Wednesday, January 25, 2012

No one could move during darkness?

We famously interpret the plague of darkness as something that prevented the Egyptians from moving. "During the last three days, one who sat could not stand up, one who stood could not sit down, and one who was lying down could not rise upright."(Exodus Raba 14:3) and " It was the most complete, the most comprehensive literal suffering. It meant each man being held, chained and fasting, to the spot in which he happened to be." (Samson Raphael Hirsch) 

My hunch is that this all based on a misunderstanding. 

A purpose of the plagues as per God's own words was to embarrass the Egyptian deities, and to demonstrate that God is the true god.
  • Wherefore say unto the children of Israel, I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with great judgments: (Exodus 6:6)
  • And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch forth mine hand upon Egypt (Exodus 7:5) 
  • For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD.(Exodus 12:12)
I propose (actually, I think I saw it in Sarna's Exploring Exodus: The Origins of Biblical Israel) that darkness was an "attack" on the sun god

Sun worship was exceptionally prevalent in ancient Egyptian religion. The earliest deities associated with the sun are all goddesses: Wadjet, Sekhmet, Hathor, Nut, Bast,Bat, and Menhit. First Hathor, and then Isis, give birth to and nurse Horus and Ra. Hathor the horned-cow is one of the 12 daughters of Ra, gifted with joy and is a wet-nurse to Horus.The Sun's movement across the sky represents a struggle between the Pharaoh's soul and an avatar of Osiris. Ra travels across the sky in his solar-boat; at dawn he drives away the demon Apep of darkness. The "solarisation" of several local gods (Hnum-Re, Min-Re, Amon-Re) reaches its peak in the period of the fifth dynasty. (Wikipedia)

A millennium or more later, Jewish readers had no idea such a sun god existed. To them, the plauge of darkness seemed weird and especially unremarkable as the penultimate punishment.  They asked, "What was so terrible about darkness? In what sense is that a plague?"

So,  they read the psukim closely to find an answer.... "Can't move" was one solution. But it seems to have been based on a lack or information.

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