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The ten plagues of Egypt

The ten plagues, described in Exodus vii-xii, are inflicted on the Egyptians by the God of the Hebrews to persuade the pharaoh to release his people. The first nine, which fail in their purpose, make an exciting narrative. But the extremely drastic tenth plague, which is successful, has a lasting resonance in both Judaism and Christianity.

The early plagues involve a Nile flowing with blood, hail on the crops, diseases of cattle, boils on humans, three days of darkness and an excessive number of frogs, gnats, flies and locusts. But the Pharaoh's heart is hardened against this pressure (the Bible says that the Lord hardens it). The tenth plague is of a different order.


The Lord tells Moses that at midnight on a certain day he will kill every firstborn child and animal in every house in Egypt. But he will pass over any marked with a sign as the dwelling of a Hebrew family. The sign is to be the blood of a sacrificial lamb smeared on the doorposts and lintel, and the lamb is to be eaten that night with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Every year this event is to be commemorated with a similar meal.

This disaster finally persuades the Pharaoh to let Moses and his people go. The commemoration of it is the Jewish festival of Pesach, or Passover. It later influences Christianity through the Last Supper of Jesus - himself, in the eyes of Christians, the sacrificial lamb.


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