Rediscovering the Exodus
One of the most pivotal events in Jewish history is the Exodus. No other event played such a defining role in the establishment of a people. Yet, the entire story appears to be absent from the cultural histories of those nations in the immediate vicinity at the time the event likely occurred. This has led many to claim that the plagues and the actual events of the Exodus never occurred otherwise this vacuum could not exist. Faith can take one only so far before doubts begin to creep into one’s belief system. But without the Exodus, the justification for monotheism, the rational origins for Judaism, Christianity and Islam are suddenly placed in a precarious situation. And as bizarre as this might seem to religious fanatics, we may have to rely on science to prove that the events of the Exodus. What has always been perceived and accused of being the anathema of religion may in fact prove to be its savior. By understanding what science has recorded and teaches us about the time period, through means of extrapolation we can rediscover the Exodus.
The Ultimate Scientist
There are those that no matter how you try to explain to them that events of Torah were described through the perceptions of people that lived during the time and therefore we of a more modern and learned time must interpret their words carefully but they were biased by the limitations of their knowledge and they refuse to accept this. Their response is that everything in the Torah has to be accepted literally and if you cannot accept this, then you are not a true believer. These are the same people that if you show them a uranium dated rock as being three billion years old, accuse you of being in league with the Devil as their world is only less than 6000 years old. Interestingly enough, the Devil isn’t in the Torah but they’re willing to accept him as being so.
The reality is that their reliance, and our reliance shouldn’t be based on the words of men, for as I stated, those perceptions could only be manifested through their current level of knowledge which we know was minimal at best, but instead based upon that which God has taught us. As we begin to understand the universe that God created, we begin to appreciate the beautifully designed plan that He worked from. God created the rules of physics, the laws of nature, to achieve His master plan. Like an architect, He had a blueprint from which He designed everything around us and only now do we even have an inkling of how He achieved this great design. It is in this context that we must view the events of the Exodus, as naturally occurring events which followed a sequence of events dictated by physical laws. And as we now know, energy can be converted into physical mass. In other words, that which did not exist as a solid object, can be created when enough energy is released and converted. Had we had the equipment at the time of Moses, we would have been able to measure the EDMs and EMPs that probably preceded each event. One could even suggest that Moses was given the gift of sensing these energy spikes prior to the event, like the rheumatism in one’s bones making them sensitive to an oncoming storm. Only Moses would be able to say for certain, but nevertheless, the fact that we know enough now about energy transformation and conversion, and can appreciate that God is pure energy and the source of all that is, then science does tell us that everything was possible.
Chronology of the Plagues
From Exodus Chapter 7 we read:
לְעֵינֵי פַרְעֹה, וּלְעֵינֵי עֲבָדָיו; וַיֵּהָפְכוּ וַיַּעֲשׂוּ-כֵן מֹשֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְהוָה, וַיָּרֶם בַּמַּטֶּה וַיַּךְ אֶת-הַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר בַּיְאֹר, כָּל-הַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר-בַּיְאֹר, לְדָם. 20
And Moses and Aaron did so, as the LORD commanded; and he lifted up the rod, and smote the waters that were in the river, in the sight of Pharaoh, and in the sight of his servants; and all the waters that were in the river were turned to blood.
וְלֹא-יָכְלוּ מִצְרַיִם, לִשְׁתּוֹת מַיִם מִן-הַיְאֹר; וַיְהִי הַדָּם בְּכָל-אֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם וְהַדָּגָה אֲשֶׁר-בַּיְאֹר מֵתָה, וַיִּבְאַשׁ הַיְאֹר 21 And the fish that were in the river died; and the river became foul, and the Egyptians could not drink water from the river; and the blood was throughout all the land of Egypt
As strange as this first plague may seem to be, rivers turning to blood on demand, it is not that unusual. We know from events like the eruption of Krakatau, when there is a major disturbance to the bedrock, there is often the release of corrosive toxins such as iron oxide. It is iron oxide which give Mars the nickname, the Red Planet. As with Krakatau, fish died in the hundreds of thousands and this devastation extended for hundreds of miles. If there was a major earth shattering event that made Krakatau look like a relative non-event, the release of iron oxide in Egypt would not have been that unlikely.
