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History Crash Course #10: Ten Plagues

History Crash Course #10: Ten Plagues

With the Ten Plagues, the laws of nature are turned upside down to free the Jews.


Once the plagues hit Egypt ― blood, lice, frogs, etc. ― the devastation continues for over a year (Talmud - Ediyos 2:10). Each plague is an open miracle, because each one represents a fantastic manipulation of nature. The laws of nature are turned upside down to help the Jews.

Open miracles are a very important part of early Jewish history. After the destruction of the First Temple they're going to cease, although arguably the Jews couldn't have survived this long without continual hidden miracles.

The obvious question we must ask when we examine The Plagues is why? Why did God choose to set the Jewish people free through this very long, drawn-out process ― an entire year? If He wanted, God, an all-powerful being that He is, could have made all the Egyptians drop dead on the first encounter with Moses, or He could have frozen them in place, then all the Jews could have packed up and left in five minutes.

To explain why the Ten Plagues had to be, we need to first explain the Jewish view of miracles in general.

The first point to focus on is that all existence ― all the processes of the physical universe ― is a miracle. We have become so used to it in out day to day lives that we simply don't notice it.

Judaism holds that nature does not act independently of God, but, at the same time, God created the laws of nature and does not like to interfere with them. God is certainly capable of doing whatever He likes, but He doesn't play around with the physical world and its workings. Therefore, most miracles are natural phenomena with awesomely good timing.

But to this rule, the Ten Plagues are a notable exception.

The Ten Plagues are a clear example of God flipping the laws of nature on its end.

We have hail ― which should be frozen ― that is on fire; we have darkness so dense that no one can see or move; things that happened to Egyptians not happening to Jews. All supernatural stuff. Why? Here is the reason:

The essence of idolatry is the belief that every force has a god controlling it.

The whole essence of idolatry is the belief that every force in nature has a god that controls it. In Egypt they worshipped the Nile god, the sun god, the cat god, the sheep god, etc. The Ten Plagues were designed by God to flip all the laws of nature on end to demonstrate ― not just for the Jewish people but for all of humanity, for all of history ― that He alone controls all of nature, all of the physical world, and that there is nothing outside of His control.

If we examine the plagues carefully we can readily see that each one was designed to show God's control of all forces in nature: water and earth, fire and ice, insects, reptiles and mammals, light and darkness, and finally, life and death.

Archeological Evidence

Do we have evidence for the Ten Plagues in archeological records?

Surely the Egyptians would have recorded such amazing events!! First we must understand that the events of the Exodus take place during the period of time before there were historians, newspapers or any other form of mass communication. As previously mentioned, any events that were recorded by ancient Egypt (or any other ancient civilization) were solely for the purpose of making the Egyptians look good. Combine this idea together with the knowledge that thousands of years ago, people were far less impressed with the supernatural than we are today and we have our answer. The last thing that an Egyptian priest would inscribe on the wall of one of their temples 3,300 years ago would be the Exodus story, regardless of how amazing it seems to us today.

There is some circumstantial evidence that should be mentioned. As noted in the last installment in this series there is recorded a ten-year period in Egyptian history (right around this time) when chaos reigned. There are other oblique references, the most famous being the Ipuwer Papyrus. This is actually a series of papyri, which describe various cataclysmic events in Egypt ― blood everywhere, people dying etc.

Immanuel Velikovsky uses the Ipuwer Papyrus as the basis for his books, Ages in Chaos and Worlds in Collision in which he argues that the whole Exodus story is true, but that the plagues happened because a comet came close to the earth. He says the dust from the comet turned the water red, and the pull of the comet's gravitational field split the sea, etc.

However, if you read the Bible, you see that with the plague of blood, it's not just water turning a "dusty red." The Midrash also tells us that Egyptians perish from this bloody water but not the Jews.

Despite that, there is an amazing amount of resistance on the part of the Egyptians ― not just the Pharaoh, but the whole of Egypt ― to let the Jews leave. It is classic anti-Semitism, "I don't care if I take my whole country down as long as I can take the Jews with me."

This actually is a very common historical pattern. You'll see this certainly when we get to Hitler ― by 1944 they needed the trains to send reinforcements to the Eastern Front, but they diverted them to ship Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz. They were losing the war, but their main energy still went, not to win, not to even save themselves, but to kill the Jews.

Finally, finally, after the death of the first-born, the Pharaoh says, "Go!"

The Jews leave, the sea splits, the Egyptians follow and they drown. That's the final great event until... Mount Sinai.

