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EXPLANATION OF PLAGUES,
the culture of the vine, which was not adopted in Egypt till the reign of Psammetichus'; and is so grossly ignorant of the climate of the country, that he transfers to it without a scruple the parching east wind of Palestine, and subsequently employs its agency to bring about the ebbing of the Red Sea3. Here, too, a prominent place must be assigned to that well-known series of miracles which marked the deliverance of the chosen people from the hands of the Egyptians4. All of them, it appears, are the regular natural phænomena, or periodical visitations of the country; and the whole of the miracle consists in their exaggerated extent, or appearance at unusual periods, in answer to the prayers
of Moses. The water of the Nile annually assumes a reddish tint for a period of twenty days, when the river is rising or subsiding; and in 1823, Ehrenberg found the whole inlet of the Red Sea, in the neighbourhood of Sinai, stained a blood-red colour by a number of Cryptogamic plants. The marshy valley of the Nile is so prolific in frogs, that they occasionally become a “plague® ;” and it was for this reason that their natural
the Ibis, was held sacred as a public benefactor. The same is true of the marsh-gnats?, a very troublesome kind of mosquito ,
1 “And the chief butler told his dream to Joseph, and said to him, In my dream, behold a vine was before me.”—Gen. xl. 9.
And, behold, seven thin ears and blasted with the east wind sprung up after them.”—Gen. xli. 6.
3 “And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.”—Exod. xiv. 21.
4 [The plagues.] Exod. vii. and following chapters.
5 See Pocock, Description of the East, i. 296, 312. Ehrenberg, Observations, &c. in Poggendorff's Annals, 1830. Pliny, Nat. Hist. viii. 29. Justin, xv. 2.
7 Ex. viii. 16, kinnom. 8 Mosquitoes, incorrectly translated by Luther, after the example of the Rabbins. And the Lord said unto Moses, Say unto
PLAGUES OF EGYPT.
and also of the locusts, which are frequently carried over in swarms from Arabia, and commit dreadful havoc in the country'. It appears very probable that the description of this plague is imitated from that in Joela. Showers of hail are of rare occurrence in Egypt, as the observation of the narrator would seem indeed to implys, and appear to have been borrowed from Palestine. The “plague” itself (of which Egypt may almost be considered as the parent soil) is to this day fearfully frequent, as is also the black eruption (shěchin), which, in common with other diseases, is produced by the prevalence of marshes. While the myth is thus pouring forth its bitterest wrath on the Egyptians, it betrays an utter ignorance of the time when these phenomena appear; for, as the Israelites went out of Egypt in the month of Abib, exactly at the period of the Passover",
Aaron, Stretch out thy rod, and smite the dust of the land, that it may become lice throughout all the land of Egypt.”—Exod. viii. 16.
1“And the locusts went up over all the land of Egypt, and rested in all the coasts of Egypt: very grievous were they ; before them there were no such locusts as they, neither after them shall be such.”—Exod. x. 14. [See also verse 15.]
A day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and of thick darkness, as the morning spread upon the mountains : a great people and a strong; there hath not been ever the like, neither shall be any more after it, even to the years of many generations.”Joel ii. 2.
Behold, tomorrow about this time I will cause it to rain a very grievous hail, such as hath not been in Egypt since the foundation thereof until now.”—Exod. ix. 18.
4 “ And it shall become small dust in all the land of Egypt, and shall be a boil breaking forth with blains upon man, and upon beast, throughout all the land of Egypt.”—Exod. ix. 9.
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.”—Exod. xiii. 3. [The Jewish Passover occurred in the spring of the year, about March or April.]
the description of the greater number of these plagues (which do not commence till the very height of summer), could only have been drawn from a most imperfect knowledge of the country. In the other wonders performed, the Egyptian priests, according to the representation of the narrator, were not less successful than Moses ; they imitate, among the rest, the exhibition of tame serpents?; and we know that down even to the present day, many a magic art is practised in the East, which may serve perhaps to throw an occasional light on some curious appearances of antiquity.
But to us, these portions of the narrative, though evidently put forward as miraculous, can only appear in the light of purely poetical conceptions adapted to the spirit of the time, which we must certainly explain, according to our present experience, but should not criticise according to our present opinions.
It was the general belief of the ancients, that great men, particularly lawgivers and founders of new religions, were bound to establish their claims by performing extraordinary deeds; and this opinion is so deeply rooted in the spirit of the East, that even Mahomet was obliged, against his will, to appeal to some signs, in order to satisfy the doubts of the people of Mecca. In the case before us, the national temperament of the Israelites is very clearly expressed, under the peculiar form which it must have received from the political circumstances in which that people were placed about the time of Josiah?; and their hatred finds at last full vent in the death of the first-born of the
1 “For they cast down every man his rod, and they became serpents : but Aaron's rod swallowed up their rods.”—Exod. vii. 12.
See infra, Chap. 21.
Egyptians, and the destruction of the hostile army in the waters of the Red Sea.
Every single incident is an act of the divine vengeance which Jehovah inflicts on their enemies, in answer to the prayers or imprecations of his chosen people, and it is only by a reference to this feeling, which runs through the whole of the Old Testament, that it is possible rightly to estimate the plundering of the Egyptians, (so often misunderstood,) which was expressly enjoined, as it is said, by Jehovah himself.
In conclusion, we derive from the examination of these various narratives this certain result, that they are not contemporaneous history, but the pure legends of a later date. A king so silly as the Egyptian Pharaoh of the book of Exodus? is nowhere to be found, except in popular fables; and Moses, to use the gentlest expression the case will admit, would have certainly exposed himself to the suspicion of self-deception among contemporaries so familiar with Egypt, if he had endeavoured to pass miracles the ordinary phenomena of nature, which could, besides, have exercised no influence on Goshen.
1 " And I will give this people favour in the sight of the Egyptians : and it shall come to pass, that, when ye go, ye shall not go empty : but every woman shall borrow of her neighbour, and of her that sojourneth in her house, jewels of silver and jewels of gold, and raiment; and ye shall put them upon your sons, and upon your daughters; and ye shall spoil the Egyptians.”—Exod. iii. 21, 22.
“And the Lord gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they lent unto them such things as they required. And they spoiled the Egyptians.”—Exod. xii. 36.
2 “And the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he hearkened not unto them; as the Lord had spoken unto Moses.”—Exod. ix. 12. See also the rest of the chapter.
GEOGRAPHICAL ALLUSIONS TO PALESTINE CONTAINED
IN THE PENTATEUCH.
It has been said, “ that the hand of an eye-witness and contemporary may be clearly traced in the enumeration of the tribes, the formal record of their encampments, and the numerous proper names, which, as well as the circumstances connected with them, are detailed with extraordinary minuteness and accuracy ;" that “it is quite absurd to suppose, that such a tradition could have been preserved for centuries, while our own experience shows that even the most recent events soon fade from the recollection.” Were we, in the first place, to accede to the negative side of this argument, which denies that the memory of any historical fact can possibly be preserved for centuries, it would at once annihilate, or at least render doubtful, the whole early portion of the Hebrew history; a result, we imagine, which can scarcely be contemplated by those who so confidently appeal to the fact of the seven years' war having been, as they say, so soon and so completely forgotten. They totally neglect to consider how much the influence of oral tradition has been weakened, in our day, by the introduction of writing. Nevertheless, this very example may supply a just criterion for estiniating the practice of antiquity in this and other similar