Miracles or ‘Mother Nature’?
Were the ten plagues of Egypt, as recorded in Exodus chapters 7–11, all overt miraculous acts of God? Yes, according to Moses. No, according to the natural-cause-and-effect theory of Greta Hort, first published in 1957–58,1 and today widely cited in Bible reference books and encyclopedias.2 However, Hort’s ideas have never been subjected to independent scientific scrutiny, until that of Brad Sparks in 2003.3
Hort’s ‘chain reaction’
According to Hort, the first plague, of blood, was supposedly4 a massive amount of red algae, plus a huge quantity of red earth washed into the Nile by excessive rains on the Abyssinian plateau. These algae allegedly de-oxygenated the water, thus killing the fish, which somehow gave rise to anthrax bacteria. The frogs then sickened, left the river (the second plague) and died. Hort’s third plague was mosquitoes, which had bred in the floodwaters, and her fourth was the biting fly Stomoxys calcitrans, breeding in the decaying plants left by the retreating Nile flood. The livestock disease of her fifth plague was anthrax spread by the dead frogs. The sixth plague, of boils on animals and people, was supposedly skin anthrax transmitted by the biting flies.
According to Hort, the seventh plague, of hail and thunder, was a coincidental local weather feature, which also promoted the locusts of the eighth plague.5 The ninth plague, of darkness, was allegedly caused by a desert sandstorm known as a khamsin, which blotted out the sun by throwing into the air the blanket of fine red dust from the first plague, left on the ground when the widespread Nile floodwaters receded. And Hort’s tenth plague was not the death of the firstborn, but the destruction of the last remains of the ‘first-fruits’ of the harvest, ‘due to a corruption of the Bible text’ (Hort 1958:52–54).3
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