Saturday, July 8, 2017

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


Lice, Flies, and the Amazing Livestock of Egypt

by Farrell Till
The Exodus writer began his tales of the confrontation between Aaron and Moses and the sorcerers of Egypt with a tit-for-tat theme. Whatever amazing feat Aaron would perform with his rod, Pharaoh would order his sorcerers to do the same, even when it meant increasing the pollutions of blood and frogs throughout all the land of Egypt. After the second plague, however, the sorcerers were stumped and had to give up. Aaron had caused "all the dust" in Egypt to become lice (or gnats or mosquitoes, depending on the translation), but somehow the sorcerers who had managed to change water that didn't exist into blood were unable to change dust that no longer existed into lice (or gnats or mosquitoes).

Exodus 8:16 Then Yahweh said to Moses, "Say to Aaron, 'Stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the earth, so that it may become gnats [lice] throughout the whole landof Egypt.'" 17 And they did so; Aaron stretched out his hand with his staff and struck the dust of the earth, and gnats [lice] came on humans and animals alike; all the dust of the earth turned into gnats [lice] throughout the whole land of Egypt. 18 The magicians tried to produce gnats [lice] by their secret arts, but they could not. There were gnats [lice] on both humans and animals. 19 And the magicians said to Pharaoh, "This is the finger of God!"

Hmm, didn't these guys see the "finger of God" in all the other stunts that Aaron and Moses had performed? One would think that seeing Aaron change the water throughout all the land of Egypt into blood would have given these fellows pause to think from the beginning that maybe "the finger of God" was with these two upstarts daring to confront Pharaoh with demands to free the enslaved Israelites, but since they were somehow able to duplicate this feat and change water that didn't exist into blood too, that could explain why they had not yet seen the finger of God in the initial plagues.That wouldn't explain, however, why they could not duplicate the miracle of the lice or gnats. One might argue that they could not have changed dust into lice, because Aaron had already changed "all the dust" throughout all the land of Egypt into lice, but inerrantists should be careful about offering this as an explanation for the inability of the Egyptian sorcerers to duplicate the third plague, because if these sorcerers had been able to change water into blood after the water throughout all the land of Egypt had already been changed to blood, bringing forth some more lice from dust that had already been changed to lice would have seemed like child's play. Ah, the hazards that accompany attempts to find inerrancy in a book riddled with discrepancies.

The reason why the Egyptian sorcerers were unable to duplicate this comparatively easy plague of lice [gnats] is a mystery that was known only to Yahweh and his inspired writer, but as this tale was told, they couldn’t quite come up with a duplication of the plague of lice or gnats or mosquitoes or whatever. As the tale was spun, Aaron stretched out his magic rod (wand?) again, struck the dust of the earth, and it became lice (or one of the above) that infested humans and animals alike. Then we are told that “the magicians tried to produce gnats (or lice or mosquitoes) by their secret arts, but they could not” (Ex. 8:18), but one can't help wondering why they couldn’t? Even if there were no more dust in all of Egypt to change into lice or whatever, wouldn't producing lice in this situation have been only a routine miracle for a band of sorcerers who could change nonexistent water into blood? If nothing else, they could have faked it and, with a little legerdemain that any magician worth his salt would surely be trained in, taken advantage of the fact that Yahweh’s lice or gnats or whatever were already swarming over the land, and made it at least appear that they had duplicated the plague. If I had been this pharaoh, I would have given those magicians their walking papers.

The inspired word nevertheless assures us that the magicians of Egypt had to throw in the towel at this point and admit defeat. “This is the finger of God!” they said to Pharaoh (v:19). We don’t need much imagination to understand why the story was probably written in this way. The capitulation of the magicians of Egypt gave the story the twist the writer had no doubt planned from the beginning, which was to show that Yahweh’s power was greater than the forces behind the wizardry of the Egyptian sorcerers. Never mind that such a fanciful twist to the story, at a time when the sorcerers had been confronted with a comparatively easy miracle, would make Pharaoh and his magicians look like a bunch of morons to critical readers of future generations. To gullible readers of more superstitious times, Yahweh came off looking veritably like a god of gods, and that was all that really mattered. It’s probably just as well that the magicians cried uncle at this point anyway, because it spared the poor Egyptians, who had suffered through double whammies of water into blood and frogs in their beds and ovens, a double dose of lice (or gnats or mosquitoes).

As for the plague of flies that followed the lice, gnats, or mosquitoes, there is nothing here for inerrantists to crow about. Even if it happened, so what? With dead frogs heaped in piles all over the land, they would have attracted flies like bees are drawn to flowers. So if Bible fundamentalists want to call this an awe-inspiring miracle of God, why not let them have their fun? They don’t have a lot to rejoice over these days. In the rest of my article this time around, I will focus attention on the amazingly resilient livestock of Egypt. With the fifth plague, Yahweh, having had enough fun at the expense of the Egyptian populace, which had patiently endured the polluted waters, the frogs, the lice (gnats? mosquitoes?), and finally the flies, now turned his wrath against the dumb animals of Egypt, which, like the Egyptian people, had had nothing to do with the dispute between Moses and Pharaoh. They were unfortunately at the wrong place at the wrong time, when Yahweh decided to let Pharaoh “know that he was Yahweh” (Ex. 8:22), and whenever Yahweh decided to let somebody know that he was Yahweh, whoever had crossed him was in for some pretty rough times.

What happened in the fifth plague, the affliction of all the livestock in Egypt with murrain or pestilence (again depending on which translation is preferred) wasn’t so incredible in and of itself. The plagues that followed it are what rendered it absolutely ludicrous. By now the warranty on Aaron’s rod had apparently expired, so this time, as also in the case of the flies, a plague was called down without the theatrics of waving a magic wand. All the livestock in Egypt, except for any that belonged to the Israelites (Ex. 9:6), were stricken with a pestilence of murrain or whatever, and “all (a-l-l, all) the livestock of the Egyptians died” (Ex. 9:6). One would think that with everything that had happened before this, Pharaoh would have understood he was fighting a losing battle and would have given in to Yahweh’s demands, but we must remember that this is a Bible story we are dealing with, and Bible stories are routinely far-fetched and illogical. “The heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he would not let the people go” (Ex. 9:7).

