the Ten Plagues of Egypt
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
— Heb 10:31
If Egypt was brought low by a series of miraculous catastrophes in 1561, the year of the Exodus, then where is the evidence in the historical record? Events which were so dramatic cannot possibly have been overlooked or forgotten. Given the large scale on which the plagues struck, and given the importance of Egypt, then if no independent historical confirmation exists, this must strain credibility to the breaking point. That intelligent people have put their trust in the solitary voice of the Bible speaks of the power of faith, and of the over-all integrity of the Bible, which is trusted even in the things which cannot be proven. But much though the quality of faith is an indication of good character, yet sometimes we might wish that we could rely more on tangible proof than proven character. I am pleased to say that, when we get the blocks of history into the correct order, the Ten Plagues of Egypt materialize out from their imposed obscurity.
The Plagues are unequivocally attested to in various ancient Egyptian texts. That most people do not know this fact is certainly understandable, given [a] that ancient chronology is so confused, and [b] that ancient history itself cannot be called a popular study. In this chapter we will familiarize ourselves with the Egyptian perspective of the Plagues. We will also correlate the myths and traditions of other races, which recall various catastrophes of a very similar sort. Given the vague nature of legend, we cannot be certain that all of these other stories are twisted memories specifically of the time of Moses, but the principle of parsimony encourages us to find the simplest, the most elegant solution, which is to group like-events together.
As I have said, in another place I discuss the idea of resonant planetary orbits and cyclic catastrophes, but given that such events can occur, it can be no surprise that the Ten Plagues find, at least in part, a naturalistic cause in this mechanism. This is supported by the fact that Hebrew tradition recalls that the orbits of the stars were confused in Moses' day. But if natural causes seem unlikely, then we may recognize the sovereign hand of God.
Those who declare themselves to be wise inform us that God — if there be a God — would not violate His law. But I would remind such wise people that the laws of nature do not force nature to behave as it does, but rather describe how nature does behave. Furthermore, there is nothing morally wrong in the fact that parents do not follow the same rules as their children — the point being that God is not subject to the rules of the universe, and He may change them as He sees fit, just as a parent may change a child's bedtime. I trust that all this is clear enough for even wise people to see.
The humiliation of Egypt was not a haphazard affair. Even though they were brought about by means of nature, yet the Ten Plagues were not random, but rather each was a direct reproach to the gods of the Egyptian pantheon. Whether only one god was judged, or several, is a matter for speculation, but the general information is summarized in Table 13‑1.
Likewise, the thrice-hardening of Pharaoh's heart was not an arbitrary act by God, but a demonstration of His power over the self-proclaimed godhood of the Pharaohs. The will of God Almighty is not to be compared with the petty will of a mere godling; God created us with free will, but this is not to say He cannot cause our will to bow, should He choose to demonstrate His sovereignty. It is interesting to note the irony of this hardening: In Egyptian theology, the shade of a dead person would testify to his purity, and then his heart would either confirm or deny this purity, causing the scales of judgment to tip one way or the other. Since no one could hope to be without sin, a trick was employed. “The Egyptian seems to have reasoned thus: since the physical heart is taken from the body before mummification . . . . another must be put in its place. But a stone heart, whether made of Lapis-lazuli or carnelian, is only a stone heart after all, and . . . . it possesses nothing of itself which can be turned to account in giving new life and being to the body . . . . But the scarab or [dung] beetle itself possesses remarkable powers, . . . . [and] was the type and symbol of the god Khepera, the invisible power of creation . . .” In mummification, the dead fleshy heart was replaced by a stone scarab in the shape of a heart; this magical stone heart of course possessed nothing impure within itself, and because it was engraved with incantations (contrast Jer 31:33), it would, frankly, lie to the divine judge, and the spirit, the ka, would be granted entrance to a blessed afterlife. Now, the point is that God — who would replace our hard, stony hearts with a living one of flesh — granted wilful Pharaoh the heart he craved, one of stone.
