One of the most interesting questions about Old Testament history concerns the Exodus occurrence and who might have been the Pharaoh. I will use current information about references to 'Pharaoh's daughter' (Ex 2:5, 7, 9, 10; Acts 7:21; Heb 11:24) as a foundation for investigation...
|This article was first published in the Winter 2003 issue of Bible and Spade.|
One of the most interesting questions about Old Testament history concerns the Exodus occurrence and who might have been the Pharaoh. An article in Archaeology and Biblical Research by J. LoMusio several years ago provided a well-reasoned argument, with considerable evidence that Moses lived during Egyptian Dynasty 18 in the 15th century BC (1989).
In this present article, I will bring LoMusio’s information up-to-date, add additional details, and expand the debate beyond the usual discussions found in commentaries. Further, I will use current information about references to “Pharaoh’s daughter” (Ex 2:5, 7, 9, 10; Acts 7:21; Heb 11:24) as a foundation for investigation. In so doing, I believe that a reasonable assumption can be made as to when the Exodus happened and who were some of the unnamed Egyptian personalities in the book of Exodus. However, I am sure that neither this article, nor LoMusio’s, will answer many of the perplexing questions to everyone’s satisfaction. However, one has to start someplace.
To put the discussion in perspective, it should be understood that there are two generally accepted propositions for the date of the Exodus. The first puts the Exodus in the 15th century BC; the other has the Exodus occurring 200 years later in the 13th century BC. Neither conservatives nor liberals hold one date over the other. Both dates have proponents in each ideological camp. However, the preponderance of scholarship sides with the opinion that “the general period that best fits most of the Biblical and extra-Biblical evidence is the first half of the thirteenth century” (LaSor, Hubbard, and Bush 1996:59).
Although the 13th century BC date (sometimes known as the “late” Exodus) may be the one accepted by the most of the scholarly community, a literal reading of the Old Testament places the Exodus in the middle part of the 15th century BC (referred to in some literature as the “early” Exodus). It is not the purpose of this article to detail how the two schools arrive at their conclusions. Interested readers can find a thorough and understandable discussion in John Davis’ book, Moses and the Gods of Egypt (1986:16–40).
Suffice it to say, a 15th century BC date can be deduced from a literal reading of 1 Kings 6:1, supported by a corollary passage in Judges 11:26. Acknowledging (as most scholars do regardless of their opinion of the Exodus date) that Solomon began his reign about 970 BC, it can be mathematically concluded from 1 Kings 6:1 that the Exodus occurred around 1446/7 BC, or early in the second half of the 15th century BC.
Those who dismiss the 15th century BC (“early”) date do so by discrediting the text. An example of their argument is:
The Old Testament, an ancient Near Eastern book, often uses numbers quite differently from a modern chronology. Thus the 480 years [in 1 Kings 6:1] may be understood as an “aggregate” or “symbolic number” (LsSor, Hxubbard and Bush 1996:60).
The proponents of a 13th century BC (“late”) Exodus believe their position is strengthened by the claim that there is little or no archaeological evidence for the Israelite presence in Canaan during the 15th century BC. This popular assumption has been successfully challenged by conservative archaeologists and Bible scholars, many of whose papers have been published on the pages of this journal. Again, it is not the intent of this article to review the literature regarding the two positions. But, Davis cuts to the heart the matter:
At stake here is the locus of authority. The Bible speaks very clearly to the issue of the date of the exodus and if these statements represent revelatory authority then they are reliable and should constitute the foundation for chronological thought. If these dates are not found to be reliable, then all biblical numbers and chronological notices can be regarded as suspect (1986:39).
[For an extensive ABR web article on this subject, please see: The Rise and Fall of the 13th Century Exodus-Conquest Theory. ]
If, as the Bible states, the Exodus was in the 15th century BC, what does Egyptian history tell us about the culture and personages of that era? Specifically, can we identify “Pharaoh’s daughter” (Ex 2:5, 7, 9, 10; Acts 7:21; Heb 11:24), a person who seems critical to understanding the story and the timing?
