Moses, Paul, Sinai, Midian and Arabia

Many amateur archaeology enthusiasts now believe that the “true” Mt. Sinai is the volcanic peak Jebel al Lawz, in northwest Saudi Arabia. This view was popularized by another amateur, Ron Wyatt, who left his day job as a nurse anesthetist in Tennessee, traveled to the Middle East, and fraudulently proclaimed himself to be an “archaeologist”. Most of the “proofs” for this location are in the nature of superficial visual appearance, not scientific investigation and analysis. But that’s a story for another day.

Sinai in Arabia?

In this post, I want to concentrate on Biblical statements regarding Arabia and Midian that Wyatt enthusiasts, and even some doubters, regard as indisputable proof. The most common that I’ve heard, one that is supposed to quash all dissent, is

Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children.
—Galatians 4:25 ESV (emphasis added)

The theological context of this verse is beyond my scope here, but we have to ask what Paul meant by “Arabia” in that verse, and in Gal 1:17, where he speaks of going away to Arabia. If you think he meant “Saudi Arabia” then think again, because that country was not born until the 20th Century. Nor do I think that the concepts of “Arabian Peninsula” or “Arabian sub-continent” were known until much, much later. Mentions of Arabia and Arabian Kings in the Old Testament and contemporary writings refer to scattered independent petty sheikdoms and bands of nomads inhabiting the desert areas shown in brown on the map below. No borders are shown on the map because neither Arabia nor Midian, which I’ll discuss below, were unified political entities.

Arabia in the Ancient Near East. ©Accordance Software

What originally made the region Arabia was not a political, or even a geographical connection, but rather the fact that it was populated predominantly by Arabs. The Arabs are a genealogically diverse mixture of largely Ishmaelite tribes. Some historians tie the term “Ishmaelite” specifically to Arabs that lived around the Hijaz, or western coast of the subcontinent, but I use it here to refer to all descendants of Abraham’s son, Ishmael. The term, “Arab“, is derived from a Hebrew root ערב (‘arab), meaning “to crisscross or traverse”, referring probably to their nomadic movement from place to place. As herdsmen and traders, they ranged throughout regions encompassing today’s western Arabia, certainly, and up into modern Jordan, Syria, eastern and southern Sinai and the Negev in Israel.

in the context of the New Testament, the most likely meaning of “Arabia”, is the area then known as the Nabataean Kingdom, shown below roughly outlined in orange, consisting of the modern northwest corner of Saudi Arabia, most of modern Jordan, and all of the Sinai Peninsula east of the present Suez Canal. Note that this area contains both Jebel Musa (the traditional site in Sinai) and Jebel al Lawz (Wyatt’s site east of the Gulf of Aqaba).

The Nabatean Kingdom circa AD 85, ©Villeneuve Nehme.

Nabataea became a formal kingdom at around the middle of the 3rd Century BC. In general, it was friendly to Hasmonean Judea. Nabataean independence ended when they were finally conquered by Rome, under Trajan, in AD 106. Under Roman administration, they were split into two districts, Arabia Petraea in the west And Arabes Nabataei in the East (see next map, below). Both Jebel Musa and Jebel al Laws are located in Arabia Petraea.

Detail from Wikipedia map of the Roman Empire, circa 125 AD, ©Andrein
Paul in Arabia?

After Paul’s “road to Damascus” encounter, he went to Arabia for some unstated reason and duration. Perhaps he “camped out” in the Wilderness to pray and commune with God. Perhaps he lived for a while with Bedouins to learn the tent-making skills that provided his financial support during his missionary journeys.

But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace,
was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone;
nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.
—Galatians 1:15–17 ESV (emphasis added)

The wording of the passage quoted above implies to me that he purposely avoided the apostles for the time being. My assumption is that he wanted his instructions to come directly from God, since God had chosen him to reveal the mysteries of the new Church. Some commentators suggest that he traveled to Petra for some type of religious or geographic training, but I think his knowledge in those areas needed no further enhancement. If he spent time in any city during this period, I think that Philadelphia (ancient Rabbath Ammon and modern Amman, Jordan) was more likely.

Philadelphia in the time of the Apostle, Paul. By Nichalp – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5
Moses in Midian?

