The Pharaoh of the Exodus (Exodus 8)

lllustration: the coffin of Rameses II

The Bible describes the exodus in great detail but eliminates mention of the one fact that would have proven most helpful in linking the event to a particular time period in Egyptian history: the name of the reigning pharaoh. Most researchers believe the pharaoh of the oppression and exodus to have been either Rameses II (ca. 1279-1213 B.C.) , Thutmose III (ca. 1479-1425 B.C.) or Amenhotep II (ca. 1427-1400 B.C.).

Rameses II

Rameses II remains a popular candidate, primarily because the earliest evidence for Israelite settlements in the Holy Land come from the early twelfth century B.C. Also, the name of the store city Rameses (Exodus 1:11) fits well with a pharaoh by this name.

But little evidence suggests a conquest of Canaan during this period. And dates for Rameses II are too late for a conventional reading of the Old Testament that places the exodus at around 1445 B.C. Also, the Biblical use of the name Rameses for the store city could be anachronistic; the text may use a lter name for the location, known to a leter reading audience.

Thutmose III

Thutmose III was a child pharaoh whose early years were overshadowed by the influence of the princess Hatshepsut, who acted as his regent, in effect taking upon herself the role of pharaoh. Some have identified Hatshepsut as the pharaoh’s daughter who discovered baby Moses in the Nile (2:5-6), but this is pure speculation.

After Hatshepsut’s death, Thutmose III proved to be a formidable warrior, conducting 17 military campaigns and consolidating Egyptian control over the Levant (Syria-Palestine). Thutmose  maintained on the walls of the temple of Karnak at Thebes a record of events from his first campaign on. Some historians have suggested that he perished with his chariot corps while pursuing the Israelites into the Red Sea.

Amenhotep II

Amenhotep II inherited from Thutmose III a kingdom at the zenith of its power. Amenhotep excelled in running, rowing, archery, chariotry and equestrian arts, boasting on the Elephant Stele (an inscribed stone monument) that his strength was greater than that of any other king who had ever lived. He also was an expert in warfare, demonstrating reckless gallantry in battle. Amenhotep received tribute from Mitanni and Babylon, as well as from the Hittites. A brief campaign in Galilee during his ninth year as pharaoh is his last recorded military operation.

The dates most widely accepted for Amenhotep’s reign (1427-1400 B.C.) are too late for an exodus of around 1445B.C. Some historians suggest that Thutmose III was the pharaoh of the oppression since he is said to have been the first pharaoh to build a store city at the site only later known as Rameses. If so, his son Amenhotep II could still have been the pharaoh of the exodus.

Others hypothesize that  Amenhotep lack of military activity during the later part of his reign may have resulted from a military catastrophe during the exodus. And some historians speculate that because Amenhotep II’s successor (Thutmose IV) was not his firstborn or heir apparent, his firstborn son may have died during the final plague.

The archaeological evidence for a conquest of Canaan during the reigns of either Thutmose III or Amenhotep II is scanty. In fact, some argue that the end of the Middle Bronze Age (ca. 1550 B.C.) looks much more promising as the setting for the conquest of Canaan, though this paradigm would place the exodus much earlier than the Bible seems to indicate and is difficult to reconcile with our current understanding of Egyptian chronology. It’s impossible to be dogmatic about the identity of the pharaoh of the exodus, but Thutmose III and Amenhotep II remain the most likely candidates.

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