Who was the Pharaoh of the Exodus?
There have been some attempts to identify the pharaohs of the book of Exodus. Most, if not all, seem unlikely if not impossible. Though not unwarranted, I would be suspicious of most of the assumptions that are made about the identity of the Egyptian Kings that enslaved the Isrealites while they were in Egypt. The Bible is not much help because it doesn’t not name the ones that were responsible.
I’ve looked into a few suggestions and find some more plausible than others.
One of the basis for one of the most famous theories of the identity of the pharaoh that enslaved the Hebrews is found very early in the Book of Exodus. It names cities that the Isrealites were forced to build for the king of Egypt:
So they [the Egyptians] put slave masters over them [the Hebrews] to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. (Exodus 1: 11)
Obviously, the name “Rameses” is familiar. After all, it has been associated with the story of the story of Moses and the Exodus, especially with the movie “The Ten Commandments” with Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner.
The Encyclopedia Britannica says that Ramses II ruled from 1279 B.C. to 1213. His reign lasted for 67 years making him the second longest reigning Pharaoh. — He is famous for a military campaign he lead against the Hittites at Kadesh though he failed to capture it. His failed attempt to win the war had its ramifications however the two nations signed a peace treaty and ended up on good terms. He then married the eldest daughter of the Hittite King.
Anyway, the reference to a city the pharaoh had built called “Rameses” seems identical to the ancient capital city of Ramses II which was called “Pi-Ramesse” or “Per-Ramesses.” Historians of Egypt point out that this city’s actual location “in antiquity” is unknown but that it was founded by King Seti and built on top of older buildings built by the Hyksos. It was then abandoned in the 21st Egyptian dynasty.
As for the Semetic Hyksos, even though I do not agree with certain speculation that they are necessarily interchangeable with the Isrealites, I am sure that they are related and possible intermarried from the time Joseph and Jacob had arrived in Egypt. In my post entitled “Israel’s 430 years in Egypt in perspective” I pointed out that the most reliable Biblical dating placed Jacob’s arrival in 1652 B.C. during the times of the Hyksos rule over Egypt and that these were the kings that “knew Joseph” (Exodus 1:8 ).
The dating of the arrival of the Hebrews in Egypt is relevant to the dating of which Pharaohs of the Exodus. — I have already pointed out that Exodus 12: 40 gives the impression that the Hebrews had remained in Egypt for 430 years. So if this is to be taken at face value then the year of the Exodus should be 1222 B.C., during the last years of Ramses II. — It would seem that the dating of the Exodus to Ramses’ reign is vindicated, however there is a major problem with simply assuming this date.
The problem is that there is ample evidence that Exodus 12: 8 originally said that the 430 before the Exodus weren’t only spent in Egypt since Joseph and Jacob, but also in Canaan from the time of Abraham’s call from Haran. — Such Biblical manuscripts are the Septuagint, the Samaritan Pentateuch, Galatians 3: 16-17, and even Josephus’ account of the Exodus confirms this:
They left Egypt in the month Xanthicus, on the fifteenth day of the lunar month; four hundred and thirty years after our forefather Abraham came into Canaan, but two hundred and fifteen years only after Jacob removed into Egypt. (Antiquities of the Jews 2, 15, 2)
In my earlier post, I show that even the simple math in the Biblical time-line confirms this alternative reading:
Genesis 12: 4-5 says that Abram (later called Abraham) migrated from Haran to Canaan when he was seventy-five years old. He was one-hundred years old when his son Issac was born (Genesis 21: 1). — Then when Issac was sixty when Jacob was born (Genesis 25: 24-26). Abraham would have been 160 at the time. And when Jacob arrived in Egypt on Joseph’s invitation and was presented to the King he was 130 years old (Genesis 47: 9).
So this means that there was a gap of 215 years from the time Abraham first went to Canaan to when Jacob arrived in Egypt.So, by subtracting that number from 1867 we find that Jacob arrived in Egypt in 1652 B.C., during the rule of the Hyksos kings, and another 215 years before the Exodus of Moses in 1437 B.C. Add it up and it comes to 430 years.
