According to Wikipedia:

Pharaoh is the vernacular term often used by modern authors for the kings of ancient Egypt who ruled as monarchs from the First Dynasty (c. 3150 BC) until the annexation of Egypt by the Roman Empire in 30 BC.However, regardless of gender, "king" was the term used most frequently by the ancient Egyptians for their monarchs through the middle of the Eighteenth Dynasty during the New Kingdom. The term "pharaoh" was not used contemporaneously for a ruler until a possible reference to Merneptah, c. 1210 BC during the Nineteenth Dynasty, nor consistently used until the decline and instability that began with the Twenty-Fifth Dynasty.

If Abraham lived before "Merneptah", then was Genesis 12:14–20 in error applying the title " Pharʹaoh", to the king of Egypt?

Genesis 12:14-20: When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that Sarai was a very beautiful woman. 15 And when Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace. 16 He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels. 17 But the Lord inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai. 18 So Pharaoh summoned Abram. “What have you done to me?” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her to be my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!” 20 Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had.

  • I am responding on mobile phone...so a comment rather than an answer. If Genesis was indeed written by Moses, and given the biblical claim Moses was raised a prince of Egypt as the adopted son of Pharoah's daughter, would it not be reasonable to conclude Moses new the official name given to Egyptian rulers of his day? Seems to me that Moses, being a first hand eyewitness to the Egyptian ruler...his father as such, and writing about it, Moses would know wouldn't he?
    – Adam
    Jan 30 at 12:00

1 Answer 1


Three points by way of answer. First, if it isn't until circa 1210 B.C. that discovery has been made of a king / ruler of Egypt being called Pharaoh, that does not prove the title was not used prior to then. It would have to be proven that Merneptah was the first one to ever have that title. Your Wiki quote might claim he was the first one, but Egyptology is not an exact science and there continues to be great debate about which Pharaoh was alive when; also the dating of Dynasties is still disputed. To show what a sticky wicket such naming and dating is on, I refer to this earlier question, and one particular answer given, starting "The Hyksos were Semites from the Levant." https://christianity.stack.stackexchange.com/questions/6166/why-do-we-know-that-joseph-wasnt-hyksos/73834#73834

The point of this link is what one lengthy answer says about dating when Joseph (he of the coat of many colours; Abraham's great-grandson) rose to prominence in Egypt. He dates it during the 12th Dynasty, 1983 to 1793 B.C. The "Summary" at the end is what you might find pertinent. "So in the Twelfth Dynasty we have the collapse of the power of the nomarchs, and a great increase in the central administration of the royal court..."

It could well be that 'Pharaoh' was not a term used during the power of the nomarchs, but speaking of Pharaohs is not "an error" due to the following reasons.

Second, an encyclopedia I have here says that Pharaoh is the Hebrew form of the Egyptian royal title, 'Pero', which means 'great house'. It also claims that it was not applied as a title, Pharaoh, to the king, until after circa 950 B.C. As my encyclopedia was published in 1991, and the Wiki article is much more recent, it's likely Wiki is using more up-to-date discoveries in the realms of Egyptology. Of course, in a few years' time, that Wiki article might be updated with (as yet future) discoveries about the title being applied way before 1210 B.C.

Third, the Hebrew word in Genesis 12 (occurring five times in that chapter alone) which is translated Pharaoh, is strictly translated as 'sun'. But that would make no sense. Even if it was capitalized to suggest a sun-god, worshipped by the Egyptians, that still would not clearly identify the highest Egyptian ruler of the realm. But as that ruler was, indeed, considered to be a sun-god, it makes sense to use the title, Pharaoh. This is a case of the original-language word being insufficient to clearly identify what we now know to be a very long line of Egyptian monarchs / rulers, going back centuries. To call them 'sun', or 'great house' just misses the mark. An Egyptian title of Pharaoh immediately tells us what we need to know, in order to make sense of the manuscripts.

The simple answer to your question, then, is that it is not an error because it was deliberately chosen by translators, to make senses to readers of what, otherwise, would have been nonsensical.

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