Who Was the Pharaoh of the Exodus?

The book of Exodus continues the historical narrative of Genesis and records the dramatic exit of the Israelites from Egypt under the leadership of Moses. Many Egyptologists have challenged the historicity of the exodus story, and archaeologists, in debating the origins of the Israelites, seldom consider the explanation presented in the Bible. In a 2006 research project by Dr. Douglas Petrovich, he works from the assumption that the exodus occurred just as described in the Bible. He seeks to determine the pharaoh of the exodus based on chronological and biographical requirements. 

Unlike later Egyptian pharaohs, the pharaoh of the exodus remains unnamed in the Bible. The likely reason for this is that Moses followed the standard Egyptian practice at that time of referring to enemy kings by their titles only, while purposefully leaving them unnamed. 

The Date of the Exodus

There are two prominent views for the date of the exodus. The late date view places the event in the 13th century BC under Pharaoh Ramses II, while the early date view places it in the 15th century BC under Amenhotep II.

Left: Ramses II; Right: Amenhotep II.

1 Kings 6:1 is a key verse in establishing the Biblical date for the exodus. It states that Solomon began the construction of the Jerusalem temple in the 480th year after the exodus. This means that 479+ completed years had passed. There is widespread agreement that Solomon’s construction of the temple began either 967 or 966 BC. These figures result in an exodus date of either 1446 or 1445 BC, which corresponds to the early-date view. 

The Jubilee cycles present another line of evidence for the early-date view. Leviticus 25:2–10 states that every 50th year was to be a Jubilee year for the Israelites. The Jubilee cycles were to begin when the Israelites entered the promised land. Since they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, they would have entered the promised land in 1406 or 1405 BC. The Talmud records the dates of later Jubilee cycles, and calculating backward results in a date of 1406 BC for the beginning of the first cycle. 

Those who hold the late date view interpret Solomon’s 480th year figuratively. They justify this interpretation based on archaeological evidence from the 13th century BC that seems to correspond with the biblical record. Additionally, Raamses, a city built by the Israelites according to Exodus 1:11, is thought to be Pi-Ramesses, which flourished from 1270–1100 BC. 

There are some problems with this view, however. Since the author of 1 Kings used a highly specific ordinal number (480th) rather than a cardinal number (480), it seems unlikely that he meant the number figuratively.

There are also problems with the late-date view’s choice of pharaoh, Ramses II. Moses was exiled in Midian for 40 years until the pharaoh who sought him was dead, indicating that the pre-exodus pharaoh had a long reign. Seti I, who preceded Ramses III, only reigned for approximately 15 years. By contrast, Thutmose III, the pre-exodus pharaoh of the early-date view, reigned for nearly 54 years and was the only pharaoh from either period to reign for over 40 years. 

Egyptian Chronology

To confirm Amenhotep II’s candidacy for the exodus pharaoh, the date of the exodus must be synchronized with Egyptian history. The Ebers Papyrus helps with this. It records astronomical data from a specific day in the reign of Amenhotep I. Astronomers can chart star positions throughout history, so this astronomical data, along with records of the lengths of each pharaoh’s reign, provides a date that can then help determine the pharaoh reigning in 1446 BC. Based on these calculations, Amenhotep II reigned from 1455–1418 BC, spanning the biblical date of the exodus. 

The Death of the Firstborn

Since Exodus 12:29–32 indicates that the pharaoh survived the 10th plague, he must not have been a firstborn son. Amenhotep II was not the firstborn son of Thutmose III. He had an older brother named Amenemhat, who apparently died before he could assume the throne. Therefore, Amenhotep II fits this qualification for the exodus pharaoh. 

Additionally, since the exodus pharaoh’s firstborn son died in the 10th plague, the following pharaoh must not have been a firstborn. Thutmose IV succeeded Amenhotep II to the throne, but the Dream Stele, an inscription between the paws of the Great Sphinx, suggests that he usurped the throne, apparently from his older brother, who was named Amenhotep. Yet no records refer to Amenhotep, the heir apparent, as Amenhotep II’s eldest son.

Traditionally,  Amenhotep II’s eldest son should have been named Thutmose. A wall painting at Thebes displays a young Thutmose, likely Amenhotep II’s eldest son. Thutmose must have died in childhood since there are no later records of him. This would have made his younger brother, Amenhotep, the heir apparent, until an even younger brother, Thutmose IV, usurped the throne. If Amenhotep II was indeed the pharaoh of the exodus, then his eldest son, Thutmose, was the one who died in the 10th plague. 

The Red Sea Crossing

It typically has been assumed that the exodus pharaoh perished in the Red Sea along with his army. If this is true, it would present a problem for Amenhotep II as a candidate for the exodus pharaoh, since he continued to rule for at least 17 years after the exodus. Exodus 14 records the Red Sea crossing, but it does not specify that pharaoh died. Psalm 106:11 also refers to the incident and states that not one of the Israelites’ enemies was left, but this may refer only to pharaoh’s army that pursued the Israelites into the Red Sea. It never specifically mentions pharaoh. Psalm 136:15 states that God overthrew pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea, but the verb used literally means “he shook off,” which does not explicitly imply the death of pharaoh. Therefore, it is possible that the pharaoh of the exodus did not perish in the Red Sea, and this does not disqualify Amenhotep II from being the exodus pharaoh. 

Although there is no direct evidence of the length of Amenhotep II’s reign, it must have been at least 26 years since an inscribed wine juglet commemorates year 26 of his reign. It is possible, however, that he reigned for at least 30 or 35 years, since a fragmentary inscription appears to mark either his 30th or 35th regnal year. Furthermore, Amenhotep II celebrated a sed festival, which traditionally celebrated a pharaoh’s 30th regnal year. Petrovich tentatively suggests that Amenhotep II reigned 37 1/3 years in total, of which the first 2 1/3 consisted of a co-regency with his father. Records show that Amenhotep II began his reign at 18 years of age. Therefore, he must have died at the age of 55.

Egyptian Military Campaigns

Amenhotep II’s father, Thutmose III, was renowned for his military prowess and led 17 military campaigns into the Levant. By contrast, Amenhotep II led only two or three. Early in his career, Amenhotep II sought widespread fame and glory, so it seems odd that he conducted so few campaigns. This sharp decline seems to indicate a lessening of Egyptian power, perhaps due to the loss of their slave base and military. 

Amenhotep II’s first military campaign occurred after the death of his father, Thutmose III. The purpose of this campaign would have been to establish his authority as the new pharaoh and to quell rebellions that arose in the wake of his father’s death. 

Amenhotep II’s final military campaign appears to have occurred in 1446 BC, the biblical date for the exodus. The campaign occurred in November, a non-typical time of year for a military campaign, suggesting that it was planned on short notice. Additionally, this campaign was much shorter than the previous one, signifying that this campaign was not intended to expand the borders of Egypt’s area of control.

Furthermore, following this campaign, a drastic change occurred in foreign policy. It appears that Amenhotep II signed a peace treaty with Mitanni, one of Egypt’s long-time enemies. This change in foreign policy could be due to Egypt’s weakened state after the loss of its military in the Red Sea. 

Amenhotep II’s Loot List

The tally of the first census of the Israelites recorded in Numbers 1:45–46 suggests a total population of over 2,000,000 people. A loss of this magnitude must have devastated the Egyptian economy. It is not surprising that Egyptian records would not include this event since foreign slaves were below the notice of their scribes. The pride of the Egyptians would have prevented them from retaining a record of such a humiliating defeat at the hands of their slaves. 

Yet, the loot lists from Amenhotep II’s final campaign may hint at the loss of slaves, weapons, and chariots sustained by the Egyptians during the exodus and Red Sea incident. They indicate that the plunder included 101,128 slaves, 1,082 chariots, and 13,500 weapons, significantly more than on any of his or his father’s previous campaigns. 

Among the slaves listed on the loot list of Amenhotep II’s final campaign were 3,600 Habiru people. Some scholars have equated the Habiru people with the Israelites due to its similarity to the word Hebrew. If the Apriu mentioned on the booty lists were Israelites, then the biblical record omitted their capture.

Amenhotep’s final military campaign falls between the end of Exodus and the beginning of Numbers, a silent period in biblical history. It is possible that a band of Israelites abandoned Moses’s leadership and attempted to make their own way either to the Promised Land or back to Egypt. These may have been the Apiru captured by Amenhotep II. 

The Daughter of Pharaoh

A possible piece of evidence for Amenhotep II being the pharaoh of the exodus lies in the desecration of Hatshepsut’s image. Hatshepsut was the daughter of Thutmose I, the wife of Thutmose II. After the death of Thutmose II, Hatshepsut appointed herself as co-regent with Thutmose III. Moses would have been born during the reign of Thutmose I, and the daughter of pharaoh who drew Moses out of the river may have been Hatshepsut. 

Hatshepsut
http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/544450

Multiple theories exist concerning Hatshepsut’s age. If she was born after the coronation of Thutmose I, then she would have been only three years old when Moses was born, and therefore not old enough to adopt a child. However, no evidence has surfaced indicating that she was born this late since her father was at least 35 years old when he became pharaoh. Therefore, it is quite plausible that she could have been a teenager or young adult by the time Moses was born. Since Hatshepsut’s sister, Akhbetneferu, died in infancy, Hatshepsut remains the only candidate for the daughter of pharaoh from the time of Moses’s infancy. 

At some point after the death of Hatshepsut, someone systematically defaced her images in an attempt to erase all memory of her. In Egyptian thought, a spirit could only live as long as that person was remembered on earth. An assault on her memory was an assault on her spirit in the afterlife.  Most Egyptologists place the blame on Thutmose III, portraying him as jealous of her co-regency with him. Yet the defacement occurred at least 30 years after Hatshepsut’s death, a long time to wait to exact revenge. If he hated her enough to attempt to kill her spirit, there is no apparent reason that he would wait 30 years to do it. 

Amenhotep II is a second possible candidate for the defacer of Hatshepsut’s images. Some scholars have suggested that Thutmose III began the defacement campaign and Amenhotep II completed it, but they do not explain what grudge Amenhotep II would have held against Hatshepsut. If Amenhotep II was solely responsible for the defacement of Hatshepsut’s images, however, then a plausible reason exists. If Hatshepsut was the adoptive mother of Moses, who humiliated Amenhotep II, facilitated the death of his firstborn son, took his labor force, and destroyed his military, then Amenhotep II would have ample reason to despise her.  

Conclusion

The goal of Petrovich’s article was to synchronize Israelite and Egyptian history and to examine the life of Amenhotep II, the Egyptian pharaoh whose regnal years fit the time of the Israelite exodus from Egypt, to determine whether he met the qualifications for the pharaoh of the exodus. 

Amenhotep II’s life was not cut short at the time of the Red Sea event, but a careful reading of the relevant passages reveals that the pharaoh of the exodus did not necessarily die in the Red Sea. Amenhotep II’s final military campaign correlates well with the exodus account as an attempt to rebuild his slave base as well as recoup his lost chariots and weapons. He also may have captured a detached group of Israelites, listed as Habiru on his booty lists. Finally, the obliteration of Hatshepsut’s images no less than 30 years after her death makes the most logical sense if she was the daughter of pharaoh who raised Moses.

These pieces of evidence work together to demonstrate that not only is Amenhotep II the only legitimate candidate for the pharaoh of the exodus, but that the biblical chronology of the era synchronizes perfectly with Egyptian history, placing the exodus in 1446 BC, during Amenhotep II’s reign. 

References:

Petrovich, Douglas N. (2006). Amenhotep II and the Historicity of the Exodus-Pharaoh. The Master’s Seminary Journal, 17:1, 1–30. https://www.academia.edu/1049040/_2006_Amenhotep_II_and_the_Historicity_of_the_Exodus_Pharaoh

*Since the writing of his 2006 article, Petrovich has recalculated these dates and now suggests that Amenhotep II reigned from 1453–1416 BC.

*The views expressed in this article reflect those of the original author(s), and not necessarily those of the editors.

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Ed Duong
May 8, 2021 11:10 PM

This is a relatively strong case for Amenhotep II being the exodus pharaoh. However, I still believe the pharaoh of the exodus was not Amenhotep II but his grandfather, Thutmose II father of Thutmose III and husband of Hatshepsut. There was a known decline and crisis in faith of the Egyptian deity Ra after thutmose ii’s reign which is consistent with God’s attacks on each egyptian deity. Thutmose II was also the only pharaoh’s whose body was found to have cysts on it which would fit with the boil plague from the Bible. Hatshepsut and Thutmose III also had some cysts on their bodies. Hatshepsut in inscriptions, noted that a new asiatic population emerged from thexpe hyksos and overthrew that which had been made. That new population would be the Hebrews whom the Egyptians would consider responsible for ruining their country. Also, Thut II conducted a campaign in the sinai against shasu and Egyptian armies could not leave egypt for 22 more years which would make sense based on the Bible’s indication that the army drowned in the red sea. There are more evidence for Thut II but I will leave it at this for now. If Thutmose II was the pharaoh of the exodus, then the original oppressor of Israel would likely be Ahmose I, founder of the 18th dynasty and the Pharaoh from whom Moses fled would be either Amenhotep I or Thutmose I.

Jeffrey Lee Walling
Jeffrey Lee Walling
May 17, 2021 2:37 PM

Abigal,
Dr. Petrovich totally neglects to consider Paul’s accounting in Acts 13:18-22:
18 And about the time of forty (40) years suffered he (Moses) their manners in the wilderness.
19 And when he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, he divided their land to them by lot (12 years).
20 And after that he gave unto them judges about the space of four hundred and fifty (450) years, until Samuel the prophet.
21 And afterward they desired a king: and God gave unto them Saul the son of Cis, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, by the space of forty (40) years.
22 And when he had removed him, he raised up unto them David to be their king.”
These add up from the completion of Solomons temple in 958 BC to 1552 BC for the Exodus (594 years total). Additionally, Judges 11:26 confirms that from the settlement of Palestine to the start of Jephthah’s term was exactly 300 years (1200 + 300 =1500 B.C.) confirming the accuracy of the judge’s chronology (see figure 3-1). In my book, Ancient History Refined, I show overwhelming support for this timeline from both Historians and Archeology. The Patterns of Evidence found for every benchmark event is the proof of concept of this timeline.
Here is an excerpt from my book Ancient History Refined.
The accuracy of the WBT timeline post 1800 B.C. is prodigiously confirmed with the pattern of historical events and C-14 dating adjusted in accordance with creationists Barns and Humphreys theory (the B&H theory) (Table I-1). The period of the judges calculates to close to 450 years, confirming Paul’s estimate of about 450 years. The exodus of the Israelites from Egypt in 1552 B.C. is corroborated by Paul, Josephus, and Manetho (Noted Historian’s estimates: Manetho (quoted by Josephus), 592 years (3rd Cen. BC); Josephus, 592 years (1st Cen. AD); Melchior Canus, 590 years (16th Cen. AD); Codomanus, 598 (16th Cen. AD); Maestlinus, 592 (16th– 17th Cen. AD);). The archaeology typology dates and average actual C-14 dates matching the estimated inflated C-14 dates align perfectly with the fall of Jericho conflagration date (1512), the Exodus (1552), and the entry of Israel into Egypt (1777). The dates held to by Manfred Bietak for the start and end of the Semitic occupation of Avaris (1783-1550) are perfectly matched with this biblical timeline (1777-1552). The end dates for the 13th and 14th Egyptian Dynasties (the 14th Dynasty being the sematic Taskmasters over the Hebrew slaves), as well as the start of the Hyksos (Amalekite) invasion (all three in about 1550 B.C.), perfectly align with the biblical timeline as verified by the C-14 three-step dating method. The descriptions for the pharaoh of the Exodus (Merneferre Ay), the death of the firstborn of Egypt, the pharaoh of Joseph when appointed to treasurer of Egypt (Senusret II), the pharaoh of the entry of Israel into Egypt (Senusret III), the identity of Joseph as Senankh (treasurer under Senusret III), the identity of the pharaoh at the birth of Moses (Sekhemresewadjtawy Sobekhotep III) and his daughter (Moses’s Egyptian mother, Iuhetibu Fendy) all describe the course of events in their time congruent with the records found in the Bible.
Please read my book and see the overwhelming patterns of evidence:
https://www.amazon.com/Ancient-History-Refined-Jeff-Walling/dp/1664210717?fbclid=IwAR261d9md41pNeIp3kxT3Ea3SjAQ-ep3jtqGy3fWqvzliscyc_bFFLWmRXk Please email me at [email protected] to discuss.

Last edited 1 month ago by Jeffrey Lee Walling
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