Christian Theology and Apologetics

Pharaoh of the Exodus

ahmoseII-hWho was the Pharaoh of the Exodus? Many have attempted to answer this question throughout the years and it is the goal of this research to also attempt an answer to one of the most eluding questions surrounding this period in time. There are several theories pertaining to whom this pharaoh could have been and each has compelling evidence in their favor.

In order to understand the identity of this mysterious Egyptian pharaoh, one must attempt to put a timeframe on the oppression and Exodus of the Hebrew people. There are several theories pertaining to the date of the Exodus, but only two have their foundations in biblical text and chronology and for the purpose of this research those are the only theories that will be discussed.

The first of these theories to be discussed posits an early date for the Exodus. This theory is based on the scriptural chronology set forth in 1 Kings 6:1 which states that the construction of Solomon’s temple began 480 years after the Israelites left Egypt.[1] Solomon’s temple was constructed in approximately 960 BC.[2] With this biblical data in mind a date for the Exodus can be approximated to 1440 BC.

The second theory postulates that the Exodus occurred much later than 1440 BC. The primary source for this evidence is in the Hebrew Old Testament. The principle arguments for this view are as follows: (1) In Exodus 1:11 the author states, “…they built for Pharaoh supply cities, Pithom and Ramses” therefore Ramses II must have been ruling at the time (2) evidence suggests widespread destruction in Canaan around 1250 BC.[3] The destruction in parts of Canaan is thought to have come from the conquests of Joshua which would place a date for the Exodus around 1290 BC.

The two aforementioned dates for the Exodus must be correlated with biblical scripture in order to yield the most accuracy as to the identity of the Pharaoh during this period in Israel’s history. One quandary of the late date is that it is forced to compress the period of the Judges to around 175 years whereas in Judges 11:26 it is stated that the time between the Exodus and Jephthah is 300 years. Furthermore, if 1 Kings 6:1 is used also to date the period of the Judges in light of Judges 11:26, one comes up with a period of around 345 years.[4] In Acts 13:20, the author states that there were 450 years of Judges until the prophet Samuel. This compression of the period of the Judges seems to fly in the face of a literal interpretation of the dates set forth by scripture.

Another problem with the late date is that it relies heavily on the name Ramses for the town the Hebrew’s were forced to rebuild and eventually depart from. Archaeological excavations confirm this city was rebuilt under Ramses II, but this fact also affords the possibility that the Hebrew’s departed from this town under a different name since it was previously in existence.[5] This means that a copyist probably updated the text to reflect the name Ramses for the town the children of Israel departed from in order to keep the text geographically accurate.

Archaeology has played a major role in determining the late date of the Exodus and this has caused many problems. The first is the Old Testament only mentions the cities of Jericho, Ai, and Hazor as being destroyed by Joshua; however, the archaeological data that supports the late date of the Exodus was taken from a multitude of cities not said to have been destroyed during the conquest.[6] Also if these other cities besides the three mentioned above were destroyed by Joshua it would then contradict Deuteronomy 6:10 which states they would inherit beautiful cities that they did not build. The Merneptah’s stele mentions the city of Gezer which was a city controlled by the Levites, thus showing Israel was established in the land at the time of the proposed late date for the Exodus.[7]

The early date for the Exodus is not without its dilemmas as well. The Hebrew OT states there were 480 years between the Exodus and the construction of Solomon’s temple, whereas the Septuagint (LXX) records that there was 440 years between the two events.[8] Some scholars suggest that the 480 years suggested between the Exodus and the building of the temple is symbolic of twelve generations of forty years each. There are twelve generations of priests between Aaron and Solomon (1 Chronicles 6) and another twelve generations from Solomon to the second temple, and the Jews in a manner similar to the Greeks considered a generation to be forty years.[9] Other scholars suggest that the author of Kings used a specific chronology and did not round numbers.[10]

With the tentative dates proposed above one must now search for the Pharaoh within these time periods in order to contrast them with what scripture says of Pharaoh. The late date is 1290 BC. This date places Seti I as the oppressor of the Hebrew people and Ramses II as the Pharaoh of the Exodus.[11] Ramses II was born in 1303 BC and died in 1213 BC; this means he would have been seventy-seven years old when he led the charge after the Hebrew people when they crossed the Red Sea. Ramses II had a long reign with many wives and children which makes it difficult to locate the first born son who died during the plagues as described in the OT. However, another Pharaoh seems to have a first born that may have died during the plagues.

