UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Pharaoh of the Exodus

PharaohThe identification of the Pharaoh in whose reign the Exodus of the Children of Israel took place was long one of the most important points in Egyptian chronology. In dealing with this question, the Old Testament narrative has necessarily been the standard with which the Egyptian traditions supposed to relate to that event have been compared. There was nothing to prevent the student of the Old Testament from endeavoring to throw light upon the vexed question of Biblical chronology, considering how involved it often was in obscurity.

The problem was twofold: the dates of the reigns of Egyptian pharoahs were uncertain and contested, and the date of the Exodus was uncertain and contested. At least half a dozen different kings were fixed upon by as many different authors as the Pharaoh of the exodus. By the early 20th Century the most generally accepted theory being that Rameses the Second (commonly called the Great) was the Pharaoh of the oppression, and that his son and successor, Menepthah or Mer-en-ptah, was the Pharaoh of the exodus. By the middle of the 20th Century, Yul Brenner was undoubtedly the Pharaoh of the Exodus.

By the end of the 20th Century opinion remained sharply divided, though the dating of the reigns of the pharoahs of the New Kingdom was largely settled. There was little dispute that Tuthmosis III had reigned from 1504 BC to 1450 BC, which coincided with Bishop Usher's date of the Exodus as BC 1492. From another perspective, as the dating of the pharoahs had come into clearer view, the historical reality of the Exodus had faded into mythology, neatly solving the problem in a way that not many had previously anticipated.

Along with the great empires which rose and fell in the plains watered by the Tigris and the Euphrates, one of the few peoples whose history can compare with that of Egypt in interest and antiquity are the Hebrews. The records of the Chinese, or of the Hindus, may reach to a very remote period, but they afford no points of contact with those of the Western world; while among the nations who have dwelt upon the borders of the Mediterranean, the Hebrews alone have a history which runs side by side with that of Egypt to a point which, for the history of Egypt, can be fairly considered one of considerable antiquity. The Romans first came in contact with Egypt long after Egypt had ceased to be a kingdom; Greece first exerted an influence in Egyptian affairs when Egypt had long been in a state of decadence, if not decay.

The Exodus, or departure of the Israelites from Egypt, affected in its results the fortunes of the two peoples, the Hebrews and the Egyptians. The former have given an account of the transaction; it is reasonable to expect that some record of the event should have been preserved in the historical memorials of the latter. The monumental records of Egypt, though exhibiting the constant connexion of Egypt with Phoenicia and Canaan, afford no distinct references to the people who were supposed to have once settled on the frontiers of Egypt and then formed into a nation in the land watered by the Jordan.

From Bishop Usher the received Biblical date of the Exodus was BC 1492, but this had been abandoned by the late 19th Century. By the mid-19th Century investigators of Egyptian history and chronology fixed the date of the Exodus in the year 1314 BC; and the Pharaoh under whom this event took place had been decided by the great authority of Dr. Lepsius, partly on traditional, partly on monumental evidence, to have been Menephtha I, a king of the nineteenth dynasty of the Egyptian sovereigns, according to the history of Manetho. In this opinion most of the continental writers were agreed. Among English writers, Miss Corbaux, who had very ably investigated the history of the Canaanite and Philistine tribes in their connexion with Egypt, fixed on the year BC 1291 for the date of the Exodus, while Mr. Palmer assigned the same event to the year BC 1650.

For Smith Bartlett Goodenow, writing in 1896, there were two theories: the Later Assignment of the Egyptian Meneptah as the pharaoh of the exodus, about BC 1320; and the Earlier Assignment, dating in accordance with I Ki.vi:1, which made Thotmes IV the pharaoh of the exodus, BC 1591. This argument finds nothing in the contemporaneous history requiring the later date for the exodus which Egyptologists claim. And there is nothing in connection with Meneptah to indicate him especially as the Pharaoh of the exodus. Indeed, that claim is founded almost entirely upon the fitness of his predecessor Ramses II to be the previous pharaoh of the oppression.

