Who Was Pharaoh of the Exodus
What was the date of the Exodus and who was the Pharaoh on the throne at that time? There is significant scholastic controversy over who was Pharaoh of Egypt at the time of the Exodus. Although the Bible does not specifically name the pharaoh of the Exodus, enough data is supplied for us to be relatively sure who he was.
There are two schools of thought concerning the date of the Exodus (i.e., the early date and late date theories). Proponents of the late date theory (1290 B.C.) would put the Pharaoh as Ramses II. The late date theorists claim that since the Israelites were building a city called Raamses that he must have been Pharaoh at the time. Scriptures say: “And they [the Israelites] built for Pharaoh storage cities, Pithom and Raamses.” (Exodus 1:11).
Late date theorists mistake the storage city of Ramses as the great city of Pi-Ramses. Pi-Raamses Aa-nakhtu, meaning "House of Ramesses, Great in Victory" was Ramses new capital built by the Nineteenth Dynasty’s Pharaoh Ramses II (Ramses the Great). The Bible describes the city being built by the Israelis called Raamses as a "storage-city". The exact meaning of the Hebrew phrase is not certain, but it does suggest supply depots on or near the frontier. This would be an appropriate description for Pithom (Tel al-Maskhuta) in the 6th century BC, but not for the royal capital in the time of Ramses, when the nearest frontier was far off in the north of Syria. The Hebrews had to labor on Pharaoh’s store-cities Pithom and Ra‘amseson on the eve of the Exodus (Ex. 1:11). But these “store cities” were certainly not the glorious city of Pi-Ramses, which was magnificently built as Egypt’s new Capitol City on or around 1290 B.C.
Modern scholars place the date of the exodus at about 1446 B.C. hundreds of years before Ramses. In I Kings 6:1 the Scriptures say: "And it came to pass in the four hundred and eightieth year after the children of Israel were come out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon's reign over Israel, in the month of Zif, which is the second month that he began to build the house of the Lord.". Scholars have identified the fourth year of Solomon's reign as 966 B.C. (Gleason, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 1974, p. 223). Counting backwards from 996 B.C. we find that the Exodus took place about 1446 B.C. Now, if this information is correct, the Exodus occurred in the third year of the reign of the Pharaoh Amenhotep II.
History tells us that for several years after 1446 B.C. Amenhotep II was unable to carry out any invasions or extensive military operations. This would seem like very strange behavior for a Pharaoh who hoped to equal his father's record of no less than seventeen military campaigns in nineteen years (Thutmose III). But this is exactly what one would expect from a Pharaoh who had lost a great deal of cavalry, chariotry, and army at the Red (Reed) Sea (Exodus 14:23, 27-30).
Furthermore, we learn from J.B. Pritchard (Ancient Near-Eastern Texts, p. 449) that Amenhotep III was not the firstborn son, who would have been the legitimate heir. The firstborn son of Amenhotep II had evidently died prior to taking the throne of Egypt. This would agree with Exodus 12:29 which says the Pharaoh's first-born son was killed during the Passover. Although in a Hollywood sense the Exodus would be more exciting if it occurred during the reign of the Great Ramses, but that is not the case.
If the Exodus did take place in 1446 B.C., forty years of wilderness wandering would bring us about to about 1400 B.C. for the destruction of Jericho. Interestingly enough, John Garstang, who excavated the site of ancient Jericho, came to the conclusion that the destruction of the city took place around 1400 B.C. (Garstang, The Story of Jericho, 1948, p. 122). He also concluded that the walls of the city toppled outward, which would compare favorably with Joshua 6:20.
Amenhotep II was also known as Amenophis II and he was the son of Thutmose III. If Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt during the reign of Amenophis II, then the main oppressor of Israel would have been his father Thutmose III who was also the greatest conqueror in Egyptian history. His sister Queen Hatshepsut may have rescued Moses and brought him up.
Scholars have been fascinated by a revolutionary religious doctrine which developed shortly after 1446 B.C. that threatened to sweep away Egypt’s polytheistic theological dogmas of centuries. These scholars have credited Amenhotep IV (who later called himself Akhenaton) who was named after his god Aton a Sun god. with the religious rebellion. He was great grandson of Amenhotep II and founded the religious concept of Monotheism (the idea that there is only one God). This Pharaoh started the cult of Aton [a Sun god] removing all the other polytheistic gods and setting up a monotheistic system where Aton was the only god. This conflict with the priests of Egypt began in the reign of Amenhotep III his father.
But it does not seem unusual that a people who had been so influenced by the one God of Moses would try to worship the one god that had so convincingly defeated their gods. A continually increasing body of evidence indicates that this cult of Aton had its beginning in the reign of Akhenaton and that he learned the idea from his Father who learned it from Moses and the miraculous display put on by the true God during the Exodus. This monotheism lasted only during the reign of Amenhotep IV (Akhenaton) of 17 years because the people of Egypt did not like this system of one God. It was his grandson Tutankhamen, the boy King, who returned the people to Egypt’s former polytheistic system. After the Exodus, Egypt would not achieve the place of power she once held.
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