Who was Pharaoh during the Exodus?
info All commentaries are written by volunteers, readers, or supporters of our Bible translation project. These are not official views of our project; we are not a religious denomination and we do not establish doctrine. These commentaries reflect a variety of views and some disagree with each other.
- Not Ramses
- The Hyksos
- ‘Hyksos’ – the Egyptian name for IsraElite Kings
- Period of Hyksos Rule
- Effect of Hyksos Rule
- Kamose or Ahmose?
- Possible Chronology
- The Tempest Stela of Ahmose I
- Kings Not PharaOhs
The matter of which pharaoh Moses was dealing with when he (through God’s power) brought the ten plagues upon Egypt has been debated among Bible scholars and archeologists for centuries. However, due to a general lack of trust in the accuracy of the Bible accounts, most have assumed that it was a king that lived much later than the Bible account suggests, Ramses 1. But as our Bible-based calculations will show, the exodus from Egypt really happened sometime between 1480 and 1567-BCE.
So, whoever the pharaoh was, he lived and ruled during that time.
What Egyptian hieroglyphics tell us is that there was a people known as the Hyksos (from the land of CanaAn) that entered Egypt sometime in the Nineteenth Century BCE, and that they ruled a portion of Egypt between 1640 and 1550-BCE, until Pharaoh Kamose finally conquered them, and this was followed by a later ‘victory’ by his brother, Ahmose I.
Now, if such people (the Hyksos) did in fact live and rule in Egypt, we would expect to read about them in the detailed Bible accounts of the book of Exodus, for that was the same period during which the Israelites were living there… and we don’t, which is very unusual. However, if you consider what happened through the eyes of the Egyptians, you can see that the Hyksos were unquestionably the IsraElites. After all, they lived in the land during that exact period, and according to the Bible, Joseph did become the effective ruler of all Egypt.
But later on, the Egyptians became frightened of them (the IsraElites, Hebrews, or Hyksos); for we read at Exodus 1:9, 10:
‘Look! The children of IsraEl have [grown tremendously] and they are now more powerful than we are! So, let’s be smooth in the way we deal with them, because if they continue to grow and then we find ourselves at war, they could side with our enemies.
And after they beat us in war, they will leave our land!’
So it’s easy to see why the Egyptians told the story that the Egyptians were being dominated by the Hyksos, and that they had to fight a war to free themselves (aren’t all wars fought for ‘freedom?’).
‘Hyksos’ – the Egyptian name for IsraElite Kings
Notice that the Egyptian history of where these people came from, what part of Egypt they lived in, and many more details prove that the Hyksos Kings were those that ruled over the land where their people lived while they were in Egypt.
In fact, the word ‘Hyksos’ is likely just an Egyptian corruption of the word ‘Hebrews.’
Notice that the Jewish historian Josephus quotes the (earlier) Egyptian historian Manethos as identifying the IsraElites as being the Hyksos in his ancient writings. For he tells us that Menethos wrote that after they left Egypt, the Hyksos went on to establish the city of JeruSalem. Of course, modern critics say that this link between the Hyksos and the IsraElites can’t be trusted, because the ‘historical dates’ don’t align. But as we will discuss below, the commonly-accepted ‘historical dates’ of Bible events are simply wrong because they were miscalculated by people that didn’t trust the Bible accounts, and this is why they don’t align with any of the facts of history.
As further proof that the Hyksos were really the IsraElites; notice that the signet rings that some of these kings wore bore the name Jacob (IsraEl); and also, one of the Hyksos kings was even named Jacob-Baal (Lord Jacob)! This is particularly interesting, because the name Jacob is Hebrew for ‘Snatcher of the Heel.’ (Genesis 25:26) And what it derives from is the fact that Jacob was holding onto the heel of his twin brother Esau when he was born (an unusual occurrence and an unusual name). So, prior to the birth of Jacob (who was later renamed IsraEl by an angel), there was likely no other person in the world that had that same name. Therefore, any king of Egypt named Jacob had to be an IsraElite, since the name was unique to the Hebrew language.
Then, why do archeologists claim that the Hyksos weren’t the IsraElites?
