The Pharaoh of the Exodus

Egyptian records show that Thutmose II appointed his young son as co-regent at the time of a Spring (Passover) full moon and his successors had to restore Egypt's prosperity.

Synchronistic Chart

Thutmose II Relief
KMT Magazine 11
Thutmose II Mummy 8
(image reversed)


The many attempts to identify the proud Pharaoh of the Exodus have so far failed to provide convincing proof as to his identity. Unlike the Bible, secular ancient annals tend to treat failure with silence, and this Pharaoh was a spectacular failure. It seems strange then that the most popular candidates have been the strong warrior Kings, for example, Thutmose III or Ramesses II. 1
Some workers have proposed unorthodox chronologies,2,3 which, if adopted, would place this pharaoh in a totally different dynasty. While there are problems with the standard dating and lengths of certain Egyptian periods, there seems to be no convincing evidence requiring drastic corrections to the orthodox dates for the early eighteenth dynasty, which Biblical chronology parallels to the time of the Exodus. There are still some unsolved problems in Biblical chronology but, if we accept the secular date of 586 B.C. for the destruction of the Temple, it leads us to a date for the Exodus around the mid fifteenth century BC. This is not a treatise on chronology so actual dates4 are not given but Egyptian reign lengths given by Sir Alan Gardiner5 are used in the above chart to show synchronisms between Egyptian and Israelite records. Thus, within the constraints of Biblical and Egyptian chronologies, readers can fit the scheme to their own favoured dates. See also Framework for Biblical chronology.

A New Dynasty
The Exodus story, after reference to the sojourn of Jacobs family in Egypt and the death of Joseph (Ex.1:1-6), states, "Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph" (Ex.1:8). According to orthodox chronology: about eighty years before the Exodus, a new native Egyptian dynasty overthrew the asiatic Hyksos (the so-called Shepherd Kings) who had taken over Egypt shortly after the death of Joseph and ruled for upwards of 100 years. This new (XV111th) dynasty of Theban kings was founded by Ahmose I who took about four years to expel the hated Asiatic Hyksos from their stronghold of Avaris. One is immediately struck by the similarity between this new king's name (sometimes written Amosis), which was a component of many of the royal names and officials of this period, and that of Moses. The name Moses is Egyptian in origin and means born or drawn out and Pharaohs daughter (called Thermuthis according to Josephus6) appeared to have two reasons for naming him thus, "And she called his name Moses: and she said, Because I drew him out of the water" (2: 10). The implication of the first And being that she called him after the Dynastic name.
Ahmose I reigned for twenty-five years. It is reasonable to place the birth of Moses towards the beginning of this reign because there is no record of Aaron, who was three years older than Moses, having been threatened by the new kings edict that all the male Hebrew children were to be killed at birth (Ex.1:16). There is, of course, an indeterminate period covering the start of the reign, the start of the oppression and the issuing of the edict. Placing the birth of Moses early in this reign, near the start of the dynasty, narrows the choice of the pharaoh of the Exodus, which occurred eighty years later, to one individual (Thutmose II) because his predecessor ended his reign only about sixty-five years from the start of the dynasty and his successor ruled for fifty-four years, which would have been too late in the dynasty for him to have died in the Exodus as required by Scripture (see below).

