Pharaohs in the Bible

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Shoshenq I (centre), founder of the Twenty-second Dynasty of Egypt and the earliest Biblical figure to be attested in the archaeological record

The Bible makes reference to various pharaohs (Hebrew: פַּרְעֹה, Parʿō) of Egypt. These include unnamed pharaohs in events described in the Torah, as well as several later named pharaohs, some of whom were historical or can be identified with historical pharaohs.

Unnamed pharaohs[edit]

In the Book of Genesis[edit]

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

Genesis 12:10–20 tells of Abram moving to Egypt to escape a period of famine in Canaan. Abram worries that the unnamed pharaoh will kill him and take away his wife Sarai, so Abram tells her to say she is his sister. They are eventually summoned to meet the pharaoh, but God sends plagues against the pharaoh because of his intention to marry Sarai. After discovering that Sarai is Abram's wife, he releases her and orders Abram to take his belongings and return to Canaan. Abd al-Husayn Tayyib claimed this Pharaoh was Sanakht, while Al-Maqrizi regards his name as "Tutis".[1] Egyptologist David Rohl argued that this pharaoh was Nebkaure Khety IV.[2] Rohl's claim has been turned down by the vast majority of Egyptologists.[3]

The final chapters of the Book of Genesis (Genesis 37–50) tell how Joseph, son of Jacob, is sold by his brothers into Egyptian slavery, promoted by another unnamed pharaoh to vizier of Egypt, and later 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). Author Ahmed Osman proposed that this pharaoh was Thutmose IV and identified Joseph as the Egyptian figure Yuya.[4] Other scholars generally reject Osman's claims.[5] David Rohl argued that this pharaoh was Amenemhat III and identified Joseph as the Egyptian vizer Ankhu.[6] Rohl's claim has been turned down by the vast majority of Egyptologists.[7]

In the Book of Exodus[edit]

In the Book of Exodus, the Israelites—the descendants of Jacob's sons—are living in the Land of Goshen under a new pharaoh who oppresses the Hebrews. He forces them to work long hours, which includes building Pithom and Ramses, making mortar, and baking bricks. He also issues a decree to kill their newborn males in order to reduce their numbers due to concerns about their growing population (Shiphrah and Puah briefly try to prevent this, to no avail). Moses, a Levite, is saved by his mother who instructs his sister Miriam to watch over him after he is placed in a reed basket in the Nile River. He is discovered and adopted by the pharaoh's daughter. Miriam asks the princess if she would like an Israelite woman to help nurse the child and returns with Moses' own mother, who is then able to raise her child under royal protection. Later, Moses is returned to the pharaoh's daughter and raised as part of the royal household.

Hypotheses on identity[edit]

Most scholars do not recognize the biblical portrayal of the Exodus as an actual historical event,[8] Most modern scholars believe that some elements in the story of the Exodus might have some historical basis, but that any such basis has little resemblance to the story told in the Pentateuch.[9][10] However, various Pharaohs have been proposed as contemporary with the Exodus:

