When Pharaoh was a woman…

The April issue of National Geographic has an interesting article on Hatshepsut, daughter of Thutmose I (ruler, 1504-1492 BC), and married to her step-brother, Thutmose II (ruler, 1492-1479 BC). When Thutmose II died,  his son (Thutmose III, by another wife) was still young and Hatshepsut acted as regent and then co-ruler of Egypt from 1479-1458 BC, one of a small handful of female Pharaohs.

According to the NLT Study Bible (and presumably other sources), the most generally accepted dates for the events of Exodus are in the 1400s, with some evidence suggesting later dates as an alternative. Assuming the former, I found some intriguing points to speculate about in the article (which you really ought to read for context):

  • It is impossible to know how many Pharaohs there actually were in the Exodus timeline. Most of the early rulers of the 18th Dynasty (Ahmose) ruled for only 20 years or so before dying. The Exodus narrative includes potentially large gaps in the timeline when one or more of these rulers could have passed by (cf. Exodus 1:11-14, 1:20-21, 2:11).
  • That said, that there are possibly as many as four specific Pharaohs in the early chapters of Exodus. The first “knew nothing about Joseph or what he had done”. The NLTSB indicates that this period likely corresponds to the ascension of Pharaoh Ahmose (Hatshepsut’s grandfather), who expelled the foreign Hyksos rulers that had been so sympathetic to the Israelite patriarchs. The second Exodus Pharaoh – if not the same as the first – is the ruler who ordered the death of the baby boys (cf. Exodus 1:22). The third Pharaoh is the one who dies while Moses is in Midian (cf. Exodus 2:23). The last, and most prominent, is the ruler that Moses negotiates with on his return to Egypt.
  • Hatshepsut’s uncle was Amenhotep I, son of Ahmose. He was unable to have a son and heir – might this have led in part to an edict to kill the Hebrew sons when they were born?
  • Hatshepsut had a daughter, Neferure, with Thutmose II. Might this be the Pharaoh’s daughter of Exodus 2:5-10? Or might it even be Hatshepsut herself if the events of Moses’ birth are a generation earlier?
  • Note the similarity between “Moses”, “Ahmose” and “Thutmose“. In order to keep the dynasty going due to Amenhotep’s lack of a heir, Hapshetsut’s mother married an army general, Thutmose I, who was not of royal lineage. If Hatshepsut is the daughter of Exodus 2, there might be some irony at play here, perhaps a dig at the legitimacy of a Pharaoh grafted onto the royal family.
  • By all accounts, Hapshetsut recorded her rule over Egypt as if she were a man, so any male references in the Bible to the Pharaoh are reconcilable. I do find it very interesting that the third Pharaoh mentioned in my second point above is known as “the king of Egypt”, not “the Pharaoh”. While normally “king” is a masculine gendered term, there is evidence that Hapshetsut appropriated the title for herself. Was this the author’s Moses’ way of denoting a difference between Hapshetsut and the male Pharaohs that came before and after her?

Many accounts indicate that the Pharaoh that negotiates with Moses might have been Thutmose III, step-son of Hatshepsut. He was a successful military leader and led many campaigns, including tours of Canaan and Syria, presumably while Moses and the Hebrews were wandering in the Sinai desert. Would it be irony if God used the same Pharaoh who opposed Moses to then “soften up” the Promised Land for the Israelites’ later conquest?

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