The Pharaohs of Moses' exile
Amenhotep I, son of Ahmose I, was the next king and he reigned for twenty-two years. Moses, then aged forty, must have fled to Midian towards the end of this reign (Acts 7:23-29). Josephus claims that Moses had been general of the Egyptian army, and had married an Ethiopian princess. Josephus has a mixed reputation but has proved his reliability time and again. The enigmatic Biblical reference to Moses having married an Ethiopian woman (Nu.12:1) suggests there is some truth in this latter claim, and certainly, " Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds" (Acts 7: 22). He also had the option of being called "the son of Pharaohs daughter" and sharing in the treasures of Egypt (Heb. 11: 24, 26). Josephus suggests that Moses fled because he was suspected of sedition and that the king was jealous of his success in the field. This is not necessarily at variance with the account of his flight given in Exodus chapter two, following his killing of an Egyptian, "And [the Hebrew] said, Who made thee a prince and a judge over us? intendest thou to kill me, as thou killedst the Egyptian? And Moses feared, and said, Surely this thing is known. Now when Pharaoh heard this thing, he sought to slay Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh, and dwelt in the land of Midian" (vv.14, 15). The implication is that Moses was a prince and judge in Egypt until he rejected his adoptive heritage and cast in his lot with his people (v.11; Heb. 11: 24 - 27). From the Egyptian point of view, the favour shown towards the Hebrews (linked so recently with the hated Hyksos), would have been a very alarming, if not seditious, act from one who possibly had a legitimate claim to the throne. The killing of the Egyptian could have been the opportunity a rival heir needed to be rid of Moses and his departure may have simplified the succession.
Amenhotep I, not having a son of his own, chose as his successor Thutmose I, who reigned for eighteen years. He was a son of a woman of non-royal blood but was married to a younger sister of Amenhotep I called Ahmose (that is, a daughter of Pharaoh Ahmose I) and she bore him four children. Three of them predeceased him, but the fourth (Hatshepsut) was of "fine royal blood". Hatshepsut married one of her half brothers (son of a lesser queen named Mutnefert, possibly a younger sister of queen Ahmose) who became Thutmose II. (It is very interesting, in the light of the death of all the firstborn children of Egypt at the Passover, that secular Egyptian history furnishes the information that neither of these two later monarchs were first-born children). After a successful reign Thutmose I died, he: " ...rested from life, going forth to heaven, having completed his years in gladness of heart."7.

Thutmose II: The Pharaoh of the Exodus
After the death of the two previous kings, and a 40 year sojourn in Midian, Moses was free to return from exile during the reign of Thutmose II, hence the command of God, "Go, return into Egypt: for all the men are dead which sought thy life" (Ex.4:19). Thutmose II (who is thought by Gardiner, although not by others, to have reigned for twenty years) is regarded by historians as a weak king dominated by his wife (the later female Pharaoh, Hatshepsut ) although he speaks proudly of his campaign against Vile Cush and there is evidence that he conducted at least one campaign in the land of Canaan (later identified with Israel and Palestine). Some regard his reign as short and ineffectual but Gardiner sees no reason to discount a now mislaid stela recording an 18thyear. Thutmose II, according to the chronology adopted above, is the only candidate for the Pharaoh of the Exodus (named as Tethmosis by Josephus) in this dynasty and, if we adopt this view, some historical records regarding him and his successors take on a new significance. That his body was recovered is supported by Scripture: he was drowned in the Red Sea (Psa.136:15) but, "Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the sea shore" (Ex.14:30). (It should be noted however that, although there is no controversy concerning the identity of the mummy of Thutmose II, the identity the Egyptian Royal mummies is not established with certainty due to their re-labelling and re-interment in the twenty-first Dynasty.)
Gardiner writes concerning the death of Thutmose II,: "Despite the terse way in which the fact is recorded, there is no reason to think that Tuthmosis died other than a normal death." If he were the Pharaoh who ruined Egypt however, there would be every reason for a terse report of his death! Gardiner continues his narrative, "An almost undecorated tomb is confidently ascribed to [Thutmose II], and from its neglect one might conjecture that no one cared very much what was his fate; his funerary temple, is a paltry affair." the lack of decoration could indicate a sudden death and it is clear that his life and death were not recorded for posterity with any great reverence or enthusiasm. This is a fitting memorial for one who was so stubborn, (as God said of him, "...How long wilt thou refuse to humble thyself before me?" ( Ex.10:3)), that he brought his country to ruin ("knowest thou not yet that Egypt is destroyed?"(v. 7), said his servants). Thus was he humbled before his people. A salutary lesson also that this proud Pharaoh, who said, "Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice" should go down in history as a weak king dominated by his wife! Mertz 9 follows Breasted 7 in giving an interesting translation concerning the death of Thutmose II, "He went forth to heaven, having mingled with the gods." This seems the wrong way round for the usual report of a pharaoh's death he would normally have been reported as ascending to heaven before mingling with the gods, but this report could be literally true from the Egyptians point of view, as God said to Moses, "See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh." (7: 1)
Another Scriptural fact concerning the death of the Pharaoh of the Exodus that fits Egyptian history of the time of Thutmose II is that his drowning took place shortly after the time of the first Passover, and Passover is celebrated in spring. Thutmose II was succeeded by Thutmose III, who was a boy at the time, the son of a palace concubine of low birth named Isis, and he seemed to have been destined initially for the priesthood. This suggests that he was a replacement heir after the loss of Pharaohs first-born, another point that fits Scripture. Also, it is known that he was not the first child of Isis, for he had an elder sister. Since Scripture defines first-borns as "all that openeth the matrix" (13:15), Thutmose III would not have survived Passover night had he been the first-born of Isis but not the first-born of his father. Again the facts are in accordance with Scripture. Thutmose III was prevented from ruling in his own right at first due to the existence of a regency and later due to usurpation by Hatshepsut, the widow of Thutmose II. However, he counts his accession from the time of his father Thutmose II.
Thutmose III celebrated the twenty-second anniversary of his accession at Gaza on a spring campaign in Canaan.4 Seventeen days after this celebration he fought the battle of Megiddo on the day of the true New Moon. Twenty-two Egyptian years of 365 days (leap years were not used until much later) added to seventeen days gives 8047 days. This figure, divided by the average synodic month of 29.53 days (Full Moon to Full Moon) gives almost exactly 272.5 lunations. Thus, if he fought the battle of Megiddo on the day of the New Moon, his accession must have been on the day of a spring Full Moon. At first sight this could pose a problem for our identification, because the Passover also takes place on or about the time of the Full Moon, whereas the crossing of the Red Sea, wherein Pharaoh perished, was at least 3 days after the Passover. However, there is the intriguing possibility that, after the horrors of the Passover night, Thutmose II panicked and made his surviving son co-regent. This latter act would legitimise and reinforce his sons claim to the throne in the face of his ambitious step-mother Hatshepsut, who bore the titles, "Kings Daughter, Kings Sister, Gods Wife and Kings Great Wife." In fact, just such a co-regency is suggested by an inscription on the seventh Pylon of the Temple at Karnak. Here Thutmose III states that, while he was a youth serving in the Temple of Amon, "There was assigned to me the sovereignty of the Two Lands upon the throne by the side of my father, the Good God, King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Okhepernere (Thutmose II).7 Thus the Bible supplies a convincing reason for a co-regency which otherwise makes little sense. Why was a young boy, destined for the priesthood, suddenly elevated to the throne of Egypt? And Egyptian records supply the data to prove that his accession could have occurred on the very day (counting evening to evening) of the Passover, his father perishing a few days later while pursuing the departing Israelites through the Red Sea.

