Elijah’s father flashed a broad smile at the first man in line, the camel owner with the free advice. “Do you carry spices?”
Elijah groaned at his father’s antique opener, but the man bit. “For the Nile market.”
“The Nile, eh. Next week we celebrate the day we left the Nile.”
“The Nile? When were you at the Nile?”
“Thutmose was pharaoh. We left Egypt 621 years ago.”
Who Was The Pharaoh of the Exodus?
I find it rather interesting that the Exodus account in the Old Testament doesn’t mention the name of the pharaoh. Since Moses was the author, he certainly could have named him. So why didn’t he? In short, I believe that pharaoh’s name is not mentioned on purpose. Throughout the Exodus narrative, the pharaoh either implies or asks “Who is the Lord that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, nor will I let Israel go” (Ex. 5:2). The irony, perhaps intentional, is that we don’t know pharaoh’s name, but we do know the Lord’s name (Yahweh – “I AM”). The book of Exodus, was not written to exalt the Egyptian pharaoh (who was considered “the divine god-king”), but rather the God of Israel.
Yul Brynner as Ramesses I in Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 epic movie, “The Ten Commandments”
An additional problem in ascertaining the exact pharaoh of the Exodus has to do with a debate within Egyptology itself. The debate concerns assigning correct dates to the reigns of Pharaohs. The dating of Egypt’s pharaohs comes primarily (although not exclusively) from the 3rd century B.C. Egyptian priest & historian Manetho who ordered the reigns of the pharaohs into thirty dynasties or families, in his work Aegyptiaca (History of Egypt). The ancient Egyptians themselves kept record of time according to an astronomical cycle called the Sothic cycle. One of the reasons why many scholars today argue for a revised chronology of ancient Egypt is the question of whether or not the Sothic cycle is a reliable method for dating. To make a very long and complex story short, I’ll state here that I hold to the revised chronology which makes minor adjustments on dates and therefore affects the identity of the pharaoh.
According to the standard chronology, most critical scholars believe that Rameses II (ca. 1304-1236 B.C.) was the pharaoh of the exodus. There are, however, many problems with identifying Rameses II as the pharaoh of the exodus, one of which is that he was one of the longest reigning kings in ancient Egypt. As Merrill points out, “If Rameses’ death had brought Moses back to Egypt, the exodus would have taken place after 1236, a date too late to satisfy anybody.” But perhaps, more importantly, there is no archaeological or inscriptional evidence in Egypt or ancient Canaan which fit the biblical descriptions.
But, don’t despair! With a little detective work; a starting point of around 1446 B.C.; and a knowledge of the Egyptian 18th Dynasty, it is possible to ascertain the probable identity of the pharaoh in the book of Exodus. Interestingly, there are about three pharaohs whose lives parallel and interact with the OT Exodus narrative: (1) the pharaoh who issued the decree to kill the firstborns; (2) the pharaoh of the oppression of Israel and (3) the pharaoh of the actual exodus event itself. Because of space, we’ll look at the first and last one.
The Pharaoh Who Decreed to Kill the Firstborn Jewish Children
From chronological considerations found in the biblical text, it is very possible that Amenhotep I was the pharaoh who issued the decree in Exodus 1:15-16 to kill all male Hebrews. As we look closer at this time frame in Egyptian history we also discover that Thutmose I (1528-1508 B.C.), the son of Amenhotep I, had a daughter named Hatshepsut. Hatshepsut is fairly well known from historical and archaeological sources and has a very interesting story herself. In order to secure royal inheritance rights for herself, Hatshepsut married her half-brother Thutmose II. When Thutmose II died prematurely, Hatshepsut assumed the role of pharaoh along with and her younger (male) nephew (& stepson) Thutmose III. As William Murnane observes, “Although Hatshepsut did not dethrone her nephew, she asserted a claim to royal power equal to his and, as senior coregent, took precedence over him in contemporary monuments.” During her co-regency with the younger Thutmose III, Egypt enjoyed a time of prosperity and great building. One of the most well known structures which survives today is the queen’s mortuary temple (also called Deir el-Bahari) located in the Valley of the Kings.
Deir el-Bahari or Hatshepsut’s temple located near Luxor, Egypt (Wikipedia)
It is very possible that when she was younger, it was this bold young queen who drew Moses from the Nile (Ex. 2:5-10). In another touch of irony, Hatshepsut is said to be one of the first women in ancient history of whom we are well informed. If she is the daughter of pharaoh who rescued Moses from the Nile against the decree of her grandfather Amenhotep I, then it seems appropriate that she is remembered in both Egyptian and biblical history.
The Pharaoh of the Exodus
Finally, we consider the identity of the famous pharaoh of the biblical exodus. Following the conclusions of the above discussion, and if the revised chronology of Egyptian history is correct, then Amenhotep II (1450-1425 B.C.) must be the pharaoh of the biblical exodus. Merrill elaborates: