When we look at Biblical accounts there are many mentions of Egypt with the most prominent being Israel’s exodus out of that country under Moses.
It was a dramatic encounter that brought the full force of Yahweh against Egypt and its pharaoh who refused to let Israel leave.
Similarly, there are several references to Israel in Egyptian records — from mentions on wall carvings and steles to papyris. According to Charles Aling the oldest reference is found on the Merneptah Stele dated to around 1208 BC that refers to a group of people called the Shasu.
Aling who specializes in Egyptology is chairman of the History department at Northwestern College.
The Egyptians referred to the Shasu several times through the centuries.
The word is used to describe a semi-nomadic people who lived in Canaan. It is generally believed that Shasu incorporated all the Semitic people – descendants of Abraham — such as the Edomites, Ishmaelites, Moabites and Israelis.
From the Egyptian records the Shasu were generally looked upon as enemies of Egypt and in one instance they are listed as the allies of the Hittites who the Egyptians were battling at the time.
Oddly, there is even a mention of “giant” Shasus living in Canaan. Found in a papyrus from Pharaoh Anastasi I’s reign (around 1250 BC), it may have referred to Goliath and his family.
Aling says that we know the Hebrews were included in the Shasu because in two instances inscriptions refer to the ‘Land of Shasu of Yahweh’ — an actual reference to Jehovah.
According to Aling, this phrase is the earliest reference to Yahweh and is found on the temple wall constructed during the reign of Amenhotep III dated to 1400 BC. Aling says by this point, the Pharaoh, or at the very least his scribes, were now familiar with Yahweh.
It is also clear that by this time the Shasu were out of Egypt and living in there own land — meaning the Exodus had already taken place.
But this is where it becomes a bit unusual. Generally the Egyptians readily incorporated the worship of foreign gods into their religion. They even set up temples for many of them including the Assyrian deities Astarte and Anath.
But it is clear that Yahweh was in a category of His own. They did not build a temple to this God as they did for other foreign deities.
“To say the least, this is very strange for the syncretistic Egyptians. A possible explanation is that Yahweh was seen by the Egyptians as an enemy God, of an enemy tribal group which was a part of the hated Shasu peoples who lived north of Egypt.”
Aling points out when Moses led Israel out of Egypt the Pharaoh of the Exodus initially had no idea who Yahweh was:
2 But Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and besides, I will not let Israel go.” (Exodus 5:2 NASV).
Though this Pharaoh claimed ignorance of Yahweh, by the time God was done all of Egypt would know who the God of Israel was:
17 Thus says the Lord, “By this you shall know that I am the Lord: behold, I will strike [a]the water that is in the Nile with the staff that is in my hand, and it will be turned to blood. (Exodus 7:17 NASV)
Since they knew who Yahweh was under Amenhotep III, then the Exodus obviously took place earlier than Ramses II (1279-1213 BC) who many traditionally believe was the Pharaoh of the Exodus.
The Hyksos were Semitic and cousins of the Israelis. They conquered northern Egypt around 1800 BC driving the Egyptian government south. During the occupation, the Hyksos maintained a number of Egyptian customs including naming their leaders pharaoh.
Their culturally similarities with the Israelis helped Joseph to rise up to power and paved the way for the Hyksos Pharaoh to invite Joseph’s family to live in Egypt.
Around 1550 BC, the Egyptians under Pharaoh Amhose I drove the Hyksos out of Northern Egypt.
We see Egypt’s recapture of the northern territory mentioned in the Bible:
“Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” (Exodus 1:8 NASV)
This verse specifically notes that the “new” king did not know Joseph, meaning there was no historical connection to Joseph. Ahmose I did not know Joseph because he was an Egyptian from the south and as well not Semitic.
But Amhose I understood the dynamics between the Hyksos and the Israelis. They were both Semites and therefore allies. Fearing they would join with the Hyksos if they tried to retake Egypt, Amhose I decided to subjugate the Jews:
9 He said to his people, “Behold, the people of the sons of Israel are more and mightier than we. 10 Come, let us deal wisely with them, or else they will multiply and in the event of war, they will also join themselves to those who hate us, and fight against us and depart from the land.” (Exodus 1:9-10 NASV).
But Ahmose I was not pharaoh of the Exodus.
A lot of time passed between Moses being raised in Pharaoh’s court, killing the Egyptian guards, fleeing to the wilderness and then being called back by God to lead Israel out of Egypt. The Bible also records that while Moses was gone, the Pharaoh died (Exodus 2:23).
I suspect when God sent Moses back to Israel to lead them out of Egypt, they were probably now dealing with Amhose I’s son, Amenhotep I (1540 BC to 1521 BC).
Archaeological evidence tells us that Amenhotep I had a son who died as an infant which fits the Biblical record of the killing of the firstborn (Exodus 11:4-5). We even know his son’s name — Ahhotep II, Amenemhat.
