derek taylorBy Derek Taylor, Editor, The Jewish Yearbook

There are still an awful lot of atheists out there scoffing at the Old Testament.

Their argument is science is king and has now proved all the biblical stories of miracles are mumbo-jumbo. Well, we’re coming up to Seder Night now and recalling the 10 plagues of 

Could they have happened, and in the order they did? Could that be scientifically proved?

Meet Dr. John Marr, for many years chief epidemiologist at the New York Department of Health. He and Curtis Malloy, a research specialist on epidemioloy and infectious diseases decided to 
see whether science could explain.

Where necessary, they called on other expert friends to help with the specific calamities. The first plague was, of course, the turning of the Nile into a river of blood – horrific for the Egyptians, whose agriculture still depends on the flooding of the river. Some years ago, it happened in North Carolina. Millions of fish died and their blood polluted the waterways. Cause? An algae called pfiesteria. It eats the flesh of fish and their blood can turn a river red.

The second plague was frogs. Tadpoles would not have been eaten, as normal, by the fish, because the fish were dead from pfiesteria. Professor Richard Wassersug of the University of Halifax also noted the Hebrew description of frogs can also cover toads. If it was toads, then hop forward the Bufo toad. The Bible’s account of the second plague mirrors exactly the behaviour of the Bufo, one of which can produce hundreds of thousands of offspring.

Then came the plague of lice. Richard Brown of the Mississippi Entomological Museum said the Hebrew word “cinnim” covered lots of insect varieties, including Culicoides canithorax, a biting midge that feeds on decayed organic material – like fish and frogs. With so much to eat, a Culicoides plague was very feasible.

There are two translations of the fourth plague, orouv. One is flies. Top Harvard entymologist Professor Andrew Spielmann fixed on the Egyptian stable fly, which can bite humans and animals with disastrous consequences. After the earlier plagues, it could easily have done its worst.

Dr. Roger Breeze, former director of the US Department of Agriculture Animal Research Centre, who studied some of the most dangerous viral diseases on earth, took on the fifth plague, the death of cattle, identifying Bluetongue, which kills animals in a matter of hours and is spread by – the Culicoides midge.

Marr and Malloy attributed boils to a Middle East infection, pseudomonas mallei, probably carried by – the stable fly.

Hail was the seventh plague and we know hail in Israel has been more than a metre deep.

Locusts, at eighth, was probably Schistocerca gregaria, the desert locust, which can swarm in vast numbers.

And then the Khamsin wind from the Sahara can produce extensive sandstorms that can blot out the sun and bury buildings. Even the killing of the first born can be put down to diseased crops producing typhoid and salmonella caused by Mycotoxins.

So the plagues can be linked by scientists. But if these were natural phenomena, what’s the miracle? Surely that Aaron and Moses knew in advance it was going to happen.

Now, let’s suppose you’re a visitors from Mars trying to decide between Jews and atheists. Surely you’d ask yourself how on earth could they know in Biblical times about the cumulative effects of pfiesteria, bufo toads, culicoides midges, bluetongue, pseudomonas mallei, schistocerca gregaria and mycotoxins?

The explanation that Aaron and Moses just followed the instructions of the Almighty would seem far more logical.

Unless, of course, it doesn’t fit an atheist’s case.