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
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
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.

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee