If I Was An Ancient Egyptian
Prince of Egypt
I am a fan of several animated films, one such is The Prince of Egypt by DreamWorks Animation Studio. Maybe it is nostalgia to blame for my fancy to it, because one would think that as an atheist, I would denigrate movies like Noah, The Ten Commandments, and The Prince of Egypt.
More likely, I take kindly to the movie because it provides an in-depth feel to the whole picture of the Exodus story. Also, the score is phenomenally produced by none other than Hans Zimmer, the cast is first rate including stars like Ralph Fiennes, Patrick Stewart, Sandra Bullock, Helen Mirren, and I find no issue liking a fictional story--as I do consider the Exodus account as fiction. I like this movie much in the same way as I like the Disney movie, Hercules. Both are artistic film accounts of ancient stories.
Taste aside, I began to think about what it would have been like to live as an ancient Egyptian during the time of the Exodus (assuming it true), and I reached the conclusion that such a life would have put me at odds with a very powerful being, namely the Jewish Yahweh, and my reaction would have been one of hatred, fear, and disgust.
Pharaoh's Hardened Heart
According to the Biblical account and from my understanding when I read the Scripture as a Christian, it was God who hardened Pharaoh's heart. For instance:
But the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had said to Moses. -- Exodus 9:12 NIV
Some scholars try to dodge the entire issue and say God did not in fact, harden Pharaoh's heart, but that the wording is an idiomatic phrasing in the passage, as God would not override Pharaoh's free will. I'll let my reader be the judge, but it seems implausible. All these verses list God as the guiding force that hardened Pharaoh's heart: (Exodus 7:3,13, 9:12, 10:1, 20,27, 11:10, 14:4,8).
After God hardens Pharaoh's heart, he holds him responsible for his actions, and levies the ten plagues upon Egypt that we studied in Sunday School as a child (which is very strange when you think about it; it would be like studying some revenge war like the Iraq War in a children's classroom).
Me, The Egyptian
Fast forward to the average run-of-the-mill, Joe the Egyptian. He was unrelated to all goings on in the palace. He had a field to plow for crying out loud. He did not have time to engage in the newest Egyptian-Israeli political gossip around the local well. He had to feed his six kids and keep the farm running smoothly. He certainly went to his temple and served the Egyptian gods faithfully, but it was probably more a social thing than a real everyday religion.
So what was expected of this Egyptian named, Joe (a rather uncommon Egyptian name no doubt)? Was he told about the impending doom to befall Egypt if Pharaoh "did not let Yahweh's people go"? I'm sure he had interactions with the Israelites, and I'm sure he had the same attitude as the rest of Egypt towards them, indifference. It is worthy to note that we have found no archeological or anthropological evidence that the Israelites were ever enslaved by the Egyptians, or that the Egyptians had such a stock of slaves as the number of Israelites at the time. The common trend of thought is that such larges structures such as the Pyramids or the temples were built by hired hands (lots of them) and not slaves.
If, however, the Biblical account is to be believed, then the Israelite slaves would have been viewed as "prisoners of war," "slaves of conquest," and would not necessarily been hated, just abused as easy labor (which I guess classifies as "hate," just not in the classist, racist way that the African slave trade was in America, I surmise).
So, when our Egyptian Joe learns that the Israelites now have to make bricks without the providence of straw, he thinks to himself, "Good, one less trip to make into town. Now the Israelites will have to glean the straw from my fields themselves rather than me and my workers." I imagine he would have thought nothing of the whys and hows and the politics that were brewing.
Fast forward again. Maybe at some point, Joe learns that the whole conflict has arisen from Moses demanding Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. Fine. He would see Moses as an arrogant braggart. What right should he have to demand Pharaoh to release the Israelites? Silly, Moses.
Plague One: Nile Into Blood
Moving on, we are confronted with the first plague. Joe is forced to find water elsewhere for his crops. No longer can he use the Nile with its rich supply of water to irrigate his fields. Now wells have to be dug near his farmland.
Plague Two: Frogs
Really just a nuisance comparative to the first, though I'd expect by the second or third day, Joe would never want to see a frog again.
Plague Three: Gnats
This would probably be a setback. Joe would try to work through such a storm of gnats, only to have to swat them away from everything he is doing.