The Dream Stele seems to indicate that Thutmose IV was not the first born son of Amenhotep II, thus confirming what the OT says in Exodus 12:29.[12] Amenhotep II reign (1450-1425 BC.) places him as the Pharaoh during the Exodus and his father Thutmose III as the Pharaoh during the oppression. Amenhotep II would have been much younger than Ramses II during their perspective times for the Exodus making it more likely he was able to lead and participate in military attacks. Within this period is also the only candidate for the Pharaoh’s daughter who adopted Moses as her son (Exodus 2:5-10).[13] Hatshepsut was the daughter of Thutmose I and could not provide her husband Thutmose II a male heir. It is possible she saw Moses as an answer to this problem. The similarity between the name Moses and Thutmose also could be a possible connection. Hatshepsut ruled jointly with her step-son Thutmose III and later declared herself Pharaoh before her death. It is possible she named Moses after her father and husband in an attempt to purloin authority from Thutmose III since it seems she was defiant towards him. Thutmose III died in 1450 BC which also correlates well with what scripture says in Exodus 2:23.

In summary, the aforementioned evidence seems to support the Pharaoh of the Exodus as being Amenhotep II. The evidence for him as being this candidate outweighs the evidence against him; Ramses II on the other hand as the Pharaoh during the Exodus is based around assumptions and misappropriations of the evidence currently at hand. The other proposed evidences for the late date for the Exodus seem to be based out of a misunderstanding of the narrative in the book of Exodus, and a lack of regard for biblical chronology. It is with this lack of legitimate evidence supporting the late date of the Exodus that one must conclude the early date to be most accurate and therefore Amenhotep II as the most likely candidate for the Pharaoh during the Exodus.


  1.  Kevin G. O’Connell and Mark Allan Powell, “Exodus, the” In , in The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary (Revised and Updated), ed. Mark Allan Powell, Third Edition (New York: HarperCollins, 2011), 270.
  2. Thomas V. Brisco, Holman Bible Atlas, Holman Reference (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 63.

[3]. Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 737.

[4]. James E. Smith, The Pentateuch, 2nd ed., Old Testament Survey Series (Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co., 1993), Ex.

[5]. Brisco, “Holman Bible Atlas,” 63.

[6]. David M. Howard, Jr., vol. 5, Joshua, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 33.

[7]. Bryan C. Babcock, “Gezer” In , in The Lexham Bible Dictionary, ed. John D. Barry and Lazarus Wentz (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2012).

[8]. Robert James Utley, Old Testament Survey: Genesis–Malachi (Marshall, TX: Bible Lessons International, 2000), 24.

[9]. Robert James Utley, Old Testament Survey: Genesis–Malachi (Marshall, TX: Bible Lessons International, 2000), 24.

[10]. Edwin Thiele, A Chronology of the Hebrew Kings (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1977), 83–85

[11]. Elwell and Beitzel, “Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible,” 737.

[12]. Smith Ralph L. and Eric Mitchell, “Exodus” In , in Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, ed. Chad Brand, Charles Draper, Archie England et al. (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 528.

[13]. Elwell and Beitzel, “Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible,” 738.

Cited Sources

Achtemeier, Paul J., Harper & Row and Society of Biblical Literature. Harper’s Bible Dictionary. 1st ed., 289-90. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985.

Archer, Gleason, Jr. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction. 3rd. ed., 246. Chicago: Moody Press, 1994.

Brisco, Thomas V. Holman Bible Atlas. Holman Reference, 63. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998.

Elwell, Walter A. and Barry J. Beitzel. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, 737. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988.

Howard, David M., Jr. Vol. 5, Joshua. The New American Commentary, 33. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998.

Lange, John Peter, Philip Schaff and Charles M. Mead. Vol. 1, A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Exodus, 14. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008.

O’Connell, Kevin G. and Mark Allan Powell. “Exodus, the”. In The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary (Revised and Updated). Third Edition, 270. New York: HarperCollins, 2011.

Richards, Lawrence O. The Bible Reader’s Companion. electronic ed., 51-52. Wheaton: Victor Books, 1991.

Smith Ralph L. and Eric Mitchell. “Exodus”. In Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 527. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003.

Smith, James E. The Pentateuch. 2nd ed. Old Testament Survey Series, Ex. Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co., 1993.

Thiele, Edwin, A Chronology of the Hebrew Kings, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1977.

Thornhill, A. Chadwick. “Exodus”. In The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2012.

Utley, Robert James. Old Testament Survey: Genesis–Malachi, 23-24. Marshall, TX: Bible Lessons International, 2000.

Utley, Robert James. Vol. Volume 3B, Luke the Historian: The Book of Acts. Study Guide Commentary Series, 101-02. Marshall, TX: Bible Lessons International, 2003.


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