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The Ten Plagues: Natural Disasters or Divine Intervention?

Although faith and science generally walk along different paths, they sometimes intersect. Such as when scientists muse about finding natural explanations for biblical events that appear to be supernatural.

The Ten Plagues of Egypt, which led to Moses leading the Israelites out of slavery, are intimately connected to the Passover story. The final plague involved the slaying of the first-born sons of Egyptians, whereas the first-born sons of the Israelites were "passed over".

Is it possible that the plagues can actually be explained by a a chain of natural phenomena triggered by changes in the climate and environmental disasters?

Climatologists studying the ancient climate around the suggested time of the Exodus, approximately 3000 years ago, have discovered a dramatic climate shift. By studying stalagmites in Egyptian caves, they have been able to rebuild a record of the weather patterns. It would have been very possible for the rising temperatures to have caused the river Nile to dry up, turning what once was a fast-flowing river and Egypt's lifeline into a slow-moving and muddy watercourse, which could perfectly explain the first plague - the Nile turning to “blood.”

But what about the Nile changing colour? The hypothesis states that it could be the result of a bloom of toxic fresh water algae known as Oscillatoria rubescens, that is known to have existed 3,000 years ago and still causes similar effects today. The algae multiply in slow-moving warm waters with high levels of nutrition and when they die, they stain the water red.

This multiplication of the algae could also have set in motion the events which led to the second, third and fourth plagues - frogs, lice, and flies.

Why?

Well the toxic algae could have forced the frogs to leave the water causing them to cover every inch of dry land and be left to perish. And without any predators to eat the frogs away, it is possible that flies and insects could have flourished. And what comes along with insects. Disease! Which could have afflicted both livestock and people, thereby explaining the subsequent plagues of Pestilence, which killed the majority of the Egyptians’ wild animals, and Boils, which possibly, through the spread of anthrax bacteria, struck the people of Egypt.

Then there were the 7th, 8th, and 9th plagues – Hail, Locusts and Darkness – that could also have occurred due to another major natural disaster. Thera, a volcano that was part of the Mediterranean islands of Santorini, exploded around 3,500 year ago in what was one of the biggest volcanic eruptions in human history, spewing billions of tons of volcanic ash into the atmosphere. And believe it or not, volcanic ash can trigger hailstorms. It can also cause clouds to release their water content thereby creating the perfect atmospheric conditions for the growth of locusts. The subsequent darkness could also be attributed to this volacanic ash, as it could have blocked out the sunlight.

What evidence is there for this? Pumice, which is stone made from cooled volcanic lava, has been found during excavations of Egyptian ruins despite there not being any volcanoes in Egypt. Analysis of the rock shows that it came from the Santorini volcano, providing physical evidence that the ash fallout from the eruption at Santorini reached Egyptian shores.

The cause of the final and 10th plague, the Death of the First-Born, has been suggested as being caused by a fungus that may have poisoned the grain supplies, of which the first born male children would have had first pickings and so have been the first to fall victim.

Or, it could have all been divine intervention. Who knows?


@JoeSchwarcz

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