Pharaohs in the Bible

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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[edit]

Taharqa offering to Falcon-god Hemen (close-up)

2 Kings 19:9 and Isaiah 37:9 mention 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[edit]

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, but 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. At the time of Hoshea (about 730 BC), Egypt had three dynasties ruling at the same time: 22nd at Tanis, 23rd at Leontopolis, and the 24th at Sais. Thus, the most logical candidate for So would be Osorkon IV of Tanis (730-715 BC).[1][2]

Unidentified pharaohs[edit]

Pharaohs in the book of Genesis[edit]

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, for which Abraham is paid with cattle and slaves. After discovering Sarah's true relationship to Abraham the pharaoh releases her and her husband and orders them to leave Egypt. Abraham does not return the payment he had received.

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 may be the unnamed Pharaoh mentioned in the biblical story of Joseph.[3]

Pharaohs in the book of Exodus[edit]

The book of Exodus tells how the Israelites are enslaved in Egypt and eventually escape under the leadership of Moses. At least 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 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. Candidates put forward for the role include:

  • Dudimose (died c.1690 BC): David Rohl's 1995 A Test of Time revised Egyptian history by shortening the Third Intermediate Period of Egypt by almost 300 years. As a by-result the synchronisms with the biblical narrative have changed, making the 13th Dynasty pharaoh Djedneferre Dudimose (Dedumesu, Tutimaos, Tutimaios) the pharaoh of the Exodus.[4] Rohl's theory has failed to find support among scholars in his field.[5]
  • Ahmose I (1550-1525 BC): Simcha Jacobovici's April 16, 2006 History Channel documentary film Exodus Decoded and attributed to be the first pharaoh of the New Kingdom of Egypt.
  • Thutmose III (1479-1425 BC)[6]
  • 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.[7]
  • Amenhotep II. K. A. Kitchen thought that Amenhotep II was the pharaoh of the exodus in 1400.
  • Thutmose IV: Steven Collins (Executive Dean of Trinity Southwest University) has stated that he thinks Thutmose IV to be the most likely candidate for pharaoh of the exodus.
  • Amenhotep III (1391-1353 BC) was the supposed pharaoh of the exodus by Ron Wyatt.[8]
  • Ramesses II (c.1279-1213 BC) Also known as Ramesses the Great, he is the most commonly imagined figure in popular culture, but there is no documentary or archaeological evidence that he had to deal with the Plagues of Egypt or anything similar or that he chased Hebrew 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.[9] Additionally, the historical Pithom was built in the 7th century BC, during the Saite period.[10][11]
  • 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.[12]

See also[edit]


  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. ^ Rohl 1995, pp. 341–348
  5. ^ Bennett 1996
  6. ^ Shea 1996, p. 231ff.
  7. ^ Shea, Amenhotep II as pharaoh of the exodus,
  8. ^ M.N. Wyatt, The exodus,
  9. ^ Stephen L. Caiger, "Archaeological Fact and Fancy," Biblical Archaeologist, (9, 1946).
  10. ^ 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]
  11. ^ 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. 
  12. ^ Asimov's Guide to the Bible, Random House, 1981, P. 130-131, ISBN 0-517-34582-X