Many today claim the date of the biblical exodus to be about 1250 BC under Rameses II, a.k.a. Rameses the Great. This idea that Rameses the Great was the Pharaoh of the Exodus has been depicted in numerous films including classics such as Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments”, or the more recent and less acclaimed “Exodus”. Nevertheless, as popular as this idea has become, it is not rooted in fact. The Bible never identifies the Pharaoh by name in the scriptures. Moreover, the Pharaoh whom Moses fled to Midian was NOT the same Pharaoh to whom he said “Let my people go!” some forty years later. Despite what movies may portray, the Bible makes clear that these were two different Pharaohs – neither of who are named in scripture. So for this post I will pose the question: Who was the Pharaoh of the Exodus?
To answer this question, first we need to establish the date of the Exodus. The date of 1250 BC whereby Rameses II was the Pharaoh of the Exodus is not accepted by most conservative Bible scholars, but largely by skeptic archeologists (if at all) who otherwise reject the historical accuracy of the Bible. I’ll have more on that later. However, most biblically based estimates place the date of the Exodus at about 1450 BC. Why? 1 Kings 6:1 says the Temple’s construction started in the 4th year of King Solomon’s reign, which was 480 years after the Israelites “came out of Egypt”. With Solomon’s reign fairly well established at about 970-931 BC, then the 4th year of his reign would be about 966 BC. Therefore the Exodus calculation goes 966 + 480 = 1446 BC, +/- 40 years depending on how one interprets the phrase “out of Egypt” in relation to the 40 years of wondering prior to reaching the Promised Land. Although, there are some that argue 40 years is a symbolic number denoting a generation, and that the 480 figure simply refers to 12 generations. But that view is not widely held by theologians, and those who do hold it are largely trying to harmonize the Bible to the views of many modern archeologists who are largely skeptics on this matter. Needless to say, this is unwise. What people need to remember is that many of these skeptics are hostile to the Bible and will bend over backwards to deny and/or refute its claims – regardless of evidence – so their conclusions should be treated as biased and need to be highly scrutinized.
That said, the reasons some archeologists assert a 1250 BC Exodus date is that they currently cannot find evidence for the presence of the Hebrew people in ancient Canaan (Israel) any earlier than the 13th century BC – or so they say, there are some that argue otherwise. I would also note that the biblical text which chronicles the history of the Israelites IS and of itself evidence for their earlier presence. But putting all that aside, what is worse is that many of these skeptics will go further and claim that the entire Exodus is a myth. Why? Because they are engaged in circular reasoning, i.e. they start off doubting the biblical record, ignore its claims as evidence, demand corroborating evidence from Egyptian sources, then say if they cannot find any then it is not true. However, such corroborating evidence to their satisfaction may or may not ever be found, but that is NOT proof against the Exodus, nor is the former proof of when it did or did not occur. For instance, the modern discovery of evidence for the Hittite empire exposes the bias & flaw of secular skeptic archeologist on such matters. You see, the Bible makes numerous references to the Hittite empire, and prior to 1906 there was no archaeological evidence to prove that it really did exist as the Bible attests’ to. As far as skeptics then were concerned, it was just another “Bible myth,” or so they claimed. However, skeptics today can no longer claim the Hittite empire to be a myth. Why? A German archeologist named Hugo Winckler discovered an entire library of over ten thousand clay tablets in 1906 which documented the lost history of the Hittites. These ancient records confirmed the reliability of the Bible on this matter, which is just one of many examples of new discoveries proving the previously held views of skeptic archeologists wrong. Once more, subsequent excavations uncovered the capital city of this once “mythic” empire. Proving yet again, that time, after time, the Bible is the world’s most accurate history textbook. To quote the biblical scholar Dr. Norman Geisler:
There have been thousands of archaeological finds in the Middle East that support the picture presented in the biblical record, … Many times archaeologists have been skeptical of the Old Testament, only to have new discoveries corroborate the biblical account. … As the great archaeologist William F. Albright declared, “There can be no doubt that archaeology has confirmed the substantial historicity of the Old Testament tradition.”
