Saturday, 5 May 2012

The Santorini Eruption and the Apocalyptic Plagues of Exodus

The Seventh Plague of Egypt, by John Martin, 1825

It has long been noted by New Testament scholars that the trumpet and bowl plagues detailed in the Apocalypse is a direct allusion to the plagues of Egypt described in the Book of Exodus. The trumpet plagues of Rev 8-9, which are recapitulated in the bowl plagues of Rev 16, directly lifts its thematic content from the story of the Exodus. At the sounding of the first trumpet, a plague of hail and fire is unleashed upon the inhabitants of the earth:

The first angel blew his trumpet, and there followed hail and fire, mixed with blood, and these were thrown upon the earth. And a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up.
(Rev 8:7)

The above verse is alluded to again in Rev 11:4-6, and is recapitulated in Rev 16, where it is presented in a different order of sequence compared to the events described in Rev 8-9:

And great hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, fell from heaven on people; and they cursed God for the plague of the hail, because the plague was so severe.
(Rev 16:21)

These verses correspond with the seventh plague of Egypt:

Then Moses stretched out his staff toward heaven, and the LORD sent thunder and hail, and fire ran down to the earth. And the LORD rained hail upon the land of Egypt. There was hail and fire flashing continually in the midst of the hail, very heavy hail, such as had never been in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation. The hail struck down everything that was in the field in all the land of Egypt, both man and beast. And the hail struck down every plant of the field and broke every tree of the field.
(Exod 9:23-25)

The second trumpet blast, where the "great mountain, burning with fire" is thrown into the sea, is recapitulated in the second and third bowl plagues, and also alludes to the first plague of the water turning to blood in Exod 7:

The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood. A third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.
(Rev 8:8-9)

The second angel poured out his bowl into the sea, and it became like the blood of a corpse, and every living thing died that was in the sea. The third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of water, and they became blood.
(Rev 16:3-4)

Moses and Aaron did as the LORD commanded. In the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants he lifted up the staff and struck the water in the Nile, and all the water in the Nile turned into blood. And the fish in the Nile died, and the Nile stank, so that the Egyptians could not drink water from the Nile. There was blood throughout all the land of Egypt.
(Exod 7:20-21)

The darkness resulting from the sounding of the fourth trumpet is recapitulated in the fifth bowl plague in Rev 16, and corresponds to the plague of darkness in Exod 10 - the event which the various prophecies concerning the "Three Days of Darkness" are based on (which I will be delving into further in a future post):

The fourth angel blew his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of their light might be darkened, and a third of the day might be kept from shining, and likewise a third of the night.
(Rev 8:12)

The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness.
(Rev 16:10)

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt.” So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was pitch darkness in all the land of Egypt three days. They did not see one another, nor did anyone rise from his place for three days, but all the people of Israel had light where they lived.(Exod 10:21-23)

The demonic locusts unleashed at the fifth trumpet obviously reflects the locust plague in Exod 10:

Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth.
(Rev 9:3)

So Moses stretched out his staff over the land of Egypt, and the LORD brought an east wind upon the land all that day and all that night. When it was morning, the east wind had brought the locusts. The locusts came up over all the land of Egypt and settled on the whole country of Egypt, such a dense swarm of locusts as had never been before, nor ever will be again.
(Exod 10:13-14)

Similarly, the unclean spirits like frogs mentioned during the pouring of the sixth bowl, echoes the plague of frogs in Exod 8:

And I saw, coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs. For they are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty.
(Rev 16:13-14)

So Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt, and the frogs came up and covered the land of Egypt.
(Exod 8:6)

The narrative concerning the Woman Adorned with the Sun, also contains some echoes of the Israelites' wanderings in the wilderness, with the twelves stars around the Woman's head symbolising the Twelve Tribes of Israel, and the Woman personifying the nation itself - just as Mary also represents the Church in Catholic tradition.

