Qur'anic Accuracy Vs. Biblical Error: The Kings & Pharaohs Of Egypt

M S M Saifullah, ʿAbdullah David & Elias Karim

© Islamic Awareness, All Rights Reserved.

First Composed: 11th January 1999

Last Updated: 3rd March 2006

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Assalamu-ʿalaykum wa rahamatullahi wa barakatuhu:

1. Introduction

This paper proposes to investigate the usage of the titles "King" and "Pharaoh" during the time of Abraham, Joseph and Moses as used in both the Bible and the Qur'an.

The kings of ancient Egypt during the time of Abraham, Joseph and Moses are constantly addressed with the title 'Pharaoh' in the Bible. The Qur'an, however, differs from the Bible: the sovereign of Egypt who was a contemporary of Joseph is named "King" (Arabic, Malik); whereas the Bible has named him "Pharaoh". As for the king who ruled during the time of Moses the Qur'an repeatedly calls him "Pharaoh" (Arabic, Fir`awn).

When the differences in minutiae between the Biblical and Qur'anic narrations are understood contextually by placing them directly into their ancient egyptological setting, sharp divisions between Biblical and Qur'anic narrations appear. By constantly referring to the sovereign of ancient Egypt during the time of Abraham and Joseph as 'Pharaoh', the Bible portrays an anachronistic setting not in consonance with the Egyptological data. These differences in detail between the Biblical and Qur'anic narrations appear to have great significance as will be discussed in this paper.

2. Biblical Usage Of The Word "Pharaoh"

Some examples of the usage of the word Pharaoh are presented below, and are taken from the stories of Abraham, Joseph and Moses.

PHARAOH DURING THE TIME OF ABRAHAM

According to the book of Genesis, the king who was a contemporary of Abraham was called Pharaoh, and this title is used six times in Genesis 12:10-20.[1] Three examples are illustrated below:

But the Lord inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his house hold because of Abram's wife Sarai. [12:17]

So Pharaoh summoned Abram. "What have you done to me?" he said. "Why didn't you tell me she was your wife?" [12:18]

Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had. [12:20]

PHARAOH DURING THE TIME OF JOSEPH

According to the book of Genesis, the king who ruled Egypt in Joseph's time was also referred to as Pharaoh. The king is addressed as Pharaoh ninety times.[2] The following examples are take from Genesis 41:

So Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and he was quickly brought from the dungeon. When he had shaved and changed his clothes, he came before Pharaoh. [41:14]

Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, "The dreams of Pharaoh are one and the same. God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do." [41:25]

Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from Pharaoh's presence and travelled throughout Egypt. [41:46]

PHARAOH DURING THE TIME OF MOSES

According to the book of Exodus, the king who ruled Egypt in Moses' time was also referred to as Pharaoh. He is addressed as Pharaoh 128 times.[3] Three examples are illustrated below:

When Pharaoh heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian... [2:15]

Then the Lord said to Moses, "See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet." [7:1]

When Pharaoh's horses, chariots and horsemen went into the sea, the Lord brought the waters of the sea back over them, but the Israelites walked through the sea on dry land. [15:19]

Thus, for all kings, the contemporaries of Abraham, Joseph and Moses, the Bible uses the term "Pharaoh" to address the kings of Egypt.

3. Qur'anic Usage Of The Words "King" & "Pharaoh"

Some examples of the usage of the words "King" and "Pharaoh" are presented below, and are taken from the stories of Joseph and Moses. No such usage is to be found in the Qur'anic story of Abraham.

KING OF EGYPT DURING THE TIME OF JOSEPH

The sovereign who ruled Egypt during Joseph's day is named "King" (Arabic, Malik); whereas the Bible has named him "Pharaoh". The Qur'an never once addresses this monarch as "Pharaoh." Two examples of the usage of the word "King" from the story of Joseph are illustrated below. The Arabic word for King, Malik, is underlined in red in the Arabic text:

Arabic text for Sūrah 12:43 of the Holy Qur'ān. The Arabic word for King, Mālik, is underlined in red in the Arabic text.

The king (of Egypt) said: "I do see (in a vision) seven fat cows, whom seven lean ones devour, and seven green ears of corn, and seven (others) withered. O ye chiefs! expound to me my vision, if it be that ye can interpret visions." [Qur'an 12:43]

Arabic text for Sūrah 12:72 of the Holy Qur'ān. The Arabic word for King, Mālik, is underlined in red in the Arabic text.

They said: "We miss the great beaker of the king; for him who produces it, is (the reward of) a camel-load; I will be bound by it." [Qur'an 12:72]

Further examples of the usage of the word "King" during the time of Joseph can be found in the Sūrah Yūsuf. See: 12:43, 12:50, 12:54, 12:72, 12:76

PHARAOH DURING THE TIME OF MOSES

As for the king who ruled during the time of Moses, the Qur'an repeatedly calls him Pharaoh (Arabic, Fir`awn). Two examples of the usage of the word "Pharaoh" during the time of Moses are illustrated below. The Arabic word for Pharaoh, Fir`awn, is underlined in red in the Arabic text:

Arabic text for Sūrah 7:104 of the Holy Qur'ān. The Arabic word for Pharaoh, Fir'awn, is underlined in red in the Arabic text.

Moses said: "O Pharaoh! I am a messenger from the Lord of the Worlds." [Qur'an 7:104]

Arabic text for Sūrah 10:75 of the Holy Qur'ān. The Arabic word for Pharaoh, Fir'awn, is underlined in red in the Arabic text.

Then after them sent We Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh and his chiefs with Our Signs. But they were arrogant: they were a people in sin. [Qur'an 10:75]

Further examples of the usage of the word "Pharaoh" during the time of Moses can be found in the following verses:

Pharaoh, 7:104-137, 8:52, 8:54, 10:75-90, 11:97, 14:6, 20:24, 20:43, 20:56, 20:60, 20:78, 23:46, 26:10-66, 27:12, 28:3-42, 29:39, 38:12, 40:24-46, 43:46-85, 44:17, 44:31, 50:13, 51:38-40, 54:41-42, 66:11, 69:9, 73:15-16, 79:17-25, 85:18

punishment of, 3:11,20:78-79, 26:66, 28:40, 43:55, 44:24, 51:40, 89:18
torture by and deliverance from, 2:49, 17:103

4. Abraham, Joseph & Moses Within Ancient Egyptian History

A TIMELINE OF ANCIENT EGYPTIAN HISTORY

Ancient Egyptian history is usually divided into periods roughly corresponding to the thirty Dynasties of kings listed by Manetho, an Egyptian chronicler of the 3rd century BCE. The period before c. 3100 BCE, a time for which no written records exist, is called the Predynastic era. A simplified chronology of Egyptian history containing royal names associated with the period is reproduced below for easy reference. Unless otherwise stated, specific dates for particular Dynasties that we quote here are taken from Nicolas Grimal's A History of Ancient Egypt.[4] Please note that the exact Egyptian chronologies are uncertain, and all dates are approximate. You will find slightly different schemes used in different books.

Dynasties Dates BCE (approx.) Period Some Royal names associated with Period
4500-3150 Predynastic
1 & 2 3150-2700 Thinite Period Narmer-Menes, Aha, Djer, Hetepsekhemwy, Peribsen
3 - 6 2700-2200 Old Kingdom Djoser, Snofru, Khufu (Cheops), Khafre (Chephren), Menkauhor, Teti, Pepy.
7 - 11 2200-2040 First Intermediate Neferkare, Mentuhotpe, Inyotef
11 & 12 2040-1674 Middle Kingdom Ammenemes, Sesostris, Dedumesiu
13 - 17 1674-1553 Second Intermediate Salitis, Yaqub-Har, Kamose, Seqenenre, Apophis
18 - 20 1552-1069 New Kingdom Ahmose, Amenhotep (Amenophis), Tuthmose (Thuthmosis), Hatshepsut, Akhenaten (Amenophis IV), Tutankhamen, Horemheb, Seti (Sethos), Ramesses, Merenptah
21 - 23 1069-747 Third Intermediate Smendes, Shoshenq, Osorkon, Takelot
24 - 26 747-525 Late Period Piankhy, Taharqa, Psammetichus
27 525-404 First Persian Period Cambyses, Darius, Xerxes, Artaxerxes
28 - 30 404-343 Dynasties 28 - 30 Amyrtaeus, Nepherites, Nectanebo
343-332 Second Persian Period Artaxerxes, Arses, Darius, Khababash
332-395 CE Greco-Roman Alexander the Great, Ptolemy, Cleopatra, Augusts, Tiberius, Nero, Domitian.

In this section we would attempt to establish the Patriarchal age for Abraham, Joseph and Moses based on the theories of Jewish and Christians authorities and recent archaeological discoveries. The stories of the Patriarchs are largely to be found in the first two books of the Bible: Genesis and Exodus. These works contain a mixture of historical detail, later interpretations and legends. William Neil's One Volume Bible Commentary states:

For we are faced in the book of Exodus, as in the book of Genesis, not with a factual historical record but with a narrative which is so entirely composed of a mixture of historical events, theological interpretation of these events and the legendary accretions that naturally accumulate around any dramatic occurrence, particularly one of such momentous significance (i.e., the Exodus), that it is no longer possible for us to disentangle them.[5]

WHEN DID ABRAHAM ENTER EGYPT?

It has been noted by Noth[6] that scholars do not agree upon the date of the Patriarchal Age and the case of Abraham being perhaps the most contentious. Did Abraham belong to c. 2000-1700 BCE (so Albright,[7] de Vaux,[8] Glueck,[9] Wright,[10] etc.)? Or to the 17th century BCE (so Cornelius[11] and Rowley[12])? Or to the 14th century BCE (so Gordon[13])? K. A. Kitchen had surveyed the literature on the dating of period when Abraham lived by looking into major events and details in the Patriarchal narratives and linking them with external history. It appears that the most likely date for placing Abraham would be c. 2000-1700 BCE.[14] This appears to be the most widely held view and is supported by external evidence. For example, after a lengthy discussion about the historicity of the events surrounding the narrative of Abraham in the book of Genesis, the Anchor Bible Dictionary says:

To place Abraham at the beginning of the 2d millennium B.C. is, therefore, sustainable.[15]

According to the Dictionary Of Proper Names And Places In The Bible, under "Abraham", we read:

History of Abraham (ca. 1850 BC)...[16]

Similar dating is also endorsed by The Lion Handbook To The Bible,[17] New Bible Dictionary,[18] The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary,[19] Harper's Bible Dictionary,[20] Encyclopedia Of The Bible,[21] The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia[22] and Pierre Montet[23] among others.

A date of c. 2000-1700 BCE would place Abraham in a period corresponding to the time between the Old Kingdom and the Middle Kingdom of ancient Egypt.

WHEN DID JOSEPH ENTER EGYPT?

The Egyptian setting of the Joseph narratives (Genesis 39-50) have attracted a large number of Egyptologists as well as biblical scholars with an interest in Egyptology. Although some scholars have dismissed the story of Joseph in the Bible as a "novella",[24] Vergote and Rowley, working within the confines of traditional source criticism, nevertheless viewed the narratives as historical. They placed the stories within the New Kingdom Period[25] and Vergote even reaffirmed it later.[26] Just before Vergote in the mid-1950s, the Dutch scholar Jozef Janssen also used Egyptology to discuss different aspects of Joseph story. He concluded that the egyptological materials in the story demonstrated an authentic presentation of ancient Egypt, albeit not answering all the questions. Like Vergote, he appears to prefer a New Kingdom Period dating.[27] Next came Donald Redford's influential monograph in 1970 on the Joseph story which included sections dealing with the Egyptian background of the story.[28] Redford acknowledged that there are Egyptianisms present in the story and he argued that they pointed to the Saite-Persian Period (i.e., late seventh and sixth centuries BCE).[29]

Kenneth Kitchen has critiqued the dating of both Vergote[30] and Redford[31] by showing that the evidence did not match their arguments. He in turn dates the story to the Second Intermediate Period (c. 1674-1553 BCE) during the time of the Hyksos based on the evidence from the book of Genesis and comparing it with ancient Egyptian history.[32]

The Hyksos belonged to a group of mixed Semitic-Asiatics who infiltrated Egypt during the Middle Kingdom and became rulers of Lower Egypt during the Second Intermediate Period (c. 1674-1553 BCE). The view best supported by evidence and that of the majority of scholars appears to be that Joseph entered Egypt during the time of the Hyksos. The Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary explains that Joseph's rise to an important position could only have occurred under Hyksos rule:

... Egypt's stability was weakening and that the second intermediate period of weakness (1750-1570 B.C.) was about to begin.