So what happened next will leave critical readers scratching their heads. With Aaron’s rod now out of commission, Moses, standing before Pharaoh, took “the ashes of the furnace” (what furnace is anyone’s guess) and “sprinkled it (why not them?) up toward heaven,” and it ( they?) caused boils to break forth on "man and beast alike" (Ex. 9:8-12). Since all of the livestock of the Egyptians had been killed by the plague of murrain, doesn’t it seem rather strange that this plague extended to beast as well as man? Could this have been an oversight on the part of the “inspired” writer of this story? We could perhaps say that the beasts stricken with boils belonged to the Israelites whose livestock were spared the plague of murrain, except that it seems rather strange even for Yahweh Elohim to spare Israelite herds of livestock from one plague only to turn around and zap them with another. To be honest, we must also recognize that the text doesn’t say livestock; it says beasts or animals, again depending on the translation. So perhaps it wasn’t livestock at all that were afflicted with boils; it could have been rabbits, squirrels, dogs, cats, and other species of animals that are not considered livestock. It would be just like Yahweh Elohim to do something like this. He was angry at Pharaoh, so he decided to take it out on poor, dumb animals. Talk about animal rights! The concept seemed completely foreign to Yahweh, but of course a lot of moralistic concepts seemed foreign to Yahweh. The boils afflicted people too, but they seemed to have hit Pharaoh’s magicians particularly hard. “The magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils, for the boils afflicted the magicians as well as all the Egyptians” (Ex. 9:11). No doubt, the writer of this story was trying to drive home the point that had prompted him to present the story of the plagues as a tit-for-tat contest between Yahweh’s messengers and Pharaoh’s magicians, in which the magicians after a couple of phenomenal displays of miraculous powers had to give up and admit that they were no match for the peerless Yahweh. You see, if you can believe it, these magicians could change nonexistent water into blood and conjure up frogs out of nowhere, but they were powerless to do anything about boils. That was the whole point of this reference to the magicians’ still “standing” before Pharaoh, as if he would have wanted such a sorry lot of has-beens standing before him anyway. I mean, after all, they had given up three plagues ago and exclaimed, “This is the finger of God!” Why keep them around any longer?

Pharaoh, being as contrary as he was, still didn’t give in: “Yahweh hardened the heart of Pharaoh” (Ex. 9:12), as Yahweh did several times in this little fairy tale (Ex. 4:2110:20,2711:10). It would have made more sense for Yahweh to have softened Pharaoh’s heart and thereby spared the innocent people and animals of Egypt a lot of pain and suffering, but, as I have already noted, sense and sanity were rarely criteria for determining what would and would not be included in biblical stories.

As Pharaoh's stubbornness continued, Yahweh had Moses send the plague of hail upon the land, and this wasn’t just an afternoon thundershower that included a little hail either. This was “such heavy hail as had never fallen in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation” (Ex. 9:24). Whew! The results were predictable. Trees and crops were devastated, and everything that was in the open field was struck down throughout all the land of Egypt, "both human and animal" (Ex. 9:25).Animals? Were these maybe rabbits, squirrels, dogs, and cats too as we theorized about the animals afflicted with boils? No, that explanation won’t cut it. Yahweh was gracious enough to have Moses warn everyone to have their livestock brought into a secure place (v:19). Their livestock! But “all the livestock of the Egyptians died” in the plague of murrain (9:6). If all the livestock of the Egyptians had died in this plague, just where did these livestock that were struck down by hail come from? Since the livestock of the Israelites had been spared both the plagues of murrain and boils, maybe the Egyptians just appropriated the Israelites’ livestock. Yet that can’t be, because the Israelites took their livestock “in great numbers, both flocks and herds” with them when they left Egypt (Ex. 12:32,38), and Moses had vowed to Pharaoh that "not a hoof shall be left behind" (Ex. 10:26). So this is indeed a great mystery. If all the livestock in Egypt died in one plague, how could other Egyptian livestock have died just two plagues later, and how could Pharaoh have later gathered an army of chariots and horsemen (Ex. 14:5-9) to pursue the Israelites to the Red Sea? After all, the account of the murrain plague had specifically mentioned horses in specifying what kinds of livestock would be infested with the "deadly pestilence" (Ex. 9:3). So if "all the livestock of Egypt," which would have included all of the horses, died in this plague, how could Pharaoh have fielded the army of chariots and horsemen that pursued the Israelites?

Inerrantists, of course, aren't about to let problems like these diminish their confidence that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant "word of God," so they haven't been a bit shy about postulating how-it-could-have-been explanations of how the plague of hail could have "struck down" (Ex. 9:25) "man and beast" after "all the livestock in Egypt" had been killed (Ex. 9:6). Robert "No Links" Turkel got into the act on this one too and, as usual, postulated more than one "solution."

A standard solution cites Exodus 9:3 as specifying that the plague was on animals in the field -- any animals not in the field (i.e., in stables, like [sic] Pharaoh's horses certainly would have been) were not affected. But this does run aground on verse 19, which says that all of the livestock died....

It so happens that the animals-in-the-field "solution" is the one that has been postulated by the Jewish rabbi mentioned in Parts One and Two of this series, so I will kill two birds with one stone and rebut this one when I come to the rabbi's claim that Jewish tradition has eliminated the plague of murrain as a discrepancy. In his article linked to above, Turkel went on to offer "a better solution."

A better solution recognizes that there is a certain misconception that the Ten Plagues were right on the heels of one another. But the #2 plague (frogs) probably took place in December ("frog season" there!) and the #7 plague (hail) occurred in January, because the barley was ripe and the flax was in blossom (9:31). Then of course by the time of the Exodus it was April. That gave at least 2-3 months for the Pharaoh to replenish his stables -- certainly no problem for a world power like Egypt, which could do that either by trade, conquest or by outright confiscation from the Israelites and other foreigners.

As usual, Turkel has proposed that this could have happened or that could have happened or even thus and so could have happened, so what I previously said about his multifaceted "solution" to how Pharaoh's sorcerers could have changed nonexistent water into blood would apply here too: if somehow Egyptian livestock could have existed after all the livestock of Egypt had been killed by a plague of murrain, there would probably have been only one way that this had happened, so when Turkel or other inerrantists postulate several explanations to a biblical discrepancy, they are tacitly admitting that they are speculating and don't really know which one, if any, of their solutions had actually happened. Since Turkel has proposed them, however, I intend to examine each of his "solutions" to show that they are all unsatisfactory.

Turkel postulated that there were delays between the plagues that would have been long enough, in this case, for Pharaoh to "replenish his stables," but the biblical "records" of these plagues and other contemporary events hardly leave time for any significant delays between the plagues.

1.The Exodus text says that Moses was 80 years old when he stood before Pharaoh (Ex. 7:7). After the plagues had run their course, Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt and into the Sinai wilderness, where their rebellious attitude caused them to have to wander for 40 years in the wilderness (Num. 14:32-33). At the end of those 40 years, just before the Israelites crossed the Jordan into Canaan, Moses died at the age of 120 (Deut. 34:7), so biblical chronology leaves no room for significant delays between the plagues. Even a one-month interval after each plague would have dragged them out for almost a year and made Moses 121 when he died after having spent 40 years leading the Israelites in the wilderness.

