Meaning of Frogs in the Hebrew Bible

by Scott Thompson

The Tanakh or "Hebrew Bible" contains many of the same books that make up the Old Testament of the Christian Bible, although there are some differences in how the texts are arranged. Frogs occupy a prominent place in only one portion of the Tanakh, when the Hebrew God Yahweh sends a plague of frogs against the land of Egypt.

Frog Symbolism

The frog is not a prominent symbol in the Hebrew Bible. The book of Leviticus describes all animals that creep or swarm as being ritually polluting, but does not mention the frog specifically. According to the "Tyndale Bible Dictionary" edited by Walter A. Elwell and Philip Wesley Comfort, later rabbis did not consider the frog so unclean that mere contact with it would be polluting. Despite this fact, the frog is the second of the ten plagues Yahweh uses to punish Egypt in the Exodus story. When the Egyptian pharaoh refuses to let his Hebrew slaves leave Egypt and go to Canaan, Yahweh turns the Nile to blood and then afflicts the Egyptians with huge numbers of frogs followed by eight more plagues.

Polytheism and Monotheism

If the ancient Hebrews didn't consider frogs unclean, there must be some other reason why frogs were chosen for the second plague. Frogs were a symbol of both childbirth and life after death to the ancient Egyptians, so the answer cannot be that the Egyptians were afraid of or repulsed by frogs. One possibility is that the plagues were chosen to mock the Egyptian gods and show their powerlessness compared to Yahweh. According to "The Hebrew Bible: A Comparative Approach" by Christopher D. Stanley, worshipers of Yahweh as a single, monotheistic God were still a small minority in ancient times. The followers of Yahweh may have wanted to demonstrate that their God could control the natural world and the polytheistic gods of the Egyptians could not.

Seven Curses, Ten Plagues

According to "The Hebrew Bible Today: An Introduction to Critical Issues" edited by Steven L. McKenzie and Matt Patrick Graham, earlier versions of the Exodus story listed only seven plagues rather than ten. This was a variation on the concept of cursing an enemy seven times. The original seven curses were blood, frogs, flies, sickness, hail, locusts and the death of the first-born child. If the intent of the plague story was to discredit the Egyptian gods, the inclusion of frogs in the list of plagues may have been targeted at one goddess in particular -- Heket, the frog-headed Egyptian goddess of childbirth.

The Frog Goddess

In Egyptian mythology, Heket or Heqet was one of the oldest deities. She was originally invoked in magical charms intended to protect the dead on their way to the afterlife, but she eventually became a goddess associated with childbirth. Because the goddess had the head of a frog, Egyptian women would wear frog amulets for protection during labor. The Egyptians referred to her as "the defender of the home." In the story of the plagues, Yahweh rather than Heket has the power to control the frogs. Yahweh can come into the home and slay the first-born child and Heket cannot prevent it. According to the "Tyndale Bible Dictionary," this may be the symbolic meaning of the frog in the Hebrew Bible.

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