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The Ten Plagues of Egypt

Background

  • Provided there is sufficient evidence, modern methods for explaining the spread of disease can be applied to epidemics which occurred in the past.
  • Biblical and other historical mysteries are likely to have non-theological explanations.
  • Apparently unrelated events may form part of a pattern.
  • A multidisciplinary approach is valuable when tackling complex problems.
  • Modern events can provide evidence for historical events.

This programme reminds us that explanations of past events are never really 'written in stone'. We are often induced to revisit events and our explanations of them. The discovery of the Ipuwer papyrus led to a re-examination of the Ten Plagues of Egypt described in the Bible. Some have seen this source as a verification of the account in the Book of Exodus, whilst others have disagreed.

There are several reasons why the history of past events has to be rewritten. It might be the discovery of new evidence (such as the Ipuwer papyrus) which leads us to conduct a re-examination. Advances in our scientific knowledge and techniques, such as in this particular case which shows advances in our understanding of epidemics, cause as to re-evaluate the past. Modern-day events may also cause us to re-examine similar events in the past, for example the effect of algae on a US river in 1997 causes us to look back 4000 years to when the waters of the Nile are recorded as having turned into blood during the first plague. Sometimes a re-evaluation is stimulated by the realisation that evidence, which we previously dismissed, is actually relevant.

Often the re-interpretation of past events by scientists is mirrored by a modification in the beliefs of those who hold to a supernatural explanation of those events. For example, many of those who believe in the Bible as the 'Word of God' (not just those among them who are scientists) feel perfectly at ease with the big-bang and evolution theories and would regard the account of creation in the Book of Genesis as figurative. Similarly there will be those who accept the hypotheses, presented in this programme, as to the natural causes of the Plagues and yet who will still believe in the existence of a divine hand as the ultimate cause.