Television Review

EQUINOX'S documentary about the 10 Plagues of Egypt (C4) did not take an entirely conventional line in its depiction of scientists. Curtis Molloy, for example, a kind of intellectual matchmaker who brought together the many disciplines involved in "solving the mystery", was shown at one point juggling green plastic frogs - which he did competently enough to eke out a living on the sidewalks should he ever run out of research money. Other contributors appeared in gothic settings - a breeze would be blowing curtains through an open window or the camera frame would be weirdly skewed. There were stuttering montages of apparently unconnected images and also uncanny projections - in one, a mud house in Egypt provided the screen for magnified film of stable flies, a luminous infestation which overwhelmed the mundane architecture. More than just a dab of The X Files behind the ears, then, but there was a point to the style, besides the director having fun on a modest budget. Bill Eagles's film began with a Rabbi Avi Weiss insisting that the biblical account of the 10 plagues was a description of a real event. As it happens, his view was shared by Dr John Marr, a scientist who viewed the story as a "classic epidemiological puzzle". But obviously their perspectives differed - what for Rabbi Weiss was a historical instance of God's judgement against the oppressors of Israel, was, for Marr, a coloured version of events with a rational explanation. Rabbi Weiss was playing Mulder to Marr's Scully.

The explanation itself was both ingenious and plausible. When Moses turned the Nile to blood with a touch of his staff, he was the beneficiary of a bit of good timing - a toxic algal bloom killed the fish and turned the river red. A plague of toads, their eggs unculled by the fish, fled the poisoned waters to infest the Egyptians, and, when they died in huge numbers, there was nothing left to control a plague of midges (the biblical "lice" was a general term for insects) and stable flies. The midges carried African horse sickness and blue tongue, while the stable flies spread a disease called glanders, which left humans with boils. Next came a hail-storm (not unknown in the Middle East, as footage of three-foot drifts of hail in Jordan demonstrated), locusts and a three-day sandstorm, relatively easy pieces of the jigsaw which preceded the most difficult - the death of the first born. This, the scientists concluded, was the result of mycotoxins released from mouldy grain, contaminated by locust droppings and incubated by the fetid conditions in underground grain stores.

Plausible, as I say, but not entirely convincing - there was a sense here that questions would not be invited from the floor, just in case the attractive chain of catastrophes were broken. If the river was so toxic, for example, why did it not also kill the tadpoles before they could emerge? And why should first-born children and animals be particularly prone to the effects of poisoned grain? Where the biblical account supported the explanation, it was insisted on as corroborating evidence, where it didn't, it was passed over briskly - the three-day darkness was so intense, for instance, that people could not see each other inside their houses, which doesn't sound very like the result of a sandstorm. There was a paradox here, anyway - in contradicting the literal interpretation of the Bible (God got mad), the scientists were obliged to adopt Exodus as a kind of lab-book, literally true in its recording of symptoms, rather than a powerful piece of cultural propaganda, subject to its own exaggerations.

Still, there was a moral lesson to be derived here whichever way you took it - don't mess with Yahweh or don't underestimate nature. Recent outbreaks of these ancient curses helped to unravel the puzzle in the first place, a reminder that plagues are not safely confined to the Old Testament.

Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'