Red Algae Theories of the Ten Plagues: Contradicted by Science -- By: Brad Sparks

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 16:3 (Summer 2003)
Article: Red Algae Theories of the Ten Plagues: Contradicted by Science
Author: Brad Sparks


Red Algae Theories of the Ten Plagues:
Contradicted by Science

Part 1 of 3

Brad Sparks

Naturalistic theories of the Ten Plagues attempt to account for the miraculous events of Moses and the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt using natural phenomena in an exotic biological chain reaction of red algae, anthrax and various other epidemic pathogens and insects, plus flood water, red river mud, and/or wind. These Plague theories have been widely and uncritically accepted among Biblical scholars, and believed quite mistakenly to be scientifically established, but they are virtually unknown and undocumented in the scientific community. Such theories have escaped serious scientific scrutiny until now. The leading “natural phenomena’” theories of the Plagues are reviewed in-depth here for the first time and found to be fatally flawed, the main one so lacking in scientific merit that it has the appearance of an elaborate hoax even though most likely proposed with the utmost sincerity (Hort 1957, 1958).

Why are naturalistic theories so popular? For some, they avoid complete skepticism of the Bible on the one hand and complete supernaturalism by Divine miracle on the other. This middle ground asserts that the Bible is correct that these events really did occur, but as natural occurrences under unusual conditions, not as miracles. Such a theory is attractive to those who presume that it actually provides a kind of stunning scientific proof of the Biblical account of the Ten Plagues. According to many conservatives the miracle involved is one of soft subject data of timing and severity, or of otherwise scientifically acceptable “natural” phenomena. Part of the problem may be linguistic. Disease epidemic theories rely to some degree on a misnomer. The Biblical word “plague” in English suggests only infectious disease when the actual Hebrew word and variants translated from Exodus chaps. 9–12 (nega’, negeph, magephah) refer more broadly to “sharp blows” and “calamity,” not just disease (Brown, Driver, Briggs 1979:550a, 619a–620a-620a).

Hort’s Red Algae-Anthrax Theory

The most popular naturalistic theory of the Plagues of Egypt began in 1957 with Greta Hort, a scholar of medieval English literature and religion, who published a theory explaining the Plagues as an interconnected series of catastrophic natural events. This “ecological domino” effect (van Biema 1998:4) started with a Plague of Blood consisting mainly of a massive “red tide” of algae in the Nile River plus red mud (Sailhamer 1992:254; Kitchen 1962; Cole 1973:90; Elwell 1988; Humphreys 2003:114–18, 125, 144). Then anthrax bacteria in the river infected animals and humans. Every succ...

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