The Midianites were a nomadic tribe descended from Midian, a son of Abraham by his wife Keturah. They were a warlike people who engaged in herding, trade, and banditry. Like Arabia, Midian is a region, not a formal geographic or political entity. Most maps of Midian will show it as in the map below—east of the Gulf of Aqaba, but with no borders. Archaeology has little to say about the location. There is some sparse artifactual evidence, mainly pottery, in the area shown and north of that region, in the southern Lavant. Some literary evidence indicates a Midianite presence also in eastern and southern Sinai. This “rural spread” makes perfect sense. The entire region was arid. Nomadic herders tended to establish temporary homes that could be moved from place to place as pastures become depleted by overgrazing. There were also caravan routes connecting the furthest extents of the region (see the first map, above), an obvious enhancement to both trade and banditry.

Sinai and Midian, per Atlas of the Bible Lands

Many of Wyatt’s supporters will say that the Sinai Peninsula could not have been used by Midianite herdsmen because it was part of Egypt. Once again, borders were fluid in ancient times, where they existed at all. Egypt’s interests were primarily along the Nile. Their interest in the Sinai was limited. The roads in and out, especially the Way of the Sea, were fortified and patrolled for defensive purposes. Otherwise, only the mining areas along the Gulf of Suez coast were of significant value to them.

Jesus and Hebrew Wedding Imagery

This is a February 2022 rewrite and expansion of a post I wrote in January 2013, entitled “The Bride of Messiah”.

I grew up in a fundamentalist, “King James only”, Baptist denomination, in churches in New Mexico, Texas and Florida. I love my old pastors and my fellow church members, and I still agree with them on most fundamental issues. Not everything, but I’m not going to mention their name and insult them. These days I rarely use the King James, because I think there are more reliable translations, but that’s not the question here, and I will use it for this post.

I’m going to concentrate here on one particular issue. I consider myself to be a Biblical literalist, but I think that there are many places in scripture that aren’t meant to be read literally. Hebrew writers often used poetic imagery and symbolism to convey truth about God: His attributes, His will, His promises (positive and negative) and yes, His wrath. A consistent and realistic Hermeneutic (principles of Biblical interpretation) must be used to differentiate between the literal and the figurative. Most conservative Biblical scholars and knowledgeable students of Scripture understand this, but few over the last 2,000 years are really equipped to apply the understanding. This is largely due to the way Jews and their writings have been marginalized in the Church.

As a somewhat trivial example of this lack of understanding, many years ago when I was a young associate pastor at a church in Texas, my Senior Pastor and I had an ongoing, friendly argument about Biblical anthropopathism. His view was that, despite the fact that God is a Spirit, “Scripture clearly states that God has hands…

Luke 23:46 (KJV)
[46] And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.

…and wings.”

Ruth 2:12 (KJV)
[12] The LORD recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust.

My own view is that God and His angels have no bodily form at all, and that such scriptures are illustrations of God’s loving and tender care for His people. When they heard these sayings, ancient Jews, immersed in the cultural milieu of their society, would not misunderstand the symbolic content. For 21st Century Christians, misled by centuries of antipathy towards Judaism, it’s not so simple!

Another example of Biblical symbolism is found in the parables (sing. mashal, Heb. and parabole, Gr.) told by Old Testament prophets, by New Testament-era sages, and by Jesus Himself. These stories were not themselves true but were illustrations of truth told in ways that could not be misunderstood by the hearers—or, in many cases could be understood only by “insiders” in the audience.

A form of implicit (not explained, but obvious to the hearers) symbolism that I want to discuss here was used by Jesus over and over again in His discussions with His Disciples about what we today refer to as the Rapture, and the Marriage Supper of the Lamb: Jewish wedding imagery.