1 Kings 6: 1 helps even more by establishing the Exodus 480 years before the fourth year of King Solomon’s rule (i.e., 957 B.C.) placing the Exodus in 1437 B.C. So this understanding seems to be inescapable. — Therefore, this would render the theory that Ramses II was the Pharaoh that confronted Moses as irrelevant because this shows that Moses lead the Hebrews out of Egypt 158 years before he began to rule Egypt.
Also, some scholars apparently think the name “Rameses” in the Book of Exodus is only a deliberate anachronism which was supposed to help later Jewish readers identify certain locations.
The question is, if it wasn’t Ramses II then who was it? The answer should be simple: Simply search for a Pharaoh that ruled Egypt in 1437 B.C. — But it is not all that simple because of uncertainties in the precise dating of Egyptian dynasties. But it is still possible to narrow the list down. Also it is possible to conclude that Moses dealt with the Pharaohs of the 18th dynasty.
The list is narrowed down to only two Egyptian Pharaohs:
Thutmose III: 1504 B.C. – 1450, or possibly 1479 – 1425
Amenhotep II: 1427 B.C. – 1392
Note: for the first set of dating of Thutmose’s reign as well as Amenhotep’s I sourced Tour Egypt.net and for the second set for the former I used the Encyclopaedia of the Orient. — Get my point? There isn’t full certainty about Egyptian dates so we have to make do with what we have and accept both dating options for the Pharaoh of the Exodus as relevant.
Mostly because of the uncertainty of the Egyptian dating, we cannot just say which one of these two pharaoh’s confronted Moses and his God, but still, narrowing down the list of possible suspects wasn’t so hard. But there may be a way of figuring out which one it is.
InAgainst Apion 1, Josephus wrote a defence of his former historical works because several critics didn’t believe his accounts. He then claimed to cite an Egyptian historian named Manetho word for word on the Exodus. — It should be mentioned that many scholars don’t believe Josephus’ citation, but not all of it has been shown to be irrelevant.
It is true that Manetho’s account has questionable elements in it, but some of it (at least to me) seems to have a ring of truth. — Manetho associates the Hebrews with the Hyksos. I’ve already said I don’t believe the Hyksos and Hebrews are 100% interchangeable, but that I believe close relations after Jacob and Joseph are likely. If that’s true then such an association would be understandable, at least. Josephus accepts the connection as he cites him:
I shall quote Manetho again, and what he writes as to the order of the times in this case. He says “After this people or shepherds had left Egypt to go to Jerusalem, Tethmosis, who drove them [the Hyksos] out, was king of Egypt and reigned for twenty five years and four months, and then died; …” (Brackets, emphasis mine)
Once read, I think this citation Josephus makes is revealing because he names “Thetmosis” which is obviously “Thutmosis” or Thutmose. And it so happens, there was a Pharoah named Thutmose at the right time (more or less) in Egypt.
What I also find interesting is that most historians credit Ahmose I with the Hyksos expulsion instead of Thutmose. — Ahmose was a predecessor of Thutmose III. The best conclusion I can make is that both accounts have truth in them, but that Manetho’s is somewhat more questionable. But still, I don’t think we should doubt everything Manetho said. After all, if he can rightfully name a Pharaoh that “expelled” the Hebrews which lived at the correct time frame, then there may indeed be something to his “historical” account. — But again, the Israelites and the Hyksos cannot be equated, at least not 100%, though the Hyksos seem to be the Pharaohs that “knew Joseph.”
It should be realized that the “Hyksos Expulsion” is not the same as the Exodus of Moses because one has to remember that Pharaoh Ahmose, the one that expelled the Hyksos, was long dead in 1437 B.C. when the Exodus seems to have occured. — The association of King Thutmose III by Manetho may be out of knowing that the two peoples were related. — And finally, I am going to add that the other suspect for the Exodus, Amenhotep II, should by no means be ruled out. As a matter of fact, Professor William Shea (from Andrews University) wrote a paper on the subject which provides evidence of the possibility entitled “Amenhotep II as Pharaoh of the Exodus.”