Thursday, July 6, 2017

Plagued By Inconsistencies: Discrepancies in the Egyptian-Plague Narratives - Part Two of Four

Here a Frog, There a Frog,
Everywhere a Frog Frog

by Farrell Till
As I noted in Part One of this series, the problem of the Egyptian magicians having done “likewise with their enchantments” remains unexplained, but that was far from the only problem in the Egyptian-plague stories. Pharaoh, being the impious sort that he was, still was unimpressed after Aaron and Moses had changed the water throughout all the land of Egypt into blood. He witnessed the exchange of miraculous feats between Aaron and the Egyptian sorcerers there by the riverside, then “turned and went into his house, and he did not take even this to heart” (v:23). So Yahweh sent the plague of frogs against Egypt, which was a typical Yahwistic response, by the way. The Egyptian populace had had nothing to do with this dispute between Pharaoh and Moses, but they were the ones who had to bear the brunt of Yahweh’s wrath. Already they had frantically dug for seven days along the Nile for water to drink (vs:24-25), and now, as if this were not enough suffering for their ruler’s obstinacy, Yahweh decided to zap them with a plague of frogs. This Yahweh that biblical inerrantists admire so much has a strange sense of justice and fairness.

Aaron waved his magic rod again (when one reads such silliness as this in "God’s inspired word," those tales of fairies with magic wands we are all familiar with from our childhood days don’t seem so far-fetched at all) and the curse of the frogs began. Yahweh, being Yahweh, of course, never does anything halfway, so once again the plague was as thorough in its scope as any plague could possibly be.
Exodus 8:1-7 Then Yahweh said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says Yahweh: Let my people go, so that they may worship me. If you refuse to let them go, I will plague your whole country with frogs. The river shall swarm with frogs; they shall come up into your palace, into your bed-chamber and your bed, and into the houses of your officials and of your people, and into your ovens and your kneading bowls. The frogs shall come up on you and on your people and on all your officials.’” And Yahweh said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Stretch out your hand with your staff over the rivers, the canals, and the pools, and make frogs come up on the land of Egypt.’” So Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt; and the frogs came up and covered the land of Egypt. But the magicians did the same by their secret arts, and brought frogs up on the land of Egypt.
In Part One of this series, I quoted the opinion of Philo Judaeus in the matter of how extensive the plague of blood was, so I will also quote what he said about the scope of the second plague so that the Jewish rabbi previously referred to can see that Philo Judaeus did indeed say something about the plagues that "we should be considering." I will emphasize in bold print Philo's comments that described his view of the extent of the second plague.
For again, the brother of Moses, being ordered to do so, stretched out his hand and held his rod over all the canals, and lakes, and marshes; and at the holding forth of his rod, so immense a multitude of frogs came up, that not only the market-place, and all the spots open to the air, were filled with them, but likewise all the stables for cattle, the houses, and all the temples, and every building, public or private, as if nature had designed to send forth one race of aquatic animals into the opposite region of earth, to form a colony there, for the opposite region to water is earth. Inasmuch then as they could not go out of doors, because all the passages were blocked up, and could not remain in-doors, for the frogs had already occupied all the recesses, and had crawled up to the highest parts of the house, they were now in the very greatest distress, and in complete despair of safety. Again, therefore, they have recourse to the same means of escape by entreating Moses, and the king now promised to permit the Hebrews to depart, and they propitiated God with prayers. And when God consented, some of the frogs at once returned into the river, and there were also heaps of those which died in the roads, and the people also brought loads of them out of their houses, because of the intolerable stench which proceeded from them, and the smell from their dead carcases, in such numbers, went up to heaven, especially as frogs, even while alive, cause great annoyance to the outward senses (The Works of Philo, Hendrickson Publishers, 1993, p. 468, emphasis added)
In at least the case of Philo Judaeus, then, Jewish tradition held that the second plague was also one of totality and thoroughness, which as we saw in Part One seemed to be a central theme of the Exodus writer. In subsequent articles in this series, I will continue to notice the emphasis that this writer put on this theme. By the time I have finished analyzing this theme in my analyses of the plague stories, sensible readers should be able to see that the all-didn't-mean-all "solution" to inconsistencies in these stories is simply another inerrantist attempt to rationalize biblical discrepancies.

