Moses Supposes His Toeses is Roses…
but Moses supposes erroneously. For nobody’s toeses are posies of roses as Moses supposes his toeses to be. – From “Pass Out”, a drinking game of the 1980s. The game that failed to kill enough of my brain cells to make me stupid enough to believe this bullshit.
I’m talking about the ten allegedly God-created plagues of Egypt that eventually convinced Pharaoh to … sing it low…“Let My People Go”. If these acts are attributed to the hands of men, they are somewhat clever, brutal acts of terrorism that could easily be labeled hate crimes. The final plague, the killing of firstborn Egyptian children, could also be described as genocidal, and a crime against humanity. It is probably not completely fair to judge these people by 21st century standards, and there is a case to be made for provocation. If however, you believe that The One True God® was responsible, then these plagues were both lame and disgusting.
EX3:20 And I will stretch out my hand, and smite Egypt with all my wonders which I will do in the midst thereof: and after that he will let you go.
So what did this alleged god allegedly do to smite Egypt with “all his wonders”? Did he flood the world? Did he blow up a city like Sodom or Gomorrah? Tip over a pyramid or two?
Well, first he gives Moses a hollow stick with a snake in it to play with, but the court magicians of the Pharaoh have one too. How miraculous can this be if the Ibex-head crowd has one too? This is not as stupid as it first appears however, when seen as a human stratagem. Imagine the court magicians impressing the gullible with this corny snake bit. Moses comes along and does it too. Now, the magicians either expose Moses for a fake, and in so doing expose themselves, or treat this new fraud as an equal. Hmm, what would you do if you were a bullshit artist with a love of life?
Then God allegedly tells Moses how to make the river all bloody and stinky, but the court magicians duplicate this trick too. Hey, whose side is this god on, anyway? Do you suppose God taught them how to turn the Chicago River green on St. Patrick’s Day?
For the next trick, frogs! That’s right, frogs. The alleged belcher of galaxies and thinker-upper of ostriches and hippos and giraffes winds up, and unloads with a bunch of frogs. Unfortunately, those pesky court magicians seem to know how to scare up a bunch of frogs too. Boy, tough crowd!
Next? Lice! Ok, there’s a stretch in a world that hasn’t learned the value of personal hygiene or sanitation. The funny thing about this one is that the court magicians can’t figure out how it’s done. “Gee, how does that work again? Do we launder the clothes, or throw them in with the lice-infested horse blanket? I forget. It’s all too domestic for me!” Is anybody impressed yet? Just checking. Eeeeewww! Spooooky Maaagic! If this is really the alleged God’s work, and he really is all-knowing as he is alleged to be, then he had to know how lame this was.
Next we get flies. Scary! Couldn’t have anything to do with those piles of dead frogs and that stinky river could it? Oh, right. No science allowed. Anybody ever notice that there are a lot of flies in Africa?
What’s next? Crabgrass? Nope, now things start to heat up. The livestock of the Egyptians, or at least their cattle, die of a deadly disease that leaves the livestock of the Israelites alone. Does anyone else suspect a poisoned water supply? Ooops, there goes that science again.
Then the Egyptians get boils and blains. I wonder what happens when you scratch louse bites with dirty fingernails. Had these folks even tumbled to the benefit of boiling water?
Next plague… hail. This is a little more like it, a weather-related catastrophe. Hard to find a problem here, or is it? If God is all knowing, then surely He knew that the cheap miracles up to this point weren’t going to get anyone’s attention. We also know how weather happens. We also have one other problem: we are asked to believe that God resurrected the Egyptian’s cattle and killed them again. He did this presumably because no one was paying attention the first time.
EX9:6 And the LORD did that thing on the morrow, and all the cattle of Egypt died: but of the cattle of the children of Israel died not one.
EX9:19 Send therefore now, and gather thy cattle, and all that thou hast in the field; for upon every man and beast which shall be found in the field, and shall not be brought home, the hail shall come down upon them, and they shall die.
Next, we are told, came the locusts. They eat everything that the hail didn’t crush. This is supposed to be the mother of all locust swarms. Strange how this isn’t enough to get anyone’s attention, by now people should be starving. The cattle have been killed twice, and the crops destroyed. There should be panic in the streets. None of this is recorded as having happened. Instead, the Pharaoh still refuses to free the children of Israel. Could it be that this locust swarm wasn’t really as unusual and impressive as it was hyped up to be? Maybe such plagues were well known, but this time, Moses (and/or Aaron) claimed it was Yahweh’s doing. Or, if you believe it really was Yahweh’s doing, then maybe you believe he forgot to turn it off?
