8

It is often assumed that the Pharaoh of the Exodus was drowned with his army. This has affected attempts to identify the specific Pharaoh of the Exodus. However, is such a claim true?

I see a few steps to this, but you can break it down how you wish:

  1. Does the Pharaoh actually leave with the army to chase the Israelites?
  2. If yes, does the Pharaoh enter the sea with the army?
  3. If yes, does the Pharaoh die in the sea?
  4. Is it possible or proper to differentiate what it most likely says and means from what it necessarily does or does not mean?

Bonus question: if ALL the Egyptians died, with or without Pharaoh, then who reported what happened to the Egyptians? Did they get no report or, as Ex. 14:18 suggests, did God want all Egyptians to know what had happened so that God's glory over them was complete?

9

There's a subtle shift in how the narrative refers to Pharaoh and the army part way through the account. We can see the first method in the first question:

Q: Does the Pharaoh actually leave with the army to chase the Israelites?
A: Yes

Exodus 14:7 So he made ready his chariot and took his army with him, (ESV)

The Pharaoh is spoken of directly. Prior to this in 14:5 and again in v10 Pharaoh is the primary identifier.

"The Egyptians" is the other term used in v9:

The Egyptians pursued them, all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and his horsemen and his army, and overtook them encamped at the sea, by Pi-hahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon.

The account uses both "The Egyptians" and "Pharaoh" at this point. Is Pharaoh included in "Pharaoh's horses, chariots, horsemen and army"? It would seem reasonable to include Pharaoh (with his chariot).

Ex. 14:10 When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly. And the people of Israel cried out to the LORD.

We see that Israel looked up and saw Pharaoh and his forces marching toward them. So Pharaoh leaves with the army and is with them when they draw near to the Israelites.

Q: Does the Pharaoh enter the sea with the army?
A: Possibly, even probably, but not certain

So it is at this point that who is being referred to becomes unclear. Ex. 14:23-24,28

23 The Egyptians pursued and went in after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen.
24 And in the morning watch the LORD in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic,
28 The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained.

No longer is Pharaoh referred to directly. He may be included in "the Egyptians" but it is never "Pharaoh and the Egyptians". Instead, it is the "host of Pharaoh" and the "Egyptian forces" and the "horses, chariots, and horsemen." These references may include Pharaoh, but we can't say for sure.

Q: Does the Pharaoh die in the sea?
A: Possibly

Verse 28, quoted above, suggests that all the Egyptians died, which would have to include Pharaoh. Or does it? At this point "all the Egyptians" are all of the Egyptians in the sea. It does not include all the Egyptians everywhere.

We must conclude that it is not definite that Pharaoh did die. It IS the plainer reading of the text, but it is certainly not demanded by the text.
If the text demanded Pharaoh went into the sea then it would also demand he (now being a part of "all the Egyptians") also died since not one of them remained. But if we cannot say definitively that Pharaoh enters the sea personally we cannot say Pharaoh drowned definitively.

Q: So who did die?
A: At least the army of horses, chariots, and horsemen

Let's go back to what God claimed was going to happen, before the crossing, in Ex. 14:18.

Ex. 14:18 And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.”

So God is either saying:

  1. The Egyptians will realize the LORD as God just before they die
  2. All the Egyptians back in Egypt will hear of this and know He is God.

For #2 to be true, someone would have to survive to tell the story so that all the Egyptians may know.

Conclusion

There is not enough textual evidence to say for certain the Pharaoh entered the sea and died with his army.
However, a plain reading of the chapter would be that a Pharaoh is included in "the Egyptians" and included in those who died.
This should be our basic understanding, but it cannot be claimed definitively and certainly not used as a factual requirement when trying to identify who the Pharaoh was. If other evidence suggest that Pharaoh lived, we may need to adjust that understanding. Historical evidence is often used to inform our interpretation of scripture for better or worse.

1

In Ex 14:10 we read:

And when Pharaoh drew near, the children of Israel lifted their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians marched after them. So they were very afraid, and the children of Israel cried out to the LORD. (Exo 14:10 NKJ)

So we must conclude that Pharaoh set off with his army.

In the Exodus account there is no record of Pharaoh staying behind, however there is is also no record of him staying with his army either.

However in Psalm 136:15 we read:

But overthrew Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea, (Psa 136:15 NKJ)

Therefore, if we consider the biblical record alone (and assume that it's history is accurate) we conclude that Pharaoh died along with his Army in the sea.