The 18th Dynasty
The 15th century BC was the setting in Egyptian history of the great Dynasty 18. Chart 1, Egyptian Dynasty 18, shows the Pharaohs of that dynasty and the approximate dates they ruled.1 The reader will note that 1446/7 BC, the Biblical date of the Exodus derived from a literal reading of 1 Kings 6:1, falls within the early reign of Amenhotep II. Amenhotep II was a particularly proud and boastful ruler. His personality corresponds with the Biblical portrayal of the Pharaoh with whom Moses dealt when he returned to Egypt from his Midianite sojourn. The Bible also reports that Moses was 80 years old (Ex 7:7; Acts 7:30) when he came back to Egypt immediately prior to the Exodus. Therefore, it can be mathematically calculated that Moses was born ca. 1526 BC during the reign of Thutmosis I.
Thutmosis I had a daughter, Hatshepsut, but no sons by his primary wife, Queen Ahmose. Little else is known about Hatshepsut’s birth-date or her age at death. Thutmosis I did have sons, however, by secondary wives. One of those sons was Thutmosis II, the next Pharaoh. In accordance with a custom in the early years of Dynasty 18, Thutmosis II married his half-sister Hatshepsut, who had been born of the primary wife and queen, in order to legitimize his religious right to the throne (Robins 1993:26–27).
It is reasonable to assume that Hatshepsut married Thutmosis II shortly before he assumed the throne in 1517 BC. “Hatchepsut can have been no more than 15 years old when she married her brother and became consort” (Tyldesley 1996:96). Accordingly, Hatshepsut was born ca. 1533/2 (1517 + 15 = 1532). If Hatshepsut was born in 1533/2, she was six or seven years old when Moses was born ca. 1526 BC.
Egyptian records show that Thutmosis II and Hatshepsut had a daughter, but they had no sons. He did have a son by a secondary wife. This son, Thutmosis III, was to become the next Pharaoh. When Hatshepsut’s husband/half-brother, Thutmosis II, died ca. 1504 BC, Hatshepsut was 29-30 years old. She then reigned as co-regent with her infant stepson, Thutmosis III. Thutmosis III’s exact age when his father died is unrecorded:
but given that he [Thutmosis III] reigned over 50 years and that his mummy was not that of an elderly man, we can deduce that he was a young child or even a baby rather than a teenager (Tyldesley 1996:96).
The co-regency lasted 22 years until Hatshepsut died ca. 1483 BC after which time Thutmosis III assumed the sole leadership of Egypt and ruled for another 33 years.
An intriguing question is how did Hatshepsut assume power, keep it for so long and defy tradition, as well as why the male bureaucracy tolerated this aberration? There are numerous theories that try to answer that question. The most probable explanation is that she,
possessed a strong character and made the most of the power that had accrued to her as regent. On a practical level, we can imagine that when she became regent she carefully chose the officials who were to serve her (Robins 1993:47).
P. Clayton records that “Hatshepsut was a strong-willed woman who would not let anyone or anything stand in her way” (1994:104). Thutmosis II, her husband/half-brother, was known to be in poor health, frail, and “far from energetic” (Tyldesley 1996:82). She may have anticipated his early death and, at age 29 or 30, had ample time to prepare for taking the throne. Although she was supposed to only be co-regent with her stepson, her aspiration to become Pharaoh was soon apparent. By year seven of her reign she had abandoned the title and insignia of a queen and adopted the fivefold titulary and male costume of a king, including an official royal false beard (Carter 1994:105). She also began to assert kingly prerogatives by setting up obelisks and making offerings directly to gods (Robins 1993:46).
Moses, Hatshepsut and Dynasty 18
The Biblical description of how Moses was discovered along the banks of the Nile River by “Pharaoh’s daughter” (Ex 2:3–10) is intriguing since it has parallels with the known character of Hatshepsut. In the Bible, the person who directed Moses’ rescue from the Nile, and later adopted him, is always referred to as “Pharaoh’s daughter” (Ex 2:5, 7, 9, 10; Acts 7:21; Heb 11:24). From the Bible we learn she had slaves and attendants. “Pharaoh’s daughter” must have been an important, powerful, and capable woman to command people to do her bidding. If Hatshepsut was about six or seven years old when Moses was born, it could well be that she was, in fact, the “Pharaoh’s daughter” of the Bible. It is conceivable that Pharaoh’s daughter, even at age six, was very powerful. And, no one could have foreseen the enormous effect of her plucking a Hebrew baby from the Nile to become her new “toy.” Further, a fascinating detail of how women of royal birth were titled in Dynasty 18 is provided by Robins (1993:26):
Women of royal birth [in the 18th Dynasty] can be identified by the use of the title ‘king’s [Pharaoh’s] daughter’, since there is no evidence in the 18th Dynasty of women who are known to have had non-royal parents being given this title. This rules out the possibility that this title was sometimes awarded to enhance the status of non-royal women.
