Passover, Part 1

Begins at sunset on April 18, 2011

Tonight Jews around the world celebrate Passover. The origin and the name of Passover goes back to the Egyptian days, when the Jews were slaves in Egypt.

According to the second book of the Torah, Exodus, God unleashed ten plagues upon Pharaoh and his people in an attempt to convince Pharaoh to emancipate the Hebrews. Or as the late great Charlton Heston said, to “let my people go.”

The last and deadliest of the ten plagues was the killing of the first-born male in every household. In the book of Exodus, God commands Moses to tell Jewish families to put the blood of a sheep over their doors, so that God would know to “pass over” the house, hence the name Passover.

The first nine plagues were:

1. Turning of the River Nile to blood:

“…and all the water was changed into blood. The fish in the Nile died, and the river smelled so bad that the Egyptians could not drink its water.”

Amazing as that sounds, Pharaoh was not impressed. His sorcerers/magicians could also duplicate the feat of turning water into blood. Apparently this was the three-card shuffle of ancient Egypt.

Scientists have put forth numerous theories to explain the seemingly supernatural forces of the plagues. One theory is that a then-active Ethiopian volcano poured sulfurous lava into the Nile, upstream from Egypt.

Another theory is that of the ‘Red Tide. Red tide is a common occurrence brought on by algae in salt water or in stagnant water, but rarely in free-flowing fresh rivers like the Nile.

Both theories would explain how toxic elements in the Nile altered the color of the water and killed the fish. The extermination of millions of fish that piled up on the banks of the river would have created the awful stench from the water and would have set off a domino effect that could account for several of the following plagues:

2. Frogs

God, a devout fan of P.T. Anderson’s Magnolia, smited Egypt with the plague of frogs:

“…and the river shall bring forth frogs abundantly, which shall go and come into thine house, and into thy bedchamber, and upon thy bed…”

Amphibians would have left the toxic polluted waters in vast numbers to take shelter on land, where they would die of dehydration.

3. An infestation of “Kinim”

Kinim is translated as Gnats, Lice, Fleas, or Mosquitos.

The dead fish and amphibians would have caused Insect populations to explode, accounting for how the “dust throughout the land of Egypt became “kimin.”

4. Swarms of Flies

The Hebrew word arov literally means “swarms,” though it doesn’t say swarms of what. It’s generally believed to be flies or mosquitos, though also translated as wild animals, rodents, or vermin. Any of these would have been present following the fish and frog catastrophe set off by a toxic Nile.

5. Disease upon the livestock and other animals.

Swarms of vermin, rodents, and mosquitos would increase the pestilence level, diseases which may have struck the livestock first. The King James Bible mentions horses, donkeys, camels, oxen, sheep and cattle.

6. Skin disease among people, commonly thought to be boils.

And then pestilence would have infected the people, taking the physical manifestations of painful boils.

Rabbinical scholars often looked at the first nine plagues as a trilogy of trilogies, much like George Lucas’s original plan for the 9-part Star Wars…

Continued in Passover, Part 2

Passover, Part 2

Where we last left off, six plagues had devastated Egypt, dealing mainly with water, animals, and disease.

The third of the three plague trilogies moves to the meteorological arena and has its most damaging effects on agriculture:

#7: Hailstorm of fire.

Described as fiery hail in the Bible, it’s also interpreted to mean lightning and hail. This hailstorm which was said to be so violent it would kill any person or animal left outdoors. The Bible makes an unusual parenthetical here (such as this one) to explain how the early crops of flax and barley were destroyed while the wheat and spelt, which were still in the ground, were unaffected.

#8: Locusts.

To the modern urbanite this sounds to be a plague of inconvenience. Who wants to scrub dead grasshoppers off your windshield every time you get gas? But to an agrarian society whose water, fish, livestock, and half their crops depleted, this was the kiss of death. To give you an idea of the damage locusts can do, a swarm of locusts in Ethiopia in 1958 cost the country 167,000 tons of grain—enough to feed a million people for a year. (The Desert Locust in Africa and Western Asia)

#9: 3 Days of Darkness.

In modern times, explosions from crashing meteors such as Tunguska 1908, and volcanic eruptions such as Tambora 1815, sent out ash particles that covered the earth’s atmosphere for months. (1815 was called the Year Without Summer.) Exodus doesn’t give much to go on, other than the strange weather pattern of the previous two plagues.

All this said there really is no explanation for the deadliest of the plagues, number 10 in which

…I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment. — God, Exodus 12

No known plague or disease makes any distinction as to birth order.

One theory is that the “first-borns” that were killed originally referred to the first-born crops, not the people. And that may make sense if, for nothing else, the events in the story of Exodus are not mentioned in any ancient Egyptian text of the supposed time. You would think a massive slave revolt and exodus, unprecedented horrors, plagues, and the killing of the first-born in every house would have at least garnered a footnote on a papyrus scroll. But nope.

The real miracle of Passover may be that it is one of the oldest continuously observed holidays ever. On Passover Jews gather around the table, and the youngest asks the elders “Why is this night different from all other nights.” The story of the Exodus is retold, and Jews continue to follow the instructions laid down in Exodus.

And this day shall be unto you for a memorial, and you shall keep it a feast to the Lord throughout your generations…Seven days shall you eat unleavened bread…

Jews eat matzoh during Passover in memory of their ancestors who left Egypt without time to bake their bread, which hardened in the hot sun on their backs.

Though Abraham the monotheist is considered the father of the Judeo-Christian religions, long before Moses walked the earth, the moment the Hebrews left Egypt is considered to be the beginning of codified Judaism as it is recognized today. (Note: It was a Passover meal that Jesus and the disciples observed over a thousand years later during the Last Supper.)

After escaping Egypt and crossing the Red Sea, the Jews spent 40 years roaming the desert for their homeland. Proof that even then Judaism, like Christianity and Islam, was a patriarchal society.

No one asked directions.