2.The Exodus text dated some of the plagues in terms of days, not months. Exodus 7:25 indicates that only seven days separated the first plague from the second one, and 10:22 directly stated that the plague of darkness lasted only three days. When Aaron and Moses brought the plague of frogs onto the land of Egypt, Pharaoh asked Moses to remove them, and Moses asked him when he wanted the frogs removed. “Tomorrow,” Pharaoh said (8:10), and Moses granted the request. We could hardly imagine that Pharaoh had waited for "weeks" or “months” to make this request, especially since, for some strange reason, he was willing for Moses to wait until “tomorrow” to take away the frogs. His apparent willingness to tolerate this nuisance for another day certainly implies that the frogs had been around for just a short time, for if they had been there for weeks or months, surely Pharaoh would have asked for their immediate removal. Verse 13 states that Yahweh did according to Moses’ request, and so apparently the writer was saying that the frogs were removed the next day. All of this indicates durations of days at best and certainly not weeks or months. When the plague of flies came, Pharaoh again asked for mercy, and Moses promised that Yahweh would remove the flies “tomorrow” (8:29) and then did so (v:31). If Turkel will consult a concordance and check on the usage of the word “tomorrow” throughout the plague stories, he will see that the writer spoke several times in terms of the plagues happening “tomorrow” and ending “tomorrow.” After the flies, for example, Yahweh brought the plague of murrain “on the morrow” (9:6), and “all the livestock of Egypt died.” One would have to stretch imagination beyond the limits of rationality to find even a suggestion that the death of all the livestock of Egypt did not happen “on the morrow” after Yahweh had made the threat. In announcing the coming of the final plague, Yahweh said, “For I will go through the land of Egypt that night and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt” (12:12), and 12:29 says that “it came to pass at midnight that Yahweh struck all the firstborn in Egypt.” Pharaoh then rose up “in the night” (v:30), sent for Moses “by night” (v:31) and told him to take his people and leave. In the case of this plague, the writer clearly indicated that it had a duration of only one night.

3.Turkel referred to "a certain misconception that the Ten Plagues were right on the heels of one another," but this "certain misconception" is exactly what the biblical accounts of the plagues indicate. Whether or not one plague had come directly on the heels of the previous one, the text of Exodus certainly doesn't allow for the delays of weeks and months that Turkel had to postulate between the plagues in order to find time for the Egyptians to replenish their herds of livestock that had been killed by the murrain. The writer's accounts of the plagues of hail and locusts are quite clear in their indication that the plague of the locusts followed "on the heels" of the hail, because in stating what the locusts consumed, the text specifically said that they ate what had not been destroyed by the hail: "The locusts came upon all the land of Egypt and settled on the whole country of Egypt, such a dense swarm of locusts as had never been before, nor ever shall be again. They covered the surface of the whole land, so that the land was black; and they ate all the plants in the land and all the fruit of the trees that the hail had left; nothing green was left, no tree, no plant in the field, in all the land of Egypt" (Ex. 10:14-15). If there had been significant delays between the plagues, as Turkel has imagined, the vegetation would have had time to recover with new growth, so the writer would not have specified that the locusts ate what had survived the hail. By specifically sayng that the locusts ate vegetation that the hail had left, the writer was indicating that the plague of the locusts had, contrary to Turkel's postulations, followed "on the heels" of the hail.

Common sense should tell Turkel and other inerrantists that their claims just won't fly when they postulate delays or intervals between the different plagues to "explain" how the Egyptian sorcerers could have changed nonexistent water into blood or how livestock could have been afflicted with boils or pelted with hail after all the livestock in Egypt had died from murrain or how Pharaoh could have gathered an army of chariots and horsemen to pursue the Israelites after all livestock in Egypt had been killed, because delays between the plagues would have destroyed their shock effect. Unless one plague immediately followed the other, the effects of the previous ones would have been sufficiently suppressed in the memories of the Egyptians to make subsequent ones more tolerable. This would be especially true if the intervals between the plagues were long enough for the Egyptians to recover as Turkel and other inerrantists imagine when they speculate such scenarios as Egyptians going abroad to trade for livestock or engaging in military conquests to replace their herds that had died from murrain. One fact is certainly evident to anyone who will bother to read the plague stories: there are no chronological or transitional markers in the text to support the claim that the plagues were separated by time intervals long enough to allow the Egyptians to replenish devastated livestock and crops sufficiently for them to be affected by subsequent plagues. If there is any linguistic support at all for this view, why don't the inerrantists cite it?

Turkel said that the plague of the frogs probably took place in December, because that was the "frog season there," but I assume that everyone noticed that he cited no biblical or extrabiblical evidence in support of this claim. He simply asserted it, and the assertion seems to assume that the origins of the plagues were at least partially naturalistic. In this case, Yahweh simply used a "frog season," i. e., a time when frogs were plentiful, to send them onto the land. Presumably, then, the plague of lice would have happened during a "lice season" when lice were plentiful, the plague of flies came when flies were plentiful, the plague of locusts came when locusts were plentiful, and so on. I suppose this would mean that there were also "seasons" in Egypt when such things as boils, hail, and darkness were plentiful, which plentitudes Yahweh took advantage of to cause these plagues. I was aware that some liberal theologians have tried to explain the plagues in terms of natural events, but I was rather surprised that a biblical inerrantist like Turkel would resort to naturalism to try to explain them, because attributing the plagues to natural events runs completely contrary to what the Bible claims about the divine role that the god Yahweh played in bringing the plagues upon Egypt. Time and time again, the Exodus writer spoke in terms of what Yahweh was doing to bring about the plagues.

1.With the staff that is in my hand I [Yahweh] will strike the water of the Nile, and it will be changed into blood (Ex. 7:17).
2.If you [Pharaoh] refuse to let them go, I [Yahweh] will plague your whole country with frogs (Ex. 8:2).
3.If you [Pharaoh] do not let my people go, I [Yahweh] will send swarms of flies on you and your officials, on your people and into your houses (Ex. 8:21).
4.Yahweh set a time and said, "Tomorrow Yahweh will do this in the land." And the next day Yahweh did it: All the livestock of the Egyptians died, but not one animal belonging to the Israelites died (Ex. 9:5-6).
5.Therefore, at this time tomorrow I [Yahweh] will send the worst hailstorm that has ever fallen on Egypt, from the day it was founded till now (Ex. 9:18).
6.If you [Pharaoh] refuse to let them go, I [Yahweh] will bring locusts into your country tomorrow (Ex. 10:4).
7.So Moses stretched out his staff over Egypt, and Yahweh made an east wind blow across the land all that day and all that night. By morning the wind had brought the locusts... (Ex. 10:13).
8. And Yahweh changed the wind to a very strong west wind, which caught up the locusts and carried them into the Red Sea. Not a locust was left anywhere in Egypt (Ex. 10:19).
9.At midnight Yahweh struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well (Ex. 12:29).

Besides the various texts within the stories of the plagues that clearly say that Yahweh caused them to happen, whenever later writers referred to the plagues, they too said that Yahweh had sent them.

Psalm 78:41 Again and again they [Israelites] put God to the test; they vexed the Holy One of Israel42 They did not remember his power--the day he redeemed them from the oppressor, 43 the day he displayed his miraculous signs in Egypt, his wonders in the region of Zoan44 He turned their rivers to blood; they could not drink from their streams. 45 He sent swarms of flies that devoured them, and frogs that devastated them. 46 He gave their crops to the grasshopper, their produce to the locust. 47 He destroyed their vines with hail and their sycamore-figs with sleet. 48 He gave over their cattle to the hail, their livestock to bolts of lightning. 49 He unleashed against them his hot anger, his wrath, indignation and hostility--a band of destroying angels. 50 He prepared a path for his anger; he did not spare them from death but gave them over to the plague. 51 He struck down all the firstborn of Egypt, the first fruits of manhood in the tents of Ham.

