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Plagues of Egypt

Plagues of Egypt

Overview
The Plagues of Egypt also called the Ten Plagues or the Biblical Plagues, were ten calamities that, according to the biblical
Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

 Book of Exodus, Israel's God, Yahweh
Yahweh
Yahweh is the name of God in the Bible, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Jews and Christians.The word Yahweh is a modern scholarly convention for the Hebrew , transcribed into Roman letters as YHWH and known as the Tetragrammaton, for which the original pronunciation is unknown...

, inflicted upon Egypt
Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt was an ancient civilization of Northeastern Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in what is now the modern country of Egypt. Egyptian civilization coalesced around 3150 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first pharaoh...

 to persuade Pharaoh to release the ill-treated Israelites from slavery. Pharaoh capitulated after the tenth plague, triggering the Exodus
The Exodus
The Exodus is the story of the departure of the Israelites from ancient Egypt described in the Hebrew Bible.Narrowly defined, the term refers only to the departure from Egypt described in the Book of Exodus; more widely, it takes in the subsequent law-givings and wanderings in the wilderness...

 of the Jewish people. The plagues were designed to contrast the power of Yahweh with the impotence of Egypt's various gods.
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Encyclopedia
The Plagues of Egypt also called the Ten Plagues or the Biblical Plagues, were ten calamities that, according to the biblical
Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

 Book of Exodus, Israel's God, Yahweh
Yahweh
Yahweh is the name of God in the Bible, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Jews and Christians.The word Yahweh is a modern scholarly convention for the Hebrew , transcribed into Roman letters as YHWH and known as the Tetragrammaton, for which the original pronunciation is unknown...

, inflicted upon Egypt
Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt was an ancient civilization of Northeastern Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in what is now the modern country of Egypt. Egyptian civilization coalesced around 3150 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first pharaoh...

 to persuade Pharaoh to release the ill-treated Israelites from slavery. Pharaoh capitulated after the tenth plague, triggering the Exodus
The Exodus
The Exodus is the story of the departure of the Israelites from ancient Egypt described in the Hebrew Bible.Narrowly defined, the term refers only to the departure from Egypt described in the Book of Exodus; more widely, it takes in the subsequent law-givings and wanderings in the wilderness...

 of the Jewish people. The plagues were designed to contrast the power of Yahweh with the impotence of Egypt's various gods. Some commentators have associated several of the plagues with judgment on specific gods associated with the Nile
Nile
The Nile is a major north-flowing river in North Africa, generally regarded as the longest river in the world. It is long. It runs through the ten countries of Sudan, South Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Egypt.The Nile has two major...

, fertility and natural phenomena. According to the Book of Exodus, God proclaims that all the gods of Egypt will be judged through the tenth and final plague:
The Plagues of Egypt are believed to be historical by many Jews
Jews
The Jews , also known as the Jewish people, are a nation and ethnoreligious group originating in the Israelites or Hebrews of the Ancient Near East. The Jewish ethnicity, nationality, and religion are strongly interrelated, as Judaism is the traditional faith of the Jewish nation...

 and Christians. They are also briefly mentioned in the Quran (7,133–136).

Biblical narrative


The plagues as they appear in the Bible are:
  1. Water
    Water
    Water is a chemical substance with the chemical formula H2O. A water molecule contains one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms connected by covalent bonds. Water is a liquid at ambient conditions, but it often co-exists on Earth with its solid state, ice, and gaseous state . Water also exists in a...

    , which turned to blood
    Blood
    Blood is a specialized bodily fluid in animals that delivers necessary substances such as nutrients and oxygen to the cells and transports metabolic waste products away from those same cells....

     and killed all fish and other aquatic life
  2. Frog
    Frog
    Frogs are amphibians in the order Anura , formerly referred to as Salientia . Most frogs are characterized by a short body, webbed digits , protruding eyes and the absence of a tail...

    s
  3. Lice 
  4. Flies
    Fly
    True flies are insects of the order Diptera . They possess a pair of wings on the mesothorax and a pair of halteres, derived from the hind wings, on the metathorax...

     or wild animals
  5. Disease on livestock
    Livestock
    Livestock refers to one or more domesticated animals raised in an agricultural setting to produce commodities such as food, fiber and labor. The term "livestock" as used in this article does not include poultry or farmed fish; however the inclusion of these, especially poultry, within the meaning...

     
  6. Unhealable boil
    Boil
    A boil, also called a furuncle, is a deep folliculitis, infection of the hair follicle. It is always caused by infection by the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus, resulting in a painful swollen area on the skin caused by an accumulation of pus and dead tissue...

    s
  7. Hail
    Hail
    Hail is a form of solid precipitation. It consists of balls or irregular lumps of ice, each of which is referred to as a hail stone. Hail stones on Earth consist mostly of water ice and measure between and in diameter, with the larger stones coming from severe thunderstorms...

     and thunder
  8. Locust
    Locust
    Locusts are the swarming phase of short-horned grasshoppers of the family Acrididae. These are species that can breed rapidly under suitable conditions and subsequently become gregarious and migratory...

    s
  9. Darkness
    Darkness
    Darkness, in contrast with brightness, is a relative absence of visible light. It is the appearance of black in a color space. When light is not present, rod and cone cells within the eye are not stimulated. This lack of stimulation means photoreceptor cells are unable to distinguish color...

