May 13, 2024
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Examining Egypt’s Pharaohs and The Exodus

Reviewing: “Pharaoh: Biblical History, Egypt, and the Missing Millennium” by Alexander Hool (Mosaica Press, 2020)

Even before the advent of modern Egyptology, scholars have long sought to positively identify the Pharaoh of Egypt who lived in the time of the Exodus. With this book, Alexander Hool chimes in and joins the fray, proposing a radically new view of Egyptian chronology and who the Pharaoh of the Exodus was.

Throughout the Bible, the various sovereigns of Egypt are always portrayed as important political players. Nonetheless, their personal names are not always recorded. In fact, the Pharaohs with whom Abraham, Joseph, Jacob and Moses interacted are simply named “Pharaoh” without any more specific hints as to their identity. The Bible only provides us with the names of three later Egyptian kings: The Egyptian king whose reign paralleled King Solomon (I Kings 11:40) and his son Rehoboam (I Kings 14:25, II Chronicles 12:5-9) in the Holy Land was named Shishak, although the Bible never uses the term Pharaoh when referring to him. Archaeologists typically identify Shishak with Pharaoh Shoshenq I. The second Egyptian king named in the Bible was Pharaoh Necho (“lame” or “handicap” Pharoah). According to the Midrash, he was called such because he became partially paralyzed when he captured King Solomon’s throne and dared to sit on it. He lived during the reign of King Josiah in Judah (II Kings 23:29-35). Finally, the third king that the Bible mentions by name is Pharaoh Chafra, who lived in the generation after Josiah (Jer. 44:30).

As mentioned above, the Bible does not provide us with a given name for the Pharaoh who ruled in Egypt during the Exodus. That said, a quasi-Midrashic source known as Sefer HaYashar does give the names for two Pharaoh who lived in that time period. According to Sefer HaYashar, the Pharaoh who ruled after Joseph’s death was Pharaoh Melol, and he was reported to have reigned for 94 years. Sefer HaYashar relates that Melol’s successor was his son Pharaoh Adikam, or Adikam Achuz. It seems from Sefer HaYashar that the Jews’ Exodus from Egypt happened under Adikam’s rule.

Alexander Hool notes that if one follows the lists of Egyptian kings that Egyptologists have collected, the only Pharaoh who was said to have ruled for exactly 94 years is Pepi II (the penultimate king of the Sixth Dynasty). It thus seems that Pepi II would match up with Sefer HaYashar’s Pharaoh Melol. Moreover, Hool notes that Pepi II’s successor Neferkare the Younger reigned for exactly one year, which—if Pepi is identical to Melol—would be coterminous with the Exodus. This reviewer has personal reservations about relying too heavily on Sefer HaYashar, but given the facts as Hool presents them, his arguments are somewhat compelling.

Working from this data point, Hool then surmises that Pharaoh Djedkare (the second-to-last king of the Fifth Dynasty, who preceded Pepi II by about 100 years) reigned in the time of Joseph and was the Pharaoh whom Jacob met. Hool then points out that this name resembles the name “Dyen” found in Rabbi Avraham Zacuto’s (1452-1515) Sefer Yuchasin as the name of the Pharaoh in the time of the Exodus.

Hool also tries to show how, chronologically speaking, the Exodus happened in the time of Pharaoh Thutmose II of the Eighteenth Dynasty. To bolster this supposition, Hool cites the Greco-Egyptian historian Manetho who wrote that God smote the Egyptians during the reign of Tutimaos, which sounds like an allusion to the Exodus story, and Hool takes this as a reference to Thutmose. Hool argues that Thutmose ruled Middle Egypt (i.e., Memphis) at the same time that Neferkare the Younger ruled Northern Egypt and the Thirteenth Dynasty ruled Southern Egypt.

Conventional Egyptologists date the Thirteenth Dynasty and the Eighteenth Dynasty to long after Egypt’s Fifth Dynasty. But, Hool draws on the works of James D. Long and David Rohl to reconstruct a different chronology of Egypt’s past wherein the Thirteenth Dynasty, the Eighteenth Dynasty, and the Fifth Dynasty all ruled concurrently with one another. The bulk of Rabbi Hool’s work is devoted to presenting his reconstruction of Egyptian ancient history and adducing various facts that neatly synchronize with his theory. In doing so, Hool uses the so-called “Sothic dating” methodology and uses different astronomical observations to confirm the dates he gives. He also refers to some of the conclusions of his earlier work, “The Challenge of Jewish History” (Mosaica Press, 2014) regarding the alignment of Persian history with Egyptian history to support his reconstructive history. This reviewer readily admits that he is unqualified to pass judgment on the crux of Hool’s thesis, nor can he intelligently assess Hool’s proofs.

Many historians and archaeologists believe that the Pharaoh who ruled during the Exodus was Ramsses II (of the Nineteenth Dynasty). Scholars point to the appearance of the place-name Ramsses (Genesis 47:11)—as the name of the land in which Jacob’s family settled—and Raamses (Exodus 1:11)—as one of the storage-cities that the enslaved Jews built—as evidence to the assumption that Ramsses was the Egyptian monarch at the time of the Exodus.

Alexander Hool rejects their findings and dates Ramsses II’s rule to the post-Exodus period, when the Jews had already entered the Holy Land. He explains that Ramsses II lived in the time of the Judges, and may have been named after the city that the enslaved Jews were forced to build. This stands in stark contrast to the aforementioned scholars who argued that, vice versa, the city was named after the king. In light of Hool’s conclusion that Ramesses II lived after the Exodus, we can explain all the similarities between the Kadesh Bas-Reliefs and the Mishkan as stemming from Egyptian attempts to imitate Israelite cultic practices, as opposed to vice versa. This is because if Ramsses lived in the time of Judges, then the construction of the Mishkan obviously predated him.

One difficulty this reviewer had with Hool’s reconstructed chronology concerns the Fourth Dynasty. One of the kings of that dynasty was Khafre/Chephren—which is almost certainly a reference to the above-mentioned Pharaoh Chafra who lived after Josiah’s death. Now, according to Hool’s version of Egyptian chronology, the rule of the Fourth Dynasty happened before the Exodus, yet Pharaoh Chafra lived close to a millennium later near the end of the First Temple period.

Despite wading into uncharted territories, Hool always maintains an authoritative voice—even as he proffers ideas that border on conspiracy theory. For example, Hool contends that Abraham invented the paleo-Hebrew script (known as Ktav Ivri) and that Nimrod was a member of the Sixteenth Dynasty (whom Manetho called the “Shepherd Kings”) who built Zoan/Avaris. Hool points out that the next time in Egyptian history that Zoan/Avaris achieves prominence is during the Twenty-Fifth Dynasty—the “Nubian” dynasty, whom Hool assumes descended from Nimrod. Hool even builds on this story to explain the rivalry between Nimrod and Esau found in Midrashic sources.

When all is said and done, Rabbi Alexander Hool’s interesting book offers us a different perspective on Egyptian ancient history and seeks to resolve difficulties that have long baffled scholars. Hool’s reconstruction reduces Egyptian history by almost 1,000 years and claims that kingdoms that were said to have reigned long after one another actually ruled at that same time! Whether or not what Rabbi Hool proposes is factually or historically correct, his charming book is chock full of information on the history of Egypt and is certainly an entertaining read.


Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein is the editor of The Rachack Review, an online forum for reviews of Jewish books. We offer our take on books related to history, halacha, hashkafah, homiletics, and Hebrew, as well as philosophy, philology, philanthropy and psychology. Visit us at: https://rachack.blogspot.com/.

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