The Pharaoh of the Exodus
By Anthony Holmes
The Biblical story of the trials and tribulations of the children of
The reference in the Bible to the interaction between Moses and the Pharaoh does not specify which Pharaoh was on the throne at the time of the Exodus and this has led to considerable speculation. In this article we will do a little chronological sleuthing, and using the Biblical report as a baseline, we will try to place the events described in the Book of Exodus against a possible time frame that takes account of events in
We have very few clues to guide us, but we are told the following:
Now the sojourning of the children of
In order to make use of this statement we need to deduce when the period of 430 years began. We know that the title “children of Israel” can only have started after Jacob had received the name “Israel”, and that the sojourn may have commenced when Jacob came to Egypt with his family of 76 persons or sometime later (but not before). The saga of the Exodus of the Israelites therefore has to begin with Jacob (called
Joseph was a model prisoner and developed a reputation as an interpreter of dreams. When the pharaoh wanted his own dream interpreted he was advised of Joseph’s talent. The pharaoh called for Joseph.
Joseph gave the seven years of plenty/seven years of famine interpretation and advised the pharaoh to place a wise man over the land to ensure the collection and storage of the surplus grain during the good years. The pharaoh appointed Joseph, the 30 year old Hebrew ex-convict to the highest position in the land other than the king.
Seven years of plenty came as predicted. Joseph arranged for the accumulation of the surplus grain. Seven years of famine began and Joseph was in charge of selling the accumulated grain reserve. Joseph was about 40 years of age.
Joseph’s brothers came from drought-stricken
And Joseph placed his father and his brethren, and gave them a possession in the
This verse indicates that the
1.8 Now there arose up a new king over
1.9 And he said unto his people, Behold, the people of the children of
1.10 Come on, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it come to pass that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land.
1.11 Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for the Pharaoh treasure cities, Pi-thom and Ra-am-ses.
It is this reference to Ra-am-ses that many commentators use to state that the exodus cannot have taken place before the reign of Pharaoh Rameses, ignoring the previous, much earlier references to the ‘land of Rameses’.
To limit the population growth of the Israelites, the pharaoh gave instructions to the Hebrew midwives to kill all new born sons, but to let the daughters live. The midwives ignored his instruction, using the excuse that by the time they came to deliver, the babies had already been born and smuggled away. The Pharaoh then gave the order that all new born sons should be cast into the river.
It was into these circumstances that Moses was born. His story of being placed in a basket on the river and being found and raised as the son of the pharaoh’s daughter is well known. Moses grew up as an Egyptian and probably only spoke Egyptian. (Later, when instructed by God to speak to the Israelites, Moses tells God in Exodus 4.10 of his lack of eloquence – presumably in the Hebrew language). After slaying an Egyptian and being in fear of his life he hid from the pharaoh in Midian. He fathered a son with Jethro’s daughter Zipporah. He then heard that the pharaoh had died.
And it came to pass in process of time that the king of
Moses returned to
Another piece of information that might help us in our quest relates to the number of people involved.
And the children of
Check the arithmetic:
Start with 76 persons at a birth rate of 2% after 430 years there would be 380,000. It would take 455 years for the population to reach approx. 600,000. With all the assumptions I think we might as well accept this number (455 years from the time Jacob came to
We know of a single reference to the Israelites in ancient Egyptian records, dating to the fifth year of the ten year reign of Pharaoh Merenptah, the successor to Rameses the Great. On a stone stele Merenptah records the victories of his campaigns against
“Israel is laid waste, its seed is no more”.
Two interesting notions arise from the hieroglyphic inscription.
The first is that, unlike the Bible, the Egyptians did not use the term ‘seed’ to refer to the seed or progeny of man. The phrase "wasted, bare of seed" is often used of defeated nations. It implies that the store of grain of the nation in question has been destroyed, which would result in a famine the following year, incapacitating them as a military threat to
The second interesting point is the way in which the Israelites are described in the hieroglyphs. While the other defeated Egyptian enemies listed beside the Israelites in this stele such as Ashkelon,
Joshua battled with the many nations that resented the arrival of the Israelites and it was only after his leadership that the Israelites became a landed nation. Joshua’s activities as the leader of the tribe may have lasted at least 40 years. (He was 110 years old when he died). Add this 40 years of fighting to the 40 years the Israelites wandered in the wilderness and deduct the total of 80 years from 1210BC (the date of Merenptah’s stele) one comes to a date for the Exodus of 1290BC.
Who was on the throne at that time? Let us assume the margin for error is plus or minus 10 years (i.e 1300 to 1280BC). On that basis we can not get any closer than one of the following:-
Horemheb 1319 to 1292BC
Rameses I 1292 to 1290BC
Seti I 1290 to 1279BC
A further consideration might help our search. It is clear from the Biblical account that the Pharaoh of the Exodus was a vacillator. On several occasions he agreed to the departure of the Israelites, only to renege on the deal when “his heart was hardened”. Looking at the three candidates above we know from records that Horemheb was a hard pharaoh who brought
We have another reference to the date of the Exodus in the Bible:
1 Kings 6.1
And it came to pass in the four hundred and eightieth year after the children of Israel were come out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Zif, which is the second month, that he began to build the house of the Lord.
According to secular historians, Solomon’s
Is there any indication of this?
It has been established [refer
In conclusion I suggest the following:
Joseph came to
Moses was born about 1370BC in the reign of Amunhotep III
The Exodus took place in 1290BC in the reign of Rameses I
who is therefore The Pharaoh of the Exodus