Qur'an : al-A`raf 7:103-140; al-Anfal 8:52,54; Yunus 10:75-93; Hud 11:97; Ibrahim 14:6; bani Isra'il 17:101; Ta Ha 20:24,43-79; al-Mu'minun 23:46; ash-Shu`ara' 26:10-66; an-Naml 27:12; al-Qasas 28:3-42; al-`Ankabut 29:39; Sad 38:12; al-Mu'min 40:23-46; az-Zukhruf 43:46-85; ad-Dukhan 44:17-33; Qaf 50:13; adh-Dhariyat 51:38-40; al-Qamar 54:41-42; al-Haqqah 69:9; al-Muzammil 73:15-16; an-Nazi`at 79:17-25; al-Buruj 85:18

The Origin of the Title

The Kings of Ancient Egypt are commonly referred to as "Pharaohs" - a term that the Greeks and Hebrews used for the rulers of the Nile valley. There are two theories concerning the origin of this word:

1. Some historians believe that the name is a compound of the words Ra, (the "sun" or "sun-god"), with the article phe ("the") prefixed. This produces phera - "the sun," or "the sun-god.". According to this argument, the King of Egypt was believed to be the earthly representative of the deities, and the title "Phera" (the sun god) gave the King royal authority that was directly derived from the gods. (J. Gardner Wilkinson, The Ancient Egyptians, 1994, p 310) It is possible that the Kings of Egypt had this title before Abraham since the sun god was always a major deity in the Egyptian pantheon, dating from Egypt's earliest history.

2. Other historians believe that the name was derived from Perao, "the great house", (his majesty), similar to the Turkish term, "the Sublime Porte." According to this theory, the term Pharaoh, a term used by the Greeks, Hebrews, and Arabs, was originally used to denote the palace or the court in which the King of Egypt lived but the connotative meaning gradually diverged from the denotative meaning and the term "Pharaoh" was used to refer to the government and the King.

From the end of the 12th Dynasty onwards the health wish "may it live, prosper and be in health" was often added when referring to "the Great House", but it appears that the term referred to the palace or the court of the King. The earliest [written] instance, where the term Pharaoh ("the Great House") actually refers to the king, is a letter to Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten), which is addressed to "Pharaoh, may he live, prosper and be in health, the Master".

The Qur'an knows only of one Pharaoh

This is discussed in detail in the article A Pharaoh Who Forgot to Die in Time?

The Rulers of Egypt and the Bible

Some Muslims believe that the Bible commits an error of historical anachronism when it refers to the ruler of Egypt during the life of the Old Testament Prophet Joseph as Pharaoh instead of King (as the Qur'an refers to him). However, the term "Pharaoh" existed during the time of Joseph.

The Bible's use of the term "Pharaoh" accurately, reflects the Egyptian connotative usage of the term. The early kings are always mentioned under the general title Pharao, or Pharao the King of Egypt. The personal names of the Pharaohs appear in the twenty-second dynasty (945-712 B.C.) along with the title. The Pharaohs of the earlier books of the Bible are not identified by their proper names. This IS NOT proof of the late date of their composition and or a flawed knowledge of Egyptian history, rather the contrary - these men were not identified by their personal names during these periods. This is also true in the case of the use of the title Pharao for kings earlier than the eighteenth dynasty, which is consistent with the Egyptian usage of the title up to the time of the nineteenth dynasty.

The Egyptian Kings of the Bible

The first King of Egypt mentioned in the Bible is Shishak (Sheshonk I), the founder of the twenty-second dynasty and contemporary of Roboam and Jeroboam. Pharaoh is not prefixed to his name.

Solomon tried to kill Jeroboam, but Jeroboam fled to Egypt, to Shishak the king, and stayed there until Solomon's death. (1 Kings 11:40)

The second King of Egypt mentioned in the Bible was So, who was an ally of Osee, King of Israel. So is commonly identified with Shabaka, who was the founder of the twenty-fifth dynasty. However, So was probably an otherwise minor local ruler prior to Shabaka's reign.

But the king of Assyria discovered that Hoshea was a traitor, for he had sent envoys to So king of Egypt, and he no longer paid tribute to the king of Assyria, as he had done year by year. Therefore Shalmaneser seized him and put him in prison. (2 Kings 17:4)

The third King of Egypt, mentioned in the Bible, is Tirhakah the Cushite (Ethiopian). He was an opponent of Sennacherib and the Bible correctly calls Tirhakah the King of Ethiopia.