During this time of weakness, many non-Egyptians entered the country. A group called the Hyksos ("ruler from a foreign land") took control of the nation. Joseph's rise to an important position in the house of Potiphar (Genesis 39) and his appointment to the task of collecting grain during the years of plenty (Genesis 41) were possible because other foreigners had significant places in the Hyksos government.[33]

Similarly, The Lion Handbook To The Bible observes that:

The pharaohs of... Joseph's time probably belonged to the 13th/15th dynasties... (Middle Kingdom and after), when many foreigners found employment in Egypt at various levels, from slaves to high stewards (like Joseph under Potiphar, Genesis 39:1-4).[34]

Likewise, The Jewish Encyclopedia states that:

Those who regard the Joseph stories as historical generally hold that the Pharaoh by whom Joseph was made the practical ruler of Egypt was one of the Hyksos kings.[35]

Similar views are also accepted by Montet.[36] While not denying the historical core of the Joseph "novella", the Anchor Bible Dictionary says:

Other documents attest to the invasions of the Hyksos, a Semitic people who usurped political control of Egypt during a period from 1700 to 1550 B.C. ... It is possible that these people were more favorable to people like Joseph and his family, and it is also possible that the reference to a pharaoh "who did not know Joseph" (Exod. 1:8) recalls a period when the Hyksos leadership in Egypt was rejected in favor of a new dynasty of native Egyptian kings.[37]

There is also an additional piece of evidence that may help to shed more light on the period of history occupied by Jacob, Joseph and his brethren. There exists a trace of the name Jacob (Yakub) in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs - in the list of the last Hyksos kings - which appears to strengthen the theory that Joseph's rise to an important position in Egypt occurred during the Hyksos period (see Appendix A). The Interpreter's Dictionary Of The Bible points to the semitic names in the rule of Hyksos and says that Joseph most likely rose to become a high official in their rule:

The fact that a foreigner could hold such a high office in the Egyptian government also suggests the rule of the Hyksos, who were themselves foreigners. In fact, one of their rulers bore the name Jacob-Har.[38]

In conclusion, the entry of Joseph in Egypt can be dated to the Second Intermediate Period (c. 1674-1553 BCE), a time when the Hyksos ruled Egypt.

WHEN DID MOSES ENTER EGYPT?

The placing of Moses in ancient Egyptian history is not as contentious as that of Abraham. Scholars have tried to find the period occupied by Moses in history and have placed him at various points within the New Kingdom, from Tuthmose II (c. 1493-1479 BCE) to Merenptah (c. 1212-1202 BCE). According to the Dictionary Of Proper Names And Places In The Bible, under "Moses":

Moses career unfolds ca. 1250, the date generally accepted for the Exodus.[39]

Similarly, the Encyclopaedia Judaica describes Moses as a:

... leader, prophet, and lawgiver (first half of the 13th century BCE).[40]

This date is also endorsed by The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia which says:

The period during which Moses apparently lived was the third or fourth quarter of the 13th cent. BCE; accordingly, Ramses II or Merneptah was the Pharaoh of the Exodus.[41]

Similar dating is also endorsed by The Lion Handbook To The Bible,[42] New Bible Dictionary,[43] The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary,[44] Harper's Bible Dictionary,[45] Encyclopedia Of The Bible,[46] The Interpreter's Dictionary Of The Bible[47] and The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.[48] Scholars such as Pierre Montet,[49] Kenneth Kitchen[50] and J. K. Hoffmeier[51] also place Moses in the New Kingdom Period.

5. Modern Linguistic Studies Concerning The Word "Pharaoh"

What do modern linguistic studies and Egyptology reveal about the word "Pharaoh" and its use in ancient Egypt? The best place to start the investigation is to look into the material which deals with ancient Egyptian civilization. Let us begin by looking at the entry "per-aa" or "Pharaoh" in Wörterbuch Der Aegyptischen Sprache, the most authoritative dictionary of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Figure 1: Entry in "Wörterbuch Der Aegyptischen Sprache" showing the hieroglyph for "per-aa" or "Pharaoh".[52]

There are three distinct entries mentioned in Wörterbuch Der Aegyptischen Sprache for the word "per-aa":

  1. "The large house" as designation of the king's palace in the Old Kingdom Period.
  2. "The palace" = residence of the king and other inhabitants.
  3. As a designation of the king. Since the 18th Dynasty of the New Kingdom Period, the Egyptian word for "king".

Similarly, Die Sprache Der Pharaonen Großes Handwörterbuch Ägyptisch, a concise Egyptian-German dictionary under the entry "per-aa" says:

Figure 2: Hieroglyph entry for "per-aa".[53]

Here the usage in the New Kingdom and Old Kingdom Periods for the word "per-aa" are underlined in red. In the New Kingdom Period, the word "per-aa" referred to Pharaoh, any Pharaoh, i.e., the king of Egypt. But in the Old Kingdom Period, the word meant "King's palace", "the great house", or denoted the large house of the king. Not surprisingly Lexikon Der Ägyptologie - an encyclopedia of Egyptology - under the entry "Pharao" says that this word was used to denote the person of the king from the New Kingdom Period onwards.[54]

The famous English egyptologist Sir Alan Gardiner discusses the term Pharaoh and cites the earliest example of its application to the king, during the reign of Amenophis IV (fl. c.1352 - 1338 BCE) as recorded in the Kahun Papyrus. Regarding the term Pharaoh, Gardiner says:

Figure 4: Sir Alan Gardiner's discussion on the word "Pharaoh".[55]

Gardiner also cites two possible earlier examples under Tuthmosis III (fl. c.1479 - 1425 BC) and Thumosis IV (fl. c.1401 - 1390 BC) (as mentioned in his footnote 10 above), while Hayes has published an ostracon from the joint reign of Hatshepsut (c.1478-1458 BC) and Tuthmosis III (c.1479-1425 BC) that twice refers to the latter simply as "Pharaoh".

In the book Egyptian Hieroglyphs, published by the British Museum, we find a decent introduction to the hieroglyphic characters that represent the words "King" and "Pharaoh". Once again we discover that the title Pharaoh was used to designate the king from the New Kingdom Period onward:

Figure 3: Discussion on the various designation used for the king of Egypt.[56]

Similarly, under the entry "Pharaoh", the British Museum Dictionary Of Ancient Egypt confirms that it was first used to refer to the king in the New Kingdom Period.

Pharaoh: Term used regularly by modern writers to refer to the Egyptian king. The word is the Greek form of the ancient Egyptian phrase per-aa ('the great house') which was originally used to refer to the royal palace rather than the king. The 'great house' was responsible for taxation of the lesser 'houses' (perw), such as the temple lands and private estates. From the New Kingdom (1550-1069 BC) onwards, the term was used to refer to the king himself.[57]

The Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary agrees with modern linguist research and states concerning "Pharaoh":

the title of the kings of Egypt until 323BC. In the Egyptian language the word Pharaoh means "great house." This word was originally used to describe the palace of the king. Around 1500 BC this term was applied to the king.[58]

However, it has been claimed by the missionary Andrew Vargo that:

The Bible uses the distinctly Egyptian term Pharaoh to refer to the King of Egypt. The word Pharaoh, or "Great House" orginally refered to the government, or the royal palace. Since the Pharaoh was the absolute ruler of Egypt, the government and king were one and the same.

To begin with, the word "Pharaoh" was not used to refer to the king's "government" but to his palace. By fabricating this small piece of information the missionary conveniently extricates the Biblical account from any chronological difficulty by making the word "Pharaoh" equivalent in meaning to "the government." Although this incorrect description may find welcome in the missionaries' imaginative thoughts, it does not find any support in the critical scholarly literature.[59]

There was a clear distinction between the words "Pharaoh" and "King" before the New Kingdom Period. However, in the New Kingdom Period, this distinction was removed and the word "Pharaoh" was the term used to refer to the king himself, as we have already seen from the above discussion. Just like Vargo, vain attempts have been made by Yahuda to show that the events in the Hebrew Bible are amply supported by secular history. Yahuda claimed that the use of "Pharaoh" during the time of Joseph is correct from the point of view of Egyptian history.[60] He asserted that Pharaoh had been a "permanent designation" of the Egyptian king. This is clearly false. Unfortunately for him, Vergote has shown that his views are unsupported by the records of Egyptian history and that the word "Pharaoh" was used to refer to the king only in the New Kingdom Period.[61] The term "Pharaoh" used in the Hebrew Bible during the time of Abraham and Joseph for the rulers of Egypt is anachronistic. This is also confirmed by the noted egyptologist Toby Wilkinson who clearly states in his The Thames & Hudson Dictionary Of Ancient Egypt that:

Pharaoh: The term used for the ancient Egyptian king. The word is derived via Greek from the ancient Egyptian word per-aa ('the great house', palace). Originally applied to the royal residence, it was used from the 18th Dynasty to refer to the king himself. Hence, the use of 'pharaoh' for Egyptian rulers before the New Kingdom is strictly anachronistic and best avoided.[62]

Would it be surprising to see if the Encyclopedia Of The Bible says concerning the name "Pharaoh":

Pharaoh. Ruler over Egypt also known as "the King of Upper and Lower Egypt." He lived in a palace known as the "great house," which was symbol of his authority. The Egyptian word for the palace was applied to the kings of the New Kingdom (c. 1550-1070 BC).... The use of the title pharaoh in Genesis may be anachronistic in that Moses in covering the events of the patriarchs in relation to Egypt used the commonly accepted term "pharaoh" even though the title was not in use at the time of the patriarchs (cf. Gn 12:15-20; 37:36).[63]

Could it be that the writer(s) of the Book of Genesis composed the story hundreds of years after the actual event to reflect a later setting? It seems to be so. Hoffmeier says that the use of "Pharaoh" in the books of Genesis and Exodus "accords well" with the Egyptian practice and hastens to add that:

The appearance of "pharaoh" in the Joseph story could reflect the New Kingdom setting of the story, or, if its provenance is earlier (i.e., the late Middle Kingdom through Second Intermediate Period), its occurence in Genesis is suggestive of the period of composition.[64]

Table II sums up the discussion concerning the use of "king" and "Pharaoh" in ancient Egypt and includes the times when Abraham, Joseph and Moses entered Egypt.

Dynasties

Dates BCE (approx.)

Period

Patriarch

3 - 6 2700 - 2200 Old Kingdom -
7 - 10 2200 - 2040 First Intermediate Abraham (c. 2000 BCE)?
11 - 12 2040 - 1674 Middle Kingdom Abraham (c. 2000 - 1800 BCE)?
Jacob, Joseph (c .1800 BCE)?
13 - 17 1674 - 1553 Second Intermediate Jacob, Joseph
18 - 20 1552 - 1069 New Kingdom "Pharaoh" first applied to the king around middle of the 14th century BCE, c. 1352-1348 BCE.
Moses born around the beginning of the 13th century BCE.

Table II: This data provides information about the ruler of Egypt when Abraham, Joseph and Moses entered Egypt.

