Who Were the Egyptian Pharaohs During the Time of Moses?

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Exodus 1:8 (UASV) states that “Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.”  One might wonder why Joseph was not remembered by this new king or how the events which included Joseph were not recorded in inscriptions. There are some reasonable explanations for this and also some interesting historical information that may shed some light as to the identity of this new king, and subsequent kings, and the reasons why the founder was disconnected from the previous dynasty. 

The Second Book of Moses Exodus

  • Author: Moses
  • Place Written: Wilderness
  • When Written: c. 1500 B.C.E.

Christian Publishing Houses’s
Dates for Moses and the Exodus

c. 1580 B.C.E.       Birth of Moses – Ex. 2:2, 10

c. 1540 B.C.E.       Moses offers himself as a deliverer; flees to Midian – Ex. 2:11, 14, 15; Acts 7:23

c. 1500 B.C.E.        Passover; Israelites leave – Ex. 12:12

The Bible does not give us the name of the Pharaoh who began the persecution upon the Israelite people (Ex. 1:8-22) neither the Pharaoh that Moses and Aaron appeared before and in whose reign the Exodus took place. (Ex. 2:23; 5:1) These events have either been intentionally withheld from the Egyptian records or the records have been destroyed. Therefore, it is impossible to attribute these events to any particular dynasty or to the reign of any particular Pharaoh of secular history. Many love to offer Ramses (Rameses) II (of the “Nineteenth Dynasty”) as the Pharaoh of the persecution because Moses makes reference to the building of the cities of Pithom and Raamses by the Israelite laborers. (Ex 1:11) Some have said that these cities were built during the reign of Ramses II. In Archaeology and the Old Testament (p. 149) Merrill Unger comments: “But in the light of Raamses II’s notorious practice of taking credit for achievements accomplished by his predecessors, these sites were most certainly merely rebuilt or enlarged by him.” Truly, the name “Rameses” appears to have referred to a whole district already in the time of Joseph. – Gen. 47:11.

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Alfred J Hoerth in his book Archaeology and the Old Testament presents an interesting and convincing argument that this “new king” was the founder of the 18th dynasty, (the New Kingdom) and the former rulers were in fact the Hyksos who ruled during the 15th to 17th dynasties (the Second Intermediate Period).  There are some very interesting reasons why Hoerth considers this to be a distinct possibility. Firstly, the dynastic periods correspond well with dates which can be calculated from the Bible.  Secondly, the Hyksos were a foreign power and ruled mostly from the Nile Delta and central Egypt whereas the New Kingdom rulers were Egyptian and had risen from southern Egypt, highlighting that these two dynasties were distinctly different and unrelated.

Hoerth accepts the date of the Exodus as being 1447 B.C.E. based on 1 Kings 6:1 which places the Exodus 480 years before the fourth year of the reign of Solomon.  As the fourth year of Solomon’s reign can be ascertained as being 967 BC, the date of the Exodus can then be calculated to 1447, placing the Exodus during the period of the New Kingdom.  Beginning with the Exodus at 1447 and identifying Moses’ age as being 80 years at that time of the Exodus and 40 at the time he fled Egypt according to the bible, it is then possible to ascertain the birth year of Moses as being 1527 and 1487 at the time he fled. 

Ahmose was the founder of the New Kingdom in either 1570 or 1550 B.C.E. (fig 1) The discrepancy between dates is due to disagreement among Egyptologists over the regnal years of the pharaohs of the 18th dynasty. Whichever date is correct, 1447 is firmly placed within the 18th dynastic period and although the dates of 1570 and 1550 create complication, two distinct groups of possible pharaohs can be identified.

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The kings of the 1570 Timeline

Hoerth subscribes to the timeline of 1570 which means that Thutmose I was pharaoh at the time of Moses’ birth, Hatshepsut the female pharaoh (who assumed all the titles of a king) during the time Moses fled, Thutmose III was considered the pharaoh of the oppression in Exodus 2:23 and his son Amenhotep II was considered the pharaoh of the Exodus. 

The kings of the 1550 Timeline

Using the 1550 timeline, Ahmose the founder of the New Kingdom was the king at the time Moses was born, two years before his son Amenhotep I became ruler, Thutmose II was pharaoh during the time Moses fled and Thutmose III at the time of the oppression and Exodus.