So it can be safely established that the Apocalypse expects the plagues of Egypt to be in some way reenacted towards the end of the world. But one of the most extraordinary aspects of the Book of Revelation's reimagining of the story of the Exodus, is that it appears to have been aware that the plagues of Egypt were associated with a "great mountain, burning with fire" being thrown into the sea (Rev 8:8) - millennia before the Santorini/Exodus hypothesis was first postulated in modern biblical scholarship.
The theory that the Thera eruption was the source of the plagues described in the Book of Exodus, was first forwarded by the Egyptologist Hans Goedicke during the early 1980's, and has since become one of the most widely accepted explanations for the events of the Exodus in modern biblical scholarship. The eruption of Santorini, which destroyed the Greek island of Thera between 1600-1500 BC, was one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history. With an estimated value of 7 out of a possible 8 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI), the Thera eruption brought about the collapse of the Minoan civilisation on the island of Crete, and is thought by many scholars to be the primary inspiration for the myth of Atlantis recounted in Plato's Timaeus and Critias.

Satellite image of the Santorini caldera - the remains of the eruption which devastated Thera in the mid-second millennium BC.

Given that this eruption is dated to roughly the same time period as the Exodus, many biblical scholars and Egyptologists have attempted to establish how this event could have led to the sequence of events described in the Bible. The Book of Exodus tells us that the first plague to strike Egypt was that of the river Nile turning blood red. This phenomenon has been attributed to the rapid growth of an algal bloom (red tide), resulting from either the release of sediments or trapped gases under the Nile by the increased level of seismic activity which often accompanies volcanic eruptions, or by the falling volcanic debris entering the waters of the Delta. The algae which cause red tide thrive in extreme conditions and temperature changes associated with volcanic activity, and quickly deplete oxygen levels whilst producing natural toxins. This kills any marine life in the affected areas - an event which recalls the repercussions of the mountain being cast into the sea in Rev 8:8:

The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood. A third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.
(Rev 8:8-9)

Whilst the fish in the Nile would have been suffocated by the algae, large swathes of frogs would have been forced out of the waterways, leading to the second plague of Exodus. The frogs would have quickly died without water, and their rotting bodies along with those of the fish in the river would have attracted swarms of flies and gnats/lice, which would be able to proliferate more freely without their natural predators. This then accounts for the third and fourth plagues, and the disease spread by the increase of flies, mosquitoes, etc would have led to the fifth and sixth plagues - boils appearing on livestock and humans.
The plague of the hail of fire mixed with ice would have been caused by the fall of the volcanic debris that was ejected into the air during the ongoing eruption at Santorini. Volcanic ash and pumice from the Thera eruption has been discovered at several archaeological sites across Egypt, making it certain that the Egyptians would have been badly affected by this cataclysm. And the plague of locusts has been explained as the mass displacement of these creatures around the Aegean by the ash cloud issuing from Santorini, coupled with the rise in humidity, causing them to descend en masse onto northern Egypt. The ash cloud would then also account for the plague of darkness that swept the land for three days.
The deaths of the firstborn during Passover is somewhat more difficult to put down to a scientific explanation, with theories ranging from a poisoning of the food supplies - which the firstborn would have been privileged to above other family members during a period of famine; to ritual human and animal sacrifice.
Although it would be a mistake to divorce the events of the Exodus from the miraculous altogether. From a faith-based perspective, it seems best to view these events as a series of cause and effect natural events interspersed with elements of the miraculous, all of which were governed by an overriding supernatural power.
The parting of the Sea of Reeds has then been attributed to a tsunami caused by the main eruption of Santorini. This main eruption caused a large scale volcanic collapse, which generated a massive tsunami that devastated the Minoan civilisation on the adjacent island of Crete. There is  also some archaeological evidence to suggest that the tsunami generated by this collapse affected the coast of the Eastern Mediterranean. A study published by the Geological Society of America in 2009 extrapolated the following results from the archaeological data:

A sedimentary deposit on the continental shelf off Caesarea Maritima, Israel, is identified, dated, and attributed to tsunami waves produced during the Late Bronze Age (ca. 1630–1550 B.C.E.) eruption of Santorini, Greece. The sheet-like deposit was found as a layer as much as 40 cm thick in four cores collected from 10 to 20 m water depths. Particle-size distribution, planar bedding, shell taphoecoensis, dating (radiocarbon, optically stimulated luminescence, and pottery), and comparison of the horizon to more recent tsunamigenic layers distinguish it from normal storm and typical marine conditions across a wide (>1 km2) lateral area. The presence of this deposit is evidence that tsunami waves from the Santorini eruption radiated throughout the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, affecting the coastal people living there. (See here)

Given that the tsunami waves reached as far as Israel, then it is almost certain that they would also have affected the northern coast of Egypt.

