So yea, the story of the Exodus and the plot climax building up to Passover is quite a story. It is a story that we see portrayed in great epic movies such as The Ten Commandments and as cartoons on Christian television stations. Today most people who hear and see this story
being told regard it as a story of the power of the Old Testament God - fire and brimstone type guy. They see the might of the Judeo-Christian God and His wrath. However, they miss out on much of the story that
people 4000 years ago or so would have understood,
Exodus chapters 7 through 12 (7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12)are written as a refutation of Egyptian religion. Each plague or action is
showing the power of the Judeo-Christian God over the Egyptian gods - one by one. Exodus 12:12 stated this as "against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment"
and Numbers 33:4 did again.
The Zeroth plague should be considered the transformation of Aaron's staff into a snake. The snake itself was the symbol of the reign of the Pharaoh and his rule.
The first plague was that of changing the Nile river to blood. The Nile river was critical for life in Egypt - the annual flooding providing fertile soil for farming. Overseeing this was Hapi (the god of the river itself) and Osiris (the god of fertility as applicable to farming).
The second plague was also one that affected the Nile river, though it extended also to Heqt. In Egypt, the frog was seen as a good thing - representing the number 100,000 and also the very concept of a blessing.
The goddess Heqt was seen as a responsible goddess, though the plague being uncontrollable showed the Judeo-Christian god as being more powerful.
Next, was the plague of lice. When we look back at images of Egyptian life, we see everyone with shaved heads and wigs. This was essential to avoid lice in that time and climate. It was critical for the priests to be absolutely clean (ritual purification and cleansing) for worshiping their gods - the plague of lice prevented the priests from being clean and thus unable to worship any of the Egyptian deities. Furthermore, this plague extended to the animals preventing any of them from being sacrificed to the gods because they too were unclean.
The fourth plague was the plague of flies. The literal word used was a 'swarm' (awrob in Hebrew) though not specifically flies (flies was added by the translators to try to clear up the image). While not
specified what insect, the swarm was one of biting insects (Psalm 78:45 uses the same word and is used in conjunction with devoured). Similar to the plague of lice, the plague of flies made the people, the land, and the animals unclean. Chances are the swarms were that of dung beatles - the scarab. With jaws that can saw through wood this was a very destructive bug. Furthermore, the scarab was related to Ra who had the head of a beatle (the Egyptians thought that Ra pushed the sun across the heavens as a dung beatle pushes its ball of dung in front of it). The scarab was also a symbol of rebirth with the creation of the dung ball as burial and then the birth of a new generation of beatles from this ball. This was associated with the sun and its rebirth each morning.
The fifth plague was a sickness of the livestock. Livestock (cows in particular) were related to the mother goddess, Hathor. Cows themselves were sacred and a symbol of fertility. Aside from continuing to make sacrificial animals unclean, this is a direct attack upon Hathor just as the first and second plagues where attacks on Hapi, Osiris and Heqt. The goddess Hathor was regarded as the symbolic mother of the Pharaoh. Other gods also were bull headed (pardon the pun) - Apis was a bull and the embodiment of Ptah. The gods Khnum (the ram god) and Bast (the cat goddess) were also associated with livestock.
The plague of boils follows, again affecting both people and animals rendering them unclean. To the Egyptians, there was no difference between medicine and religion - they were one and the same overseen by the gods Imhotep, Serapis (god of healing), and Thoth (god of intelligence and medicine). Imhotep was the adviser and physician to Pharaoh Zoser (about 3150 B.C.) who was later worshiped as a god of knowledge and medicine.
The seventh plague was the one of hail. This plague damaged crops which were to be protected by Isis and Seth. The skies themselves were controlled by Nut - a sky goddess and mother of several other major Egyptian gods (Osiris, Hathor, Set, Isis, and Nephtys)
Locusts were the eighth plague. Locusts (or as many are more familiar with them - grasshoppers) can be devastating in great numbers. In the 1920s and 30s West Africa was devastated by them, affecting an area twice the size of
the United States. Small swarms of locusts can devastate the food for a village - eating all the stored grain and every plant and fruit in the fields. To the Egyptians, prayers to Nepri (god of grain), Ermutet
(goddess of childbirth and crops), Isis (goddess of fertility and crops), Thermuthis (goddess of fertility and crops), and Seth (god of crops) where all left unanswered.
The plague of darkness was an attack against the most powerful god in the Egyptian Parthenon, that of Ra - the sun god. To a believer in the Egyptian gods, this was a demonstration that Apophis had beaten Ra and swallowed the sun and Chaos shall reign. Likewise Ptah (creator of the sun, moon, and earth), Atum (sun god worshiped in Heliopolis) where silent. Minor gods related to the sun include Tem, god of the sunset and Shu, god of sunlight and air.
The last plague - that of the death of the firstborn is distinct in that it was performed by God Himself, rather than through Moses and Aaron as
all the previous ones have been. This act killed the Pharaoh's first born son and heir, and thus a god himself. Aside from this being a direct attack on the divinity of the Pharaoh, Renenutet (the cobra goddess and guardian of the Pharaoh) was also under fire.
Much research has been done in the area of the plagues, and one researcher, John Davis, has found a reasonable time frame and explanation.
- June - the Nile becomes red from microorganisms after becoming stagnant
- July - Frogs after the flooding of the Nile
- Summer - lice
- Summer - flies
- Summer - a plague on domestic animals (possibly anthrax and thus related to the boils)
- Summer - boils (likely skin anthrax)
- January - Hail and rain (date determined by the crops mentioned in Exodus 9:25)
- February - appearance of locusts in the spring with the green crops
- March - Sandstorms obscure the sky
- April - Passover
The plagues also form a set of repetitions - three sets of three and then one. The first three plagues where directed at the priests attending the Pharaoh. While the first two plagues were able to be duplicated, they were not able to be reversed. The second set of three plagues distinguished between the Israelites and the Egyptians. In no case did one of the second set of three plagues extend to the land of Goshen where the Israelites lived. The last set of three where the most severe and once again distinguished the Israelites from the Egyptians. The 10th plague, was unique in that it was carried out by God Himself, rather than directed by Moses and Aaron. Furthermore, the death of the firstborn lies outside of the natural course of events.