Plagues of Egypt

By the Editors of the Madain Project

The Plagues of Egypt were a series of events mentioned in the religious sources of three Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. According to the general narrative of the events these disasters were inflicted upon the Pharoah of Egypt, his princes and magicians for their defiance of the divine commandment of letting the people of Israel from slavery and lands of Egypt. The number and sequence of events differ in the accounts of Bible and Quran. Since, the name of the pharoah is not mentioned in any of the sources, the a number of theories have been propsoed for the date, but none have been proved.


The Bible presents the account of ten plagues i.e. water in to blood, frogs, lice, wild animals, diseased livestock boils, storms of fire, locusts, darkness and death of firstborn.

The background of the plagues of Egypt was the refusal of Pharaoh when Moses asked him to let the israelites leave Egypt and settle elsewhere in the land as free people. The Biblical narration begins with a reminder of the Jews' entry into Egypt with Jacob, who joined Joseph there.

In Judeo-Christian sources (maily mentioned in the biblical books of Exodus and Deuteronomy), the "Plagues" are ten disasters inflicted on the Biblical Egypt by the God of Israel in order to convince the Pharaoh to allow the Israelites to depart from slavery, each of them confronting Pharaoh and one of his Egyptian gods; 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 LORD".

The Quran states that God decreed punishments over the Pharaoh and his people. These punishments came in the form of floods that demolished their dwellings, swarms of locust that destroyed the crops, pestilence of lice that made their life miserable, toads that croaked and sprang everywhere, and the turning of all drinking water into blood. Each time the Pharaoh was subjected to humiliation, his defiance became greater. The Quran mentions that God instructed prophet Moses (Musa) to travel at night with the Israelites, and warned them that they would be pursued.

Religious Traditions

circa 1350 BCE

Biblical Account
The biblical account of the plagues, mentioned in the biblical book of Exodus, describes a series of ten disasters (traditionally accepted number) that God brought on Egypt when Pharoah refused to let the Israelite nation leave. According to the narrative, the Israelites had been slaves in Egypt for 400 years until God sent Moses to deliver His chosen people. The Bible describes these episodes as a series of events happening one after the other in the following order; water turning to blood, frogs, lice, flies, livestock pestilence, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, and the death of firstborn children. Several attempts have been made to find natural explanations for the plagues (e.g., a volcanic eruption to explain the "darkness" plague), but 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.

circa 1350 BCE

Islamic Perspective
The Islamic account of the plagues, mentioned in brief detail in Surah al-Qasas (28th chapter of the Quran), is sort of an abridged version of the Biblical account. According to the Quran, God decrees punishments over the Pharaoh and his people, but makes moderate mention of the preceeding events (the interaction between prophet Moses and the Pharaoh and his princes/magicians as mentioned in the Bible) and the sequence of the "plagues" is also absent. The Quranic account of the "Plague of Egypt", describes five plagues i.e. floods, locusts, lice, toads and turning of drinking water in to blood. Just as in the biblical account, Quran also does not provide the name of the Egyptian king, rather call him Fir'awn, (also spelled as Fir'oun), making it quite difficult to date the event.

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