The Old Testament often depicts God as the husband of His wife, Israel. Similarly, the New Testament depicts Jesus as a groom, and the Church as His betrothed bride. Betrothal was much different among 1st Century and earlier Jews than it is among American Christians. To us it is a proposal to enter into a contract at a later date. To them, it was the contract itself. What we today call a “wedding ceremony” was to them simply the last stage of a process that often lasted for months. Jesus often referred to steps in this process to symbolically illustrate His mystical relationship with the Church:

Shopping for a bride. Today in The West, we regard an ideal marriage as an emotional union between a mutually attracted couple. In traditional Judaism, and in most of the non-Jewish Eastern world, even today, it was a financial transaction between families, often made when the couple were small children. In some cultures, a dowery was paid by the bride’s family. Sometimes this amounted to, “I’ll pay you to take this useless female off my hands”, but mostly it was a realistic understanding that a healthy adult female was of more practical value to a good husband than to her birth family. In other cultures, including the Jewish tradition, wives were highly valued, and money or goods flowed the other way. A “bride price” was paid by the groom’s family to acquire a coveted prize for their son and to compensate her family for the loss of a valuable and beloved asset. I have read many Christian opinions that Jewish men despise their women, but that is not and never was a true generalization, despite suggestions of “proof” to the contrary. Perhaps a subject for a future post…

A Jewish man’s marriage was usually arranged by his father, in negotiation (called the shidduch) with the prospective bride’s father. Sometimes other family members, including the subject children themselves, were included. In later history, a professional matchmaker (a shadchan) was sometimes employed as a go-between, as illustrated in the movie Fiddler on the Roof. Usually, both fathers wanted nothing as much as the happiness of their children. After the exchange of a generous bride price, the families would cooperate, sometimes for years, in preparing the two young people for their eventual life together.

Jesus’ father arranged His marriage in eternity past. He paid a heavy bride price for us—we were bought with the most precious coin on earth, the groom’s own blood. Having been chosen, our entire lives from the time we were formed in our mothers’ wombs has been preparation for our marriage to the Lamb of God.

The betrothal, or erusin. When the time came for betrothal, the two families would gather in the house of the bride’s father. The groom would bring the ketubah, an ornate written marriage contract, and his father would bring a flask of wine. The father would pour a cup and hand it to his son. The son would then hold it out to the bride, saying, “By offering this cup, I vow that I am willing to give my life for you.” Then, it was up to the bride. She could refuse the cup, and if so, the wedding agreement was canceled, and the bride price refunded. If she took the cup and drank, she was signifying that she in turn was willing to give her life for him. The betrothal was thus sealed. Once sealed, the two lived apart for a time, but were considered to be legally married and only a death or legal divorce could dissolve the ketubah. When Mary was “found to be with child”, it was grounds for divorce. Joseph’s thought to “put her away privily” (Mt 1:19, KJV) simply meant that he planned to divorce her privately, rather than to denounce her and shame her in public.

When Yeshua offered the cup of redemption at His final Passover Seder, He was telling us that He was willing to give His life for us. We who have accepted that cup have said in return that we are willing to give our own lives for Him. Our betrothal has been sealed, and God’s Torah is our ketubah.

Building the bridal suite. A Jewish house was often a large compound built around a central courtyard. This housing compound, called in Greek an insula, was home to the patriarchal extended family, often with several generations of sons in residence. The central living area was the quarters of the family patriarch and his wife. As each young man of the household was betrothed, he would simply build another room on to the house for his own new family. Once the betrothal cup was accepted, the groom would recite to his newly betrothed traditional words to the effect that

John 14:2-3 (KJV)
[2] In my Father’s house are many mansions [Gr. mone: more often rooms, abodes, or dwelling places]… I go to prepare a place for you.
[3] And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.

Upper class Judean family homes, or insulae, as depicted in a model of First Century Jerusalem, on Mt. Hertzl, Jerusalem. Photo ©2008, Ron Thompson.

It is an interpretive mistake to picture Jesus as honing up His carpentry skills in heaven and building a physical house, let alone a mansion, for each of His followers. He was simply using the poetic beauty of the ritual to stress the surety that He will return for His bride, the Church!

Progress on the new home. Each day between the betrothal and the marriage supper, the groom’s father would inspect his progress on the dwelling, and eventually he, not his son, would set a date for the wedding. If you were to ask the toiling groom when his wedding was scheduled to occur, he could not give you an answer.

Matthew 24:3-4,36 (KJV)
[3] And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world? [4] And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you…
[36] But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.

Each of Jesus’ hearers, being well-schooled in the important customs of the day, would have recognized the symbolism in verse 36. Once again this is ritual language, and therefore not necessarily a literal warning that it is completely useless to propose a date for the Rapture. I don’t know the year of the Rapture, but I firmly believe it will take place on some not-too-distant Day of Trumpets! (See also The Fall Feasts and the Rapture.)