Plague Four: Flies
Just like the last, Joe would be unable to work. Flies everywhere would probably also mean bites from the flies.
At this point at least, Joe would begin wondering about this whole plague thing. If it had not been announced publicly to begin with that the plagues were sent from the Jewish god, the news certainly would have been spread around by now. And while some may have passed off the first, second, third and possibly even the fourth plagues off as flukes, most Egyptians, including Joe, would have to agree that this plague thing was coming from the Jewish god.
It was a superstitious time back in ancient Egypt, and I have no trouble believing that the Egyptians would have seen these plagues as an attack on their own religion. Whether it would be convincing for them to follow Yahweh is another matter--the one which I argue against here.
I mean, this is what this whole mental exercise is for me, to put myself in the sandals of an Egyptian and imagine how I would respond to the Jewish god. My response would not be to love, serve, and worship that god, that is for sure. I might worship out of fear, but not out of love. One can't possibly read this Old Testament account and continue to say that the Jewish or Christian god is a god of love. Where was the love for the Egyptians?
Plague Five: Death of Livestock
Whereas the last four would have been major setbacks from the lifestyle for average Egyptians, this would be crippling. I would imagine seeing all your livestock dead on this particular morning, mortifying and terrifying. This would be completely debilitating--no work would be done in the fields that day. I think it is safe to argue that the Egyptians would began bunkering in, fearing the worst for their country and wondering what travesty would befall them next.
Plague Six: Boils
The advantage of this plague is it would take Joe's mind off what would be happening next, and if he would make it out alive. To be struck with a malady like boils so suddenly would be gruesome and so painful--his mind would only to focused on relief from the pain and comfort for his family. If the boils were severe enough, he may wish himself dead.
Plague Seven: Hail
Here, the Egyptians that had not brought in what they could have from the fields, would probably lose whatever crops that they had. The Biblical descriptions of the hail are such that the hail would probably been able to strike and injure those that were outside, not just a severe storm.
Plague Eight: Locusts
All plants and food are stripped away. I could imagine this crippling Egypt for the next two-three years. This is also more reason for why we should see archeological evidence of the plagues in Egypt; such a terrible economic crisis would have resulted from even three of these plagues, enough for some historian to write it down or foreign nation to recount. Without such evidence, I find the likelihood that such an event as the Exodus occurring unlikely.
Plague Nine: Darkness
Think about the emotions this would create for the average Egyptian. They didn't have lamps, lightbulbs, probably even candles. The darkness would have brought a great amount of despair. And if the Bible's events are true, the Israelites remained unaffected by this plague, which the Egyptians would have surely noticed.
Plague Ten: Angel of Death
I get the feeling that Moses's instructions to the Israelites would have spread to some of the Egyptians (the spreading of lamb's blood on the doorposts). And I think Joe might have tried this. After all, he had children (a firstborn) and his wife was a firstborn. So naturally, given the first nine plagues he saw with his own eyes, would it not make sense to do what he could to protect his family? The Scripture isn't clear whether the Egyptians did try this or if it would have protected them. But certainly, death passed through many Egyptian families. The grief and sorrow would be strong.
At this point in time, Pharoah relinquished his hold on the Israelites. I imagine that the Egyptians heaved a sigh of relief. But the impact already was great. Egypt had been brought to its knees.
The important point I want to make and should not be missed is this: how would our exhibit Egyptian respond? At this point he has seen Egyptians sickened, stripped of their goods, starved, injured of hail, and possible killed or had relatives killed by an unseen angel. I can imagine he would detest this god and want revenge. But how do you get a revenge on a god? The proper emotional response could only be fear, hatred, anger, or bewilderment. Joe would either fear the Jewish god, hate him, want vengeance, or find the god confusing. Any of these responses would not illicit worship, only estrangement. He would be questioning why the Israelites served such a monster.
Thanks for joining me in this mental exercise. I hope this gives you some insight into the Old Testament god and why he was/is a moral monster if the story is true. I realize the account of described of this fictional character is made up, but all the details of what happened are what the Old Testament claims happened (Exodus). The responses and actions of the fictional character make sense in light of the story.
If you are able to place yourself in the shoes of the fictional character and reach a similar conclusion about Yahweh, congratulations--you have a superior moral code than he does.