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Meditation 1030
The Unbelievable Tale of Passover

by: John Tyrrell

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Passover is coming up this month, as is Easter.* The two religious occasions are inextricably linked. As observed by the now pope emeritus back in 2009:

The central symbol of salvation history—the Paschal lamb—is here identified with Jesus, who is called “our Paschal lamb”. The Hebrew Passover, commemorating the liberation from slavery in Egypt, provided for the ritual sacrifice of a lamb every year, one for each family, as prescribed by the Mosaic Law. In his passion and death, Jesus reveals himself as the Lamb of God, “sacrificed” on the Cross, to take away the sins of the world. He was killed at the very hour when it was customary to sacrifice the lambs in the Temple of Jerusalem. The meaning of his sacrifice he himself had anticipated during the Last Supper, substituting himself—under the signs of bread and wine—for the ritual food of the Hebrew Passover meal. Thus we can truly say that Jesus brought to fulfilment the tradition of the ancient Passover, and transformed it into his Passover.

Or to put it succinctly, Easter is nothing more than Passover for Christians.

And like the Easter story, the Passover story is just not credible.

The Passover tale is not credible because there is no independent verification of any of the events leading up to and during the first Passover in Exodus. None in currently known historical records of ancient Egypt; none in the archeological records of Egypt. Not credible because the actions of the Pharaoh as described in Exodus make absolutely no sense; not credible because the actions of God as described in Exodus make absolutely no sense - not unless both God and the Pharaoh were both stark raving bonkers. And not credible because an omniscient and omnipotent God would not need the homes of the Israelites to be marked in blood so he would know which households to pass over, and in which to slaughter all the first born.

And not credible because of the miraculous Egyptian livestock.** And I'm going to spend a little time on the Egyptian livestock because... well let's see...

Exodus 9: 1. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: “Let my people go, so that they may worship me.”
2 If you refuse to let them go and continue to hold them back,
3 the hand of the Lord will bring a terrible plague on your livestock in the field—on your horses, donkeys and camels and on your cattle, sheep and goats.
4 But the Lord will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel and that of Egypt, so that no animal belonging to the Israelites will die.’”
5 The Lord set a time and said, “Tomorrow the Lord will do this in the land.”
6 And the next day the Lord did it: All the livestock of the Egyptians died, but not one animal belonging to the Israelites died.

"All the livestock of the Egyptians died." Seems a pretty clear and absolute statement doesn't it. All horses, donkeys and camels, cattle, sheep and goats belonging to the Egyptians are now dead. All of them - no exceptions mentioned in the supposedly infallible text.

But right after this plague which killed all the livestock, we have the plague of boils.

8 Then the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Take handfuls of soot from a furnace and have Moses toss it into the air in the presence of Pharaoh.
9 It will become fine dust over the whole land of Egypt, and festering boils will break out on people and animals throughout the land.”
10 So they took soot from a furnace and stood before Pharaoh. Moses tossed it into the air, and festering boils broke out on people and animals.

We know all the livestock are dead - so what animals are these? Cats - Egyptians worshipped their cats. But if it was just cats, why not say cats rather than animals?

And then we follow the boils with the plague of hail.

18 Therefore, at this time tomorrow I will send the worst hailstorm that has ever fallen on Egypt, from the day it was founded till now.
19 Give an order now to bring your livestock and everything you have in the field to a place of shelter, because the hail will fall on every person and animal that has not been brought in and is still out in the field, and they will die.’”
20 Those officials of Pharaoh who feared the word of the Lord hurried to bring their slaves and their livestock inside.
21 But those who ignored the word of the Lord left their slaves and livestock in the field.

Where did these livestock belonging to officials of the Pharaoh come from? This is definitely livestock in this passage, It can't be written off as cats.

25 Throughout Egypt hail struck everything in the fields—both people and animals;

And if we take the promise of verse 13, "and they will die" we can see that these unfortunate livestock have suffered a second death.

And continuing on to the actual events of Passover, we get God's word that he's going to have another go at the Egyptian livestock - some of which he's killed twice, the remainder only once.

Exodus 11: 4 So Moses said, “This is what the Lord says: ‘About midnight I will go throughout Egypt.
5 Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the female slave, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well.

And of course Pharaoh ignored this threat like all the others and...

Exodus 12: 29 At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well.

It looks like some of the livestock - those unfortunate enough to be first born and who earlier died in the plague and again in the hail are now dead thrice over.

But wait - there's more.

Remember when all this killing started, horses were in that itemized list of livestock. They are all dead now - some of them three times dead. Perhaps four times if boils were fatal. And yet...

Exodus 14: 5 When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds about them and said, “What have we done? We have let the Israelites go and have lost their services!”
6 So he had his chariot made ready and took his army with him. 7 He took six hundred of the best chariots, along with all the other chariots of Egypt, with officers over all of them.
8 The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, so that he pursued the Israelites, who were marching out boldly.

9 The Egyptians—all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, horsemen and troops—pursued the Israelites and overtook them as they camped by the sea near Pi Hahiroth, opposite Baal Zephon.

You have to wonder how the Egyptians possibly pursued the Israelites and overtook them while riding dead horses. In any event, those poor zombie horses got to die a fourth time in the waters of the Red Sea.

The Passover story is just not credible.

DISCUSSION

Notes:

* Not so for Eastern Orthodox Churches which will not celebrate Easter until May 5 this year.

** We'll use the more modern translation of "livestock" (New International Version) rather than "cattle" which is used as the generic term for livestock in older texts such as the KJV and RSV.

 

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