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The Pharaoh of the Exodus

by Tim O'Hearn

Egyptology as a science is only about 200 years old. Napoleon and his army were accompanied to Egypt by a cadre of scientists. It was then that the Rosetta Stone (the actual stone, not the language learning program) was discovered. Egyptology, though, can only really be considered a science beginning with the translation of that stone in 1822. One hundred years later, Howard Carter made the greatest archaeological find in history when he uncovered the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun Nebkheprure in 1922. Since that time little of note outside the scientific community has been unearthed. In the early years of the science, the predominant motivating factor was to prove the Bible correct. That goal was never really accomplished, although some proposed proofs that later did not stand scrutiny.

One of the first assumptions in Egyptology was that the pyramids were the granaries of Joseph. It wasn’t long, however, before it was discovered that they were much older, and served as tombs. It is interesting to contemplate, as did Karl Richard Lepsius, the great German Egyptologist, that “when Abraham came to Egypt for the first time, he saw these very Pyramids, which had been already built man centuries before.” (That visit, recorded in Genesis 12, dates about as far before Jesus was born as we now live.)

The big question, though, was always, “Who was the Pharaoh of the Exodus?” There have been two dates proposed. If you have watched Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments, and who hasn’t, then you are familiar with the later date. In that movie, and for years the commonly accepted date, the exodus occurs during the reign of Rameses II (The Great). That would put it at about 1250 BC. The problem with that date is that it falls too late for the judges to fit between it and King Saul. That would, in fact, put the exodus at about the time of the judge Deborah, a temporal impossibility. There is no evidence that Rameses was the pharaoh at the time of the Exodus other than the coincidence that one of the store cities built by the Israelites bore the same name.

Solomon began to build the Temple “in the four hundred and eightieth year after the children of Israel were come out of the land of Egypt.” It can easily be established that Solomon began building the Temple about 966 BC. That would put the date of the exodus about 1446. This is 225 years earlier than the reign of Rameses II. For those familiar with the commonly accepted timeline of the pharaohs, this is shortly after Queen Hatshepsut, one of the great female pharaohs. (Could she be the daughter of pharaoh that brough up Moses?) The pharaoh of the exodus would then be Tuthmoses III, “the Napoleon of Egypt.” This would be about 112 years before Tutankhamun. There has been found, however, no Egyptian evidence of the Israelite captivity or Exodus.

The Pharaoh of the Exodus is not the only one mentioned in the Bible. Some we cannot identify. There are a couple we can. Solomon married a daughter of Pharaoh. (1 Kings 3:1) This would be Pharaoh Psusennes II, whom almost nobody has heard about. Later King Jehoiakim paid a pharaoh to help defend Jerusalem. (2 Kings 23:35) This would be Pharaoh Neco or Nekau II, whose dealings with Israel are well documented. He is most famous in history for the battle of Carchemish, which is also mentioned in 2 Chronicles 35:20.

Setting out to prove the Bible may be a noble goal. The history of Egyptology shows that it may not be as easy as one thinks. The more logical path may be that of archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann. He used the text of the Iliad to find Troy. The logical path, then, may be the more recent one of taking the Bible by faith, and then using it to find its own proofs, as some have in recent years. The hard part to some is the most essential part, believing that the Bible is true. And if you believe it to be true, you don’t need to dig in the sand to prove it.