Psalm 105:26 He [Yahweh] sent Moses his servant, and Aaron, whom he had chosen. 27They performed his miraculous signs among them, his wonders in the land of Ham28He sent darkness and made the land dark--for had they not rebelled against his words? 29 He turned their waters into blood, causing their fish to die. 30 Their land teemed with frogs, which went up into the bedrooms of their rulers. 31 He spoke, and there came swarms of flies, and gnats throughout their country. 32 He turned their rain into hail, with lightning throughout their land; 33 he struck down their vines and fig trees and shattered the trees of their country. 34 He spoke, and the locusts came, grasshoppers without number; 35 they ate up every green thing in their land, ate up the produce of their soil. 36 Then he struck down all the firstborn in their land, the first fruits of all their manhood.

He, he, he, he, he--did it all. To the biblical writers who recorded the plagues or subsequently referred to them, their origin was no mystery. Their god Yahweh had brought them upon the Egyptians by his supernatural powers. The text just quoted said that he [Yahweh] spoke, and there came swarms of flies and gnats throughout the country and later said that he [Yahweh] spoke and the locusts [grasshoppers] without number came and ate up every green thing in the land. Although this writer didn't specifically say that Yahweh spoke and frogs came upon the land, the clarity with which he attributed the other plagues to the god Yahweh leaves little doubt that he also believed that Yahweh spoke and caused the frogs to come upon the land. For Turkel to date the plague of frogs at the time of some perceived "season of frogs" is to ignore the emphatic biblical claims that the god Yahweh brought the plagues down on Egypt and to flout the power of an omniscient, omnipotent deity to pollute Egypt with frogs at any time of the year. Such a deity, which Yahweh presumably was, wouldn't have needed a "season of frogs." I really don't know the source of Turkel's claim that December was the "season of frogs" in Egypt, because he typically gave no textual support for the assertion, but frogs are amphibians, which need water in order to thrive, so one would think that if there were any such thing as a "season of frogs" in Egypt, it would have been during the season when the Nile was flooded. The ancient Egyptians divided their year into three seasons: flooding (mid-June to mid-October), planting and growing (mid-October to mid-February), and harvesting (mid-February to mid-June). Before construction of the Aswan Dam, the flooding of the Nile basin happened because of the drainage of water in the mountainous regions of Ethiopia during its rainy season, so if there was any such thing as a "season of frogs" in ancient Egypt, one would think that it would have occurred during the flooding season (mid-June to mid-October) and not in December during the planting and growing season, but certainly the biblical claim that all of the plagues were brought upon Egypt by the power of Yahweh would eliminate the need of a "season of frogs" to date the time that this plague would have happened.

If an omniscient, omnipotent deity was indeed bringing the plagues upon Egypt, as the Exodus writer did clearly claim, then the land invasion of the frogs could not be reliably dated by an alleged "season of frogs." There are, however, some clues in the plague stories that date the time of their alleged occurrence. One clue is in the account of the plague of hail, which said that "the flax and the barley were ruined, for the barley was in the ear and the flax was in bud" (Ex. 9:31). In the paragraph quoted above from his article, Robert Turkel said that the plague of hail happened in January "because the barley was ripe and the flax was in blossom," but Turkel, who often tries to claim expertise in biblical languages, apparently didn't bother to check the Hebrew text of this verse. Had he done so, he would have seen that "in the ear" was translated from ab├«yb [abib], the name of the first month in the Hebrew religious calendar, which was also the month when the Passover was celebrated (Ex.13:412:1-6Deut. 16:1), and that month falls within March and April of our Gregorian calendar.

The significance of this will not be lost on those whose knowledge of the Bible runs a bit deeper than Turkel's. The Jewish Passover was inflexibly tied to the barley harvest.

According to the Scriptures, the religious calendar begins in the spring with the Passover month of Abibthe month of Israel's Exodus from Egypt. In the popular Jewish calendar the year begins in the autumn at the end of the agricultural year. But in the religious calendar, and that is our prime consideration in this booklet, a year begins in the Passover month of Abib. Yahweh directed Moses in the following words concerning the first month of the year:

Exo.12:1 And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, 2: This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you.

Exo.13:3 And Moses said unto the people, Remember this day, in which ye came out from Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for by strength of hand the LORD brought you out from this place: there shall no leavened bread be eaten. 4: This day came ye out in the month Abib.

The name of the Exodus month is AbibThe word Abib means 'sprouting, budding,' a 'green ear of corn.' In other words in Abib the earth will spring to life, plants will sprout and bud and the corn (sown the previous year) will have green ears ([Jewish] Calendar Booklet, emphasis added).
To many of us, harvest time is of little concern, because in our complex life we are far removed from the actual production of our food supplies, but for the Hebrew people, as for those in any agricultural district today, the harvest was a most important season (Gen 8:2245:6). Events were reckoned from harvests (Gen 30:14Josh 3:15Jdg 15:1Ruth 1:222:231 Sam 6:132 Sam 21:923:13). The three principal feasts of the Jews corresponded to the three harvest seasons (Ex 23:1634:21,22); (1) the feast of the Passover in April at the time of the barley harvest (compare Ruth 1:22)... ("Harvest," International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, emphasis added).

On the fifteenth day of Abib, after the paschal lamb had been sacrificed, the Jews were commanded to bring "the sheaf of the first-fruits of [their] harvest" to the priest to be presented as a "wave offering" (Lev. 23:6-12) during the observance of the feast of unleavened bread that followed the Passover celebration. The text doesn't specify what kind of "sheaf" was to be offered, but I am sure that Robert "High Context" Turkel will agree that since barley was the only grain crop that would have been ready for harvest at Passover time, Jewish readers would have known that this was a command to bring a barley sheaf. In case he should suddenly switch positions, as he has been known to do, and claim that the ancient Hebrews lived in a "low-context" society, I will quote a Jewish view of the meaning of abib. The quotation is long but necessary to establish the invariable conjoining of Passover with the "abib" stage of barley.

Abib indicates a stage in the development of the barley crops. This is clear from Ex 9:31-32 which describes the devastation caused by the plague of hail:

"And the flax and the barley were smitten, because the barley was Abiband the flax was Giv'ol. And the wheat and the spelt were not smitten because they were dark (Afilot)."

The above passage relates that the barley crops were destroyed by the hail while the wheat and spelt were not damaged. To understand the reason for this we must look at how grain develops. When grains are early in their development they are flexible and have a dark green color. As they become ripe they take on a light yellowish hue and become more brittle. The reason that the barley was destroyed and the wheat was not is that the barley had reached the stage in its development called Abib and as a result had become brittle enough to be damaged by the hail. In contrast, the wheat and spelt were still early enough in their development, at a stage when they were flexible and not susceptible to being damaged by hail. The description of the wheat and spelt as "dark" (Afilot) indicates that they were still in the stage when they were deep green and had not yet begun to lighten into the light yellowish hue which characterizes ripe grains. In contrast, the barley had reached the stage of Abib at which time it was no longer "dark" and at this point it probably had begun to develop golden streaks.

