Sunday, October 24, 2010

Why the Ten Plagues?

Many view the accounts of miracles and grand stories written in the Old Testament (the Hebrew scriptures), as simply that: grand stories and myths. We may think of other books, such as the Odyssey, where Odysseus goes through many challenges presented by different Greek gods in his attempt to get home, or perhaps the story of how the founders of Rome (Remus and Romulus) were raised by wolves.  Both Greek mythology and Roman mythology were believed to have some significant parallels to the real world and it's inhabitants, making the myths part of their history.  Is this the same with the Hebrew tales written of in the Bible? Is the story of a great flood, Adam and Eve, the ten plagues of ancient Egypt all a form of mythology as well?

That's for you to decipher. But I do want to make mention of there being overwhelming reasoning within the beliefs of ancient Egyptians and their gods, that would give the ten plagues more specific significance than the Bible gives credit for. The account tells that the God of the Israelites sent Moses to Pharaoh to have the enslaved Israelites freed from Egyptian rule, and if Pharaoh did not comply, the God of the Israelites would punish the people of Egypt.  And ten times Pharaoh refused to listen to Moses, so ten times the land of Egypt was plagued, until finally Pharaoh let the Israelites go.  Now, for those of you who aren't familiar with the tale, this is a grossly condensed summary, and I implore you to read further into it, because it's quite the story.

But anyway, what many critics of this story fail to realize is the direct correlation between the plagues that the God of the Israelites placed on the Egyptians, and how each plague was a sign of disrespect (and/or a challenge) to many Egyptian gods and goddesses of the time, and the Egyptians in the story knew it as a sign of disrespect. I'll now go through the ten plagues and the Egyptian gods that were "challenged". (Again, this is not the full account, I'm leaving out many details as to the actual happenings of this tale, and I ask that you please check it out for yourselves. This is to point out particularly what the Bible doesn't make mention of).

1. The first plague was the turning of the Nile river into blood. This lasted for seven days, so they were without drinking water. During that time, as they prayed to Hapi (the Egyptian god of the Nile), nothing happened.

2. The second plague had to deal with frogs coming out of the Nile river. Frogs were everywhere, in the food, in their homes, and in their clothes. Heket (the Egyptian goddess of fertility) had the head of a frog.

3. The third plague was the dust all over Egypt turning into lice. Geb (the Egyptian god of the Earth) was said to be all over the dust, and by it turning to lice it meant that he was now lice.

4. (Whereas the first three plagues would also affect the Israelites, the fourth and subsequent plagues were directed solely to the Egyptians.) Khepri (the Egyptian god of creation) had the head of a fly or dung beetle, and the fourth plague was a swarm of flies.

5. The fifth plague was against the cattle of the Egyptians. They would become gravely sick and in many cases die. Sadly, the Egyptian god of protection and love, Hathor, could not help them. Hathor was commonly depicted with the horns of the cow.

6. The sixth plague brought ashes and boils on the skin of the Egyptians, rendering them "unclean" so they could not honor their gods. Isis (the Egyptian goddess of medicine) could not help them.

7. The seventh plague brought down hail from the skies. Not just ordinary hail, but the tale tells that it was hail of immense sizes and it came down in balls of fire. Nut (goddess of the sky) was nonexistent to help them.

8. The eighth plague brought shame upon their god Set (god of storms and disorder), as the God of the Israelites brought a swarm of locusts about the people of Egypt, depleting whatever crops were still available to harvest causing massive disorder.

9. The ninth plague was three days of total blackness. Nothing was visible to the people of Egypt, because the Sun was nowhere to be found. Even the Egyptian god of the sun, Ra, was powerless to the power of the Israelites God.

10. The last and final plague upon the people of Egypt was a direct challenge to the people's most powerful and highly respected god: Pharaoh himself. The pharaoh was said to be the son of the Sun god, Ra himself, made flesh. The plague that ensued killed all of Egypt's firstborn children, including Pharaoh's own son.

The Bible, although giving a much deeper explanation to these events and a much more compelling "story," does not go as far as to include the challenge that the God of the Israelites placed on the gods of Egypt. 10 out of 10 times though, the God of the Israelites proved more powerful, and this was the message behind their punishment. Can this account be considered historically accurate, though?

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