Hatshepsut was the sole child who survived past infancy of the Queen consort, Ahmose, and her Pharaoh father, Thutmosis I. Queen Ahmose gave Thutmosis I four children, three of whom died in their youth (LoMusio 1989:85). Thus, Hatshepsut was the only woman in 1526 BC who could have had the title “Pharaoh’s daughter,” the designation given in Exodus to the person who saved Moses and later adopted him.
The Exodus account (2:3–10) continues to describe how “Pharaoh’s daughter” told Moses’ sister to take him to a nursemaid who, it turns out, was Moses’ natural mother. How long his mother cared for Moses is not recorded; however, Exodus 2:10 says “when the child grew older, she [Moses’ mother] took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son.” In her penetrating look into modern Arab culture, Sandra Mackey writes “boys are breast-fed much longer than girls, often for as long as two to three years” (1987:127). It might be assumed that in ancient times a similar practice prevailed, especially if the nursemaid was the boy’s mother who knew, once the boy was returned to “Pharaoh’s daughter,” she might never see him again. From this information it is conceivable that Moses may have lived with his natural Hebrew family for more than three years. This could help explain why Moses had empathy for the victim when he saw an Egyptian abusing a fellow Hebrew (Ex 2:11–12; Acts 7:25–27).
We have already concluded that if Hatshepsut was “Pharaoh’s daughter” she was six or seven when Moses was found. Following this scenario, Moses would have been introduced into the royal house three or four years later and adopted by Hatshepsut when she was ten or eleven years of age.
Assuming Moses was the adopted son of “Pharaoh’s daughter,” he would have been raised in the Dynasty 18 royal harem along with other children of royal blood. Acts 7:22 states that “Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians.”
The dynastic Egyptian harem-palace served as...the ‘Household of the Royal Children’, the most prestigious school in the land. Here the young male royals...received the instruction which would prepare them for their future lives as some of the highest-ranking nobles in the land....Childhood networking in the royal harem must have been of crucial importance to those living in a state where everyone’s career was dependent upon their relationship with the king (Tyldesley 1996:54–55).
Charles Aling (1981:73–74) has a description of the educational curriculum for royal children in Dynasty 18. He writes that teachers were selected from officials of the land who were favorites of the reigning king. Students would study hieroglyphic and other scripts, copying and memorizing lengthy lists of words and names. They studied the foreign languages of their world. Public speaking was considered important so it “received heavy attention during the years of formal education.” The ability to write well was also highly valued. If young Moses was Hatshepsut’s adopted son he was educated in the royal harem of Dynasty 18. That would corroborate the Biblical description of his education, competency to dialogue before a Pharaoh even though he claimed he was not a gifted speaker (Ex 4:10) and his capability to record the first five books of the Old Testament.
Hatshepsut died ca. 1483 BC and Thutmosis III reigned alone for another 33 years. Whether Hatshepsut died a natural death, or was murdered, is disputed by Egyptologists. What is known is that many of Hatshepsut’s monuments and statues were defaced or destroyed after her departure. Her name was erased from cartouches across the land and replaced with the names of her father or husband/half-brother (LoMusio 1989:87). This would indicate that Thutmosis III acquiesced to removing her memory, understandable if he had had to play a secondary role to her during the first 22 years of his reign. Davis agrees with this interpretation and writes that,
the vengeance sought upon Moses was not due only to Moses’ murder of an Egyptian official, but also to his possible association with Hatshepsut (1986:42).
A Chronology of Moses and Dynasty 18
Chart 2 is a chronology of this period and it reveals some interesting information. The Bible reports Moses fled from Egypt when he was 40 years old (Acts 7:23). Based on the chronology depicted in Chart 2, Moses would have been 40 years old in the year 1486/5 BC. This was two or three years prior to the time Hatshepsut disappeared from the scene. If Hatshepsut was “Pharaoh’s daughter,” it could well be that God provided an excuse for Moses to leave Egypt prior to Thutmosis III’s reprisals. Another possibility is that Moses and Thutmosis III may well have known each other while growing up in the royal harem. Perhaps, if Moses had been in Egypt at the time of Hatshepsut’s death, Thutmosis III would have feared Moses might have contested the throne and taken revenge on him.