But the question remains, "Are these Plagues remembered in any source other than the Bible?" Of course, the answer is "Of course". First, let's consider the (rather) well-known Admonitions of Ipuwer. As we know, not everything we have read in history books is as certain as some would have us believe. The first translator of the Admonitions, Gardiner, stated that “the pessimism of Ipuwer was intended to be understood as the direct and natural response to a real national calamity . . .” But others have come to believe “that there is strong inherent reason why this cannot be so”, claiming that the work is “contradictory and untenable.” The “description of chaos in Admonitions is inherently contradictory, hence historically impossible: On the one hand the land is said to suffer from total want; on the other hand the poor are described as having become rich, of wearing fine clothes, and generally of disposing of all that once belonged to their masters. . . .[it] does not derive from any . . . historical situation.” Therefore it is claimed that the Admonitions must be “of purely literary inspiration.”
Hmmm. Is there no situation presented as history which matches this description? Hmmm. Well, how about this (Ex 12:35, 36): “Now the children of Israel did according to the word of Moses; and they asked of the Egyptians articles of silver, and articles of gold, and clothing . . . . And they plundered the Egyptians.” Were these children of Israel poor? The Egyptians had forced them (Ex 1:13,14) “to serve with rigor: And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage . . .” So we see that the claim of "historical impossibility" is not the product of evidence, but of bias or ignorance. The Bible explicitly states as fact the very situation which some scholars claim to be unimaginable.
The papyrus of Ipuwer is obviously a work of literature, but it tells a true story. The surviving copy was produced in Dynasty XIX, but the spelling is that of the much older Middle Kingdom, and the “language was found beyond doubt to be not of the New Kingdom but of an early time” — which ended with the invasion of the Hyksos. Ipuwer speaks as a witness, and must have been writing during Dynasty XIII, within a few decades after the appearance of the invaders.
We will look at specifics in a moment, but in general what picture does Ipuwer paint? “§1 The servant takes what he finds. . . .Lo, women are barren, none conceive. . . .poor men have become men of wealth, He who could not afford sandals owns riches. Lo, men's slaves, their hearts are greedy . . . . storm sweeps the land, There's blood everywhere, no shortage of dead . . . . Lo, many dead are buried in the river, The stream is the grave, the tomb became stream. Lo, nobles lament, the poor rejoice, Every town says, ‘Let us expel our rulers.’ . . .there's dirt everywhere, None have white garments in this time. Lo, the land turns like a potter's wheel . . . . §4 Lo, (one is numb) from noise. . . .Lo, the whole Delta cannot be seen, Lower Egypt puts trust in trodden roads.”
Throughout the Admonitions we read of some colossal tragedy which smote Egypt. What Pharaoh's dream foretold, has happened. The land which slaughtered the infants of Israel (Ex 1:16) is now unable to conceive. The river of blood cannot make garments white. The people cannot find their way. The plague which polluted the priests makes everyone bald. Storms rage and the earth quakes. Every brother has someone to bury, because every family has a firstborn — there was no single household were someone was not killed (Ex 12:30). The land has no more gold, and is desolate, and abandoned. The plagues, and the Angel of Death, and the Plundering, and the death of the Pharaoh and his army, and the invasion of the Amalekites — all contribute to the gloom of Egypt, and of Ipuwer.
Now let's get specific. It is not my purpose to retell all the events in the Bible. You will be better served simply to read the actual Scriptures, than to read any summary I might give. Moses before the Burning Bush was a personal matter, and we would expect only the Bible to record it. Moses contending with the sorcerers of Egypt was a public matter, and we have already looked at it in our discussion of Unas of Dynasty V. But the Plagues were national, and in some cases global, and we must expect to read of them in unambiguous terms.
Understand, all historical writing is to a greater or lesser degree a narrative, and the elements of the story are selected by the author for a thematic purpose. Some evidence is relevant, and some is not. Thus, in the various Gospels the same events may be told by the several writers, but different details are recorded. There is no contradiction in this, as some ignorantly assert, but simply the outworking of the pragmatic fact that nobody says everything about a topic, but rather only that which is deemed relevant. In just this way, the Plagues were experienced by all of Egypt, but the events were organized differently in the telling of them. Ipuwer did not categorize the plagues into ten separate events, but rather lumped them all together with later events, and bemoaned the whole period as a tragedy. Moses on the other hand was more precise in his record, and having had the benefit of conversation with God, he wrote of ten distinct plagues.
