Do we have a good idea as to which Pharaoh(s) were around during the time of Moses' life? What internal and external evidence exists to back up those claims? Do any Christian traditions attach any significance to correlating the events of Moses' life to the reign of a specific Pharaoh?

The movie The Prince of Egypt mentions Ramses as the name of Moses' adoptive mother's son (and the future Pharaoh, both when Moses kills the Egyptian at 40 and when he returns to Egypt when he is 80), but I don't know what the basis is for this claim.

  • If I have time I may answer from this documentary now available from NETFLIX: Patterns of Evidence EXODUS. – user13992 Sep 30 '15 at 7:33

Of course this is more of a historical-archeological question as the Bible does not directly answer but I have stumbled across a fairly convincing argument that would place Thutmose II as the Pharaoh at the time of the Exodus.

I first came across the argument in Alfred Edersheim’s Bible History. He typically pays attention to ancient monuments and secular history, as he was a historian at Oxford. He was also a Jewish man and Jewish historian converted to Christianity which makes him the most reliable source of Jewish culture and history at the time of Christ.

In his book he argues that all the records of Thutmose II best fit into the Exodus narrative:

Now this Thothmes II. began his reign very brilliantly. But after a while there is a perfect blank in the monumental records about him. But we read of a general revolt after his death among the nations whom his father had conquered. Of course, one could not expect to find on Egyptian monuments an account of the disasters which the nation sustained at the Exodus, nor how Pharaoh and his host had perished in the Red Sea. But we do find in his reign the conditions which we should have expected under such circumstances, viz., a brief, prosperous reign, then a sudden collapse; the king dead; no son to succeed him; the throne occupied by the widow of the Pharaoh, and for twenty years no attempt to recover the supremacy of Egypt over the revolted nations in Canaan and east of the Jordan. Lastly, the character of his queen, as it appears on the monuments, is that of a proud and bitterly superstitious woman, just such as we would have expected to encourage Pharaoh in "hardening his heart" against Jehovah. But the chain of coincidences does not break even here. From the Egyptian documents we learn that in the preceding reign - that is, just before the children of Israel entered the desert of Sinai - the Egyptians ceased to occupy the mines which they had until then worked in that peninsula. Further, we learn that, during the latter part of Israel's stay in the wilderness, the Egyptian king, Thothmes III., carried on and completed his wars in Canaan, and that just immediately before the entry of Israel into Palestine the great confederacy of Canaanitish kings against him was quite broken up. (Alfred Edersheim’s Bible History, Vol 2)

What adds striking support of this argument is just this year an online article was published saying a ‘Harvard University educated archaeologist and president of the Paleontological Research Corporation, Dr. Joel Klenck, states an array of archaeological discoveries evidence a crisis during the reign of the Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose II’. You can find the find the article here.

In this article it is mentioned that:

The mummy of Thutmose II is the only corpse of a pharaoh during the Eighteenth Dynasty covered with cysts from an unknown malady. (Paleontological Research Corporation, Dr. Joel Klenck)

Possibly his body was fished out of the sea and mummified and that the ‘cysts’ were part of the plagues/boils which he had suffered? This article is really worth reading as it makes a strong case that fits the Moses narrative. The article does not mention the Bible or Moses, but I find it hard to believe the author is not making the implication but for some reason not stating it.


This issue will be debated for a long time. However, Henry H. Halley addresses this issue with great clarity. In his book, Halley's Bible Handbook, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 113, "There are two leading opinions: Amenhotep II (1450-1420 B.C.), or Merneptah (1250-1220 B.C.). Merneptah was the son of Rameses II, who was a master builder & creator of the Ramesseum, located across the River Nile from modern day Luxor, and the city of Pi-Ramesses. Rameses II, A.K.A. Ramesses the Great or Ramses, is one of the most notable and powerful pharaohs of all time. If Moses was raised by the daughter of Ramses II and Nefertari, then the Exodus occurred under the leadership of Merneptah and the cruel enslavement of the Jews occurred under the leadership of Ramses II. Many scholars believe this based upon the Scripture "Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses." Ex. 1:11, KJV.