On the off chance that anything remotely resembling these events in the second plague story ever happened, we should observe here that the plague of frogs may not have been as marvelous a display of Yahweh’s power as Bible inerrantists would have us believe. If all of the water in Egypt, including even the water that Pharaoh’s magicians somehow scrounged up to duplicate Aaron’s feat, was changed into blood for seven days, we could reasonably expect that, in order to survive, frogs and other amphibians would have had to leave their natural habitats in the polluted rivers, canals, lakes, ponds, and maybe even the vessels of wood and stone. Be that as it may, the passage just quoted claimed that the “whole country” was plagued with frogs. The little varmints were everywhere, in the pharaoh’s palace; in his bed-chamber, including his bed; in the houses of his officials; in the houses of the people; in their ovens and kneading bowls. Frogs, frog, frogs--frogs were everywhere. Although this was said to be a plague or curse, to those Egyptians who had an appetite for frog legs, the situation could have been considered a gourmet’s paradise. It would have all depended on one’s point of view. As the old adage says, “What is one man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” but the principal thing to notice from the passage under consideration is the thoroughness that the writer claimed for the second plague. As I continue this series of articles, I will emphasize the totality and thoroughness that the writer claimed for these plagues, because, as we saw in the case of the plague of blood, the totality factor will prove to be an obstacle for those who offer the all-didn't-mean-all "solution" to some of the inconsistencies in the stories.

Yahweh or Aaron’s rod or whatever was responsible for the appearance of the frogs didn’t send just a few frogs or even a lot of frogs. Frogs were everywhere; the land of Egypt was covered with them. All of this being true, we have to wonder about the claim that “the magicians did the same by their secret arts and brought frogs up on the land of Egypt” (v:7). With Yahweh’s frogs everywhere as far as the eye could see, how could anyone have verified that the magicians did in fact bring forth their own wave of frogs? Maybe they just faked it, waved their own rods--except that they couldn’t have, of course, because Aaron’s rod had swallowed the magicians rods--said abracadabra or something like that, and then claimed that some of Yahweh’s frogs were really frogs conjured up by their enchantments. Or maybe the magicians brought forth a different breed or variety of frogs that could be easily distinguished from Yahweh’s frogs. Or maybe the frogs were labeled ours and theirs so that the Egyptians could easily tell who was responsible for any particular frogs found in their beds, ovens, or kneading bowls. Who knows? Anything can happen in the Bible. What I do know is that one would have to be pretty gullible to accept this story of the Egyptian plagues at face value. It has all the earmarks of folklore and myth running wild.

But the silliness doesn’t stop. Seeing now that he had a big problem on his hands, Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron and asked them to take away the frogs. Why he didn’t just have his magicians to take the frogs away is anybody’s guess. Surely removing the frogs would have been a snap for magicians who could call forth a wave of frogs that matched Yahweh’s frogs, not even to mention change water that didn’t exist into blood. We have to understand, however, that few things in the Bible were ever done in logical, sensible ways, so we will just take the word of Moses (?) that Pharaoh made a plea for the messengers of Yahweh to remove the frogs. This is how the “inspired” writer recorded the request.
Exodus 8:8-10 Then Pharaoh called Moses and Aaron, and said, “Pray to Yahweh to take away the frogs from me and my people, and I will let the people go to sacrifice to Yahweh.” Moses said to Pharaoh, “Kindly tell me when I am to pray for you and for your officials and for your people, that the frogs may be removed from you and your houses and be left only in the Nile.” And he said, “Tomorrow.” Moses said, “As you say! So that you may know that there is no one like Yahweh our God, the frogs shall leave you and your houses and your officials and your people; they shall be left only in the Nile.”
Tomorrow? Tomorrow! Here frogs were everywhere in sight, as already described, causing no telling how much contamination with the filth and slime that they brought with them from the polluted rivers, canals, lakes, ponds, and pools that had driven them onto land, and Pharaoh, being offered an opportunity to have them removed from the land apparently at any time he wanted, chose to have it done tomorrow! Does that make any sense? If the plague was bad enough to make him eat crow and call upon his adversaries for help, wouldn’t he have wanted the frogs removed at once? Who knows? If this pharaoh was so dumb that he would have his sorcerers duplicate the plagues and afflict the land with even more blood--in someway unknown--and frogs, maybe he would have also been incompetent enough to wait another day to have the frogs removed. As I said, few things in the Bible happened in logical, sensible ways, and the imbecilic conduct of this pharaoh is just one example of that. Maybe inerrantists can help us make sense out of situations like this one.