1 — Blood
The first of the plagues would be hard to miss (Ex 7:17-18, 21): “Thus saith the Lord, 'In this thou shalt know that I am the Lord:' behold, I will smite with the rod that is in mine hand upon the waters which are in the river, and they shall be turned to blood. And the fish that is in the river shall die, and the river shall stink; and the Egyptians shall lothe to drink of the water of the river.” The streams and rivers and ponds and pools — even the water in vessels of wood and of stone — all became blood. “And the fish that was in the river died; and the river stank, and the Egyptians could not drink of the water of the river; and there was blood throughout all the land of Egypt.”
There are generally two naturalistic ways of explaining the First Plague. The first is to say that it did not happen; we will not consider this option again, for any of the plagues. The second is that the Nile was somehow colored red, by red mud or something of the sort.
What was this plague of "blood", then? Was it actual hemoglobin, with cellular structure complete with organelles? Or was it rather some all-pervading compound? It is quite reasonable that the Bible uses the language of appearance here, and speaks not of a biological miracle, but of another sort of miracle, of God's timing. In other words, the turning of the water into blood may refer to its having been stained red by some chemical. It is well-known that meteor clusters are surrounded by clouds of dust; it is known that meteorites can have a significant percentage of iron, which element combines with oxygen to produce the redness of our very blood. A less likely caulse could be fallout of red volcanic dust.
In apparent opposition to this naturalistic explanation is Ex 7:19, which says that even the water pots of the Egyptians were cursed. However, notice that this passage does not say that the water which was already in such vessels turned to blood — it merely mentions such containers. The verse may be taken to mean that such polluted water would not become clean in any sort of vessel; the stain would not settle out or be absorbed. On the other hand, it may be that God simply turned the water into actual blood — even the water already stored in pots, though excluding, we may suppose, the water jars of the Hebrews. It is clear that the passage is ambiguous enough to allow either interpretation; while I have no problem whatsoever believing that God could have created a flood of hemoglobin, I tend to think that the Bible records here the pollution of the lakes and streams by some rain of atmospheric pollution. It was only surface water which was affected, since potable water could be found by digging.
Does this curse of blood appear in the historical record? Well, first, because of the apparently metaphysical character of this event, any reference to it must be taken by humanists as fiction. But putting aside this bias, we find that there are many references to a literal deluge of blood, not only in Egypt, but throughout the world.
In Egypt, just as the Bible states that the water of the river became blood and undrinkable (Ex 7:24), so this very statement is made by Ipuwer: “§2 Lo, the river is blood, As one drinks of it one shrinks from people And thirsts for water.” That “blood is everywhere” is a frequent lament of Ipuwer.
It seems not to have been only Egypt which was affected by this curse, but the whole world. This fact supports the hypothesis that it was not a fiat miracle which created blood from water, but rather a naturalistic one in which some chemical rained down upon the planet — though concentrated, perhaps, on Egypt. Thus, while the Red Sea is no longer red, during the Exodus period it was, and from this it appears to have won its name. We have taken our name for the Red Sea from the Greeks, who called both it and the Indian Ocean by the same name: the Eruthrean Sea, from erythraios, meaning ‘red’. The Hebrew name of the Red Sea is Jam Suf, derived not from reed, but hurricane, which is suf or sufa. Its Egyptian name was Shari, which means "percussion" or "disaster" — commemorating, most likely, this very time of beatings from the heavens.
Likewise, from the shower of ruddy dust which brought the First Plague, the land of Edom may have received its name. ‘Edom’ means ‘red’, and that the land was stained red for a time can only have supported the identification of its inhabitants with their eponymous patriarch, ruddy Esau.
Babylonian myth says that the blood of the monster Tiamat stained the world red, and Marduk's lips dripped with red paste. Apollodorus tells us in The Library that during the battle between Zeus and Typhon, the Thracian mountain of Haemus burst with a stream of blood, whence the mount received its name; an Egyptian city received the same name for this same reason. On the other side of the world, the venerable Mayan Manuscript Quiche says that when the sun stopped its regular motion, the rivers turned to blood. Whether these stories derive from the plagues of the Exodus, or some other catastrophe, is unknown — but insofar as they remember real events, they count as corroboration.
