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The Pharaoh of Moses(as)

Published for the first time in English, Hazrat Mirza Bashirrudin Mahmud Ahmad(ra) offers a truly unique and spectacular insight in his remarkable treatise, ‘The Pharaoh of Moses(as)’. Drawing on various historical references as well on archaeological evidence, he identifies who the Pharaoh of Moses(as) really was.

These photos, published in 1912 shortly after this article was written, show the preserved head and body of Merneptah.

HAZRAT MIRZA BAHIRRUDIN MAHMUD AHMAD(ra), SECOND WORLDWIDE HEAD OF THE AHMADIYYA MUSLIM COMMUNITY

Translated by Shahzad Ahmed for The Review of Religions

The story of Moses (as), who escaped Pharaoh through the parted sea, is one known to thousands across the world.

Indeed, the persecution of the Israelites, or the Bani Israel, is mentioned in the major scriptures of all three Abrahamic faiths.

But this story raises many historical questions – what were the real circumstances surrounding the exodus of the Bani Israel from Egypt, and who was the Pharaoh who so arrogantly dismissed Moses (as) and who is known for his ignominious death?

As for the Bani Israel, they traced their ancestral lineage directly to Prophet Abraham (as), the patriarch of prophets. According to the biblical narrative, Jacob (as), the son of Isaac (as), was granted the name “Israel” and the Bani Israel literally means the children or progeny of Israel. Jacob (as) had twelve sons, each of whom was the progenitor of the twelve tribes that subsequently formed the Bani Israel. The Bani Israel dwelled in the land of Canaan which was divided amongst the twelve tribes. However, due to famine they were forced migrate to Egypt. Over a few generations, alarmed by their growing number, the pharaoh of the time enslaved the Bani Israel and subjected them to intense persecution and oppression and even issued orders for all male children of the Bani Israel to be killed. This was around the time that Moses (as) was born.  

As to who the Pharaoah of Moses (as) was, The Review of Religions is pleased to publish this treatise by by Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad (as), the second head of the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, on this very subject.

This photo shows the tombsite known as KV 8. Originally buried here, Merneptah was moved later on to site KV 35, where he was found in 1898 by Victor Loret.

agsaz | Shutterstock

Written in 1911, ‘The Pharaoh of Moses (as)’, published for the first time in English, Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad (as), draws on various historical references as well as on archaeological evidence. In the second part of the treatise, he mentions the discovery of the body of the Pharaoh of Moses (as). Discovered in 1898 by Egyptologist Victor Loret, the site where the embalmed body was found is known as KV35, and many other embalmed rulers were also found at this site. Victor Loret went to French Egyptologist William N. Groff, who confirmed that the hieroglyphics confirmed the identity of the body. Using this archaeological evidence and the evidence of the Holy Qur’an, then, he provides a complete answer to the identity of the Pharaoh and sheds light on other aspects of Moses’ (as) journey that will be of interest even to the modern reader. The Review of Religions is pleased to present the full address below, published in English for the very first time.


When people read the account of Pharaoh in the Holy Qur’an, many of them believe it to be the name of a specific king. However, in actuality, just as the title of Faghfur was given to the emperor of China; Chosroes was used for the emperor of Iran; Caesar for the emperor of Rome; Mikado for the emperor of Japan and Tsar for the emperor of Russia, similarly ‘Pharaoh’ was the title given to the kings and rulers of Egypt. So the Pharaohs were the rulers at the time of Prophet Joseph (as) also during the era of Prophet Moses (as). However, there is indeed a difference between the two, for one was the Pharaoh in the time of Joseph (as) and the other lived in the time of Moses (as). While the former honoured and revered a prophet and thereby saved his country from the affliction of a drought, the latter dishonoured a prophet and as a result completely destroyed and ruined his country and its wealth. The Pharaoh in the time of Prophet Joseph (as) invited him and his brothers and afforded them great comfort, while the other brutally killed the progeny of these guests. Hence, there is a world of difference between the Pharaoh in the time of Joseph (as) and the Pharaoh who lived in the time of Moses (as); one was fortunate while the other was wretched.

