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The Fallacy of Biblical Stories, Part 3: The 10 Plagues of Egypt

Gordy327

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"What I'm saying is, if God wanted to send us a message, and ancient writings were the only way he could think of doing it, he could have done a better job." ---Carl Sagan

For Part 3 in my series on the fallacies of biblical stories, A few individuals have suggested I explore the veracity of the 10 plagues of Egypt, as it seems quite fitting since we are all dealing with a modern day plague in the form of Covid-19. As far as biblical stories go, the plagues of Egypt story is probably one of the more likely possible occurrences. Although, probably not in the way the bible or biblical proponents describe. Many of the plagues are also easily explained. Taken as a whole, the plagues of Egypt also show God as He is oft depicted in the Old Testament, that of a malevolent deity with little concern for anyone caught in his retributive blast radius. So lets get into it. The 10 Plagues of Egypt story goes something like this:

In ancient Egypt, the ancient Hebrews were enslaved and ruled over by a rather cruel Pharaoh. Moses, who apparently won a lottery to be God's representative (why does god need a middleman?), asked the Pharaoh to allow all the Hebrews to be set free and return to their homeland. Naturally, the Pharaoh didn't want to give up his free labor force (after all, building pyramids is an expensive project when one has to pay the laborers). As a result, God decided to show off his cosmic vanity by unleashing 10 plagues on Egypt to show everyone just how powerful he is (talk about overkill). Because a single, precision lightning bolt strike to the Pharaoh somehow would not have been an effective demonstration. Apparently, God also decided to "harden" the Pharaoh's heart (so much for free will) which cause the Pharaoh to refuse to release the Hebrew people, even after each plague occurred, until the 10th plague hit. At that point, the Pharaoh would be free from God's mind control and decided that the Hebrew slaves were too much trouble to have around. Even free pyramid construction just wasn't worth it.

Now let's look at each of the 10 plagues and see the evidence for them and how plausible they are. Bibleinfo lists the Plagues in the bible, as I will briefly address each below. A report in Time Magazine , suggests a volcanic eruption on the island of Santorini in the south of Greece around 1620-1600 BCE resulted in the chain event of the plagues:

Winds would have carried the volcanic ash to Egypt at some point over the summer, and the toxic acids in the volcanic ash would have included the mineral cinnabar, which could have been capable of turning a river a blood-like red color.... The accumulated acidity in the water would have caused frogs to leap out and search for clean water. Insects would have burrowed eggs in the bodies of dead animals and human survivors, which generated larvae and then adult insects. Then, the volcanic ash in the atmosphere would have affected the weather, with acid rain landing on people’s skin, which in turn caused boils. The grass would have been contaminated, poisoning the animals that ate it. The humidity from the rain and the subsequent hail would have created optimal conditions for locusts to thrive. Volcanic eruptions could also explain the several days of darkness — which means nine plagues are accounted for.

Well, that does explain things. But I'll look into the plagues a little bit deeper and try to offer other logical possibilities.

1. Turning water into blood : Two words to easily explain this one: "Red Tide." A red tide is an algae bloom which occurs when conditions are favorable to the algae growth. The ancient Egyptians may have been fantastic engineers to design and build the pyramids. But apparently, they knew little about ecology. So to them, a red algae bloom would have looked like the water turning to blood. Red algae blooms can also be toxic to local marine life, as well as release toxic fumes that can affect people and animals nearby. There is another possible explanation: The Ethiopian highlands are made up of red clay. So it was possible that torrential rains could have started a mud-red flood that turned the Nile red and choked out the fish, which got infected with disease.

2. Lots and lots of frogs : The second plague involves vast quantities of frogs that effectively swarmed everything. This is not an unknown phenomenon. It occurs even today. Thousands of frogs have been known to emerge from their watery habitats in search of food or due to ecological changes. There's nothing to suggest this could not have been a similar occurrence in ancient Egypt. It's possible that the "blood water" from the first plague caused all these frogs to flee from their altered environment, where they subsequently died from the toxins.

---Continued....
 

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...Continued...