     
  10. Death of the first-born of all humans and animals who did not have marked doorposts


The first three plagues seemed to affect "all the land of Egypt," while the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 9th did not affect the children of Israel. Conditions of the 8th plague are unclear. For the last plague the Torah
Torah
Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five books of the bible—Genesis , Exodus , Leviticus , Numbers and Deuteronomy Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five...

 indicates that they were only spared from the final plague by sacrificing
Korban
The term offering as found in the Hebrew Bible in relation to the worship of Ancient Israel is mainly represented by the Hebrew noun korban whether for an animal or other offering...

 the Paschal lamb
Korban Pesach
The Passover sacrifice , also known as the "sacrifice of Passover", the "Paschal Lamb" is the sacrifice that the Torah mandates to be brought on the eve of Passover, and eaten on the first night of the holiday with bitter herbs and matzo. According to the Torah, it was first offered on the night of...

, marking their doorpost with the lamb's blood, and eating the roasted sacrifice together with Matzo
Matzo
Matzo or matzah is an unleavened bread traditionally eaten by Jews during the week-long Passover holiday, when eating chametz—bread and other food which is made with leavened grain—is forbidden according to Jewish law. Currently, the most ubiquitous type of Matzo is the traditional Ashkenazic...

t
(לחם עוני) in a celebratory feast. The Torah describes the angel of death as actually passing through Egypt to kill all firstborn children, but passing over (hence "Passover
Passover
Passover is a Jewish holiday and festival. It commemorates the story of the Exodus, in which the ancient Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt...

") houses which have the sign of lambs' blood on the doorpost. The night of this plague, Pharaoh finally relents and sends the Israelites away under their terms.

After the Israelites leave en masse, a departure known as The Exodus
The Exodus
The Exodus is the story of the departure of the Israelites from ancient Egypt described in the Hebrew Bible.Narrowly defined, the term refers only to the departure from Egypt described in the Book of Exodus; more widely, it takes in the subsequent law-givings and wanderings in the wilderness...

, Yahweh
Yahweh
Yahweh is the name of God in the Bible, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Jews and Christians.The word Yahweh is a modern scholarly convention for the Hebrew , transcribed into Roman letters as YHWH and known as the Tetragrammaton, for which the original pronunciation is unknown...

 introduces himself by name and makes an exclusive covenant with the Israelites on the basis of this miraculous deliverance. The Ten Commandments
Ten Commandments
The Ten Commandments, also known as the Decalogue , are a set of biblical principles relating to ethics and worship, which play a fundamental role in Judaism and most forms of Christianity. They include instructions to worship only God and to keep the Sabbath, and prohibitions against idolatry,...

 encapsulate the terms of this covenant. Joshua
Joshua
Joshua , is a minor figure in the Torah, being one of the spies for Israel and in few passages as Moses's assistant. He turns to be the central character in the Hebrew Bible's Book of Joshua...

, the successor to Moses, reminds the people of their deliverance through the plagues. According to 1 Samuel, the Philistines
Philistines
Philistines , Pleshet or Peleset, were a people who occupied the southern coast of Canaan at the beginning of the Iron Age . According to the Bible, they ruled the five city-states of Gaza, Askelon, Ashdod, Ekron and Gath, from the Wadi Gaza in the south to the Yarqon River in the north, but with...

 also knew of the plagues and feared their Author. Later, the psalmist sang of these events.

The Torah also relates God's instructions to Moses
Moses
Moses was, according to the Hebrew Bible and Qur'an, a religious leader, lawgiver and prophet, to whom the authorship of the Torah is traditionally attributed...

 that the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt must be celebrated early on the holiday of Passover
Passover
Passover is a Jewish holiday and festival. It commemorates the story of the Exodus, in which the ancient Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt...

 ("Pesach" פסח); the rituals observed on Passover recall the events surrounding the exodus from Egypt. The Torah additionally cites God's sparing of the Israelite firstborn as a rationale for the commandment of the redemption of the firstborn
Pidyon HaBen
The Pidyon HaBen, or Redemption of the first born son, is a mitzvah in Judaism whereby a Jewish firstborn son is redeemed by use of silver coins from his birth-state of sanctity....

. This event is also commemorated by the fast of the firstborn
Fast of the firstborn
Fast of the Firstborn ; is a unique fast day in Judaism which usually falls on the day before Passover...

 on the day preceding Passover but which is traditionally not observed because a siyum
Siyum
A siyum means the completion of any unit of Torah study, or book of the Mishnah or Talmud in Judaism. A siyum is usually followed by a celebratory meal, or seudat mitzvah, a meal in honor of a mitzvah, or commandment...

 celebration is held which obviates the need for a fast.

It seems that the celebration of Passover waned from time to time, since other biblical books provide references to revival of the holiday. For example, it was reinstated by Joshua at Gilgal, by Josiah
Josiah
Josiah or Yoshiyahu or Joshua was a king of Judah who instituted major reforms. Josiah is credited by most historians with having established or compiled important Jewish scriptures during the Deuteronomic reform that occurred during his rule.Josiah became king of Judah at the age of eight, after...

, by Hezekiah
Hezekiah
Hezekiah was the son of Ahaz and the 14th king of Judah. Edwin Thiele has concluded that his reign was between c. 715 and 686 BC. He is also one of the most prominent kings of Judah mentioned in the Hebrew Bible....

 and, after the return from the captivity, by Ezra
Ezra
Ezra , also called Ezra the Scribe and Ezra the Priest in the Book of Ezra. According to the Hebrew Bible he returned from the Babylonian exile and reintroduced the Torah in Jerusalem...