The Altai Tatars knew a time when blood turned “the whole world red” and the world caught on fire (cf. Plague 7). The great national epic of the Finns, the Kalevala, was composed when the Hungarians and Finns were yet a single people — so it dates to at least 3000 years ago. Here we find the memory that the world was once drenched first in black, then in red, then in white milk; we may understand this as a poetic reference to the plagues of char and of blood, and of the later white of manna.
The next few plagues — of frogs and gnats and swarms, and of a blight on cattle — are all obvious results of the first plague. The frogs were driven from their natural habitat by the pollution, and a bloody river full of dead fish provided an ideal breeding ground for innumerable vermin. All this lead to a pestilence which struck the cattle. The only factor here which was necessarily miraculous was the timing.
6 — ashes and boils
After the blood, and vermin, and pestilence of beasts, the human population was afflicted with boils. Moses scattered ashes from Merenre's pagan altar, and the subsequent "fine dust" may have had its origin as the fallout of meteoric (or volcanic) dust. If so, such dust may have possessed a powerful irritating quality for skin. Ipuwer laments the blains of this curse with the observation: “§4 Lo, everyone's hair (has fallen out) . . .” The consequence of this plague was that the priests of Egypt, and all its people, became ceremonially (and hygienically) unclean. As for Moses' strewing ashes into the air, this was a symbolic action, like that of Jacob when he laid out striped sticks, symbolizing God's providence in causing livestock of favorable coloring to be born (Gen 30:32-43).
7 — hail
The dust was followed by a hail of meteorites. We can link these two plagues together as a rain of increasingly large debris. Other traditions describe the same phenomenon. For example, the Buddhist text Visuddhi-Magga describes the destruction of the world by wind: “first it raises a fine dust, and then coarse dust, and then fine sand, and then coarse sand, and then grit, stones, up to boulders . . .” The wind turns “the ground upside down, and throws it into the sky”; great cracks appear, spanning “five hundred leagues,” and the ground is “thrown upward”; the mountains which circle the earth are blasted apart and rain down as powder.
In the plague, all the unprotected animals of Egypt were to be killed (Ex 9:19), and so the Hebrews gathered in their cattle. As for the Egyptians, their “§9 cattle stray with none to bring them back, everyone fetches for himself . . .” The hail destroyed every herb and tree (Ex 9:25); and Ipuwer notes that trees are destroyed and herbs cannot be found (§4 & §6). The flax and barley were destroyed (Ex 9:31-32), which is noted by Ipuwer as occurring in a single day: “§6 Lo, gone is what yesterday was seen, the land is left to its weakness like a cutting of flax. . . .grain is lacking on all sides . . . . The storehouse is bare.”
The blasting noise which accompanied this plague (Ex 9:23,28) provides a powerful hint that all this dust and rock was actually the product of a bolide — that is, a comet or asteroid which exploded high in the atmosphere.
We know that this was not a hail of ice because it was accompanied continuously by fire (Ex 9:23‑24). Furthermore, ancient Hebrew sources tell us that the stones which fell were hot. Wildfires swept along the ground (Ex 9:23), and from the Egyptians we learn that “§2 Lo, doors, columns, coffers are burning, While the hall of the palace stands firm”; again, Ipuwer states: “Gates, columns, and walls are consumed by fire. The sky is in confusion.” The fire burned out of control, and the flames raged so fiercely that even the invaders (Hyksos) were scorched (§7). The very existence of mankind seemed imperiled.
The identity of the Hyksos is a mystery to western scholars, but as we shall see in Chapter 16, ancient Arab historians remember this race as the Amalekites. Prompted by catastrophies in their own land in Arabia, they left their homeland and migrated toward the dark clouds in the west, no doubt reasoning that a land beset with such catastrophe would be an easy conquest. The smoke to the west which signalled the invasion would have been produced by the fires from heaven.
The conflagration may not have been ignited simply by molten minerals. The cause could have been the combustion of hydrocarbons of interplanetary origin. Whatever the latest thinking might be, as to whether or not it is possible for hydrocarbons to be found outside of our own globe, the records of various races seem to indicate that fire itself once fell from the sky.