Waiting for a summons by the groom. Meanwhile, the bride would wait expectantly, always prepared for the groom’s return, but not knowing on what day to expect him. Her attendants would stay with her each night, for weeks or even months. When the groom came with his own attendants to “kidnap” the bride and her attendants and take them from her home to his, he would arrive around midnight, with no advance warning. It would be a major scandal if the bride or any of her attendants were caught unprepared. This is what we see depicted in Jesus’ Parable of the Ten Virgins:

Matthew 25:1-13 (KJV)
[25:1] Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.
[2] And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.
[3] They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them:
[4] But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.
[5] While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.
[6] And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.
[7] Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.
[8] And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.
[9] But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.
[10] And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut.
[11] Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us.
[12] But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not.
[13] Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.

The bridal procession and the consummation. As soon as the procession reached the groom’s home that night, the bride and groom would retreat immediately to the privacy of their new quarters. The guests would wait expectantly while the groom’s chief attendant stood outside the door and listened for the voice of the groom, announcing consummation of the marriage. This would signal the beginning of the week-long “marriage supper.” Jesus referred to this celebration of great joy in

John 3:29 (KJV)
[29] He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled.

The wedding supper, or nissuin. This joyous, but to us uncomfortable, custom of celebrating a consummated marriage by pigging out at a 7-day party—was exemplified in the Gospels by the wedding feast in Cana, where Jesus turned water into wine. It also symbolically represents the 7-year Wedding Supper of the Lamb, a celebration to be held in heaven while on earth the Tribulation is in progress.

Revelation 19:7-9 (KJV)
[7] Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready.
[8] And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.
[9] And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God.

Sometimes traditional Christian interpretations of scripture suffer from an ignorance of the customs that underlie them. Honest theology requires an attempt to understand the Jewish origins of our faith. Many times, those seemingly ambiguous or “strange” references in the Biblical narrative become clear once the culture is understood.

Historic Anchors For Israel in Egypt

Updated January 2022; original posted July 2016

I am presenting here a list of dates for key events in Egyptian/Biblical history. Dating of Biblical events during the Egyptian period is very firm, if you believe as I do that the Bible is inerrant and its time references are literal. Dating of the Egyptian King Lists is more problematic, as I will discuss below.

Middle Kingdom, 12th Dynasty

Dating the reigns of Middle Kingdom monarchs is particularly difficult, with a particularly large range of proposed possibilities. I have a fairly large library of Egyptian history. In this post I will list, separated by slashes, two of the newest chronologies that seem reasonable: First is the timeline presented by Van De Mieroop in A History of Ancient Egypt; second, the one I personally prefer, taken from the Wikipedia article, “Twelfth Dynasty of Egypt”, as last edited on 21 December 2021. A radically different chronology by Egyptologist David Rohl, has recently been popularized by the Patterns of Evidence series of videos. I plan to review this series in the near future, but for now, I like most of what is presented in the first two videos, but not so much the second two or the anticipated fifth. Rohl, a self-styled agnostic, follows the lead of various evangelical scholars who shorten the period of the Hebrew “sojourn” in Egypt from the explicitly stated 430 years to 350 years, based on what I believe is a simplistic misunderstanding of the Abrahamic Covenant.

Egypt’s capital throughout the 12th Dynasty period was located in ancient Itj-Tawy, located around 35 miles south of modern Cairo and 21 miles south of ancient Memphis.

Pharaoh Amenemhat II, 1911-1877/1929-1895 BC. Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt around 1899 BC, at 17 years old (Gen 37:2-29). Most of my sources would put this event somewhere in Amenemhat’s reign. I would place the timing shortly before a brief coregency of Amenemhat and Senusret II.