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE) agrees, but adds that it could have been Amenhotep II. The belief that it was Amenhotep II is somewhat confusing; and yet, compelling! It revolves around Pharaoh's daughter. "If, as many think, the Pharaoh of the Oppression was Thothmes III [a.k.a. Thutmose III, Tuthmosis III, Thutmosis, Thothmes], then Pharaoh's daughter was some unknown princess. Some have thought she was Hatshepsut, the "Queen Elizabeth of Egypt." (from International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, "Pharaoh's Daughter", Electronic Database Copyright © 1996, 2003 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.). Why is it important to determine who the daughter of Pharaoh was? By determining who the Pharaoh's daughter was, we can determine who the Pharaoh was. The problem is tumultuous and I will attempt to explain it below.

By the way, the belief that she was Hatshepsut, the "Queen Elizabeth of Egypt" is also mentioned in Halley's Handbook, p. 112. She was the daughter of Thotmes I. And she was co-regent (co-Pharaoh) with Thotmes II and Thotmes III.

Apparently, Thotmes II married his half-sister, Hatshepsut, who was the real "ruling" power of Egypt. Upon his death, Thotmes III took his place, with Hatshepsut still in power. When she died, Thotmes III extended the empire, built many monuments, constructed a mighty Navy; and is considered the greatest conqueror in Egyptian history.

But, here is where the theory gets confusing. If Thotmes III is the Pharaoh of Moses' time, how could his firstborn son die by the death angel of Exodus? When his firstborn son died two years before? Apparently, Thotmes III, appointed Amenhotep II to be his co-regent two or three years before the Exodus. Thotmes III sent Amenhotep II to lead a battle against the Syrians. So when the death angel swept over the land, it was Amenhotep II's firstborn who died. Furthermore, history records that Thotmes III died in the same year (in the Red Sea).

Hence, the confusion as to whether it was Thotmes III or Amenhotep II who was the pharaoh of Moses' time. It was both. Whose son died? Amenhotep II. And history does record that shortly after his co-regency began, his son died mysteriously.

Thotmes II & Thotmes III were pharaohs during the time of Moses' upbringing. Thotmes III was the Pharaoh during the years that Moses was living in Midian. Thotmes III & Amenhotep II were pharaohs when the Exodus began.

Furthermore, if you take a careful look at the Scriptures, it says in 1 Kings 6:1, "And it came to pass in the four hundred and eightieth year after the children of Israel were come out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon's reign over Israel, in the month Zif, which is the second month, that he began to build the house of the LORD." We only need to trace the time from the fourth year of Solomon's reign and go backwards in time 480 years, you come to the time of Amenhotep II's reign.

Which of the two pharaoh's did Moses oppose? Let the scholars debate that issue. As for me, I believe it was Amenhotep II. After all, it was his son that died! Amenhotep II went to war with the Syrians because he was younger, more virile and did not believe that Moses' threat would amount to a hill of beans.

Could it have been Ramses II? Yes, there is a lot of evidence to show that it was him. It's the timeline that I have a problem with!

The debate will go on and on; but this is for certain, archaeology confirms that the Pharaohs came to power and are now gone, yet the Jews are still living among us. Let God be praised!

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    Welcome to C.SE. Normally, I tell people that when you get the chance to check out our tour and specifically How we are different than other sites. I say normally, because you appear to have read it thoroughly, and given one of the best answers I think I've seen on this site yes. At the risk of sounding too needy, please, please, please continue to contribute :) Your answer is absolutely amazing - well sourced, neutral POV, and engagingly written. Thank you, thank you! – Affable Geek Nov 30 '13 at 20:14
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    Thank you for you'r knowledge. I would also like to mention that as a newcomer you'r answer is very well put together and thought out. Welcome to the community! – Jeremy Dec 3 '13 at 15:39

The short answer is: No one knows.

You might think it would be a simple matter of saying, "The Exodus occurred in such-and-such a year, look up who was Pharaoh in that year, problem solved." But in practice scholars debate just when the various Pharaohs ruled, and they debate even more when the Exodus happened. I've seen theories that range from Pepi II, generally put about 2200 BC, to Rameses II, ca 1250 BC. Scholars pushing for Pepi have to say that Moses really lived much earlier than generally thought and Pepi much later, etc.