. By the time of the Second Temple
Second Temple
The Jewish Second Temple was an important shrine which stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem between 516 BCE and 70 CE. It replaced the First Temple which was destroyed in 586 BCE, when the Jewish nation was exiled to Babylon...

 it was firmly established in Israel.

Context


The reason for the plagues appears to be twofold: to answer Pharaoh's taunt, “Who is Yahweh, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go?” and to indelibly impress the Israelites with Yahweh's power as an object lesson for all time, which was also meant to become known “throughout the world”.

According to the Torah, God hardened Pharaoh's heart so he would be strong enough to persist in his unwillingness to release the people, so that God could manifest his great power and cause it to be declared among the nations
With a strong hand and an outstretched arm
With a strong hand and an outstretched arm is a phrase in Judaic tradition representing God's use of his power on behalf of the Jews.-Origin:...

, so that other people would discuss it for generations afterward. In this view, the plagues were punishment for the Egyptians' long abuse of the Israelites, as well as proof that the gods of Egypt were powerless by comparison. If God triumphed over the gods of Egypt, a world power at that time, then the people of God would be strengthened in their faith, although they were a small people, and would not be tempted to follow the deities that God put to shame. Exodus portrays Yahweh explaining why he did not accomplish the freedom of the Israelites immediately:

Plagues



The following is a summary of the Biblical account of the plagues which is found in chapters 7–12 of Exodus.

Beginning of the curses: Ex. 5:1–9, 7:8–13


Moses and Aaron approached the Pharaoh, and to deliver God's demand that the Israelite slaves be allowed to leave Egypt so that they could worship God freely. After an initial refusal by the Pharaoh, God sent Moses and Aaron back to show him a miraculous sign of warning – Moses' staff
Nehushtan
The Nehushtan , in the Hebrew Bible, was a sacred object in the form of a snake of brass upon a pole.The priestly source of the Torah says that Moses used a 'fiery serpent' to cure the Israelites from snakebites...

 turned into a serpent. Pharaoh's sorcerers
Iannes
Jannes and Jambres, or sometimes Johanai and Mamre, or Iannes and Mambres, or Janis and Jamberes, are names traditionally given to the magicians who contended with Moses and Aaron and were discomfited by the Hebrew leaders in the Hebrew Bible Book of Exodus.-Hebrew Bible:According to Exodus 7:10-12...

 also turned their staffs into snakes, but Moses's then proceeded to swallow theirs before turning back into a staff.

1. Plague of blood (דָם): Ex. 7:14–25


The first plague was blood
Blood
Blood is a specialized bodily fluid in animals that delivers necessary substances such as nutrients and oxygen to the cells and transports metabolic waste products away from those same cells....

. God instructed Moses to raise his staff over the river Nile
Nile
The Nile is a major north-flowing river in North Africa, generally regarded as the longest river in the world. It is long. It runs through the ten countries of Sudan, South Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Egypt.The Nile has two major...

; all of its water turned into blood
Blood
Blood is a specialized bodily fluid in animals that delivers necessary substances such as nutrients and oxygen to the cells and transports metabolic waste products away from those same cells....

. As a result of the blood, the fish of the Nile died, filling Egypt with an awful stench. Other water resources used by the Egyptians
Egyptians
Egyptians are nation an ethnic group made up of Mediterranean North Africans, the indigenous people of Egypt.Egyptian identity is closely tied to geography. The population of Egypt is concentrated in the lower Nile Valley, the small strip of cultivable land stretching from the First Cataract to...

 were turned to blood as well (7:19). Pharaoh's sorcerers demonstrated that they too could turn water into blood, and Pharaoh therefore made no concession to Moses' demands.

2. Plague of frogs (צְּפַרְדֵּעַ): Ex. 7:25–8:11


The second plague of Egypt was frog
Frog
Frogs are amphibians in the order Anura , formerly referred to as Salientia . Most frogs are characterized by a short body, webbed digits , protruding eyes and the absence of a tail...

s. God commanded Moses to stretch the staff over the water, and hordes of frogs came and overran Egypt. Pharaoh's sorcerers were also able to duplicate this plague with their magic. However, since they were unable to remove it, Pharaoh was forced to grant permission for the Israelites to leave so that Moses would agree to remove the frogs. To prove that the plague was actually a divine punishment, Moses let Pharaoh choose the time that it would end. Pharaoh chose the following day, and all the frogs died the next day. Nevertheless, Pharaoh rescinded his permission, and the Israelites stayed in Egypt.

3. Plague of lice (כִּנִּים): Ex. 8:12–15


The third plague of Egypt was lice
Louse
Lice is the common name for over 3,000 species of wingless insects of the order Phthiraptera; three of which are classified as human disease agents...

. God instructed Moses to tell Aaron to take the staff and strike at the dust, which turned into a mass of lice that the Egyptians could not get rid of. The Egyptian sorcerers declared that this act was "the finger of God" since they were unable to reproduce its effects with their magic.

4. Plague of flies or wild animals (עָרוֹב): Ex. 8:20–32


The fourth plague of Egypt was of animals capable of harming people and livestock. The Torah emphasizes that the arov ("mixture" or "swarm") only came against the Egyptians, and that it did not affect the Land of Goshen
Land of Goshen
The Land of Goshen is named in the bible as the place in Egypt given to the Hebrews by the pharaoh of Joseph, and the land from which they later left Egypt at the time of the Exodus...

