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Media's Take on the News: 2002

Fresh evidence that the Biblical plagues and the parting of the Red Sea were natural events rather than myths or miracles is to be presented in a new BBC documentary.

Moses, which will be broadcast next month, will suggest that much of the Bible story can be explained by a single natural disaster, a huge volcanic eruption on the Greek island of Santorini in the 16th century BC.

Using computer-generated imagery pioneered in Walking With Dinosaurs, the programme tells the story of how Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt after a series of plagues had devastated the country. But it also uses new scientific research to argue that many of the events surrounding the exodus could have been triggered by the eruption, which would have been a thousand times more powerful than a nuclear bomb.

Dr Daniel Stanley, an oceanographer who has found volcanic shards in Egypt that he believes are linked to the explosion, tells the programme: "I think it would have been a frightening experience. It would have been heard. The blast ash would have been felt."

Computer simulations by Mike Rampino, a climate modeller from New York University, show that the resulting ash cloud could have plunged the area into darkness, as well as generating lightning and hail, two of the 10 plagues.

The cloud could have also reduced the rainfall, causing a drought. If the Nile had then been poisoned by the effects of the eruption, pollution could have turned it red, as happened in a recent environmental disaster in America.

The same pollution could have driven millions of frogs on to the land, the second plague. On land the frogs would die, removing the only obstacle to an explosion of flies and lice - the third and fourth plagues.

The flies could have transmitted fatal diseases to cattle (the fifth plague) and boils and blisters to humans (the sixth plague).