British Library, London, UK/Bridgeman Art Library

Pharaoh (at left) is attacked by a lion, a wolf, a bear, a wildcat—even an angry red squirrel—while Moses (right) looks on, in this illumination from the Golden Haggadah, created in Spain in the 14th century. The scene depicts the fourth of the ten plagues visited on Egypt in Exodus 8.

The plagues are an important part of the Haggadah, the midrashic retelling of the Exodus that is read aloud every year during the Passover Seder. And many illustrated Haggadot are enlivened by graphic depictions of the punishments God inflicted on Egypt. Most (but not all) depict the fourth plague as vicious beasts.

The Hebrew name for the fourth plague—‘arov—is not so precise, however; it simply means “mixture.” Rabbis as early as the second century C.E. debated what this meant.