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Moses parting the Red Sea (with strange machine in forefront?). Yes, interesting nonetheless. Photo by allspice1/

Passover and Easter have left me pondering about Seders and empty tombs. After some interesting conversations, I found there’s more science to these holidays than you might think.

Take the Passover plagues, for instance. An interesting All Things Considered piece focuses on speculative explanations for the ten events that plagued Egypt as Moses warned the Pharaoh to emancipate the Israelites from slavery. Author Michael Lukas shares possible scientific explanations for each.

He highlights theories of scientist John Marr, who thinks that dinoflagellates, or tiny aquatic protists, caused the series of events referred to as the “Ten Plagues.”

Photo of dinoflagellates by Neon_ja/Wikimedia Commons

As found in nature today, dinoflagellates occasionally grow in massive colonies, creating what are called red tides. He argues that algal blooms from these small organisms, may explain why the Nile turned red as blood during the first plague. It’s possible the algal bloom affected other parts of the ecosystem as well, pushing an excess of frogs from the river and creating fertile grounds for lice and flies (as observed in the other plagues).

But what’s especially interesting — yet extremely speculative, in my opinion — is the hypothesis of what killed many of Egypt’s firstborn sons. He supports that all these events resulted in increased levels of mold — mycotoxin to be exact — in crop food supplies. And since the oldest sons exhibited seniority to food access, they were the first to fall ill and die.

I don’t necessarily buy this theory. Wouldn’t the children’s parents have first dibs on food? Why didn’t they die? I couldn’t find much online to determine either way.

For a better idea of other scientific explanations of the ten plagues, here’s a rundown.

Moses’ parting of the Red Sea stands as another Biblical miracle dissected by science. After fleeing Egypt, Moses and the Israelites found themselves sandwiched between the Red Sea and the Pharaoh’s pursuing army. Some theories Lukas has written about posit that a volcanic explosion on the Greek island of Santorini may have caused the irregular event. Others state that a phenomenon called the wind setdown effect was at play. This event can occur when powerful and persistent winds move large amounts of water downward in the same direction as the wind, leaving water in the upwind area at a reduced depth while water downwind at a surge (or increased depth).

The videos below give better visuals to the idea, as Christian scientist Carl Drews takes on the setdown theory. While he agrees it’s possible, he proposes something a little different.

Ultimately, it’s hard to be certain about what caused these events, but exploring them furthers my love for science and religion — even if we’ll never know what actually happened.


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About Me

Marianne is a science communicator working in Madison, Wis.

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