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PHARAOH (fâr'ō, Heb. par‘ōh). The government of Egypt, and ultimately the supreme monarch in whom all its powers were vested, was known as the “Great House,” in Egyptian “Per-o,” whence comes the term pharaoh. The recorded rulers of Egypt, twenty-six separate dynasties, extend from Menes, 3400 b.c. to Psamtik III, deposed at the Persian conquest in 525. The term pharaoh can be traced back to the Twenty-second Dynasty (945-745), since when it was commonly attached to the monarch’s name. Thus “Pharaoh Neco” and “Pharaoh Hophra” are exact Hebrew translations of the Egyptian title.

Pharaohs of Egypt are mentioned in the following OT contexts: 1. Gen.12.10-Gen.12.20. The date of Abram’s descent into Egypt must be in the early years of the second millennium b.c. Amenemhet I, according to Breasted’s dating, was Pharaoh from 2000 to 1970. There is no strong evidence that northern Egypt was already under the power of the Hyksos intruders at this time, plausible though it may seem to connect the patriarch’s sojourn with the presence of racially related rulers. On the tomb of Khnumhotep at Beni Hassan, dating from the twentieth century b.c., the visit of such a Semitic party is vividly portrayed.

2. Gen.39.1-Gen.39.23 to Gen.50.1-Gen.50.26 passim. It is reasonable to place the period of Joseph’s (and Israel’s) favor in Egypt in the times of the Hyksos invaders. These foreigners, who included Canaanite and Semitic elements from Palestine, supplanted the weak rulers of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Dynasties and settled in the Delta and Lower Egypt, where they maintained their power for some two centuries. They were driven out in 1580 b.c.

3. Exod.1.1-Exod.1.22 to Exod.15.1-Exod.15.27 passim. Controversy surrounds the identity of the Pharaoh of the Oppression and the date of the Hebrew exodus. One, to some extent, depends on the other. John Garstang’s excavations at Jericho in the early 1930s seemed to establish a date for the Hebrew storming of the city around the turn of the fourteenth century b.c. This would postulate a date for the Exodus around 1440, and would identify Thutmose III as the Pharaoh of the Oppression and the famous princess Hatshepsut as Moses' protectress. The theory produces a neat pattern of dates, and the events of the Oppression through to the infiltration of the tribes into Palestine correspond very well with events of Egyptian history during the years 1580 to 1350, the period of the great Eighteenth Dynasty. Ahmose I would thus be the Pharaoh “who did not know about Joseph.” Indeed, as the first native ruler after the expulsion of the hated Hyksos, he would be naturally hostile to the shepherd proteges of the old regime. The breakdown of Egyptian control in Palestine under Amenhotep IV (Ikhnaton) would also account for the comparative ease of the Hebrew conquest and explain the “Habiru” references of the Tell-el-Amarna Letters.

Competent orthodox scholarship, however, not without backing from more recent work at Jericho, still argues for the older dating, under which Seti I (1313-1292 b.c.) is regarded as the Pharaoh of Exod.1.8. Ramses II (1292-1225), in whose reign the store cities of Pitham and Rameses were completed, would thus fill the role of Pharaoh of the Oppression, and perhaps of the Exodus (Exod.1.11; Exod.12.40). Rameses was the fort from which the great militarist Ramses II sought to control his Asiatic empire, and the war base from which he marched to his great battle with the Hittites at Kadesh on the Orontes, the conflict depicted on the walls of the Ramesseum at Thebes. Those who thus identify the Pharaoh of the Oppression, point out that the Egyptian hold over Palestine slackened after Ramses’ treaty with the Hittites, and that this weakening of policy allowed the fragmentation of the country from which the Hebrew incursion profited. Some more precisely date the Exodus in the reign of Ramses’ son, Merneptah, mainly on the strength of the “Israel Stele,” discovered by Flinders Petrie in 1896. This inscription, self-dated in “the third year of Merneptah” (1223 b.c.), tells of the Pharaoh’s victories in Canaan. One line runs: “Israel is devastated. Her seed is not” (or “Her crops are destroyed”). A natural reference from this statement might, however, be that Israel was already in settled possession of large tracts of Palestine. At this point the matter must be left.

4. 1Chr.4.18 speaks of “the children of Pharaoh’s daughter Bithia, whom Mered had married.” No identification of this Pharaoh is possible, and the name of the princess appears to be Hebraized.

5. 1Kgs.3.1; 1Kgs.9.16, 1Kgs.9.24; 1Kgs.11.1. Solomon’s reign may be reliably dated 961 to 922 b.c., a period that corresponds with the reign of Pharaoh Sheshonk I (945 to 924), the founder of the Twenty-second Dynasty. Under this Pharaoh, Egypt’s foreign policy again took on an aggressive character, and at all such times it was Egypt’s custom (not without illustration in recent events) to establish the safety of the northern approaches, virtually her only invasion route. Hence the policy of Thutmose III, Ramses II, Seti I, and Sheshonk. The dynastic alliance with Solomon and the handing of the city of Gezer to his authority were part of the recurrent Egyptian plan to create a defensive buffer in Palestine. The ruler who acted with such foresight and energy can hardly have been one of the feeble monarchs of the earlier dynasty. A further facet of the same policy is revealed by Pharaoh’s befriending of Hadad of Edom (1Kgs.11.14-1Kgs.11.22). Hadad was a useful weapon for possible employment against a recalcitrant Solomon or against a hostile Palestine.

6. 2Kgs.18.21 and Isa.36.6 both mention the Pharaoh of Sennacherib’s day. He is “that splintered reed of a staff, which pierces a man’s hand and wounds him if he leans on it,” says the field commander to the people of Jerusalem. The date is 701 b.c. Egypt was in the state of political disintegration and weakness pictured in Isa.19.1-Isa.19.25. Shabaka was Pharaoh, the first monarch of the feeble Twenty-fifth Dynasty. The army scraped together to face the Assyrian threat was a motley horde of mercenaries and ill-armed levies. Egyptian contingents had served in the past against Assyria, but this was the first time the two empires, that of the Tigris and that of the Nile, actually confronted each other. Sennacherib led in person. Shabaka entrusted his force to his nephew Taharka who, some thirteen or fourteen years later, became king of Ethiopia. Hence the title given in 2Kgs.19.9 by anticipation of events. The Assyrian rapidly dealt with Taharka’s force, and was proceeding to overthrow Palestine and the strong pocket of resistance in Jerusalem, when the famous plague that decimated his army fell on him. This overwhelming catastrophe was the cause of the Assyrian retreat and deliverance for both Palestine and Egypt.

7. 2Kgs.23.20-2Kgs.23.35. Pharaoh Neco was the last Pharaoh to endeavor to reestablish Egyptian authority in the northern approaches. He succeeded Psametik I, founder of the Twenty-sixth Dynasty, in 609 b.c., and reigned until 593. Immediately after his accession, taking advantage of the collapse of Nineveh, Neco drove north into Philistia. On the Plain of Megiddo, where Egypt had won control of the land nine hundred years before, Neco routed and killed Josiah. He moved on to the Euphrates, unopposed by Nineveh, but not feeling strong enough to go against that stronghold. From Ribleh on the Orontes, three months after the battle at Megiddo, Neco deposed Jehoahaz and sent him to die in Egypt. He placed Jehoiakim on the throne of Judah and fixed a tribute for the conquered land. Two years later Neco’s new empire fell before the attack of Babylon. Jeremiah refers to the event (Jer.37.7; Jer.46.2).

8. Ezek.29.1. The date is 587 b.c., and the Pharaoh referred to must therefore be Hophra, or Apries, in the first year of his rule. He reigned from 588 to 569. This was the Pharaoh whose troops failed to relieve Jerusalem in 586 and whose weak action against Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon brilliantly vindicated the advice of Jeremiah. Egypt escaped the calamity that befell Palestine by prudent modification of her challenge. Preoccupied with Tyre, Nebuchadnezzar did not press the war against Egypt, and Hophra brought his country its last flourish of prosperity before the land fell in the Persian conquest. Jeremiah (Jer.44.30, the sole biblical reference to Hophra by name) prophesied his end. See Egypt.——EMB

PHARAOH fâr’ ō,—ĭō (פַּרְעֹה, H7281; LXX Φαραώ, G5755; from Egyp. pr-(ə), great house). Title of the kings of ancient Egypt.

