Despite the Bible being a religious text, scientists have occasionally turned their microscopes and measuring sticks on its contents — with some surprising results.
7. Blood Red Nile
In the Book of Exodus, the Egyptian empire is beset by the plague — 10 plagues, to be exact. Animals behave oddly, and the sky turns black. Even more alarming, the river fills with blood. Everything in that bloody river dies.
Clearly, it’s not possible for a river to start bleeding, but scientists believe the plague in question may have been a red algae bloom. A very real phenomenon, “red tides” are a collection of algae packed so densely the plants discolor water. The blooms are caused by a variety of environmental factors, including warming water and excess nutrients like fertilizer. What’s more, red tides kill — just like the Book of Exodus says the bloody Nile did — with their natural toxins and oxygen-depleting decomposition.
6. A Plague of Locusts
Another nasty aspect of the Exodus were the locusts.
See, short-horned grasshoppers are typically innocuous little things, hopping around, bothering no one. But in times of severe drought, they can undergo a horrible metamorphosis. Triggered by serotonin in their brains, grasshoppers can become locusts — the Jekyll to the grasshopper’s Dr. Hyde. In this new state, locusts breed like crazy, sprout strong wings that can power them for miles, and start to swarm. In groups, they can block out the sun.
Though we haven’t seen too many plagues in recent years, swarms of locusts have been common throughout history. It’s safe to say these tiny terrors definitely messed with ancient Egyptians.
5. Parting the Red Sea
As the plagues are raining down, the Israelites decide to flee from the Egyptians and, let’s be real, it wasn’t going well.
That is, until Moses, the original Prince of Egypt himself, split the Red Sea in half, allowing the Israelites to run across to safety before the water rebounded, crashing over the Egyptians and stopping them in their tracks.
Computer simulations suggest this was actually possible. In 2010, an article published in the journal PLOS ONE suggested that a natural phenomenon could have parted the Red Sea. If wind blows hard enough, water can recede from its usual shoreline, exposing land that’s typically awash. Using a computer modeling tool, the researchers were able to show that at one site in the Nile, the right blustery wind could have created a land bridge 2.5 miles long and 3 miles wide, sustaining it for four hours.
4. The Canaanites Are All Right
Deuteronomy 20:17 instructed the Israelites to “completely destroy them — the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites — as the LORD your God has commanded you.” And the Israelites listened, destroying their enemies.
Or so the Bible said.
But a July 2017 paper published in the American Journal of Human Genetics presents compelling evidence that the Canaanites survived, and that their descendants are thriving in modern Lebanon, according to a historical genome constructed from Canaanite corpses, which were compared to the DNA of 99 modern Lebanese people. According to the study, the vast majority of the DNA tested in the modern Lebanese individuals came from the Canaanites, suggesting someone didn’t follow through with God’s commands.
It’s been immortalized in art for millennia, but what does science have to say about Goliath and his puny, but triumphant, friend David?
Well, for much of human history, people were pretty short. While the average American man today is pushing 5 feet 10 inches, for much of human history the average dude hovered around 5 feet 5 inches. So it’s no wonder that Goliath, reportedly 6 feet 9 inches tall and thirsty for blood, scared the crap out of everyone.
Though he’s since become a relic of history — a parable about overestimating the strong and undervaluing the weak — he definitely could have existed. Some have ventured to guess he was just a guy with gigantism, a disorder typically caused by overproduction of human growth hormones that causes people to grow to an uncommon size. In contrast to some plagued by this disorder, like Robert Pershing Wadlow, who was 8 feet 11 inches when he died, Goliath is downright puny.
2. The Voice of God
God talks a lot in the Bible, which, fair, since it’s his book. But how could anyone — scribes or prophets — hear the big man upstairs? Well, they probably couldn’t. But that doesn’t mean they weren’t hearing something.
Auditory hallucinations, where people hear sounds that aren’t actually there, are actually fairly common in the general population. One study of more than 13,000 participants in Europe indicated that almost 40 percent of people have had an auditory hallucination in their life. Another study, published in the Scandinavian Journal of Psychology in 2015, suggests seven percent of people have experienced auditory voice hallucinations, or hearing voices that aren’t there.
Some of the people in either study may have had mental health issues or been influenced by past drug use, of course, but it was by no means all of them. And while those sounds and voices take many different forms, it’s possible some people interpret the stimuli as the voice of God.
1. Sometimes the Dead Aren’t Actually Dead
Coming back to life is prime content for the Bible — it happened at least twice in the New Testament alone. One of the lucky resurrected was Lazarus.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus gets word that his friend Lazarus of Bethany is dying. But he doesn’t rush to his side. By the time Jesus finally shows up, Lazarus has been dead for four days and is already buried. Nobody wants to dig Lazarus up — the truly dead reek — but Jesus insists. “Lazarus, come out!” he yells and, what do you know, the formerly dead dude pops back to life, good as new.
While this might seem like one of the more outlandish biblical stories to you, a scientifically-minded skeptic, the medical marvel aptly named the Lazarus Phenomenon is actually real.
In 2007, an article published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine compiled 38 documented cases of “delayed return of spontaneous circulation”. In other words, 38 cases in which people’s hearts appeared to stop, before, uh, un-stopping. Granted, most of these people returned to life in 10 minutes (not four days), and the majority did eventually die from stopping their hearts, but maybe it’s worth a holler of “come out!” before the burial — or at least politely bury your loved ones in a “safety coffin” equipped with a bell should they prove to be, you know, alive.