Pharaohs in the Bible

The Bible makes reference to various pharaohs ( Coptic: ⲡⲣ̅ⲣⲟ /Pǝrro/, Hebrew: פַּרְעֹה‎, /paʁˈʕo/)) 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 pharaohsEdit

In the Book of GenesisEdit

Joseph presenting his father and brethren to Pharaoh (1896)

The passages Genesis 12:10–20 narrate how Abraham moves to Egypt to escape a period of famine in Canaan. The unnamed pharaoh, through his princes, hears of the beauty of Abraham's wife Sarah who is summoned to meet him. Because of her, Abraham rises in the Pharaoh's favor and acquires livestock and servants. After discovering Sarah's true relationship to Abraham, the pharaoh chooses not to take her as his own wife. He releases her and Abraham and orders them to take their goods and to leave Egypt.

The last chapters of the Book of Genesis (Genesis 37–50) tell how Joseph, son of Jacob/Israel, is first sold by his brothers into Egyptian slavery but is promoted by the unnamed pharaoh to vizier of Egypt and is 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).

In the Book of ExodusEdit

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 without breaks and issues a decree to kill their newborn males in order to reduce their numbers due to concerns about their growing population. 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. During his infant years, Moses is instructed about the customs and history of the Israelites, and is taught about Yahweh. Later, Moses is returned to the pharaoh's daughter and raised as part of the royal household.

Though scholars generally do not recognize the biblical portrayal of the Exodus as an actual historical event,[1] various historical pharaohs have been proposed as the corresponding ruler:

  • 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.[2] This theory has not gained acceptance and has received strong criticism from Israeli archaeologist Israel Finkelstein and American Egyptologist James K. Hoffmeier.[3][4]
  • 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.[5] Rohl's theory has failed to find support among scholars in his field and was particularly criticised by British egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen, who dismissed it as "100% nonsense".[6]
  • 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 their interpretations of Manetho, Herodotus, and other classical authors.[7]
  • Hatshepsut (1507–1458 BC). Diodorus Siculus identified the Jews with the Hyksos and identified the Pharaoh of the Exodus with Queen Hatshepsut.[8]
  • 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 ascending to Pharaoh in her own right. 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.[9]
  • 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.[10]
  • Ramesses II (c. 1279–1213 BC): Ramesses II, or Ramesses The Great, is the most common figure for the Exodus pharaoh as one of the most long-standing rulers at the height of Egyptian power and because Rameses is mentioned in the Bible as a place name (see Genesis 47:11,Exodus 1:11,Numbers 33:3, etc). 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 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.[11]
  • Merneptah (c. 1213–1203 BC): Isaac Asimov in Guide to the Bible makes a case for Merneptah to be the Pharaoh of the Exodus.[12]
  • Setnakhte (c. 1189–1186 BC): Igor P. Lipovsky and Israel Knohl make a case for Setnakhte to be the Pharaoh of the Exodus.[13][14]
  • Rameses III (c. 1186–1155 BC): Gary A. Rendsburg, Baruch Halpern and Manfred Bietak make a case for Rameses III as the Pharaoh of the Exodus.[15][16][17]
  • 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.[18] Lysimachus of Alexandria, quoted by Josephus in Against Apion, also identifies the Pharaoh of the Exodus with Bakenranef.[19]
  • 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 to which Pharaoh these author were referring two, since no Pharaoh named Ramses had a predecessor named Amenophis.[20]

In the Books of KingsEdit

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: Shishak and SoEdit

1 Kings 11:40 and 2 Chronicles 12:2 sqq. tell of an invasion of Israel by Shishak, and a subsequent raid of Jerusalem and the Temple of Solomon. He is generally identified with Shoshenq I (943–922 BC).[27]

2 Kings 17:4 says that king Hoshea sent letters to "So, King of Egypt". No pharaoh of this name is known for the time of Hoshea (about 730 BC), during which Egypt had three dynasties ruling contemporaneously: 22nd at Tanis, 23rd at Leontopolis, and 24th at Sais. Nevertheless, this ruler is commonly identified with Osorkon IV (730–715 BC) who ruled from Tanis,[28][29][30] though it is possible that the biblical writer has mistaken the king with his city and equated So with Sais, at this time ruled by Tefnakht.[citation needed]