Origin and history of the title.

The Egyp. term “great house” first appears in the Old Kingdom and was used to denote the palace of the king, the institution that was the seat of government. It was in the New Kingdom (c. 1550-1070 b.c.) that the term was first clearly applied to the person of the king himself, at least in written documents. In that period, as long before and after, the Egyp. kings had each an individual personal name (e.g., Amenophis, Ramses) as “Son of Ra,” preceded by four other titles each with a corresponding name. The last of these four was the special name, as the “King of Upper and Lower Egypt”; this and the personal name were each enclosed in an elongated ring known modernly as a “cartouche.” Whereas these official names and titles were at all times used for formal purposes and in the datelines of documents, the more popular term “pharaoh” was used within the body of such documents and, of course, in everyday speech—e.g., the workmen in western Thebes referred to “Pharaoh, our good lord,” and so forth. This informal and popular usage of “pharaoh” by itself, without a proper name, is customary in the OT, sometimes glossed by its Heb. equivalent “king of Egypt.” The exclusive use of “pharaoh” without name in the Pentateuch and down to Solomon compares well with Egyp. usage of the New Kingdom and the twenty-first dynasty respectively.

Later, from the twenty-second dynasty onward, Egyp. popular usage began to add the king’s name to the title, e.g., “Pharaoh Shoshenq” on a stela from Dakhleh oasis, prob. dating to Shoshenq I, the Biblical Shishak. This usage is correctly reflected in the more specific OT references for the first millennium b.c., e.g., to Pharaoh Neco or Pharaoh Hophra (Jer 44:30; 46:2), as opposed to the continuing general references to “Pharaoh” also to be found. One may compare the Assyrian references to “Pir’u king of Egypt (Musri).”

The role of the pharaoh.

The role of the king was vital to the civilization and society of ancient Egypt. He was for his people a god among men and a man among the gods, the human holder of a divine office, the intermediary between the people of Egypt and the gods of the cosmos. In the earliest times, the king himself incarnated a god on earth, esp. the falcon god Horus of Upper Egypt. In the course of the Old Kingdom, his divine status diminished in level when, as Son of Ra, he was in some measure subordinate to another deity rather than being an autonomous deity himself. In the New Kingdom, the pharaoh was, further, considered as executing the decrees or plans of this or that god, esp. Amun. At all times (according to the evidence), the king as representative of the gods and as the ruler of Egypt had to uphold maat, the just and right world order, as guarantor of an ordered and stable society in which justice was to predominate. As being also the representative of the Egyp. people with the gods, the pharaoh was in principle the sole high priest of the gods of Egypt—hence, his ubiquitous presence in innumerable temple scenes, of the king offering to the gods. In practice, of course, the role devolved on human and mainly nonroyal high priests, and pharaoh officiated in person only intermittently at great state festivals. Ramses II, for example, celebrated in person the magnificent Opet Festival of the god Amun at Thebes at the beginning of his reign, before appointing a new high priest of Amun.

The pharaohs of Egypt constituted some of the most stable monarchies ever seen, very rarely disrupted by internal plots or insurrection. The main reason was perhaps the continuity of tradition, and esp. the religious link between any given pharaoh and his predecessor. It appears that the proper burial of his predecessor was a first duty (and a legitimizing act) of a new king, like Horus for his father Osiris, and that regardless of any actual relationship between the new king and his predecessor. On the throne, the living monarch was the embodiment of the god Horus; when dead, he was identified with Osiris in the realm of the blessed dead, and joined the august company of his long line of predecessors. The “Royal Ancestors” (i.e., all dead kings) had a vital part in the everyday temple cult, being associated with the gods for the welfare of Egypt.

