Ancient Egypt

Ramses and the Plagues

Scientists and intellectuals have long disputed the veracity of the plagues that God wrought upon the ancient Egyptians because the pharaoh would not free them. Many say that a loving God would not do such a thing, many don't believe in an omnipotent and omniscient God, and many consider this a fairy tale rather than an actual event.

Recent archaeological evidence has been unearthed, however, that lends validity to the account of the plagues in ancient Egypt, although they have been attributed to natural, environmental phenomena rather than to a deity. Due to the time frame of these phenomena, scientists postulate that they occurred during the reign of Ramses II.

  • Plague 1 - water turned into blood
  • Plague 2 - frogs everywhere
  • Plague 3 - lice, gnats, fleas
  • Plague 4 - flies
  • Plague 5 - diseased livestock
  • Plague 6 - boils
  • Plague 7 - fiery hail and thunderstorms
  • Plague 8 - locusts
  • Plague 9 - darkness for three days
  • Plague 10 - death of firstborn males

The location of these plagues was Pi-Ramses, the capital of Egypt during the reign of Ramses II, who ruled from 1279 BC to 1213 BC. Located on the Nile delta, Pi-Ramses was apparently a thriving metropolis, but it was abandoned for no apparent cause.

The First Plague

The First Plague of Egypt

During most of the reign of Ramses II, the climate of Pi-Ramses was wet and rather tropical. Inexplicably, the climate became dry and desert-like toward the end of his reign. This could have triggered the first plague, which was the Nile turning to blood. This climate change has been documented by a study of the stalagmites in local Egyptian caves, which provided a record of the weather patterns of the time.

A German biologist, Dr. Stephan Pflugmacher, believes that the Nile changed from a swiftly flowing river into a sluggish, muddy stream due to the arid conditions. Burgundy blood is a toxic algae that thrives in warm, slow-moving water; it turns the water red when it dies. Dr. Pflugmacher believes this is the scientific explanation for the first plague.

According to another biologist, Dr. JoAnn Burkholder, a dinoflagellate (a one-celled aquatic organism) called Pfiesteria piscidia caused a similar condition in North Carolina in 1996, so the scientific precedent and evidence exists for this type of event.

The Second Plague

© Wellcome Images - The Second Plague of Egypt

The onset of the first plague, according to scientists, led to the onset of the other plagues. Tadpoles that were present in the Nile became stressed because of the change in their environment; stressed tadpoles quickly develop into frogs. The water was toxic due to the burgundy blood algae and this caused them to jump out of the water. The word for frogs also includes toads, and some toads lay thousands of eggs at one time. With no fish to eat the eggs, they would have swarmed the land in overwhelming numbers.

From the Third to the Sixth Plague

The Fourth Plague of Egypt

As the frogs and toads died due to the arid conditions, flies, mosquitoes, and other insects flourished. Since insects, such as mosquitoes, carry diseases, the next plagues, which were boils and diseased livestock, were a natural consequence. Glanders is a bacterial infection that affects humans and some animals, such as pigs, horses, and sheep; it was used in biological warfare in World War I. Glanders causes boils and is transmitted through body fluids or direct tissue contact.

The Seventh Plague

The Seventh Plague of Egypt

The fiery hail that was the seventh plague could have been due to the eruption of a Mediterranean volcano located in Santorini, that erupted about 3500 years ago. Since it was one of the largest volcanic eruptions ever recorded, it could have interacted with thunderstorms in the area and produced very dramatic hailstorms.

Excavations of Egyptian ruins have unearthed pumice, which is formed when volcanic lava cools, although there are no volcanoes in Egypt. Scientists have analyzed the pumice stone and determined that it came from the Santorini volcano when it erupted. This proves that ash from the eruption could have reached Egypt and precipitated the next plague, that of the locusts.

The Eighth Plague

The Eighth Plague of Egypt

The presence of volcanic ash, such as from the Santorini volcano, disrupts the environment and causes weather anomalies such as rain and elevated humidity. These types of conditions are favorable for locusts, and could therefore have precipitated their arrival.

The Ninth Plague

The Ninth Plague of Egypt

Volcanic ash can remain in the atmosphere for years, but the immediate effect of an enormous volcanic eruption is to darken the entire sky, which is recorded as the ninth plague.

The Tenth Plague

The Tenth Plague of Egypt

The tenth plague, the death of all the firstborn male children of any age, could have been attributed to a fungus that poisoned the grain. Since the firstborn males would have eaten more of the grain, they may have consumed more of the fungus and therefore succumbed to the fatal effects of the fungus.