Furthermore, when it comes to lack of corroborating records from Egyptian sources, it should come as no surprise that the ancient Egyptians would not have wanted to memorialize or otherwise record this national embarrassment. Remember, this is perhaps the greatest humiliation in the long proud history of the Egyptian Empire. In their view, this was a national devastation, which resulted with their Israelite slaves gaining freedom while all of Egypt’s might proved totally powerless to stop it. Therefore, it should come as no surprise if they did not record these events, or if they subsequently removed any references of the Israelites time in Egypt. Once more, this inclination towards historical censorship in ancient Egypt would not have been unique or limited to this incident, e.g. the Pharaoh Akhenaten was so unpopular for imposing his new religion on Egypt that most rulers from his dynasty (including himself) were literally written out of Egyptian history, remaining unknown until the late 19th century AD (some 3,000 years later). If this can happen to a Pharaoh’s entire reign, then why not for foreign slaves? For that matter, why not for the Pharaoh himself who presided over this time period which brought about ten plagues? If the latter is the case, then our quest may prove futile unless another major discovery is made such as the one that revealed Akhenaten to the world. That said, let us continue.
Getting back to the date of the Exodus, there is only one biblical argument that is used to support the view that Rameses II was the Pharaoh of the Exodus. Supporters for a 1250 BC date point out that Israel once lived in the city of Rameses, i.e. the Bible says that when Israel was forced to make mud bricks, that they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh (Exodus 1:11). Therefore advocates for the 1250 BC Exodus date argue that the city could not have preceded the Pharaoh that it was named after. This argument is actually very compelling until one recalls that Joseph had also lived in the land of Rameses centuries earlier (Gen 47:11). So this shows us that the land Rameses existed almost five hundred years before Pharaoh Rameses II was even born. This naturally raises the question: How did this city get its name? The name Rameses simply means “begotten of Ra”. Ra is derived from the popular Egyptian sun god Amun-Ra. Thus, with such a common name meaning related to the Egyptian religion, it is easy to see how Rameses II, or Rameses I for that matter, along with this city, among others, were all named after the Egyptian sun god. This is not to say that Rameses II could not have had a city built in his name, in fact most experts hold that he did, but if such a city existed it would not have been the same one cited in the biblical record. In any event, the best biblically based argument for a 1250 BC Exodus date does not hold up well under scrutiny. Therefore, taking the scriptures at face value, the best estimate or date for the Exodus is the traditional one: 1446 BC. This date assumes the 480 years when Israel “came out of Egypt” (1 Kings 6:1) refers to the actual Exodus and not after their 40 years of wondering. So, to answer the question of this post we need only look up who was Pharaoh over Egypt during this time. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?
However, trying to determine the corresponding Egyptian Pharaoh is more than a little difficult. First, assuming that there are no more Pharaohs or dynasty periods that have been lost or erased from history, the majority of Egyptologists can at least agree on the chronological order for Ancient Egypt’s Rulers and Dynastic Periods. This scholarly consensus is the so-called Conventional Egyptian Chronology, i.e. Early Period, Old Kingdom, First Intermediary, Middle Kingdom, Second Intermediary, New Kingdom, and so on. However, despite this chronology consensus, disagreements still remain within the scholarly community on the actual corresponding dates to our modern calendar. This results in multiple chronologies diverging by up to 200 years in the Early period, and 30 years in the New Kingdom period. In addition, there are a number of “alternative chronologies” that exist outside of the scholarly consensus. Not to mention, each calendar has its own margin for error, i.e. +/- X amount of years. Therefore, accepting our 1446 BC Exodus date, we can at least say for certain that the Exodus falls within the early 18th Dynasty of the New Kingdom Period. But trying to extrapolate anything further beyond that is highly speculative in nature, and depends largely on which calendar is being used.
Keeping all this in mind, and I fully admit this requires a lot of speculation, the best candidate of the known Egyptian Pharaohs from this time period, accepting the “Theban calendar” of +/- 6 years, assuming the high end (+6), is Pharaoh Thutmose III (sometimes spelled Thutmosis or Tuthmosis). If this seemingly familiar name to a certain biblical hero raises an eyebrow with you, perhaps it should.