It can’t be said for certain exactly how many Pharaohs appeared between the time of Prophet Joseph (as) and that of Moses (as), but we can estimate that there must have been fourteen or fifteen, since  the Israelites had spent almost 200 hundred years in the land of Egypt and during this time they made great progress and their population grew from a few individuals into the thousands. Thus, the Pharaohs began to be somewhat fearful of them and as a result began to inflict cruelty on them in various ways.

One of the reasons as to why the Pharaohs began to fear them is because they themselves were also not the original natives of Egypt.[1] In fact, they had traveled from the East and occupied the land; and just like the Israelites, who were from among the Arabs, they were [also] Semites. Thus, the progeny of Prophet Abraham (as) having a close relationship with this land, further sheds light on this notion.

The Pharaohs were always anxious lest any tribe became too powerful and join forces with the natives, or some other tribe, as it were, and banish them from the land. Hence, when they witnessed the growing strength of the Israelites, they resolved to stop them through any means possible. After slaughtering their children, [the Pharaohs] forced each and every one of them  into the work of laying bricks, and in order to keep them occupied, they began to construct two cities, Pithom and Ramesses. The latter was named after the pharaoh who was ruling at the time and it was his infamous son, Merneptah, who became a bitter enemy of the prophet and brought not only his name into disrepute but also that of his forefathers.

The scale of his tyranny was such that it led to a proverbial expression, ہر فرعون را موسیٰ  that is, there is a Moses who stood against every Pharaoh of his age – [in other words,] painting all Pharaohs as cruel and obstinate. Merneptah was extremely arrogant and just like his father, he too had a passion for constructing buildings. The first reason was so that the Israelites would remain occupied in work. Secondly, owing to the peaceful relations he had with his surrounding rulers, he had plenty of leisure time, and thirdly,  an interest in construction projects had run in the family for generations. The word ‘pharaoh’ is in fact a compound of the words per-a-a, which means ‘Great House’. Originally, this word was generally used for houses but later it specifically referred to the royal residence owing to its architectural grandeur. Ultimately, this name was exclusively associated with the ruler of the time. An example of this is also found in the present era as well where the viziers of the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire are known as Bâbıâli [High Gate or Gate of the Eminent]. Thus, a life free of any kind of danger, an avocation passed down from his ancestors and the idea to subjugate the Israelites in some form of labour, all contributed to directing the Pharaoh Merneptah’s attention towards construction and [architectural] projects. Consequently, this led to the Israelites becoming extremely weak and dejected and the fear of the Pharaohs was impressed on their hearts.

Thus, in the Holy Qur’an it states:

[…the companions of Moses said, ‘We are surely overtaken.’][2]

To claim that a 3,000-year- old dead body would serve as a means of guidance for nations in the future is indeed no ordinary matter.

When one is at his lowest ebb and in a state of utter desperation, even the weakest of people are compelled to rise in defiance; but the Israelites had become so dispirited that they could not find the strength to draw any courage even in these circumstances.

So when their condition deteriorated to this extent, then in light of the promises vouchsafed in relation to the progeny of Prophet Abraham (as), God Almighty raised a person from among them, who was given the name Moses by his parents. At the time of Moses’ (as) birth, the command issued by the cruel king to kill all the new-borns was becoming widespread. Moses’ (as) mother was also extremely worried that her child would also be killed at the hands of these cruel people, but God Almighty saved him from them as mentioned in the following verse of the Holy Qur’an:

(And We revealed to the mother of Moses saying, ‘Suckle him; and when thou fearest for him, then cast him into the river and fear not, nor grieve; for We shall restore him to thee, and shall make him one of the Messengers.’) [3]

Apart from the Holy Qur’an, no other book mentions the preservation of Pharaoh’s body. The discovery of this body serves as a clear testimony of the truthfulness of Islam.    

Thus, God Almighty saved Moses (as) from the hands of the wicked.

After having been cast into the river, one of the daughters of Pharaoh saw Moses (as) at the edge of the river and was overcome with compassion for him. She took him out of the river and decided to raise the child herself as it states in the Holy Qur’an:

‘And the family of Pharaoh picked him up that he might become for them an enemy and a source of sorrow. Verily, Pharaoh and Haman and their hosts were wrongdoers.’ [4]

Although the Pharaoh wanted to kill Moses (as), but his wife, either for the sake of her daughter or for some other reason, felt  compassionate and wanted to adopt Moses and thus stopped him from being killed.

In relation to this, the Holy Qur’an further states:

‘And Pharaoh’s wife said, ‘He will be a joy of the eye, for me and for thee. Kill him not. Haply he will be useful to us, or we may adopt him as a son.’ And they perceived not the consequences thereof.’ [5]

Incidentally, the person appointed to suckle the child was in fact Moses’ mother. Hence, right from his childhood, he was well aware of the relationship between the people of the Pharaoh and the Israelites and the inhumane treatment meted out to them was well-ingrained in his mind. As a result of his royal upbringing,  Moses (as) grew up to possess a strong physique and was high-minded. He was always ready to come to the aid of being oppressed. Once, he saw that someone from among the people of Pharaoh was fighting with an Israelite and could not bear to see him being persecuted any longer and leaped forward and punched the aggressor. It so happened that the blow landed on such a spot that it resulted in the man’s death. The next day, he again saw two people fighting, one of whom was the same Israelite who had been involved in the altercation the previous day. Upon recognizing him, Moses (as) said, ‘You have a very belligerent disposition! You are involved in fights every day,’ and having said this, leapt towards them. The Israelite thought that perhaps Moses(as) was about to attack him and quickly exclaimed, ‘Do you wish to hit me just like you hit the man yesterday?’ Moses(as) realized that the word had now got out and had subsequently started a conflict between him and the Pharaohs, thus he left Egypt for another country where he stayed for approximately ten years before returning to Egypt at the commandment of God Almighty. On his return journey, Moses (as) was commissioned to convey the guidance to Pharaoh as well. Now this Pharaoh was not the same one who had ruled when Moses (as) had fled Egypt. In fact, after Ramesses it was his son, Merneptah, who had succeeded him. So Moses (as) took the message of God to him and in accordance with God’s instructions, spoke to him in a very gentle manner, explaining that he had been appointed as a messenger from their Lord and requesting him to send the Israelites with him.  

This entire account has been recorded in the Holy Qur’an:

‘“Go, both of you, to Pharaoh, for he has transgressed all bounds. “But speak to him a gentle speech that he might possibly heed or fear.” They replied, ‘Our Lord, we fear lest he commit some excess against us, or exceed all bounds in transgression.’ God said, “Fear not; for I am with you both. I hear and I see. “So go ye both to him and say, ‘We are the Messengers of thy Lord; so let the children of Israel go with us; and afflict them not. We have indeed brought thee a Sign from thy Lord; and peace shall be on him who follows the guidance; ‘It has indeed been revealed to us that punishment shall come on him who rejects and turns away.’” (Pharaoh, giving no importance to what they said, began arguing with them) Pharaoh said, ‘Who then is the Lord of you two, O Moses?’ (He did not even address Aaron (ra), it seems that, God forbid, he considered him to be extremely inferior. However, since Moses (as) had resided in the royal palace and was brought up like his own brother, he only addressed him.) He said, ‘Our Lord is He Who gave unto everything its proper form and then guided it to its proper function.’’[6]

After this argument, they continued to vigorously debate on this but the Pharaoh paid no heed whatsoever and only intensified his oppression and torment against the Israelites. Pharaoh became so extreme in his oppression that eventually the Israelites cried out, ‘O Moses (as)! Since you have come, our afflictions have increased even more.’

When the situation became extremely dire, God Almighty commanded Moses (as) to leave Egypt at once. Subsequently, one night they left Egypt and headed in the direction of Syria. The route along dry land, where the Suez Canal has been constructed, was at further away from them, and so they quickly took the route along the coast. In the meantime, Pharaoh Merneptah learnt of their escape and went in pursuit of them and caught them at the edge of the sea. The Israelites became extremely anxious, however upon receiving God Almighty’s command, Moses (as) instructed them to go forth into the sea. Upon entering, the sea parted and the Israelites walked across without any difficulty. On seeing ths, Pharaoh also plucked up his courage and, with his army, plunged into the sea. However, they were unable to come out alive as they were all engulfed by a large wave and swept away. The Holy Qur’an states that in that very moment, the Pharaoh declared:

‘I believe that there is no God but He in Whom the children of Israel believe, and I am of those who submit to Him.’[7] However, this was no longer the time for repentance. He had been  granted many occasions to seek repentance but he had not valued those opportunities and each time he had instead continued to grow in his evil ways. Since divine wrath had ultimately befallen upon him and he was almost on the verge of drowning, this was not the time to seek repentance. Hence, God Almighty stated:

‘What! Now! While thou wast disobedient before this and wast of those who create disorder. So this day We will save thee in thy body alone that thou mayest be a Sign to those who come after thee. And surely, many of mankind are heedless of Our Signs.’[8] It is evident from this verse that Pharaoh’s corpse was saved from being completely destroyed and his army collected his body and buried him. This is a claim, which aside from the Holy Qur’an, has not been recorded anywhere, neither in the Torah nor the Bible, or in any other book of the prophets (as). To prove whether a person’s body was taken out of the sea 3,000 years ago from today is a task nigh impossible. However, there can be no doubt in the truthfulness of what God Almighty has declared. Thus, God Almighty made such provisions that in an age where great progress is being made in every academic discipline, many have also developed a keen interest in the field of archaeology, among whom are researching in Egyptology – the study of the ancient civilisation of Egypt. In 1898, Mr Loret, an Egyptologist, discovered a coffin in the burial chambers where the coffins of the pharaohs were kept. The body inside the coffin belonged to a king and from reading what was written on it, it appeared to be the body of Khouniatonou [Amenhotep IV]. However, since hieroglyphics can be somewhat abstruse, Mr. Loret presented the matter before Mr. Groff who read it as ‘Ba-en-re’. In order to settle the disagreement, they called Hero, who was accompanied with many other scholars and upon reading the symbols they immediately said that this was Ba-en-re, who was the Pharaoh at the time of Moses (as). Upon further investigation, when they opened the coffin, they found the name, ‘Merneptah’ had also been inscribed on it, which was another name of the Pharaoh who ruled at the time of Moses (as). 

It is evident from this verse that Pharaoh’s corpse was saved from being completely destroyed and his army collected his body and buried him. This is a claim, which aside from the Holy Qur’an, has not been recorded anywhere, neither in the Torah nor the Bible, or in any other book of the prophets (as). To prove whether a person’s body was taken out of the sea 3,000 years ago from today is a task nigh impossible. However, there can be no doubt in the truthfulness of what God Almighty has declared. Thus, God Almighty made such provisions that in an age where great progress is being made in every academic discipline, many have also developed a keen interest in the field of archaeology, among whom are researching in Egyptology – the study of the ancient civilisation of Egypt. In 1898, Mr Loret, an Egyptologist, discovered a coffin in the burial chambers where the coffins of the pharaohs were kept. The body inside the coffin belonged to a king and from reading what was written on it, it appeared to be the body of Khouniatonou [Amenhotep IV]. However, since hieroglyphics can be somewhat abstruse, Mr. Loret presented the matter before Mr. Groff who read it as ‘Ba-en-re’. In order to settle the disagreement, they called Hero, who was accompanied with many other scholars and upon reading the symbols they immediately said that this was Ba-en-re, who was the Pharaoh at the time of Moses (as). Upon further investigation, when they opened the coffin, they found the name, ‘Merneptah’ had also been inscribed on it, which was another name of the Pharaoh who ruled at the time of Moses (as). 

