The Plagues of Egypt, in the account of the
book of Exodus The Book of Exodus (from grc, Ἔξοδος, translit=Éxodos; he, שְׁמוֹת ''Šəmōṯ'', "Names") is the second book of the Bible. It narrates the story of the Exodus, in which the Israelites leave slavery in Biblical Egypt throug ...
, are ten
disaster A disaster is a serious problem occurring over a short or long period of time that causes widespread human, material, economic or environmental loss which exceeds the ability of the affected community or society to cope using its own resources ...
s inflicted on
Biblical Egypt Biblical Egypt (; ''Mīṣrāyīm''), or Mizraim, is a theological term used by historians and scholars to differentiate between Ancient Egypt as it is portrayed in Judeo-Christian texts and what is known about the region based on archaeological e ...
by the God of Israel in order to convince the
Pharaoh Pharaoh (, ; Egyptian: '' pr ꜥꜣ''; cop, , Pǝrro; Biblical Hebrew: ''Parʿō'') is the vernacular term often used by modern authors for the kings of ancient Egypt who ruled as monarchs from the First Dynasty (c. 3150 BC) until the a ...
to emancipate the enslaved
Israelites The Israelites (; , , ) were a group of Semitic-speaking tribes in the ancient Near East who, during the Iron Age, inhabited a part of Canaan. The earliest recorded evidence of a people by the name of Israel appears in the Merneptah Stele ...
, each of them confronting Pharaoh and one of his
Egyptian gods Ancient Egyptian deities are the gods and goddesses worshipped in ancient Egypt. The beliefs and rituals surrounding these gods formed the core of ancient Egyptian religion, which emerged sometime in prehistory. Deities represented natural f ...
; they serve as "signs and marvels" given by God to answer Pharaoh's taunt that he does not know Yahweh: "The Egyptians shall know that I am the ".


1. Turning water to blood: Ex. 7:14–24

2. Frogs: Ex. 7:25–8:11/15

3. Lice or gnats: Ex. 8:12–15/8:16–19

4. Wild animals or flies: Ex. 8:16–28/8:20–32

The fourth plague of Egypt was of creatures capable of harming people and livestock. The Torah emphasizes that the ''‘arob'' (עָרוֹב "mixture" or "swarm") only came against the Egyptians and did not affect the Israelites. Pharaoh asked Moses to remove this plague and promised to grant the Israelites their freedom. However, after the plague was gone, Pharaoh hardened his heart and he refused to keep his promise. Various sources use either "wild animals" or "flies".

5. Pestilence of livestock: Ex. 9:1–7

6. Boils: Ex. 9:8–12

7. Thunderstorm of hail and fire: Ex. 9:13–35

8. Locusts: Ex. 10:1–20

9. Darkness for three days: Ex. 10:21–29

10. Death of firstborn son: Ex. 11:1–12:36

Before this final plague, God commands Moses to tell the Israelites to mark a lamb's blood above their doors in order that the Angel of Death will pass over them (i.e., that they will not be touched by the death of the firstborn). Pharaoh orders the Israelites to leave, taking whatever they want, and asks Moses to bless him in the name of the Lord. The passage goes on to state that the
passover Passover, also called Pesach (; ), is a major Jewish holiday that celebrates the Biblical story of the Israelites escape from slavery in Egypt, which occurs on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan, the first month of Aviv, or spring. ...
sacrifice recalls the time when the "passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt".

