Frogs leave the Nile for dry land, invade Egyptian homes and die, causing a great stench. Annoying small insects swarm. Annoying large insects swarm.
An epizootic kills different types of livestock in pasture. Boils afflict beasts and humans. An especially severe thunderstorm with lightning and hailstones destroys crops near harvest. Strong winds bear swarms of locusts to obliterate remaining crops. Firstborn Egyptians and their surviving firstborn animals die, while Israelites and their livestock live. In parallel with scientific advances, succeeding authors have offered progressively rational explanations for the plagues, as well summarized by Marr and Malloy [ 2 ].
Over the past half-century, authors of four key papers have put forward competing scientific views.
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These are characterized by differing suggestions for origins of plagues 1 and 5, and whether there was a common source for some plagues, or alternatively serial connections between them. In the late s, Hort attributed the bloody appearance of the Nile River and the fish kill of plague 1 to reddish silt and freshwater flagellates Euglenia sanguinea, Haematococcus pluvialis being carried downstream by torrential waters to overflow onto the flood plain of the Nile Delta [ 3 , 4 ]. She proposed that the unusually strong river overflow caused anthrax spores in contaminated soil to germinate and initiate the epizootic of plague 5 and attributed all but the hail of plague 7 to Nile overflow.
Several decades later, Schoental suggested that red tide due to pigment-producing marine dinoflagellates was responsible for the bloody Nile and fish kill. She, however, proposed a sequential plague connection, e. Hoyte, in , postulated different fresh water dinoflagellates Gymnodinium and Glenodinium sp. Thereafter, Marr and Malloy suggested a different species of freshwater dinoflagellates cyanobacteria for plague 1 and made a connection with plague 2 by proposing that dinoflagellate toxins forced frogs to flee the river.
Moreover, they presented a model in which each of the first nine plagues shaped the next, thereby greatly advancing the concept of sequential plague causation. They also revived consideration of viral origin for plague 5 by suggesting that two viruses — African horse sickness and Bluetongue — were responsible, having been spread by vector insects of plague 3 [ 2 ].
In contrast to varying opinions as to plagues 1 and 5, authors of the three papers addressing plague 9 all agreed the cause was a sandstorm [ 2 , 4 , 6 ]. Therefore, while differing in detail, previous scholars have considered that living agents and abnormal climatic conditions also manifested in the hail of plague 7 and the winds of plague 8 account for the first nine plagues. It is the 10th plague — the seemingly inexplicably pattern of selective killing of Egyptian firstborn humans and animals yet sparing all Hebrew humans and animals — that has posed the thorniest problem for rational elucidation.
Attempts to explain plague 10 vary greatly. Hort essentially avoided the issue by proposing translation and transcription errors. Hoyte also took note of hyperbole or poetic license in quantitative biblical descriptions, e. Somewhat more creatively, Schoental, and later Marr and Malloy, argued that the firstborn died from lethal mycotoxins e. The latter argued that primogeniture permitted firstborn humans to have had first and greatest exposure to the moldy food, as did dominance for firstborn animals.
They attributed survival of younger human and animal siblings to their prompt perception and avoidance of dangers lurking in moldy granaries — but offered no support.
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There is also contention as to the location of the biblical land of Egypt: Hort considered it to have been the whole Nile valley as far south as ancient Nubia, whereas Hoyte argued that the Hebrews of the Old Testament would have perceived it only as the Nile Delta. By contrast, scholars generally agree that the part of the land of Egypt known as the region of Goshen would have been further inland, north of present day Wadi Tumilat and under desert climate influences [ 2 , 3 , 7 ]. Situated at a periphery of the coastal plain, Goshen would have been a pastureland for settled and transient foreigners, including semi-nomadic Hebrew herders.
A composite representation of the ancient eastern Nile Delta not to scale that indicates the proposed general locations of biblical sites and a diagram to scale of the present day region [derived from information in 8 , 9 , 10 ]. As a port city, Rameses would have had direct access to one of the ancient branches of the Nile River shown north of modern Cairo.
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Addressing the central biological or weather event in each plague, we now offer a fresh explanation of both remote and proximate causation, based on historical examples of comparable catastrophes. We also put forward a simple biological explanation for the seemingly inexplicable 10th plague. Drawing from present day knowledge of the interplay of climatic conditions, ecological changes, and arthropod-borne and arthropod-caused diseases, we suggest that the immediate cause of all plagues — in biblical sequence — was unseasonable and progressive climate warming along the eastern Mediterranean coast where Israelites worked in forced labor.
The inland region of Goshen — beyond the climate warming — essentially would have escaped the unseasonable effects. In Africa, India, South America, and China, ENSO atmospheric warming has caused heavy rainfall; mosquito-borne outbreaks of Rift Valley fever RVF , malaria, and dengue; explosion of swarming locusts; and an historically severe red tide causing massive fish kills [ 11 - 16 ].
Large numbers of frogs, dragonflies, crickets, and mosquitoes appeared and were followed by epidemic diseases — seemingly dengue and malaria. It is noteworthy that climate warming alone, without rain, may initiate outbreaks of mosquito-borne disease. This repeatedly occurred in Colombia during the last decades of the 20th century when ENSO-induced increases in ambient temperature together with drought led to stagnation of moving rivers, breeding of vector mosquitoes, and outbreaks of dengue and malaria [ 17 ].
For consistency, we used the well-recognized and authoritative sources of two different translations of the Old Testament published in the 20th and 21st centuries by the Jewish Publication Society [ 18 , 19 ]. Since not all scholars agree that the word choices in these translations reflect the original Hebrew text, we also include independent scholarly opinion personal communication, Ms.
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Janice Friend. Some rabbinic scholars consider the meaning to be flies; others, wild animals based in part on a literal interpretation of Psalm There are also differences in translations in plagues 5 and 10 as to the subjects of epizootic disease. As a parallel to the Peruvian and more recent ENSO episodes, unseasonable and progressive focal climate warming would have lasted two to three months.
This span would have permitted a biblical perspective of plagues as a concatenation of successive, and somewhat overlapping, disasters. Alexandrium miniutum grows well in waters of low salinity having input of nutrient-rich freshwater, conditions likely to have obtained in biblical times at the outflow of the Nile at its late winter-early spring low as human and animal waste and other sewage flowed toward the confined estuary.
Prevailing onshore north winds would have blown the toxic blooms upriver, causing its bloody appearance, fouled drinking water, and fish kill. Increasing water temperatures would have stimulated activity of frogs e. Toward nightfall as temperatures fell, the frogs would have sought warmth in human dwellings; later, lethargic and dehydrated, they would have succumbed to opportunistic infection [ 5 ].
Anaerobic bacteria growing in frog carrion would have made the land stink.
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Continued atmospheric warming would have fostered breeding in swampy areas of various annoying small insects such as biting midges Culicoides species and sand flies Phlebotomus species. Culex, Aedes, and other mosquitoes would have hatched in irrigation ditches near pastures — some to become virus vectors in plague 5 [ 24 - 26 ].
Biting flies, having hatched in soil heavily polluted with animal urine and feces, also would have become abundant with warming weather. As noted by others, stable and black flies including Stomxys and Simulian species would have been especially bothersome [ 2 , 3 , 6 ]. Eggs of some non-biting flies would have hatched on or about animals or humans — in bedding or clothes; their larvae, being capable of growth in mammalian tissue, would later cause plague 6 [ 27 ]. Concurrent RVFV infection in ruminants and West Nile virus WNV in equine species would account for the epizootic of plague 5, having been freshly introduced into the Delta at a time when neither had been present for 10 to 20 years.
Mature Egyptian herdsmen exposed in the pastures would have been unaffected, having acquired active immunity in long-past exposures [ 28 , 29 ]. After hatching, specific fly larvae would burrow into skin and subcutaneous tissues of livestock and humans and develop in situ to cause furuncular myiasis, manifested as inflammatory nodules or boils. Historically in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, several species have caused myiasis in camels, goats, and sheep [ 27 ]. In humans, the tumbu fly Cordylobia anthropophaga has played a role [ 32 , 33 ].