3. Lice and Gnats : The third plague involved lots of insects. This is also an easy explanation: Once all the frogs were dead, the bugs had a smorgasbord feasting on the dead frogs (and later dead livestock and dead humans. But I'll get to that soon). And there were no frogs left to keep the bug population in check. In addition, the insects might have been vectors for the transmission of disease, which infected people and animals. Insects causing the effects of disease as described in the 10 Plagues story is supported by science, in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine (2008).

4. A plague of flies : This one could have been combined with the third plague. I suppose biblical writers needed to pad the numbers a bit to get 10 plagues (which follows George Carlin's thoughts on the number 10, ala the 10 Commandments). Still, dead frogs and rotting frog (and later cattle) flesh means more flies. It's quite simple really. In addition, flies could also have been vectors for disease transmission, which also contributed to the later pestilences.

5. Pestilence that killed livestock : The fifth plague saw lots of cattle bite the dust. Which isn't really surprising considering the previous three plagues contributed to it either by livestock becoming infected with disease and/or their grazing areas turning toxic. There was a real viral disease called Rinderpest ("Cattle Plague" in German), which is known to have devastated livestock in Europe and Africa in the 18th-19th centuries. The disease is thought to have originated in Asia and spread to Egypt around 5000 years ago. As a side note, the resulting mass death of livestock could also contribute to starvation and death of the populace. Notice how each plague seems to segue into the next naturally? No magic required or necessary.

6. Boils : So what happens when you have diseased, dead, and rotting animals around, with insects travelling between them and people? Yep, you get diseased people. And boils are a sign of a person infected with a disease. Boils are commonly caused by Staphylococcus aureus, which is naturally on the skin. However, there are strains which can cause severe illness and even death. Boils are also famously associated with the appearance of smallpox , which is thought to have affected communities in Egypt at least 3,000 years ago, based on evidence of smallpox scars found on several mummies dating back to that period. The boils could have been the symptoms of the same disease which infected livestock or other animals.

7. Hailstorm : This one is explained by the aforementioned volcano eruption. Volcanic ash could have mixed with storm clouds above Egypt and result in a destructive hailstorm. That must have been quite a sight.

---Continued...
 

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...Continued...

8. Locusts : While locusts are a "plague," they are hardly "biblical." Swarms of locusts are common in the world today, including Egypt, especially after storms in in high humid conditions. It's not surprising this plague would occur right after a hail or thunder storm. The Weather Channel recently reported the threat of a large swarm of locusts in the Middle East. If locust swarms occur today in the region, it should come as no surprise that it might have occurred during the Plague events too.

9. Who turned out the lights (Darkness) : Uh, maybe it was just simply nighttime? Ok, I'm kidding. But there are a couple explanations for this one, again including volcanic activity. Ash clouds from a volcano would certainly block out any sunlight and cause darkness. Another is the possibility of a large dust storm. Winds may have blown dust and sand from neighboring regions and made worse by the loss of crops (i.e. Dust Bowl). Another possible explanation, put forth in a study by Iurii Mosenkis , states that the darkness coincided with an eclipse on March 5, 1223 B.C., which is supported by NASA . If an eclipse was the case, then that might explain the 10th and final plague (see below), as ancient cultures often viewed solar eclipses as an ill omen or harbinger of doom.

10. God commits infanticide : Now this shows just how evil god really is. He orders the death of all the firstborn infants (and some people take issue with abortion?). Apparently, God had some angels swoop down and kill first born babies. But the angels couldn't distinguish friendly "targets" from enemy ones without lamb blood smeared on the doors of the Hebrews' houses, indicating a no-kill zone. Why God couldn't do this himself is anyone's guess. Although, it's probably better that way, as God has biblically historic bad aim and doesn't worry so much about collateral damage. I mean, just look at the previous plagues. God doesn't take out the one guy responsible. Instead, he takes out the country. But looking at this objectively, one possibility is that when all the other plagues are going on (especially the darkness plague), the Egyptian people probably thought it best to sacrifice their newborn children in the hope that it would appease the angry god/s (human sacrifice was practiced in various cultures throughout history). Another might be the possibility that infant mortality was raised to new levels, considering all the plagues that happened before it.