Pharaoh’s of Egypt

There is no certainty either way, but there are some interesting facts that might aid in identifying the most likely kings.   For instance, Ahmose, the first king of the 18th dynasty, having defeated the foreign Hyksos, would certainly have had reason to be suspicious of foreigners. His paranoia of the Israelites becoming too numerous and becoming a threat (Exodus 1:9-10) may have been as a result of the Hyksos having done just that.  If we follow the 1550 timeline, Moses would have been born two years before the end of Ahmose’s reign, and the daughter of Ahmose, Princess Meryetamen may have been the princess mentioned in Exodus 2:5-10.  If this is the case, the child Moses would have been returned to her care, once weaned, after Ahmose had died. Princess Meryetamen married her full brother, Amenhotep I who succeeded his father but they had no children. Given the Egyptian suspicion of the Israelites and fear of another Hyksos dynasty, it would have been unlikely Moses would have succeeded Amenhotep I.

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Thutmose I was the next successor although not related to his predecessors.  He was great both in building projects and military conquests and using the 1570 timeline; he would have been the pharaoh ruling at the time Moses was born.  It is possible that the pharaoh mentioned in Exodus 1:8 was a different pharaoh from the one who ruled during the time Moses was born. (Exodus 2:1)  The first pharaoh may have instituted the law regarding the Israelite boys and the second simply continued that law.  Thutmose I had two daughters, Princess Nefrubity and Princess Hatshepsut.  If this timeframe is correct, then one of these princesses would have found and adopted Moses. 

Hatshepsut went on to marry her half-brother Thutmose II who had a son, Thutmose III with his second wife.  After Thutmose II died after a short reign, Hatshepsut assumed the role of regent, as Thutmose III was only 12 and too young to rule.  Once Hatshepsut died Thutmose III became pharaoh.  Using the 1570 timeline, Hatshepsut would have been the pharaoh at the time Moses killed an Egyptian and fled Egypt. The 1550 timeline has Thutmose II as pharaoh instead.  The Bible refers to this pharaoh in Exodus 2:15 and 23 as being male.  Perhaps the public was unaware Hatshepsut was a woman, or that it is in reference to her office rather than her personally, but this is debatable.  The “long period” referred to in Exodus 2:23 would have most likely signified the entire period since the first edict by Ahmose instituted 100 years before. 

BIBLE DIFFICULTIES

The pharaoh during the time of the Exodus was either Thutmose III (1550) or his son Amenhotep II. (1570)  Thutmose III was the more brutal of the two.  It is known that Thutmose III undertook several military expeditions to Canaan and Syria.  This may have been revenge with Thutmose III trying to find the Israelites, following the Exodus, and may have been one reason why the Israelites did not settle until after Thutmose III had died. (Exodus 2:23)

Interestingly, Thutmose III also had a son Amenemhat, who died at a young age. Could this be the son who died during the final Exodus plague? 

Also to be noted, Thutmose III is thought responsible for the destruction of monuments, particularly those of Hatshepsut.   He did his best to revise the dates of his rule and erase Hatshepsut’s name and memory from Egyptian history. This provides further explanation as to why there were no inscriptions regarding Joseph, or Moses, for if inscriptions had existed, they most likely would have been destroyed. There would be no reason to keep meaningful records from a hated dynasty. 

Further, the fact that the Hyksos were a foreign power gives some clarification as to why the new pharaoh would have been unaware of many details of the previous rule.   It also helps to explain why the king would be suspicious of foreigners and was worried that the Israelites would “increase in number” and join with the enemies of Egypt. (Exodus 1:10.)

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Some other interesting facts about
the Hyksos:

  • As well as keeping no useful inscriptions, they built no imposing temples and few monuments of themselves.
  • Manetho, a Greek/Egyptian historian of the 3rd Century BC who had access to information no longer in existence, wrote that the Hyksos took over Egypt easily, without “striking a blow.”[1]
  • The Hyksos are considered to have been Asiatic/Semitic in origins.[2]
  • They adopted Egyptian customs and ruled as pharaohs. As with Joseph, who looked Egyptian, and his brothers did not recognize him.[3]
  • The Hyksos are considered to have introduced the chariot to Egypt. This is particularly of interest as “chariots and horsemen” are mentioned in Genesis 50:9 when Joseph went to bury his father and of course when the Egyptian army tried to intercept the Israelites crossing the Red Sea.
  • There is a difference of opinion on how long the Hyksos ruled but it is interesting that Josephus mentioned that the Hyksos ruled Egypt for 511 years. If Josephus was correct, then the Hyksos would have been in power during the entire time the Israelites were in Egypt. 
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Conclusion

Alfred J Hoerth argues convincingly on why the new king would not have been aware of Joseph.  He further provides reasonable evidence for the timing of the Exodus, and highlights which pharaohs were most likely ruling Egypt during the birth, escape of Moses, and the Exodus. 

