The Bible in the News

Plagued by the press

Leonard Greenspoon

In his column The Bible in the News, Leonard J. Greenspoon looks at the various ways the famous Biblical story of the ten plagues of Egypt is used by today’s media.

To the uninitiated, it seems highly improbable that the ten plagues (from Exodus 7–12) would show up often and in varied contexts on the pages of major newspapers throughout the world. However, for the diligent reader of this column (is there any other kind?), it is no surprise at all that even so fearsome an event (or rather series of events) is infinitely malleable in the hands of newspaper writers worldwide.

Naturally, some of the stories are about nature, in this case nature at its most extreme. Thus, a rather chatty story from The Independent: “The British, it is said, love to talk about the weather,” but it’s “in America that people really talk about the weather. One reason is the national addiction to numbers: rainfall, snow amounts, temperatures, windspeeds and so on are paradise for statisticians … Floods, tornados, hurricanes and drought—it’s like the ten Plagues of Egypt relocated to the south central United States.”

Attentive readers (I know you are out there) know that we can generally find some solace in the world of entertainment. Nonetheless it must have been especially galling to all of those involved in the film reverently (or irreverently) titled Evan Almighty, when they read reviews filled with comments like: “Avoid like the Ten Plagues,” “There are more jokes in the Book of Job than in the whole of this film,” and “A God-awful mess.”

Out of the theater (or is that theatre?) onto the court. Surely, we can count on sports writers to be at least a bit more uplifting. Or can we? In the following report (from The Toronto Star), we have the unlikely teaming up of Passover and basketball, as can be seen from its elongated title: “Why is this night different? The Playoffs: The Passover Story of Woebegone Jews Is Strikingly Similar to the Story of Our City’s NBA Franchise.” In this account, “Pharaoh is NBA commissioner David Stern.” After overcoming a litany of contemporary ten plagues, the team, known as the Toronto Raptors, can provide a new response at the Seder “when their youngest child asks them the traditional Passover question—‘Why is this night different from all other nights?’—they can answer, ‘Because right now, the Toronto Raptors are winning a playoff series.’”

For a chuckle, let’s try the world of games and toys. There is, for example, the Ten Plagues Bowling Set, as described by humorist Dave Barry: “Here’s a fun item for the Jewish person on your holiday list. This is a bowling set with wooden pins representing the 10 plagues of Egypt. Some of the plagues are a little hard to figure out because, as any artist will tell you, it’s not easy to represent plagues, especially lice and boils, in the bowling-pin medium. Nevertheless, in our opinion, this may be the best plague-themed bowling game on the market. Certainly, it’s in the top three.”

Certainly there can be no reservations when we hear about what is going on in Room 405 at the Solomon Schechter School of Westchester (New York). It’s a meeting of the Midrash Manicures club, with (female) Rabbi Yael Buechler supervising. When she appeared on The Daily Show, she revealed to host Jon Stewart (and his legion of viewers) that “she had the 10 plagues on her fingernails. ‘I have the slaying of the first born on my pinkie,’ she said. Mr. Stewart, Rabbi Buechler recalled, placed his hand on his hip. ‘Well, I have a tattoo of Pharaoh on my thigh,’ he retorted.” (All of this comes from The New York Times.) Admittedly, I speak only for myself, but I’m sure that at least a few of this column’s readers will agree when I opine that especially when it comes to plagues, some things are best left to the imagination!

Based on Leonard J. Greenspoon, The Bible in the News, “Plagued by the Press,” Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April 2012.

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