Week 13: The Ten Plagues of Egypt

Reading

Exodus 5–12 (The Ten Plagues of Egypt)

Questions

  • Why does Pharaoh not just let the Israelites go? Why does God have to harden his heart? 
  • What is plague?

KEY PASSAGE

Exodus 10:1–2

Yahweh said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials so that I may perform these signs of mine among them that you may tell your children and grandchildren how I dealt harshly with the Egyptians and how I performed my signs among them, and that you may know that I am the Lord.”

This week was not fun for the Egyptians. It was a will-they, won’t-they situation, where they were the Israelites and Yahweh was both bae and not bae. He kept hardening the Pharaoh’s heart, mostly to make Himself look good (?). Meanwhile, there were ten plagues, culminating with the death of the firstborn (son) in every Egyptian household. YIKES.

So, these are the plagues:

  1. 🩸BLOOD
  2. 🐸 FROGS
  3. 🦟 GNATS
  4. 🪳FLIES
  5. 🐄 PESTILENCE (killing of livestock)
  6. 🥵 BOILS
  7. ⛈ HAIL
  8. 🪲 LOCUSTS
  9. 🌚 DARKNESS
  10. ☠️ DEATH (of firstborn sons)

Okay, so there aren’t perfect emojis for every plague. Sorry!

The plagues seem to slowly work through the destruction of all of life’s basic necessities: first water (super important in Egypt), then dead frogs everywhere, which would cause gnats and flies and presumably lots of dead frog carcasses would incubate diseases that might kill cattle…and sicken humans… and create lots of food for locusts… and eventually kill people.

The hail and darkness are really the main ones that stand out, but apparently, the plagues might have really happened after a volcanic eruption, which would have caused ash (i.e., hail) to rain from the sky, and eventually cover the sun, à la smoke from forest fires.

Other miscellaneous notes:

  • Who else can work “real” magic? Are the Egyptian sorcerers legit?
  • Did the Israelites only live in Goshen? In that case, why did they have to mark their doors? (Because Egyptians lived there too…)
  • Why does the Pharaoh’s heart have to get hardened so many times?
    • Phenuel points out that in ancient Egypt, Pharaoh was a god, so this becomes a showdown between Pharaoh-god and Yahweh
    • The whole “let them go” episode is also a good example of short-term vs. long-term thinking
  • What kind of monotheism is being theorised here? Is it that only one god actually exists, or that only one is important?
    • Traditionally in the Ancient Near East, a god’s “domain” would be tied to land, but Yahweh—despite going on and on about the land of milk and honey—doesn’t seem to be tied to a particular land. He exists where His people are: the Israelites. This is a huge difference from other contemporaneous religions!
  • How can we understand the modern seder, and the thousands of years of seders that preceded it?
    • Uriel reflects that he never realised that foreigners aren’t supposed to participate in seders.
    • Gabriel remarks on how incredible it is to encode this story in the medium of food—ritual eating, ritual reading. There are also seders that shorten or even excise the Exodus readings in favour of progressive or inspiring modern texts, like the speeches of Malcolm X.
    • The Exodus story of course also has deep resonances with Black churches, especially in the U.S. There’s something “truthful” about the fact that Pharaoh’s heart hardens so many times—liberation isn’t something easy and Yahweh, who “is what is,” cannot just make it happen. Not because He doesn’t have the power (?) but because it wouldn’t be truthful to the reality of struggle. (?)
  • Phenuel raises the uncomfortable issue that Yahweh is a mass murderer of children. The killing of children (sons) has been a huge theme so far in the Bible (and, Lucifer notes, will definitely come back in the New Testament with the commands of Herod, and…the whole Jesus thing).
  • What’s up with proselytisation? What defines the boundaries of Israelite identity right now, if they’re not tied to a particular land?

Takeaways:

Timelines are messy; so are frog carcasses.

Gems from the Chat

interested in weather

Uriel

Image: Moses and Aaron with the river of blood, British Library MS Add. 27210, f. 11.

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