After the death of her husband, Hatshepsut reigned twenty-two years. At first this was as regent, but she soon usurped the throne and called herself King. Gardiner remarks upon the unusual prominence of the women of the XVIIIth Dynasty (cf. Pharaohs daughter above) but it is difficult to imagine how the Egyptians could have accepted this usurpation were it not for the mess that her predecessor had made. There was little military activity during her reign but she rebuilt Egypt's prosperity; the famous trading trip to Punt brought great wealth. In an inscription at Speos Artemidos, Hatshepsut makes a claim which Gardiner regards as exaggerated, referring, as he believes, to the restoration of the damage caused by the Hyksos, who had been expelled by her ancestor Ahmose I eighty years before. Hatshepsut claims, "I have restored that which had been ruined. I have raised up that which had gone to pieces since the Asiatics were in the midst of Avaris of the Northland, and vagabonds [wanderers, nomads, strangers] were in the midst of them, overthrowing that which had been made. They ruled without Re, and he did not act by divine command down to (the reign of) my majesty I have made distant those whom the gods abominate, and the earth has carried off their foot(prints).4, 10 Rather than being an empty boast, this could be her rightful claim to have restored Egypt after the chaos following the reign of her husband, with a reference to the departure of the Israelites who's exodus coincided with the start of her reign.
The succession after Thutmose II is described thus,: "His son stood in his place as King of the Two Lands, having become ruler upon the throne of the one who begat him. His sister, the Divine Consort, Hatshepsut, settled the affairs of the Two Lands...Egypt was made to labour with bowed head for her," 7 Thus again suggesting that the affairs of the two lands (Upper and Lower Egypt or desert and valley) were in need of settlement!