This may be the material source of "the fire of the Lord" which consumed the blackguards of the camp (Num 11:1). We might also find here the cause of the fires which burned in many Egyptian tombs. For example, Antefoker — vizier of Sesostris I (1940's to 1900's bc) of Dynasty XII — had a tomb which, like “many another”, was burned with a fuel which “must not only have been abundant, but of a light nature; for a fierce fire which speedily spent itself seems alone able to account for the fact that tombs so burnt remain absolutely free from blackening, except in the lowest parts; nor are charred remains found as a rule. The conditions are puzzling.” In Siberia, the Vogals recall that “God sent a sea of fire upon the earth . . . . The cause of the fire they call ‘the fire-water.’” To the immediate south, Indian legend recalls the same "water of fire", called Sengle-Das, which brought about the deaths of countless people. All this may be explained if a rain of some petroleum-like substance accompanied the hail of the seventh plague.
8 — locusts
The Eighth Plague was of locusts. In itself there is nothing either miraculous or noteworthy in such a plague, except in that this particular swarm was specifically sent by God. They picked the land clean of any remaining life, so that Egypt truly was a bone as dry as any in its countless tombs.
9 — darkness
The plague of darkness may also have a naturalistic explanation, at least in part. We may be reading of a great sandstorm which swept away the locusts, but brought choking darkness. Josephus says that the darkness caused actual choking. This may have been the result of the smoke of world-wide wildfires. Again, massive outpourings of volcanic ash into the upper atmosphere may be a cause. When the Icelandic volcano, Skaptar-Jokull, erupted in 1783, ash darkened the planet for months afterwards.
Again, the darkness may have resulted from the passage of Earth through a region in space relatively thick with dust, or of the explosion of a meteor in the atmosphere, or of dust kicked up by meteorite strikes. Pliny relates that Julius Caesar's assassination in 44 bc was followed by “almost a whole year's continuous gloom”; Virgil says of this year that “Germany heard the clash of arms through all the sky; the Alps rocked with unwonted terrors . . . and specters, pale in wondrous wise, were seen at evening twilight.” The Norse "twilight of the gods" echoes this phenomenon.
What is the explanation for such an upheaval? Roman sources record that on the very day that Caesar's funeral was held, a westward comet slashed across the northern sky. It was visible for only a few days, and vanished while still in the north. It seems to have been destroyed over, and upon, central Europe. A modern example of such an occurrence is in the glowing evenings which recurred for years after the explosion of a bolide above Tunguska, Siberia.
Whatever the physical agent, the memory of a profound and untimely darkness is sustained in the myths and legends of the world. While Hebrew tradition states that the darkness of the Exodus ended as Moses approached the Red Sea (Ex 14:20), the Midrash (a rabbinical amplification of Scripture which includes history and legends not in the Bible) states that the actual disk of the sun appeared only at the end of the forty years of wandering. It may be that the biblical "shadow of death" (cf. Job 24:17; Ps 44:19, 107; Is 9:2) refers to a periodical saturation of the atmosphere by dust, ash and smoke.
Despite the assertions of critics, the Egyptians also recall this time. On the boarder of Egypt and Palestine is a town called el-Arish where, in the 1860's, a traveler noticed a black granite monolith covered with hieroglyphs; it is now in the Museum of Ismailia. The shrine was produced in the Ptolemaic period, but tells of events far in the past, during the reign of Pharaoh "Thom" and his heir. “The land was in great affliction. Evil fell on this earth . . . . It was a great upheaval in the residence . . . . Nobody left the palace during nine days, and during these nine days of upheaval there was such a tempest that neither the men nor the gods could see the faces of their next.”
While the black stone of Arish says that the royal family was blinded inside the palace for nine days, Moses — using a more stringent standard of darkness — states that absolute darkness prevailed for three days (Ex 10:22). Is there a contradiction here, between 3 and 9 days of darkness? It may simply be that, because nine days comprised the ancient Egyptian week, this length counted as a "round" number. Supporting this idea is the fact that the Midrash says the plague of darkness lasted seven days; during the first three days one could still function, but the next three days were incapacitating. We are reading the subjective perceptions of various witnesses: three days represents the truly opaque time, seven includes the twilight period, and nine the period of discomfort.
