Who Was The Pharaoh Of The Exodus?
The Bible nowhere mentions the name of the pharaoh of the Exodus, but Bible students have always been curious as to who he was. No doubt, some Christians will be wary of trying to discover something the Bible has not clearly revealed; but in studying this question one can come away with his faith increased in the Bible as the unerring word of God. 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.
Admittedly, 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.) are clearly in the majority, but they reject clear Biblical statements with reference to the date of the Exodus. Therefore their arguments in favor of a particular pharaoh will not be considered in this article.
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." One can readily see that the times for both the Exodus and the beginning of the Temple have been specifically stated in God's Word. Scholars have identified the fourth year of Solomon's reign as 966 B.C. (Gleason, A Survey of Old Testamsnt Introduction, 1974, p. 223). Using this 966 B.C. date, we find that the Exodus took place in 1445 B.C. Now, if this information is correct, the Exodus occurred in the third year of the reign of the pharaoh Amenhotep II.
Before concluding that Amenhotep II was, indeed, the pharaoh of the Exodus, we will need to study further other evidence that can be presented. For instance, when comparing Exodus 7:7 with Acts 7:23, we learn that Moses was in Midian approximately forty years. Assuming the pharaohs mentioned in Exodus 1:8, 22 and 2:23 are all the same person, he would have had to reign for over forty years. Amenhotep's predecessor, Thutmose III, is the only pharaoh within the time specified in I Kings 6:1 who reigned long enough (54 years) to have been on the throne at the time of Moses' flight and to die shortly before his return to Egypt. This would make Thutmose III the pharaoh of the Oppression and Amenhotep II the pharaoh of the Exodus.
History tells us that for several years after 1445 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. But this is exactly what one would expect from a pharaoh who had lost almost all his cavalry, chariotry, and army at the Red Sea (Exodus 14:23, 27-30).
Furthermore, we learn from the Dream Stela of Thutmose IV, son of Amenhotep II, that he was not the legitimate successor to the throne (J.B. Pritchard (ed.), Ancient Near-Eastern Texts, p. 449). This means that Thutmose IV 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.
If the Exodus did take place in 1445 B.C., forty years of wilderness wandering would bring us to 1405 B.C. for the destruction of Jericho. Interestingly enough, John Garstang, who excavated the site of ancient Jericho (city "D" in his survey), 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.
Scholars have been fascinated by a revolutionary religious doctrine which developed shortly after 1445 B.C. that threatened to sweep away the theological dogmas of centuries. These scholars have credited Amenhotep IV, great grandson of Amenhotep II, with founding the religious concept of Monotheism (the idea that there is only one God). The cult of Aton set forth this idea to the Egyptian people and scholars have mistakenly credited this idea to the Egyptians. But it does not seem unusual to me that a people who had been so influenced by the one God of Moses would try to worship the 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 Thutmose IV, son of Amenhotep II, pharaoh of the Exodus.
Although the final verdict is not yet in, we can be reasonably sure that Amenhotep II was the pharaoh of the Exodus.