Thutmose (1563-1580 BC)

ThutmoseErnst von Bunsen and Archibald Henry Sayce reasoned in 1874 that "According to Manetho, the Pharaoh of Hebrew bondage was called Tuthmoses (Thofr-Moses), and the Pharaoh of the exodus Amenophis. Still assuming that the exodus of the Israelites took place in 1563, Amenophis I., that is the successor of Ahmes or Amoses I, the Amasis of Ptolemy's chronology, who also might be called Thot-Moses, can alone have been the Pharaoh of the exodus, according to any possible Egyptian chronology. "

The earliest date was favored by Josephus and supported by H. R. Hall (Ancient History of the Near East, 1913). It made the Exodus coincide with the expulsion of the Hyksos (1580 BC). It may be based on the broad consideration that the period of the Hyksos, when Semites ruled Egypt, was favorable to the admission of Hebrew settlers, and that the national uprising connected with the expulsion of the Hyksos supplies a good explanation of the departure of the Hebrews.

Manetho, the Egyptian historian, who in the time of the first Ptolemies rendered the Egyptian annals in the Greek tongue, recorded the occurrence of two separate expulsions of a foreign people from the land of Egypt, under circumstances many of which appear common to both; and in both traditions a connexion with the Exodus of the Hebrews appears to be indicated, in the one by the statement that the people thus expelled settled in the land of Phoenicia, where they built the city of Jerusalem; in the other by the statement that the leader of the revolted Egyptians, who were ultimately driven from the land, bore the name of Moses. These traditions, though they have some common features, and have probably in the course of time been to some extent confounded together, relate to two different transactions, and which of these is the Egyptian tradition of the Hebrew Exodus, is a question which was long undecided.

The historical work of Manetho was written in Greek, and entitled, "Three Books of Egyptian History." All that has been preserved of it in a connected form, is contained in the work of Josephus, his "Answer to Apion." Josephus, in his "Answer to Apion," was concerned only with the history of the Jews, and in defending the character of his countrymen from the malicious misrepresentations which Apion and other Alexandrian Greeks had circulated respecting them. He has, therefore, inserted in his treatise, only such extracts from Manetho as relate to the Shepherd conquerors of Egypt, whom he wished to identify with his ancestors; and such traditions as were thought to relate to the Exodus of the Israelites. For this purpose, he made three extracts from the work of Manetho: 1. The history of the Shepherd invasion. 2. That of their expulsion by the kings of the eighteenth dynasty. 3. The story told by Manetho of the revolt and ultimate expulsion from Egypt of certain leprous and impure people, who departed under the guidance of an apostate priest of Heliopolis, named Osarsiph, who afterwards changed his name for that of Moses. The sovereigns named in this passage consist of kings of the eighteenth and nineteenth dynasties.

H. R. Hall admited that the Exodus, so dated, was separated by a long interval from the date of the settlement in Canaan, which he brought down to the period of the Khabiru, 200 years later. Fresh and more particular support for the former date is given by Hubert Grimme in his ambitious attempt (Atihebraische Insehriften vom Sinai, 1923) to decipher the Sinai inscriptions. He believed that he had read in the inscriptions the names of the Egyptian monarchs Thutmose and Hatshepset, and also the names Sinai (five times) and Iahu (once). He dated the inscriptions from 1500 B.C. onwards and treated them as evidence of the sojourn of the Hebrews at Sinai about that date. The date fixed by the excavations of Jericho for the destruction of that great Canaanite city (1500 BC) might also be used to support this early date of the Exodus were it not that the settlement in Canaan can hardly have begun as early as 1500 BC, as would seem to be implied if the Hebrews captured the city in that year.

