Sunday, September 29

Ten Plagues: Judgment on Ancient Egyptian Gods and Goddesses?

The book of Exodus contains the account of Moses and the Israelites, their hardships in the land of Egypt and their exodus from Egypt, as well as the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai. Exodus 7-12 details the ten plagues (or "wonders") placed on the ancient Egyptians by Yahweh. What was the purpose of these ten plagues? To note, in Biblical numerology the number ten represented a fullness of something, or completeness. The ten plagues on Egypt signified that Egypt was fully or completely plagued. There are various ways of considering the purpose of the plagues, but in Exodus 12:12 God says, "I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt." Therefore, one reasonable and feasible way of examining the purpose of each plague is as a sort of polemic or judgment against the Egyptian pantheon.

The water turning into blood was a sort of judgment or polemic against Hapy (or Hapi), the god of the Nile. Some scholars also think that part of the reason Pharaoh's daughter went down to the Nile in Exodus 2 was to pray to Hapi - who is also partly a fertility god - to become fertile, and there she found Moses. The second plague, the frogs coming from the Nile, is a judgment against Heket the goddess of fertility, renewal and water. Lice from the dust of the earth - ironic as the dust that was used in the creation of man is now used to plague him - is a judgment against the god of the earth, Geb. The swarm of flies is a judgment against the god of creation, rebirth, and movement of the sun - Khepri. The death of the cattle and livestock appears to be a judgment against the goddess of love and protection, Hathor. The ashes which turn to boils and sores sees to be a judgment against the goddess of medicine and peace, Isis. The seventh plague, the plague of hail, is evidently a judgment against the sky god Nut. Seth, the god of storms and chaos or disorder is judged in the plague of locusts. The sun god Ra is judged in the plague of darkness, and finally, the final plague - the death of the firstborn - appears to be a judgment on Pharaoh himself, who was thought to be the son of Ra (possibly also a polemic noting that there is only ONE true son of God?).

What effect would this have had on the people living in Egypt? The psychological and religious effects would have been far-reaching, in all likelihood. In fact, we are not left without possible archaeological insight. Although each piece of evidence is controversial, for our purposes we will presume they are artifacts which belong to the period of Moses. An ancient water holder was found in El Arish which displays hieroglyphics that describe a period of darkness similar to the one mentioned in Exodus. The Ipuwer Papyrus, acquired around 1828 and translated in 1909 also describes conditions similar to those referred to in the Biblical account. This papyrus is sometimes dated to the time of the Exodus, and it details a plague that is throughout the land (IP 2:5-6; Exodus 7:21), a river that is as blood (IP 7:20; Exodus 7:20-21), groaning that is heard throughout the area (IP 3:14; Exodus 12:30), fire mixed with hail (IP 9:23; Exodus 9:23-25), darkness in the land (IP 9:11; Exodus 10:22), widespread death (IP 2:13; Exodus 12:29-30), and several other similar instances. If the water trough from El Arish and the Ipuwer Papyrus describe the Egyptian plagues, it evidently had a major effect on the Egyptians to merit a record. It also likely would have been heard by people all major trade routes and word of the Israelite God would have spread quickly. Finally, for my part the miracles or plagues demonstrate the sovereignty of God and the plan and love He has for His people.

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