Now Sennacherib received a report that Tirhakah, the Cushite king [of Egypt], was marching out to fight against him. So he again sent messengers to Hezekiah with this word: 2 Kings 19: 9

The Pharaohs of the Bible

There are several early Pharaohs mentioned in the Bible. Neco, who defeated Josiah, is mentioned in 2 Kings 23:29:

While Josiah was king, Pharaoh Neco king of Egypt went up to the Euphrates River to help the king of Assyria. King Josiah marched out to meet him in battle, but Neco faced him and killed him at Megiddo.

Ephree, or Hophra, the contemporary of Sedecius, is mentioned in Jeremiah 44:30

"This is what the LORD says: `I am going to hand Pharaoh Hophra king of Egypt over to his enemies who seek his life, just as I handed Zedekiah king of Judah over to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, the enemy who was seeking his life."

The Unnamed Pharaohs of the Bible

1. The Pharaoh of the time of Abraham

Ancient chronology makes it nearly impossible to determine which Pharaoh ruled over Egypt when Abraham arrived. The Massoretic tells us that there is a span of 1125 years between Abraham's migration to Canaan and the construction of the Temple. The Septuagint suggests a time span of 870 years. The construction of the Temple began around 1010 B. C., according to some scholars, and about 969 B. C. according to others. Therefore, the date of Abraham's migration would be sometime between 2135 and 2094 B. C. according to the chronology of the Massoretic text, and sometime between 1880 and 1839 B. C. for the Septuagint. Unfortunately, ancient Egyptian chronology is also uncertain. If Meyer's dates are correct, Abraham's journey to Egypt would have occurred during the reign of one of the Mentuhoteps of the eleventh dynasty, or during the reigns of Usertesen (Sesotris) III, or Amenemhet III of the twelfth dynasty.

2. The Pharaoh of Joseph

Most historians believe that Joseph served in the government of one of the shepherd, (or Hyksos), kings, who ruled Egypt during the twelfth and eighteenth dynasties, but were eventually expelled by Ahmose I around 1580 B.C.. The duration of their rule is not known, however, Hykso rule probably did not last much more than a hundred years. Therefore, this would place Joseph somewhere in the seventeenth century B. C.

If we work through our chronology, most scholars believe that the Exodus occurred during the reign of Merneptah, (around 1225 B.C.). Also, if we assume that the Israelites spent 430 years in Egypt, as stated in the Massoretic text (Exodus 12:40), the time period in which Joseph was in Egypt would be approximately 1665 B.C.. The names of four Hyksos kings are known to historians because they are inscribed on several Egyptian monuments. There was a ruler named Khian and three named Apophises. During the 8th century. A. D., there was a consensus that the Pharaoh of the time of Joseph was Apophis, most likely Apophis II, the most important, and well known, of the three named Apophis. This may, or may not be true - the history of this early period is somewhat obscure.

3. The Pharaoh of the Oppression and of the Exodus

The expulsion of the Hyksos by the "native" Egyptian princes deprived the Israelites of their political protection in Egypt, however, the rulers of the eighteenth dynasty were not xenophobic and did not interfere with the day-today lives of the Israelites. In fact, many Egyptian rulers married foreign (mostly Syrian) wives including Amenhotep III who married a Syrian princess and sun-worshiper named Tyi. Their son, Akhenaten (or Amenhotep IV), abandoned the national religion and began to worship of the sun. This led to a great amount of conflict with the priests of Thebes, so Akhenaten moved his capital to Tell el-Amarna, and surrounded himself with foreigners, both in the temples and in the government civil service.

After Akhenaten , the ruling class of Egypt (the 19th dynasty) became very xenophobic, and gave no privileges to foreigners. They "knew not Joseph, but made the lives of the Hebrews' bitter with hard bondage, in mortar and in all manner of service in the field.' There was good reason why tyrannical kings like those who now arose should view with alarm the rapid increase of the Hebrews, seeing that they were aliens, and lived in a quarter where, if inclined to be disloyal, they could lend invaluable aid to Asiatic invaders" (Souttar "A Short History of Ancient Peoples", New York, 1903, 200 sq.).

Pharaoh Rameses II (19th dynasty) treated the Israelites with extreme cruelty. He ascended to the throne at the age of eighteen and reigned for sixty years (approximately from 1300-1234 B.C.). He employed the Israelites as field labor (Exodus 1:14) and forced them to construct the cities of Phithom (the ruins of this city are approximately 11 miles from Ismailia and indicate that it was built for that monarch) and Rameses named for that Pharaoh. Rameses II made a desperate, and brutal, attempt to reduce the number of Israleites by committing organized infanticide. The Israelites would have disappeared from the face of the earth, but God had a plan, raising up Moses and commanding him to free his people. With the help of his brother Aaron, as well as a variety of scourges (plagues) sent against Egypt, Moses finally convinced Rameses' son, and successor, Merneptah I (1234-14 B.C.) to let his people go free (Exodus 2:23).

Go Back to Main Index