There is a modern consensus amongst Old Testament scholars that the usual identification of the Red Sea as that which was crossed by the Israelites during the Exodus was based on a mistranslation of the Hebrew word Yam Suph. A more accurate rendering of this location is the "Sea of Reeds", which given the physical description this name implies, is thought to be a lake located somewhere in the marsh lands of the Nile Delta, near the Mediterranean coast. It has been theorised that the Israelites arrived at the Sea of Reeds just before the tsunami made landfall. The drawback caused by the the swell of the incoming tsunami wave would have emptied large parts of the lake, allowing the Hebrews to cross. While the Israelites reached safe ground, the pursuing Egyptian charioteers would have then been swept away by a wall of water when the tsunami eventually made landfall.

The only real problem with attributing the plagues of Egypt to the Santorini eruption is in the dating of the events of the Exodus itself. In 1Kings 6:1, the Bible dates the events of the Exodus to 480 years before the construction of the Temple of Solomon - around 1450 BC, which is very close to the most widely accepted dates for the eruption of Thera as at around 1500 BC. But placing an exact date on the Santorini eruption has been notoriously difficult. A recent radiocarbon dating of an olive tree found inside a lava flow which issued from Santorini, places the date much earlier than that originally thought by archaeologists - at around 1600 BC. But in the wake of the fiasco surrounding the skewed dating of the Shroud of Turin due to the apparent cross contamination of radiocarbon samples, the reliability of this method of dating is far from certain, and even many archaeologists have dismissed these results. One accumulated, the uncertainties surrounding the date of the Thera eruption is felt by many to bolster the feasibility that it coincided with the events of the Exodus.
Many modern scholars reject the biblical date given for the events of the Exodus however, as this would place it as taking place during the reign of Pharoh Thutmose III. Since there is no corresponding archaeological evidence or relevant Egyptian records for this regnal period, many biblical scholars have forwarded a later date for the Exodus as having taken place during the reign of Rameses II circa 1260 BC. As an alternative to this late dating, Egyptologist David Rohl recently forwarded a revised Egyptian chronology which would support the biblical date for the Exodus as at around 1450 BC, and in turn meets with an archaeological record which perfectly fits with the events described in the Bible. Rohl's New Chronology theorises that the conventional chronology used by the vast majority of modern Egyptologists has been artificially over extended by around 300 years, placing the events of the Exodus as occurring during the reign of Pharaoh Dudimose. If nothing else, Rohl's New Chronology highlights the imperfections of the conventional Egyptian chronology, and reminds us that even long established models can be subject to paradigm shifts, just as some of the presumptions of Newtonian physics were overturned by Einstein's theory of general relativity.

