminate the Nile but what about the waters not connected to the Nile?
The Nile red algae event is thought to have had a domino effect in initiating the other plagues:
– the frogs leave the contaminated Nile (plague 2)
– the frogs die causing an infestation of insects (plague 3 & 4)
– insects bring disease to livestock (plague 5)
– and boils to both livestock and humans (plague 6)
But the Nile turning to blood would cause the same chain of events.
As we move onto plague seven we find it one of the hardest miracles to explain away. As stated in Exodus 9:24 “…there was hail, and fire flaming within the hail”. Rabbi Dr. Darrell Ginsberg and the Jewish Sages have referred to this as “A Miracle within a Miracle”(3). The before mentioned documentaries either don’t touch on this one or give limited hypotheses with no proof. They are seemingly silence as akin to Pharaoh’s magicians in Exodus 8:14-15. Here Pharaoh’s magicians admitted they could not replicate the plague of lice and said it was the finger of G-d. Likewise the scientific community can not explain this plague away, their muteness give testimony it was the finger of G-d.
We see In Exodus 10:14 the introduction of another plague. This is the plague of the locus and is seemingly easy to accept without thought. Locus swarms in Egypt are not all that unusual. Especially where scientist would have to explain them. But as Exodus 10:13 states, these locus came from the East. Locus usually come into Egypt from the Sudan and Ethiopia. This would be a south to south westerly direction. Some bible commentators have assumed that this was a mistake in the Torah (2). Maybe this is HaShem’s signature showing us it was Him behind it and not just some coincident.
Exodus 10:22 ushers in our ninth plague of thick darkness for three days. Many scientist accredit it to a dust storm or even volcanic ash. The problem is Exodus 10:23”…all the children of Israel there was light in their dwellings.” as apposed to the Egyptians who did not. Yes, some could say the dust storm or volcanic ash did not come over Goshen (where the Israelites lived). But HaShem had no problem using the word Goshen for two of the other plagues(flies and hail). Here the word “moshab” is used in relation to His people which means dwelling (Strong’s 4186).
Now the grand finally, Exodus 12:29-30 the death of the first born. The theories range in the scientific community from carbon monoxide poisoning to moldy grain created by the other plagues. In history these factors have attested for mass killings but the death of the first born of both man and animals is a bit surgical to explain away. This like the other plagues cannot be blamed on a mere happenstance, it’s uniqueness gives testimony to the finger of G-d.
Remember Pharaoh’s magicians were also able to replicate the occurrences Moses and Aaron summoned (Exodus 7:11, 22, 8:3). But there is a point that HaShem proved for all that these were His supernatural events and not just coincidences. HaShem wants us to study Torah. In doing this we are worshiping Him. Having somebody give us tidy little answers rob us of getting to know Him and His word.
(2) Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers (Exodus 10:13)
*National Geographic Mysteries of the Bible: Exodus Revealed (2006)
**History Channel, The Exodus Decoded (2006)
***Discovery Channel’s Biblical Mysteries Explained Exodus (2008)