Because such a conclusion would take the Bible story of the Exodus and its chronology from the realm of myth or a minor event and elevate it to something major that is well documented in history. So archeologists prefer to accept the Egyptian description that spins a tale of how they had to fight a war to free themselves from their oppression.
Period of Hyksos Rule
Recognize that Hyksos kings appeared to have ruled over just their own people (not the whole land of Egypt) in the area that they were given by the pharaoh of JoSeph’s time, which was actually considered to be part of Arabia, on the eastern side of the Nile Delta, principally in Avaris;
for the most recent interpretation of the name (Hyksos) is ‘Rulers of the Foreigners.’
And though later Egyptian kings accused them of trying to rule over all Egypt in the mid-1500s BCE; that is likely what was said to explain the reason for making them slaves and to cover over the terrible events that happened prior to the Exodus. And unfortunately, the Bible doesn’t tell us what happened from the death of JoSeph to the birth of Moses (c. 1879-BCE to c. 1630-BCE).
Understand that all history should be taken with a grain of salt, since it is written to explain the actions of the winners, not the losers. However, historians seem willing to believe anything that appears to disagree with Bible accounts.
The Wikipedia description tells us this:
‘The Hyksos or Hycsos (shepherd kings) were an Asiatic people that took over the eastern Nile Delta, ending the Thirteenth Dynasty, and initiating the Second Intermediate Period of ancient Egypt. The Hyksos first appeared in Egypt c.1800 BC, during the eleventh dynasty, began their climb to power in the thirteenth dynasty, and came out of the second intermediate period in control of Avaris and the Delta. By the fifteenth dynasty, they ruled Lower Egypt, and at the end of the seventeenth dynasty, they were expelled (c.1560 BC).’
Effect of Hyksos Rule
Things that were introduced into Egyptian culture by the Hyksos (Hebrews) include (see ‘The Hyksos People of Ancient Egypt’):
· Horse-drawn chariots
· Chain-mail armor
· Improved swords, daggers, and spear tips
· Metal helmets
· Composite and recurve bows
· Improved shields
· An alphabet (as opposed to the ‘hieroglyphics’)
Kamose or Ahmose?
We once liked Kamose as the pharaoh of the Exodus because of his history of attacking the ‘Hyksos.’ However, current archeological estimates put his death around 1550-BCE, which is several years prior to what we have concluded to be the earliest possible Exodus date (at least 200 years earlier than ‘popular’ estimates). And the history of the kings (pharaohs) that preceded him don’t line up at all with Bible or secular chronology.
It was Simcha Jacobovici (The Naked Archaeologist) who, in his TV documentary ‘Exodus Decoded,’ proposed that Kamose’ brother Ahmose I is the more likely candidate for the pharaoh of the Exodus… and this could well be true.
Note the following:
· According to the Pharaoh Timeline page of the Ancient History Encyclopedia, the death of Ahmose is given as being 1525 BCE.
· Then according to 1 Kings 6:1, it was 480 years from the time of the Exodus to the start of the construction of the Temple in JeruSalem, which happened in the 4th year of Solomon’s reign.
So, 1525-480-4=1041 BCE.
· According to 1 Kings 11:2, Solomon ruled for 40 years (36 years from the time that the Temple was started).
So, 1041-36=1005 BCE (the end of Solomon’s reign).
· Thereafter, from the start of the kings that came after Solomon until JeruSalem’s destruction was 390 years.
So, 1005-390=615 BCE.
As you can see, although this is just a suggested timeline, the dates do work out fairly close to what is indicated for the destruction of JeruSalem. This may be a bit early, for some Bible scholars set the date at 607-BCE while secular historians prefer 587-BCE.
But, which date is right?
If you have an open mind, any of them could be correct.
For more information on the possible dates, see the linked document, The Problem with Setting Bible Historical Dates.
Then, could it have been a later king (someone that lines up better with popular dates)?
Well, the only other choice in the same timeline would have been Ahmose’s son Amenhotep I, whom the same source says ruled from 1525 to 1504-BCE. However, it is noteworthy that history tells us that Amenhotep I succeeded an older brother that died mysteriously… possibly from the last plague (the death of the firstborn) in Egypt.