  • Pepi I (24th–23rd century BC): Emmanuel Anati has argued that the Exodus should be placed between the 24th and the 21st century BC and that Pepi I should be identified as the pharaoh of the Exodus.[11] This theory has not gained acceptance and has received strong criticism from Israeli archaeologist Israel Finkelstein and American Egyptologist James K. Hoffmeier.[12][13]
  • Dedumose II (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 result, the synchronisms with the biblical narrative results in the Second Intermediate Period King Dedumose II the pharaoh of the Exodus.[14] Rohl's revision has been turned down by the vast majority of Egyptologists.[15]
  • Ahmose I (1550–1525 BC): Several church fathers identified Ahmose I, who reconquered lower Egypt from the Hyksos, rulers of Asiatic (Semitic) origin, as the pharaoh of the Exodus, based on Herodotus, Manetho, Josephus and other classical authors’ identification of the Hyksos with the Hebrews.[16]
  • Hatshepsut (1507–1458 BC). Diodorus Siculus identified the Jews with the Hyksos and identified the pharaoh of the Exodus with Queen Hatshepsut.[17]
  • Thutmose II (1493–1479 BC). Alfred Edersheim proposes in Old Testament Bible History 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 legitimate son to succeed him. His widow Hatshepsut then became first regent (for Thutmose III, his son by his concubine Iset) before becoming pharaoh herself. Edersheim states that Thutmose II is the only pharaoh's mummy to display cysts, possible evidence of plagues that spread through the Egyptian and Hittite Empires at that time.[18]
  • Amenhotep II (ca. 1455–1418 BC) claimed to have brought tens of thousands of slaves from the Levant to Egypt which could be an explanation for the existence of the Israelites in Egypt.[19][20]
  • Akhenaten (1353–1349 BC). In his book Moses and Monotheism, Sigmund Freud argued that Moses had been an Atenist priest of Akhenaten who was forced to leave Egypt, along with his followers, following the pharaoh's death. Eusebius identified the pharaoh of the Exodus with a king called "Acencheres", who may be identified with Akenhaten.[21]
  • Ramesses I (1292–1290 BC): Ahmed Osman identified Ramesses I as the pharaoh of the Exodus in his controversial argument about the identity of the Egyptian official Yuya.[22]
  • Ramesses II (c. 1279–1213 BC): Ramesses II, or Ramesses the Great, is the most common figure for the Exodus pharaoh as Rameses is mentioned in the Bible as a place name (see Genesis 47:11, Exodus 1:11, Numbers 33:3, etc) and because of other lines of contextual evidence.[23] As such, he is often the pharaoh depicted in popular culture narratives of the event (such as the 1956 film The Ten Commandments and the 1998 animated film The Prince of Egypt). Although 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, the text mentions neither the building of the city nor, as some have written, the Israelites or Hapiru.[24]
  • Merneptah (c. 1213–1203 BC): Isaac Asimov in Guide to the Bible makes a case for Merneptah to be the pharaoh of the Exodus.[25]
  • Setnakhte (c. 1189–1186 BC): Igor P. Lipovsky and Israel Knohl make a case for Setnakhte to be the pharaoh of the Exodus.[26][27]
  • Ramesses III (c. 1186–1155 BC): Gary A. Rendsburg, Baruch Halpern and Manfred Bietak make a case for Ramesses III as the pharaoh of the Exodus.[28][29][30]
  • Bakenranef (c. 725–720 BC): Tacitus writes in his Histories that Bakenranef (whom he refers to as "Bocchoris") had expelled the Jews from Egypt because they suffered from a horrible disease and because he was instructed to do so by an oracle of the god Amun.[31] Lysimachus of Alexandria, quoted by Josephus in Against Apion, also identifies the pharaoh of the Exodus with Bakenranef.[32]
  • Ramses (?–?). Manetho and Chaeremon of Alexandria, both quoted by Josephus in Against Apion, state that the Jews were expelled from Egypt by a pharaoh named "Ramses", son of another pharaoh named "Amenophis". It is unclear which pharaoh this could be, since no pharaoh named Ramses had a predecessor named Amenophis.[32]

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:

Conjectural pharaohs[edit]

Historical pharaohs[edit]

