Who was the tyrant Pharaoh at the time of Moses?
A Quranic perspective
by: A Muhammad

The stories of Moses and Pharaoh in the Quran and the Old Testament (Torah) are very similar in the majority of aspects, yet neither Books mention the name of the Pharaoh, who defied God and who reigned during the life of Moses.
In addition, none of the ancient Egyptian archaeological artefacts contain any mention of the disasters that Egypt sustained due to the plagues, nor accounts of how Pharaoh and his army perished in the Red Sea. In fact, the name of Moses seems to have been either removed, or deliberately left out of all ancient Egyptian artefacts. This is understandable when we consider how a slave-born Hebrew Egyptian brought down one of the great Pharaohs of Egypt, and the shame that it must have brought upon Egypt.
It was thus left to the scholars of Egyptology to speculate into the identity of the Pharaoh of the Scriptures, and to come up with various theories to support their claims.

Opinion has split over this matter, and a number of candidates have been suggested. The main candidates are reviewed in this article with considerations allowed for dates and information obtained through historical records. These considerations are then assessed with regards to their harmony with the Quranic narration.
The main candidates put forward are:
1- Merneptah
2- Thutmose II
3- Ramesses II
In addition to the three main candidates, the names of Amenhotep II and Thutmose III have also been suggested by some historians.
The supporting evidence for Amenhotep II is mostly Biblical and not Quranic. Although there are numerous similarities between the Biblical and Quranic narrations of the story of Moses, there are also sharp differences. As a result, Amenhotep II will be left out of this research. As for the claim for Thutmose III, the evidence is equally sketchy and not at all convincing. This paper is therefore concerned with the claims for the three main candidates mentioned above.

1-
Merneptah
(reigned for 10 years, from 1213 to 1203 BC)

Merneptah was the son of Ramesses II. The suggestion that the Pharaoh of Moses was Merneptah was supported mainly by Maurice Bucaille, a late French medical doctor and author who adopted Islam later in his life.
The verdict reached by Bucaille was based on a number of factors, one of which was the discovery of traces of salt on the body of Merneptah, which would tie up with the Quranic narration of his drowning (10:90).
However, when reference is made to the art of mummification, it is found that all mummified bodies contain Natron Salt as a principle agent for mummification.
Natron Salt is a mixture of: Sodium Chloride, Sodium Carbonate, Sodium Bicarbonate and Sodium Sulfate.

It is also worth mentioning that much of the rationale of Bucaille in support of
Merneptah was based on Biblical narration, which as we shall see later, is in contradiction to its Quranic counterpart.
In Exodus 2:15, it is stated that Moses, after killing an Egyptian, fled from the face of Pharaoh and dwelt in the land of Midyan.
It is then stated that it came to pass that the king of Egypt died (Exodus 2:23).
This king is identified in Exodus as the one who ordered the enslaved Hebrews to build new cities, and they built for Pharaoh treasure-cities. Bucaille identified this king as Ramesses II.
Bucaille then concluded that Exodus out of Egypt with the returning Moses (from Midyan), could only have taken place during the reign of the successor of Ramesses II, who was Merneptah, the son of Ramesses II.
In other words, one Pharaoh died during Moses' days at Midyan, while the other perished pursuing the fleeing Hebrews. Not one Pharaoh for Moses then, but two:
Ramesses II, Pharaoh of the oppression, and Merneptah, Pharaoh of the Exodus.
In contrast, the Quranic narration acknowledges only one Pharaoh from the birth of Moses up to Exodus, and the subsequent drowning of Pharaoh, as will be presented below.
What Bucaille did was to uphold the verdict of Exodus 2:23 (the king of Egypt died) over the Quranic evidence.

In addition, Bucaille's theories did not gather much support among Egyptologists for a number of other reasons, such as:
1- The available archaeological remains of Merneptah indicated that he suffered from arthritis and arteriosclerosis in his latter years. This makes it less likely that the old man himself led his army to battle and followed Moses into the sea on his chariot.
2- In addition, the short reign of Merneptah, which lasted only 10 years, would hardly account for the long years of Pharaoh's opposition to Moses, which included long years of draught (7:130) and the other plagues.

2- Thutmose II
(reigned for 14 years, from 1493–1479 BC )

This Pharaoh began his reign quite successfully, but after a while we find a total blank in the monumental records about him.
However, we find in the reign of Thutmose II, the conditions that seem in harmony with the Pharaoh of Moses, namely: a brief prosperous reign, then a sudden collapse with no son to succeed.
The throne was then occupied by the widow of the Pharaoh (Hatshepsut) who became the first Regent, after which she became Pharaoh in her own right. For twenty years after the death of Thutmose II, no attempt to recover the supremacy of Egypt over the revolted nations in Canaan and east of the Jordan. Nevertheless, these are no more than circumstantial events at best.
It has been suggested that the mummy of Thutmose II is the only corpse of a pharaoh to be found covered with cysts from an unknown malady.
It has also been said that his body was fished out of the sea and mummified, and that the cysts were part of the plagues of boils which Egypt had suffered at the time of Moses.
However, the plague of boils was narrated only in the Bible (Exodus 9:8-11). It is not one of the plagues mentioned in the Quran, thus, the significance of this matter cannot be considered.
On the other hand, the reign of this King was once again too short to cover all the events related to Moses, the Pharaoh and the plagues, then Exodus.
The reign of Thutmose II is generally thought to have been 14 years, however, newer researches are even saying that he only ruled for 3 to 4 years. They derive this from the low number of monuments and scarabs made under Thutmose II, which in Egyptology are accurate indicators of the length of the reign of the monarch.

3- Ramesses II
(reigned for 67 years, from 1279–1213 BC )

The evidence that supports
Ramesses II being the Pharaoh in power during the time of Moses is more comprehensive than the other two Pharaohs, and is most in harmony with the Quranic narration.

First Quranic Indication:

The Quranic narration of the story of Moses from the time of his birth until Exodus suggests that the same Pharaoh was in power throughout that period.
Out of the three Pharaohs considered in this paper, only the reign of Ramesses II (67 years) would have been long enough to cover the years from the birth of Moses until Exodus.
The following Quranic verses suggest that there was only one Pharaoh throughout the period mentioned:

Then the family of Pharaoh
picked him up, only to become an enemy and a source of grief for them. Indeed, Pharaoh, Haman and their troops were wrong-doers. Pharaoh's wife said, "A source of joy for me and you! Do not kill him, perhaps he will be of benefit for us, or perhaps we could take him for a son." They were unaware! 28:7-9

The above words tell us that the family of Pharaoh who
'picked him up' from the river were also the ones whom Moses would later be a ' source of grief for them', however at the time they picked up baby Moses from the river, 'they were unaware'.
Moses did not become a source of grief to Pharaoh until he became a prophet and challenged Pharaoh, and brought the plagues upon Egypt.
Had there been more than one Pharaoh throughout this period, the words in this Sura would not speak of the same family that witnessed all the events mentioned.

He said, "Did we not raise you among us from when you were a newborn and you remained among us several years of your life? Then, when you went and did that deed of yours that you did! You were indeed of the ungrateful." 26:18-19

In the above words, Pharaoh speaks to the grown up Moses who challenged Pharaoh and reminds him that Pharaoh and his family (
we) picked him up and raised him since infancy, and that he remained with them for a number of years. Once again, this indicates that the Pharaoh speaking to Moses was the same Pharaoh and family who took Moses as a newborn baby.
The period from the birth of Moses until Exodus witnessed the following events:

a
- The number of years during which Moses lived among Pharaoh's family, until he escaped to Midyan, were at least 40 years. This is derived from the following Quranic information:

When he (Moses) reached his full strength and was mature, We granted him sound judgement and knowledge. We thus reward the good-doers. He entered the town, unnoticed by its people, to find two men fighting. One was from his sect and the other was from his enemy. The one from his sect called for his help against the one from his enemy. So Moses struck him and killed him.
28:14-15

The order of events in 28:14-15 is quite significant:
1- Moses "reached his full strength and was mature".
2- Moses killed a man from his enemy.
3- Moses escaped the town in fear and gets to Midyan (28:21-23).
We know from 46:15 that, according to God, the human being reaches full maturity at the age of 40. It follows from the order given in the above verses that Moses was around the age of 40 when he killed a man, then escaped to Midyan.

b
- The number of years that Moses lived in Midyan are at least 8 years. This is supported by the words in 28:27 in which Moses agrees to work for the Sheikh of Midyan for at least 8 years in return for marrying one of his daughters.

c
- The time after Moses returned from Midyan and challenged Pharaoh until Exodus, is a considerable period of time measured in years. This is apparent from the duration given in the Quran of some of the plagues:

We seized Pharaoh's people with years of drought and shortage of crops, so that perhaps they would be reminded. 7:130

For an event to be called a drought, it must extend over a considerable period of time; a period that is measured in years rather than months. We are not able to determine the exact number of years of this period, so we will just call it an extended number of years.

When we add the years in (a, b and c) above we get:
40 + 8 + extended years
The total adds up to a number that is greater than 48 years. The total is therefore a number of years greater than the shorter reigns of Merneptah and Thutmose II. The reigns of Merneptah and Thutmose II, which were 10 and 14 years respectively, are by no means long enough to cover the events in (a, b and c). The total of years (a, b and c) is therefore more in line with the 67 years of the reign of Ramesses II.
If the number of years of all the famines and plagues were less than 19 years (which makes the total 67), it would mean that Ramesses II assumed power before the birth of Moses.

Second Quranic Indication:

The second Quranic indication that fits Ramesses II and not the other two candidates is in the Quranic account of how this Pharaoh exalted himself and proclaimed himself to be the highest god. In his words, Pharaoh proclaimed:

"I am your lord, the most high."
79:24
Pharaoh said, "O leaders, I have not known you to have a god other than me." 28:38

When we look at the various dynasties of ancient
Egypt, and the status of the Pharaoh in different dynasties, we find that in the early dynasties, the ruler of Egypt was referred to as the king. We note for example in the Quranic story of Joseph, the ruler of Egypt is referred to as the king (12:43) and not the Pharaoh. But when the narration shifts to Moses, who is thought to have lived between 250 to 400 years after the time of Joseph, the ruler is referred to as Pharaoh in the Quranic narration.
The deification of the king rose slowly until the time of Ramesses II, when it reached its peak. It was Ramesses II who claimed to be the highest god (79:24), and he erected huge monuments around Egypt to exalt himself. The largest statues and monuments available in Egypt are those of Ramesses II, and there are many of them.


Statues of Ramesses II at the
GreatTemple of Abu Simbel

The size of the people in the picture above gives the realistic size of these colossal statues. When we consider that the diminutive statues that lie between the feet of the 4 statues of Ramesses II are of the Egyptian God
Re-Horakhty, and we note the deliberate mismatch between the size of Ramesses II and the other deity in the carving, we can realise how Ramesses II thought of himself as the highest of all the gods (79:24).
The excessive and exaggerated nature of Ramesses II, expressed in the building of colossal monuments of himself throughout Egypt, tells us that he was not any Pharaoh but a haughty and arrogant ruler and that he was excessive in glorifying himself. This seems to perfectly match the Quranic narration:

Pharaoh was haughty in the land and among the excessive ones.10:83

It is worth noting that in ancient
Egypt, the power and authority of the Pharaoh was reflected in the number of statues and monuments built to honour him as well as the size of these monuments. Of all the Pharaohs, the one who left the most number of statues and indeed the greatest in size was Ramesses II.

Third Quranic Indication:

The body of Ramesses II was found intact and preserved. Historic accounts suggest that his body was initially found by the
Red Sea at a place called Jabalai, and he was later entombed in the Valley of the Kings, as was customary for a Pharaoh. Ancient Egyptian priests later moved it to thwart rampant looters. In 1881, Ramesses II's mummy was discovered in a secret royal cache at Deir el-Bahri on the west bank of the Nile, opposite the city of Luxor, Egypt.
At present, the preserved mummy of Ramesses II is on display at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, Egypt. His mummy is one of the better preserved mummies of ancient Egyptian rulers and his preservation and display to the public is in harmony with the Quranic words:

Today, We will preserve your body, so that you serve as a sign for those to come after you." Indeed, many people are oblivious of Our signs. 10:92