Pharaoh Senusret II, 1877-1870/1897-1878 BC. Joseph languished in Egyptian slavery and prison for some 13 years before he “stood before Pharoah” at age 30 (1886 BC) to interpret Pharaoh’s dream and to be elevated to Vizier rank (Gen 41:46). By my accounting, this Pharaoh was Senusret II, who seems to have devoted the final eight years of his reign to promoting Joseph’s recommendations for the productive years. Domestically, he is best known for developing the Fayyum Basin area west of the capital. This is a basin watered by a natural offshoot of the Nile, anachronistically named Bahr Yussef (“the Waterway of Joseph”). Although widening of this waterway was done well before the Middle Kingdom era, Senusret built numerous canals for irrigation and to control the levels of the valley’s Lake Moeris for the purpose of land reclamation. He also built new settlements in the center and around the borders of Egypt and appears to have greatly expanded his bureaucracy in these regions. Regarding foreign affairs, he is known to have fostered a period of peaceful trade with the hated “Asiatics” of the Levant.

Pharaoh Senusret III, 1870-1831/1878-1839 BC. This powerful Pharaoh began his reign about eight years after the elevation of Joseph. I believe that his story is told in

Genesis 41:54-57 (CJB)
[54] and the seven years of famine began to come, just as Yosef had said. There was famine in all lands, but throughout the land of Egypt there was food. [55] When the whole land of Egypt started feeling the famine, the people cried to Pharaoh for food, and Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, “Go to Yosef, and do what he tells you to do.” [56] The famine was over all the earth, but then Yosef opened all the storehouses and sold food to the Egyptians, since the famine was severe in the land of Egypt. [57] Moreover all countries came to Egypt to Yosef to buy grain, because the famine was severe throughout the earth.

Senusret III, ©MET Museum NYC

Senusret continued the agricultural developments begun by his father and attempted to maintain peace within Egypt and with Egypt’s neighbors, but the balance of power within Egypt changed radically during his reign. Since no later than the 3rd Dynasty, Egypt had been divided into individual districts called “nomes“, each ruled by a hereditary “nomarch“. These powerful nobles had decentralized Egyptian rule and placed limits on the Pharaohs. Senusret III seems to have used the famine years and his monopolistic control of Joseph’s well-stocked granaries to break the economic power of the nomarchs and to recentralize power within his kingdom.

In 1876 BC, near the beginning of the famine years, Jacob and the rest of his family and their retinues moved to Egypt (Gen 46:1-47:9). Why were they offered seemingly prime space in the fertile land of Goshen, the eastern Nile Delta region? Was this land gift purely out of Pharaoh’s love for Joseph? I doubt it. Their “Asiatic” origins were a heavy strike against them. They ignored Joseph’s warning not to mention that they were shepherds. Egypt’s herds were cattle, and sheep tend to overgraze pastures and make them unsuitable for raising cattle.

Late 12th Dynasty. Joseph died at 130 years old, in 1806 BC, having lived in Egypt during the reigns of Senusret III, Amenemhat III, and Amenemhat IV. Queen Sobekneferu was just coming into power for a brief, 4-year reign.

Hyksos Period

Hyksos Cities in Lower Egypt

While there is no question that the 12th Dynasty Pharaohs recognized Joseph’s wisdom and supported his programs as Vizier, as mentioned above, I personally have reservations about the sincerity of their welcome of his Hebrew family. Senusret III, in particular, hated the Nubians of Africa and was at best ambivalent about “Asiatics”—foreigners from eastern Mediterranean lands, many of whom had been infiltrating Lower Egypt for generations. I suspect that the Pharaohs’ invitation to Jacob and their tolerance of the Hebrews was more to keep Joseph happy and his relatives under observation.

At the close of the chaotic 14th Dynasty, a group of Asiatics, speaking an Aramaic/Canaanite west-Semitic dialect, took control of Egypt. They came to be called “Hyksos“, meaning “the rulers of foreign lands”. They were settled throughout Goshen and along the Lower Nile Valley, with scattered settlements into Upper Egypt. Dynasties 15, 16 and 17 consisted primarily of Hyksos rulers with their capital first in the eastern Nile Delta city of Avaris, and later in Thebes. They were not deposed until Amose I, founder of the 18th Dynasty, unseated them. He and his successors eventually drove them out of Egypt.

Enslavement

Aside from secular and Deistic theories that equate the Hyksos with the Hebrews, I have never seen or heard a discussion of the inevitable dispersal of the Israelites in Egypt during the Hyksos rule and early 18th Dynastic period. Exodus 1:5-7 implies that the original 70 “sons of Israel” had multiplied until they occupied not just Goshen, but rather “filled” all of the habitable land of Egypt. I imagine that they were displaced completely from Goshen itself, but in any case, as slaves they would have been required to concentrate close to where they worked. By Moses’ time, most of their work would certainly be in Upper Egypt, except at flood times. Travel from the Delta to Thebes by foot would probably have taken them around two weeks, at best. Without any archaeological or written records either way, I am assuming that the bulk of the slaves were sheltering along the Nile wherever they were needed at any given time.