Below are 10 Reasons for why Thutmose III is likely the Pharaoh of the Exodus, besides the fact he was Pharaoh during 1446 BC according to some ancient Egyptian calendars:
The similarity of this Pharaoh Dynasty name with Moses:
Moses likely derives his name in some small portion from the Thutmose dynasty of kings. Specifically, Thutmose I was the father of Hatshepsut, who if this theory is correct, is the daughter that drew Moses from the Nile and actually named him. What does this name mean? Moses is derived from the Egyptian Mu meaning “water” and also mose meaning “son”. Thus, the Pharaoh’s daughter by naming him Moses is saying this is the Son she drew from the Water. Her father Thutmose’s name means “Son of Thut”. Thut was the Egyptian moon god. Therefore, if Hatshepsut is indeed the “pharaoh’s daughter” of scripture, then she was also likely naming Moses in part to honor her father’s name — mose (son of).
Hatshepsut is likely the “Pharaoh’s daughter” that adopted Moses:
If we are correct in dating the Exodus to 1446 BC, then working backwards Moses would have been born about 1526 BC. Hatshepsut then becomes the only known candidate from this time frame for the “Pharaoh’s daughter” that drew baby Moses out of the Nile. She would have been 9-15 years old when Moses was born. Her father was Thutmose I, and her mother was Queen Ahmes – her father’s primary wife. Queen Ahmes had four children by Thutmose I, two sons and two daughters, but three died young which left Hatshepsut as the only child who could be called by the title of “Pharaoh’s daughter” (Exodus 2:5-10). That is, unless there was another daughter born to Thutmose I from a lesser wife that is unknown to us today. Regardless, the Bible tells us that the Pharaoh’s daughter adopted Moses as her own son. If we are correct that this was Hatshepsut, then since she was unable to bare a son to her future husband, and half-brother, Thutmose II, then Moses would have become her only chance for personal succession — or so she thought. But that changed when Thutmose II’s lesser wife, Iset, bore him a son named Thutmose III. Recall that Thutmose II was Hatshepsut’s half-brother whom she married, which was common practice in ancient Egypt — the belief being they were preserving the royal blood line (if only they knew). Therefore, Thutmose II would have also been Moses’ step-father if this scenario is correct. So Moses would have thereby been the heir apparent to the Egyptian throne. That is, until Thutmose III was born when Moses would have been around his thirties.
Note, there are some calendars (including the Theban) that would place Moses’ birth prior to the coronation of Hatshepsut’s father Thutmose I as Pharaoh. Thus Moses would have been born under the latter reign of her Uncle Amenhotep I. If that scenario is correct, then Hatshepsut, who was the Pharaoh’s daughter, would not have actually been the Pharaoh’s daughter at the time she drew Moses from the Nile. But daughter of the Pharaoh in waiting, as Amenhotep I had no children of his own and therefore his sister’s (Ahmes) husband (Thutmose I) was the next in line for the throne. But other calendars show Thutmose I as Pharaoh around the time of Moses’ birth. Just something to keep in mind!
Thutmose III’s father Thutmose II is likely the Pharaoh that Moses fled to Midian:
If it is correct that Hatshepsut was the Pharaoh’s daughter who adopted Moses, then her husband, Thutmose II, would have to be the Pharaoh that wanted to kill Moses, who then fled to Midian. Accepting that this is correct, then there were several things coinciding behind the scenes which set the stage for events to come, starting when Moses killed the Egyptian for beating a Hebrew slave (Exodus 2:11-12). First, Moses was starting to turn away from the perks of Egypt (Heb 11:24-28), and was beginning to put his faith in God. Meanwhile a true biological male heir to the throne had just been born to Thutmose II, by his lesser wife Iset. This no doubt deeply troubled the ambitious Hatshepsut, because the only biological child she bore to Thutmose II was a daughter named Neferure, thus leaving her with only Moses as an adopted “firstborn” heir. Therefore, Moses, like Hatshepsut, could probably see the writing on the wall and realize that a power struggle over the rightful heir to the throne was looming. If we accept all of this as true, then in addition to wanting Moses dead for killing the Egyptian, Thutmose II most certainly wanted him dead to also ensure the succession of his biological firstborn son to the throne — because Moses technically had the first legal claim. Moreover, as stated in the intro, the Pharaoh that Moses fled to Midian was NOT the same Pharaoh to whom he said “Let my people go!” some forty years later. The Bible makes very clear that these were two different Pharaohs – neither of who are named in scripture. Thus in our scenario Thutmose II was the Pharaoh who tried to kill Moses, and after he died, along with Queen Hatshepsut’s death during this interval period, Moses then returned to demand of Pharaoh to “Let my people go!” That Pharaoh, under this scenario, would have been the now grown Thutmose III – our proposed Pharaoh of the Exodus.