Unlike Part 1 or Part 2 of the Fallacy of Biblical Stories series, which has empirical evidence to contradict the veracity of those respective stories, The 10 Plagues of Egypt story is actually explained and supported by logical and scientific analysis. However, that does not mean that God was the cause of the plagues or directly controlled them. Each of the plagues has occurred and been observed naturally over time and even today. No divine intervention needed or required. To the ancient Egyptians, it may have seemed to them that some deity was super pissed off at them. But in reality, it was probably just natural world occurrences.
 

Elora

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Now this shows just how evil god really is.
No, it shows how evil Pharaoh was...he knew by the 10th plague that God meant business but he didn't care...his actions, or lack thereof is what killed them...
 

Gordy327

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No, it shows how evil Pharaoh was...he knew by the 10th plague that God meant business but he didn't care...his actions, or lack thereof is what killed them...
God simply could have taken out the Pharaoh himself. Instead, he kills an innocent populace under the Pharaoh's rule. I'm sure those newborns were quite evil and deserved death, eh?
 

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No, it shows how evil Pharaoh was...he knew by the 10th plague that God meant business but he didn't care...his actions, or lack thereof is what killed them...

Pharaoh wanted to let the Hebrews go. God mind controlled him so he wouldn’t, violating his free will (“hardened his heart”).
 

Elora

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Pharaoh wanted to let the Hebrews go. God mind controlled him so he wouldn’t, violating his free will (“hardened his heart”).
Of course, when considering context, Jehovah hardened Pharaoh's heart as a result of the message sent to him by Moses and Aaron, and that the repeated extension of God’s mercy to him would not soften him but would cause his heart to harden even more...the wicked tend to interpret Jehovah’s long-suffering as a sign of weakness, becoming even more set in their evil ways, thinking the time of reckoning will never come...Ecclesiastes confirms such...

“Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.”
 

Gordy327

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Of course, when considering context, Jehovah hardened Pharaoh's heart as a result of the message sent to him by Moses and Aaron, and that the repeated extension of God’s mercy to him would not soften him but would cause his heart to harden even more...the wicked tend to interpret Jehovah’s long-suffering as a sign of weakness, becoming even more set in their evil ways, thinking the time of reckoning will never come...Ecclesiastes confirms such...

“Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do
That doesn't negate the trauma God's actions caused to innocent people. Especially if such actions were eventually futile.
 

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Of course, when considering context, Jehovah hardened Pharaoh's heart as a result of the message sent to him by Moses and Aaron, and that the repeated extension of God’s mercy to him would not soften him but would cause his heart to harden even more...the wicked tend to interpret Jehovah’s long-suffering as a sign of weakness, becoming even more set in their evil ways, thinking the time of reckoning will never come...Ecclesiastes confirms such...

“Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.”

So why didn’t your God kill the Pharaoh rather than murdering innocent children?

If the next Pharaoh also attempted to persecute the Hebrews, kill him too. Rinse and repeat until there are either no more Pharaohs or they stop persecuting the Hebrews.

But I guess your God wasn’t smart enough to figure out a solution that didn’t involve killing kids.
 

Gordy327

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So why didn’t your God kill the Pharaoh rather than murdering innocent children?

If the next Pharaoh also attempted to persecute the Hebrews, kill him too. Rinse and repeat until there are either no more Pharaohs or they stop persecuting the Hebrews.

But I guess your God wasn’t smart enough to figure out a solution that didn’t involve killing kids.
Let's not forget the Hebrews we're also left wandering the desert for 40 years. It seems God didn't think his plan through for freeing the jews. I guess God made it up as he went along. talk about poor planning.
 

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Let's not forget the Hebrews we're also left wandering the desert for 40 years. It seems God didn't think his plan through for freeing the jews. I guess God made it up as he went along. talk about poor planning.
Sure He did...it was the Hebrews who screwed up by their disobedience/lack of faith in God...Numbers 13:25-14:38...those who do not listen to Jehovah suffer...
 

Gordy327

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Sure He did...it was the Hebrews who screwed up by their disobedience/lack of faith in God...Numbers 13:25-14:38...those who do not listen to Jehovah suffer...
Oh, so God was being a vindictive A-hole all around then. Got it.
 

Gordy327

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No, the Hebrews were being whiny brats...
It seems God wasted his time then. Instead, he was just being his usual smite happy self.
 
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