Exodus 1:7-21 covers an undatable period of history after the death of Joseph and before the birth of Moses. A traditional understanding of the chapter assumes that the entire passage describes a single wicked Pharaoh, but I would rather divide it as follows:

  • the Pharaoh who “did not know Joseph”, and who ordered their enslavement—possibly as early as late in the 12th Dynasty (Ex 1:8-11);
  • a long period of increasing oppression and further population expansion (Ex 1:12-14); and
  • the Pharaoh who, during that period, tasked the midwives to kill Israelite boys (Ex 1:15-21).

New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty

With numerous variations proposed over the years. Most scholars today use a Conventional Egyptian Chronology for this period. The currently popular Patterns of Evidence series is pushing David Rohl’s alternative “New Chronology”, which most Egyptologists agree is way off the mark. Within the 18th Dynasty, the Conventional view has two primary variations, due to an ambiguity in tying the ancient Egyptian calendar to our Gregorian calendar. The so-called “Low Chronology“, which is most popular, contains later dating; use of the “High Chronology” results in dates 20 years earlier. Personally, I prefer a variation of the Low Chronology, as presented by Christian Egyptologist, Kenneth Kitchen. Though I don’t agree with his conclusions about Biblical dating, his Egyptian dating seems to me to fit better with the Biblical narrative as I interpret it.

Pharaoh Amenhotep I, 1532-1511 BC. Moses was born in 1526 BC, by Kitchen’s Chronology, during the 6th year of Amenhotep’s reign. The order to throw newborn boys into the Nile was probably issued shortly before that time, so it is safe to say it was Amenhotep’s order (Ex 1:22). There is a problem with this chronology, though: the following passage (Ex 2:1-11) states several times that it was “Pharaoh’s daughter” who rescued Moses and later adopted him, but Amenhotep had no male or female heirs at all except for one son, who died at a very early age. If the dating is correct, then this wording can still be regarded as correct if she was the daughter of either a past or future Pharaoh. There is precedent for this type of royal ambiguity both in scripture and in other ancient writings. If so, there are three possible scenarios:

  • She could have been a daughter of Amenhotep’s father, Pharaoh Ahmose I. Ahmose had 12 children, including several daughters, but those who survived to 1526 would have been fairly old by the standards of the day. I think it would have been unlikely that any of them would be at the river under these circumstances.
  • Amenhotep was succeeded by Thutmose I, who was a military figure and not related to him at all. Thutmose did indeed have a daughter, Hatshepsut, who was 16 years old in 1526, and was suitable for other reasons, as well. See below.
  • Thutmose might have been considered the current Pharaoh if he was coregent with Amenhotep. This would not have been unusual, and there is some evidence of a coregency; but it would have to have lasted at least 15 years, which is very unlikely.

Pharaoh Thutmose I, 1511-1498 BC. Thutmose’ birth date and parentage are unknown. Amenhotep died without an heir, and it is likely that Thutmose, probably close to Amenhotep’s age, was promoted from a senior military position. Thutmose had five children over his lifetime, of which three died before his accession. His daughter, Hatshepsut, was born around 1541 BC, in the 16th year of Ahmose I’s reign. She would have been 16 years old when Moses was born, in the 6th year of Amenhotep’s reign, which certainly would have made her the ideal candidate for the (eventual) “Pharoah’s Daughter”. When Thutmose became Pharaoh, Moses was 15 and Hatshepsut undoubtedly a “headstrong” princess at 31 years old.

Exodus 2:5 (CJB)
[5] The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe in the river while her maids-in-attendance walked along the riverside. Spotting the basket among the reeds, she sent her slave-girl to get it. [6] She opened it and looked inside, and there in front of her was a crying baby boy! Moved with pity, she said, “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children.”

