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3. But when the king derided Moses; he made him in earnest see the signs1 that were done at Mount Sinai2. Yet was the king very angry with him and called him an ill man, who had formerly run away from his Egyptian slavery, and came now back with deceitful tricks, and wonders, and magical arts, to astonish him3. (Verse 11) And when he had said this, he commanded the priests4 to let him see the same wonderful sights; as knowing that the Egyptians were skillful in this kind of learning, and that he was not the only person who knew them, and pretended them to be divine; as also he told him, that when he brought such wonderful sights before him, he would only be believed by the unlearned. Now when the priests threw down their rods, they became serpents. But Moses was not daunted at it; (Verse 12) and said, "O king, I do not myself despise the wisdom of the Egyptians5, but I say that what I do is so much superior to what these do by magic arts and tricks, as Divine power exceeds the power of man: but I will demonstrate that what I do is not done by craft, or counterfeiting what is not really true, but that they appear by the providence and power of God." And when he had said this, he cast his rod down upon the ground, and commanded it to turn itself into a serpent6. It obeyed him, and went all round, and devoured the rods of the Egyptians, which seemed to be dragons, until it had consumed them all. It then returned to its own form, and Moses took it into his hand again.
CONCERNING THE TEN PLAGUES WHICH CAME UPON THE EGYPTIANS.
1. BUT when the king despised the words of Moses, and had no regard at all to them, grievous plagues seized the Egyptians; every one7 of which I will describe, both because no such plagues did ever happen to any other nation as the Egyptians now felt, and because I would demonstrate that Moses did not fail in any one thing that he foretold them; and because it is for the good of mankind, that they may learn this caution - Not to do anything that may displease God, lest he be provoked to wrath, and avenge their iniquities upon them8. For the Egyptian river ran with bloody water at the command of God9, insomuch that it could not be drunk, and they had no other spring of water neither10; for the water was not only of the color of blood, but it brought upon those that ventured to drink of it, great pains and bitter torment11. Such was the river to the Egyptians; but it was sweet and fit for drinking to the Hebrews, and no way different from what it naturally used to be12. As the king therefore knew not what to do in these surprising circumstances, and was in fear for the Egyptians13, he gave the Hebrews leave to go away; but when the plague ceased, he changed his mind again, end would not suffer them to go.14
1 In Exod. 5:1-9, in the first encounter between Moses and Aaron and Pharaoh, there is no reference to Moses’ offer to perform the miracles that God had shown Moses. Josephus, in the interests of economy of space, has combined this first encounter with the second encounter with Pharaoh (Exod. 7:10-13), in which Aaron casts down his staff, which becomes a serpent, only to be followed by the Egyptian magicians, who do likewise.
2 Whereas in Exod. 7:1-2 God tells Moses that Aaron is to be his prophet and that Aaron is to be his spokesman in demanding that Pharaoh release the Israelites from bondage, Josephus here totally omits this passage. Moreover, in Exod. 7:8-9 God instructs Moses and Aaron that when Pharaoh tells them to prove themselves by working a miracle, Moses is to instruct Aaron to cast his rod down before Pharaoh so that it may become a serpent; they then follow these instructions, and when the Egyptian magicians do a similar feat of magic, Aaron’s rod swallows up their rods. In Josephus, however, it is Moses, rather than Aaron (Exod. 7:10), who now performs the miracle with his rod in the presence of Pharaoh and whose rod makes the circuit of the Egyptians’ rods, which merely look like pythons, and devours them all ( Ant. 2.287). Moses’ accomplishment here is all the more impressive because, according to Josephus’ addition, the king had previously ridiculed him.
3 When Moses asks Pharaoh to allow the Israelites to leave, Josephus here rather plausibly, in an extrabiblical addition, explains Pharaoh’s angry reaction by having him charge that Moses had escaped from slavery, had now effected his return by fraud, and was trying to impose upon him by feats of magic.