With a summation of this plague story now before us, this is as good a place as any to make another important observation about the absurdity of the Egyptian-plagues story. Am I the only one to see things like this or have any of you reading this also noticed them? This Pharaoh, whoever he was--Moses, who had been reared in the royal palace as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter (Ex. 2:1-10), presumably wrote Exodus and the four other books of the Pentateuch but oddly enough never used this pharaoh’s name in telling the story of the plagues, as if maybe the one who really wrote it didn’t know his name--was made to look like an absolute nincompoop in the plague stories. Egypt in those days was ruled by a dynasty through which the pharaohship was hereditarily passed from generation to generation, usually from father to son; nevertheless, one would think that a pharaoh as dimwitted as this one in the plague stories could never have survived the civil unrest that would have erupted when word of his colossal stupidity had gotten around.

Widespread civil unrest is the last thing any intelligent chief of state would want to have in his realm, but the pharaoh of the Egyptian plagues must have been an exception to the rule, because the plague stories ask us to believe that the pharaoh at that time was utterly stupid. Yahweh’s messengers, Moses and Aaron, zapped Egypt with the plague of blood, and what did pharaoh do? Somehow (in ways known only to biblical inerrantists), Pharaoh had his magicians find some water somewhere and turn it to blood too. Or perhaps he just had his magicians give a double whammy to the blood that had been water before Aaron gave it the magic touch with his rod. Again, who knows? What we can know is that any pharaoh who would have done such a thing to his people deserved to be impeached or whatever the process of getting rid of an unqualified head of state may have been in those days. Under the circumstances described in this story, any water that may have gone untouched by Yahweh’s messengers would have been a commodity more precious than gold. Yet this pharaoh was too stupid to realize this. He looked at his magicians and said, “Okay, boys, let’s show them that two can play this game; zap whatever water you can find left.” Do biblical inerrantists really expect us to think anyone serving as a head of state would have been that dumb? I mean, after all, even pharaohs have to have water to live, so would he have brought down on himself a threat to survival like this? The Bible tells us he did. But the Bible tells us a lot of fanciful things, doesn’t it? The same could be said of the plague of frogs. Would any ruler upon seeing his national territory invaded by a wave of frogs that covered the whole land even to the point of crawling into beds, ovens, and kneading bowls react to the crisis by having his underlings bring in even more frogs? The question is too ridiculous to deserve serious comment. This entire tit-for-tat contest between Moses and Aaron and the magicians of Egypt is utterly ridiculous. Let’s suppose that the United States is being threatened by a group of terrorists warning that, unless certain demands are met, they will contaminate every river, lake, pond, reservoir, and all other supplies of fresh water in the country with a substance that would render the water nonpotable. Upon the president’s refusal to meet their demands, the terrorists make good their threat and pollute every known source of potable water in the country. Let’s suppose then that the response of our president is to match the terrorists tit-for-tat, so he orders a second dose of contaminants to be administered to all the water supplies already polluted by the terrorists. Afterwards, the terrorists respond by detonating H-bombs in the 20 largest metropolitan areas in the nation, and the president reacts to this by ordering a second wave of bombings on the same cities. And then--but why continue the farce? The point of it all should be obvious by now. No president in his right mind would react to national crises in the manner just described, and if he did, he certainly wouldn’t survive in office very long. Yet biblical inerrantists expect intelligent people to believe that the pharaoh of the Egyptian plagues was every bit as stupid as this story makes him appear. Who can believe it? A more credible story would have resulted if the Exodus writer had presented the contest between Yahweh’s messengers and pharaoh’s magicians as a confrontation in which the magicians undid the plagues as Moses called them down on Egypt. The water was changed to blood, but pharaoh’s magicians changed it back into water. Yahweh’s wave of frogs invaded the land, but pharaoh’s magicians sent them back into their natural habitats. Surely magicians who could change nonexistent water into blood would have had no difficulty performing less demanding miracles as these. To tell the story in this way, however, would have put sense and sanity into the Bible, and these are qualities the Bible is decidedly short on. But, who knows, maybe the Bible writers knew what they were doing! The more ridiculous a story is, the more inclined people seem to be to believe it, especially if it has anything to do with religion.

If we grant the existence of an omniscient, omnipotent deity working through Moses and Aaron, inconsistency is not the problem in the plague of frogs that it is in most of the other plague stories. The main problem here is that Pharaoh was depicted so incompetely and imbecilically that rational people just can't believe that this plague happened in the way that the Bible claims. In the next article in this series, I will show that the silliness, as well as inconsistency, continued. 

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