Ok, bugs just don’t seem to impress these people, so the next plague makes it dark for three days. Riiight… Maybe it was a volcanic cloud? No, we’re told that the Egyptians can’t see a damn thing, but this is a special dark that knows how not to get on the Israelites. How is this accomplished? Even if there was a magical being pulling miracles out of a magic hat, there has to be a method. Was there some giant colander-like object in the sky, with special holes aimed at the Israelites? Forget stopping the earth’s rotation unless you are totally ignorant of such concepts as inertia, and angular momentum, and truly believe that we live in a cartoon universe where a safe can fall on your head without consequence. Besides, this would not explain the selective mood lighting. Maybe there is a clue or two in the text.
EX10:21 And the LORD said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, even darkness which may be felt.
EX10:23 They saw not one another, neither rose any from his place for three days: but all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings.
My Spanish II textbook contained a short story for translation entitled “Las Noches Largas de Córdoba”. I’m unable to find this tale on the web, either in Spanish or translated. The Spanish version of Wikipedia seems to contain a deleted page reference stating copyright infringement. My Spanish is rusty, so I’m not sure. The story is about a houseguest who is “pranked” into believing that the passage of three day’s time is a single night. The prank is accomplished through the use of heavy shutters that were a common architectural feature in Córdoba. Interesting coincidence, unless the author was a skeptic too. Let’s see… block the windows… replace the lamp oil with water… act scared and tell a wild tale to keep people in their dark homes…. It could work, not on a whole nation, but it could work on a select few superstitious magistrates and their families. I get the feeling that this whole account is a Tall Tale that has grown with the telling. Maybe it’s all those superlatives surrounding these anticlimactic “miracles”, or maybe it’s just me.
And now at last, we come to my favorite “plague” of all, the murder of the Egyptian’s firstborn children. This one is fiercely defended by the Christian types as justified. I think this is because if one allows one’s self to fully accept the implications of this act, one must either accept an immoral, non-omniscient god, or accept that the act was perpetrated by humans and the Bible account is a lie. Neither alternative is acceptable, so as far as I can tell, Christians defend this act without thinking about it too much, or letting it perturb their comfortable delusion of a loving god.
Assumption 1: the act is performed by the alleged god.
The act is premeditated (EX. 11:4-6)
The act is racist (EX. 11:7)
The act is indiscriminate, excepting for the exemption given the Israelites, and includes the offspring of those that were powerless to influence government policy (Ex. 11:5)
God deliberately “hardened Pharaoh’s heart” after each of the other “plagues” (Ex. 4:21, 7:3, 7:13, 9:12, 10:1, 10:27, 11:10), effectively jerking everyone around, and insuring that there was no way that the Egyptians could avoid this final atrocity.
And then there’s this little tidbit:
Ex 12:7 And they shall take of the blood, and strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses, wherein they shall eat it
12:12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD.
12:13 And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt
Whoa! Hold it! Back up that juggernaut a second! God needs a “Do Not Disturb” sign? The all-knowing, all-powerful doesn’t know where his faithful children live? Maybe, do you think, God wanted some weird control-freak obedience ritual? That doesn’t make sense either. If God is all-knowing, then God already knew who would obey such a disgusting request and smear sheep’s blood on their door when asked to do so.
Assumption 2: it was an act of terrorism carried out by men
This makes sense, if you scale it all down a bit. What if a community of slaves and overseers actually had an experience similar to the one described? What if the tale grew with the telling until the Pharaoh’s Magistrate became the Pharaoh himself, and all of Egypt was involved? The story has all of the elements of a Tall Tale. If one peels away the layers of embellishment and looks for a core story of believable proportion, the possibility of a highly inspired band of insurrectionists emerges. These men and women would play on the superstitious nature of their captors. They would hide acts of aggression behind the curtain of the supernatural in order to avoid reprisals. What would happen if this band succeeded in selling this idea of an angry god and made good their escape? Their story would become the stuff of legend.
There is only one big problem with this interpretation. It suggests that the story as told in the Bible is falsely attributed to the hand of God, and therefore untrue. It would however, explain the lack of ex-Torah historical collaboration if this was a local phenomenon and not a kingdom-wide one. It would also solve the problem of “too many Hebrews” to see this as a tale that grew with each re-telling. One has only to track the variations in the tale of John Henry to understand the usual outcomes of an oral tradition.