It is clear that the term "Pharaoh" used in the Hebrew Bible during the time of Abraham and Joseph for the rulers of Egypt is anachronistic.

Finally, a few words must be said concerning the missionaries' use of the "New Chronology" proposed by David Rohl in his book A Test of Time[65] with regard to the time period in which Abraham, Joseph and Moses can be placed in ancient Egypt. If the missionaries are sincere in advocating a new ancient Egyptian chronology, one would expect them to be working assiduously toward persuading the scholars of Egyptology and their own evangelical brethren to take Rohl's work seriously, before moving onto hasty and unsubstantiated accusations as have been discussed above. Fortunately, we have A Waste of Time homepage on the web that includes a collection of articles written by scholars of Egyptology such as Professor Kenneth Kitchen as well as amateurs which expose Rohl's work as a shoddy piece of pseudo-scholarship.

6. Conclusions

According to modern linguist research the word "Pharaoh" comes from the Egyptian per-aa, meaning the "Great House" and originally referred to the palace rather than the king himself. The word was used by the writers of the Old Testament and has since become a widely adopted title for all the kings of Egypt. However, the Egyptians did not call their ruler "Pharaoh" until the 18th Dynasty (c. 1552 - 1295 BC) in the New Kingdom Period. In the language of the hieroglyphs, "Pharaoh" was first used to refer to the king during the reign of Amenhophis IV (c. 1352 - 1338 BC). We know that such a designation was correct in the time of Moses but the use of the word Pharaoh in the story of Joseph is an anachronism, as under the rule of the Hyksos there was no "Pharaoh." Similarly, the events related in Genesis 12 concerning Abraham (c. 2000-1700 BCE) could not have occurred in a time when the sovereign of Egypt was called Pharaoh, and this exposes yet another anachronism. In several chapters of Genesis we find the same error frequently recurring – some ninety-six times in total. What is clear is that the biblical writers composed their texts under the influences of the knowledge of their time, when the king of Egypt was usually designated as "Pharaoh". The Interpreter's Dictionary Of The Bible explains the reasons of such discrepancies with modern knowledge:

The frank attitude toward the stories about Egypt in Genesis and Exodus is that folk memory had retained the essentials of great Hebrew experience but had later clothed that memory with some details imperfectly recollected and some circumstantial details borrowed from later times and conditions.[66]

The situation is entirely different in the Qur'an. As is the case with the Bible, reference to the sovereign of ancient Egypt is found throughout various chapters of the Qur'an. A careful study of the minutiae of each narrative reveals some compelling differences. With regard to the Egyptian king who was a contemporary of Joseph, the Qur'an uses the title "King" (Arabic, Malik); he is never once addressed as Pharaoh. As for the king who ruled during the time of Moses, the Qur'an repeatedly calls him Pharaoh (Arabic, Fir'awn).

These facts that we have mentioned were unknown at the time of the Qur'anic Revelation. The only source of knowledge of the religious past were the Bible-based stories in circulation. From the time of the Old Testament to the Qur'an, the only document mankind possessed on these ancient stories was the Bible itself. Furthermore, the knowledge of the old Egyptian hieroglyphs had been totally forgotten until they were finally deciphered in the 19th century CE.

The historicity of the Pharaonic title provides yet another sharp reminder to those that adhere to the precarious theory that parts of the Qur'an were allegedly copied from the Bible. If Egyptian hieroglyphs were long dead and the biblical account an inaccurate work of folk memory, then from where did the Prophet Muhammad obtain his information? The Qur'an answers:

Your Companion is neither astray nor being misled. Nor does he say (aught) of (his own) desire. It is no less than inspiration sent down to him. He was taught by one mighty in Power. [Qur'an 53:2-5]

It is interesting to note that the meaning of the word ayah, usually translated as 'verse' in the Qur'an, also means a sign and a proof. The reference to Pharaoh and other facts concerning ancient Egypt in the Qur'an suggests a special reflection.

And Allah knows best!

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APPENDIX A:

A Trace Of The Name 'Jacob' Expressed In Hieroglyphs

In the Bible, Jacob was the grandson of Abraham and Sarah, the son of Isaac and Rebecca, and the traditional ancestor of all Israel. He wrestled with an angel, who gave him the name Israel (Hebrew Yisra'el, Arabic Isra'il) (see Genesis 32:22-32). Jacob's twelve sons were the ancestors of the twelve tribes of Israel; Jacob's favourite being Joseph.

In the Holy Scriptures, there is no other Hebrew named Jacob with the exception of the eponymous ancestor of "Israel." The semitic name Yakub (Jacob) is mentioned -- as far as we know written for the first time in hieroglyphic characters -- in the list of the last Hyksos kings...[67]

Elsewhere Bucaille says:

Since the end of the 19th century, specialists in Old Egyptian have been aware of the existence of the word "Israil" which appeared in a hieroglyphic text. Despite the fact that this quotation is unique, knowledge of it is widespread. On the contrary, the quotation of the name of Jacob in the same language is not so well-known: nevertheless, Jacob was similarly expressed in the titles of a Hyksos king of the 15th dynasty, who reigned during the 17th century B.C.

We must take into account that the Hyksos, who were respectful of the Egyptian religious customs, kept on using the names of local gods for their titles; in this way, the name of a sovereign expressed religious facts, exactly like it did for the traditional sovereigns of the country.

Thus, the king MERUSERRE

The hieroglyphic name of the king MERUSERRE YAKUB-HER.

had a first titular name which means: "The one who loves the power of (god) Re." But it is the first element of the entire name, as for Ramesses II, where the first element was: "The (god) Re gave birth to him," preceding four other expressions, each of them having a religious sense. For King MERUSERRE, one knows only what follows the first element, two words: YAKUB HER, whose orthography is alphabetic and would not leave us in uncertainty about the translation: "Yakub (Jacob) is content (or satisfied)." One cannot know the reason for it, the more so since we are not aware of the last elements of the entire name: we may suppose that they would have been useful to a more complete understanding.

