Pharaohs in the Bible

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The Bible makes reference to various pharaohs (פַּרְעֹה‎, /paʁˈʕo/) 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 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[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. He is generally identified with Shoshenq I (943–922 BC).[1]

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. Nevertheless, this ruler is commonly identified with Osorkon IV (730–715 BC) who ruled from Tanis,[2][3] though it is possible that the biblical writer has mistaken the king with his city and equated So with Sais, at this time ruled by Tefnakht.[citation needed]

Unidentified pharaohs[edit]

Pharaohs in the Book of Genesis[edit]

Joseph presenting his father and brethren to Pharaoh. (1896)

The passages Genesis 12:10–20 narrate how Abraham moves to Egypt to escape a period of famine in Canaan. The unnamed pharaoh, through his princes, hears of the beauty of Abraham's wife Sarah who is summoned to meet him. Because of her, Abraham rises in the Pharaoh's favor and acquires livestock and servants. After discovering Sarah's true relationship to Abraham (as a result of plagues sent by Yahweh), the pharaoh chooses not to take her as his own wife. He releases her and Abraham and orders them to take their goods and to 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 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.[4]

Pharaohs in the Book of Exodus[edit]

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 does not name or give enough information to identify the period in which the events are set. There have thus been many suggestions as to which of Egypt's many rulers was involved. 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.[5] 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.[6] 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.[7]

These are some candidates put forward for the role of Pharaoh of the Exodus:

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.[10]
  • Thutmose II (1493 or 1492 to 1479 BC). Alfred Edersheim proposes in his "Old Testament Bible History"[11] 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.[12][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.[13]

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.[14] Additionally, the historical Pithom was built in the 7th century BC, during the Saite period.[15][16]
  • 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.[17]

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 0-615-59333-X

Pharaohs in the Books of Kings[edit]

In 1 Kings 3:1, it is narrated that to seal an alliance, the pharaoh of Egypt gave a daughter in marriage to Solomon. The same ruler later captured the city of Gezer and gave it to Solomon as well (1 Kings 9:16). No name is given for the pharaoh, and some hypotheses have been proposed:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Troy Leiland Sagrillo. 2015. "Shoshenq I and biblical Šîšaq: A philological defense of their traditional equation." In Solomon and Shishak: Current perspectives from archaeology, epigraphy, history and chronology; proceedings of the third BICANE colloquium held at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge 26–27 March, 2011, edited by Peter J. James, Peter G. van der Veen, and Robert M. Porter. British Archaeological Reports (International Series) 2732. Oxford: Archaeopress. 61–81.
  2. ^ Patterson 2003, pp. 196–197
  3. ^ Peter A Clayton: Chronicle of The Pharaohs, Thames & Hudson, (2006), pp. 182–183
  4. ^ Eugene H. Merrill, Kingdom of Priests, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008, 66–68.
  5. ^ Seder Olam Rabbah, Finegan, Jack, Handbook of Biblical Chronology, Revised Ed., Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1998, p. 111
  6. ^ Shea 2003, p. 238-239.
  7. ^ 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
  8. ^ Rohl 1995, pp. 341–348
  9. ^ Bennett 1996
  10. ^ Meyers, Stephen C. "IBSS – Biblical Archaeology – Date of the Exodus". Institute for Biblical & Scientific Studies. Retrieved 13 April 2017. 
  11. ^ Old Testament Bible History, ISBN 1-56563-165-X
  12. ^ Shea, William (22 February 2008). "Amenhotep II as pharaoh of the Exodus". Associates for Biblical research. Retrieved 13 April 2017. 
  13. ^ Moses and Monotheism, ISBN 0-394-70014-7
  14. ^ Stephen L. Caiger, "Archaeological Fact and Fancy," Biblical Archaeologist, (9, 1946).
  15. ^ 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 978-1-85075-650-7,[1]
  16. ^ 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. 
  17. ^ Asimov's Guide to the Bible, Random House, 1981, p. 130–131, ISBN 0-517-34582-X
  18. ^ Brian Roberts. "ANE - Solomon taking an Egyptian wife (to David Lorton)". [dead link]
  19. ^ "The Bible Chronology from Solomon to Hezekiah". CanBooks. 1935. Retrieved 13 April 2017. 
  20. ^ Kenneth Kitchen (2003), On the Reliability of the Old Testament. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids and Cambridge. ISBN 0-8028-4960-1, p. 108.
  21. ^ Gabriel Oussani (July 1, 1912). "Solomon". The Catholic Encyclopedia. 
  22. ^ Lipinski, Edward (2006). On the Skirts of Canaan in the Iron Age(Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta). Leuven, Belgium: Peeters. pp. 96–97. ISBN 978-90-429-1798-9.