  • 2
    I can't really argue with you since there is so little specific information to go on. However, I would point out that overthrowing does not definitely mean killing. It's once again the same vagueness we find throughout. I was thinking about that when I had a thought. The Israelites were on the other side and stayed in the wilderness for the next 40 years. Did they even know themselves if the pharaoh died, apart from God possibly revealing it? It would almost be revisionist history to edit it 50+ years later. Could it in some ways speak to the authenticity and timing of the writing of Exodus? – Joshua Dec 4 '15 at 14:50
  • @JoshuaBigbee (1) I think Ex 14:28 is pretty clear when it says 'none of them remained' that this overthrowing meant death, and Psalm 136:15 makes it clear that Pharoah was with them (2) Moses saw what happened (Ex 24:27) (3) and as for revisionist simply because the detail is added later - I am not convinced that is a standard applied in secular history, let genuine biblical scholarship :D – Jonathan Chell Dec 4 '15 at 18:56
  • I agree none of them remained...that had entered the sea. Psalm 136 is not conclusive because of the poetic language involved. the word translated overthrew is not violent at root. He describes the striking down and outright killing of other kings in later verses, but only describes "shaking off" pharaoh. 2) where did Moses see pharaoh die? 3) Yes :) didn't mean it so seriously. Just meant someone would have had to go back to edit it, and would someone have really done so? If it was just oral, not written, then certainly details of known history would have been worked in, but no, still vague. – Joshua Dec 17 '15 at 18:59
0

From a historical perspective, the crux of this question comes down to dating the exodus event (so that we can identify the Pharaoh in question). The most common date suggested for this event is around 1250 BC. The reason for this is Exodus 1:11 saying that the Hebrew slaves helped build Ramesses (believed to be the city Pi-Ramesses because no city just called Ramesses ever existed). Pi-Ramesses, which means "House of Ramesses", was founded about the mid-13th century BC. Additionally, the land of Israel is identified on a late 13th century BC stele erected by the Egyptian Pharaoh Merneptah. Therefore, it is believed that the exodus would have been between these two events (building the cities, being mentioned in their own land).

If 1250 BC is close to the date, then the Pharaoh would have been Ramesses II. He did not die in the sea. His mummy is in Cairo's Egyptian Museum. His son Merneptah's mummy was unwrapped in 1907. His father Seti I's mummy is also at Cairo's Egyptian Museum. Therefore, it is unlikely that any Pharaoh associated with Israel drowned in the sea.

Furthermore, it is also unlikely that the exodus event occurred the way it is told anyway. There are dozens of reasons for this. To name just a few...

  1. 600,000 men (not counting women and children) supposedly fled Egypt (Ex 12:37). However, this is only four generations removed from Joseph and his brothers (Ex 6:16-20). It is nigh impossible for 70 people (Ex 1:5) to have turned into 2 million people (including women and children) over the course of only four generations. Every male descendent would have had to father about 40 male children (not to mention female children).
  2. If Egypt had lost 2 million slaves AND the entire army of Pharaoh, then Egypt would have been severely weakened. Egypt could not have continued to be the regional superpower that it was. Yet, Ramesses II and Merneptah both maintained powerful armies and had successful reigns. The New Kingdom of Egypt lasted until 1069 BC.
  3. The archaeological evidence for Pharaoh's army drowning in the sea would be massive. We would expect to find thousands of spearheads, metal parts from chariots, pieces of armor, etc. Instead, we find nothing. The archaeological evidence for a marching band of 2 million Israelites would also have left behind considerable evidence. Again, nothing.
  4. Pharaoh's horsemen are mentioned multiple times in this account. However, horsemen didn't even play a part in warfare for another couple of centuries. So the usage in the text is likely anachronistic.

This anachronism points to the fact that this story was written much later than the event it purports to tell. If that is the case, then it makes much more sense how the details of the story came to be exaggerated. In pre-literary societies, transmission of history is done by Oral Tradition (stories told by each generation to the next). If you've ever played the "telephone game," then you know how quickly stories change when told over and over again.

  • I apologize if my question us unclear, however that is not the essence of the question. It is actually to come at the issue from the other direction, as opposed to the common direction which you took in this answer. The point is not to date the Pharaoh. It is to verify or dismiss a common requirement placed upon the identity of the Pharaoh. I'm hesitant to address your answer as a whole because I believe in the earlier 1440 BC date. I will say this, you should do more research into 4). Please give support for your chariot dating, it disagrees with what I have read. – Joshua Dec 18 '15 at 18:17
  • In 1440 BC, Canaan was a part of the Egyptian Empire. In effect, the Israelites would have had to go a lot further than Canaan to escape Egypt. If they had fled further north, then they would have been in the Mitanni Empire. If they had fled further west, then they would have been in the desert for a few hundred years waiting for Egyptian control to recede out of Canaan. – Daniel Pape Dec 18 '15 at 18:32
  • I misspoke concerning 4). I meant that horsemen weren't used. At that time, horses were used to pull chariots, but they weren't being ridden in battle yet (no stirrups). My bad. I'll fix that. – Daniel Pape Dec 18 '15 at 18:34
  • Right, see, didn't want to get into this debate. Reconsider the question as I have written it and commented on it. The point is to refine this single possible requirement of the pharaoh of the exodus from the scriptures so as to apply it to ANY pharaoh in ANY time period in regard to ANY dating theory. I don't want to down vote, but I'm telling you, you aren't answering the real question. – Joshua Dec 18 '15 at 18:36
  • I'm sorry if I misunderstood. Your first question reads, "is such a claim true?" in reference to the Pharaoh of Exodus drowning with his army... Out of curiosity, what are you trying to do with this story that you can't do if the Pharaoh of Exodus is definitively linked to a historical Pharaoh? Is this for use, or just historical curiosity? – Daniel Pape Dec 18 '15 at 18:58

protected by Community Jun 5 '16 at 4:50

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.