Since the pharaoh, who appears alongside Moses in the Exodus story is nameless, we are left with our best guesses and detective work. One of the most recent guesses comes from a Jewish scholar working in Jerusalem. He suggests that the Pharaoh of the Exodus was none other than King Tutankhamen.
He finds two chronological clues in the Bible: 1) the Israelites worked with mud-brick, not stone (5:7-8); 2) the Israelites spent 430 years in Egypt (from Joseph to Moses) (Ex. 12:40). These events are listed on the Bible Timeline Chart.
PRO: A Building of Mud-Brick
Most building projects in Egypt (the pyramids and temples) involved stone-work. The one major mud-brick building project was the city of Akhetaten. Akhenaten built this city as a new religious center for the worship of one god, Aten.
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His new program of radical monotheism was not very popular among the Egyptian religious and political establishment. This meant he had to work quickly. The choice of mud-brick as the building material for this new city helped with that very short timeline. They completed the entire city in six years. Eight years later, Akhenaten died, and the city was evacuated.
Reference to Plagues
Since the pharaoh who built the city with Israelite labor died before the Exodus events (Ex. 2:23), his son Tutankhamen would then be the Pharaoh of the Exodus. In his article in the Jerusalem Post, you would think the Egyptian stela was talking directly about the Exodus. In talking about the stele, Rosenberg cites the following curses: 1) Hapi, god of the Nile, will make it undrinkable; 2) Kermit, goddess of fertility, will release her frogspawn; 3) Osiris, god of corn, will allow locusts to eat the grain; 4) Ra, the sun god, will refuse to shine.
CON – Plagues not actually listed
Unfortunately, things that look too good to be true usually are. The only thing the restoration stele of Tutankhamen says is that the gods turned their back on the land. It does not give any specifics about curses. It does not even mention the specific gods by name. It is Rosenberg, who took the plagues recorded in the Exodus and linked them with specific Egyptian deities.
Question of Dates
The Hyksos from 1720 – 1550 BC
Rosenberg also makes a follow-up point. He points to the Hyksos, a Semitic people group. They entered Egypt in large numbers around 1750 BC. They became so dominant that they ruled Egypt for close to 200 years (1720-1550 BC). Josephus was a Jewish historian and a contemporary of Jesus. He thought that the Israelites entered Egypt with this group.
Remember the high position Joseph held in the Egyptian government? This made perfect sense during this period of Semitic rule in Egypt. This was followed by a stark shift in power between the 15th and 18th dynasty. The Semites lost power whereas the native Egyptians regained it. Could this help explain the shift in attitude on the part of the Egyptian government towards Israel? Israel thrives as a minority under Joseph. But the Pharaoh “who did not know Joseph” turns them into an oppressed minority. Rosenberg points out that Jews and Christians alike ignore the specific information on Israel’s time in Egypt (Exodus 12:40). Even the Amazing Bible Timeline follows Bishop Ussher in assigning 130 years to this period rather than 430. His dates restore this original figure.
The City and Pharoahs Ramses
But there is good reason Rosenberg is practically alone in arguing for King Tut as the Pharaoh of the Exodus. He ignores the two primary pieces of evidence that most commentators cite. One is a chronological note in 1 Kings 6:1. The second is the reference to the city Rameses.
Most Christian and secular scholars today base their arguments on the city of Rameses. Ramses is a personal name meaning “son of Ra.” 11 different pharaohs bore this name. They ruled between the 13th and 12th centuries BC. Regardless of the identification of this city, it should be one named after one of these kings. Not only that, there happens to be a city called Per-Ramessu (Pi-Ramesse). It happens to be located in the Nile Delta, where the Bible situates it. It was also built with slave labor. The name of these slave laborers was the ʿApiru’. Many scholars connect this word with the Hebrew word for “Hebrews.” It was Ramses II who orchestrated this building project. This city functioned as the seat of Egyptian power throughout the 19th and 20th dynasties. Moses does make a reference in Genesis to Joseph living in “the land of Rameses.” But one can easily explain this as a reference to the area Moses knew by this later name.
A Difference in Spelling?
Critics of this position argue that there is no reason to identify Rameses the city with the pharaoh’s name Ramses. Their main argument is that the two names are spelled differently, Raamses as opposed to Ramesses. This is a difficult position as the Bible only mentions the place Rameses and not the pharaoh. The Hebrew contains the letters resh-ayin-mem-samekh-samekh (rʿmss). The Egyptian uses the letters r-ayin-m-s2-w (rʿmśśw). The final /w/ indicates the vowel u and Hebrew lost all final short vowels. But this is the crux of the rebuttal.
There is another group of scholars who emphasize a different piece of evidence. They focus on 1 Kings 6:1. It states that Solomon broke ground on the Temple in Jerusalem 480 years after the Exodus. Scholars vary in the dates they assign the temple construction. Recent scholars have placed the date as low as 958 BC. The Amazing Bible Timeline gives a date of 1011 BC for this event. Adding 480 years would place the Exodus at the beginning of the 15th century BC. This corresponds to the 18th dynasty of Egypt. These two pieces of evidence were easy to reconcile for scholars in the 17th century like Bishop Ussher. The Greek histories of Egypt easily placed Ramses II in the 15th century. Archeological excavations in the 19th and 20th centuries changed all that. We now have direct access to the Egyptian language and thousands of Egyptian texts.
Possible Reconciliation of View Points
Critics of this position point to a number of concerns. The number 480 is a very round number. It corresponds to 12 generations of 40 years. The authors of the Biblical text were not saying 480 years exactly. Rather they were using a standard number to indicate 12 generations. Adjusting the length of a generation still preserves the integrity of the Biblical text. Another way to do it is to add up the years given for events from the Exodus to the temple. This method produces a period of 510 years plus 3 periods of unknown length. This suggests that these events may overlap in ways the Bible does not bother explaining.
Wherever we locate the events of the Exodus, they clearly had a significant impact on how Israelites viewed themselves. It was also central to their view of God.
What do you think? Was King Tut the Pharaoh of the Exodus? Comment below.
Argument for 15th century Moses from a Professor at Moody Bible Institute
Argument for Tutankhamen (14th century) as Pharaoh of Exodus
Argument for 13th century Moses and Response to Rosenberg from a Professor at a Baptist Bible College
“Mummy of Tutankhamun” by Howard Carter – http://www.magicmakers.com/egyptsite/mummy.jpg. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mummy_of_Tutankhamun.jpg#/media/File:Mummy_of_Tutankhamun.jpg