Based on tradition, and possibly documentation that was available to him at the time, 1st Century Jewish historian Josephus reported that Moses was indeed a “prince of Egypt”, without question receiving the same education that any other Egyptian prince would have received in the eventuality that he might one day inherit the throne of Pharaoh. Josephus reported that Moses led the Egyptian army in at least one successful campaign against the perennial enemy in Nubia.

Pharaoh Thutmose II, 1498-1485 BC. When Thutmose I died in 1498 BC, he was replaced by his only surviving son, Thutmose II. Egyptian Pharaohs were almost always male, but succession was determined through a matriarchal system which frequently resulted in brother/sister marriages. Thutmose II was the son of Thutmose I by a minor wife, which made his claim to the throne weak. This he remedied by marrying his older half-sister, Hatshepsut, a daughter by Thutmose I’s chief wife.

Although I believe that Hatshepsut was Moses‘ adoptive mother, and I have no doubt that she carefully supervised his education, I think that he later became a liability to her own ambitions. When Moses fled from Egypt in 1486, it was clear (as is evident from the state of his mummy) that Thutmose II was dying. Hatshepsut had her own plans going forward, and there may have been a risk that Moses would be seen as a viable heir. When she heard that Moses had killed an Egyptian, she had an excuse to get rid of him, either in her husband’s name or her own:

Exodus 2:15 (CJB)
[15] When Pharaoh heard of it, he tried to have Moshe put to death. But Moshe fled from Pharaoh to live in the land of Midyan.

I am not ignoring the masculine pronoun in “he tried”. Because Pharaohs were almost always male, Hatshepsut began dressing and acting as a male Pharaoh, and insisted that she was king, not queen, of Egypt. All references to her during much of her reign were masculine.

I think that Moses was savvy enough to recognize his danger. It is also significant to me that he was not sentimental about her at this point, either:

Hebrews 11:24 (CJB)
[24] By [faith], Moshe, after he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. [25] He chose being mistreated along with God’s people rather than enjoying the passing pleasures of sin. [26] He had come to regard abuse suffered on behalf of the Messiah as greater riches than the treasures of Egypt, for he kept his eyes fixed on the reward.

A young Hatshepsut, ©MET Museum NYC

Pharaoh Hatshepsut, 1485-1464 BC. When Thutmose II died in 1485 BC, he was succeeded by his infant son, Thutmose III, so Hatshepsut became queen regent. She reigned as actual Pharaoh for 19 years, until her own death. She is regarded by many as one of the most powerful woman monarchs of history. She died when Moses was 62 years old, roughly the midpoint of his 40 years in Midian.

Pharaoh Thutmose III, 1464-1431 BC. Thutmose III became sole ruler on Hatshepsut’s death. He is known as the “Napoleon of Egypt” for his many military campaigns and is considered to have been a military genius.

Thutmose III, ©MET Museum NYC

The Exodus and the loss of his armies occurred in 1446 BC, in approximately the 18th year of his reign after Hatshepsut’s death. His extreme reluctance to release the Hebrew slaves, despite the severity of the plagues, can probably be explained by Thutmose’s unwillingness to use potential fighting men in their place for common labor. In the few years after the Exodus, he continued his foreign invasions, and claimed great victories, but scholars discount these claims because there was apparently so little booty taken. There is no reason to assume, however, that the loss of so many of his fighting men in the Red Sea would have suppressed his military might for long.

Some commentators object to Thutmose III as the “Pharaoh of the Exodus” because they read some verses elsewhere in the Bible as stating that he had to have drowned with his army—for example:

Psalms 136:13 (CJB)
[13] to him who split apart the Sea of Suf,
for his grace continues forever;
[14] and made Isra’el cross right through it,
for his grace continues forever;
[15] but swept Pharaoh and his army into the Sea of Suf,
for his grace continues forever;

I don’t believe that this poetic description is meant to be precise; just flowery! In any case, the Hebrew text does not support the strength of the “and” interpretation.

Pharoah Amenhotep II, 1431-1406. Amenhotep was Thutmose III’s son by a minor wife. Interestingly, Thutmose’ firstborn son, Amenemhat, son of chief wife Satiah, was the heir-apparent until his death “between years 24 and 35 of Thutmose’ reign.” When accounting for the period of coregency with Hatshepsut, this conforms quite nicely with the Biblical account of the killing of the firstborn!