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

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Egyptian Pharaohs / List of pharaohs". 2018-01-10. Retrieved 2024-03-21.
  2. ^ Rohl 1995, pp. 341–348
  3. ^ Bennett 1996
  4. ^ Osman, Ahmed (1987). Stranger in the Valley of the Kings. New York: Harper & Row. pp. 14–15. ISBN 9780062506740. Retrieved July 28, 2022.
  5. ^ Sweeney, Deborah (1992). "Review of The Stranger in the Valley of the Kings". The Jewish Quarterly Review. 82 (3/4): 575–579. doi:10.2307/1454900. JSTOR 1454900 – via JSTOR.
  6. ^ Rohl 1995, pp. 341–348
  7. ^ Bennett 1996
  8. ^ Grabbe, Lester (2014). "Exodus and History". In Dozeman, Thomas; Evans, Craig A.; Lohr, Joel N. (eds.). The Book of Exodus: Composition, Reception, and Interpretation. BRILL. pp. 61–87. ISBN 9789004282667.
  9. ^ Faust 2015, p. 476.
  10. ^ Redmount 2001, p. 87.
  11. ^ Anati, Emmanuel (2016). Esodo. Tra mito e storia (in Italian). Atelier. ISBN 978-88-98284-24-5.
  12. ^ Finkelstein, Israel (14 July 1988). "Raider of the Lost Mountain—An Israeli Archaeologist Looks at the Most Recent Attempt to Locate Mt. Sinai". Biblical Archaeology Review.
  13. ^ Hoffmeier, James K. (1999). Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition. Oxford University Press, USA. p. 126. ISBN 978-0-19-513088-1.
  14. ^ Rohl 1995, pp. 341–348
  15. ^ Bennett 1996
  16. ^ Meyers, Stephen C. "IBSS – Biblical Archaeology – Date of the Exodus". Institute for Biblical & Scientific Studies. Retrieved 13 April 2017.
  17. ^ Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca historica, Book 1
  18. ^ Edersheim, A., Old Testament Bible History, originally published 1876–1887, ISBN 156563165X, p. 134
  19. ^ Douglas Petrovich. "Amenhotep II and the Historicity of the Exodus Pharaoh". Associates for Biblical Research.
  20. ^ "Who Was the Pharaoh of the Exodus?". Armstrong Institute of Biblical Archaeology.
  21. ^ Moses and Monotheism, ISBN 0-394-70014-7
  22. ^ Osman 1987, p. 119.
  23. ^ Geraty 2015, pp. 58–59.
  24. ^ Stephen L. Caiger, "Archaeological Fact and Fancy," Biblical Archaeologist, (9, 1946).
  25. ^ Isaac Asimov, Asimov's Guide to the Bible, Random House, 1981, p. 130–131, ISBN 0-517-34582-X
  26. ^ Igor P. Lipovsky, Early Israelites: Two Peoples, One History: Rediscovery of the Origins of Biblical Israel ISBN 0-615-59333-X
  27. ^ "Exodus: The History Behind the Story".
  28. ^ Rendsburg, Gary. "The Pharaoh of the Exodus – Rameses III –".
  29. ^ Shanks, Hershel; Dever, William G.; Halpern, Baruch; McCarter, Peter Kyle (1992). The Rise of Ancient Israel. Biblical Archaeology Society. ISBN 978-1-880317-07-5.
  30. ^ Bietak, Manfred (2015). "On the Historicity of the Exodus: What Egyptology Today Can Contribute to Assessing the Biblical Account of the Sojourn in Egypt". In Levy, Thomas E.; Schneider, Thomas; Propp, William H. C. (eds.). Israel's Exodus in Transdisciplinary Perspective: Text, Archaeology, Culture, and Geoscience. Springer. pp. 17–37. ISBN 978-3-319-04768-3.
  31. ^ Tacitus, Histories, Book V, Paragraph 3
  32. ^ a b Assmann, Jan (2009-06-30). Moses the Egyptian. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-02030-6.
  33. ^ Brian Roberts. "ANE - Solomon taking an Egyptian wife (to David Lorton)".[dead link]
  34. ^ "The Bible Chronology from Solomon to Hezekiah". CanBooks. 1935. Retrieved 13 April 2017.
  35. ^ 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.
  36. ^ Dever, William G. (2020-08-18). Has Archaeology Buried the Bible?. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4674-5949-5.
  37. ^ Gabriel Oussani (July 1, 1912). "Solomon". The Catholic Encyclopedia.
  38. ^ 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.
  39. ^ 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.
  40. ^ Patterson 2003, pp. 196–197
  41. ^ Peter A Clayton: Chronicle of The Pharaohs, Thames & Hudson, (2006), pp. 182–183
  42. ^ Theis, Christoffer (2020). "Contributions to the Vocabulary of the Old Testament: The Connection of the Name סוֹא with Greek Σηγωρ in 2 Kings 17, 4". Biblica. 101 (1): 107–113. doi:10.2143/BIB.101.1.3287517.
  43. ^ 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.
  44. ^  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainSinger, Isidore; et al., eds. (1901–1906). "Tirhakah". The Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls.
  45. ^ Kitchen, Kenneth A. (2006). On the Reliability of the Old Testament. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 16. ISBN 978-0-8028-0396-2.
  46. ^ Encyclopædia britannica. Edited by Colin MacFarquhar, George Gleig. p785
  47. ^ The Holy Bible, According to the Authorized Version (A.D. 1611). Edited by Frederic Charles Cook. p131