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Inspired by this question.

Is there any extrabiblical evidence that any or all of the ten plagues occurred as outlined in Exodus 7:14-11:10? Particularly, any evidence in Ancient Egyptian records?

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  • Why are the Biblical accounts insufficient for you?
    – Neil Meyer
    Jun 8 at 8:31

2 Answers 2

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I'll take a crack at an answer based on Matthew's sources (Ipuwer papyrus. This is a "best effort" answer, since we don't really have anything definitive, and can't prove a negative. Further caveats: there may be translation issues that I'd be unqualified to comment on, and it wouldn't be uncommon for observers from different cultures to describe the same events differently.

Both references refer exclusively to the Ipuwer Papyrus, which this "answer" is essentially a critique of. According to "Got Questions:"

The Ipuwer Papyrus is the sole surviving manuscript of an ancient Egyptian poem officially designated as Papyrus Leiden I-344. The poem is known as “The Admonitions of Ipuwer.” A new edition is available now entitled “The Dialogue of Ipuwer and the Lord of All.” Dutchman Giovanni Anastasi purchased the Ipuwer Papyrus in 1828, and it is now housed in Leiden, the Netherlands, at the Dutch National Museum of Antiquities, the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden.

One by one, quoting first Exodus (from Biblesprout) and then Ipuwer:

The Nile River turned to Blood 7:19 And the LORD spake unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Take thy rod, and stretch out thine hand upon the waters of Egypt, upon their streams, upon their rivers, and upon their ponds, and upon all their pools of water, that they may become blood; and that there may be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, both in vessels of wood, and in vessels of stone.

“Plague is throughout the land. Blood is everywhere” (2:5–6). “The river is blood. . . . Men shrink from tasting—human beings, and thirst after water” (2:10). “That is our water! That is our happiness! What shall we do in respect thereof? All is ruin” (3:10–13).

This seems at face value to be a good match; although Exodus adds the extra detail about water turning to blood in artificial vessels not connected to the water system.

The Plague of Frogs 8:5 And the LORD spake unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Stretch forth thine hand with thy rod over the streams, over the rivers, and over the ponds, and cause frogs to come up upon the land of Egypt.

Ipuwer does not seem to mention this. Possibly writing in retrospect, frogs and bugs didn't seem as historically significant against what happened later.

The Plague of Lice (gnats or mosquitoes more than likely) 8:16 And the LORD said unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Stretch out thy rod, and smite the dust of the land, that it may become lice throughout all the land of Egypt.

Ipuwer does not seem to mention this.

The Plague of Flies (specifically dog-fly) 8:21 Else, if thou wilt not let my people go, behold, I will send swarms of flies upon thee, and upon thy servants, and upon thy people, and into thy houses: and the houses of the Egyptians shall be full of swarms of flies, and also the ground whereon they are.

Ipuwer does not seem to mention this.

The Murrain (pestilence which killed cattle and sheep) 9:3 Behold, the hand of the LORD is upon thy cattle which is in the field, upon the horses, upon the asses, upon the camels, upon the oxen, and upon the sheep: there shall be a very grievous murrain.

“All animals, their hearts weep. Cattle moan” (5:5). “Behold, cattle are left to stray, and there is none to gather them together” (9:2–3).

While Exodus describes a deadly disease, Ipuwer seems to be describing neglect. He points out that they are miserable (but not necessarily sick) and that they're allowed to wander away. This doesn't seem like a particularly close match.

The Plague of Boils and Blains (sores and painful skin infection) 9:8 And the LORD said unto Moses and unto Aaron, Take to you handfuls of ashes of the furnace, and let Moses sprinkle it toward the heaven in the sight of Pharaoh. 9:9 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.

Ipuwer does not seem to mention this.

The Plague of Hail (with fire and thunder) 9:18 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 even until now. And Moses stretched forth his rod toward heaven: and the LORD sent thunder and hail, and the fire ran along upon the ground; and the LORD rained hail upon the land of Egypt.

“Forsooth, gates, columns and walls are consumed by fire” (2:10). “Lower Egypt weeps. . . . The entire palace is without its revenues. To it belong [by right] wheat and barley, geese and fish” (10:3–6). “Forsooth, grain has perished on every side” (6:3). “Forsooth, that has perished which was yesterday seen. The land is left over to its weariness like the cutting of flax” (5:12).

Again, Ipuwer seems to be describing a different event, which is similar in that fire is involved. The Exodus version focuses on hail but suggests that excessive lightning may have started fires, while Ipuwer mentions neither hail or lightning.

The Plague of Locusts (Hebrew, arbeh) 10:4 Else, if thou refuse to let my people go, behold, tomorrow will I bring the locusts into thy coast: 10:5 And they shall cover the face of the earth, that one cannot be able to see the earth: and they shall eat the residue of that which is escaped, which remaineth unto you from the hail, and shall eat every tree which groweth for you out of the field.

Ipuwer does not seem to mention this.

The Plague of Darkness 10:21 And the LORD said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, even darkness which may be felt. 10:22 And Moses stretched forth his hand toward heaven; and there was a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days

“The land is without light” (9:11).

This isn't particularly convincing, as Ipuwer doesn't mention the duration of the darkness... an eclipse would be worth reporting, but three days of smothering darkness would have been worth filling in the details, even if it was just a 3-day thunderstorm (although neither account mentions inclement weather). Ipuwer also doesn't mention the Israelites being spared from this or other plagues, although it's possible it just didn't concern him if it was happening in the ghetto.

