In popular culture, Moses  is the principle actor in the plagues narrative. I suppose it’s just easier to remember a single player. So when I started reading Exodus and found out that Aaron is the one performing all the magic tricks (well, you know, as conductor for God’s power or whatever), I was rather surprised.

Turning the river to blood, St. Albans Psalter, 12th century

Turning the river to blood, St. Albans Psalter, 12th century

I started thinking about why this might be the case, especially since God went through all the trouble of teaching these magic tricks to Moses back in Exodus 4.

I think that there was previously a folk myth in which Moses is the principle actor in this story, but that Aaron was added as his intercessor when the story came to be told by the Priestly class. Moses is a folk hero and belongs equally to all Hebrews, whereas Aaron is a stand-in for the priests. As such, they had a very strong motive for elevating his role in the plagues narrative (and beyond).

This would indicate a process of myth creation, from “campfire story” to written chronicle. It exemplifies the evolution of a myth as it passes through different story tellers, finally becoming ossified in the written version we now have. It’s interesting to think of how different the story might have become had it continued to be passed orally through the fall of the second Temple, the rise of Christianity, and beyond.

This is pure speculation from my untrained self, of course. So please do take with a grain of salt.