Some specialists in Old Egyptian seem not to have taken an approach that would have taken biblical history into account in their interpretation of the word "Yakub" as Jacob. From a purely linguistic point of view, they discuss the meaning of "Her," assuming that it might not have the classical meaning that is reported here: maybe it would have been transliterated from the Semitic word "EL" whose sense is "deity" and would become "Her" in hieroglyphs; through such an alteration "Yakub Her" would have a different meaning.

Nevertheless, we must draw special attention to what we know about this Hyksos king of the 15th dynasty: he reigned circa 1650 B.C., as is accurately stated in a reference to the date of his quarrel with a kinglet of Thebes that is confirmed by texts. Also, it is most likely that we can situate a little before this precise time the entry of Jacob into Egypt, according to the general results of the present study. At the very least, the mention of the word "Yakub" in a titulary of a Hyksos king unique in hieroglyphs - means that the Hyksos aristocracy had just then introduced the name of Jacob as a kind of patron. Despite the absence of a rigorous demonstration from a linguistic point of view, we may suggest the possibility of an additional correspondence between the biblical teaching and the history of this time.
[68]

Interestingly, concerning the meaning of the name "Israel", The Interpreter's Dictionary Of The Bible concludes that:

the most probable interpretation is that which connects the name Israel with the root isr/'sr, "reliable," "successful," "happy."[69]

In the title Yakub-Her, "Yakub (Jacob) is content (or satisfied or happy)", could it carry a connection to the name Israel?

Related Article

A shorter version of this article is available at:

Joseph, Moses & The Rulers Of Egypt


References & Notes

[1] "Pharaoh" in O. Odelain and R. Séguineau (Trans. M. J. O'Connell), Dictionary Of Proper Names And Places In The Bible, 1981, Robert Hale Ltd.: London, p. 302.

[2] ibid.

[3] ibid., p. 301.

[4] N. Grimal (Trans. Ian Shaw), A History Of Ancient Egypt, 1988 (1992 print), Blackwell Publishers: Oxford, pp. 389-395.

[5] "Exodus" in W. Neil, William Neil's One Volume Bible Commentary, 1962 (1976 print), Hodder and Stoughton Ltd.: London, p. 68.

[6] M. Noth, "Der Beitrag Der Archäologie Zur Geschichte Israels", Vetus Testamentum Supplements, 1960, Volume 7, pp. 265-271.

[7] W. F. Albright, "Abraham And The Caravan Trade", Bulletin Of The American School Of Oriental Research, 1961, Volume 163, pp. 49-52.

[8] R. de Vaux, "Les Patriarches Hébreux Et Les Découvertes Modernes", Revue Biblique, 1948, Volume 55, pp. 326-337; idem., "Les Patriarches Hébreux Et L'Histoire", Revue Biblique, 1965, Volume 72, pp. 26-27.

[9] N. Glueck, "The Age Of Abraham In The Negeb", The Biblical Archaeologist, 1955, Volume 18, p. 4 and pp. 6-9; idem., "The Seventh Season Of The Archaeological Exploration In The Negeb", Bulletin Of The American School Of Oriental Research, 1958, Volume 152, p. 20; idem., Rivers In The Desert, The Exploration Of The Negev: An Adventure In Archaeology, 1959, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London (UK), pp. 68-76.

[10] G. E. Wright, "The Achievement Of Nelson Glueck", The Biblical Archaeologist, 1959, Volume 22, p. 99.

[11] F. Cornelius, "Genesis XIV", Zeitschrift Für Die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, 1960, Volume 72, pp. 1-7.

[12] H. H. Rowley, From Joseph To Joshua: Biblical Traditions In The Light Of Archaeology, 1950, Oxford University Press, pp. 113-114. Also see p. 164 for the list of dates.

[13] C. H. Gordon, "The Patriarchal Age", Journal Of Bible And Religion, 1953, Volume 21, No. 4, p. ; idem., "The Patriarchal Narratives", Journal Of Near Eastern Studies, 1954, Volume 13, pp. 56-59; idem., "Abraham And The Merchants Of Ura", Journal Of Near Eastern Studies, 1958, Volume 17, pp. 28-31.

[14] K. A. Kitchen, Ancient Orient And Old Testament, 1966, The Tyndale Press: London (UK), pp. 43-53.

[15] A. R. Millard, "Abraham" in D. N. Freedman (Editor-in-Chief), Anchor Bible Dictionary, 1992, Volume I, Doubleday: New York, p. 40.

[16] "Abraham" in O. Odelain and R. Séguineau (Trans. M. J. O'Connell), Dictionary Of Proper Names And Places In The Bible, 1981, op. cit., p. 7.

[17] P. Alexander and D. Alexander (Eds.), The Lion Handbook To The Bible, 1999, Third Edition (Revised & Expanded), Lion Publishing Inc.: Oxford (UK), p. 155.

[18] "Abraham" in J. D. Douglas (Organizing Editor), New Bible Dictionary, 1982, Second Edition, Inter-Varsity Press: Leicester (UK) and Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.: Wheaton (IL), p. 8.

[19] "Abraham" in A. C. Myers (Ed.), The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary, 1987, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company: Grand Rapids (MI), pp. 10-11.

[20] "Abraham" in P. J. Achtemeier, Harper's Bible Dictionary, 1985, Harper & Row Publishers: San Francisco, p. 7.

[21] R. B. Allen, "Abraham" in W. A. Elwell (Gen. Ed.), Encyclopedia Of The Bible, 1988, Volume I, Marshall Pickering: London, p. 11.

[22] R. K. Harrison, "Abraham" in G. W. Bromiley (Gen. Ed.), The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1979 (Fully Revised, Illustrated), Volume I, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company: Grand Rapids (MI), p. 17.

[23] P. Montet, L'Égypte Et La Bible, 1959, Cahiers D'Archéologie Biblique No. 11, Delachaux & Niestlé S. A.: Neuchâtel (Switzerland), pp. 11-14 and pp. 132-132 for chronological listing of biblical events.