 (where the Israelites lived). Pharaoh asked Moses to remove this plague and promised to allow the Israelites' freedom. However, after the plague was gone, Pharaoh "hardened his heart" and again refused to keep his promise.

The word עָרוֹב has caused a difference of opinion among traditional interpreters. The root meaning is related to mixing. While most traditional interpreters understand the plague as "wild animals", Gesenius along with many modern interpreters understand the plague as a swarm of flies
Fly
True flies are insects of the order Diptera . They possess a pair of wings on the mesothorax and a pair of halteres, derived from the hind wings, on the metathorax...

.

5. Plague of pestilence (דֶּבֶר): Ex. 9:1–7


The fifth plague of Egypt was an epidemic disease
Epidemic
In epidemiology, an epidemic , occurs when new cases of a certain disease, in a given human population, and during a given period, substantially exceed what is expected based on recent experience...

 which exterminated the Egyptian livestock
Livestock
Livestock refers to one or more domesticated animals raised in an agricultural setting to produce commodities such as food, fiber and labor. The term "livestock" as used in this article does not include poultry or farmed fish; however the inclusion of these, especially poultry, within the meaning...

; that is, horse
Horse
The horse is one of two extant subspecies of Equus ferus, or the wild horse. It is a single-hooved mammal belonging to the taxonomic family Equidae. The horse has evolved over the past 45 to 55 million years from a small multi-toed creature into the large, single-toed animal of today...

s, donkey
Donkey
The donkey or ass, Equus africanus asinus, is a domesticated member of the Equidae or horse family. The wild ancestor of the donkey is the African Wild Ass, E...

s, camel
Camel
A camel is an even-toed ungulate within the genus Camelus, bearing distinctive fatty deposits known as humps on its back. There are two species of camels: the dromedary or Arabian camel has a single hump, and the bactrian has two humps. Dromedaries are native to the dry desert areas of West Asia,...

s, cattle
Cattle
Cattle are the most common type of large domesticated ungulates. They are a prominent modern member of the subfamily Bovinae, are the most widespread species of the genus Bos, and are most commonly classified collectively as Bos primigenius...

, sheep and goat
Goat
The domestic goat is a subspecies of goat domesticated from the wild goat of southwest Asia and Eastern Europe. The goat is a member of the Bovidae family and is closely related to the sheep as both are in the goat-antelope subfamily Caprinae. There are over three hundred distinct breeds of...

s. The Israelites' cattle were unharmed. Once again, Pharaoh made no concessions.

6. Plague of boils (שְׁחִין): Ex. 9:8–12


The sixth plague of Egypt was shkhin. The Shkhin was a kind of skin disease, usually translated as "boils". God commanded Moses and Aaron to each take two handfuls of soot from a furnace, which Moses scattered skyward in Pharaoh's presence. The soot induced festering Shkhin eruptions on Egyptian men and livestock. The Egyptian sorcerers were afflicted along with everyone else, and were unable to heal themselves, much less the rest of Egypt.

7. Plague of hail (בָּרָד): Ex. 9:13–35


The seventh plague of Egypt was a destructive storm
Storm
A storm is any disturbed state of an astronomical body's atmosphere, especially affecting its surface, and strongly implying severe weather...

. God commanded Moses to stretch his staff skyward, at which point the storm commenced. It was even more evidently supernatural than the previous plagues, a powerful shower of hail
Hail
Hail is a form of solid precipitation. It consists of balls or irregular lumps of ice, each of which is referred to as a hail stone. Hail stones on Earth consist mostly of water ice and measure between and in diameter, with the larger stones coming from severe thunderstorms...

 intermixed with fire
Fire
Fire is the rapid oxidation of a material in the chemical process of combustion, releasing heat, light, and various reaction products. Slower oxidative processes like rusting or digestion are not included by this definition....

. The storm heavily damaged Egyptian orchard
Orchard
An orchard is an intentional planting of trees or shrubs that is maintained for food production. Orchards comprise fruit or nut-producing trees which are grown for commercial production. Orchards are also sometimes a feature of large gardens, where they serve an aesthetic as well as a productive...

s and crops
Agriculture
Agriculture is the cultivation of animals, plants, fungi and other life forms for food, fiber, and other products used to sustain life. Agriculture was the key implement in the rise of sedentary human civilization, whereby farming of domesticated species created food surpluses that nurtured the...

, as well as people and livestock. The storm struck all of Egypt except for the Land of Goshen. Pharaoh asked Moses to remove this plague and promised to allow the Israelites to worship God in the desert, saying "This time I have sinned; God is righteous, I and my people are wicked." As a show of God's mastery over the world, the hail stopped as soon as Moses began praying to God. However, after the storm ceased, Pharaoh again "hardened his heart" and refused to keep his promise.

8. Plague of locusts (אַרְבֶּה): Ex. 10:1–20


It began day 1 of the Hebrew Month of Shevat: The eighth plague of Egypt was locust
Locust
Locusts are the swarming phase of short-horned grasshoppers of the family Acrididae. These are species that can breed rapidly under suitable conditions and subsequently become gregarious and migratory...

s. Before the plague, God informed Moses that from that point on He would "harden Pharaoh's heart," (as promised earlier in 4:21) so that Pharaoh would not give in, and the remaining miracles (the final plagues and the splitting of the sea
Passage of the Red Sea
The Crossing of the Red Sea is a passage in the Biblical narrative of the escape of the Israelites from the pursuing Egyptians in the Book of Exodus . This story is also mentioned in the Qur'an in Surah 26: Al-Shu'ara' in verses 60-67...

) would play out.

As with previous plagues, Moses came to Pharaoh and warned him of the impending plague of locusts. Pharaoh's officials begged him to let the Israelites go rather than suffer the devastating effects of a locust-swarm, but he was still unwilling to give in. He proposed a compromise: the Israelite men would be allowed to go, while women, children and livestock would remain in Egypt. Moses repeated God's demand that every last person and animal should go, but Pharaoh refused.

God then had Moses stretch his staff over Egypt, and a wind picked up from the east. The wind continued until the following day, when it brought a locust swarm. The swarm covered the sky, casting a shadow over Egypt. It consumed all the remaining Egyptian crops, leaving no tree or plant standing. Pharaoh again asked Moses to remove this plague and promised to allow all the Israelites to worship God in the desert. As promised, God sent a wind that blew the locusts into the Red Sea. However, he also hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he did not allow the Israelites to leave.

9. Plague of darkness (חוֹשֶך): Ex. 10:21–29


In the ninth plague, God commanded Moses to stretch his hands up to the sky, to bring darkness upon Egypt. This darkness was so heavy that an Egyptian could physically feel it. It lasted for three days, during which time there was light in the homes of the Israelites. Pharaoh then called to Moses and offered to let all the Israelites leave, if only the darkness would be removed from his land. However, he required that their sheep and cattle stay. Moses refused, and went on to say that before long, Pharaoh himself would offer to provide animals for sacrifice. Pharaoh, outraged, then threatened to execute Moses if he should again appear before Pharaoh. Moses replied that he would indeed not visit the Pharaoh again.

This plague was an attack aimed directly at Pharaoh's god Ra
Ra
Ra is the ancient Egyptian sun god. By the Fifth Dynasty he had become a major deity in ancient Egyptian religion, identified primarily with the mid-day sun...

, the Egyptian sun god. By introducing the plague of darkness, Moses attempted to demonstrate the clear power of Yahweh
Yahweh
Yahweh is the name of God in the Bible, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Jews and Christians.The word Yahweh is a modern scholarly convention for the Hebrew , transcribed into Roman letters as YHWH and known as the Tetragrammaton, for which the original pronunciation is unknown...

; and the folly of worshipping the Egyptian Gods.

10. Death of the firstborn (מַכַּת בְּכוֹרוֹת): Ex. 11:1–12:36


Before this final plague, God commanded Moses to inform all the Israelites to mark lamb
Domestic sheep
Sheep are quadrupedal, ruminant mammals typically kept as livestock. Like all ruminants, sheep are members of the order Artiodactyla, the even-toed ungulates. Although the name "sheep" applies to many species in the genus Ovis, in everyday usage it almost always refers to Ovis aries...

's blood on the doorposts on every door in which case the LORD will pass over them and not "suffer the destroyer to come into your houses and smite you" (chapter 12, v. 23), thus sparing all the Israelite first-borns in households that followed the instructions. This was the hardest blow upon Egypt and the plague that finally convinced Pharaoh to submit, and let the Israelites go.

After this, Pharaoh, furious, saddened, and afraid that he would be killed next, ordered the Israelites to go away, taking whatever they wanted. The Israelites did not hesitate, believing that soon Pharaoh would once again change his mind; and at the end of that night Moses led them out of Egypt with "arms upraised".

Scholarly interpretation


The story of the plagues is heavily reliant on the Deuteronomistic history and the prophetic books of Amos, Isaiah and Ezekiel, suggesting that it was composed in 6th century BCE at the earliest. The book of Deuteronomy
Deuteronomy
The Book of Deuteronomy is the fifth book of the Hebrew Bible, and of the Jewish Torah/Pentateuch...

, in which Moses reviews the events of the past, mentions the "diseases of Egypt" (Deuteronomy 7:15 and 28:60), but means something that afflicted the Israelites, not the Egyptians; in fact it never mention the plagues of the book of Exodus and seems to know nothing about them. The Exodus plagues are divine judgements, a series of curses like those in Deuteronomy 28:15-68, which mention many of the same afflictions; they are even closer to the curses in the Holiness code
Holiness code
The Holiness Code is a term used in biblical criticism to refer to Leviticus 17-26, and is so called due to its highly repeated use of the word Holy. It has no special traditional religious significance and traditional Jews and Christians do not regard it as having any distinction from any other...

, Leviticus 26, since like the Holiness Code they leave room for repentance. The theme that divine punishment should lead to repentance comes from the prophets (Amos 4:6-12, Ezekiel 20), and the form of prophetic speech, "Thus says Yahweh", and the figure of the prophet as divine messenger, are from the late prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel and the Deuteronomistic history (all compositions of the 6th century). The theme of Pharaoh's obstinacy is likewise derived from the 6th century prophets - Isaiah 6:9-13, Jeremiah 5:3, and Ezekiel 3:7-9.

Historicity



Mainstream historians assert that the plague stories are mythical, allegorical, and inspired by passed-down accounts of disconnected natural disasters. Religiously inspired historians have speculated on a possible series of natural disasters behind the story of the succession of plagues.

