Who was the "Pharaoh" of the Exodus?
In the 1956 Biblical epic The Ten Commandments, as well as the 1998 animated feature The Prince of Egypt, the pharaoh of the Exodus is depicted as Ramesses II. This is based primarily on the city of "Rameses" named in Exodus 1:11, as it has been assumed that the Biblical pharaoh named the city after himself.
However, the historical records show that Ramesses II was a rather successful pharaoh, with multiple military victories, building campaigns, and over two hundred consorts. There is no evidence of ten catastrophic plagues or a large slave revolt during his reign.
Furthermore, mainstream Egyptologists hold that there does not seem to be any record of the plagues or the Exodus taking place at any point during Egypt's history. They have long since concluded that the Biblical Exodus is either a made-up story, or a highly embellished one.
So did the Exodus even happen? And, if so, who was the hard-hearted pharaoh who Moses and Aaron had to contend with?
There are short and long answers to these questions. The short answers are that yes, the Exodus did happen, and that the pharaoh who refused to release the Hebrews from slavery was Merenre II of the sixth dynasty.
The Long Answers
Step 1: Beyond Eurocentric Sources
One of the biggest mistakes made by Biblical scholars is neglecting the meticulous records that the Jewish people have kept about their own history, as well as African perspectives on African history.
For example, Jewish historical works like Seder Olam and Me'am Lo'ez provide us with dates and details that are required to draw correct connections between the Bible and historical events. African scholars, for their part, have thoroughly debunked many misunderstandings about Ancient Egypt, particularly regarding the distribution of power between Upper and Lower Egypt.
Step 2: Revisiting the Dynasties
Egyptologists have always assumed that there was only one pharaoh ruling the entire kingdom at any given time, and that the chain of succession was linear. However, recent developments in the field, as well as new evidence, suggest that Egyptologists are very wrong about the timeline of Ancient Egypt.
- Computer models of the ancient night sky have shown that the “Sothic System”, one of the primary dating methods in Egyptology, is off by almost two hundred years. Correcting for this issue compresses the history of the "New Kingdom" and makes the standard dynastic chronology impossible.
- Multiple lines of evidence indicate that there may have been two pharaohs at certain times in Egypt’s history, one ruling Upper Egypt from Thebes, and the other ruling Lower Egypt from Memphis. Not only is this view supported by the strange interpolation of Memphis-based sixth-dynasty rulers into the Karnak King List, this also fixes the Sothic compression problem.
- There are geological differences between Upper and Lower Egypt that would make radiocarbon samples taken from Lower Egypt appear older than they actually are, making it seem like Memphis-based pharaohs ruled much earlier than they actually did.
When the dynastic timeline of Ancient Egypt is adjusted to account for this new evidence, we find that two pharaohs would have been in power at the time Jewish records specify for the Exodus... and that one of those dynasties was the Thutmose family, whose mummies have scars and boils from an unknown disease.
The plague of boils...
"... there is evidence that disease affected the royal court before the reign of Hatshepsut. The mummy of Thutmose II is the only corpse of a pharaoh during the Eighteenth Dynasty covered with cysts from an unknown malady. These lesions coat the back, waist, arms and legs of Thutmose II and exhibit a mixture of papules, scabs and scars up to several centimeters in length. These cysts also cover the corpse of... Hatshepsut and her successor, Thutmose III..."
- "Reign of Thutmose II Suggests Crisis", SBWire Press Release (2012)
Step 3: Connecting the Dots
So how do we know the "Pharaoh" in Exodus was Merenre II?
First, we can locate the Hebrew slaves in Lower Egypt, as the Bible says they primarily resided in Goshen (Genesis 45:9-10). This means that the Thutmose dynasty, situated in Upper Egypt, would have had no contact with Moses.
Second, Jewish historical records assert that their period of slavery in Egypt lasted over one hundred years, and was thus comprised of the reigns of several pharaohs. The most oppressive pharaoh was said to have reigned for a remarkable 94 years.
There is only one pharaoh in Egyptian history who ever reigned for that long, and that is Pepe II of the sixth dynasty. He ruled Lower Egypt right before Merenre II became pharaoh.
Third, from Exodus 2:23, we find that the reigning pharaoh died right before Moses returned to Egypt. Given that Jewish sources say the ten plagues occurred at a rate of approximately one plague per month, this suggests that we are looking for a pharaoh who ruled for 94 years, followed by a pharaoh who ruled for about one year, after which Egypt collapsed.
Indeed, this is exactly what we find in the history of the sixth dynasty. Pepe II ruled for ninety-four years, followed by the one-year reign of Merenre II, followed by an inexplicable collapse in Egypt and the end of the dynasty.
The river turning to blood...
"Behold, the river is blood, and yet men drink of it - Men shrink from tasting... they thirst after water."
“Forsooth, hearts are violent - plague is throughout the land - Blood is everywhere - Death is not lacking...”
- "Admonitions of an Egyptian Sage", from the Ipuwer Papyrus
Evidence for the Exodus
The above information is just a snapshot of what is now available regarding the Exodus. If you find this interesting, you can go much deeper with a detailed and comprehensive examination of the problems with Egyptology and the evidence for the Biblical Exodus.
This ebook takes about one hour to read, includes key sources and further reading, and comes with a companion timeline that offers a visual summary of both Ancient Egypt's history as well as the events of the Exodus.
“Thank you for sharing with me your enthralling work [on the book of Exodus] which includes backing the Revised Dynastic Model with your careful and rigorous investigations, elucidating insights and powerful arguments.”- Rabbi Alexander Hool (Author, “Pharaoh: Biblical History, Egypt and the Missing Millennium”)