Historical pharaohs: Taharqa, Necho and Apries/HophraEdit

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

2 Kings 19:9 and Isaiah 37:9 mention a Tirhakah, king of Ethiopia (Kush), who the Bible says waged war against Sennacherib during the reign of King Hezekiah of Judah. Some scholars have identified him as the pharaoh Taharqa. The events in the biblical account are believed to have taken place in 701 BC, whereas Taharqa came to the throne some ten years later. A number of explanations have been proposed: one being that the title of king in the Biblical text refers to his future royal title, when at the time of this account he was likely only a military commander.[citation needed]

Necho II is most likely the pharaoh mentioned in several books of the Bible.[31][32][33] Jeremiah 44:30 mentions his successor Apries or Hophra (589–570 BC).

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ Anati, Emmanuel (2016). Esodo. Tra mito e storia (in Italian). Atelier. ISBN 978-88-98284-24-5.
  3. ^ "Raider of the Lost Mountain—An Israeli Archaeologist Looks at the Most Recent Attempt to Locate Mt. Sinai". Biblical Archaeology Review. 2015-08-24. Retrieved 2021-05-22.
  4. ^ Hoffmeier, James K. (1999-03-18). Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition. Oxford University Press, USA. ISBN 978-0-19-513088-1.
  5. ^ Rohl 1995, pp. 341–348
  6. ^ Bennett 1996
  7. ^ Meyers, Stephen C. "IBSS – Biblical Archaeology – Date of the Exodus". Institute for Biblical & Scientific Studies. Retrieved 13 April 2017.
  8. ^ Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca historica, Book 1
  9. ^ Edersheim, A., Old Testament Bible History, originally published 1876-1887, ISBN 156563165X, p. 134
  10. ^ Moses and Monotheism, ISBN 0-394-70014-7
  11. ^ Stephen L. Caiger, "Archaeological Fact and Fancy," Biblical Archaeologist, (9, 1946).
  12. ^ Isaac Asimov, Asimov's Guide to the Bible, Random House, 1981, p. 130–131, ISBN 0-517-34582-X
  13. ^ Igor P. Lipovsky, Early Israelites: Two Peoples, One History: Rediscovery of the Origins of Biblical Israel ISBN 0-615-59333-X
  14. ^ "Exodus: The History Behind the Story".
  15. ^ Rendsburg, Gary. "The Pharaoh of the Exodus – Rameses III -".
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ Levy, Thomas E.; Schneider, Thomas; Propp, William H. C. (2015-03-28). Israel's Exodus in Transdisciplinary Perspective: Text, Archaeology, Culture, and Geoscience. Springer. ISBN 978-3-319-04768-3.
  18. ^ Tacitus, Histories, Book V, Paragraph 3
  19. ^ Assmann, Jan (2009-06-30). Moses the Egyptian. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-02030-6.
  20. ^ Assmann, Jan (2009-06-30). Moses the Egyptian. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-02030-6.
  21. ^ Brian Roberts. "ANE - Solomon taking an Egyptian wife (to David Lorton)".[dead link]
  22. ^ "The Bible Chronology from Solomon to Hezekiah". CanBooks. 1935. Retrieved 13 April 2017.
  23. ^ 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.
  24. ^ Dever, William G. (2020-08-18). Has Archaeology Buried the Bible?. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4674-5949-5.
  25. ^ Gabriel Oussani (July 1, 1912). "Solomon". The Catholic Encyclopedia.
  26. ^ 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.
  27. ^ 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.
  28. ^ Patterson 2003, pp. 196–197
  29. ^ Peter A Clayton: Chronicle of The Pharaohs, Thames & Hudson, (2006), pp. 182–183
  30. ^ 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.
  31. ^ Encyclopædia britannica. Edited by Colin MacFarquhar, George Gleig. p785
  32. ^ The Holy Bible, According to the Authorized Version (A.D. 1611). Edited by Frederic Charles Cook. p131
  33. ^ see Hebrew Bible / Old Testament