4 According to Exod. 7:11, Pharaoh called for the wise men, sorcerers, and magicians.
5 Josephus must have been troubled by the fact that in the biblical encounter between Moses and the Egyptian magicians the Egyptians come off as hardly simpletons and are also able to perform feats of magic comparable to those of Moses (Ant. 2.284-87); indeed, in an extra-biblical addition to Exod. 7:12, he has Moses here magnanimously acknowledge their cunning.
6 In Exod. 7:9 it is Aaron who is to be told by Moses to cast his staff down before Pharaoh.
7 Actually, though he indicates that he will enumerate all of the plagues, Josephus omits the fifth plague, that of דבר (murrain on cattle, Exod. 9:3). Bib. Ant. 10.1 omits the sixth plague, that of שׁחין (boils, Exod. 9:9). One may note that Philo ( De Vita Mosis 1.17.98-25.142) enumerates the plagues in the order 1, 2, 3, 7, 8, 9, 6, 4, 5, 10. Biblical Antiquities cites the plagues in the order 1, 2, 4, 7, 5, 8, 3, 9, 10.
8 These three reasons for enumerating the plagues are Josephus’ own. Josephus does not cite as a reason that they were intended to show the power of Moses in bringing on these plagues, since he clearly wants to divorce Moses as much as possible from the image of a magician, inasmuch as this kind of jugglery ( Ant. 2.320, γοητείαν) was sneered at by the Egyptians. Josephus omits the biblical statement (Exod. 7:1) in which God tells Moses that He has made him a god to Pharaoh, since such a view would seem to contradict strict monotheism.
9 To be sure, Josephus, in recounting the plagues, does not mention Moses and his rod as the agents of the plagues but rather has God perform them directly; but this is in order not to make Moses appear to be a mere magician (so Tiede [1972:221-22]. According to the biblical version of the plagues, it is Aaron alone who performs the first three plague miracles, namely those of blood (Exod. 7:20), frogs (Exod. 8:2), and lice (Exod. 8:13). In the Josephan version it is God who Himself performs these miracles directly, with no mention of the role of Aaron or, for that matter, of Moses ( Ant. 2.294, 296, 300). As Grant (1952:185) indicates, in connection with the miracles achieved through Moses, Philo can state that when God tells Moses that He will turn the river into blood Moses can readily believe this because of the proofs that he had already been shown in previous miracles of his hand and staff ( De Vita Mosis 1.14.82).
10 According to Exod. 7:19, God instructed Moses to tell Aaron to stretch out his hand over the waters of Egypt, including their rivers, canals, ponds, and pools, so that they may become blood. A few verses later (Exod. 7:24), however, we are told that it is only the Nile River whose waters the Egyptians are unable to drink.
11 That those trying to drink suffered pains and torment is Josephus’ addition.
12 Midrash Deut. Rabbah 3.8 likewise reports that the water was undrinkable only for the Egyptians. It states that when the Egyptians and the Israelites went to the Nile to drink water the Egyptians drank blood and the Israelites drank water. So also Philo ( De Vita Mosis 1.26.144) likewise states that the river turned to blood, but not for the Israelites.
13 We can evince a certain understanding for Pharaoh’s position, inasmuch as he is depicted here as perplexed (ἀμηχανήσας) and apprehensive (δείσας) for the Egyptians; it is his concern for his people that leads him to permit the Israelites to depart after the plague of the water turned to blood. Moreover, realizing that the ability of the Egyptians to duplicate the feat of turning the river of Egypt into blood (Exod. 7:22) detracted from the miraculous nature of the plague, Josephus omits this notice here altogether.
14 According to Exod. 7:22, the Egyptian magicians were able to duplicate Moses’ feat, and so Pharaoh’s heart remained hardened; and it is only beginning with the third plague (Exod. 8:18) that the Egyptian magicians were not able to duplicate Moses’ feats. The statement that the Pharaoh allowed the Israelites to leave after this plague is an addition found also in Artapanus ( ap. Eus., Pr. Ev. 9.27.29).