Biblegems # 285
Question: Is there historical evidence for the ten plagues associated with the Exodus of the Hebrew slaves from Egypt?
First, it should be stated that the biblical account itself should be regarded as the premier source of historical evidence for the Exodus and related events.
Archaeological research in the Near East and Middle East (secular or faith-based) is dependent far more upon the Bible for locating ancient, long buried sites than any other source. On the other side of that coin, scientists and researchers often express great surprise when archaeological discoveries conflict with modern theories and confirm the biblical record.
A classic example of this is the discovery in 1887 of the famous Armana Tablets from the time of Moses and the conquest of Canaan under Joshua (approx. 1400 B.C.) These tablets (nearly 300 of them!) are letters in stone from the Canaanite king Abdi-Heba to the Pharaoh of Egypt begging for protection from the Hebrew invaders.
Likewise, the Ebla Tablets, unearthed in Syria in 1975, provide extra-biblical confirmation dating back to approximately 2300 B.C. (Abraham’s day) of the existence of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 13-18), and of a priest-king (Melchizedeck?) who ruled over Salem—the region that would later become Jerusalem (Gen. 14:18).
Another, very recent, example the Bible’s historical accuracy is the earliest known reference to Jerusalem outside of the Bible found in Hebrew script on a 7th century B.C. papyrus that authorities rescued from looters.[i] That places this document in the time period of Solomon’s Temple.
With regard to the ten plagues associated with the Exodus, another ancient papyrus surfaced in the 1970s known as the Ipewur Papyrus. This is a poetic account of historical events taking place in ancient Egypt that corresponds to the time of the Exodus (1400’s B.C.). This account parallels 6 of the 10 plagues recorded in the book of Exodus, chapters 7-12, followed by the release of the Hebrew slaves, as seen below:
1. Water contaminated with Blood (Ex. 7:14-25; Ipewur 2:3, 9)
2. Frogs (Ex. 7:25-8:11)
3. Lice (Ex. 8:16-19)
4. Flies (Ex. 8:20-32)
5. Livestock epidemic (Ex. 9:1-7; Ipewur 5:5)
6. Boils on skin (Ex. 9:8-1)
7. Devastating hail & fire (Ex. 9:22-26; Ipewur 9:23; 2:10)
8. Locusts (Ex. 10:1-20; Ipewur 4:14; 6:1)
9. Darkness (Ex. 10:21-29; Ipewur 9:11)
10. Death of Egypt’s firstborn sons (Ex. 11 & 12; Ipewur 2:13; 3:14; 4:3; 6:12)
Slaves Freed with Egypt’s wealth (Ex. 12:31-36; Ipewur 1; 2; 3; 5; 10)
While historians disagree over the dating of the Ipewur Papyrus (some think it’s too old!), and whether it should be understood simply as poetry or history, the description of the events read like an anguished eyewitness account of the biblical plagues. The parallels are too striking to be ignored.
Moses and the Exodus from Egypt following the ten plagues are treated throughout the Old and New Testaments as factual history, and they are thoroughly attested to in the archaeological record as well. As Jesus said would happen, “the very stones cry out!” (Lk. 19:40).