Who was Paroh? As the Torah only mentions his title of Paroh and never reveals his name, this question has evolved into one of the great uncertainties of history. Of course there is no need to take every leader into consideration as Egypt had 26 dynasties of kings who ruled almost 3,000 years until shortly after the first Churban. However, sandwiched in the middle are six favorite contenders, whose rules range over a few centuries, including Tutimaios, Ahmose I, Thutmose III, Amenhotep IV, Ramses II, and Mernephtah.
Although ancient hieroglyphics record nothing particularly cataclysmic about their reigns, and official records make no mention of the Ten Plagues or armies drowning at the Red Sea, ancient despots were notorious for not only leaving defeats unrecorded, but sometimes even describing them as victories. For example, while the Tanach relates that Sancheriv’s army perished of plague at the gates of Yerushalayim during a siege, researchers digging through Sancheriv’s ancient archives discovered cuneiform cylinders claiming that he was the victor. He had subdued Yerushalayim, collected tribute and returned home in triumph.
AN EARLIER CANDIDATE
Another candidate for Paroh seems to correlate well with the recorded facts. In chapter 77 of Sefer haYashar, a Medrash that reads like a history book, recounts the genealogy of Paroh as follows (cited by the Yalkut, Rabeinu Bechaye and the Ramban, the consensus is that this Medrash is not Sefer haYashar mentioned in Yehoshua and Shmuel I):
“Adikam was twenty years old when he reigned over Egypt; he reigned four years. In the 206th year of Yisroel’s going down to Egypt Adikam reigned over Egypt, but he continued not so long in his reign over Egypt as his fathers had continued their reigns. For Melol his father reigned 94 years in Egypt, but he was ten years sick and died, for he had been wicked before the Lord….
“And while he (Adikam) reigned, he exceeded his father and all the preceding kings in wickedness, and he increased his yoke over the children of Yisroel. And he went with his servants to Goshen to the children of Israel, and he increased the labor over them and he said to them, ‘Complete your work, each day’s task, and let not your hands slacken from our work from this day forward as you did in the days of my father.’”
Interestingly, historical records actually mention Pepi II who ruled Egypt for 96 years, making him the longest reigning monarch in history, as even Queen Victoria sat on the English throne for only 63 years. Furthermore, Pepi II was the second last ruler of Egypt’s Old Kingdom, (Egypt’s ancient history stretches over the Ancient Kingdom, the Middle Kingdom, and the New Kingdom), and there are indications that Egypt collapsed after his successor’s death and became too weak to defend herself from desert marauders.
The First Dynasty that had stretched over five centuries and produced the great pyramids and mysterious Sphinx that people marvel at till this day, went out like a light and historians still scratch their heads trying to figure out what happened.
According to Sefer haYashar, however, the reason Egypt went belly-up is obvious; Pepi II’s successor was none other than King Adikam, alias Paroh of the Eser Makos. According tothis chronology, Yosifin’s claim that the Jews helped build the pyramids of the First Dynasty, a claim historians poke fun at, may have some basis after all.
However, this scenario has a slight problem as it throws Paroh about 700 years further back than the estimated time of Yetzi’as Mitzrayim. Whereas the Jews marched out of Egypt in 2451/1310 BCE, historians claim that Pepi II lived about seven centuries earlier. To claim that Adikam was Paroh Melech Mitzrayim tears apart the modernconsensus of ancient Egyptian history.
Although a crushing objection, this problem is not absolutely unresolvable, even though its solution flies in the face of accepted Egyptian chronology. First, it is necessary to examine the sources of ancient Egyptian history. How do historians know what happened three thousand years ago? Did ancient Egyptian scribes faithfully record the daily news, carefully inscribing the day, month and year on the top of each column of hieroglyphics? This was impossible as the Egyptians had no uniform system of recording dates.
Egyptian history was saved for posterity by the Egyptian priest Manetho, who lived in Sebennytos, Egypt’s capital in the years of the Ptolemy-Greek kings. About 400 years before the second Churban, one of the kings ordered him to write a history of the Egyptians’ previous three millennia. To write this book, Manetho burrowed through the ancient documents of his temple’s archives and transferred their mix of fact and fancy into what is known as the Aegytpiaca.
The original Aegytpiaca was lost. Its contents were percolated into a revised version which was corrupted by editors with personal agendas. Although this version was also lost, Josephus cites some of its information, and another writer wrote a summary of it. Although
the summary also disappeared, its contents were transmitted through the works of three later historians. For centuries, this pathetic remnant of Manetho’s work was one of the few sources of ancient Egyptian history because after Greek lettering became popular in Egypt, people stopped using hieroglyphics, thus rendering hieroglyphics incomprehensible. No one could make the slightest sense out of massed pictograms of snakes, wolves, vultures and baskets crammed together with no space between sentences. The thousands of inscriptions decorating the walls of tombs and temples, embellishing baskets, and covering papyrus documents hovered tantalizingly beyond human comprehension.
All this changed after Napoleon invaded Egypt, bringing along a cadre of scientists and archaeologists to unearth Egypt’s secrets and launch the science of Egyptology. Their most significant find was discovered by mistake when a French army engineer helping demolish an old wall at Fort Julien in the port of Rosetta (Rashid) noticed that one of its massive rocks was covered with script.
This was the Rosetta Stone, originally carved in 3565/196 BCE during the years of Ptolmy V when Greek was beginning to displace the Egyptians’ native language. In order to ensure that everyone understood his inflated praise, Ptolemy had the stone carved in three languages, Greek, Demotic (a more recent Egyptian text), and old time hieroglyphics. This Greek/Hieroglyphic dictionary was what historians had yearned for over the centuries.
However, French scholars comparing the texts were soon disappointed. Try as they might, they could detect no systemized connection between the Greek and Hieroglyphics. Although scholars began making progress, no one managed to crack the code until the brilliant French linguist, Jean-François Champollion, put his mind to the problem and figured out why it was so tough. First, the hieroglyphics was not a direct translation, but only a paraphrase of the Greek text. Then, to complicate matters, there are two kinds of hieroglyphic symbols. Some are pictographs where every symbol represents a word, while others stand for sounds, as in the Hebrew and English alphabets.
For example, a vulture stands for an alef, a forearm stands for an ayin, a reed hut stands for a hey, and a piece of folded cloth represents the s sound. As in Hebrew, vowels are not written at all, so no one knows what ancient Egyptian actually sounded like. To determine whether the writing is running left to right or the opposite, look which direction the animals are facing – scribes made them walk in the direction of the script.
Once he had cracked the code Champollion set off on a grand tour of Egypt in 5588/1828, in order to try out his system on the innumerable inscriptions engraved on its countless walls of temples and crypts but died of a stroke soon after his return.
As the Egyptians sometimes used up to 6,000 different hieroglyphics, scholars still had plenty of work ahead, but once they made headway deciphering the inscriptions and ancient papyrus lists of kings, they made a surprising discovery – Manetho’s work had not been too badly distorted after all. His chronology of the dynasties was basically correct.
One problem remained. Let’s say you have three kings who each rule for fifty years. To assume that they collectively ruled for 150 years is a big mistake because who says they did not rule different parts of the country at the same time, and who can guarantee that their rules did not overlap? Perhaps the same king is mentioned twice under different names?
Historians use “ synchronicity” to work their way through these minefields. This is the delicate science of trying to correlate Egyptian events with the history of other countries or with astronomical phenomena. Let’s say an Egyptian document records an eclipse; astronomers can figure out when the eclipse occurred and establish that particular document as a solid anchor in the shifting sea of time.
Another example: many Egyptologists accept the Sothic theory cooked up by Eduard Meyer in 5664/1904. Meyer claims that although the Egyptians originally marked their New Year as the day when the Syrius star rises in line with the sun, the calendar became out of synch so that this star only rose with the sun on their New Year once in 1460 years. Thus whenever an inscription mentions Syrius rising in line with the sun on a New Year, we can assume that it was written during one of these benchmark years. Needless to say, agreement to Meyer’s principle is not unanimous and one eminent historian describes the whole system as “rubber chronology.”
On top of all this, this same science of synchronicity has led to the 166 year discrepancy between historical and Jewish reckoning of the duration of the Persian Empire, so there is no reason for Torah Jews to rely blindly on accepted Egyptian chronology either. The Jews may have built the pyramids after all.
So who was Paroh? Tutimaios, Ramses II, Mernephtah or Adikam – it makes little difference. The important thing is not who enslaved the Jews, but Who freed them!