Friday, July 21, 2017

Plague of darkness

i) Some scholars attempt to explain the ten plagues of Egypt naturalistically. That has the merit of taking the historicity of the events seriously, but the danger is to secularize the account. 

Some miracles may employ natural mechanisms. Those are coincidence miracles. 

However, the plagues can't be sheerly natural events. One reason is how selective they are. They single out the Egyptians but exempt the Israelites. Natural events aren't that discriminating. Although some natural disasters have disparate impact, the distribution is random. 

The plague of darkness is a striking example. Unlike the other plagues, which are physically destructive, this is more a case of psychological warfare. It happens without warning. The Egyptians go to bed at night, expecting sunrise. Nothing is more elemental and perennial in human experience than the diurnal cycle. Yet imagine waking up in the dark, wondering what time it is. At first they assume they must have awakened in the middle of the night, and go back to sleep. But as the hours wear on, sunrise never happens!

In theory, they could resort to firelight (lamps, torches, bonfires) to create a bit of illumination, but paradoxically, it takes light to make light. You can't make a fire when it's pitch black. You need to be able to see what you're doing to make a fire. And the plague of darkness struck without warning, so they didn't have a chance to make preparations. They couldn't keep a fire burning. 

Moreover, even if they did have a lamp or torch, that's not a flashlight. It doesn't project light any distance. So you'd become hopelessly lost in the dark if you ventured a few yards from home.

In the meantime, the Israelites in Goshen continued to have natural light. Sunlight, starlight, moonlight. 

It's as if thick clouds blanketed the land of Egypt, but there was a hole in the cloud cover just above Goshen. Sometimes, if you're outside during a daytime storm, the sky is blackened by menacing clouds, yet there's a break in the clouds. The ground is dark as night, except for a bright patch, like a spotlight from the sky. Perhaps, in the enveloping darkness, the Egyptians could see Goshen encircled in light. 

ii) There's an interesting relationship between the plague of darkness and the creation account. The plague lasts for three days. The land is plunged in darkness apart from Goshen.

In comparison, you have the paradox of Genesis, where the diurnal cycle seems to preexist sunlight for the first three days. Day and night alternate, yet the sun is not created until the fourth day. Or is it? 

By the same token, Egypt is enshrouded in darkness for three days, except for Goshen, which remains illuminated by shafts of sunlight through an opening in the clouds. (Or something like that.) Then, on the fourth day, sunlight is restored to the land of Egypt. 

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