Composition and theology

Scholars are in broad agreement that the publication of the Torah took place in the mid-Persian period (the 5th century BCE). The
Book of Deuteronomy Deuteronomy ( grc, Δευτερονόμιον, Deuteronómion, second law) is the fifth and last book of the Torah (in Judaism), where it is called (Hebrew: hbo, , Dəḇārīm, hewords Moses.html"_;"title="f_Moses">f_Moseslabel=none)_and_ ...
, composed in stages between the 7th and 6th centuries, mentions the "diseases of Egypt" (Deuteronomy 7:15 and 28:60) but refers to something that afflicted the Israelites, not the Egyptians, and never specifies the plagues. The traditional number of ten plagues is not actually mentioned in
Exodus Exodus or the Exodus may refer to: Religion * Book of Exodus, second book of the Hebrew Torah and the Christian Bible * The Exodus, the biblical story of the migration of the ancient Israelites from Egypt into Canaan Historical events * Ex ...
, and other sources differ; Psalms 78 and 105 seem to list only seven or eight plagues and order them differently. It appears that originally there were only seven, to which were added the third, sixth, and ninth, bringing the count to ten. In this final version, the first nine plagues form three triads, each of which God introduces by informing Moses of the main lesson it will teach. In the first triad, the Egyptians begin to experience the power of God; in the second, God demonstrates that he is directing events; and in the third, the incomparability of Yahweh is displayed. Overall, the plagues are "signs and marvels" given by the God of Israel to answer Pharaoh's taunt that he does not know Yahweh: "The Egyptians shall know that I am the ".


Scholars broadly agree that
the Exodus The Exodus (Hebrew: יציאת מצרים, ''Yeẓi’at Miẓrayim'': ) is the founding myth of the Israelites whose narrative is spread over four books of the Torah (or Pentateuch, corresponding to the first five books of the Bible), namely ...
is not a historical account, that the Israelites originated in
Canaan Canaan (; Phoenician: 𐤊𐤍𐤏𐤍 – ; he, כְּנַעַן – , in pausa – ; grc-bib, Χανααν – ;The current scholarly edition of the Greek Old Testament spells the word without any accents, cf. Septuaginta : id est Vetus T ...
and from the
Canaanites {{Cat main, Canaan See also: * :Ancient Israel and Judah Ancient Levant Hebrew Bible nations Ancient Lebanon 0050 Ancient Syria Wikipedia categories named after regions 0050 Phoenicia Amarna Age civilizations ...
and that, while a small group of proto-Israelites probably did originate from Egypt, it did not happen in the massive way the Bible describes. The Ipuwer Papyrus, written probably in the late
Twelfth Dynasty of Egypt The Twelfth Dynasty of ancient Egypt (Dynasty XII) is considered to be the apex of the Middle Kingdom by Egyptologists. It often is combined with the Eleventh, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth dynasties under the group title, Middle Kingdom. Some ...
(c. 1991–1803 BCE), has been put forward in popular literature as confirmation of the biblical account, most notably because of its statement that "the river is blood" and its frequent references to servants running away; however, these arguments ignore the many points on which Ipuwer contradicts Exodus, such as Asiatics arriving in Egypt rather than leaving and the fact that the "river is blood" phrase probably refers to the red sediment colouring the Nile during disastrous floods, or is simply a poetic image of turmoil. Attempts to find natural explanations for the plagues (e.g., a volcanic eruption to explain the "darkness" plague) have been dismissed by biblical scholars on the grounds that their pattern, timing, rapid succession, and above all, control by Moses mark them as
supernatural Supernatural refers to phenomena or entities that are beyond the laws of nature. The term is derived from Medieval Latin , from Latin (above, beyond, or outside of) + (nature) Though the corollary term "nature", has had multiple meanings si ...

Artistic representation

Visual art

In visual art, the plagues have generally been reserved for works in series, especially engravings. Still, relatively few depictions in art emerged compared to other religious themes until the 19th century, when the plagues became more common subjects, with John Martin and Joseph Turner producing notable canvases. This trend probably reflected a Romantic attraction to landscape and nature painting, for which the plagues were suited, a Gothic attraction to morbid stories, and a rise in
Orientalism In art history, literature and cultural studies, Orientalism is the imitation or depiction of aspects in the Eastern world. These depictions are usually done by writers, designers, and artists from the Western world. In particular, Orientalist p ...
, wherein exotic Egyptian themes found currency. Given the importance of noble patronage throughout Western art history, the plagues may have found consistent disfavor because the stories emphasize the limits of a monarch's power, and images of lice, locusts, darkness, and boils were ill-suited for decoration in palaces and churches.


