Who’s the Baby-Killing-Meany Pharaoh in Exodus 1?

Mesu Andrews Newsletter Articles

If you haven’t noticed, I’m going to fill you in on a little secret…Scripture can be confusing. We read stories translated from ancient Middle-Eastern texts with a 21st-century Western-culture mindset—and say, “Huh?”

But God…

Don’t you love that phrase? But God… It erases all the impossibilities we face. Even the roadblock of understanding His Word. I needed to repeat this phrase often while researching Egypt’s history.

I read Exodus 1:1-22, and it seemed quite simple. An Egyptian pharaoh, who didn’t know Jacob’s powerful son Joseph, became intimidated by the increasing population of Israelites in Egypt and subjected them to slavery—and then ordered Hebrew midwives to kill any baby boy born to an Israelite woman.

Horrific, but straightforward, right? Nope.

Exodus 1:1-22 is a sweeping saga that covers hundreds of years and several Egyptian pharaohs. After much research, this is the story of pharaohs as I understand it in verses 8-15…

Pharaoh Ahmose—vs. 8-10

Exodus 1:8 says, “Then a new king, who did not know about Joseph, came to power in Egypt.” I believe this pharaoh was King Ahmose (1550-1525 BCE), who drove out of Lower Egypt the ruling foreign Hyksos (Shaw, Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, p.201)—Lower Egypt being the Delta region referred to in Scripture as Goshen.  Historians tell us Hyksos is a Greek term meaning, “rulers of foreign countries,” and the Egyptians applied it to the immigrants from Syria-Palestine, who grew and prospered through the 12th and 13th dynasties of Egypt’s history.

Now, if I were writing about Joseph, he would have arrived in Egypt immediately before these dynasties. Why? Because I believe that some of these “Syria-Palestinian rulers” or Hyksos leaders were probably in the direct line of Joseph (but that’s another story).

King Ahmose united Upper and Lower Egypt by expelling the Hyksos rulers and regaining control of the fertile pasturelands of the Delta (Goshen). The Syria-Palestinian people who remained were called Habiru—later to be translated, Hebrew.

Slave-Maker Pharaohs—vs. 11-14

The degree of ruthlessness and bondage spoken of in vs. 11-14 would have progressed over time under the authority of several pharaohs. Break it down with me, considering the time frames required for each activity:

  • v. 11—Put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor – Consider the government personnel and administration required to force hundreds of thousands of lingering dissidents into labor camps.
  • v. 11—They [the Hebrews] built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh – How long does it take to build a city? And Rameses wasn’t even king until the 18th Dynasty.
  • v.12—The more the Hebrews were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread – No matter what period of history we’re talking about, a baby takes nine months to be born! There’s no hurrying God’s knitting in the womb.
  • v. 14—Harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields – suggesting the changing and passing of many seasons…years.

Why Find the Baby-Killer Pharaoh—vs.15-16

Have you ever wondered why this Pharaoh wasn’t named? What does it mean when God leaves out a detail like that? Personally…I believe He delights in our searching for answers, finding the hidden mysteries recorded by men and in other passages of His inspired Word. I think Solomon agreed:

“It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.”     Proverbs 25:2

So, here’s what my VERY limited scope of research points to… Follow my logic for a moment. Scripture tells us that in the first census taken after the Exodus, there were 603,550 Israelite males over the age of twenty, and that didn’t include the Tribe of Levi (Num 1:46-49). Let’s say all those fellas had a wife. That would be a lot of women having babies, right?

“The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, ‘When you help the Hebrew women in childbirth and observe them on the delivery stool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.’”  Exodus 1:15-16

Do you think there were only two midwives in all of Egypt?

Probably not.

Which leads us to believe that Pharaoh must have been speaking to Hebrew midwives in a particular area or estate. Maybe only two midwives serviced Goshen or the towns associated with the aristocracy of the Delta. That’s my guess, and that’s how my story will be told.

Start With What We Know

In last month’s newsletter, we looked at how I chose the biblical and historical character of Pharaoh’s daughter for my current WIP (work in progress). (You’ll find her mentioned in 1 Chronicles 4:17-18.)

We also decided which of the two hotly-debated Exodus dates I would use for the story. Because we chose not to use Hatshepsut as Pharaoh’s daughter in the story, we’ll use 1250 BCE as our date of Israel’s exodus from Egypt. So, now we use what we know from Scripture to discover Moses’s birthdate:

  • Acts 7:23-24 tells us Moses was forty years old when he decided to visit his own people and discovered them being mistreated by an Egyptian—and committed murder.
  • Exodus 7:7 tells us he was eighty years old when he returned to Egypt to warn Pharaoh of the plagues and become God’s instrument of deliverance for Israel.

If Moses was eighty at the time of the Exodus, and the Exodus occurred in 1250 BCE, he must have been born in 1330 BCE, right?

Simple Isn’t Easy

King TutWe just need to find out who was pharaoh in 1330, and we’ve got our story!

So, Who’s the Baby-Killing Pharaoh?

Drumroll please…

King Tutankhamun! Yep, you read it right. King Tut reigned from (approximately) 1336-1327 BCE. The famous mummy exhibit that’s been displayed all over the world—he’s the one! He’s ordered the Hebrew baby boys murdered, executed, drowned in the Nile.

Wait…If this is so simple, such a no-brainer, why has no one come up with it before?

Okay, remember that Pharaoh’s Daughter snatched Moses from the Nile?

King Tut had no children, so this pharaoh had no daughter to rescue Moses.

So, which is accurate—archeology or Scripture?

The answer is always SCRIPTURE. But how do we explain the apparent discrepancy?

Blending Fact With Fiction

I love writing biblical novels—even when it drives me crazy. Remember from last month’s newsletter my rules for creating these stories? Here’s a refresher:

  1. Use Scripture’s facts FIRST.
  2. Add historical data.
  3. THEN create fiction to sew the pieces together.

While attending King Tut’s exhibit in Seattle, I learned his sister-wife had two miscarriages. The fetuses were buried in canopic jars with him in his tomb—both were baby girls, one only about 5 months old and the other almost full-term. These are historical facts.

King Tut

Tut’s biological father was a controversial pharaoh, Akhenaten. He was married to Nefertiti, called the Great Wife, who was a powerful figure and bore him six daughters. However, Akhenaten also married a foreign wife, Kiya, who he called his Beloved Wife. She bore him three children: Tut and two daughters. These are also historical facts.

My imagination started reeling. What if (there’s another phrase I love)…what if the “pharaoh’s daughter” that pulled Moses from the Nile was King Tut’s sister? She could have been Akhenaten’s daughter but the reigning pharaoh’s sister. And what if Tut’s edict to kill Hebrew boys was motivated by more than just hate for Hebrews? What if his intense grief over losing two baby girls meant lashing out at a slave population who seemed to multiply like desert hares? This part of the story would be fiction.

Not Such a Leap

Fictional twists and turns sew together history and biblical truth in a plausible fasion. Egyptologists might shoot holes in my theories. Biblical scholars might deny the possibilities of King Tut in Exodus’s pages. But the thing that excites me about biblical novels is the very real lives of the people I get to write about. Moses was real. Those midwives and the mother who loved her baby too much to obey Pharaoh’s edict—they were real women, who faced life and death choices. And the God that delivered them is still real today. If it didn’t happen exactly as I portray it—that’s okay. Because the lessons learned and the God who teaches them is the same yesterday, today, and forever.