The eleventh tablet of the Gilgamesh Epic combines several flood catastrophes, including the great Flood of Noah. But it seems that the period of the Exodus has also been included in the tale. “A black cloud rose up from the horizon. Inside it Adad thunders, while Shallat and Hanish go in front, moving as heralds over hill and plain. . . .The Anunnaki lift up the torches, Setting the land ablaze with their glare. Consternation over Adad reaches to the heavens, Turning to blackness all that had been light. . . .No one can see his fellow, Nor can the people be recognized from heaven.” The dark storm lasted for six days. Related to this is the fact that a darkness of nine days occurred around the time of the Greek flood of Ogyges.
Numerous other cultures recall the long night of this plague. In Persia, a war between the stars and the planets caused a cataclysm and a darkness which lasted three days and nights. The natives of Sudan speak of a time when the night would not end. The Kalevala of the Finns tells of a rain of stones of iron and a period of darkness, after which a new sun and a new moon appeared. The early Japanese chronicle, Nihongi, remembers a day of continuous darkness, in which there was “no difference of day and night.” The Polynesian patriarch Tu-Erui, who lead the migration to the islands, “lived long in utter darkness”, until he journeyed in a canoe named “Weary of Darkness”.
The most ancient Chinese emperor was called Yau, Yahu or Yah-oo, as well as Tam or Tao.° It is said that in the days of Yau, “a brilliant star issued from the constellation Yin.” During his rule, the sun did not set for 10 days — and if the darkness was caused by a change in the rotation of the planet (cf. Chapter 15), a long night in the west would be a long day in the east. Forests burned and vermin covered the land. A wave “that reached the sky” swept over the kingdom, so that “the foothills could not be seen at all.” Years of work did not drain the land, and the task was not even completed by King Shun, Yao's successor, but only by Yu, who became Emperor as a result of his success (we will meet Yu again, later). Shun and Yu spent forty years mopping up, and Yu's brief reign would have ended in the catastrophic Long Day of Joshua, in 1520 bc.
Natives of both North and South America recounted to early Spanish scholars that before one disaster the stars collided, followed by a great upheaval. The Oklahoman Choctaw say that the earth was dark “for a long time”, and when a bright light finally appeared in the north, it brought a wall of water, high as a mountain.
The Mayans tell of a time when volcanoes blackened the sky and many kinds of animals became extinct. Mountains collapse and new ranges grew. The ocean raced over the land during a great hurricane. Darkness prevailed for five days. The force behind this destruction was Hurakan. According to the Codex Chimalpopoca, after the Flood, the sun had several other guises. Twice, great upheavals of the heavens were followed by years of darkness — one lasting 25 years. The fourth sun was destroyed, and “the world plunged in darkness during the space of twenty-five years.” It was during such gloom that the Quiche tribe moved into Mexico, crossing over a fog-shrouded sea.
The “sea, breaking out of bounds following a terrifying shock, began to rise on the Pacific coast. . . .the mountains of Ancasmarc [in Peru] rose, too, like a ship on the waves. During the five days that this cataclysm lasted, the sun did not show its face and the earth remained in darkness.”
10 — Firstborn
The final plague on Egypt was the death of the firstborn. Like the river of blood, on the face of it this seems to be a wholly miraculous event. But, while it is not necessary (given the power of God), we can find yet again a natural cause for even this precise plague. A great death fell upon the Egyptians (Ex 12:30), brought about by the ‘smiting’ (nogaf) of their houses (Ex 12:27). The word for ‘smiting’ indicates a ferocious blow, as is indicated by the Passover Haggadah, which says “The firstborn of the Egyptians didst Thou crush at midnight.” Tradition speaks of the great ‘commotion and tumult’. What does all this mean?
Of the last night before the Exodus, Artiapanus says there was hail and earthquake, and “all the houses fell in, and most of the temples.” Saint Jerome corroborates this statement: “in the night in which Exodus took place, all the temples of Egypt were destroyed either by an earthshock or by the thunderbolt.” Ipuwer mourns the fact that “§2 All is ruin. §3 . . .The residence is overturned in a minute.”