Thus, everyone was completely convinced that this was the pharaoh of Moses. The body was immediately transported to Cairo, the capital of Egypt, and placed in the Royal Mummies Room of the Egyptian Museum, which also contained the bodies of other pharaohs and royal wives. Indeed, one can imagine how jubilant the archaeologists in this field must have been upon making this discovery, however this also opened doors of great joy for the Muslims as well. What God Almighty revealed in the Holy Qur’an 1300 years ago, is proving true today because as I mentioned earlier that apart from the Holy Qur’an, no other book mentions the preservation of pharaoh’s body. The discovery of this body serves as a clear testimony of the truthfulness of Islam. To claim that a 3,000 years old dead body would serve as a means of guidance for nations in the future is indeed no ordinary matter.

The body of Pharaoh was immaculately preserved by embalming it[9] and his face could easily be recognised. Many other signs which have been recorded in historical sources pertaining to this particular Pharaoh matched with the body. Some of the newspapers also published his image, however since we did not have it available to us, therefore it couldn’t be published here. However, it would have been a source of great delight for us had we been able to obtain it and published it, so that people could witness for themselves that this was the person who perished at sea 3000 years ago and regarding whom the Holy Qur’an declared that his body had been preserved and kept safe and would be discovered in the future and would serve as a sign of great warning for others.

Thus, there were 5 aspects that were foretold in this prophecy:

  1. Pharaoh’s body was not washed away at sea, in fact it emerged from the sea whilst completely intact. In majority of such cases either animals devour the body or it is washed away at sea. However, God Almighty revealed that the body was washed ashore whilst still intact.  
  2. The second point which can be ascertained from this is that the body was embalmed. It was well possible that the body not be embalmed just like Merneptah’s father, Ramesses, was not embalmed. This is because his skin had severely deteriorated owing to leprosy and also it was not essential that the body of every single Pharaoh be embalmed. Therefore, in light of the following verse:
    [10] – it is clearly evident that his body was embalmed because had it not been the case, his corpse would have completely disintegrated and could never have been obtained.
  3. It proves that his body would remain preserved till this present age. Despite embalming the bodies, not all of them remain preserved. There were hundreds and thousands of bodies which were embalmed, however despite that they were completely destroyed. One of the reasons for this was that for a certain period of time in Egypt, they would burn small pieces from the embalmed bodies instead of lighting candles. This is because these pieces burnt brilliantly like candles made from camphor. Similarly, there were many other factors owing to which they would become ruined. Thus, it is proven from this verse that Pharaoh’s body would be safeguarded from all kinds of harmful factors and would eventually reach those who come later.
  4. The verse also proves that not only will the body be preserved but it will ultimately be discovered. Had it remained concealed in a cave or a large cavern, how could that have benefitted anyone?
  5. Apart from the body being discovered, it would also be recognisable because it could only serve as a sign if it could be proven that it was really him. If, for instance, it was discovered but could not be recognised, there would have been a flaw in the fulfilment of the prophecy.

Thus, this in one single verse contains five signs which prove the truthfulness of the Holy Qur’an and serve as a means of strengthening the faith of the believers.

I am astounded at this body; while it was living, it led thousands to go astray, but once the soul departed and having remained deep in the ground for thousands of years, what kind of chemical reaction was it that took place that today it has become a means of strengthening the faith of hundreds of thousands?

However, what is more astounding is that it is not the Muslims who claim that this is the body of the Pharaoh of Moses (as), otherwise they could have been criticised for having falsely claimed this in order to prove a Qur’anic verse. In fact, it is the Christian historians themselves who have strongly claimed that this body belongs to Merneptah Ba-en-re, who was the Pharaoh of Moses (as).