This explanation, however, seems to lack substance and no scientific evidence has yet been found to explain the death of all the firstborn males in ancient Egypt. Bible scholars are reluctant to ascribe the plagues to natural causes because that loses the point of them, according to Dr. Robert Miller, who is from the Catholic University of America. Biblical scholars maintain that the purpose of the plagues was to point out that the Israelites came out of Egypt by the hand of God.


Moses parting the Red Sea

Exodus - Moses parting the Red Sea


Other Facts about the Ten Plagues of Egypt

Some Biblical scholars contend that Thutmose III was the pharaoh of the Exodus because the Bible says that Joseph placed his brethren in the land of Ramses, which was around 1406 BC. They cite this as one proof that Thutmose III was the pharaoh of the Exodus.

However, in modern society, many people, cities, streets, and so forth, have the same name. For example, there is the state of Georgia, Georgia is also a woman's name, there's the Georgian period from about 1714 to 1830, both Texas and Kansas have cities named Georgia, and so forth. It's illogical to assume that the ancient Egyptians may not have followed this practice.

Another alleged proof that Thutmose III was the Pharaoh of the plagues is that the Bible says the Israelites built storage cities for the pharaoh, one of which was Ramses. The city could not have been named after the pharaoh if he had not yet been born. This, however, makes the assumption that the name was not used prior to the birth of the pharaoh, which isn't logical.

Another alleged proof is that the spelling of the pharaoh's name Ramses is different from the spelling of the city. Since many people of that time were illiterate, it's reasonable and valid to assume that the spelling of names would vary from person to person. Language and spelling was not standardized like it is in modern times.

Many ancient Egyptians hadn't the need to read or write on a daily basis. If they did, they used the services of a scribe. This type of spelling variation was common in the earlier days of the U.S. Census takers were sometimes only marginally literate and the same name could be spelled several different ways, depending on the person recording the event.

Cartouche of Ramses II

© Terry Feuerborn - Cartouche of Pharaoh Ramses II

Some Biblical scholars assert that one cannot believe the Bible and ascribe to the theory that Ramses II was the pharaoh of the plagues. However, the Bible lays out exactly the chronological events of the plagues. It isn't a coincidence that the exact sequence of events is verified by stalagmites taken from caves in Egypt, the presence of volcanic ash and pumice stone in an area where there has never been a volcano, and a complete change of climate during the reign of Ramses II, which would have accounted for these events.

The fact that Pi-Ramses was a thriving city until the time of the plagues and then inexplicably abandoned lends further credence to the theory that Ramses II was pharaoh at the time of the plagues. When the pharaoh agreed to let the Hebrews leave, his entire workforce vanished overnight. There would have been no workers to perform all of the labor that kept the city functioning.

Since the Egyptians had given all of their valuables to the Hebrews when they left, there might have been little left with which the Egyptians could sustain themselves. Since the majority of the pharaoh's army had drowned, there was no fighting force to conquer and loot other cities. There was no alternative but to abandon the city and relocate to other areas.

These environmental and historical facts, which have been documented and are indisputable, lend credence to the theory of Ramses II being the pharaoh of the Exodus rather than refuting it in favor of Thutmose III. Bible scholars appear to be doing the same thing that they are accusing scientists and archaeologists of doing: making the Bible conform to their ideologies.

The Exodus

The Israelites Leaving Egypt, oil on canvas, by David Roberts

The only plague not accounted for by scientific evidence is the death of the firstborn male. As a best guess, archaeologists postulate that a fungus had infected the wheat. Since the firstborn male, because of his preferential standing, would have consumed more of the best grain than others would have, all of them contracted the fungus and died. This seems unlikely, since infants died also and they would probably not have been eating grain.

However, there is a similar historical precedent. Ergot, a fungus that infects rye grain, is believed to have been the cause for the hallucinations, trances, seizures, and violent behaviors that occurred to some settlers in the winter of 1692 in the American colonies and precipitated the Salem witch trials.

Although ergot didn't cause death in the settlers, and it's unclear why it affected some people and not others, a similar fungus could have infected the Egyptians' grain. Especially since the burgundy blood algae contaminated the Nile, there could have been a fungus present that would have contaminated the wheat.

This doesn't explain the infant deaths, but given the sequence of events that constituted the ten plagues, and the duration of them, which is estimated at about nine or ten months, a high infant mortality rate isn't unlikely. Otherwise, maybe best explanation for the death of all the firstborn males, and only them, is indeed a supernatural occurrence or divine intervention.