In my opinion, it most certainly was NOT Ramesses II, despite what many historians claim.
According to 1 Kings 6:1, Solomon built the Temple in his fourth year. It is now well established that the fourth year of Solomon was 966 BCE (give or take a year or two). 1 Kings 6:1 states very clearly that the Temple was built 480 years after the Exodus. Thus, the Exodus must have taken place in approximately 1446 BCE. The Pharaoh at this time was Thutmose III. (He reigned from 1479-1425 BCE.) Anyone who advocates for a mid-13th century BCE date, the time of Ramesses II (1279-1213 BCE), is not accepting the clear import of 1 Kings 6:1 and unjustifiably chopping the number by approximately 200 years.
There is only one verse in the Bible that those advocating for Ramesses II attempt to rely upon. The verse is Ex 1:11. According to this verse, Israel built the storage cities of “Pitom and Raamses.” This implies perhaps that this work was performed under Ramesses II. (As to Ramesses I, he reigned only 16 months, 1295-1294 BCE, and is rarely considered to be the king alluded to here.)
A land with the name “Ramses” is already mentioned at Gen. 47: 11 at the time of Joseph, hundreds of years earlier. So it is a mistake to view “Raamses” as a place that only came into existence at the time of Ex. 1:11.
Also, when we read the book of Exodus carefully, we see that there are two Pharaohs described. The Pharaoh of the Oppression is the one described up until Ex. 2:23, and the Pharaoh of the Exodus is the one described thereafter, since 2:23 records that the Pharaoh of the Oppression died. The possible allusion to Ramesses II at Ex 1:11 would mean that his son Merneptah would have been the Pharaoh of the Exodus.
(The “Ten Commandments movie” that we have all seen one hundred times has many errors and cannot be relied upon. In that movie, the producers decided to portray Sethi, 1294-1279 BCE, as the Pharaoh of the Oppression, and Ramesses II as the Pharaoh of the Exodus.)
It is also significant that the name of the storage city at Exodus 1:11 is spelled Raamses. This is not exactly the same as the name of the Pharaoh. (By the way, Ramesses means “begotten of Ra.” Ra is the Egyptian sun god of the Hyksos.)
Most importantly, the reasons that historians give for rejecting a 15th century BCE Exodus are nothing more than: “We have not found archeological evidence of such and such.” But it is very weak to rely on arguments from silence.
An example is the case of the Hittites. The Bible refers over 40 times to the great Hittite Empire. But 100 years ago there was no archaeological evidence for its existence. “Just another Bible myth!” skeptics charged. Then, in 1906, Hugo Winckler uncovered a library of 10,000 clay tablets. These ancient records fully documented the lost Hittite Empire and confirmed the reliability of the Bible. Later excavations uncovered Boghazkoy, the capital city of this “mythical” empire.
There are many other examples of arguments from silence being refuted, and the Bible being validated. The Babylonian King Belshazzar referred to in the book of Daniel was long thought to be a myth. Then, in the 19th century, archaeology discovered him. Until the mid-19th century there was no evidence for Achashverosh. Then archaeology discovered that Xerxes, the king described in detail by the Greek historians, really had an original Persian name that matched the name Achashverosh. “Xerxes” is only a Greek corruption of the original name. (The Greeks did not have a shin, causing a problem in the transliteration of the original name into their language.) Even Queen Esther, long derided as a mythical Biblical figure, has now been shown to exist. See Mitchell First’s new book “Esther Unmasked” (2015). (She is “Amestris,” the wife of Xerxes in the Greek histories.)
In sum, do not trust the secular historians. They rely too heavily on arguments from silence and have ulterior motives of attempting to discredit the Bible and any evidence for the Exodus.
Trust the Bible and its 480-year verse at 1 Kings 6:1. This means that the Pharaoh of the Exodus was Thutmose III, and not Ramesses II!
By Yehiel Levy