Thutmose III
Thutmose III reigned fifty-four years, counting from the end of the reign of his father. Hatshepsut either died or was deposed around his twenty-second year. He became Egypt's greatest king and expanded its empire to the Euphrates with fourteen separate campaigns against the North Eastern area from the twenty-third to thirty-ninth year of his reign. There were no expeditions to Canaan in the last twelve years of his reign. He would be well into his forties in his thirty-ninth year, but there could be another reason for this cessation of campaigning. If the Exodus took place at his accession, the cessation of these campaigns coincided with the ending of Israel's forty years sojourn in the wilderness and the start of their conquest of Canaan. Thutmose III was a thoughtful Pharaoh; as evidenced by his strategic and tactical prowess in battle and his diplomatic skills in running his empire. It would have been foolish to take on the people who had brought such havoc and destruction in the reign of his father. Canaan had been part of Egypt's empire under this great warrior king for nearly twenty years (and there is evidence of his generalship under Hatshepsut's rule). Throughout its history, Egypt has always been mindful of the danger from the North-East and always endeavoured to control Canaan either directly, or maintain a friendly buffer state there. It is not inconceivable that this great warrior/diplomat concluded a non-aggression pact with the Israelites. This seems a common occurrence during Israel's sojourn in the land of Canaan, although there is no Biblical record of it at this period. Either way, the inhabitants of Canaan were now left to the mercy of the people who had destroyed Egypt forty years before and who were commanded by their God Yahweh to dispossess all the inhabitants of the land. No wonder they were terrified! As Rahab said to the two spies: " I know that the LORD hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red sea for you, when ye came out of Egypt; and what ye did unto the two kings of the Amorites, that were on the other side Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. And as soon as we had heard these things our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man, because of you: for the LORD your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath." (Jos.2:9-11).

Amenhotep II
Thutmose III died one month and four days from the end of his fifty-fourth year. This would have been too early in the (Solar) year for him to have died at Passover time, which is another factor which rules out his candidacy for Pharaoh of the Exodus. He was succeeded by Amenhotep II, who reigned for twenty-three years. He sustained the empire largely by diplomacy. There was a single campaign into Canaan in his ninth year. Places mentioned are Apheq, Yehem, Socho, Anaharath and the princes of Nahrin, Khatti, and Sangar gave tribute. His ninth year was approximately sixty-three years after the Exodus. The land having been divided by lot by the forty-fifth year, calculated from age of Caleb (Josh.14:10), Joshua and all that generation could have been dead by then, after which a new generation arose "...which knew not the LORD, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel... And the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel and he delivered into the hands of spoilers that spoiled them, and he sold them into the hands of their enemies round about, so that they could not stand any more against their enemies... Nevertheless the LORD raised up judges, which delivered them out of the hand of those that spoiled them" (Jud. 2: 8 - 10, 14...16). Depending on the chronology of the Judges, this single campaign of Amenhotep II could have been either in support of Israel, or as one or more of these raids, after which there are no more incursions into Canaan from this Dynasty and the Egyptian Empire, while maintaining its inner splendour for many years, gradually declines as the era of the Judges unfolds.

Notes and Bibliography:
Biblical quotations taken from The Authorised (King James) Version .

(1) Warrior Pharaohs, The Rise and fall of the Egyptian Empire, P.H. Newby, Faber & Faber, 1980
(2) Ages in Chaos. Vol.1, I. Velikovsky, Gollancz,1952
(3) A Test of Time, David M. Rohl, Random House, 1995
(4) Recent excavtions at Avaris* date its destruction by Ahmose to 1530BC. This fits well with the synchronistic chart above and an Exodus Date of 1446BC calculated in Framework for Biblical chronology.
(5) Egypt of the Pharaohs, Sir Alan Gardiner, OUP, 1961.
(6) Whiston's Josephus.
(7) Ancient Records of Egypt (Vol.2), James Henry Breasted , Univ. Chicago Press, 1906
(8) Faces of Pharaohs, Royal Mummies and Coffins from Ancient Thebes, Robert B. Partridge, BCA 1994 (from which the photograph of Pharaohs mummy is reproduced with permission).
(9) Temples Tombs and Hieroglyphs, Barbara Mertz, Gollancz, London, 1964.
(10) Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, James R. Pritchard (Ed.), Princeton Univ.
(11) Picture of Relief used with permission from KMT, A Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt.

* Manfred Bietak (1996). Avaris, the capital of the Hyksos: recent excavations at Tell el-Dab.

    TOP                            1992-2019 Martin Allen Cragg