One side note on this matter, Queen Hatshepsut may also have been out to kill Moses, but for different reasons than her husband. She would have in all likelihood felt betrayed or hurt when Moses started refusing to be called the Son of Pharaoh’s daughter (Hebrews 11:24). Why? Because he was essentially turning his back on her, what she did for him and everything she likely believed to be important, i.e. Egyptian power & privilege. If this assumption is correct, then this stands in stark contrast to popularized depictions in films, which show Moses’ adopted mother abandoning Egyptian ways to follow her son. There are also some Jewish traditions to this effect, but the Bible never says his Egyptian mother ever became a follower or left Egypt. Just an interesting side note!
Thutmose III fits the bill of the powerful and prideful Pharaoh of the Exodus:
Thutmose III was without question one of the greatest and most renowned Pharaohs of ancient Egypt. Total he ruled Egypt for about 54 years — although the first 21 years he had to co-rule with his step-mother, Queen Hatshepsut, because he had been a small child about 2-3 years of age when his father (Thutmose II) died. Hatshepsut therefore finally obtained the power she so desired, albeit through her stepson vs her adopted son – if she was Moses’ adopted mother. Regardless, she was apparently a very influential woman, whom commanded great power in her own right, as she remained co-ruler after her stepson came of age until her death. This was very rare in ancient Egypt for a Queen to rule so long, and under such circumstances. In any event, with his step-mother deceased, Thutmose III ruled Egypt 33 more years on his own, and what a reign it was. Known as a great builder, he is in the class of great Egyptian Pharaohs such as Rameses the Great. His son, Amenhotep II, by contrast was largely insignificant and unaccomplished. For example, there were seventeen military campaigns by Thutmose III into Canaan, Mitanni, Nubia, Mesopotamia, Phoenicia, Cyprus, Asia Minor, Greek Archipelago and surrounding areas. In total he is believed to have captured some 350 cities during these campaigns. Furthermore, these military conquests started in the second year he became sole ruler of Egypt, and then continued annually with one campaign following each year for the next seventeen years. However, these military ventures suddenly ended around 1446 BC – according to the Theban calendar (high end). I’ll discuss that interesting fact in the following paragraph. By contrast, Amenhotep II, the son of Thutmose III that succeeded him, had only two campaigns in his entire reign. Therefore, when looking for the powerful, stubborn and prideful Pharaoh that God had to assert his power over to free the Israelites, then Thutmose III would definitely fit the profile. His son, Amenhotep II, just doesn’t fit the bill because he was largely insignificant and weak compared to his father. For instance, Amenhotep II was known to avoid conflicts and sign peace treaties, e.g. he signed peace treaties with the Mitanni with whom his father had previously conquered. So, Thutmose III more than any other Pharaoh from this time period fits the character traits of our nameless Pharaoh of the Exodus. Nevertheless, there are many today who prefer to argue in favor of his son, using the Memphis calendar scale.
Thutmose III’s military conquests suddenly end around 1446 BC:
As stated in the previous paragraph, Thutmose III conducted seventeen military campaigns, which started in his 23rd reginal year, or the 2nd year of his solo reign, and continued annually until his 19th year. This 19th year was about 1446 BC, according to the Theban calendar range (high end). It’s amazing that so few ever pause to consider why they suddenly stopped. So what might explain this sudden suspension of military exploits? If he was indeed the Pharaoh of the Exodus, then it was likely because this is the approximate year his army would have drowned in the Red Sea. Thus, the 18th campaign of 1446 BC never happened as Egypt needed to rebuild its army.
