Responses to Islamic Awareness

Joseph(P), Moses(P) & The Rulers Of Egypt

M S M Saifullah and Elias Kareem attempt to legitimize the Qur'an and discredit the Bible based on the fact that the early Kings of Egypt were not given the title of Pharaoh. The authors claim that the Bible makes a mistake when it refers to the Kings of Egypt (prior to the 18th Dynasty) as Pharaoh. This arguments confuses questions of fact with questions of relevance. Incidentally, the Qur'an is also guilty of the same error, if it is indeed an error.

Sura 50: 12-13

Before them was denied (the Hereafter) by the People of Noah, the Companions of the Rass, the Thamud, The 'Ad, Pharaoh, the brethren of Lut,

Therefore, according to the Qur'an, the King of Egypt was called Pharaoh (since this list appears to be in chronological order) at, or before the time of the "brethren of Lot". Lot and Abraham lived in the same time period since Lot was his nephew! In any event, these "brethren" lived before Joseph.

Joseph(P) & The King Of Egypt

A few examples of the usage of the word King during the time of Joseph(P) are underlined in red in the Arabic text.

The king (of Egypt) said: "I do see (in a vision) seven fat kine, whom seven lean ones devour, and seven green ears of corn, and seven (others) withered. O ye chiefs! expound to me my vision, if it be that ye can interpret visions." [Qur'an 12:43]

They said: "We miss the great beaker of the king; for him who produces it, is (the reward of) a camel-load; I will be bound by it." [Qur'an 12:72]

More information about the usage of the word King during the time of Joseph(P) can be found in the Surah Yusuf and are given below.

King (Joseph's Story), 12:43, 12:50, 12:54, 12:72, 12:76

The Kings of Ancient Egypt are commonly referred to as "Pharaohs". 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. However, this is not the definition given to us by Dr. Saifuallah.

Other historians, along with Dr. Saifullah et al., believe that the name was derived from Perao, "the great house" (his majesty), similar to the Turkish term, "the Sublime Porte." According to the second argument, 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 term "Pharaoh" existed during the time of Joseph, whether he lived during the 15th dynasty (1630-1521 BC) or during the 12th Dynasty.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, 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 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 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:

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.'"

Both Neco and Hophra are called Pharaoh, according to the Egyptian usage of their time.

Moses(P) & The Pharaoh Of Egypt

Both the Bible and Qur'an agree that the King of Egypt was called Pharaoh during the time of Moses. However, they do not agree on how many Pharaohs existed in Moses' life, see the article, A Pharaoh Who Forgot to Die in Time?

Egyptology At Our Rescue

What does modern Egyptology tells us about the rulers of the Egypt and when they were called as Pharaohs? The Encylopedia Britannica informs us under Pharaoh:

(from Egyptian per 'aa, "great house") , originally, the royal palace in ancient Egypt; the word came to be used as a synonym for the Egyptian king under the New Kingdom (starting in the 18th dynasty, 1539-1292 BC), and by the 22nd dynasty ( 945-730 BC) it had been adopted as an epithet of respect. The term has since evolved into a generic name for all ancient Egyptian kings, although it was never formally the king's title.

Yes, and therefore, according to this argument, the term is incorrect for both the Bible and the Qur'an regardless of the time period in which it is used.

Most of us are unaware of this minor but very important point that the rulers of Egypt were called Pharaohs only in the New Kingdom period. Loosely speaking, in layman terms, all the Egyptian rulers are addressed as Pharaohs which is, of course, incorrect.

Not according to the previous paragraph where you informed us that:

"The term has since evolved into a generic name for all ancient Egyptian kings, although it was never formally the king's title"!

Since it is "incorrect" to call the King of Egypt "Pharaoh", both the Bible and Qur'an are in error according to your argument. This statement essentially annihilates your argument!


Dr. Saifullah attempts to make a major issue out of a minor point. First we are told that:

"The term has since evolved into a generic name for all ancient Egyptian kings, although it was never formally the king's title."

Yet, we are told:

With the current data available to us from Egyptology, the mentioning of the ruler of Egypt is addressed as King (Malik, in Arabic) during the time of Joseph's(P) and Pharaoh (Fir'awn, in Arabic) during the time of Moses(P) by the Qur'an is amazingly accurate.

Which is it? Was "Pharaoh" a proper title for the King of Egypt, or was it never the title of the King of Egypt?

In conclusion, the title of Pharaoh (or Great House) was always the name given to the royal residence of the King of Egypt - it was not the proper title of the King. Therefore, if it is an error to refer to the King of Egypt as Pharaoh (and I do not believe that it is), the Qur'an, along with the Bible, is also guilty of historical anachronism. However, if the first hypothesis is correct (that the title Pharaoh is derived from the name of the sun god), both the Bible and Qur'an use the term correctly. In any case, as our friends at "Islamic Awareness" love to say, God knows best.

Andrew Vargo

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