Amenhotep II (1447-20 BC)

Amenhotep IIAccording to 1 Kings vi. 1 the building of Solomon's temple began in the fourth year of his reign and in the 480th year after the Exodus. While the date of the beginning of Solomon's reign is uncertain, it may be put at about 970 BC. This makes the date of the Exodus about 1450 BC; the Pharaoh of the oppression was then perhaps Thutmose III (1501-1447) and the Pharaoh of the Exodus Amenhotep II (1447-20 BC). This calculation fit closely enough the evidence of the Tell Amarna letters, which show that Palestine was being invaded by the Khabiru in the reign of Akhnaton or Amenhotep IV (1375-50). If the Hebrews were a section of these invaders, they might have left Egypt in the reign of Amenhotep II and have begun their invasion of Palestine about forty years later. This view is supported by Dr. G. A. F. Knight in his Nile and Jordan (1921).

Rameses II or Harmhab (1335 BC)

Rameses IIEduard Mahler (Handbuch der jiidischen Chronotogie, 1916) also made the period of Hebrew oppression begin with the expulsion of the Hyksos (dated by him in 1575 BC). According to a Jewish tradition it lasted 240 years. This gives 1335 BC as the date of the Exodus. Mahler further supposes that the plague of darkness, if a real event, was caused by an eclipse of the sun. The Exodus itself took place in the first month of the year, in spring, in the month Nisan or Abib, and according to Jewish tradition on a Thursday, the 15th of the month. The plague of darkness, again according to tradition, occurred fourteen days earlier, on Thursday the first of the month. Now the only total eclipse of the sun visible in the Delta from the end of February to the beginning of May, during the whole of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries BC, occurred on Thursday, 13th March, 1335. The Exodus, therefore, took place on Thursday, 27th March, 1335. The year, according to Breasted's chronology, falls in the reign of Harmhab (1350-1315), the last king of the 18th dynasty. According to Mahler it falls in the reign of Rameses II (dated by him 1347-1280 BC).

Amen-meses or Sa-ptah (1300 BC)

Amen-mesesRudolf Kittel argued in 1895 that "many reasons, recently advanced, tell against Merenptah. Under him Egypt's power was still at its climax, not feeble and in peril, as Manetho's account would imply. And the question is settled by the fact that Merenptah died in peace at a good old age, not in war against the foreigners or whilst pursuing them. And if Manetho himself wrote Amenophis, which is not likely, considering that he mentions the father and the son, this name would point to Amenhotep, not Mereuptah. On the other hand the state of affairs presupposed in Manetho and in the Book of Exodus reminds us much more forcibly of the circumstances which the Harris Papyrus depicts as prevailing in the time subsequent to the death of Merenptah and Seti II. The Pharaoh of the Exodus must therefore have been Amen-meses or Sa-ptah, one of the immediate predecessors of Set-nechts, the founder of the Twentieth Dynasty. This points to about 1300 B.C."

Meneptah (1225-15 BC)

MeneptahAnother view was advanced by Heinrich Karl Brugsch in 1880. He argued that the immigration of the Israelites into Egypt, which, like their Exodus, after a sojourn of about a century, took place under the nineteenth dynasty. Sethos I, (BC 14451394), the Sesostris of the Greeks, was the Pharaoh under whom Joseph came to Egypt; his son, Ramses II, Miamoun the Great (BC 13941328) was the king at whose court Moses was brought up; and his son Mineptah / Menephtes (BC 13281309), the Amenophis of Josephus, was the Pharaoh of the Exodus. Mineptah II makes but an insignificant figure among the proud kings of Egypt, being neither renowned for arts nor arms, and being remembered as a weak, cowardly, and cruel ruler. He does not rank with those pharaohs who have transmitted their remembrance to posterity by grand buildings and the construction of new temples, or by the enlargement of such as already existed.