Parched Abib:
We know from several passages that barley which is in the state of Abib has not completely ripened, but has ripened enough so that its seeds can be eaten parched in fire. Parched barley was a commonly eaten food in ancient Israel and is mentioned in numerous passages in the Hebrew Bible as either "Abib parched (Kalui) in fire" (Lev 2:14) or in the abbreviated form "parched (Kalui/ Kali)" (Lev 23:14Jos 5:111 Sam 17:171 Sam 25:182 Sam 17:28Ruth 2:14).

While still early in its development, barley has not yet produced large enough and firm enough seeds to produce food through parching. This early in its development, when the "head" has just come out of the shaft, the seeds are not substantial enough to produce any food. At a later stage, the seeds have grown in size and have filled with liquid. At this point the seeds will shrivel up when parched and will only produce empty skins. Over time the liquid is replaced with dry material and when enough dry material has amassed the seeds will be able to yield "barley parched in fire."

Abib and the Harvest:
The month of the Abib is the month which commences after the barley has reached the stage of Abib. 2-3 weeks after the beginning of the month the barley has moved beyond the stage of Abib and is ready to be brought as the "wave-sheaf offering" (Hanafat HaOmer). The "wave-sheaf offering" is a sacrifice brought from the first stalks cut in the harvest and is brought on the Sunday which falls out during Passover (Hag HaMatzot). This is described in Lev 23:10-11:

"When you come to the land which I give you, and harvest its harvest, you will bring the sheaf of the beginning of your harvest to the priest. And he will wave the sheaf before YHWH so you will be accepted; on the morrow after the Sabbath the priest will wave it."

From this it is clear that the barley, which was Abib at the beginning of the month, has become harvest-ready 15-21 days later (i. e., by the Sunday during Passover). Therefore, the month of the Abib cannot begin unless the barley has reached a stage where it will be harvest-ready 2-3 weeks later.

That the barley must be harvest-ready 2-3 weeks into the month of the Abib is also clear from Dt 16:9 which states:

"From when the sickle commences on the standing grain you will begin to count seven weeks."

From Lev 23:15 we know that the seven weeks between Passover (Hag Hamatzot) and Pentecost (Shavuot) begin on the day when the wave-sheaf offering is brought (i. e., the Sunday which falls out during Passover):

"And you shall count from the morrow after the Sabbath, from the day you bring the sheaf of waving; they will be seven complete Sabbaths."

Therefore, the "sickle commences on the standing grain" on the Sunday during Passover, i. e., 2-3 weeks after the beginning of the month of the Abib. If the barley is not developed enough so that it will be ready for the sickle 2-3 weeks later, then the month of the Abib cannot begin and we must wait till the following month.

So both Passover and Pentecost were inseparably connected to the harvesting of barley, and faithful Jews took this stuff--and continue to do so--just as seriously as other religionists adhere to their religious doctrines and ceremonies. The following article describes the care that was taken in March 2005 to determine when the countdown to the Passover should begin. In this report, Abib was spelled Aviv.

On Tuesday March 8, 2005 Aviv was found in Israel at Alon Junction and EinMabua near Jerusalem. Large quantities of Aviv barley were found near EinMabua and smaller quantities near Alon Junction. Ein Mabua is located 15km east of Jerusalem. The Aviv examination on March 8, 2005 started out as a field trip to teach Aviv Searchers about what to look for during the main Aviv Search on Thursday-Friday March 10-11, 2005. During this preliminary examination we immediately found that the barley in the region was in an advanced stage of ripening. The main Aviv Search, which will cover the Northern Negev and Jordan Valley regions, will still be carried out on March 10-11. However, the vast quantities of Aviv Barley already located east of Jerusalem are enough to establish the coming month as the Month of the Aviv. In light of this discovery, the New Moon on Friday March 11, 2005 will be the beginning of the coming biblical year. Chag HaMatzot (Feast of Unleavened Bread) will fall out on Saturday March 26, 2005 and Shavuot (Feast of Weeks) will fall out on May 15, 2005. The following people participated in the Aviv examination on March 8, 2005Nehemia Gordon, Ruthanne Koch, Devorah Gordon, Glen Cain, Karl BloodworthFerenc IllesyAviMarcus, Dina Marcus, Avi Gold, 
Terry Fehr, and Yosef Ruach.

This article concluded with a link to pictures of barley that was found to be in the "Aviv" stage on March 8, 2005.

All of this spells doom for Turkel's claim that the plague of hail would have occurred in January, because that wouldn't have been the time when barley was abib [in the ear]. Confirmation of this can be determined from Exodus 12), which recorded the institution of the first Passover and designated that month be "the first month of the year" (v:2). The Passover lamb was to be selected on the 10th day of this month (v:3) and then sacrificed and eaten on the 14th day of the month (vs:6-8). As noted in the article above, two weeks after barley had become abib [in the ear], it would have been ready for harvest time. In 2005, for example, that stage of barley was reached on March 26th in the nation of Israel.

The problem that all this information presents to Turkel's January dating of the plague of hail becomes obvious to those who know--and maybe Turkel isn't one of them--that the Jewish month of Abib begins at some time in our month of March. Turkel may try to quibble that Egypt is farther south than Israel, so barley would have matured sooner than it did in IsraelIf so, he would be right, because barley in Egypt, depending on variations in the seasons, can be harvested a month earlier [Webmaster's note: see the definition for "Barley"] than in Israel, but this would put the "abib" stage of Egyptian barley in February, not in January, but an even bigger problem for Turkel's January dating of the hail is that the Exodus writer clearly dated the observance of the first Passover in the Jewish month of Abib (Ex. 12:1-20), which would have been in March, not January or February. This text gives instructions about the separation of the paschal lamb on the 10th day of the month and the slaughter and sacrifice of the lamb on the 14th, which was followed that night by the killing of all the firstborn of the Egyptians (Ex. 12:21-29). The plague against the firstborn spared the Israelites who had smeared the blood of their Pascal lambs on their doorposts.

Exodus 12:21 Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go, select lambs for your families, and slaughter the passover lamb. 22 Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood in the basin. None of you shall go outside the door of your house until morning. 23For Yahweh will pass through to strike down the Egyptians; when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, Yahweh will pass over that door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you down.

At midnight, Yahweh passed through Egypt and killed all firstborn of the Egyptians, and Pharaoh immediately relented and allowed the Israelites to leave.

29 At midnight Yahweh struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the prisoner who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock. 30 Pharaoh arose in the night, he and all his officials and all the Egyptians; and there was a loud cry in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead. 31 Then he summoned Moses and Aaron in the night, and said, “Rise up, go away from my people, both you and the Israelites! Go,worship Yahweh, as you said. 32 Take your flocks and your herds, as you said, and be gone. And bring a blessing on me too!” 33 The Egyptians urged the people to hasten their departure from the land, for they said, “We shall all be dead.” 34 So the people took their dough before it was leavened, with their kneading bowls wrapped up in their cloaks on their shoulders.