On the night of the Angel of Death (Ex 12:30) there “was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where there was not one dead.” From the Egyptian record we read this very same thing: “§2 He who puts his brother in the ground is everywhere. . . .§3 Groaning is through the land, mingled with laments.” The cause of the noise was the earthquake, and the cause of the sorrow was the death of so many loved ones. Ipuwer says even the children of princes were dashed against walls (§4 & §5), and thrown out into the street (§6). Even “§4 those who were entombed are cast on high ground,” and if these bodies were buried rather than housed in tombs, this describes the process of liquefaction, where a violent earthquake can cause buried objects to float up to the surface. Jewish legend tells of this happening to Joseph's coffin.
But I have not yet spoken of the most peculiar aspect of this last plague. If the Angel of Death struck through the natural means of an earthquake, how were only the firstborn smitten? Well, it is a fact that the term ‘firstborn’ refers not only to the eldest offspring, but after rather to the preferred one — that is, to the heir. In Hebrew, ‘my firstborn’ is bekhori, and ‘my chosen’ is bechori: there is ample room here for recognizing ambiguity. Israel was called the firstborn (Ex 4:22), but Esau was older; Manassah over Ephraim (Gen 48:14), Isaac over Ishmael, young David over his many older brothers (Ps 89:27) — all are ‘firstborn’ in the sense of favored ‘heir’. Jesus himself is the firstborn over creation (Col 1:15) — not in having been generated first, but in being preeminent. If it is the chosen, the preferred, the heir of Egypt which was killed, we see that it need not be only birth-order which is referred to here. The heir — lying protected by the stone walls of the houses of the Egyptians — would have been killed by the very walls in which they put their faith.
Of course God could slay the firstborn of every household. That is a given. And God could do this with a massive earthquake, or the miraculous hand of an Angel, or through any other means. But it does not limit God for us to try to understand the means by which He has shown his judgment.
Assuming that this plague was a massive earthshaking, it is reasonable that the Hebrews survived because their homes, in the marshy Delta, were made of resilient reeds and clay (wattle and daub), whereas the Egyptians lived in houses of brick and stone. Where the walls of red clay were flexible, the rigid walls of the Egyptians collapsed. If this is the case, then Ex 12:23 may be read literally, when the plague falls upon the houses.
Is there any physical evidence which suggests that this period in history was wracked by tectonic unrest? Middle Kingdom nilometers, which measure the height of the water, show at Semneh that the water there was once 22 feet higher than the highest modern mark. We have only two choices: either the river once carried far more water, in which case the cities downstream would have been catastrophically flooded every year; or the region of Semneh has gained elevation. Since Minoan II came to a catastrophic end, which was contemporaneous with the time of the Hyksos, we may read the nilometers as telling of the same or a similar catastrophe.
I maintain that the calamity of the Tenth Plague was no mere local earthquake, but rather an earthshock, by which the entire globe was affected. This is demonstrated by the memory throughout the world of this day as one of calamity. When mankind scattered from Babel, many of the new nations retained the ancient lunar calendar. Like many ancient peoples, the Egyptians counted the beginning of the day from sunrise, whereas the Hebrews counted the day as starting at sunset. So midnight of the fourteenth of Nisan (Passover) would still be the thirteenth of the month, for the Egyptians. Nisan (or Aviv) was called ‘Thout’ in Egypt, and the Egyptians counted this day as “a very bad day. Thou shalt not do anything on this day. It is the day of the combat which Horus waged with Seth.” In the Americas, the month of Olin means "earthquake" or "motion"; on the thirteenth day of this month (starting at sunrise) a new sun inaugurated a new world age.
So. This brings us to the end of the plagues of Egypt. We have seen that they were remembered not only in the Bible, but by the Egyptians, and in a haphazard way in the legends of many cultures. Of course it is possible to be hyperskeptical and dismiss all this testimony as coincidence — but this is to resort to one's bias rather than to the reasonable expectations we should place upon historical evidence. Fist the critic says there is no evidence, and when he learns that there is much testimony, he shifts his demand, no longer for historical but now for empirical proof. But historical evidence solely that of testimony, and if Ipuwer and the stele of Arish are dismissed,we must wonder what voice would be accepted. Be that as it may, in the next chapter, we will continue our examination of the days of Moses and Joshua.