This view was advocated by Professor Flinders Petrie in his Israel and Egypt, with a revised chronology. Pharaoh of the oppression was Rameses II (1292-25) and the Pharaoh of the Exodus Merneptah (1225-15), and that the invasion of Palestine took place about 1180 B.C. The principal arguments are: (a) the Hebrews built Rameses for the Pharaoh of the oppression. If the city received its name Rameses at the time of its building by the Hebrews, the date was in the reign of Rameses II or later. (b) Seti I and Rameses II, and even their successors Merneptah and Rameses III, were overlords of Palestine. The Hebrews can have settled in Palestine only after the conclusion of this period of Egyptian domination, since no memory of it has been preserved in the records of early Hebrew history, (c) Assuming that the Hebrews settled in Egypt in the time of the Hyksos, it would seem likely that the period of oppression began after the expulsion of the Hyksoa, about 1580 BC. In Gen. xv. 13 the period of oppression is reckoned at 400 years. Taking 400 from 1580 gives 1180 as the date of the Exodus or possibly of the Hebrew settlement in Canaan. (d) According to the priestly genealogy of the Book of Chronicles (1 Chron. vi., cf. 2 Sam. viii. 17) there were ten generations from the time of Aaron to the time of Zadok, David's priest, i.e. approximately 210 years.

If the beginning of David's reign was shortly before 1000 BC, say 1010 BC, and counting back from that reaches 1220 as approximately the date of Aaron's attaining manhood. The year 1220 falls within the reign of Merneptah and this confirms his being identified with the Pharaoh of the oppression. If Zadok is reckoned to have attained manhood about 1010, this places about 1240 BC as the date of Aaron's being twenty-one years old, and have to make him correspondingly older in the reign of Merneptah.

Except in one particular this view is as destitute of any evidence to support it as are all the others ; the point in question is, that it is written that the Israelites "built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and 'Raamses,'" and, as the foundation of these cities has been attributed to Rameses the Second, it has been regarded as a necessary consequence that he was the oppressor. It is, however, possible that both places existed before his time, although much building was done in them during his reign, and it is also possible that the names of these towns, coming as they do at the end of a sentence, may have been in the first place merely a conjectural marginal note, which was afterward embodied in the text itself; and it must be observed in support of this view that Josephus does not claim these cities as works of the Israelites.

The Third Book of Kings (vi, 1) states that Solomon began to build the Temple in the 480th year (the Septuagint gives 440 years) after the Exodus. That passage seemed to settle the question. But a difficulty arises from the fact that there was almost a consensus of scientific opinion that the Exodus from Egypt took place in the reign of Meneptah, or, possibly, that of his successor, Seti II. Moreover, scholars were driven to a date later than the year 1400 for the Exodus, since up to that date, Assyriologists and Egyptologists agree, Palestine was an Egyptian province, with an Egyptian governor. Ramses II, the builder of Pithom and Raamses, was the Pharaoh of the oppression, and as he reigned from 1348-1281, so one of his successors would be the Pharaoh of the Exodus. This could be his immediate successor, Meneptah, at earliest, and to about the year 1277 for the date of the Exodus. On the other hand, the date of the building of the Temple cannot be put later than the middle of the tenth century BC. But taking the time between these two dates left only about 327 years, as against 480 required by III Kings, vi, 1.

The fourth year of King Solomon is said to have fallen in the 480th year after the Exodus; and Ussher dated the reign of King Solomon from 1014-975 BC. But as the Temple was begun in the fourth year of that king, or in 1010, the Exodus took place in the year 1490 BC. How do these results square with the teaching of scholars of the early 20th Century? Professor Sayce, from the connexion of Abraham with Amraphel in the episode related in Genesis, xiv, approximated the period when the family of Terah migrated from Ur of the Chaldees to about 2300 BC, if the chronology of the native Babylonian historians was correct (Early History of the Hebrews, 12). Then again he worte that "Chanaan could not have been invaded by the Israelites until after the fall of the eighteenth dynasty. When Khu-naten died it was still an Egyptian province, garrisoned by Egyptian troops" (Higher Criticism and the Monuments, 241). This is reported in the Tel-el-amarna tablets. So this goes to a period after the death of Ramses II in 1281 BC for the date of the Exodus in the reign of Meneptah, son and successor of Ramses, earlier than the year 1200 BC. This is not the traditional date of the Exodus.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 03-04-2012 19:36:05 ZULU