The rest of the chapter describes the hasty departure of the Israelites on the very night of the Passover, when Yahweh brought the 10th or final plague on the Egyptians by killing all of their firstborn, so the biblical record clearly claims that the exodus began on the 14th of Abib. Moses told the Israelites to remember that night: "Remember this day on which you came out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, because Yahweh brought you out from there by strength of hand; no leavened bread shall be eaten4 Today, in the month of Abib, you are going out" (Ex. 13:3-4). Even Turkel said in the text quoted above from his article that "by the time of the Exodus it was April," but his January dating of the seventh plague (hail) would necessarily put the exodus well before April, a time that would be inconsistent with Moses' claim that the Israelites left Egypt in the month of Abib.

Determining that there would not have been the three-month interval (from January to April, which Turkel envisioned between the hail and the exodus, requires only a common-sense reading of the plague stories. As noted above, the account of the 8th plague says that the locusts ate the vegetation "that the hail had left" (10:6,15), which would necessarily imply that the locusts came on the heels of the hail or at the very least that there was no significant delay between the 7th and 8th plagues, because a prolonged delay would have allowed time for regrowth of vegetation to provide the locusts with more than just what the hail had left. When Pharaoh still refused to relent and let the Israelites go, Moses "stretched out his hand toward heaven" and brought upon Egypt a "thick darkness," which could be felt, but the biblical text specifically says that this 9th plague lasted for only three days (Ex. 10:21-23). Then after the three days of darkness, Yahweh sent the 10th or final plague against the firstborn of Egypt. This final plague lasted only the one night, which, as noted above, was the night of the Passover. This is all consistent with my analysis above of chronological markers that indicate the plagues did indeed come one after the other, so only a short time separated the "abib" stage of barley in March and the exodus, which would have occurred 14 days later. There is just no room for Turkel's three-month scenario between the 7th plague and the exodus.

This brings us finally to Turkel's postulation that the horses that Pharaoh's army used to pursue the Israelites to the Red Sea had been obtained from other countries by "trade or conquest" during his perceived two-to-three month interval between the hail and the exodus. We noticed above that the biblical text makes no allowance for such an interval, so no matter how grandiose Egypt may have been at that time, Pharaoh, as we will soon see, would not have had the time to import enough horses to field an army of the size that pursued the Israelites. As for obtaining horses by conquests, even a period of three months would hardly have been enough time for the Egyptian army to invade other countries and bring back their horses. If such an invasion had occurred, the Egyptian army would have had to walk to get to whatever country they invaded, because "all of the livestock in Egypt" that had died during the plague of murrain would have (as noted above) included horses. I have previously pointed out how moronically Pharaoh acted during the plague stories, but I seriously doubt that even a head of state as stupid as he was presented by the Exodus writer would have launched an invasion of another country without horses at a time when the country was being devastated by the plagues being called down on Egypt by Moses and Aaron. Also, if a plague had killed livestock on a scale not necessarily total or complete yet wide enough to describe it as the dying of "all the livestock in Egypt," just imagine what would have been involved in disposing of the carcasses of all of "the horses, donkeys, camels, herds, and flocks" (Ex. 9:3) that had been struck down by the pestilence. The work that would have been required to bury or cremate or dispose of the carcasses in some other way would have hardly allowed the able bodied population of Egypt the luxury of going on trading expeditions or conquests in sufficient numbers to replace the livestock that had died. When inerrantists struggle to find how-it-could-have-been "explanations" of discrepancies, they often forget minor details like these, and Turkel seems to be no exception to the general rule that no "possible" explanation can be too far-fetched to satisfy an inerrantist looking for a way to "explain" a biblical discrepancy.

Turkel also postulated that Pharaoh could have obtained the horses "by outright confiscation from the Israelites and other foreigners," but there is nothing in the biblical texts that even suggests that livestock belonging to foreigners in Egypt were spared the ravages of the plagues. The biblical texts referred only to plagues that skipped the Israelites (Ex. 8:229:4,6-7,2610:2311:7), so if Turkel is going to claim that Pharaoh possibly obtained horses from foreigners, he needs to cite some textual basis, either biblical or extrabiblical, for it. He doesn't seem to understand that only his choir members will be interested in what he thinks could have happened. As for Pharaoh's having confiscated horses from the Israelites, I have already mentioned above that Moses had sworn to Pharaoh that all of the Israelite livestock had to go with them and that "not a hoof [would] be left behind" (Ex. 10:26). Furthermore, when Pharaoh had finally had enough and agreed to let the Israelites go, he called Moses before him and said, "Take your flocks and your herds, as you said, and be gone" (Ex. 12:32), and verse 38 says that the Israelites left Egypt with a "mixed crowd" and "livestock in great numbers, both flocks and herds." Doesn't Turkel ever bother to read what the Bible says before he presumes to tell us what really happened in matters concerned with alleged textual discrepancies?

As if all this were not enough to expose Turkel's biblical ignorance, the final paragraph in his "solution" to the livestock problem in the plagues stories shows just how profound that ignorance is.

As an added note, since we don't know exactly how many horses there were in the pursuing army, we might reckon that some of them were originally out on military work outside Egypt at the time of the plague. Whatever the case, there is no sufficient ground for dismissing the story outright.

Although the biblical text doesn't state exactly how many horses were in Pharaoh's pursuing army, if we assume that the text is inerrant, as Turkel seems to insist, then it necessarily implies that there would have been thousands of horses in it. First of all, the text claims that there were 600,000 men "on foot" in the Hebrew horde that left Egypt (Ex. 12:37), and a census taken in the second year after the exodus (Num. 1:1) indicated that these were more precisely 603,550 men of military age (Num. 1:45-46), so if Pharaoh gathered an army to pursue an Israelite horde that had an army of over 600 thousand, then surely he didn't take off after them with just a handful of soldiers. This inference is confirmed by Turkel's inerrant biblical text.

Exodus 14:5 When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds about them and said, "What have we done? We have let the Israelites go and have lost their services!" 6 So he had his chariot made ready and took his army with him. 7 He took six hundred of the best chariots, along with all the other chariots of Egypt, with officers over all of them. 8 Yahweh hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, so that he pursued the Israelites, who were marching out boldly. 9 The Egyptians--all Pharaoh's horses and chariots, horsemen and troops--pursued the Israelites and overtook them as they camped by the sea near Pi Hahiroth, opposite Baal Zephon.

This is not a description of just some ragtag army that was thrown together at the last minute. It had six hundred of Pharaoh's "best chariots, along with all the other chariots of Egypt." Some Egyptian chariots were quadrigas, which were drawn by four rather than two horses, so if Pharaoh took six hundred of his "best chariots," we could reasonably assume that at least some of them were quadrigas. If all 600 of them were, there would have been 2,400 horses in this chariot corps alone. If we assume that they were all bigas or two-horse chariots, manning them would have required 1200 horses without even considering "all the other chariots of Egypt," which would surely have numbered in the hundreds, and in addition to the horses in the chariot corps, there would have been hundreds of others that were ridden by the "horsemen and troops" (vs:9,17-18). Unless Turkel wants to argue that Pharaoh was so militarily incompetent that he went off with just 600 chariots and a handful of "horsemen and troops" to engage an army of 600 thousand, he will have to recognize that we are talking here about an army that consisted of tens of thousands of horses, so does Turkel expect sensible people to think that an army of this size could have been thrown together by confiscating the horses of foreigners or by "trading" with other countries, all within a surmised but unverifiable hiatus of "two to three months" between the 7th and the 10th plagues. Turkel may think that "there is no sufficient ground for dismissing the story outright," but people who are not shackled to an irrational belief in biblical inerrancy will disagree.

This brings us to the livestock-in-the-field "solution." Turkel alluded to this above when he noted that Exodus 9:3 "specified" that the plague of murrain was "on the animals in the field," and so any livestock not in the field would have been spared. He, however, was honest enough to go on and admit that this solution was problematic, because verse 19 [sic], actually verse 6, "says that all the livestock died." I congratulate him for seeing the obvious problem in this "solution," but, unfortunately, many inerrantists think that it is not just a satisfactory way to explain the livestock problem but that it is the real explanation of it in that it tells exactly what had happened: only the livestock in the field died from the plagues of murrain and hail, and so the Egyptian livestock that was kept inside by those who "feared Yahweh" survived the plagues. Afterwards, so proponents of this "solution" claim, Pharaoh obtained from these Egyptians the horses he needed to field the army that pursued the Israelites to the Red Sea.

This is the "solution" that was presented on the Errancy list by the Jewish rabbi whom I have previously referred to. He will consistently appeal to Jewish tradition to "explain" discrepancies in the Torah [Pentateuch], and in this section of Part One, he argued that the Talmud is a reliable source because the traditions in it are "thousands of years closer" to the "source material" than non-Jewish references.

In a recent post to HILL I started to explain why Talmudic explanations are better than the musings of a Gleason Archer. The extra-Biblical records of ancient Israelare thousands of years closer to the source material than Gleason Archer is. Furthermore Archer admittedly invents his answers based on hope and whim. Even if such apologetics is based on the occasional historic event, it is still an outright after-the-fact invention. Talmudic explanation carries the traditional public claim of a nation who are the ones responsible for bringing you your copy of the Bible to begin with.

Readers can click the link above to read my reply to the rabbi, which pointed out obvious flaws in his reasoning. In the first place, Talmudic traditions are not "thousands of years" closer to biblical "source materials," since the Talmuds were written after the first century AD, so they were at best just a few centuries closer to the "source materials." Although these Talmudic traditions may have been orally transmitted for decades or even centuries before they were written down within the "common era," we can have no guarantee that they were not corrupted during transmission or even that they were reliable when they first originated; therefore, any "solutions" to discrepancies in these Talmudic traditions were nothing more than speculative attempts by Jewish writers to "explain" discrepancies away, just as Christian apologists like Gleason Archer, John Haley, Norman Geisler, etc. have tried to do. I really see little difference in Jewish and Christian inerrantists who, without any biblical or extrabiblical records to support their claims, presume to tell us what happened at events that they didn't witness. At any rate, the rabbi just referred to quoted the MechiltaBeshalach 2 (on Exodus 14:7) to explain the livestock-of-Egypt problem, so let's have a look at this "solution."

[Exodus 14:5-7 "It was told to the king of Egypt that the people had fled; and the heart of Pharaoh and his servants became transformed regarding the people, and they said, 'What is this that we have done that we have sent away Israel from serving us?' He harnessed his chariot and attracted his people with him.] He took six hundred elite chariots [and all the chariots of Egypt, with officers on them all."]

From whom were the animals that drove the chariots? If you say they were from Egypt, doesn't it say (Exodus 9:6) "and all the livestock of Egypt died [from the fifth plague]"? If you say they were from Pharaoh, doesn't it say (Exodus 9:3) "[Moses said to Pharaoh]: Behold, the hand of G-d is on your livestock that are in the field"? If you say they were from the Jews, doesn't it say (Exodus 10:26) "And our livestock, as well, will go with us--not a hoof will be left"? Rather from whom were they, from the Egyptians who feared G-d [and were not affected by the plagues]. We now see that the livestock of the G-d-fearers that escaped the plague caused great hardship for the Jews [by being used for chariots to pursue them]. From here R. Shimon [ben Yochaisaid: Kill [even] the good among the gentiles.

This "explanation" makes a big deal out of Egyptians who "feared Yahweh" and "took their servants and livestock into the houses" (Ex. 9:19), but this was said about the plague of hail, which happened after the plague of murrain, and nothing was said anywhere in the account of this plague about Egyptians who feared Yahweh and took their livestock inside.

Exodus 9:1 Then Yahweh said to Moses, "Go to Pharaoh, and say to him, 'Thus says Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews: Let my people go, so that they may worship me. 2 For if you refuse to let them go and still hold them, 3 the hand of Yahweh will strike with a deadly pestilence your livestock in the field: the horses, the donkeys, the camels, the herds, and the flocks. 4 But Yahweh will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel and the livestock of Egypt, so that nothing shall die of all that belongs to the Israelites.'" 5 Yahweh set a time, saying, "Tomorrow Yahweh will do this thing in the land." 6 And on the next day Yahweh did so; all the livestock of the Egyptians died, but of the livestock of the Israelites not one died. 7 Pharaoh inquired and found that not one of the livestock of the Israelites was dead. But the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he would not let the people go.

This account of the murrain plague said that Yahweh would "make a distinction between the livestock of Israel and the livestock of Egypt," but nowhere in the account does it even hint that Yahweh would make a distinction between the livestock of the Egyptians who took their livestock inside and the Egyptians who kept theirs outside. It simply says that all the livestock of the Egyptians died. Surely if livestock that Egyptians kept inside had been spared from this pestilence, the writer would have made some reference to it. Furthermore, we should notice that the Exodus writer said that "not one of the livestock of the Israelites was dead" (v:7). Was this statement literally true? Did the writer really mean that among all of the livestock of the Israelites not a single one had died during this plague? If so, then why should we not understand that the writer intended to communicate literally that "all the livestock of Egypt died"?

Another problem to this "solution" is that the livestock were not killed by hail but by murrain, a pestilence, so how would keeping livestock inside have protected them from an infectious disease? I will have more to say about this later, and maybe the rabbi can then cite some Talmudic tradition that addresses this problem.

Not until two plagues later when Yahweh sent the grievous hail, which was greater than any hailstorm that had ever been experienced since Egypt became a nation (Ex. 9:24), was any mention made of Egytians who "feared Yahweh."

Exodus 9:19 Send, therefore, and have your livestock and everything that you have in the open field brought to a secure place; every human or animal that is in the open field and is not brought under shelter will die when the hail comes down upon them.'" 20Those officials of Pharaoh who feared the word of Yahweh hurried their slaves and livestock off to a secure place. 21 Those who did not regard the word of Yahweh left their slaves and livestock in the open field.

