Pharaohs in the Bible

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The Tanakh or Old Testament of the Bible makes reference to various pharaohs (kings of Egypt). These include unnamed pharaohs in the accounts of the Israelite settlement in Egypt, the subsequent oppression of the Israelites, and during the period of the Exodus, as well as a number of later rulers.

Historical pharaohs: Taharqa, Necho and Apries/Hophra

File:Louvre 042005 10.jpg
Taharqa offering to Falcon-god Hemen (close-up)

2 Kings 19:9 and Isaiah 37:9 mention the 25th dynasty pharaoh Taharqa (reigned 690-664 BC) as the opponent of Sennacherib of Assyria. He is called King of Ethiopia, and hence is not given the title pharaoh which he bears in Egyptian documents.

2 Kings 23:29 sqq. and 2 Chronicles 35:20 sqq. mention the 26th dynasty pharaoh Necho II (610-595 BC), responsible for the death of Josiah, and Jeremiah 44:30 mentions his successor Apries or Hophra (589-570 BC).

Conjectural pharaohs: Shishak and So

1 Kings 11:40 and 2 Chronicles 12:2 sqq. tell of an invasion of Israel by Shishak, and a subsequent raid of Jerusalem and the Temple of Solomon.

2 Kings 17:4 says that king Hoshea sent letters to "So, King of Egypt". No pharaoh of this name is known for the time of Hoshea (about 730 BC), during which Egypt had three dynasties ruling contemporaneously: 22nd at Tanis, 23rd at Leontopolis, and 24th at Sais.
It is possible that the biblical writer has confused the king with his city and means Tefnakht, who ruled from Sais, also written as So.
Another proposed candidate for So is Osorkon IV (730-715 BC) ruling from Tanis.[1][2]

Unidentified pharaohs

Pharaohs in the Book of Genesis

The passages Genesis 12:10-20 narrate how Abraham moves to Egypt to escape a period of famine in Canaan. The unnamed pharaoh hears of the beauty of Abraham's wife Sarah and - being told she was Abraham's sister - summons her to become his own wife. As a result of the marriage, Abraham rises in the Pharaoh's favor and acquires livestock and servants. But after discovering Sarah's true relationship to Abraham, the pharaoh releases her and Abraham and orders them to take their goods and leave Egypt.

The last chapters of the book of Genesis (Genesis 37-50) tell how Joseph, son of Jacob/Israel, is first sold by his brothers into Egyptian slavery, but who is promoted by the unnamed pharaoh to vizier of Egypt and is given permission to bring his father, his brothers, and their families into Egypt to live in the Land of Goshen (eastern Nile Delta around modern Faqus).

Eugene H. Merrill has suggested that Senusret II (reigned from 1897 to 1878 BC), the fourth pharaoh of the Twelfth Dynasty, may be the unnamed Pharaoh mentioned in the biblical story of Joseph.[3]

Pharaohs in the Book of Exodus

The Bible tells how the Israelites are enslaved in Egypt and eventually escape under the leadership of Moses. At least one or two pharaohs are involved, the "pharaoh of the oppression" who enslaves the Israelites, and the "pharaoh of the exodus", during whose rule the Israelites escape. The biblical story of the written Torah alone, does not name either, nor does it give enough information to identify the period in which the events are set, with the result that there have been many suggestions as to which of Egypt's many rulers was involved. The oral tradition and Rabbinic sources state that the First Temple stood for 410 years and the Seder Olam Rabbah (c.2nd century AD) place its construction in 832 BC and destruction in 422 BC (3338 AM), 165 years later than secular estimates. The Seder Olam Rabbah determines the commencement of the Exodus to 2448 AM (1313 BC). This date has become traditional in Rabbinic Judaism.[4] 1 Kings 6:1 states that the Exodus occurred 480 years before the construction of Solomon's Temple, which would imply a secular date of the Exodus c.1477 BC, or rabbinical date 2448 AM (1313 BC), both during Egypt's Eighteenth Dynasty, the first at its beginning and the latter at its end.[5] Furthermore, the 18th dynasty was the first of the New Kingdom of Egypt, which followed the expulsion of the Hyksos and their last king Khamudi (c. 1522 or 1540 BC) from Avaris in the northeastern region of the Nile Delta, marking the end of the Second Intermediate Period.[6]