Archaeology


There is archaeological
Archaeology
Archaeology, or archeology , is the study of human society, primarily through the recovery and analysis of the material culture and environmental data that they have left behind, which includes artifacts, architecture, biofacts and cultural landscapes...

 material that some Christian archaeologists, such as William F. Albright
William F. Albright
William Foxwell Albright was an American archaeologist, biblical scholar, philologist and expert on ceramics. From the early twentieth century until his death, he was the dean of biblical archaeologists and the universally acknowledged founder of the Biblical archaeology movement...

, have considered historical evidence of the Ten Plagues; for example, an ancient water-trough found in El Arish bears hieroglyphic
Egyptian hieroglyphs
Egyptian hieroglyphs were a formal writing system used by the ancient Egyptians that combined logographic and alphabetic elements. Egyptians used cursive hieroglyphs for religious literature on papyrus and wood...

 markings detailing a period of darkness. Albright, and other Christian archaeologists have claimed that such evidence, as well as careful study of the areas ostensibly traveled by the Israelites after the Exodus, make discounting the biblical account untenable.
The Egyptian Ipuwer papyrus
Ipuwer papyrus
The Ipuwer Papyrus is a single papyrus holding an ancient Egyptian poem, called The Admonitions of Ipuwer or The Dialogue of Ipuwer and the Lord of All. Its official designation is Papyrus Leiden I 344 recto...

 describes a series of calamities befalling Egypt, including a river turned to blood, men behaving as wild ibises, and the land generally turned upside down. However, this is usually thought to describe a general and long term ecological disaster lasting for a period of decades, such as that which destroyed the Old Kingdom
Old Kingdom
Old Kingdom is the name given to the period in the 3rd millennium BC when Egypt attained its first continuous peak of civilization in complexity and achievement – the first of three so-called "Kingdom" periods, which mark the high points of civilization in the lower Nile Valley .The term itself was...

. The document is usually dated to the end of the Middle Kingdom
Middle Kingdom of Egypt
The Middle Kingdom of Egypt is the period in the history of ancient Egypt stretching from the establishment of the Eleventh Dynasty to the end of the Fourteenth Dynasty, between 2055 BC and 1650 BC, although some writers include the Thirteenth and Fourteenth dynasties in the Second Intermediate...

, or more rarely, to its beginning, fitting the Old Kingdom destruction, but in both cases long before the usual theorized dates for the Exodus.

Natural explanations


Historians have suggested that the plagues are passed-down accounts of disconnected natural disasters. Natural explanations have been suggested for most of the phenomena:
  • (plague 1—water turned into blood, fish died)
    • The redness in the Nile could have actually been pollution caused by volcanic activity, specifically that of Santorini
      Santorini
      Santorini , officially Thira , is an island located in the southern Aegean Sea, about southeast from Greece's mainland. It is the largest island of a small, circular archipelago which bears the same name and is the remnant of a volcanic caldera...

      , which erupted around 1500 B.C. and whose ash is found in the Nile region. The silt
      Silt
      Silt is granular material of a size somewhere between sand and clay whose mineral origin is quartz and feldspar. Silt may occur as a soil or as suspended sediment in a surface water body...

       could make the Nile turn blood red, and would also render it undrinkable. Heavy rains in the red-soiled area of Lake Victoria could have caused reddened water to wash downstream.
    • Alternatively, a red toxic algal bloom (red tide
      Red tide
      Red tide is a common name for a phenomenon also known as an algal bloom , an event in which estuarine, marine, or fresh water algae accumulate rapidly in the water column and results in discoloration of the surface water. It is usually found in coastal areas...

      ) could have produced large quantities of toxins that would kill fish. (Also, an environmental change, such as a drought, might have turned the water red, following the death of fish.)
  • (plague 2—frogs) Any blight on the water that killed fish also would have caused frogs to leave the river and probably die.
  • (plagues 3 and 4—biting insects and flies) The lack of frogs in the river would have let insect populations, normally kept in check by the frogs, increase massively.
  • (plagues 5 and 6—livestock disease and boils) There are biting flies in the region which transmit livestock diseases; a sudden increase in their number could spark epidemic
    Epidemic
    In epidemiology, an epidemic , occurs when new cases of a certain disease, in a given human population, and during a given period, substantially exceed what is expected based on recent experience...

    s.
  • (plague 7—fiery hail) Volcanic activity not only brings with it ash, but brimstone, and also alters the weather
    Weather
    Weather is the state of the atmosphere, to the degree that it is hot or cold, wet or dry, calm or stormy, clear or cloudy. Most weather phenomena occur in the troposphere, just below the stratosphere. Weather refers, generally, to day-to-day temperature and precipitation activity, whereas climate...

     system, occasionally producing hail. Hail could also have occurred as a completely independent natural weather event, with accompanying lightning as the "fire".
  • (plague 8—locusts) The weight of hail will destroy most crops, leaving several insects and other animals without a normal food source. The remaining crops therefore would become targeted heavily, and thus be destroyed by swarms of locusts which would otherwise be distributed rather thinly. Or the locusts could have increased because of a lack of predators. Even without these explanations, swarms of locusts are not uncommon today.
  • (plague 9—darkness) There could be several causes for unusual darkness: a solar eclipse
    Solar eclipse
    As seen from the Earth, a solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between the Sun and the Earth, and the Moon fully or partially blocks the Sun as viewed from a location on Earth. This can happen only during a new moon, when the Sun and the Moon are in conjunction as seen from Earth. At least...

