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The Plagues of Egypt

It was reported recently that two people in China are being treated for plague as reported by Chinese authorities. It is the second time the disease has been detected in the country. The first time has been detected in May. A couple in Mongolia died from bubonic plague after eating the raw kidney of a marmot, a local folk health remedy. (

CNN further states that the two patients are from the Inner Mongolia province. They were diagnosed with pneumonic plague by doctors in the Chinese capital Beijing, according to state media Xinhua.

According to the World Health Organization, plague is primarily a disease of rodents and their fleas, which can infect humans. It is transmitted to people when infected rodent fleas bite them. Plague was known as the “Black Death” was responsible for the widespread pandemics with high mortality. During the 14th century, plague caused the death of 50 million people. About half of them in Asia and Africa and another half in Europe.

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Pneumonic plague is an infection of the lungs with the plague bacillus. It can be transmitted directly from person to person via infected air droplets or through infected clothing and other contaminated artticles. Pneumonic plague can prove fatal in 24 to 72 hours and is the most virulent form of plague. (

The two recent patients from China are now receiving treatment in Beijing’s Chaoyang District. Authorities have already implemented preventive control measures, according to CNN report.

Factfile on plague (AFP Photo/


The first pandemic known in history was the Justinian plague. It occurred between 542 AD and 546 AD, causing epidemics in Asia, Africa and Europe. Victims of this pandemic was estimated to nearly 100 million. The second plague pandemic is the well-known “Black Death” of the 14th century (1347-1350) as mentioned above. The third one began in Canton and Hong Kong in 1894. It rapidly spread throughout the world by rats aboard the steamships. These faster steamers replaced the slow-moving vessels used then by merchant fleets.

The Plagues of Egypt (Exodus 5-12)

In the book of Exodus we read about the conflict between Moses who was God’s messenger, and the pharaoh, whose heart was hardened by God and refuses to listen to what Moses was saying (Exo. 5). This struggle involves ten plagues. It is possible though that some of these plagues, if not all, may be totally different from the plagues mentioned above. Moses asks the pharaoh to let the Israelites go but the king refuses and so Moses causes the plagues to compel the king to give in and release the Jews. Pharaoh’s refusal posed as the greatest hindrance to the Jews’ freedom.

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The first nine plagues (blood in the Nile, frogs, gnats, flies, diseased livestock, boils, hail and thunder, locusts, and dense darkness) all have a natural explanation in conditions found in Egypt to this day. Small organisms often turn the Nile River red in the flood month of August, plague of frogs in September, and flies and gnats are endemic to the country.

Greta Hort as quoted by Goheen and Bartholomew, suggests that the first six plagues result from a high Nile infected by flagellates during summer time from July to September. These flagellates could be the cause for the blood-red color of the Nile river. Naturally, since the river is infected, the fish will all die, then it will stink and will become undrinkable (Exo. 7:20-21).

Hort, further suggests that the next five plagues result from the Nile being infected and not suitable for marine life and human consumption. The sudden death of the frogs could have been caused by Bacillus anthracis (anthrax) breeding in the decaying fish. The flies may have been dog flies, as indicated by their bites. The plague of the livestock is related to anthrax spread from the dead frogs. The boils may refer to the bites of flies that carried this bacteria. The first six plagues therefore, form a natural sequence of interdependent events resulting from a high Nile infected with flagellates, whereas the next plagues (seven through ten) were not connected to the first six.

With regards to the hailstorms (7th plague), Hort notes that Egypt experience violent storms from time to time and that can bring severe damage to crops (Exo. 9:31). However, hail is not common to Egypt and will surely cause fear to the Egyptians. Locust plagues were known throughout the ancient Near East, so it is easy to find natural parallel to plague. The damp ground left by the storms of the 7th plague would provide ideal breeding ground for locusts (Humphreys). The 9th plague, darkness, can be associated with desert sandstorm.

The 10th plague, as suggested by Humphreys , based on the suggestion of Marr and Malloy, that a natural agent may be seen in the final plague. By the end of the nine plagues, the Egyptians must be in a desperate state. There may have been a shortage of food and may have made a fatal mistake of storing wet grain left after the storms and then feeding this to their firstborn sons and animals. The wet grain would contain poisonous mycotoxins, produced by fungi growing on substances like wet crops.

Polemic Aspect of the Plagues in Egypt

In view of Exodus 12:12, “…I will bring judgement on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord” (NIV), you will notice that the plagues were directed against the different Egyptian gods. It is possible that some of the plagues evoke particular gods in the consciousness of the Egyptians. Let us take as an example the flooding of the Nile. It is associated with the god Osiris and his resurrection. Thus, the blood-like waters was a sign of the death of Osiris rather than his resurrection, death for Egypt’s agriculture rather than abundant field, a fearful sight for the Egyptians.

This polemic aspects of the plagues in Egypt really makes sense considering that the pharaoh is regarded as a deity or divine. He is perceived as the son of the sun god, Re. As such, he is responsible for maintaining what Egyptians called ma’at, or cosmic order or creation.

The plagues in Egypt therefore display the inability of the “divine” pharaoh to sustain cosmic order. It is Yahweh, through his servants Moses and Aaron, who triumphed over cosmic struggle, showing who really controls the forces of nature. No other name can be proclaimed in all the earth, only the name of the Lord (Exo. 9:7).


Bartholomew, Craig G. and Goheen, Mkchael W. The Drama of Scripture. Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story. USA: Baker Academics, a Division of Baker Publishing Group.

Boadt, Lawrence. Reading the Old Testament. An Introduction. Manila, Philippines: St. Pauls, 2003.

Bible Gateway.

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