It’s Only Natural?

by Bodie Hodge
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Is there a natural explanation for the Nile turning red as recounted in the Bible? Should we look for “natural” explanations? Bodie Hodge, AiG–U.S., exmaines this issue.

Dear AiG,

I was reading an article that made the claim that according to the ancient historian Flavius Josephus, during the Plagues in Egypt, the Israelites supposedly dumped “toxic red rock” (as they put it), possibly containing mercury, into the Nile, poisoning the irrigation waters, and thus it wasn’t really a miracle of God.

I tried to research this claim about Josephus saying this, but I can’t find it. I was wondering if Josephus really said this and was hoping you provide a refutation of this.

—D.O., U.S.

Sending Encouragement

I know that you get a lot of negative remarks from various sources, and I just wanted to send some encouragement. I simply love, and am very grateful for, the wonderful ministry that Answers in Genesis is. You have been a major help in grounding my belief in what God says He did in Genesis. Even at my Christian college I am surrounded by evolution, but your ministry helps me to not lose heart. You are a real blessing! I also really like how you keep improving what you do. The Creation Museum was a huge step and is wonderful (I have visited it). The website is always getting better, and I was very glad to hear about the Answers Research Journal. I am looking forward to reading the New Answers Book 2 as well. Keep up the magnificent work, and God bless!

—M.S., U.S.

Have Something to Add?

Let us know what you think.

Thank you for contacting Answers in Genesis. First of all, Josephus, a Jewish historian, said no such thing. He did say:

“. . . but he who obliged the Nile to run bloody for your sakes, and tamed the haughtiness of the Egyptians by various sorts of judgments. . . .”1

“For the Egyptian river ran with bloody water at the command of God, insomuch that it was undrinkable, and they had no other spring of water either; for the water was not only of the colour of blood, but it brought upon those who ventured to drink of it, great pains and bitter torment. Such was the river to the Egyptians; but it was sweet and fit for drinking to the Hebrews, and in no way different from what it naturally used to be.”2

Sadly, in today’s culture, people use any possible means to attack the veracity of the Word of God—whether it relates to creation or miracles or historical events. So, we need to carefully check such claims. In this instance, it was fairly easy to search Josephus and see what he said (I used the Online Bible software, which includes the writings of Josephus).

One of the most significant, modern, naturalistic explanations of the plagues of Egypt was that of Greta Hort in the late 1950s.3 She argued that a specific species of red algae, as well as a large amount of red dirt, had washed into the Nile upriver.

This supposedly set in place a chain reaction that killed the fish, introduced the anthrax bacteria, caused frogs to evacuate the river, and so on. Such an event also supposedly coincided with a few other alleged natural events, such as hail and thunder and a desert sandstorm. This, Hort argued, would account for all ten plagues. But the red algae, red dirt, and other explanations by Hort failed on several accounts.4 Brad Sparks responds to Hort’s claims with a number of counterpoints, including these:

  1. This was the wrong season for these things to happen.
  2. Silt should be brown, not red.
  3. The algae claimed by Hort does not exist in the Nile.
  4. The algae purported to cause the damage is non-toxic and non-polluting.

So, the claims of red algae fall significantly short. Interestingly, Hort herself rejects dirt-only models, as they simply cannot get the water “red enough.” This is why Hort resorted to appealing to red algae in the first place. Hort’s “natural explanation” also fails to account for Josephus’s reference to the water being toxic only for the Egyptions but fit to drink for the Jews (Exodus 7:14–24 says only that the Egyptians could not drink it). Essentially, all such natural explanations discount what the Bible says a priori and then seek to explain the event without God. Once again, presuppostions matter.

I hope this helps. God bless.



  1. Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 3, Chapter 5, Part 3 [online].
  2. Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 2, Chapter 14, Part 1 [online].
  3. Greta Hort, “The Plagues of Egypt,” Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 69 (1957):84–103 and 70 (1958):48–59.
  4. Brad Sparks, “Red Algae Theories of the Ten Plagues: Contradicted by Science,” Bible and Spade 16 no. 3 (2003):66–77 and 17 no. 1 (2004):17–27.


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