    , a sandstorm
    Dust storm
    A dust / sand storm is a meteorological phenomenon common in arid and semi-arid regions. Dust storms arise when a gust front or other strong wind blows loose sand and dirt from a dry surface. Particles are transported by saltation and suspension, causing soil to move from one place and deposition...

    , volcanic ash, or simply swarms of locusts large enough to block out the sun.
  • (plague 10—death of the firstborn)
    • If the last plague indeed selectively tended to affect the firstborn, it could be due to food polluted during the time of darkness, either by locusts or by the black mold Cladosporium
      Cladosporium
      Cladosporium is a genus of fungi including some of the most common indoor and outdoor molds. Species produce olive-green to brown or black colonies, and have dark-pigmented conidia that are formed in simple or branching chains....

      . When people emerged after the darkness, the firstborn would be given priority, as was usual, and would consequently be more likely to be affected by any toxin or disease carried by the food. Meanwhile, the Israelites ate food prepared and eaten very quickly which would have made it less likely to be infected.
    • In the 2006 documentary Exodus Decoded
      Exodus Decoded
      The Exodus Decoded is a 2006 History Channel documentary created by Israeli-Canadian filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici and the producer/director James Cameron. The documentary explores evidence for the Biblical account of the Exodus...

      , Jewish Canadian filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici
      Simcha Jacobovici
      Simcha Jacobovici is a Canadian film director, producer, free-lance journalist, and writer. He is a three-times Emmy winner for Outstanding Investigative Journalism....

       hypothesised the selectiveness of the tenth plague was under the circumstances similar to the 1986 disaster of Lake Nyos
      Lake Nyos
      Lake Nyos is a crater lake in the Northwest Region of Cameroon, located about northwest of Yaoundé. Nyos is a deep lake high on the flank of an inactive volcano in the Oku volcanic plain along the Cameroon line of volcanic activity...

       that is related to geological activities that caused the previous plagues in a related chain of events. The hypothesis was that the plagues took place shortly after the eruption of Thera (now known as Santorini
      Santorini
      Santorini , officially Thira , is an island located in the southern Aegean Sea, about southeast from Greece's mainland. It is the largest island of a small, circular archipelago which bears the same name and is the remnant of a volcanic caldera...

      ), which happened some time between 1550 BCE and 1650 BCE, and recently narrowed to between 1627–1600 BCE, with a 95% probability of accuracy. Jacobovici however places the eruption in 1500 BCE. According to the documentary, the eruption sets off a chain of events resulting in the plagues and eventually the killing of the first born. Jacobovici suggests that the first borns in ancient Egypt had the privilege to sleep close to the floor while other children slept on higher ground or even on roofs. This view, however, is not supported by any archaeological or historical evidence. As in Lake Nyos, when carbon dioxide or other toxic gases escape the surface tension
      Surface tension
      Surface tension is a property of the surface of a liquid that allows it to resist an external force. It is revealed, for example, in floating of some objects on the surface of water, even though they are denser than water, and in the ability of some insects to run on the water surface...

       of a nearby waterbody because of either geological activity or over-saturation, the gas, being heavier than air, "flooded" the nearby area displacing oxygen and killing those who were in its path.


A volcanic eruption which happened in antiquity and could have caused some of the plagues if it occurred at the right time (The exodus as recorded in the Bible took place in 1446 BC) is the eruption of the Thera volcano 650 miles (1,046.1 km) to the northwest of Egypt. Controversially dated to about 1628 BC, this eruption is one of the largest on record, rivaling that of Tambora
Mount Tambora
Mount Tambora is an active stratovolcano, also known as a composite volcano, on the island of Sumbawa, Indonesia. Sumbawa is flanked both to the north and south by oceanic crust, and Tambora was formed by the active subduction zone beneath it. This raised Mount Tambora as high as , making it...

, which resulted in 1816's Year Without a Summer
Year Without a Summer
The Year Without a Summer was 1816, in which severe summer climate abnormalities caused average global temperatures to decrease by about 0.4–0.7 °C , resulting in major food shortages across the Northern Hemisphere...

. The enormous global impact of this eruption has been recorded in an ash layer deposit found in the Nile delta, tree ring frost scars in the bristlecone pine
Bristlecone pine
The bristlecone pines are a small group of pine trees that are thought to reach an age far greater than that of any other single living organism known, up to nearly 5,000 years....

s of the western United States, and a coating of ash in the Greenland ice caps, all dated to the same time and with the same chemical fingerprint as the ash from Thera.

However, all estimates of the date of this eruption are hundreds of years before the Exodus is believed to have taken place; thus the eruption can only have caused some of the plagues if one or other of the dates is wrong, or if the plagues did not actually immediately precede the Exodus.

Following the assumption that at least some of the details are accurately reported, many modern Jews
Judaism
Judaism ) is the "religion, philosophy, and way of life" of the Jewish people...

 believe that some of the plagues were indeed natural disasters, but argue for the fact that, since they followed one another with such uncommon rapidity, "God's hand was behind them". Indeed, several Biblical
Tanakh
The Tanakh is a name used in Judaism for the canon of the Hebrew Bible. The Tanakh is also known as the Masoretic Text or the Miqra. The name is an acronym formed from the initial Hebrew letters of the Masoretic Text's three traditional subdivisions: The Torah , Nevi'im and Ketuvim —hence...

 commentators (Nachmanides and, more recently, Rabbi
Rabbi
In Judaism, a rabbi is a teacher of Torah. This title derives from the Hebrew word רבי , meaning "My Master" , which is the way a student would address a master of Torah...

 Yaakov Kamenetzky) have pointed out that, for the plagues to be a real test of faith, they had to contain an element leading to religious doubt.

In his book The Plagues of Egypt: Archaeology, History, and Science Look at the Bible, Siro Igino Trevisanato explores the theory that the plagues were initially caused by the Santorini eruption in Greece. His hypothesis considers a two-stage eruption over a time of a bit less than two years. His studies place the first eruption in 1602 BC, when volcanic ash taints the Nile, causing the first plague and forming a catalyst for many of the subsequent plagues. In 1600 BC, the plume of a Santorini eruption caused the ninth plague, the days of darkness. Trevisanato hypothesizes that the Egyptians (at that time under the occupation of Hyksos), resorted to human sacrifice in an attempt to appease the gods, for they had viewed the ninth plague as a precursor to more. This human sacrifice became known as the tenth plague.

In an article published in 1996, physician-epidemiologist John S. Marr and co-author Curt Malloy integrated biblical, historical and Egyptological sources with modern scientific conjectures in a comprehensive review of natural explanations for the ten plagues, postulating their own specific explanations for the third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and tenth plagues. Their explanation also accounted for the apparent selectiveness of the plagues, as implied in the Bible. The paper served as the basis for a widely acclaimed website and for a documentary aired on the Learning Channel from 1998 to 2005.

The Prince of Egypt film depiction of the plagues


In the 1998 DreamWorks animated film The Prince of Egypt the Ten Plagues of Egypt are depicted as a musicalized number, known on the Prince of Egypt soundtrack as "The Plagues". The song is additionally referred to as "Let My People Go" - a powerful, prominent and numerously repeated line in the song. The song itself is a brief montage of powerful,stark images that depict the ten individual plagues smiting Egypt; from raining "fire", booming thunder and hail to vast swarms of scavenging, ravenous locusts so thick they obscure the sky, to cattle dying dramatically in the barren fields due to a catastrophic epidemic disease
Disease
A disease is an abnormal condition affecting the body of an organism. It is often construed to be a medical condition associated with specific symptoms and signs. It may be caused by external factors, such as infectious disease, or it may be caused by internal dysfunctions, such as autoimmune...

, among the other various well-known plagues. The song's lyrics are powerful and emotionally dramatic, depicting both Moses
Moses
Moses was, according to the Hebrew Bible and Qur'an, a religious leader, lawgiver and prophet, to whom the authorship of the Torah is traditionally attributed...

 and Ramses puzzled, frustrated and deeply angered at their newly-expressed mutual hatred for each other. Throughout the song, the unidentified adult unisex choir that contributed greatly to the rest of the soundtrack, orally introduce each of the plagues and their devastating impacts. The song ends with the 9th plague of darkness, with a grand vista of the entire land of Egypt
Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

 along with the Pharaoh's palace blackening and fading into complete darkness in the background, with Moses and the still bright, ethereally daylight-bathed Hebrew area of Goshen in the foreground.

See also

  • Moses
    Moses
    Moses was, according to the Hebrew Bible and Qur'an, a religious leader, lawgiver and prophet, to whom the authorship of the Torah is traditionally attributed...

  • Passover
    Passover
    Passover is a Jewish holiday and festival. It commemorates the story of the Exodus, in which the ancient Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt...

  • Aaron's rod
    Aaron's rod
    Aaron's rod refers to any of the staves carried by Moses' brother, Aaron, in the Old Testament of the Bible. The Bible tells how, along with Moses' rod, Aaron's rod was endowed with miraculous power during the Plagues of Egypt which preceded the Exodus...

  • Ipuwer Papyrus
    Ipuwer papyrus
    The Ipuwer Papyrus is a single papyrus holding an ancient Egyptian poem, called The Admonitions of Ipuwer or The Dialogue of Ipuwer and the Lord of All. Its official designation is Papyrus Leiden I 344 recto...

  • Ramses II
  • The Prince of Egypt
    The Prince of Egypt
    The Prince of Egypt is a 1998 American animated musical drama film and the first traditionally animated film produced and released by DreamWorks Animation. The film is an adaptation of the Book of Exodus and follows the life of Moses from being a prince of Egypt to his ultimate destiny to lead the...

  • Ancient Egypt
    Ancient Egypt
    Ancient Egypt was an ancient civilization of Northeastern Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in what is now the modern country of Egypt. Egyptian civilization coalesced around 3150 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first pharaoh...

  • Seti I
    Seti I
    Menmaatre Seti I was a Pharaoh of Ancient Egypt , the son of Ramesses I and Queen Sitre, and the father of Ramesses II...

  • Aaron
    Aaron
    In the Hebrew Bible and the Qur'an, Aaron : Ααρών ), who is often called "'Aaron the Priest"' and once Aaron the Levite , was the older brother of Moses, and a prophet of God. He represented the priestly functions of his tribe, becoming the first High Priest of the Israelites...

  • Yocheved
  • Miriam

Literature

  • Hermann and Anna Levinson: Zur Biologie der zehn biblischen Plagen DGaaE Nachrichten 22 (2008), 83–102 (German)