Pharaohs in the Bible

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The Tanakh or Old Testament of the Bible makes reference to various pharaohs (kings of Egypt). These include unnamed pharaohs in the accounts of the Israelite settlement in Egypt, the subsequent oppression of the Israelites, and during the period of the Exodus, as well as a number of later rulers.

Historical pharaohs: Taharqa, Necho and Apries/Hophra[edit]

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

2 Kings 19:9 and Isaiah 37:9 mention Taharqa (reigned 690-664 BCE) as the opponent of Sennacherib of Assyria. He is called King of Ethiopia, and hence is not given the title pharaoh which he bears in Egyptian documents.

2 Kings 23:29 sqq. and 2 Chronicles 35:20 sqq. mention the 26th dynasty pharaoh Necho II (610-595 BC), responsible for the death of Josiah, and Jeremiah 44:30 mentions his successor Apries or Hophra (589-570 BCE).

Conjectural pharaohs: Shishak and So[edit]

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.

2 Kings 17:4 says that king Hoshea sent letters to "So, King of Egypt". No pharaoh of this name is known, but it is possible that the biblical writer has confused the king with his city and means Tefnakht, who ruled from Sais, also written as So. At the time of Hoshea (about 730 BCE), Egypt had three dynasties ruling at the same time: 22nd at Tanis, 23rd at Leontopolis, and the 24th at Sais. Thus, the most logical candidate for So would be Osorkon IV of Tanis (730-715 BCE).[1][2]

Unidentified pharaohs[edit]

Pharaohs in the book of Genesis[edit]

The passages Genesis 12:10-20 narrate how Abraham moves to Egypt to escape a period of famine in Canaan. The unnamed pharaoh hears of the beauty of Abraham's wife Sarah and - being told she was Abraham's sister - summons her to become his own wife. As a result of the marriage, Abraham rises in the pharaoh's favor and acquires livestock and servants. But after discovering Sarah's true relationship to Abraham, the pharaoh releases her and Abraham and orders them to take their goods and 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 who 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).

Eugene H. Merrill has suggested that Senusret II (reigned from 1897 to 1878 BCE), the fourth pharaoh of the Twelfth Dynasty, may be the unnamed Pharaoh mentioned in the biblical story of Joseph.[3]

Pharaohs in the book of Exodus[edit]

The book of Exodus tells how the Israelites are enslaved in Egypt and eventually escape under the leadership of Moses. At least one or two pharaohs are involved, the "pharaoh of the oppression" who enslaves the Israelites, and the "pharaoh of the exodus", during whose rule the Israelites escape. The biblical story of the written Torah alone, does not name either, nor does it give enough information to identify the period in which the events are set, with the result that there have been many suggestions as to which of Egypt's many rulers was involved. The oral tradition and Rabbinic sources state that the First Temple stood for 410 years and the Seder Olam Rabbah (c.2nd century CE) place its construction in 832 BCE and destruction in 422 BCE (3338 AM), 165 years later than secular estimates. The Seder Olam Rabbah determines the commencement of the Exodus to 2448 AM (1313 BCE). This date has become traditional in Rabbinic Judaism.[4] 1 Kings 6:1 states that the Exodus occurred 480 years before the construction of Solomon's Temple, which would imply a secular date of the Exodus c.1477 BCE, or rabbinical date 2448 AM (1313 BCE), both during Egypt's Eighteenth Dynasty, the first at its beginning and the latter at its end.[5] Furthermore, the 18th dynasty was the first of the New Kingdom of Egypt, which followed the expulsion of the Hyksos and their last king Khamudi (c. 1522 or 1540 BCE) from Avaris in the northeastern region of the Nile Delta, marking the end of the Second Intermediate Period.[6]

Candidates put forward for the role of Pharaoh of the Exodus include:

Second Intermediate Period
New Kingdom of Egypt

Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt

Nineteenth Dynasty of Egypt

Twentieth Dynasty of Egypt

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Patterson 2003, pp. 196–197
  2. ^ Peter A Clayton: Chronicle of The Pharaohs, Thames & Hudson, (2006), pp182-183
  3. ^ Eugene H. Merrill, Kingdom of Priests, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008, 66-68.
  4. ^ Seder Olam Rabbah, Finegan, Jack, Handbook of Biblical Chronology, Revised Ed., Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1998, p. 111
  5. ^ Shea 2003, p. 238-239.
  6. ^ Darrell D. Baker: The Encyclopedia of the Pharaohs: Volume I - Predynastic to the Twentieth Dynasty 3300–1069 BC, Stacey International, ISBN 978-1-905299-37-9, 2008, p. 174
  7. ^ Rohl 1995, pp. 341–348
  8. ^ Bennett 1996
  9. ^[1].htm
  10. ^ Shea, Amenhotep II as pharaoh of the exodus,
  11. ^ Stephen L. Caiger, "Archaeological Fact and Fancy," Biblical Archaeologist, (9, 1946).
  12. ^ I Will Show You: Essays in History and Archaeology of the Ancient Near East in Honor of J. Maxwell Miller, Sheffield Academic Press, 1997, P. 261-262, ISBN 978-1850756507,[1]
  13. ^ Long, V. Philips; Neils Peter Lemche (2000). Israel's past in present research: essays on ancient Israelite historiography. Eisenbrauns. p. 398. ISBN 978-1-57506-028-6. 
  14. ^ Asimov's Guide to the Bible, Random House, 1981, P. 130-131, ISBN 0-517-34582-X
  15. ^ [2]], Igor P. Lipovsky 2012, , ISBN 061559333X