So we can safely conclude that the Book of Revelation bases much of its material on the plagues of Egypt, which rather astonishingly, it appears to have known were centred around a "great mountain, burning with fire" being thrown into the sea. But in its reinterpretation of past events as a reflection of the future, the Apocalypse foretells that a burning mountain being cast into the sea will destroy the eschatological world empire referred to as "Babylon". The main message that seems to be conveyed by these parallels, is that just as the Minoan civilisation (Atlantis?), and indeed the Egyptian Pharaoh, were undone by a burning mountain being thrown into the sea, so too would Babylon be toppled by the effects of a large scale volcanic collapse. It seems that the events of the Thera eruption is destined to be reenacted in the future.
As we have already discussed in the post Mega-tsunami, just such a fate lies in store for America upon the eventual collapse of Cumbre Vieja in the Canary Islands. The ensuing mega-tsunami caused by the collapse of Cumbre Vieja would obliterate the entire east coast of the Americas, including cities such as New York, Boston, Washington D.C. and Miami, as well as the Caribbean islands and various cities on the coast of South America. And a catastrophe on this scale would almost certainly bring about the total economic collapse of the USA - especially if hostile nations exploit this opportunity and deploy certain strategic measures to ensure that it could never recover (such as arming a rogue state to attack key cities on the west coast, or even simply by refusing vital economic aid).
It is also interesting to note that if the destruction of the Minoan civilisation at Thera is the true source of the myth of Atlantis, Plato mistakenly identified this land destroyed in the sea with a continent that lay beyond the pillars of Hercules across the Atlantic Ocean - the location of America itself. Could there be some prophetic significance in this misidenfication of a continent being destroyed in the sea? In addition to being beyond the pillars of Hercules (the closest point between Spain and Morocco across the straits of Gibraltar), Plato describes the location of Atlantis as being at "a distant point in the Atlantic ocean", and that in size it was "larger than Libya and Asia together". Additionally, the Book of Revelation narrates the fall of Babylon in language which is highly evocative of Plato's description of the disaster that befell Atlantis. Plato describes Atlantis as being consumed in the sea in "one grievous day and night", whilst the Apocalypse foretells that Babylon will be destroyed in a "single hour", symbolised by an angel hurling a huge millstone into the sea:

They will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say, “Alas! Alas! You great city, you mighty city, Babylon! For in a single hour your judgment has come.”  
(Rev 18:10)


Anne said...

Thank you for this stunning and beautifully written post.

I shall look forward to your research on 3 days of darkness, I personally am confused about that one, through the course of my life I have heard on and off pious and well meaning ladies in my Church talk about this event but, all of them at some stage have given their own interpretation and nothing matches or makes credible sense to me, so, as a consequence I have always thought it was their excitement with a pinch of attention seeking thrown in for good measure.

Emmett O'Regan said...

Hi Anne,

In a nutshell, I believe that the primary interpretation of the three days of darkness is symbolic in nature - that it refers to a period of spiritual darkness, rather than a completely literal three days of absolute darkness, which would flout all of the laws of nature.
Although it may have another layer of interpretation as well...

Denise said...

I've been following this blog and have begun reading your book (although it is slow going, since I am a grad student in the middle of finals!) I live on the west coast of the United States, and have been having dreams of a terrible tsunami for a number of years now. I have also been fretting much recently about the times to come. This was the scripture the Spirit gave to me this morning:

"God is our refuge and strength, a tested help in times of trouble. And so we need not fear even if the world blows up, and the mountains crumble into the sea. Let the oceans roar and foam; let the mountains tremble!"
Psalm 46, 1-3, The Catholic Living Bible


Emmett O'Regan said...

Hi Denise,

Make sure you don't read too much of the book until your finals are over! May is the most important month for uni. What are you studying?
I've previously had some recurring dreams where floods were pouring down from the Black Mountain in Belfast, just above my childhood home. Not really a tsunami as such, more of an overflowing of the rivers on the mountain, which would cascade down onto the streets of the estate where I used to live. I always thought it was weird that the mountain tops were the source of the flood, rather than the sea. There seems to be an incredible amount of people having similar dreams to this...
Try not to let the future trouble you too much though - que sera, sera - we can only trust in the ultimate wisdom of the Lord.
I think that passage of Scripture you have underscored is very important in relation to this event - I have highlighted the same verse in my post titled "The Casting Down of Mountains", which is an attempt to assemble all the passages of Holy Writ that I believe may refer to this impending catastrophe.

Denise said...

Finally, finals are over, and I have time to read books and blogs and reply to comments...I'm studying to be a family nurse practitioner, which in the US means pursuing a masters degree that will allow me to sit for a national certifying exam.

Marie said...

I have a question. Regarding 'Babylon', Apocalypse speaks of its destruction by fire (See 17:16, 18:8,9,18). Why, then, do you say its destruction shall come by water? Verse 18:21 only makes the ANALOGY that it shall be thrown down LIKE a great millstone cast into the sea.

Marie (Marysgirl) said...