Note, some may think this fact actually discounts Thutmose III as the Pharaoh of the Exodus because he reigned another 15 years afterward. But nothing in the Exodus account explicitly says that the Pharaoh died with his army in the Red Sea. Rather this contention depends on how one translates Psalm 136:15. Some translate that God “swept” Pharaoh and his army into the Red Sea, others that he “overthrew” Pharaoh and his army at the Red Sea. Although neither explicitly states Pharaoh was killed or drowned with his army, the former translation does present some valid objections if correct. In either case, archeology has shown that Thutmose III, who otherwise led his army, would wait behind when passing through a narrow valley until his army safely made it to the other side. This fact would explain how he was able to survive while his army drowned in the Red Sea – if he was the Pharaoh of the Exodus.
The erasing & defacing of Queen Hatshepsut by Thutmose III started after 1446 BC:
Thutmose III tried to erase all evidence of his step-mother, Hatshepsut, in his 42nd reginal year, or year 20 of his solo reign after her death. Why might he have ordered this? The conventional wisdom of many archeologists involve “sexist” motives, i.e. that he was bitter and exacting revenge towards his overbearing step-mother with whom he had to share power with for so long. However, if these alleged motives are correct, then why wait some twenty years after her death to order this? But, if it is correct that Thutmose III was the Pharaoh of the Exodus, then another possible motive arises. Specifically, he likely wanted to erase her from memory as punishment for having adopted Moses into the royal family. This erasing of Hatshepsut from records and defacing of monuments is well documented and began after 1446 BC — Theban calendar / high end — under the orders of Thutmose III. The significance of the delay is that it did not occur until AFTER our date for the Exodus, and NOT before. But of course some monuments for Queen Hatshepsut did manage to survive. Therefore, the subsequent erasing of the Hebrews under orders of Thutmose III seems highly plausible, although speculative, as he would have wanted no memory of their time in Egypt. But as we will see in the next paragraph, the total purging of all records of an entire people is difficult — even if otherwise largely successful.
The only known mud brick making by foreign slaves in Egypt depicts Semites:
The biblical record tells us the Israelites (Hebrews) had become enslaved in Egypt where they were forced to build structures and cities as slaves. In ancient Egypt, the most common method for building was via a process that involved mud brick making. To that end, the only evidence of non-Egyptian foreign slaves making mud bricks is found in the tomb of Rekhmire, who interestingly lived around the same time as Thutmose III. In the tomb (tomb TT100) are depictions of Semitic slaves making mud bricks for the store-places of the Temple of Amun at Karnak in Thebes. In case anyone is not familiar, the Israelites (Hebrews) were Semitic people. Are we really to believe it is just a great coincidence that the only known archeological evidence for non-Egyptian foreign slaves making bricks in ancient Egypt, involves Semitic people, and also dates from around the time as our date for the Exodus?
Thutmose III’s firstborn son died young and he was succeeded by his second born:
It is very well documented that Thutmose III was succeeded in death by his second born son (Amenhotep II) by Queen Satiah, because his firstborn son (Amenemhat) by Queen Merytre-Hatshepsut died young. Although we do not know the date or particulars, this fact is consistent with the firstborn son of Pharaoh being killed by the tenth plague (Exodus 12:29). Furthermore, under our scenario Thutmose III survived the tenth plague because legally he was NOT the firstborn son of his father as Moses had been adopted into the family. And although he was biologically the firstborn son, it appears from scripture the Pharaoh was exempt from the aftermath anyhow, as God told Moses that after the tenth plague Pharaoh would let the Israelites go, NOT that it would kill him (Exodus 11:1).
The conquests of Thutmose III likely made the Israelite conquest of Canaan easier:
The aforementioned military exploits by Thutmose III likely weakened Canaan for the eventual conquest by the Israelites under Joshua 40 years later in about 1406 BC. These annual waves of military attacks into areas that included the promised-land (Canaan) were well documented on the Victory Stele of Thutmose III. Of course this would have all been under God’s divine providence as he alone was ultimately responsible for the deliverance and victory of Israel.
