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Home / Articles / Columnists / Life 101 /  Plagues And The Renaissance
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Monday, May 4,2020

Plagues And The Renaissance

By Cary Bayer  
Four days before the annual Passover Seder celebrations that virtually no Jewish family would be doing in their usually large gatherings this year because of social distancing, ABC-TV telecast “The Ten Commandments,” starring Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner. It got me thinking about the relationship of the Coronavirus to the plagues in Egypt, and the liberation from slavery of the Israelites in that country. Four days after Passover came Easter, which then got me thinking about the rebirth that Jesus demonstrated.

Prior to Pharaoh’s decree for his Israelite slaves to leave Egypt, Moses, as an instrument of the Divine, unleashed plague after plague upon the Egyptians. With forced containment in our homes because of the plague of the COVID-19 virulent virus, it isn’t hard to see the similarities today throughout our world to that of those thousands of years ago in Egypt.

During the last plague – the slaughter of the first born of every Egyptian – the worshippers of the one God were told by Moses to remain in their homes. They were to sprinkle lamb’s blood over the doorposts of their homes, so that the angel of Death would pass over them and take the lives only of the Egyptian offspring. In they stayed so they weren’t slayed. It was the staying in their homes part that made light bulbs light up in my mind, accompanied by the ringing of bells.

Pandemic Preludes to Rebirths

The Bubonic Plague (also known as the Black Death) was a three-year pandemic that decimated much of Europe and Asia from 1347- 1350. While it’s unclear the total number of casualties it caused, it’s generally believed that Florence, for example, lost half of its 100,000 citizens to the dreaded disease. Many historians have argued that this two-continent epidemic helped overturn orthodox beliefs, freeing people to rely more on their own reasoning abilities and their own inner lights. A growing belief in humanism began to emerge, which found its culmination in a 300-year renaissance in Europe called, simply enough, the Renaissance.

This was a time of tremendous artistic expression, from DaVinci and Michelangelo to Raphael and Botticelli. Scientific breakthroughs also ran parallel to artistic flourishing. The printing press was invented by Guttenberg in 1456, Sir John Harrington developed the flush toilet in 1596, and on the first day of 1608, Hans Lippershey brought to the world both the telescope and the microscope.

In 1543, Nicolaus Copernicus proved that the sun, rather than the earth, was the center of the solar system, ushering in the Copernican Revolution. Years later, Galileo Galilei advanced his, and our, understanding of the nature of the heavens. In the early part of the 16 th century, Ferdinand Magellan’s voyages proved that the earth was round.

European curiosity to explore a new world found expression in the voyages of Christopher Columbus, Sir Francis Drake, Henry Hudson, and Captain Cook, among so many others.

During the Great Plague of London (1665), a form of social distancing was practiced; students at Cambridge University, for example, were forced to vacate school and live at home. One of these students was Isaac Newton who, without professors to guide him, experienced the “year of wonders” – early papers on calculus, optics and gravitation.

After the terrible Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, some remarkable breakthroughs took place in the U.S. What comes to mind immediately is women’s right to vote, which came the following year; the Roaring 20’s; and the birth of jazz. The vote created greater equality in our democracy; the ‘20s was a time of great prosperity, with widespread use of the automobiles, telephones, radios, talking motion pictures, and airplanes.

The Jazz Age, which took off during this decade, changed the American music scene.

Is a Renaissance Coming?

One of the definitions of the word renaissance with a lower case r is rebirth. Easter Sunday is a celebration of Christ’s demonstration of returning from the dead, or simply rebirth. One would need a crystal ball to know with complete certainty whether humanity is on the verge of a whole new renaissance. Is an Age of Aquarius looming like so many people felt 50 years ago? Might the collective global timeout that has forced billions of people to stay in their homes for extended periods of time give many of these people a chance to connect more deeply to their creative talents?

Might it give others time to develop technological breakthroughs, still others a chance to connect to their deepest spiritual natures and hasten the Enlightenment taught by great masters, saints, and gurus throughout history? As our president likes to say, “We’ll have to see.” But don’t bet against it.


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