Another interesting aspect of the period is that Thutmosis III continued his father’s and grandfather’s agenda of expansive construction efforts. As Tyldesley reports, Thutmosis I’s reign “saw extensive and innovative building progammes at all major Theban sites” (1996:71). Aling is even more direct: “Thutmosis III was a great builder....” (1983:98). Of the monuments that attest to Thutmosis III’s deeds are two obelisks found at Heliopolis. One of these, popularly known as “Cleopatra’s Needle,” can now be seen in Central Park, behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York City (why this obelisk is associated with Cleopatra, ca. 50 BC or 1800 years after Thutmosis III, is not clear). From the tomb of Rekhmire, vizier or a high officer under Thutmosis III, paintings show foreign slaves making bricks. Aling contends these are the only depictions of brickmaking in all the hundreds of tomb paintings from the New Kingdom period, a time that includes the reign of Ramses II of the next dynasty, 19 (1983:71). If Hatshepsut was “Pharaoh’s daughter,” then these building programs were ongoing at the time Moses was raised in Egypt; another element that supports the Biblical story.
Moses and the Pharaoh
Moses fled Egypt at age 40 (ca. 1486 BC) and lived in Midian for 40 years (Acts 7:30) until God called him to return to Egypt. “Moses was 80 years old...when they [he and Aaron] spoke to Pharaoh” (Ex 7:7). Therefore, Moses returned to Egypt to speak with Pharaoh to “let my people go” (Ex 5:1; 7:16; 8:1, 20, 21; 9:1, 13; 10:3) ca. 1446 BC, the date we derived for the Exodus from a literal reading of 1 Kings 6:1.
Thutmosis III died ca. 1450, and his son, Amenhotep II, had ascended the throne. It is interesting that God told Moses, “Go back to Egypt for all the men who wanted to kill you are dead” (Ex 4:19). If the chronology proposed in this article is correct, Moses would have returned to Egypt in 1446 BC, about three or four years into the reign of the new pharaoh, Amenhotep II. If this was the case, how were Moses and Aaron able to gain face-to-face access to the new Pharaoh? From the reconstruction of Hatshepsut’s family presented above, it can be seen that Moses, the adopted son of Hatshepsut, was Amenhotep II’s step-uncle! In addition, it is possible that royal men and women who were raised in the palace harem remembered Moses and facilitated his access. As has already been pointed out, political “net-working” among the young men ed-ucated in the harem was common (Tyl-desley 1996:54–55). At that time the upper tier of society was limited, being no more than two or three thousand people (Tyldesley 1996:41). Therefore, the extended family raised in the royal harem were well acquainted and undoubtedly remembered Moses as a young man. Exodus 11:3 seems to confirm that possibility when it says that when Moses returned he, “was highly regarded in Egypt by Pharaoh’s officials...”
At this point, it is interesting to put my proposal for Moses’ life over Dynasty 18 and correlate the dates to various Egyptian personages. A careful review of Chart 3 shows that the Biblical account and the Pharaohs of Dynasty 18 fit very neatly.
Dynasty 18 and Dynasty 19 Compared
Chart 3 contrasts two Exodus theories, the 15th century/18th Dynasty (“early”) and 13th century/19th Dynasty (“late”) scenarios. The Biblical events discussed above fit very well into Dynasty 18, the 15th century. However, the reader may recall that most scholars date the Exodus to Dynasty 19 and Ramses II is reputed to have been the Pharaoh of the Exodus. A literature review will reveal an immediate problem with the Dynasty 19 proposal in that there are no records of a strong-willed woman, like Hatshepsut, to meet the criteria to be titled “Pharaoh’s daughter.”
A quick look at Chart 3 reveals that there is amore significant problem with the Dynasty 19/13th century model: timing. For example, if Ramses II was the Pharaoh of the Exodus, as most proponents of this theory contend, Moses was born 80 years earlier than Ramses II’s reign. However, doing so puts Moses’ birth in the previous dynasty, 18. There is little to commend a theory that Moses, raised in a Dynasty 18 royal harem, would have been welcomed into the palace of a Dynasty 19 Pharaoh.
To try to overcome that problem and make all 80 years of Moses’ life fit into Dynasty 19 (which began in 1295 BC), the Exodus would have to be dated to 1215 BC (1295–80 = 1215). However, in 1215 BC Ramses II would have reigned for 64 years. This does not comport with the Biblical description of God telling Moses that those who seek Moses’ life are dead (Ex 4:19). In this construction, Moses would have fled to Midian during the reign of Ramses II. This then begs the question of who was seeking Moses’ life?
An attempt to fit the first 80 years of Moses’ life into Dynasty 19 introduces an even bigger problem. Ramses II was succeeded in ca. 1213 BC by his son, Merneptah, who ruled for ten years. In the third or fourth year of Merneptah’s reign he campaigned in Palestine. Merneptah left a stele recording his military successes. On this stele he referred to the defeat of Israelites and implied that Israel was an important society/nation already settled in Canaan. In order to compute the date of the Exodus if Israel had been settled in Canaan by the time of Merneptah’s campaign, it is necessary to add the 40 years the Israelites were in the desert to a date of about 1209 BC. Then, another seven years must be added to the 40 years in order to account for the period of the conquest (Jos 14:7, 10). Thus, the time from Merneptah’s victory over the Israelites in Canaan (ca. 1209 BC) to the time of the Exodus was, at a minimum, 47 years. This would place the Exodus in 1256 BC and, 40 years prior to that in 1296 BC, would have been when Moses fled to Midian. This date is during Dynasty 18. If this scenario is followed, Moses was born 40 years before, ca. 1336 BC, which is squarely in the previous dynasty, 18. This returns us to the question of how did Moses have access to the throne? So, in spite of how one attempts to harmonize the Biblical description of Moses’ life with Dynasty 19 Pharaohs, problems abound.
In constructing the scenario in Chart 3 for Dynasty 19, it was assumed that Ramses II was the Pharaoh of the Exodus and Moses spoke with him in the first year of his reign. This was necessary to account for the 40 years the Israelites spent in the desert and the seven years necessary for the conquest, all to have occurred prior to Merneptah’s reign.
Although Aling (1983:73) cautions his readers that care must be exercised in identifying the famous Hatshepsut with “Pharaoh’s daughter,” the parallels between the Biblical account and Egyptian Dynasty 18 history and culture are very attractive. The fact that the title “Pharaoh’s daughter” is a title reserved for very few women narrows the number of persons to whom the Bible could refer, and Hatshepsut is one of the few who meets those criteria. Other facts and customs of Dynasty 18 seem to support the Biblical description of everyday life during the time the Bible infers the Exodus took place. We may never know for sure if our conclusions are correct; however, I find more compelling evidence that the Exodus occurred in the 15th century during the Egyptian Dynasty 18, ca. 1446 BC, than for any theory of a later, 13th century date.
1. There are many different systems used by historians and archaeologists to date Egyptian History. The basis for the dates of Egyptian Pharaohs in this article are presented in P. Ray's (1997.4) excellent article that compares and analyzes most options. His conclusion is that the higher chronology, the one used in this article, best fits the evidence.
Aling, C. F. 1981 Egypt and Bible History. From Earliest Times to 1000 B.C. Grand Rapids: Baker.
Clayton, P. 1994 Chronicle of the Pharaohs. London: Thames and Hudson.
Davis, J. J. 1986 Moses and the Gods of Egypt, 2d edition. Winona Lake IN: BMH.
LaSor, W., Hubbard, D., and Bush, F. 1996 Old Testament Survey. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
LoMusio J. 1989 Moses, the Exodus and a Family Feud. Archaeology and Biblical Research 2:80–93.
Mackey, S. 1987 The Saudis: Inside the Kingdom. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Ray, P. J. 1997 Problems of Middle and Late Bronze Age Chronology: Toward a Solution. Near East Archaeological Society Bulletin 42:1–13.
Robins, G. 1993 Women in Ancient Egypt. Cambridge MA: Harvard University.
Tyldesley, J. 1996 Hatshepsut: The Female Pharaoh. New York: Oxford.