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The Ten Plagues

The Learning Channel recently aired a program on the Ten Plagues (4/98) that discussed the theory that the plagues weren't ten separate events, but one long series of connected events.

The first thing the scholars determined was the time frame. They agreed on 1260 BC, about a thousand years after the pyramids were built. Supposedly around that time, the Egyptian life centered around Memphis, just south of present-day Cairo, and the Israelites were living 50-80 miles northeast of there.

The first plague turned the waters to blood, the fish died and the river stank. The show's contention is that this constituted a local outbreak of pfiesteria. This is the organism that killed many fish off the coast of North Carolina recently. The phenomena produces sores on the fish that leak blood and this, with the red pigment that occurs with some strains of the organism, would account for the first plague.

Once the fish had died and polluted the water, the next plague--frogs--appeared. Seeing all the fish were dead, there was nothing feeding on the spawn and huge groups of frogs would hatch and look to leave the stinking river. Toads of the specific genus Bufo are supposedly very common throughout the world and they have large clutches of eggs, so that the numbers can go up drastically within a short period of time if the conditions are right. Why the frogs died, however, was not discussed. Nevertheless, with all the frogs dead, the insect population would explode.

The next plague was of lice. The explanation for this plague was put off as exactly which insect was meant by the word "lice" was difficult to pin down. Seeing the classification of insects didn't come about until 1,000 years later, the experts believed that there were too many unanswered questions to make a definite choice.

They moved on to plague #4, the swarm of flies. They whittled the field down to 5 possibilities with just one fitting all the criteria--the stable fly. These types of flies bite and they lay up to 500 eggs at a time.

Next came the murrain on animals, an epidemic of sickness among livestock. Anthrax was discounted because no humans were infected. Hoof and mouth disease also was shot down because the tell-tale signs were not mentioned in the Bible narrative. To get this info they went to a USDA agency located on Plum Island off of the coast of CT where they were doing animal research for the Department of Agriculture. The expert there stated he thought this plague was caused by two different diseases--African horse sickness which strikes quickly and affects horses, mules and asses, and blue tongue, which is another closely related virus of the same family, which would attack the cattle, sheep and goats.

Once they had decided on what the murrain was, they discovered that those two viruses were transmitted by Culicoides, the midge or no-see-um and this gave them the missing plague of the lice. Elusive plague number three was identified as the midge which would attack humans and animals, but would also transmit a disease to the animals, but not to man.

On to plague #6, boils, blains or ulcers. They were looking for something that would affect both man and humans and found it in an obscure bacterial infection called "glanders" that could possibly be transmitted by the stable fly. Apparently this disease was described by ancient Greek and Roman historians and was even used as a biological warfare agent in WWI. This disease affects horses, camels, oxen, sheep, pigs and humans and causes lymph nodes to expand and oftentimes leads to death.

The Egyptians would have been having a very hard time of it by now (with the Israelites being spared these local occurrences because they were situated too far away to have been affected). The food supply was dwindling as the fish were dead, the cattle were dying and the Egyptian's last hope was about to be wiped out by the next plague--the hail. This is not uncommon in the area, but for the Egyptians it was very untimely.

The eighth plague, locusts, would finish off whatever the hail had not totally destroyed. And to add to their woes, the ninth plague, three days of darkness which the experts believe to have been a sandstorm, hits the area. The land is now covered with a layer of sand.

What crops the Egyptians had been able to harvest would have been hastily stored away in small pits under the desert sand, then the sandstorm would have created a "blanket" that bakes the stored crops and increases rotting. This rotting would have produced mold which in certain conditions can produce mycotoxins. Stachybotrys atra, a mycotoxin released by black mold in damp areas has been implicated in the deaths of many children recently in Cleveland. Many homes of the infected children showed evidence of this mold in the basement caused by water damage. If this toxin had been present in the grain that was left after the other nine plagues, it could account for the tenth plague--the death of the firstborn. Apparently this mycotoxin grows best on cellulose--grains and cereals--and can kill within hours.

According to the Bible, the eldest customarily receives a double portion. This may be the reason why the firstborn alone died--he was the only one who ingested enough of the mycotoxin for it to be lethal. This, however, does not account for why the firstborn of the animals died. The Jews at this time, Passover, would have been eating lamb, herbs and unleavened bread which the experts consider to be safe from contamination.

The show ended by saying: "For Jews, the ten plagues were directed by the hand of God, but we can begin to see now how that hand may have moved." It's an interesting hypothesis.

If you'd like to buy a video of the program


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