So the circumstances favor Ahmose as the pharaoh of the Exodus.
The Tempest Stela of Ahmose I
It is interesting that Jacobovici has chosen Ahmose as the pharaoh of the Exodus because of a stela attributed to him that speaks of a terrible storm in his time, which was so devastating that he commissioned it.
And yes, that stela does seem to describe the events that led up to the Exodus.
Fragments of it are found on the third pylon of the Karnak temple.
Notice how it reads (as translated word-for-word):
7 ////////////// the gods expressed 8 their discontent ///////// The gods (made?) the sky come with a tempest of (rain?); it caused darkness in the Western region; the sky was 9 unleashed, without ///// ///// more than the roar of the crowd; ///// was powerful ////// on the mountains more than the turbulence of the 10 cataract which is at Elephantine. Each house, ///// each shelter (or each covered place) that they reached //////// 11 ////// were floating in the water like the barks of papyrus (on the outside?) of the royal residence for ///////// day(s), 12 with no one able to light the torch anywhere. Then His Majesty said: ‘How these (events) surpass the power of the great god and the wills of the divinities!’ And His Majesty descended 13 in his boat, his council following him. The (people were?) at the east and the west, silent, for they had no more clothes (?) on them 14 after the power of the god was manifested. Then His Majesty arrived in Thebes /////// this statue; it received what it had desired. 15 His Majesty set about to strengthen the two lands, to cause the water to evacuate without (the aid of) his (men?), to provide them with silver, 16 with gold, with copper, with oil, with clothing, with all the products they desired; after which His Majesty rested in the palace - life, health, strength. 17 It was then that His Majesty was informed that the funerary concessions had been invaded (by the water), that the sepulchral chambers had been damaged, that the structures of funerary enclosures had been undermined, that the pyramids had collapsed(?) 18 all that existed had been annihilated. His Majesty then ordered the repair of the chapels which had fallen in ruins in all the country, restoration of the 19 monuments of the gods, the re-erection of their precincts, the replacement of the sacred objects in the room of appearances, the re-closing of the secret place, the re-introduction 20 into their naoi of the statues which were lying on the ground, the re-erection of the fire altars, the replacement of the offering tables back on their feet, to assure them the provision of offerings, 21 the augmentation of the revenues of the personnel, the restoration of the country to its former state. They carried out everything, as the king had ordered it.
So then, is this really a secular reference to the plagues that God brought upon Egypt?
It seems to be, for it does describe the great darkness and rain, as well as the devastated condition of the people that came about before they let IsraEl go.
Note the following explanation that we received from Nicole Austin, Jacobovici’s assistant, when explaining why Ahmose was more likely the pharaoh of the Exodus than Kamose (whom we had previously suggested): ‘Simcha believes that Kamose leaves the scene too soon. He starts the fight but doesn’t finish it … The storm stele is the smoking gun. Also, Ahmose conducts the siege of Avaris and allows for an orderly retreat by the Amu, the so-called Hyksos. Again, in the film, Simcha makes clear that Amu is Canaanite for Amo, which appears hundreds of times in the Torah as Amo Israel.
‘It is post-Ahmose that the shasu magically appear in the desert and Egyptians sent expeditions to fight them. Ahmose is also the Pharaoh that destroys the Canaanite Amus, as opposed to the Israelite Amos, at the Battle of Sharuhen, creating a vacuum in Canaan, which allows Joshua to exploit and conquer with his shasu Israelite followers.
At least, that’s Simcha’s theory and it fits better with Ahmose than Kamose.’
Kings Not PharaOhs
Just a little side point: The Egyptians never really called their kings pharaohs, they just called them kings!
Use of the term PharaOh as a title for their kings actually comes from ancient Hebrew and Greek writings. Yet it is in fact an Egyptian term, meaning Great House (Phara Oh). And foreign peoples likely started using the title to refer to Egyptian kings, because they received salutations from The Great House, which they mistakenly thought to be the Egyptian version of the title ‘king’.