The Death of Firstborn Man and Beast 11:4 And Moses said, Thus saith the LORD, About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt: 11:5 And all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the first born of Pharaoh that sitteth upon his throne, even unto the firstborn of the maidservant that is behind the mill; and all the firstborn of beasts.

“Forsooth, the children of princes are dashed against the walls” (4:3 and 5:6). “Forsooth, the children of princes are cast out in the streets” (6:12). “He who places his brother in the ground is everywhere” (2:13). “It is groaning throughout the land, mingled with lamentations” (3:14).

Here Exodus focuses on the unexplained death of the firstborn. In contrast, Ipuwer appears to be describing some kind of mass murder, possibly an insurrection. If only the firstborn were affected, one would think Ipuwer would mention it; if there was violence involved, it seems that Exodus would have mentioned it.

Looking at the totals:

5 plagues (half!) not mentioned by Ipuwar
4 plagues with connections that could be seen as coincidental
1 plague (Nile flows with blood) which matches well.

It's worth note, however, that red tides are not unheard of, and there's nothing specific to prove they're the same event.

I see insufficient evidence to say that this provides any conclusive verification of the events of Exodus.

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    Can you add an explanation why counting the matches between the two texts (Exodus and the Ipuwer Papyrus) might be useful as evidence that the events described in one text actually took place? Even if there was a perfect match so that every plague described in Exodus was also to be found in the Papyrus, I'd use Occam's Razor and simply conclude that one text was inspired by the other. This wouldn't mean that the events described in the original must have been real.
    – Schmuddi
    Jun 2 at 12:50
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    @WeatherVane You're right about the frogs, I fixed it. Thanks. Jun 2 at 13:43
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    Why should we consider Ipuwar canon?
    – Neil Meyer
    Jun 8 at 8:29
  • Worth noting that the Scribal tradition that the Jews had was absent to a certain degree in many other ancient cultures. No ancient tradition wrote things down to the same degree as the Jews and their Christian offshoot did.
    – Neil Meyer
    Jun 8 at 8:33
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Cristobol's answer discusses an Egyptian text that lists generic disasters hitting Egypt. There is, however, another Egyptian source which connects such disasters to the Jewish Exodus... supposedly.

Our only source for this alleged Egyptian account is Josephus, a Romanized Jewish historian and military leader. You may remember Josephus for being the strongest non-Christian witness to the existence of Jesus. He's considered a useful and unique source for the time period. But Josephus is not trying to build a case that the plagues were real. Rather, in his book called Against Apion (c.100 CE), he is defending Judaism against anti-Jewish canards such as the blood libel. In this context, disasters in Egypt appear incidentally.

One of the principal anti-Jewish sources Josephus is attacking is a history of Egypt supposedly by an Egyptian named Manetho (3rd century BCE). Other writers agree Manetho existed and wrote books, but his passage resembling the Exodus story is no longer extant outside of Josephus' quotation. It's also a problematic description, as the key words "Jews/Judea/Hebrew" never appear, "Moses" only appears in a corrupt sentence at the end, and the entire source is hostile to non-Egyptians.

Manetho-via-Josephus has two descriptions of the Exodus story.

The first tells the story of the invasion of Egypt by the Hyksos who, in the first half of the second millennium BCE, conquer Egypt, burn its cities, raze its temples to the ground, and lead its peoples off into slavery. They rebuild and fortify the city of Avaris, but, after a period of 511 years, Egypt revolts, and the Hyksos are defeated by the Pharaoh Misphragmuthosis. They are forced to retreat to Avaris, where they further fortify the city, and a treaty is concluded that allows the Hyksos to depart from Egypt. Some 240,000 persons do so, and they settle in Judea and build a city large enough to accommodate their number. Manetho identifies this city as Jerusalem.

Manetho’s second narrative is longer and more mythic in character. A certain king Amenophis, who desires to see the gods, communicates this desire to a seer (also named Amenophis), who replies that the gods can only be seen if Amenophis cleanses Egypt of lepers and other polluted persons. Amenophis rounds up 80,000 persons, including priests, and he forces them to work together in quarries. This action provokes the wrath of the divine, and, immediately before committing suicide, the seer predicts that Amenophis will be overthrown and Egypt will fall into the hands of the polluted peoples. Meanwhile, the lepers take up shelter in Avaris, where a certain Osarsephos, a priest of Heliopolis, takes command and plans a revolt against Egypt. This Osarsephos institutes certain laws, including the rejection of the gods of Egypt, encouraging consumption of the flesh of Egypt’s sacred animals, and rejecting outsiders. He then makes an alliance with the Hyksos dwelling in Jerusalem, and, together, the two groups drive Amenophis and his son from Egypt, and the lepers and the Hyksos proceed to commit a series of sacrileges. In Josephus’ final quoted paragraph, the reader is told that Osarsiph [sic], when he joins with the polluted persons, changes his name and comes to be called Moses.

Ferguson, Cameron Evan. "A Note on Contra Apionem 1.250: Further Evidence for Anti-Jewish Interpolation" Journal of Ancient Judaism 12.2 (2021): 205-216.

The linked article points out that "Osarsephos" becomes "Osarsiph" in the final sentence of the second story, which suggests that an anti-Jewish source appended the final sentence, the identification of Osarsephos=Moses, to an earlier story. In any case, Manetho's original history was composed more than a thousand years after the Exodus narrative allegedly happened.

There is no archaeological evidence for any plagues or massive exodus, as noted in a Reddit thread about this, although as I pointed out in my earlier answer, the author of the Exodus narrative was arguably familiar with the ecology of the Sinai Peninsula and Negev, which is notable because who wanders around in a desert?

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