Severe springtime storms occasionally arise in the Middle East. A dangerous hailstorm occurred in Egypt as recently as [ 35 , 36 ]. Afterward, the storm would have left puddles of rainwater and promoted new vegetation from pastures to dwelling places. Violent storm winds blowing first east and then west from the desert would have, respectively, conveyed swarms of desert locusts Schistocerca gregaria into and out of coastal Egypt.
An exact parallel occurred in , as swarming desert locusts were first brought to the seacoast of Egypt from the Arabian Desert by a cyclonic east wind, and then carried away by a similar west wind [ 37 ]. As violent storm winds subsided, prevailing warm sea winds laden with moisture would have returned to the northern Delta to overlay cool desert air left by plague 8.
Condensation of moisture would yield a dense advection fog. This sea fog would have obscured all light along the coast. Absent dissipating wind or air shift for three days, darkness would have persisted. Dense fogs in Egypt have caused multiple fatal vehicular accidents as recently as [ 38 ]. New vegetation and water puddles resulting from the storm of plague 7 would have promoted breeding of mosquitoes and attracted birds.
Immune mature Egyptians would have survived exposures to both viruses [ 30 , 31 ]. Non-immune younger Egyptians including firstborn and domiciled livestock would have died from one or the other. Disturbed climatic conditions over the biblical land of Egypt clearly are evident in the Old Testament account of plagues 7 and 8, bespeaking the turbulent atmospheric events of a supercell storm bearing hailstones to destroy crops and veering winds to drive swarms of locusts to and fro.
Unseasonable springtime warming would have precipitated such a storm, like the thunderstorm over the Sinai desert of Egypt in April occurring after an unusual one-week heat wave [ 35 ]. To account for an extended two- to three-month period of unseasonable climate warming that would have led to the succession of plagues, it is necessary to infer a more extraordinary climatic phenomenon.
We make the case that the seminal event was an ENSO teleconnection, causing progressive warming along the Mediterranean coast of biblical Egypt for such duration. Goshen, lying beyond the boundary of climate change, would thereby escape all or most plagues. The description of the 10 plagues depicts an increasingly severe sequence of public health catastrophes: red tide and its toxic sequels of fish kill, water pollution and expulsion of frogs from the Nile; explosions of various arthropod populations; two episodes of epizootic and epidemic diseases the second causing deaths of firstborn ; a turbulent atmosphere with thunder, lightening, rain and hail, and then violent winds; and loss of daylight.
Historical records of catastrophes occurring after atmospheric disturbances caused by ENSO teleconnections mirror the Old Testament account, save for hail and loss of daylight [ 16 , 11 - 15 , 17 ]. We propose that the hail and loss of daylight also had an ENSO origin in a supercell storm.
The Old Testament record provides an opportunity to consider the breadth of public services that might be required in event of another series of ENSO calamities. Were a populous region to now be struck with catastrophes that parallel the biblical elements, essential public health, medical, and veterinary services likely would be overwhelmed. In fact, as preparation for adverse public health effects of climate change, Fromkin and colleagues at the U. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are calling upon public health policymakers and professionals at all levels to plan coordinated responses [ 41 ].
In event of sustained increases in mean ambient temperatures, they anticipate a risk of tropical arthropod-borne infectious diseases, including RVFV and WNV outbreaks, and propose both surveillance of vector-borne diseases and the potential-for-vector-borne-diseases, the latter to be done by monitoring temperature, rainfall and vector populations.
Bunyavirus and flavivirus outbreaks have been documented after an ENSO cycle [ 11 , 17 ]. Whereas WNV infection often may be fatal to equines [ 42 ], we find no reports of WNV infection causing serious disease, let alone death, in adult camels. In contrast, RVFV infection is often deadly for many ruminant species, but does not cause clinical signs in equines [ 43 ]. Some young ruminants are especially susceptible to RVFV: The mortality rate of infection for newborn lambs is greater than 90 percent, whereas for sheep it is 30 percent [ 44 ].