It seems that Amenhotep I and his wife (probably his sister) died childless.
After Amenhotep I died, the next pharaoh takes on a different name Thutmose I and it is uncertain who his father was. He was followed by his descendants — Thutmose II and III.
Then around 1425 BC, the son of Thutmose III decides to take on the name of the Amenhotep dynasty when he became pharaoh, calling himself Amenhotep II. Though Amenhotep II’s son went by the name of Thutmose IV, when he died, his son returned to Amenhotep tradition calling himself Amenhotep III (1390 BC t0 1352 BC) during whose reign we find the first mention of Yahweh.
So the early mention of the name Yahweh supports the position that the Exodus took place long before Ramses.
When we start looking at it from this perspective, that the Exodus happened shortly after the Hyksos were driven out Egypt, this is when we find several references to the plagues in the Egyptian records.
A list of Egyptian Pharaohs after the defeat of the Hyksos
The Hyksos were a Semitic group (descendant of Abraham) who conquered the Northern Territory of Egypt around 1800 BC. They were cousins of the Israelis. It was during their reign that Joseph rose up to second in command to the Pharaoh after being sold into slavery in Egypt by his brothers.
After the invasion by the Hyksos, the Egyptian government consolidated in the Southern half of Egypt. It took them nearly 350 years until they drove the Hyksos out.
The following is a list of Pharaohs who came to power shortly after the Hyksos were defeated. One of these Pharaohs is the Pharaoh of the Exodus:
|Nebpehtire Ahmose I, Ahmosis I: 1550–1525 BC||
Defeated the Hyksos, driving them out of Northern Egypt. The Hyskso had conquered Northern Egypt around 1800 BC. The Hyksos were Semitic meaning they were cousins of the Israelis and this explains why Joseph was able to rise to a position of power during the Hyksos period.
The Bible refers to him as the new king who did not know Joseph (Exodus 1:8). This was because Ahmose I was Egyptian and the Hyksos, similar to the Israelis were Semitic.
Ahmose I forced the Jews into slavery because he thought they would join with their enemies (Exodus 1:9-10). He was concerned that the Hyksos would try to retake the Northern territory.
Archaeology tells us Ahmose I was actively involved in construction and according to the Bible used the descendants of Abraham as slaves in his construction projects (Exodus 1:10-11).
He is not the Pharaoh of the Exodus, because too much time passed, including Moses being raised in the Pharaoh’s court, his banishment in the wilderness and then return to lead the Israelis out of Egypt.
The Bible also mentions that Ahmose I died while Moses was in the wilderness (Exodus 2:23).
|Djeserkare Amenhotep I: 1541–1520 BC||
Son of Ahmose I. Possibly the Pharaoh of the Exodus.
Archaeological records show that similar to his father he was actively involved in building construction. According to the Bible, the Pharaoh of the Exodus forced the Israelis to gather the straw used to create bricks as punishment for wanting to leave (Exodus 5:6-8).
According to archaeological records Amenhotep I’s son died as an infant. It is also possible he and his wife died childless. This would fulfill the killing of the firstborn that according to the Bible also struck the Pharaoh’s home (Exodus 11:4-5).
|Aakheperkare Thutmose I: 1520–1492 BC||
|Aakheperenre Thutmose II: 1492–1479 BC||
Son of Thutmose I.
|Maatkare Hatshepsut: 1479–1458 BC||
Second known female ruler of Egypt. She was the Aunt of Thutmose III, who was the son of Thutmose II, suggesting she may have served as his regent due to his young age. She was actively involved in construction projects.
|Menkheperre Thutmose III: 1458–1425 BC||
Son of Thutmose II. May have initiially co-ruled with his aunt (see above).
|Aakheperrure Amenhotep II: 1425–1400 BC||
Son of Thutmose III, decided to go by the name Amenhotep. Mentions the Shasu, a reference to the Hebrews.
|Menkheperure Thutmose IV: 1400–1390 BC||
Son of Amenhotep II. Mentions the Shasu, a reference to the Hebrews.
|Nebmaatre Amenhotep III The Magnificent King: 1390–1352 BC||
Son of Amenhotep III. Extensive builder. First mention of the Hebrew God Yahweh. Mentions the Shasu, a reference to the Hebrews.
However, he mentions the two words in an unusual way: ‘The land of the Shasu of Yahweh.’
This suggests that the Israelis were already out of Egypt at this point and living in Canaan. Thus the Exodus must have happened after Ahmose I and before Amenhotep III.
- The name Yahweh in Egyptian hieroglyphic texts: Bible Archaeology
Read more in this series:
- The Mystery of the Egyptian Guard
- Does an ancient papyrus speak of the Exodus from an Egyptian perspective?
- Yet another confirmation of the Jews exodus out of Egypt?
- Another confirmation of Exodus: Has a statue of Joseph been found?
- Was a Pharaoh’s violent death curiously connected to to Joseph?