It is perhaps not irrelevant to see this high status of the pharaohs as a background for a passage such as Exodus 7:1 (Moses as “God” to Pharaoh), and for the judgment of that event on the gods of Egypt (Exod 12:12). When a passage such as Isaiah 19:11 puts into the mouth of Pharaoh’s counselors the claim “I am a son of the wise, a son of ancient kings,” one may see a reflection here of the aura of age-long tradition current in the Late Period (Isaiah being contemporary with the twenty-second/twenty-third—twenty-fifth dynasties) and long before, and of the family links of officials of the Late Period with past royalty (shown by genealogies of that period).

Individual pharaohs in Scripture

(1) Time of Abraham (Gen 12:15-20). If Abraham is placed in the early second millennium b.c. (roughly 2000-1800), he would be a contemporary of the Middle Kingdom, and most likely of the twelfth dynasty (1991-1786 b.c.), and so of one of the kings Ammenemes (I-IV) or Sesostris (I-III). At that time, the effective capital of Egypt was at Ithet-Tawy, just S of Memphis, and the pharaohs also had a residence near the land of Goshen (cf. J. van Seters, The Hyksos [1966], 132, 133).

(2) The pharaoh of Joseph (Gen 37-50). If Joseph flourished about 1700 b.c., he prob. lived in the late thirteenth dynasty and early Hyksos period (fifteenth dynasty). If so, the king who appointed Joseph to high office could have belonged to either dynasty; the change of power from the one to the other prob. occurred about 1650 b.c. (see, Land of Egypt).

(3) The pharaoh(s) of the oppression (Exod 1, 2). Identification depends on the date assigned to the Exodus and on the identification accepted for the pharaoh of the Exodus. If the latter is Ramses II, the oppression could stretch back under Sethos I to Haremhab and perhaps Amenophis III. On the theory of Amenophis II as pharaoh of the Exodus, the oppression would be largely under Thutmosis III.

(4) The pharaoh of the Exodus (Exod 5-12) cannot be identified with absolute certainty. Older views favored either Amenophis II of the eighteenth dynasty (c. 1440 b.c.) or Merneptah of the nineteenth dynasty (c. 1220 b.c.). These views are less easily tenable today (esp. the second one), and Ramses II (predecessor of Merneptah) may be a likelier candidate (see Exodus).

(5) The pharaoh who fathered Bithiah, a wife of Mered (1 Chron 4:18), cannot be identified at present, as the date of Bithiah is not easily ascertained.

(6) The contemporary of David who accepted the boy prince Hadad of Edom as a refugee when Joab ravaged that land (1 Kings 11:14-22). David’s reign (c. 1010-970 b.c.) was contemporary with the twenty-first dynasty in Egypt. As the dynasty ended with Psusennes II (c. 959-945 b.c.), David’s Egyp. contemporaries would be the kings Amenemope, Osochor, and Siamun; of these, either Amenemope or Siamun are the likeliest to have been Hadad’s host. Unfortunately, no details of the families of these kings are yet known. See also Land of Egypt.

(7) The king whose daughter married Solomon, and who handed over Gezer as her dowry (1 Kings 9:16). Reigning about 970-930 b.c., Solomon would be a contemporary of Siamun and Psusennes II of the twenty-first dynasty. Siamun is the more probable candidate for the role of Solomon’s father-in-law, as he was ruling in Solomon’s early years when the marriage prob. took place (cf. Malamat, JNES, XXII [1963], 9-17). A fragmentary relief from Tanis showing Siamun smiting an Asiatic might reflect a “police action” of his in Philistia, when he could also have captured Gezer.

(8) Shishak (q.v.), the Shoshenq I who founded the twenty-second dynasty in Egypt, of Libyan origin (1 Kings 14:25, 26).

(9) Zerah defeated by Asa (2 Chron 14:9-15) was prob. not a pharaoh, as his name is not identifiable with Osorkon as once thought.

(10) So (q.v.), to whom the last Israelite king, Hoshea, sent for aid against Assyria (2 Kings 17:4). He is not called pharaoh in the OT, but may have been the shadowy Osorkon IV of the late twenty-second dynasty.

