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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.