Since an event of this nature also occurred during the eruption of Mt. Saint Helen’s where fish were found floating dead on the surface of the riverways hundreds of kilometres from the volcano, and that the drinking of water in the area was forbidden until such time that the impurities could be filtered from the reservoirs, then we have on a much smaller scale, a repetition of biblical events.
And from Exodus Chapter 8 we read:
- אֱמֹר אֶל-אַהֲרֹן נְטֵה אֶת-יָדְךָ בְּמַטֶּךָ, עַל-הַנְּהָרֹת עַל-הַיְאֹרִים וְעַל-הָאֲגַמִּים; וְהַעַל אֶת וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה -הַצְפַרְדְּעִים, עַל-אֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם.
1 And the LORD said unto Moses: 'Say unto Aaron: Stretch forth thy hand with thy rod over the rivers, over the canals, and over the pools, and cause frogs to come up upon the land of Egypt.'
, הַצְּפַרְדֵּעַ, וַתְּכַס, אֶת-אֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם וַיֵּט אַהֲרֹן אֶת-יָדוֹ, עַל מֵימֵי מִצְרָיִם; וַתַּעַל.
2 And Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt; and the frogs came up, and covered the land of Egypt.
וַיַּעֲשׂוּ-כֵן הַחַרְטֻמִּים, בְּלָטֵיהֶם; וַיַּעֲלוּ אֶת-הַצְפַרְדְּעִים, עַל-אֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם.
3 And the magicians did in like manner with their secret arts, and brought up frogs upon the land of Egypt
As soon as the water became contaminated by the metal toxins, amphibians have a choice to make. Either stay in the water or run to the next water source in the hope that it would be cleaner. If they chose to stay they would die, and even the most primitive of neuro-responders have built in fight or flight receptors that tell them when they in dire consequences. So the swarming of the frogs over the land would have been a normal sequelae and the Egyptian magicians would have been able to think they could reproduce it as well since they could walk to any water source and see similar events unfolding. In modern times we have seen a similar event though are memories are short lived and people seem to forget. After Mount St. Helen’s erupted, the toxins from the volcano had settled into most of the water courses and as a result, there were frogs stretching throughout Washington State that were making a run for it but with nowhere to go. People reported that they could not drive down the roads without literally squashing them in the thousands and this became a driving risk as the roads became slick with frog blood and remains. In the local newspapers the stories talked about people finding their lawns covered in frogs, and in their search for water, the amphibians were invading the houses.
Later in Chapter 8 we read:
וְסָרוּ הַצְפַרְדְּעִים, מִמְּךָ וּמִבָּתֶּיךָ, וּמֵעֲבָדֶיךָ, וּמֵעַמֶּךָ: רַק בַּיְאֹר, תִּשָּׁאַרְנָה.
7 And the frogs shall depart from thee, and from thy houses, and from thy servants, and from thy people; they shall remain in the river only.'
וַיֵּצֵא מֹשֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן, מֵעִם פַּרְעֹה; וַיִּצְעַק מֹשֶׁה אֶל-יְהוָה, עַל-דְּבַר הַצְפַרְדְּעִים אֲשֶׁר-שָׂם לְפַרְעֹה.
8 And Moses and Aaron went out from Pharaoh; and Moses cried unto the LORD concerning the frogs, which He had brought upon Pharaoh.
וַיַּעַשׂ יְהוָה, כִּדְבַר מֹשֶׁה; וַיָּמֻתוּ, הַצְפַרְדְּעִים, מִן-הַבָּתִּים מִן-הַחֲצֵרֹת, וּמִן-הַשָּׂדֹת.