January 6, 2001

Article 10 of 68 in the series Jewish History

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Visitor Comments: 8

(5) kz, January 4, 2014 6:18 AM


If i was part of the Egyptian people and witnessed all this from some God other then mine doing these deeds, then i for one would surely abandon my Gods for the real deal. So my question is there any evidence that the Egyptian people moved away from their many gods?

(4) Rick Lee, August 9, 2011 6:01 AM


No historians? Not impressed with the supernatural? Really? These people were all about Gods and the supernatural. It's what they invested great time and energy into. With such a vulgar display of power in front of so many superstitious people, somebody somewhere would have made note of it! The common people surely would have noticed and taken great interest. But nowhere can a mention of these things be found in Egyptian culture. Not one hieroglyph can be found asking, "Hey! Who turned out the lights?" Such a display would certainly have moved common people to look at their own world and systems differently and they would have reacted to it. Yet there is not a shred of anything to suggest this. You expect people to believe some priests and a Pharaoh could repress these events from ever being disclosed, mentioned or discussed by anyone in Egyptian culture? Ever? Really? Did they sequester and/or kill the multitudes that were witness? What about the merchants and traders from other lands and cultures that were surely present, coming and going in and around the epicenter of these great events? Such a great conspiracy of silence it must have been.

Jeff Pomykala, May 25, 2012 9:15 PM

@Rick Lee

Rick, you're looking at it from a modern perspective, which is why you can't believe it. First, the "common folk" couldn't have written anything down - since illiteracy has been the norm until only fairly recently in human history. Writing - even in heiroglyphics - was for the priestly caste back then - and there is no way they would have written about these events, which would make their leader look bad - and get themselves killed.... As to any foreign traders, they may have taken tales back with them, but why would anyone write it down? Seriously! While large events, they would be hearsay stories of some "far away" land, and wouldn't be written down. Dude - there weren't newspapers back then, ok! lol And any folk lore of the events passed orally would just pass away after a few generations - even now adays kids hardly pay attention to mom and dads stories -trudging threw 3 feet of snow to school - uphill both ways. See? Writing was for the ruling and priestly classes, and their only objectives were to espouse their religious beliefs, and make themselves look supreme. The superficial evidence of the exodus is as stated, there was roughly a decade of upheaval in Egypt around the time of the exodus.

Simcha Coffer, June 4, 2012 4:25 AM

Foreign Traders

In response to Rick, Jeff writes that "As to any foreign traders, they may have taken tales back with them, but why would anyone write it down? Seriously! While large events, they would be hearsay stories of some "far away" land, and wouldn't be written down." The problem is, the Torah states openly (Exodus 15: 14-15) that the nations heard of the splitting of the sea and trembled. Terror gripped the Philistines, the princes of Edom were upset, and fear seized the people of Moav, indeed, all the nations who dwelt in Canaan. We say it every day in Az Yashir. It seems from the Torah’s description that they believed these “far away” stories. So, I think that what has to be said is along the lines of Jeff’s original comment. Contemporary writing was limited to the priestly caste and was invariably self-serving. Anyone familiar with archaeology understands that cuneiform and hieroglyphic writings which discuss “historical” events are almost always self-aggrandizing in nature. History as an objective pursuit simply did not exist in those days. Incidentally, this makes the Torah unique. It is the only ancient document which portrays historical events objectively. The fact is, the Torah is brutally honest. It spares no words of criticism against the Jews and even criticizes its greatest leaders. This serves as a source of inspiration to those who believe in the truthfulness of the Torah but look to fortify their belief by appealing to common sense arguments. SC

Lynn Beverly, September 7, 2012 3:59 PM

Loyalty to Egyptian god might hush discussion and writings about Hebrew Exodus

Jeff, Might I humbly ask if perhaps the Egyptians wouldn't have also been disinclined to speak of, or record, The Plagues due to their misbelief that Pharoah himself was "a god". It would just seem to me, if I were living under the ruler ship of such a powerful person, and knew any disloyalty would be punishable by death, I would think long and hard before making any talk of (or writing down anything recording) his being inferior to another man. Now, magnify this concept to the degree of it being "gods" these people believed themselves to be speaking of, when speaking of Pharoah and the "other gods" that had been defeated by God Almighty, and I just can't help but believe there was not just chaos within Egypt, but also within each person's individual heart and mind. To speak of (or record) this defeat, it seems to me, would be risking one's life in more ways than one. Their whole belief system had been assaulted and proven to be a farce! I would imagine the human thing to do, possibly, would be to somewhat paralyzed by fear.

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