Candidates put forward for the role of Pharaoh of the Exodus include:

Second Intermediate Period
New Kingdom of Egypt

Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt

  • Ahmose I (1550-1525 BC): Most ancient writers considered Ahmose I to be the pharaoh of the Exodus.[9]
  • Thutmose II (1493 or 1492 to 1479 BC). Alfred Edersheim proposes in his "Old Testament Bible History"[10] that Thutmose II is best qualified to be the pharaoh of Exodus based on the fact that he had a brief, prosperous reign and then a sudden collapse with no son to succeed him. His widow Hatshepsut then became first Regent (for Thutmose III) then Pharaoh in her own right. Edersheim states that Thutmose II is the only Pharaoh's mummy to display cysts, possible evidence of plagues which spread through the Egyptian and Hittite Empires at that time.
  • Amenhotep II (1425-1400 BC). Shea suggested that there were 2 Amenhotep II's. The first one died in the Sea of reeds, after which his brother took the same title.[11][better source needed]
  • Akhenaten (1353–1349 BC). Sigmund Freud in his book Moses and Monotheism argued that Moses had been an Atenist priest forced to leave Egypt with his followers after Akhenaten's death.[12]

Nineteenth Dynasty of Egypt

  • Ramesses II (c.1279-1213 BC): Also known as Ramesses the Great, he is the most commonly imagined figure in popular culture (most widely via the 1956 film The Ten Commandments), being one of the most long standing rulers at the height of Egyptian power, but there is no documentary or archaeological evidence that he chased any slaves fleeing Egypt. Ramesses II's late 13th century BC stela in Beth Shan mentions two conquered peoples who came to "make obeisance to him" in his city of Raameses or Pi-Ramesses but mentions neither the building of the city nor, as some have written, the Israelites or Hapiru.[13] Additionally, the historical Pithom was built in the 7th century BC, during the Saite period.[14][15]
  • Merneptah (c.1213-1203 BC): Isaac Asimov in his Guide to the Bible makes a case for him to be the Pharaoh of the Exodus.[16]

Twentieth Dynasty of Egypt

  • Setnakhte (c.1189–1186 BC): Igor P. Lipovsky in his book "Early Israelites: Two Peoples, One History: Rediscovery of the Origins of Biblical Israel" makes a case for him to be the Pharaoh of the Exodus. ISBN 061559333X

See also


  1. Patterson 2003, pp. 196–197
  2. Peter A Clayton: Chronicle of The Pharaohs, Thames & Hudson, (2006), pp182-183
  3. Eugene H. Merrill, Kingdom of Priests, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008, 66-68.
  4. Seder Olam Rabbah, Finegan, Jack, Handbook of Biblical Chronology, Revised Ed., Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1998, p. 111
  5. Shea 2003, p. 238-239.
  6. Darrell D. Baker: The Encyclopedia of the Pharaohs: Volume I - Predynastic to the Twentieth Dynasty 3300–1069 BC, Stacey International, ISBN 978-1-905299-37-9, 2008, p. 174
  7. Rohl 1995, pp. 341–348
  8. Bennett 1996
  9. "IBSS - Biblical Archaeology - Date of the Exodus".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Old Testament Bible History, ISBN 156563165X
  11. Shea, Amenhotep II as pharaoh of the Exodus,
  12. Moses and Monotheism, ISBN 0394700147
  13. Stephen L. Caiger, "Archaeological Fact and Fancy," Biblical Archaeologist, (9, 1946).
  14. I Will Show You: Essays in History and Archaeology of the Ancient Near East in Honor of J. Maxwell Miller, Sheffield Academic Press, 1997, P. 261-262, ISBN 978-1850756507,[1]
  15. Long, V. Philips; Neils Peter Lemche (2000). Israel's past in present research: essays on ancient Israelite historiography. Eisenbrauns. p. 398. ISBN 978-1-57506-028-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Asimov's Guide to the Bible, Random House, 1981, P. 130-131, ISBN 0-517-34582-X