[24] See for example, W. Lee Humphreys, Joseph And His Family: A Literary Study, 1988, University of South Caroline Press; Also W. Lee Humphreys, "Novella" in G. W. Coats (Ed.), Saga Legend Tale Novella Fable: Narrative Forms In Old Testament Literature, 1985, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series 35, Sheffield, pp. 82-96.

[25] J. Vergote, Joseph En Égypt: Genèsis Chap. 37-50 À La Lumière Des Études Égyptologiques Récents, 1959, Orientalia Et Biblica Lovaniensia III, Publications Universitaires: Louvain and Instituut Voor Orientalisme: Leuven, pp. 106-107 and pp. 211-212; H. H. Rowley, From Joseph To Joshua: Biblical Traditions In The Light Of Archaeology, 1950, op. cit., pp. 116-122. Also see p. 164 for the list of dates.

[26] J. Vergote, ""Joseph En Egypte": 25 Ans Après", in S. Israelit-Groll, Pharaonic Egypt: The Bible And Christianity, 1985, The Magnes Press, The Hebrew University: Jerusalem, pp. 289-306.

[27] J. M. A. Janssen, "Egyptological Remarks On The Story Of Joseph In Genesis", Jaarbericht Van Het Vooraziatisch-Egyptisch Genootschap Ex Oriente Lux, 1955-1956, Volume 5, No. 14, pp. 63-72.

[28] D. B. Redford, A Study Of The Biblical Story Of Joseph (Genesis 37-50), 1970, Supplements To Vetus Testamentum Volume XX, E. J. Brill: Leiden.

[29] ibid., pp. 241-243.

[30] See the review of Vergote's Joseph En Égypt: Genèsis Chap. 37-50 À La Lumière Des Études Égyptologiques Récents by K. A. Kitchen in Journal Of Egyptian Archaeology, 1961, Volume 47, pp. 158-164. For problems with Vergote's dating see p. 160.

[31] See the review of Redford's A Study Of The Biblical Story Of Joseph (Genesis 37-50) by K. A. Kitchen in Oriens Antiquus, 1973, Volume 12, No. 3, pp. 233-242. The problems with Redford's dating are discussed in pp. 238-240. Kitchen's devastating review of Redford found little response from biblical scholars. Quaegebeur has come out to support Kitchen's arguments and chides biblical scholars for ignoring them. See J. Quaegebeur, "On The Egyptian Equivalent Of Hartummîm", in S. Israelit-Groll, Pharaonic Egypt: The Bible And Christianity, 1985, The Magnes Press, The Hebrew University: Jerusalem, p. 166.

[32] K. A. Kitchen, The Bible In Its World: Archaeology And The Bible Today, 1977, The Paternoster Press: Exeter, p. 74; idem., "Joseph" in G. W. Bromiley (Gen. Ed.), The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1982 (Fully Revised, Illustrated), Volume II, The Paternoster Press: Exeter, pp. 1129-1130; idem., "Joseph" in J. D. Douglas (Organizing Editor), New Bible Dictionary, 1982, Second Edition, op. cit., p. 617; idem., "Genesis 12-50 In The Near Eastern World", in R. S. Hess, G. J. Wenham & P. E. Satterthwaite (Eds.), He Swore An Oath: Biblical Themes From Genesis 12-50, 1994, The Paternoster Press: Carlisle (UK) and Baker Book House: Grand Rapids (MI), pp. 77-79; idem., On The Reliability Of The Old Testament, 2003, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company: Michigan, pp. 343-345.

The strong arguments which Kitchen puts forward for his dating to the Second Intermediate Period is the sale price of Joseph, his domestic service and titles, his titles and offices, the reward and investiture ceremony, and his age at death.

[33] "Egypt" in H. Lockyer, Sr. (General Editor), F.F. Bruce et al., (Consulting Editors), Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers, p. 324.

[34] P. Alexander and D. Alexander (Eds.), The Lion Handbook To The Bible, 1999, Third Edition (Revised & Expanded), op. cit., pp. 155-156.

[35] "Joseph", The Jewish Encyclopedia, 1916, Volume VII, Funk & Wagnalls Company: London & New York, p. 252.

[36] P. Montet, L'Égypte Et La Bible, 1959, Cahiers D'Archéologie Biblique No. 11, op. cit., pp. 15-23 and pp. 132-132 for chronological listing of biblical events.

[37] G. W. Coats, "Joseph" in D. N. Freedman (Editor-in-Chief), Anchor Bible Dictionary, 1992, Volume III, Doubleday: New York, p. 980.

[38] O. S. Wintermute, "Joseph Son Of Jacob" in G. A. Buttrick (Ed.), The Interpreter's Dictionary Of The Bible, 1962 (1996 Print), Volume 2, Abingdon Press: Nashville, p. 985.

[39] "Moses" in O. Odelain and R. Séguineau (Trans. M. J. O'Connell), Dictionary Of Proper Names And Places In The Bible, 1981, op. cit., p. 270.

[40] "Moses", Encyclopaedia Judaica, 1971, Volume 12, Encyclopaedia Judaica Jerusalem, col. 371.

[41] "Moses", The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, 1969, Volume 8, Ktav Publishing House, Inc.: New York, p. 4.

[42] P. Alexander and D. Alexander (Eds.), The Lion Handbook To The Bible, 1999, Third Edition (Revised & Expanded), op. cit., p. 156.

[43] K. A. Kitchen, "Moses" in J. D. Douglas (Organizing Editor), New Bible Dictionary, 1982, Second Edition, op. cit., p. 795.

[44] "Moses" in A. C. Myers (Ed.), The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary, 1987, op. cit., p. 731.

[45] "Exodus, The Book Of" in P. J. Achtemeier, Harper's Bible Dictionary, 1985, op. cit., p. 317.

[46] F. B. Huey, Jr., "Moses" in W. A. Elwell (Gen. Ed.), Encyclopedia Of The Bible, 1988, Volume II, op. cit., p. 1490.

