Did the Pharaoh of the time of the Exodus drown in the Red Sea?


Several have asked this question, especially in light of inconsistent teachings of the Church of God in the past on this matter. First of all, let us try to determine who the Pharaoh of the Exodus was. Some believe that the Exodus took place around 1290 B.C. and have concluded that Ramses the Great was the Pharaoh who resisted Moses. However, Ramses ruled a full century and a half later than the Exodus occurred.

Quoting from a Good News article of the March-April 1988 edition:

“A careful consideration of all biblical and extra-biblical evidence reveals that the Exodus occurred in the middle of the 15th century B.C. — specifically, in the year 1443, during the reign of Amenhotep II, whose tomb Loret excavated. He was the pharaoh who ruled… when the Egyptians would not let Israel go. This year — 1443 — was 430 years after the covenant with Abraham, made in the spring of 1873 B.C. (Genesis 17:1, Exodus 12:40-41, Galatians 3:17). And it was in the 480th year before the laying of the foundation of the Temple in Solomon’s fourth year (964 B.C.), as required by I Kings 6:1… Moses (born in 1523) was brought up as a prince of this ruling family [of Dynasty XVIII, inaugurated by Pharaoh Ahmose about 1570 B.C. Amenhotep II — a descendant of Ahmose — was the sixth pharaoh of this dynasty.] The ‘daughter of Pharaoh’ (Exodus 2:5) [was] Hatshepsut. She was the daughter of Pharaoh Thutmose I, a son-in-law of Ahmose… Thutmose — perhaps the greatest of the pharaohs of ancient Egypt — would therefore be the biblical ‘pharaoh of the oppression.’ In 1483 B.C., Moses was exiled from Egypt by this Thutmose upon the death of Hatshepsut, Moses’ foster mother and protector… Upon the death of Thutmose in 1450, Amenhotep II assumed the sole leadership of the country.”

According to the Good News article, it was Amenhotep II who was the Pharaoh of the Exodus. It was stated that Egyptian history reveals that he himself was not a firstborn. Likewise, his son and successor, Thutmose IV, was not Amenhotep’s firstborn son, either.

The Good News article continued: “Contrary to the common notion about the Pharaoh of the Exodus, Amenhotep II did not drown in the Red Sea with his army. Read carefully Exodus 14:23-32. Ancient records reveal that Amenhotep II’s reign lasted no less than into his 26th year… Sixteen of those 26 years followed the Exodus. Upon Amenhotep’s death in 1425, he was interred like his ancestors in the Valley of the Kings. There he lay undisturbed until Loret’s discovery in 1898.”

The concept that the Pharaoh of the Exodus did not drown is in conflict with the Church of God’s earlier teaching. In the original “The Bible Story,” published in 1962 by the Radio Church of God, it is stated in Volume 2, on page 86, that Pharaoh perished in the Red Sea. It was stated that he shouted a command to his soldiers “from the floor of the Red Sea,” which “was one of the last sentences Pharaoh uttered.” On page 87, it is stated that “This was the abrupt end of the man who had planned to wipe out the people God had chosen for a special task in His plan for things to come.” We note that in the revised version of “The Bible Story,” published in 1982 by the Worldwide Church of God, all these statements were omitted, and the statement of the “abrupt end of the man” had been altered, as follows: “Thus was the sudden end of the army of the man who had schemed to wipe out a people God had chosen for a special task in His plan for the future” (Vol. 1, p. 171).

Upon a careful examination of the Good News article, which had been published in 1988, we must conclude that it does not stand up to Biblical scrutiny. If we just look at Exodus 14, it is true that it is not stated expressly that Pharaoh drowned. We read that God “will gain honor over Pharaoh and over all his army, his chariots, and his horsemen” (verse 18); that God looked down on “the army of the Egyptians,” and that He “troubled the army of the Egyptians” (verse 24); that the LORD “overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea (verse 27); and that “the waters returned and covered the chariots, the horsemen, and all the army of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them. Not so much as one of them remained” (verse 28).

Although the implication is certainly conveyed in Exodus 14, that Pharaoh drowned with his army, the passage does not say so expressly. However, there are additional Scriptures to consider. We read, for example, in Psalm 136:13-15: “To Him who divided the Red Sea in two, For His mercy endures forever; And made Israel pass through the midst of it, For His mercy endures forever; But overthrew PHARAOH AND HIS ARMY [not just Pharaoh’s army] in the Red Sea, For His mercy endures forever.”

Some claim that the Hebrew word for “overthrew” (“naar”) means “shook off” and that, therefore, it does not prove that Pharaoh actually drowned. This observation is without merit. The same word is used in Exodus 14:27, where we read, “So the Lord overthrew (in Hebrew, “naar”) the Egyptians in the midst of the sea.” As the Egyptians in the midst of the sea clearly drowned, when God overthrew them, and “none of them remained” (verse 28), it is illogical to say that somehow Pharaoh did not drown when God overthrew him. Please note, too, that Psalm 136:15 states that God overthrew Pharaoh AND HIS ARMY in the Red Sea — so, to make a distinction here between Pharaoh and his army is just a human attempt to reinterpret Scripture. The word “naar” is an unusual word and conveys the analogy of “a contemptuous rejection of a reptile” (Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, “Commentary on the Whole Bible,” comment on Psalm 136:15).

The clear intent of Psalm 136:15 has also been understood by many other translators. For instance, the New International Version says: “…but swept Pharaoh and his army into the Red Sea.” (Similar the Revised English Bible and the New American Bible). The New Jerusalem Bible states: “And drowned Pharaoh and all his army.” Moffat puts it this way: “and drowned the Pharaoh and his host.” Virtually all German translations clearly convey the meaning that God killed or drowned Pharaoh and his army, by throwing them into the Red Sea (Luther; Elberfelder; Menge; Zuecher; Pattloch). Any honest reading of this passage will have to agree with this. The Broadman Bible commentary says: “He is the one who cleaved the Red Sea in two, brought Israel through it, then pushed Pharaoh and his army into it.”

Psalm 136:15 does not give any room for the assumption that the Pharaoh of the Exodus did not drown.

IF, therefore, the conclusion is correct that Amenhotep II WAS the Pharaoh of the Exodus, we are faced with the question why his tomb could be discovered in the Valley of the Kings. The answer to that question is rather easy. We read in Exodus 14:30: “Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashores.” Based on this observation, we could conclude that Pharaoh’s dead body was washed to the seashore and that Egyptians buried him in the Valley of the Kings.

Another question is raised by the statement that Amenhotep II ruled for another 16 years after the Exodus, before he died. However, the Scriptures cannot be broken, that is, we cannot use “historical records,” that are in apparent contradiction with God’s Word, to reinterpret or change God’s Word, to make it fit with those records. The Bible is clear that the Pharaoh of the Exodus drowned. This means that, either, Amenhotep II was NOT the Pharaoh of the Exodus, OR, that he did NOT continue to rule for 16 years AFTER the Exodus. The Good News article, quoted above, only states, without giving any source material, that “ancient records reveal that Amenhotep II’s reign lasted no less than into his 26th year (This has been corroborated by a wine jar docket dated in his 26th year that was discovered in Egypt near the beginning of this century.).”

We are not told what those ancient records are, and whether they are precise in their dating, and whether this dating corresponds with the years, as we would count them today. Further, the accuracy of a precise dating of a jar docket must also be questioned. Recent discoveries have established, for example, that the methods used for dating, are many times rather imprecise, and cannot possibly be considered as absolutely accurate, when talking about a 20 year time span of more than 3,400 years ago.

In conclusion, the Biblical record establishes that the Pharaoh of the Exodus drowned in the Red Sea.

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