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Who Was Pharaoh’s Daughter?

“Then the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river. And her maidens walked along the riverside; and when she saw the ark among the reeds, she sent her maid to get it. And when she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the baby wept. So she had compassion on him, and said, ‘This is one of the Hebrews’ children'”(Ex. 2:5-6).

While Cecil B. DeMille cast Rameses II as Pharaoh in The Ten Commandments, and millions of viewers have probably never questioned his choice, scholars know there are other historical contenders. But without a definitive Egyptian chronology by which to trace the rule of various kings, experts are often frustrated by gaps and inconsistencies.

Wikipedia comments, “While the overwhelming majority of Egyptologists agree on the outline and many of the details of a common chronology, disagreements either individually or in groups have resulted in a variety of dates offered for rulers and events.”

And the Pharaoh is…

The proper identification of the pharaoh of the exodus likely holds little interest for the average reader of the Bible account, but it is key to discovering, if possible, the identity of the royal daughter who defied her father’s edict and rescued a tiny Hebrew infant from the banks of the Nile.

Egyptologists still puzzle over this obstinate king. Was he Amenhotep I? Thutmose I? Thutmose III? Or Rameses II? Perhaps producer director DeMille simply accepted the current wisdom of his day by choosing the latter to be his villain. But I, for one, would like to narrow down the list in hopes of answering an intriguing question–who was Pharaoh’s daughter?

Father/daughter connections

Let’s explore a couple of possibilities. Take DeMille’s choice, Rameses II, for starters. Nahum Sarna, in his book, Exploring Exodus (1986), fills in an interesting detail concerning this pharaoh: “If her father was indeed Rameses II, she would have been one of his fifty-nine [emphasis mine] daughters!” (p 31). That fact alone would make it difficult to determine which one was associated with the Exodus account.

Closeup shot of a large granite sphinx bearing...

Closeup shot of a large granite sphinx bearing the likeness of the female pharaoh Hatshepsut. Dating to the joint reign of Hatshepsut and Thutmose III, circa 1479-1458 B.C. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Perhaps Hatshepsut?

Some scholars put forth another name—Thutmose I,[1] and his daughter Hatshepsut. If he were the one, imagine what DeMille could have done with the twists and turns of this story line. Hatshepsut, daughter of Thutmose I and Aahmes, both of royal lineage, was the favorite of their three children. When her two brothers died, she was in the unique position to gain the throne upon the death of her father.

To have a female pharaoh was without precedence in Egyptian annals. When Thutmose I died, his son (by a commoner), Thutmose II, ascended the throne, bolstering his claim by marrying his half-sister, Hatshepsut. She, in turn, was not shy in pursuing her own ambitions during his reign.

There are archaeologists who believe Thutmose II died of a skin ailment after ruling for only a few years. Hatshepsut, his half-sister and wife, had produced no offspring with him, but he had sired a son by a commoner named Isis. This son, Thutmose III, was in line for the throne, but due to his young age, Hatshepsut seized the throne as regent and reigned for twenty plus years before he finally assumed his rightful place as the sole ruler of Egypt.

Current opinions

John J. Davis, in his book, Moses and the Gods of Egypt (1971), writes the following: “It is the view of many that Queen Hatshepsut was the one responsible for caring for Moses in his early years. Following her rule, Thutmose III finally regained the throne as sole Pharaoh and was destined to become one of Egypt’s greatest” (p.34).

The Woman’s Study Bible  tends to agree in its note on Exodus 2:15: “The current pharaoh was Thutmose III. His first 20 years of reign were dominated by Hatshepsut, who was his mother-in-law as well as his father’s widow and half-sister….He may have viewed Moses as a personal threat, since Moses, as the adopted son of a pharaoh’s daughter may have been the son of Hatshepsut herself” (p. 100).

By other names

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary lends its support: “’Pharaoh’s daughter’ may have been the very famous Eighteenth-Dynasty princess and queen Hatshepsut. Eusebius records the tradition that her name was Merris….Josephus calls her Thermuthis….but others claimed her name was Tharmuth…Bityah…Bithiah.” (See Vol. 2, Exodus 2, Note 5, p. 310.)

Still an indistinct figure

A painting by Konstantin Flavitsky of Pharaoh'...

A painting by Konstantin Flavitsky of Pharaoh’s daughter finding Moses, who is in a basket. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So was Hatshepsut the one? Though opinions presented here seem to be weighted in her favor, for me, in lieu of hard facts, Pharaoh’s daughter continues to be the indistinct figure whose actions changed the course of history for the nation of Israel.

In a future post we’ll look at the grooming of Moses as an Egyptian prince.


[1] Sometimes read as Thutmosis or Tuthmosis.

About womenfromthebook

Mine is a life-long interest in the women of the Bible, and I enjoy exploring the world in which they lived, and discovering the challenges that they faced. I have enough curiosity about them to last the rest of my life.

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