Perhaps the most successful artistic representation of the plagues is Handel's oratorio ''
Israel in Egypt ''Israel in Egypt'', HWV 54, is a biblical oratorio by the composer George Frideric Handel. Most scholars believe the libretto was prepared by Charles Jennens, who also compiled the biblical texts for Handel's ''Messiah''. It is composed ent ...
'', which, like his perennial favorite, "
Messiah In Abrahamic religions, a messiah or messias (; , ; , ; ) is a saviour or liberator of a group of people. The concepts of '' mashiach'', messianism, and of a Messianic Age originated in Judaism, and in the Hebrew Bible, in which a ''mashia ...
", takes a libretto entirely from scripture. The work was especially popular in the 19th century because of its numerous choruses, generally one for each plague, and its playful musical depiction of the plagues. For example, the plague of frogs is performed as a light aria for alto, depicting frogs jumping in the violins, and the plague of flies and lice is a light chorus with fast scurrying runs in the violins.


* '' The Exodus Decoded'' (2006)


* '' The Ten Commandments'' (1923) * '' The Moon of Israel'' (1924) * '' The Ten Commandments'' (1956) * '' The Abominable Dr. Phibes'' (1971) * '' The Seventh Sign'' (1988) * ''
Moses Moses hbo, מֹשֶׁה, Mōše; also known as Moshe or Moshe Rabbeinu ( Mishnaic Hebrew: מֹשֶׁה רַבֵּינוּ, ); syr, ܡܘܫܐ, Mūše; ar, موسى, Mūsā; grc, Mωϋσῆς, Mōÿsēs () is considered the most important pr ...
'' (1995) * '' The Prince of Egypt'' (1998) * '' Magnolia'' (1999) * '' The Mummy'' (1999) * ''
The Reaping ''The'' () is a grammatical article in English, denoting persons or things already mentioned, under discussion, implied or otherwise presumed familiar to listeners, readers, or speakers. It is the definite article in English. ''The'' is the ...
'' (2007) * '' Exodus: Gods and Kings'' (2014) * '' Seder-Masochism'' (2018)

Image gallery

File:Aaron points his rod at the river and it begins to flow with Wellcome V0034268.jpg, The Second Plague: Frogs came up and covered the Sand of Egypt File:William de Brailes - The Third Plague of Egypt - Gnats (Exodus 8 -17) - Walters W1065R - Full Page.jpg, The Third Plague: File:Tissot The Plague of Flies.jpg, The Fourth Plague: ''The Plague of Flies'', James Jacques Joseph Tissot, Jewish Museum, New York File:033.The Fifth Plague. Livestock Disease.jpg, The Fifth Plague: Pestilence of livestock, by
Gustave Doré Paul Gustave Louis Christophe Doré ( , , ; 6 January 1832 – 23 January 1883) was a French artist, as a printmaker, illustrator, painter, comics artist, caricaturist, and sculpture, sculptor. He is best known for his prolific output of wood-e ...
File:Martin, John - The Seventh Plague - 1823.jpg, The Seventh Plague: John Martin (1823) File:Holman The Plague of Locusts.jpg, The Eighth Plague: "The Plague of Locusts", illustration from the 1890 Holman Bible File:034.The Ninth Plague. Darkness.jpg, The Ninth Plague: ''Darkness'' by
Gustave Doré Paul Gustave Louis Christophe Doré ( , , ; 6 January 1832 – 23 January 1883) was a French artist, as a printmaker, illustrator, painter, comics artist, caricaturist, and sculpture, sculptor. He is best known for his prolific output of wood-e ...

See also

* Aaron's rod *
Jochebed According to the Bible, Jochebed (; hbo, יוֹכֶבֶד, translit=Yōḵeḇeḏ, lit= YHWH is glory) was a daughter of Levi and mother of Miriam, Aaron and Moses. She was the wife of Amram, as well as his aunt. No details are given concerni ...
Miriam Miriam ( he, מִרְיָם ''Mīryām'', lit. 'Rebellion') is described in the Hebrew Bible as the daughter of Amram and Jochebed, and the older sister of Moses and Aaron. She was a prophetess and first appears in the Book of Exodus. The To ...


Further reading

* * * *

External links

* {{DEFAULTSORT:Plagues Of Egypt Book of Exodus Egypt in the Hebrew Bible Moses Passover Jewish miracles Animals in religion Insects in religion Disasters in Egypt