I have a question. Regarding 'Babylon', Apocalypse speaks of its destruction by fire (See 17:16, 18:8,9,18). Why, then, do you say its destruction shall come by water? Verse 18:21 only makes the ANALOGY that it shall be thrown down LIKE a great millstone cast into the sea.

TheJackel said...

Great article.. You make some really good points about Revelation being reference to Egyptian plagues.. Also on the dating of Exodus, I believe it's not accepted to be near the time of the eviction of the Hyksos from Egypt. This in which would have been a result after the eruption..

If you are interested, I wrote 3 articles you might be interested in reading. :

TheJackel said...

"now accepted"


Emmett O'Regan said...

Thanks for sharing those articles Jackel - I look forward to reading them!

TheJackel said...

You're welcome :)

Anonymous said...

Book of Revelation not Revelation's

Anonymous said...

Climate change, yet another violation of our rights. The gov’t constantly violates our rights.

They violate the 1st Amendment by caging protesters and banning books like "America Deceived II".

They violate the 4th and 5th Amendment by allowing TSA to grope you.

They violate the entire Constitution by starting undeclared wars.

Impeach Obama.

Last link of "America Deceived II" before it is completely banned:

Anonymous said...

Revelation does NOT retell the plagues of Exodous. It tells of Armageddon for America and the next passage of Planet X, the home planet of the gods that made us. America is the Mountains of Israel in Ezekiel and revelation is the whackest book for the story about the war. Amos and ezekiel are the best but over half the Bible is about this one war that will see America annihilated by the SCO the same day as the next false flag to invade Iran using a nuke.

Anonymous said...

The "rapture" Prophets for PROFIT are ANTI-Christ DEATH CULTISTS. God/Jesus put you in this LIFE to learn "soul lessons", to increase your consciousness to the point of Redemption. Hagee and his Ilk REJECT the LIFE God gave you, and dangle a "shortcut" in front of people, just as SATAN dangled Temptation in front of Jesus. Do not follow the ANTI-Christ lies of FALSE prophets. Their "shortcut" of cheating God's lessons does NOT lead to Heaven, any more than cheating on school work teaches you the subject. Hagee, Robertson, the whole group, do NOT believe in anything except the MONEY they collect for leading their Flocks astray.
(1) Moses could not have led the Hebrews out of Egypt into the Promised Land, for the good reason that the latter was Eyptian territory at the time. And there is no trace of either a slave revolt against the pharaonic empire or of a sudden conquest of Canaan by outsiders.
(2) Why would downtrodden slaves "escape" to a PROVINCE of their Master? Palestine/Syria was all subject to Egypt at the time of the exodus. Those were the banished from power worshippers of ATEN that left the center of power for the fringe of the Empire, hoping to someday return to power.
(3) The 10 plagues of Egypt are custom fitted insults to the 10 Egyptian gods that overthrew and exiled Aten and his/her/it's Followers.
(4) The Greatest Fraud of all in the History of Christianity .... “The Incredible Scofield and His Book” written by Joseph M. Canfield, reveals the following:Cyrus Scofield is a small time politician and career criminal. In 1873, he is forced to resign his position as a District Attorney because of crooked financial transactions that include accepting bribes stealing political contributions, and securing bank notes by forging signatures. Scofield then serves jail time for forgery charges. A heavy drinker, Scofield later abandons his wife and two daughters. His wife finally divorces the drunken crook in 1883. As so many con-men do, Scofield will then claim to have “found Jesus”. He is ordained as a Minister and then claims to have a Doctor of Divinity degree, but this degree is never verified. After several mysterious trips to Europe and New York, Scofield publishes the notated reference Bible that bears his name. The added side notes in Scofield’s Bible inject a very weird “End Times” prophecy into Christianity. Because of Scofield’s altered Bible, many Christians today believe that Jesus will return to save his followers from the “end times” (The Rapture), after Israel is established, and that “God will bless those who bless Israel.” This biblical alteration, at the hands of a known criminal, marks the beginning of a powerful force in American politics known as “Chirstian Zionism” Many millions of “Evangelical” Christians have been mentally infected with Scofield’s poison.