(11) The political-military impotence of the twenty-fifth dynasty pharaohs is well recognized by Isaiah (30:1ff.). In 701 b.c., Shebitku prob. had ascended the throne, sending his brother Tirhakah into Pal. in a vain attempt to defeat the Assyrians (cf. Isa 36:6; 37:9).

(12) Tirhakah (q.v.), principal king of the twenty-fifth dynasty, contemporary of Hezekiah and Sennacherib (Isa 37:9) although he only became king from c. 690 b.c. (cf. Kitchen, Ancient Orient and Old Testament [1966], 82-84).

(13) Neco (q.v.), second ruler of the twenty-sixth dynasty, who defeated and slew Josiah of Judah when the latter tried to prevent his intervention in the conflict between Assyria and Babylon (2 Kings 23:29). Neco’s attempt to hold Syria-Pal. for Egypt was thwarted by Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon.

(14) Hophra (q.v.), belonging to the same dynasty is named only in Jeremiah 44:30, but is prob. the king intended in several other references; see Hophra. He rashly encouraged Zedekiah of Judah in his rebellion against Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon, but failed to give effective help at the critical moment. After military disaster in Libya, he was later dethroned and killed (prophesied in Jer 44:30).

(15) In Song of Solomon, the beloved is as a mare of pharaoh’s chariots, a poetic reflex of the fame of Egypt’s chariotry in the New Kingdom and later. Egyptian lyric poetry also found such comparisons apt, e.g. “like a horse belonging to the king, picked from a thousand steeds” (Gardiner, Library of A. Chester Beatty [1931], 35).


Sir A. H. Gardiner, Egyptian Grammar (1957), 75 and n. 10; H. W. Fairman in S. H. Hooke, ed., Myth, Ritual, and Kingship (1958), 74-104; J. Vergote, Joseph en Égypte (1959), 45-48; Hayes, JEA, XLVI (1960), 41, 42; G. Posener, De la Divinité du Pharaon (1960); P. Derchain, “Le rôle du roi d’Égypte dans le maintien de l’ordre cosmique” in Le Pouvoir et le Sacré (1962), 61-73.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

fa’-ro, fa’-ra-o (par`oh; Pharao); Egyptian per aa, "great house"):em; the King James Version Pharacim): One of the families of temple-servants who returned with Zerubbabel (1 Esdras 5:31; not found in Ezra or Nehemiah).

1. The Use of Name in Egypt:

Many and strange differences of opinion have been expressed concerning the use of this name in Egypt and elsewhere, because of its importance in critical discussions (see below). Encyclopaedia Biblica says "a name given to all Egyptian kings in the Bible"; it also claims that the name could not have been received by the Hebrews before 1000 BC. HDB (III, 819) says that a letter was addressed to Amenhotep as "Pharaoh, lord of," etc. According to Winckler’s theory of a North Arabian Musri, it was the Hebrews alone in ancient times who adopted the term Pharaoh from the Egyptians, the name not being found even in the Tell el-Amarna Letters or anywhere else in cuneiform literature for the king of Egypt. Such a result is obtained according to Winckler’s theory by referring every reference in cuneiform to "Pir`u, king of Musri" to the North Arabian country.

In Egyptian inscriptions the term "Pharaoh" occurs from the Pyramid inscriptions onward. At first it is used with distinct reference to its etymology and not clearly as an independent title. Pharaoh, "great house," like Sublime Porte, was applied first as a metaphor to mean the government. But as in such an absolute monarchy as Egypt the king was the government, Pharaoh was, by a figure of speech, put for the king. Its use in Egypt clearly as a title denoting the ruler, whoever he might be, as Caesar among the Romans, Shah among Persians, and Czar among Russians, belongs to a few dynasties probably beginning with the XVIIIth, and certainly ending not later than the XXIst, when we read of Pharaoh Sheshonk, but the Bible does not speak so, but calls him "Shishak king of Egypt" (1Ki 14:25). This new custom in the use of the title Pharaoh does not appear in the Bible until we have "Pharaoh-necoh." Pharaoh is certainly used in the time of Rameses II, in the "Tale of Two Brothers" (Records of the Past, 1st series, II, 137; Recueil de Travaux, XXI, 13, l. 1).

2. Significance of Use in the Bible: