The Pharaoh of Moses

In both Islamic and Judo-Christian religious scriptures, there is a claim that Pharaoh was a tyrant who oppressed his people and God punished him. He was punished not for being a tyrant who killed innocent children though but because he disobeyed the message of God according to the Quran. In the Quran, “Pharaoh and those before him and the Overturned Cities made a great mistake. They disobeyed the Messenger of their Lord so He seized them in an ever-tightening grip.” (Qur’an, 69:9-10). The Quran also says, “We recite to you with truth some news of Moses and Pharaoh for people who believe. Pharaoh exalted himself arrogantly in the land and divided its people into camps, oppressing one group of them by slaughtering their sons and letting their women live. He was one of the corrupters.” (Qur’an, 28:3-4)

In the Bible, Pharaoh was punished not because he was a tyrant but because he refused to let the Israelite out of Egypt to celebrate a feast. In fact, God commanded Moses to go to Egypt and deliver his fellow Hebrews from bondage but he made this plausible excuse to convince the pharaoh to let his Israelite people go.

MosesMoses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and told him that the Lord God of Israel wanted Pharaoh to permit the Israelites to celebrate a feast in the wilderness. Pharaoh replied that he did not know their God (understandably) and would not permit them to go. They gained a second hearing with Pharaoh and Moses’ changed rod into a serpent, but Pharaoh’s magicians did the same with their rods. Moses and Aaron met Pharaoh at the Nile riverbank, and Moses had Aaron turn the river to blood, but Pharaoh’s magicians could do the same. (This story tells us that Ancient Egyptians were only magicians who would do illusionary tricks and Moses was not even cleverer with his God’s Power. Ancient Egypt was, in fact, full of mathematicians, architects, builders, artisans, physicians, astronomers and philosophers)

Moses obtained the fourth meeting and had Aaron bring frogs from the Nile to overrun Egypt, but Pharaoh’s magicians were able to do the same thing. Pharaoh asked Moses to remove the frogs and promised to let the Israelites go observe their feast in the wilderness in return. Pharaoh decided against letting the Israelites leave to observe the feast. Eventually, Pharaoh let the Hebrew people depart after Moses’ God sent ten plagues upon the Egyptians. The plagues of gnats and flies, diseases on the Egyptians and their domestic animals, hail and thunder, locusts, total darkness (total eclipse). The tenth plague was the slaying of the Egyptian male first-born children, whereupon such terror seized the Egyptians that they ordered the Hebrews to leave. (The twist of the story goes weird. Frogs are not such a frightful pest, as they eat insects including flies and they would be useful for the environment in Egypt. They were nothing more than a nuisance disturbing the sleep of Egyptians. Pharaoh changes his mind for no reason and let the Israelites go.)

In such a hot fertile land, in a country where agriculture is the main occupation, there would be a lot of infestations and infections, which are widespread and endemic as was the case until the early part of the 20th century. It seems quite unfair that afflictions have lasted for 7000 years because one Pharaoh did not accept the message of God. In fact, Egyptians became monotheistic 2000 years ago with the advent of Christianity. Certainly, the Pharaoh believed in himself as a God and it must have been a strong challenge for his identity to accept another God.

Most historical views consider Ramses II to be the pharaoh who was in power during the time of Moses. This was the greatest period of Egyptian History with a strong empire and advance in many aspects of social life. Ramses’ extensive building projects must have requested huge funds provided by his spoils from conquests and campaigns. Ramses II was a great warrior who made many campaigns against the neighbouring countries and invaded Palestine, Syria and Nubia.

Ramses IISome sources mention that during his war against the Palestinians he took their princes captive and brought them back to Egypt. Moses, probably, was born in Egypt as one of the children of the Palestinian captives. The roots of Judaism are based on the monotheistic ideas of Akhenaton – Amenophis IV – that claimed only one God (Aton) and dismissed the polytheism of Ra worship. Ramses II was the pharaoh most responsible for erasing the Amarna Period from history. He sought deliberately to deface the Amarna monuments and change the nature of the religious structure, in order to try to bring it back to polytheism where it had been prior to the reign of Akhenaton. It is reasonable to assume that Moses was one of the followers of the Akhenaton religion.

In his book, Moses and Monotheism (1939), Sigmund Freud hypothesizes that Moses was not Jewish, but actually born into Ancient Egyptian nobility and was perhaps a follower of Akhenaton, or perhaps Akhenaton himself. Freud contradicts the Biblical story of Moses with his own retelling of events claiming that Moses only led his close followers into freedom during an unstable period in Egyptian history after Akhenaton and that they subsequently killed Moses in rebellion.

The belief that Pharaoh has persecuted his people may be referring to the persecution of the followers of the Akhenaton religion who may have escaped to the desert. However, if we believe the story of the Hebrew people being captive in Egypt, their numbers may have been small, as it is not known that a whole community of people will be taken as captives and there is no indication in Egyptian History that Egyptians made use of slaves in their homes or farms.

Moses may have decided to escape from Egypt with a small number of his compatriots back to Palestine. They may have been perused for the offences they made against the Egyptians. They were captives who run away or criminals who went off with their crimes. The Israelites “plundered” the Egyptians during the exodus. When God spoke to Moses at the burning bush about the exodus from Egypt, He said, “It shall be, when you go, that you shall not go empty-handed. However, every woman shall ask of her neighbour, namely, of her who dwells near her house, articles of silver, articles of gold, and clothing; and you shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians” (Exodus 3:21-22). Moses also struck down an Egyptian and hid him in the sand. Then the next day, two Hebrew men were fighting with each other; and he said to the offender, “Why are you striking your companion?”. However, he said, “Who made you a prince or a judge over us? Are you intending to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?”. Then Moses was afraid and said, “Surely the matter has become known.” Then he fled to Midian. (Exodus 2:11-15).

Mummy of RamsesThe story about the drowning of Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea cannot be verified. The Bible relates that the waters of the Red Sea were divided and made into a dry land “And the waters returned, and covered the Chariots, and the horsemen, and all the host of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them; there remained not so much as one of them.” (Exodus, 14:28). The imagination of the storyteller wanted to glorify the image of the God of Israel. The mummy of Ramses II is still in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, it was examined both in Egypt and in France with all possible scientific tools, and there is no evidence that Ramses II has drowned in the sea. It is not imaginable that someone who has drowned with all his men to be rescued and have a chance to be mummified. The scientific evidence is that Ramses II died of an infection at the age of 99 after many ailments have affected him including arthritis.

The Bible is known for its exaggeration. Many scholars have been sceptical about the story of Solomon’s Wealth and achievements. Many of historical texts and scriptures have served as tools of propaganda in which history was mixed with myth and fiction. Even Ramses II himself has falsified history when he used temples as a propaganda machine about his victory in Caddish where he was actually defeated and retreated.

The authors of many old scriptures tend to exaggerate what may have really happened to satisfy the national pride, to inspire people and sanctify the past and ancestors. They minimise failures, defects and faults while they magnify the scale of achievements and actual events. In all propaganda, there is a need to explain and justify crimes committed through failure to abide by the proclaimed moral code. Stories are passed from generation to generation and, during this process, a lot of distortion happens. The text, when translated, may be misunderstood as a word is substituted for another. Texts were written and then copied on parchments or fragile papyri. Time leaves its marks on segments of the scrolls, which worn or fade away over years. Interpretation of the text itself may change over time and interpreters may write commentaries with a zealous mind that give full control for their imagination.

There is no evidence that Pharaoh of Moses, or Ramses II or any other Pharaoh was a tyrant who oppressed his people or asked them to make him God. In fact, Ancient Egyptians have created a God out of their own rulers in a religion, which was polytheistic. Ramses II persecuted the monotheists and they have fought back by making false claims about their origins. At the end, their story has prevailed against all logical and scientific evidence.