Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Death incarnate. A huge, hideous, scaly messenger of destruction stalks his Egyptian prey in a watercolor, entitled “Pestilence,” by the English artist, Poet and mystic William Blake (1757–1827). With victims lying prostrate or clutched in their mothers arms, the scene easily illustrates the tenth and final plague, the death of first-born males.

The tenth plague can be understood as the climax of the ecological disasters that struck Egypt in the form of the previous nine plagues; it can also be seen as exposing the vulnerability of Osiris, the patron deity of Pharaoh and the judge of the dead. Author Zevit, however, interprets the tenth plague as the deadly counterpoint to the creation of man in Genesis 1:26.