9 And the LORD did according to the word of Moses; and the frogs died out of the houses, out of the courts, and out of the fields.
וַיִּצְבְּרוּ אֹתָם, חֳמָרִם חֳמָרִם; וַתִּבְאַשׁ, הָאָרֶץ.
10 And they gathered them together in heaps; and the land stank.
The significance of these four sentences is paramount to our understanding of events. What we read in sentences 8 through 10 are in contradiction to what Moses stated he would do in sentence 7. His promise to Pharaoh was to make the frogs depart, essentially return to the river where they would be confined once again. But even as he prayed to God, the resultant solution was not as he had promised but instead was massive deaths of the creatures. Moses did not have complete control nor full understanding of the events occurring. Because the fact was that the water was still contaminated and the frogs could not return to the waters. And as we all know about amphibians, without water to maintain their hydration, the oxygen diffusion skin ratios, etc., they die. And they died in such numbers that the Egyptians made mountains of their remains. And rather than burn them, it would appear that they permitted these corpses to remain in their piles until they stank.
כָּל-עֲפַר הָאָרֶץ הָיָה כִנִּים וַיַּעֲשׂוּ-כֵן, וַיֵּט אַהֲרֹן אֶת-יָדוֹ בְמַטֵּהוּ וַיַּךְ אֶת-עֲפַר הָאָרֶץ, וַתְּהִי הַכִּנָּם, בָּאָדָם וּבַבְּהֵמָה: , בְּכָל-אֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם.
13 And they did so; and Aaron stretched out his hand with his rod, and smote the dust of the earth, and there were gnats upon man, and upon beast; all the dust of the earth became gnats throughout all the land of Egypt.
I prefer this translation of the next plague being that of gnats, and not lice as some versions have been translated. But even more so, I would suggest that the Egyptians made little distinction between gnats or mosquitoes and subsequently there are few words to describe these insects in the ancient hieroglyphics. For an appreciation of the event as translated being gnats then we merely have to look at more recent situations such as the volcanic eruptions of Mount Pelee in 1851 and again in 1902. After the eruptions, swarms of flying ants descended upon the villagers and viciously attacked the people. The ants caused the people to flee, consumed their plantations and were reported to have killed babies through their bites and acid stings. Gnats fly, lice don’t. Either way, gnats or mosquitoes, their lives were made miserable. Of course we also know, that mosquitoes in Egypt bring other plagues, such as malaria, Nile Fever, etc. Something to consider.
, מִפְּנֵי הֶעָרֹב וַיַּעַשׂ יְהוָה, כֵּן, וַיָּבֹא עָרֹב כָּבֵד, בֵּיתָה פַרְעֹה וּבֵית עֲבָדָיו; וּבְכָל-אֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם תִּשָּׁחֵת הָאָרֶץ.
20 And the LORD did so; and there came grievous swarms of flies into the house of Pharaoh, and into his servants' houses; and in all the land of Egypt the land was ruined by reason of the swarms of flies.
The flies should be seen as a natural consequence of rotting corpses of all the frogs, fish, and everything else that may have been affected from the toxic nature of the water. And as any entomologist will inform you, flies go through cycles in which they become active biters as well, a carnivorous phase when they are seeking out living creatures on which to feed.
The events of Chapter 9 become far more serious:
וַיַּעַשׂ יְהוָה אֶת-הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה, מִמָּחֳרָת, וַיָּמָת, כֹּל מִקְנֵה מִצְרָיִם; וּמִמִּקְנֵה בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, לֹא-מֵת אֶחָד.
6 And the LORD did that thing on the morrow, and all the cattle of Egypt died; but of the cattle of the children of Israel died not one.
The loss of all the Egyptian cattle is contradicted in sentences 19 and 20 of the same chapter and therefore we realize that the events of sentence 6 was intended as an exaggeration, emphasizing that the Egyptians suffered more than the Israelites but then it was unlikely the Israelites had as extensive a farming industry as the Egyptians, and being in Goshen, the ocean breezes and the fresh moving river waters as they came into the basins of salt water would have meant that the insect populations were far less than those inland.