[47] R. F. Johnson, "Moses" in G. A. Buttrick (Ed.), The Interpreter's Dictionary Of The Bible, 1962 (1996 Print), Volume 3, op. cit., p. 445.

[48] J. K. Hoffmeier, "Moses" in G. W. Bromiley (Gen. Ed.), The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1986 (Fully Revised, Illustrated), Volume III, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company: Grand Rapids (MI), p. 416. Hoffmeier provides a good overview of all possible datings proposed so far.

[49] P. Montet, L'Égypte Et La Bible, 1959, Cahiers D'Archéologie Biblique No. 11, op. cit., pp. 24-37 and pp. 132-132 for chronological listing of biblical events.

[50] K. A. Kitchen, Ancient Orient And Old Testament, 1966, op. cit., pp. 57-60; idem., On The Reliability Of The Old Testament, 2003, op. cit., p. 207 and p. 500.

[51] J. K. Hoffmeier, Israel In Egypt: The Evidence For The Authenticity Of The Exodus Tradition, 1999, Oxford University Press: Oxford (UK), p. 126.

[52] A. Erman & H. Grapow, Wörterbuch Der Aegyptischen Sprache, 1926, Volume 1, J. C. Hinrichs'sche Buchhandlung: Leipzig, 516, 2-5.

[53] R. Hannig, Die Sprache Der Pharaonen Großes Handwörterbuch Ägyptisch - Deutsch (2800-950 v. Chr.), 1995, Verlag Philipp Von Zabern: Mainz, p. 279.

[54] "Pharao" in W. Heck & E. Otto, Lexikon Der Ägyptologie, 1982, Volume IV, Otto Harrassowitz: Wiesbaden, Column 1021.

"Großes Haus", von frühester Zt an Bezeichnung für den kgl. Palast bzw. den Hof, seit Thutmosis III. und generell mit dem Neuägypt. dann für die Person des Königs. Als Titel vor dem Herrschernamen seit Scheschonq I, Schreibung in der Kartusche seit der 22 Dyn. Als Titel der ägypt.

Könige, z.T. mit folgendem Namen (Hophra, Necho), im AT in der Form para`o(h)...

[55] Sir A. Gardiner, Egyptian Grammar: Being An Introduction To The Study Of Hieroglyphs, 1957, 3rd Edition (Revised), Oxford University Press: London, p. 75.

[56] W.V. Davies, Egyptian Hieroglyphs, 1987, British Museum Press: London, p. 45.

[57] "Pharaoh" in I. Shaw & P. Nicholson, British Museum Dictionary Of Ancient Egypt, 1995, British Museum Press: London, p. 222.

[58] "Pharaoh" in H. Lockyer, Sr. (General Editor), F.F. Bruce et al., (Consulting Editors), Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 1986, op. cit., p. 828.

[59] One can only speculate as to the reasons why the missionary has chosen to fabricate information central to his argument. In resonance with much that is penned by the Christian missionaries, what makes this undesirable situation even more stupefying is that Vargo clearly states that biblical accuracy is not his primary concern! He says:

In the final anylsis, I do not mind if the place/person names were updated in Scriptures.

[60] A. S. Yahuda, The Accuracy Of The Bible: The Stories Of Joseph, The Exodus And Genesis Confirmed And Illustrated By Egyptian Monuments And Language, 1934, William Heinemann Limited: London, p. 42.

[61] J. Vergote, Joseph En Égypt: Genèsis Chap. 37-50 À La Lumière Des Études Égyptologiques Récents, 1959, op. cit., pp. 45-48.

[62] "Pharaoh" in T. Wilkinson, The Thames & Hudson Dictionary Of Ancient Egypt, 2005, Thames & Hudson: London, p. 186.

[63] "Pharaoh" in W. A. Elwell, Encyclopedia Of The Bible, 1988, Volume II, op. cit., pp. 1668-1669.

It must be added that although the word "Pharaoh" has been discussed by numerous scholars, many of them have ignored the fact that it is anachronistic during the time of Abraham and Joseph and some even claim that the biblical and Egyptian usage of this word corresponds "closely". See, for example, K. A. Kitchen, "Pharaoh" in J. D. Douglas (Organizing Editor), New Bible Dictionary, 1982, Second Edition, op. cit., pp. 923-924; "Pharaoh" in P. J. Achtemeier, Harper's Bible Dictionary, 1985, op. cit., pp. 781-782; K. A. Kitchen, "Pharaoh" in G. W. Bromiley (Gen. Ed.), The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1986 (Fully Revised, Illustrated), Volume III, op. cit., p. 821; J. A. Wilson, "Pharaoh" in G. A. Buttrick (Ed.), The Interpreter's Dictionary Of The Bible, 1962 (1996 Print), Volume 3, op. cit., p. 774; J. P. Free & H. F. Vos, Archaeology And Bible History, 1992, Zondervan Publishing House: Grand Rapids (MI), pp. 69-76; J. H. Sailhamer, Biblical Archaeology, 1998, Zondervan Publishing House: Grand Rapids (MI), pp. 35-46.

[64] J. K. Hoffmeier, Israel In Egypt: The Evidence For The Authenticity Of The Exodus Tradition, 1999, op. cit., p. 88.

[65] D. M. Rohl, A Test Of Time, 1995, Volume I: The Bible - From Myth To History, Random House UK Ltd.: London.

[66] J. A. Wilson, "Pharaoh" in G. A. Buttrick (Ed.), The Interpreter's Dictionary Of The Bible, 1962 (1996 Print), Volume 3, op. cit., p. 774.

[67] M. Bucaille, Mummies of the Pharaohs: Modern Medical Investigations, 1990, St. Martins Press: New York, p. 153.

[68] M. Bucaille, Moses and Pharaoh: The Hebrews In Egypt, 1995, NTT Mediascope Inc.: Tokyo, pp. 39-40.

[69] A. Haldar, "Israel, Names And Associations Of", in G. A. Buttrick (Ed.), The Interpreter's Dictionary Of The Bible, 1962 (1996 Print), Volume 3, op. cit., p. 765.

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