confirmations of exceptional events in the early chapters of
Genesis have not been treated in the text which precedes, because
there seemed no place for them without breaking the continuity
of thought. Strictly speaking, these are not all archaeological
with respect to the time of the Oppression, the Israelites were
forced to serve the Pharaohs by building "store cities",
in particular the two cities named Pithom and Raamses (Exodus
1:11). Much has been written regarding the circumstance
of the finding by Edouard Naville, toward the end of the last
century: a site supposedly to be identified with one of these
cities, in which the lower courses of brick contained free straw,
higher courses stubble, and the uppermost courses little or no
straw whatever (cf. Exodus 5:7-18). (86)
86. Naville, Edouard, The Store-City
of Pithom and the Route of the Exodus, 4th edition, London
Naville's account a statement made by a visitor to the site (a Mr. Villiers Stuart, who had expressed interest in the absence of straw in the upper course of brick), pointed out with evident pleasure that it was no surprise to himself at all. "For," Peet said, "it is almost inconceivable that any traveller in Egypt should make this statement with regard to the use of straw in bricks, for though straw has been used both in ancient and modern times, its use is somewhat rare, more particularly in ancient times." (88) He proceeded to point out that the Nile mud makes perfectly good brick without any binder, making the assumption (as most of us have done) that straw served this purpose only. In his over-confidence, Peet has since been proved to be quite wrong. Edward G. Acheson, in a paper presented in the Transactions of the American Ceramic Society in 1904, described certain experiments he made as the result of a chance discovery which led to a technique for greatly improving the strength and impact resistance of bricks. (89) He was surprised to discover on one occasion that certain German clays were far superior to local American clays for the making of pottery, with respect to both plasticity and tensile strength. His surprise sprang from the fact that they did not feel or look different nor did chemical analysis reveal anything unusual. However, being a novice and unaware of previous research work done in this field, he came to the subject with an entirely fresh mind and soon found that "residual" clay differed from water-laid or sedimentary clays, the latter being superior even though their compositions appeared to be identical. He hazarded a happy guess that the process of water-laying had introduced some component which had hitherto escaped recognition. To make a long story short, he discovered that gallo-tannic, when introduced into clay, had the unexpected effect of not only improving the tensile strength of the finished brick but considerably shortening the time for drying it, since less water was required to make it readily moldable. His conclusion was that gallo-tannic acid was being introduced into water-laid clays by the fact that the water itself had washed through vegetation and in doing so picked up the modifying chemicals. Thus Acheson concluded: (90)
88. Peet, T. E., Egypt and the Old
Testament, University of Liverpool, 1924, p.99.
91. Gunter, Gordon, et al., "Mass Mortality of Marine Animals on the Lower West Coast of Florida, November, 1946 to January, 1947," Science, vol.105, 1947, p.256
Sweden, Linnaeus looked
into it carefully and found that the reddening of the water was
caused by dense masses of minute insects." (92) When it was suggested
that this is what may have happened in Exodus 7, the ecclesiastical
authorities of the time argued very strongly against it and explained
that probably the subsequent examples were instances in which
Satan was endeavouring to deceive Christian people by demonstrating
that it was no miracle at all. Unless we keep in mind what has
been said about the time element in such instances, I fear we
might find ourselves sometimes reduced to a rather similar expedient.
At any rate, the consequences were the same in Egypt as they
were in Florida: decaying fish made the country "stink"
and attracted flies -- and other evils followed inevitably.
In Exodus 5:23-25 we have the story of the bitter waters made sweet. While doing some research in surface chemistry, I had occasion to read an important work by Robert Kunin on the subject and came across the following statement on the first page: (93)
This would seem
to provide a natural explanation of the event itself, but it
does not in the least diminish the significance of the statement
that it was the Lord who showed him the tree (Exodus 15:35).
92. White, Andrew D., A History of
the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, Braziller,
New York, 1955, p.60.
is one more instance of a miracle which is clearly a case of
timing: the provision of meat in the wilderness in the form of
quails, as recorded in Numbers 11:31ff. Here it is said that
there went forth a wind from the Lord and brought quails from
the sea and it "spread them out" (Hebrew natash)
beside the camp, as it were a day's journey on this side and
as it were a day's journey on the other side round about the
camp, and as it were three feet above the face of the earth.
I say this is a miracle of timing, because it is now known that
the appearance of quails like this is an annual event. (94) It may seem strange that
creatures should fly so close to the ground, but this is apparently
an accommodation on the part of the older birds to the many very
young ones which are with them. It is not a question of lessening
injuries in case of a fall, but rather that the reduced altitude
provides greater buoyancy so that the young ones fly with less
94. Jarvis, C. S., "The Israelites in Sinai," Antiquity (England), December, 1932, p.436.