וַיִּקְחוּ אֶת-פִּיחַ הַכִּבְשָׁן, וַיַּעַמְדוּ לִפְנֵי פַרְעֹה, וַיִּזְרֹק אֹתוֹ מֹשֶׁה, הַשָּׁמָיְמָה; וַיְהִי, שְׁחִין אֲבַעְבֻּעֹת, פֹּרֵחַ, בָּאָדָם וּבַבְּהֵמָה.
10 And they took soot of the furnace, and stood before Pharaoh; and Moses threw it up heavenward; and it became a boil breaking forth with blains upon man and upon beast.
וַיֵּט מֹשֶׁה אֶת-מַטֵּהוּ, עַל-הַשָּׁמַיִם, וַיהוָה נָתַן קֹלֹת וּבָרָד, וַתִּהֲלַךְ אֵשׁ אָרְצָה; וַיַּמְטֵר יְהוָה בָּרָד עַל-אֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם
We can assume that whatever the clouds were that were passing overhead they definitely weren’t raincloud. In fact the plagues to follow next suggested that the Egyptians were looking a volcanic ash and far more of it than that which was spewing from the volcano in Iceland that grounded all European air traffic for a week. It may have come in waves, it may have come all at once, but whatever the case, its high acidic content caused severe rashes and burns to all that it touched. This is right in line with reports of hundreds of people following the eruption of Mount St Helen’s that had to be taken to the hospital for treatment of acid burns from the fallout. And just as Moses suggested, it was a contact dermatitis because if the farmers took their beasts inside and sheltered them, then they did not develop the sores.
It is when we start discussing the plagues associated with the soot and the hail that people start to reject the concept of a geophysical event, since they appear out of order with the locusts and darkness that follow afterwards. But the question I will raise is where does it insist that the events as they were being retold were guaranteed as being chronological? As a retelling of the plagues, God wanted us to remember what devastation he had brought down upon Egypt but I see no insistence that they must be recalled in a specific order for a specific reason. Nor is there anything to suggest that events could not have overlapped in some respects. It is only the third party narrator that says Moses went back and forth between events to pray to God thereby separating the plagues into distinct timeframes, but who’s to say that each time he prayed represented, a day or days, or even weeks. Perhaps these intervals of prayer were several times within a single day. The point of the redactor was to emphasize that as intermediary, Moses communicated often with God and God would speak directly to him. Timing was not the issue here but the evidence of divine intercession.
23 And Moses stretched forth his rod toward heaven; and the LORD sent thunder and hail, and fire ran down unto the earth; and the LORD caused to hail upon the land of Egypt.
Without a doubt we are looking at the fire and ash that one associates with a volcanic eruption. What the Egyptians perceived as thunder could have just as easily been the massive rumblings of a distant volcano. The obvious question would be why a people so famous for their historical recordings would not report such a major geophysical event? I will deal with the answer to that question in the next article because there is a logical explanation.
Chapter 10 becomes the clean up mission prior to the Exodus. By clean up I mean anything that hasn’t already been destroyed was not being destroyed, leaving Egypt with nothing of value.
וַיַּעַל הָאַרְבֶּה, עַל כָּל-אֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, וַיָּנַח בְּכֹל גְּבוּל מִצְרָיִם: כָּבֵד מְאֹד--לְפָנָיו לֹא-הָיָה כֵן אַרְבֶּה כָּמֹהוּ, וְאַחֲרָיו לֹא, יִהְיֶה-כֵּן.
14 And the locusts went up over all the land of Egypt, and rested in all the borders of Egypt; very grievous were they; before them there were no such locusts as they, neither after them shall be such
As I mentioned, there may have been alterations to the chronological events as it was not necessary to record them in the exact order, but also, the possibility of locusts swarming after a major devastation of crops from the ash and fires would not be out of the question. So in fact, this third plague of insect might be in its proper place.
וַיֵּט מֹשֶׁה אֶת-יָדוֹ, עַל-הַשָּׁמָיִם; וַיְהִי חֹשֶׁךְ-אֲפֵלָה בְּכָל-אֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, שְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים.
22 And Moses stretched forth his hand toward heaven; and there was a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days
We already saw earlier that there were clouds of acid ash descending upon people and the beasts. Initially it would have looked like snowflakes but as the clouds of volcanic ash and debris increased in their magnitude and extent, they would have eventually formed an ash cloud that blotted out the sun. Three days of darkness gives you an appreciation of just how large this cloud had to be and just as the ancients would panic about an eclipse that lasted for minutes, that fear would also be intensified as each of those days appeared to stretch on for an eternity.
The final and greatest plague occurs in Chapter 11:
וּמֵת כָּל-בְּכוֹר, בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם--מִבְּכוֹר פַּרְעֹה הַיֹּשֵׁב עַל-כִּסְאוֹ, עַד בְּכוֹר הַשִּׁפְחָה אֲשֶׁר אַחַר הָרֵחָיִם וְכֹל, בְּכוֹר בְּהֵמָה
5 and all the first-born in the land of Egypt shall die, from the first-born of Pharaoh that sitteth upon his throne, even unto the first-born of the maid-servant that is behind the mill; and all the first-born of cattle.
We are all aware of the story of how fresh blood was to be painted on the lintel and door posts of the homes where the Hebrews dwelled. Whereas the emphasis has always been placed on the ‘sign’ perhaps it should have focused on the blood itself. Having suffered through what may have been days or weeks of catastrophic events, the penultimate plague could be nothing less than death. Epidemiologist will tell you similar stories of how people were able to thwart plagues carried by insect vectors by similar means. Insect vectors will be attracted to the easiest food source available. The path of least resistance so to speak. Moses through the word of God, knew how to avoid this last plague but not necessarily why.
What was unique about this last plague was the enormity of the events which followed, the apparent knowledge by one man of exactly how everything would play out, and the predictability of Pharaoh’s behaviour. Firstborn is a common expression for those of the aristocracy and here it is most likely suggesting that the princes, nobles and wealthy of Egypt were not immune from the plagues. This is further emphasized with the mention of the maid servant to emphasize that this was not merely the death of the poor and helpless. And further emphasized when the term is used again for cattle. Cattle don’t have firstborn. Calves are usually born singly and as they mature are either put into production or slaughtered. Therefore there is nothing recorded to identify what was the first calve of any cow, so it is obvious that the reference to firstborn means something else. Once again, the reasonable suggestion is a reference to something ‘elite’. In this case, a prize cow. As we recall from the boils, Moses had suggested that all the farmers bring their prize cattle in doors and that would protect them. Here the event is being contrasted to that earlier plague. In other words there was nothing that could be done to protect the cattle from certain death. Even if brought in doors, without the blood on the entryway, they would surely die.
To Be Continued
But there is far more to be considered from a scientific perspective than just the plagues. There is geology and archaeology that still has to be considered in the backdrop of these world changing events. Because although the written word of mankind can be lost, altered or never written in the first place, there will always be a record of events recorded in some other manner. These I will explore in the next article and I hope that by the time I’m finished, there will be no doubt in anyone’s mind that Moses and the Exodus are far more than an interesting story of mythical proportions. For me to present the scenario of a volcano or similar being responsible for the Greatest Story ever told, then there has to be some proof of an eruption of enormous magnitude occurring at the time. There must be events to suggest that such catastrophes didn’t occur just in Egypt but in numerous other areas around the Mediterranean around the same time. Be assured, I would not have raised this topic if I didn’t have far more to say on this matter to support this train of thought. It’s just time to take a break and begin writing the next article.
Avrom Aryeh-Zuk Kahana