This is certainly a peculiar statement to make after a claim two plagues before this one that "all the livestock in Egypt" had died from murrain. Inerrantists, of course, will say that this was stating only what the Egyptians had been doing ever since the first plague against the livestock of Egypt: even though it had not been mentioned at the time of the other plagues, those who feared Yahweh had taken their livestock inside for protection before the seventh plague (hail). If this is going to be their claim, then there are some problems they will need to address. First of all, livestock had been affected by the plagues ever since "all the dust in the land of Egypt" was changed to lice [gnats or mosquitoes], at which time, "there were lice upon man and upon beasts" (Ex. 8:17), so we have to wonder if there were Egyptians at this time who "feared Yahweh" and took their livestock inside to protect them from the lice. If so, perhaps the rabbi can tell us how being confined inside would have protected livestock from infestation by parasites as small as lice, especially after "all the dust" throughout the land of Egypt had become lice. Did being inside also protect humans from the lice? If so, wouldn't that have taken something away from the purpose of this plague? We read in verses 21 and 24 that during the next plague, "grievous swarms of flies" came into the houses of Pharaoh, his servants, and the Egyptians "in all the land of Egypt," so if being inside was no protection against flies, surely it would have been no protection against lice.

After the plague of murrain, which the rabbi's Talmudic sources claim did not kill the livestock of Egyptians who "feared Yahweh" and took their animals inside, Yahweh sent the plague of boils that broke forth "upon man and beast throughout all the land of Egypt" (vs:9-10), so were livestock kept inside by Egyptians who "feared Yahweh" spared the torment of this plague? If so, were people who remained inside so protected? If they were, we have to wonder why the Egyptian sorcerers didn't remain inside, because they were so afflicted by the boils that they couldn't stand before Moses (Ex. 9:11). Well, of course, the biblical text tells us that going inside would not have protected anyone from this plague, because verse 11 claims that the boils were upon "all the Egyptians." Only those who think that all didn't mean all in the Bible will think that there was any way for the Egyptians to shelter themselves from the ravages of the plagues.

We have to suspect that if any such thing as these plagues really happened, no protection was afforded those who remained inside, because the whole purpose of the plagues was to so torment the Egyptians that Pharaoh would be forced to let the Israelites leave (Ex. 3:19-2011:1). Sparing animals and humans who remained inside from the ravages of the plagues would have defeated their whole purpose. Furthermore, we saw that confinement inside was no protection against small pestilences like lice and flies, so we can reasonably conclude that it would not have protected livestock from murrain and boils, which would have been caused by invisible agents far more minute than lice and flies. Certainly, confinement of livestock during hailstorms would have protected them, but hail was very different from infectious diseases and insects tiny enough to penetrate cracks and other fissures in the structure of the buildings. Thinking that confinement of livestock could have protected them from the "deadly pestilence" that killed "all the livestock of Egypt" is just a desperate attempt to explain a glaring problem in the story of the plagues.

A second major problem in the confinement "solution" to the livestock problem is that it makes Moses look even stupider than their king. If, as the rabbi's Talmudic sources claim, there had been Egyptians who "feared Yahweh" even before the plague of hail and had saved their livestock by keeping them inside, they would have been the only ones at the time of the "grievous" hail who had any livestock left, so they would have known that confining their animals inside would have protected them from any more plagues. Why, then, did Moses bother to tell these Egyptians who "feared Yahweh" what they had already known? As I said above, inerrantists, whether Jewish or Christians, wanting to find total accuracy in the Bible don't think about such things as this when they are looking for some way to explain discrepancies.

There is yet another problem in the Mechilta claim that Pharaoh had fielded his army of chariots and horsemen by using horses of those Egyptians who had "feared Yahweh" and kept their livestock inside during the plagues. Anyone who would naively suggest this as a solution to the problem would be someone who knows absolutely nothing about horsemanship. I grew up on a cotton farm at a time when horses were still used as work animals, so I know that a farmer didn't just go out, buy untrained horses, and then immediately hook them to farm implements and put them to work. They had to be trained first. My father bought two young horses that had been shipped to Missouri from out west, and he and my grandfather had to spend considerable time "breaking them" to accept being hitched to farm implements. I really don't think that Egyptian horses would have been any different, so I find it impossible to believe that Pharaoh, upon realizing the mistake he had made in allowing the Israelites to leave, would have bellowed orders for his soldiers to go get horses from Egyptians who had "feared Yahweh," and then hitch them to chariots, or saddle them up, and take off in pursuit of the escaping slaves. This same problem would apply to Turkel's suggestion that Pharaoh could have confiscated the horses of foreigners and Israelites, because they too would have had to be trained in military maneuvers before they could have been used in hot pursuit of an escaping army of 600,000, and that could not have been done in just a matter of days or even weeks.

Rabbi Yishma'el apparently didn't know much about horses when he wrote this section of the Mechilta, and our rabbi on the Errancy list, who is so enthusiastic about the Mechilta, doesn't seem to either. I think the rabbi lives in New York City, so perhaps his equestrian ignorance is understandable. I will be interested to see what "Jewish traditions" he can cite to resolve the problems identified above after he reads this article. I am sure that he will not be left without something to say on the subject. Just how far-fetched it might be is something else. We will just have to wait and see.

One thing should be certain by now: to claim that all didn't really mean all in the plague stories is to deny the obvious. All through these stories, as I noted above, the Exodus writer emphasized that the Israelites were spared their devastation. To emphasize that their livestock had been spared during the plague of murrain, he specifically said that "not one" of the livestock of the Israelites had died and that Pharaoh "inquired and found that not so much as one of the livestock of the Israelites was dead" (v:7). He didn't say that "some" of the livestock of the Israelites survived or that "most" of their livestock had survived. No, he was just as thorough in communicating the exemption of Israelite livestock from the consequences of the plague as he was in emphasizing the complete devastation of the Egyptian herds, so he twice said that "not one" of the livestock of the Israelites was dead. The writer didn't say that all the Israelite livestock was spared, but when he said that "not one" was dead, he obviously meant that all of them had been spared. Hence, if all didn't mean all when used in reference to the water of Egypt, the dust of Egypt, and the livestock of Egypt, we have to wonder if "not one" in reference to the Israelite livestock meant not a single one, or was it just the writer's way of saying that almost all or a significant number of Israelite livestock was spared. Taking such a position would subvert the purpose of the plague stories, which was obviously to convey that Yahweh's protection of the Israelites was complete and unrestricted while the plagues were totally devastating Egypt. If, then, the writer literally meant that "not so much as one" of the Israelite livestock had died, we have no reason to think that he didn't literally mean that all of the Egyptian livestock had died. The fact that he later referred to Egyptian livestock still alive was just a careless plotting error like the one he had made when he had the Egyptian sorcerers "doing likewise with their secret arts" after Aaron had changed the water throughout all the land of Egypt into blood. Such oversights just can't be dismissed by readers who are not shackled to an archaic belief in biblical inerrancy.

There were other plagues, of course, that I cannot discuss at this time, but I will plan to include them in yet a fourth article on this series. Meanwhile, these observations about the first seven plagues are enough for any open-minded, objective reader to see that the Bible is just too preposterous in places for rational-thinking people to take it seriously. If I am wrong in saying this, perhaps inerrantists or the Jewish rabbi will be able to show me just where I went wrong. If he replies, I urge the readers to study attentively what he has to say as he tries to make sense out of these absurdities I have identified in the Egyptian-plagues story.

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