It appears that the Hyksos slowly gained power after settling in Egypt during the 11th Dynasty until the time they were overthrown. Being foreign and having left no worthwhile inscriptions, it makes perfect sense that the successor to the Hyksos would have been unaware of events that had taken place during the dynasty, such as Joseph’s accomplishment, centuries beforehand. Furthermore, just as Thutmose III had attempted to destroy all mention of Hatshepsut, any inscriptions or monuments to the greatness of the Hyksos would most likely have been destroyed.

If the Hyksos were a foreign power who settled around the time of Joseph and rose up and took over without any force it is no wonder that the new Pharaoh said “Look, the people of the sons of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they will join our enemies and fight against us[3] and go up from the land.”  Exodus 1:9-10 UASV.

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Whilst agreeing with Hoerth on the dating of the Exodus and the fact that the Hyksos were most certainly the rulers replaced by the “new king,” I do think that the 1550 timeline better agrees with the Biblical accounts than Hoerth’s choice of 1570 and I conclude the following:[4]

Moses’ birth – 1527 B.C.E.

  • Ahmose certainly would have had reason and the capability for setting in place laws that would limit the power of the Israelites.
  • His daughter Meryetamen was most likely the princess who found and cared for Moses once he was weaned. 
  • Moses, because of the laws and general suspicion caused by the Hyksos, though having a place in the royal household, would never have been able to rule. 

Moses escaped Egypt – 1487 B.C.E.

  • Thutmose II was pharaoh during this time; he had a short reign, perhaps only 6 years. 
  • Hatshepsut took charge as Thutmose III was too young and she reigned for approximately 21 years.
  • Perhaps Moses was forgotten.  Two new rulers over Egypt and 40 years had passed.

The Exodus – 1447

  • Thutmose III was the pharaoh during the great oppression and the Exodus. 
  • Thutmose III is a man set on revenge and intent on altering history. 
  • He attempted to erase Hatshepsut’s name and memory from Egyptian history.
  • His son died at an early age.
  • Thutmose III led 16 military expeditions into Canaan and Syria, perhaps in the attempt of finding the Israelites.
  • Only after Thutmose III was dead, did the Israelites settle.

The Bible provides us with some important glimpses of Egyptian history but mostly concentrated on the part Moses and Israel had to play and on the theological aspects, such as redemption and salvation.  Joining the historical information of the Egyptian pharaohs with the details provided from the Bible, the reader is left with a fuller and deeper understanding of the events.

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by Tania Fenwick

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Ashton J. and Down D. Unwrapping the Pharaohs, Master Books: Green Forest, 2009.

Hoerth, Alfred J.  Archaeology and the Old Testament, Baker: Grand Rapids, 2006

Schulz R. and Seidel M. (ed) Egypt, the World of the Pharoahs, Konemann: Cologne, 1998

http://valleyofthekings.wetpaint.com/page/18th+Dynasty

[1] Did they just increase in numbers so much that they took power easily? Another theory is that the Hyksos dynasties took power after the Exodus as the army was effectively destroyed.  This would place the 15th Dynasty at a later time.   There is no evidence other than a theory that  slaves were only prevalent during the 12th Dynasty. However, building projects during the 18th Dynasty were also large and it can be argued that this would have necessitated the need for using slaves.

[2] The fact that both the Israelites and Hyksos were Semitic could have provided the Egyptians with reason to suspect that the Israelites would “join with the Egyptian enemies.”

[3] He also spoke Egyptian fluently, using an interpreter to communicate with his brothers when they came to buy grain in Egypt.  Genesis 42:23 Although Joseph was the important character in the Bible, he may have been identified differently through the eyes of Egyptians, having an Egyptian identity.  Also, it is possible that the pharaoh may have taken the credit for saving Egypt from famine.

[4] The above dates are my position as being biblical, which are different than the position of this magazine. But before we list their dates, let it be said that this history goes back 3,500 years, and Hoerth, myself, and our Christian Publishing House are not so far off from each other, so that any reader should be alarmed.

Christian Publishing Houses’s
Dates for Moses and the Exodus

c. 1580 B.C.E.       Birth of Moses – Ex. 2:2, 10

c. 1540 B.C.E.       Moses offers himself as a deliverer; flees to Midian – Ex. 2:11, 14, 15; Acts 7:23

c. 1500 B.C.E.        Passover; Israelites leave – Ex. 12:12

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