The Pharaoh of the Exodus

When do we find the events of the Bible described in Egyptian history? When was a prideful pharaoh’s reign brought to an end by the total destruction of both its economy and its military might? When do we find a large population of Hebrews living in Egypt as slaves and suddenly disappearing? It certainly wasn’t during the time of Ramses II or any of the pharaohs of the New Kingdom. The New Kingdom was 442 years of prosperity, power, and knowledge. None of the Ramesside dynasties ended in total annihilation.


Interestingly, Egyptian history has three periods of weakness and uncertainty. One of them, called the Third Intermediate Period (TIP), followed the New Kingdom. If this period is shortened, as described by a previous post, then the powerful pharaohs of the New Kingdom, such as Ramses II and Akhenaten, are later and match the kings of Israel. The Amarna Letters describe the rise of the Israelite monarchy.


Going back in time before the powerful New Kingdom, we reach another period of weakness and uncertainty, known as the Second Intermediate Period (SIP). This is the time of Joshua and Judges in the Bible. Egypt is being ruled by foreigners known as the Hyksos. They came from somewhere in Canaan, but no one knows from where or who they were. They could have been Amalekites, nomads from the Negev who fought with the Israelites as they were leaving Egypt. Once Pharaoh and his army were defeated, nothing would have hindered this army from taking over Egypt and spoiling it.


The last king of the last dynasty before the Hyksos invasion should be the pharaoh of the Exodus. Unfortunately, Egyptian sources are damaged and contradictory. Some think it was Dudimose or Tutimaos. It does seem normal that the written archives of a nation that was destroyed would not be strong. Josephus does quote Manetho as saying of this pharaoh, “In his reign, for what cause I know not, a blast of God smote us;” Dudimose, however, was only a pharaoh of Upper Egypt. The Hysksos may have already taken control of Lower Egypt by this time.


The last pharaoh of Lower Egypt was Merneferre Ay. He was the longest reigning pharaoh of his dynasty, having reigned for 23 years. He may have even completed a pyramid, but it hasn’t been identified. Surprisingly few artifacts have been found for him, but then Israel plundered Egypt before leaving. K.S.B. Ryholt writes of him, “the administration [of the Egyptian state] seems to have completely collapsed”.

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My personal opinion, subject to further research, is that the 31 rulers of the 13th dynasty may have ruled in Middle Egypt at the same time as the Hyksos ruled in the delta. That would push the pharaoh of the Exodus back to the last ruler of the 12th dynasty. Surprisingly, the last pharaoh of the 12th dynasty was a woman, Queen Sobekneferu. Were there no men left? Amenemhat IV was the last man to rule and his tomb has not been identified. The reign of his step-father Amenemhat III is considered the golden age of the Middle Kingdom. The king’s burial has been robbed, so we don’t know if his body was ever there. Both are interesting.


There’s no reason that more research would not be able to some day determine the exact pharaoh of the Exodus. It certainly would not be a pharaoh from the prosperous time of the New Kingdom. It would need to be one of the pharaohs at the end of the Middle Kingdom, before Egypt became so helpless that it was overrun by foreigners who were able to walk in and take over without a fight.

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