The curious case of Akhenaten and his conversion to monotheism:
Without question, one of the most fascinating discoveries of all time is that of the “heretic king,” Akhenaten, who converted to monotheism. More fascinating for our purposes is that Akhenaten would have become Pharaoh just a few decades after the Israeli conquest of Canaan. He would have therefore been among the first Pharaohs to have witnessed the former Hebrew slaves become a victorious conquering nation. He was born Amenhotep IV, but after becoming Pharaoh changed his name to Akhenaten, then created a new religion which demanded only the sun god be recognized & worshiped, which he renamed Aten-Ra from the previous Amun-Ra. However, after Akhenaten died, his nine year old son, Tutankhaten, later became Pharaoh. The advising governors of young King Tut either successfully influenced him, or forced him, to revert back to Egypt’s polytheism. The “Boy King” subsequently changed his name to Tutankhamun, and Akhenaten was later removed from Egyptian history – likely after Tuts’ death. However, when artifacts of his reign are found at Amarna, there is a curious reference to what some experts say are the Hebrews on some of the tablets. Specifically, there are records of letters from Egyptian administrators in Canaan and Jerusalem who report the lands were under siege by the “Habiru”. In these Amarna Tablets, the “Habiru” described are believed (by some) to be the Israelites (Hebrews) during the conquest of 1406 BC. Of course, there are those that disagree, and argue the text is likely referring to the word “apiru” (nomads) and not Hebrews. This just further demonstrates what we discussed earlier; that many skeptic archeologist will bend over backwards to deny corroborating evidence for the Bible. But even if we accept their conclusion on this matter, this does NOT eliminate the Israelites as the subject in question, who after wondering for 40 years would also qualify as nomads (apiru). In either event, it was a fascinating discovery.
Furthermore, many feel that the phenomenon of Akhenaten’s sudden zealotry for monotheism to be a byproduct of the Hebrew Exodus from Egypt and successful conquest of Canaan, along with the recent memory of the ten plagues still ever-present. Although this proposed connection is highly speculative, it’s very credible nonetheless that Akhenaten was indeed highly influenced by these events, which led him to abandon the many false gods of Egypt in favor of his own version of monotheism — a version which he erroneously repackaged toward the Aten sun disc. This is not unlike Muhammad who repackaged Judaism and Christianity to create his own version of monotheism (Islam) — a version that interestingly mirrors the ancient Egyptian prayer cycle to the sun god in some of its customs. For instance, the Salat – or Muslim call to prayer – is similar to the five daily prayers to the sun god whereby they always faced the direction of the sun. Meanwhile in Islam they always face the direction of their holy city Mecca. Just an interesting side note!
But enough already, I think I’ve gone on way to long on this topic. In conclusion, we have examined the reasons that some reject the estimated 1446 BC Exodus date in favor of 1250 BC under Rameses II, and dismissed them as being largely without merit. Furthermore, I discussed the complexities of correlating dates using our modern calendar to the Ancient Egyptian Chronology of Pharaohs. With that disclaimer, I began to layout the reasons for the candidate who in my view is the closest fit to being our Pharaoh of the Exodus. That person was Pharaoh Thutmose III, albeit a largely circumstantial case. But we know he was Pharaoh over Egypt during our 1446 BC date (according to some calendars), plus we have evidence supporting that the Hebrews were slaves in Egypt during his reign, along with the fact his firstborn son died young among several other items discussed. Nevertheless, there are several reasons to pause at this suggestion, which I fully noted during this post. Plus it may well be, as I noted earlier, that the true name of the Pharaoh of the Exodus may not even be known to us today. That said, it is time to answer the question of this post: Who was the Pharaoh of the Exodus? My answer is that we can never say for sure, short of a major new discovery. But from what we know today, Thutmose III appears to be the best candidate among the many names that are circulated — at least in my view. But I could be wrong.
That is it for this post. Thank you for reading. I hope some may have found this insightful.