.E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic (NY: Bell Publishing Co., 1899), pp. 35-36
.In M. Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1976), Vol 1, pp. 149-163; abbreviated AEL.
.AEL, p. 149.
.See Gardiner, Admonitions, p. 3, 17; cited in Velikovsky (1952), pp. 41, 42.
.AEL, pp. 150-161; "§" indicates section numbers, for reference.
.See Velikovsky (1950), p. 84, for citations.
.Mendelsohn, "The Creation Epic", p. 32, §60.
.Velikovsky (1950), p. 65.
.Brasseur, Historie, Vol. 1, p. 130.
.U. Holmberg, Finno-Ugric, Siberian Mythology (1927), p. 370; in Velikovsky (1950), p. 66.
.Warren, Buddhism in Transitions, p. 328, citing Visuddhi-Magga, "World Cycles".
.Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Berakhot 54b; Ginzberg, Vol. 6, p. 178.
.N. de Garis Davies, The Tomb of Antefoker, Vizier of Sesostris I (1920), Vol. I, p. 5; in Velikovsky (1950), p. 72.
.Holmberg, p. 368.
.Holmberg, p. 369.
.Ant, Book 2, 14, 5
.Natural History, Bk 2, 30.
.Georgics, transl. H.R. Fairclough (1920), i, p. 466.
.Pliny, Suetonius, Plutarch; in Velikovsky (1950), p. 138.
.Ginzberg, Vol. 2, p. 359.
.Ginzberg, Vol. 6, p. 114.
.G. Goyon, "Les Travaux de Chou et les tribulations de Geb d'apr'es le Naos 2248 d'Ismailia," Ke^mi, Revue de philogie et d'arche'ologie egyptiens et coptes, (Vol. 6, 1936), pp. 1-41; in Velikovsky (1952), pp. 34ff.
.Mendelsohn, pp. 102-3, (§§ 90-120).
.Caius Julius Solinus, Polyhistor; in Velikovsky (1950), p. 76.
.The Bunahis; in Velikovsky (1950), p. 77.
.L. Frobenius, Dichten und Denken im Sudan (1925), p. 38; in Velikovsky (1950), p. 76.
.Kalevala, Rune 49; in Velikovsky (1950), pp. 76, 143.
.Trans. W.G. Aston, pp. 46, 110; Velikovsky (1950), p. 142.
.Williamson, Vol. 1, p. 8.
.Velikovsky (1950), pp. 112-117.
.The Annals of the Bamboo Books, Vol. 3, pt 1, p. 112, in Legge, The Chinese Classics (Hong Kong: 1865), p. 112.
.See Velikovsky (1950), p. 114.
.Legge, trans, The Shu King, the Canon of Yao (1879).
.H.S. Bellamy, Moons, Myths and Man (1938), p. 277; in Velikovsky (1950), p. 86.
.See Brasseur, Manuscript Troano (1869), p. 141; in Velikovsky (1950), p. 82.
.Brasseur, Sources de l'histoire primitive du Mexique, p. 47.
.Gomara, Conquista de Mexico, 2, p. 261 — writing in the mid 1500's; in Velikovsky (1950), pp. 139,144.
.Brasseur, Histoire, Vol. 1, pp. 11,113.
.Brasseur, Sources, p. 40; see also Andree, Die Flutsagen, p. 115, regarding Peru; in Velikovsky (1950), p. 77.
.Rappoport, Vol 2, p. 283.
.In Eusebius, Preparation for the Gospel, Bk. 9, ch. 27.
.In S. Bochart, Heirozoicon (1675), Vol. 1, p. 344; in Velikovsky (1950), p. 79.
.In the Haggada; Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews, Vol. 3, pp. 5‑6.
.Lepsius, Letters from Egypt, Ethiopia and the Peninsula of Sinai, pp. 19‑20; in Velikovsky (1952), p. 43.
.W. Max Muller, Egyptian Mythology (1918), p. 126; in Velikovsky (1950), p. 81.
.Codex Vaticanus #3773B; in Velikovsky (1950), p. 81.