Ramesses II - CairoMuseum

Fourth Quranic Indication:

The fourth Quranic indication that points to Ramesses II being the Pharaoh of Moses is related to the Quranic description of Pharaoh as a builder of great monuments and tall constructions. Ramesses II was indeed one of the most notable among the Pharaohs of Egypt in that respect.
In the Quran, we have three references that connect Pharaoh with monument building of immense magnitude:

1-
In Sura 89, Pharaoh is described with the words:

Pharaoh of the 'awtad'
89:10

The word
'awtad' has more than one meaning in Arabic. The more commonly used is 'stakes'. This meaning of 'awtad' would be in line with the fact that it was said that Ramsesses II used stakes to torture his opponents.
The word 'awtad' also means buildings. When we read verses 6-10 of Sura 89 we find that the interpretation of 'awtad' as 'buildings' seems to be more in line with these 5 verses.
In these 5 verses we note that Pharaoh "of the awtad" is mentioned alongside two other communities who both engaged in monument building:
1- The people of Aad with their high pillars, most probably cut from rocks (89:6-7)
2- The people of Thamoud with their carved homes in the mountains (89:9)
These two groups are then followed by "Pharaoh of the awtad", which suggests that the word 'awtad' here means buildings. It would also be referring to a Pharaoh who was eminent for erecting buildings and large constructions, and particularly ones carved from rocks and mountains.

That was exactly what Ramesses II did, most notably the two temples, which he built at
Abu Simbel in Nubia. These were cut in the rock of the mountainside. One is called the Great Temple; a huge building with the four colossal statues (pic below), and the other is the Small Temple dedicated to Hathor and Nefertari, which is about one hundred meters northeast of the Great Temple of Ramesses II.


Great and Small Temples of Ramesses II at Abu Simbel

(Photo By Holger Weinandt; cropped by Beyond My Ken (talk)
04:48, 16 January 2011 (UTC) - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12711237 )

2-
In Sura 40, we read additional words that also allude to Ramesses II being the Pharaoh of Moses:

Pharaoh said, "O Haman, build for me a tower so that I may reach the pathways; the pathways to the heavens, so that I may take a look at the god of Moses, for indeed, I think he is a liar." Thus, the evil works of Pharaoh were adorned in his eyes and he was blocked from the path. Pharaoh's scheming led to nothing but ruin.
40:36-37

The words
"build for me a tower" to reach the "pathway to heavens" suggest that this was not an 'out of the blue' instruction from Pharaoh to Haman, who was his highest official (vizier), but that building various constructions was a customary activity during the reign of this Pharaoh; once again a pointer to Ramesses II who was intent on constructing temples and monuments.

3-
Apart from the Great Temple at Abu Simbel, Ramesses II was the founder of the great city of Pi-Ramesses. This city was one of the most ambitious construction efforts of its time. It was the capital of Egypt for a short while and it covered an area of at least 30 square kilometres.
The city of Pi-Ramesses, which was once of magnificent splendour, and which was one of the largest cities of ancient Egypt, shortly after lay in ruins. It was built at Qantir, but only 200 years after it was built, it vanished completely.
The fact that this great city vanished so soon after its construction seems to be in line with the following Quranic words:

And We destroyed what Pharaoh and his people were constructing and what they were erecting.
7:137

Later excavations revealed that the remains of the whole city were moved to the location of
Tanis; all that was discovered at Tanis were ruins.

Ruins of Pi-Ramesses at Tanis

The city of
Pi Ramesses and its history seems to be an additional indication that the Pharaoh in the story of Moses was indeed Ramesses II; the one who built this once great city which was to be totally ruined (7:137).

Conclusion:

When the historic and archaeological evidence for the various contenders for the part of the Pharaoh of Moses are weighed up alongside the Quranic evidence, it can be concluded that:
1- No Pharaoh among the contenders ruled long enough to be a player in all the events of the life of Moses from birth until Exodus except Ramesses II.
2- No Pharaoh among the contenders was haughty enough to call himself the highest god and to build the tallest statues of himself other than Ramesses II.
3- No Pharaoh among the contenders built huge constructions and a city to bear his name other than Ramesses II.