That said, most conservative scholars put the Exodus about 1450 BC, which would put it during the reign of Thutmose II or Thutmose III. Liberal scholars put the Exodus later, around 1250 BC, in the time of Rameses II.

Discussions of the Pharaoh of the Exodus tend to focus on the better known Pharaohs, like Rameses. But a case could be made that this is backwards: the Pharaoh of the Exodus would have gone down in Egyptian history as a failure—someone best glossed over. As Mike notes, Thutmose II was rather undistinguished and lived about the right time, so he may be a good guess.

(As I write this Mike and I are the only two answers, and we are agreeing. Don't take this to mean there is broad consensus: there are many contrary opinions out there, many with good historical arguments to back them up.)


This question appears to assume there really was an Exodus from Egypt, as described in the Book of Exodus, although it should be noted that the strong consensus of scholars is that the Exodus did not really occur as described in the Bible. There is no mention of Moses or the Exodus in Egyptian records, but we can use the Egyptian king list to identify a pharaoh alive at the time the biblical Exodus would have taken place. The pharaohs of the relevant period in the Late Bronze Age, with approximate dates:

  • Amenhotep I (1526–1506)
  • Thutmose I (1506–1493)
  • Thutmose II (1493–1479 BCE)
  • Hatshepsut (1473–1458)
  • Thutmose III (1479–1425)
  • Amenhotep II (1427–1401)
  • Thutmose IV (1401 – 1391)
  • Amenhotep III (1391–1353)
  • Akhenaten (1353–1336)
  • Smenkhkare (1335-1334)
  • Neferneferuaten (1334–1332)
  • Tutankhamun (1332–1323)
  • Ay (1323–1319)
  • Horemheb (? -1292)
  • Ramesses I (1292–1290)
  • Seti I (1290–1279)
  • Ramesses II (1279–1213)
  • Merneptah (1213-1203)

1 Kings 6:1 places the Exodus from Egypt approximately 1440 BCE, because this verse dates the Exodus 480 years before the fourth year of Solomon's reign, and the Bible dates this year of Solomon's reign at 960 BCE. This would place the Exodus in the middle of the reign of Thutmose III. On this basis, Moses was born approximately 1520 BCE, in the reign of Amenhotep I.

However, the year 1440 BCE is historically impossible, if only because of the existence of the Armana letters, which prove conclusively that until around 1350 BCE, Canaanite cities right across Palestine continued to be ruled by local petty kings under the suzerainty of Egypt. The Exodus could not credibly be placed before the time of the Amarna letters, ruling out all pharaohs before Akhenaten.

We find Ramesside references in the story of the Exodus, including the city of Pi-Ramesses, which would appear to place the Exodus in the reign of Ramesses II. It appears, on literary grounds, the biblical Exodus story would have been written long after the time of Ramesses II. The name Pi-Ramesses means "House of Ramesses", and the city was a royal city until the tenth century BCE, when the name was changed to Ramesses, as we find in the Bible. The author of Exodus was not aware that Pi-Ramesses had been a royal city, referring to it simply as a "store-city".

The Merneptah stele tells us that Merneptah invaded Palestine in about 1208 BCE, following a period of revolt against Egyptian rule and defeated the still-existing Canaanite cities as well as the Israelites, who seem to have been a rural people, with no cities of their own. This makes it unlikely that Merneptah was the pharaoh at the time of the biblical Exodus.

Although there are historical difficulties, Ramesses II best fits the description of the pharaoh at the time of the biblical Exodus. His long reign (1279–1213 BCE) begins after the time of the Amarna letters, the only original documents we have that tell us of Egyptian control of Palestine during the preceding centuries. It also precedes the victory over the Israelites, commemorated in the Merneptah stele. Most importantly, it provide context for the Ramesside references in the story of the Exodus.


I agree with Mike's answer that Thutmoses II was probably the Pharaoh of the Exodus for the reasons he stated and because it fits my possible timeline below.

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