Proof that this indeed was the body of Merneptah is that firstly, it was written on the cloth draped over it that it was the body of Merneptah. In fact, they also took a picture which was published in many English newspapers and, God willing, we will also search for this image and publish it, so that after reading about the account of the Pharaoh of Moses (as), our readers can then also see him. Secondly, there are many features on the body which match with those of the Pharaoh of Moses (as). For instance, Merneptah suffered from gum disease and this was evident from the body as well.  Thirdly, his face resembled Seti I, who was his grandfather.

Further proof that Merneptah was in fact the Pharaoh of Moses (as) is that the time of his rule coincides with the exodus of the Israelites. Therefore, there is no other option but to accept that the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt took place during his reign. Secondly, in light of the Torah, the Israelites built the city of Rameses, which was the name of Merneptah’s father. Thus, this city was built during his father’s rule. It is also written that after Moses (as) left Egypt, the Pharaoh who ruled at the time passed away and Moses (as) returned and asked for the Israelites to be returned when the new Pharaoh was in rule. Thus, undoubtedly Merneptah was the Pharaoh in rule at the time.

Thirdly, it is evident from the Holy Qur’an and the Torah that after the Pharaoh of Moses (as), the dynasty of the Pharaohs declined. It is evident from historical sources that the last Pharaoh of this dynasty prior to its decline was in fact Merneptah.

Fourthly, it was Ramesses who would cast the children of the Israelites into the river. Therefore, the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt could have only been during the era of Merneptah. In regards to Merneptah, it states in Talmud that he was extremely shrewd and cunning and was of short stature.

Since he was always suffering from illnesses, he quickly became old and frail and the body that was discovered also showed that this was a body of someone extremely weak, even though he was approximately only three years younger than Moses (as). It is proven from the Holy Qur’an that his mother saved Moses (as) because she did not have any child of her own at the time and thus wanted to adopt him. Therefore, it is evident, that at the time, Ramesses did not have any children with her. Nonetheless, Merneptah was his second son from her and owing to the simple nature of his eldest son, his father was not very fond of him and deprived him from succeeding to the throne. Therefore, even if we take the eldest son to have been born two years after Moses (as) was picked up [from the river], and with Merneptah being born in the third year, it would mean that he was around two or three years younger than Moses (as). However, his sister, who initially picked Moses (as) up was around 15-16 years older than him.

Merneptah’s name is written in the following way in hieroglyphics:

In the original article written in 1911, Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmadra included an image of some hieroglyphics. While the photograph above shows the same hieroglyphics, it was not published in the original article.

Public Domain

Endnotes

[1] In the ancient Egyptian language, the Phirana dynasty was originally known as Hyksos which means foreigner/stranger. Since these people travelled from the west, therefore they were also referred to as foreigners. The Bible also alludes to this, in Exodus Chapter 1, verse 10-11[9-11*], it states, “‘Look’, he said to his people, ‘the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.’” From these verses it further proves that the Phirana were foreigners in the land because how could it be possible that the progeny of 10-12 people multiply so significantly that they outnumber the natives of the land. Thus, it seems that they also migrated to the land and were few in number. Aside from these two families, there would have been people from many other tribes as well who dwelled in the land of Egypt.

[2] The Holy Qur’an, 26:62.

[3] The Holy Qur’an, 28:8.

[4] The Holy Qur’an, 28:9.

[5] The Holy Qur’an, 28:10.

[6] The Holy Qur’an, 20:44-51.

[7] The Holy Qur’an, 10:91.

[8] The Holy Qur’an, 10:92-93.

[9] There was a special balm used in Egypt on the dead body which would prevent it from decaying and would allow it to be preserved for thousands of years. It was owing to this special balm that the body of pharaoh remained intact and was able to be retrieved. Bodies which had been embalmed in this way were known as mummies. 

[10] The Holy Qur’an, 10:93.