Responses to Islamic Awareness

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

Mr Karim believes that he has found an instance where the Qur'an is historically accurate and the Bible is in error. He tells us in this article:

For all kings, the contemporaries of Abraham(P), Joseph(P) and Moses(P), the Bible uses the term "Pharaoh" to address the kings of Egypt. The Qur'ān however differs from the Bible: the sovereign of Egypt who was a contemporary of Joseph(P) is named "King" (Arabic, Mālik); whereas the Bible has named him "Pharaoh". As for the king who ruled during the time of Moses(P) the Qur'ān repeatedly calls him "Pharaoh" (Arabic, Fir'awn).

He continues:

However, the Egyptians did not call their ruler "Pharaoh" until the 18th Dynasty (c.1552 - 1295 BC). 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(P) but the use of the word Pharaoh in the story of Joseph(P) is an anachronism

What is the Significance of the Bible's Use of "Pharaoh"?

The books of the Bible went through a very human process of composition, transmission, and preservation. Part of that process apparently included the updating of place names and, in this case, political titles to terms that were known to later generations. This is not an error at all. For example, a history book could say: "In the 1300's, a certain Indian tribe occupied an area near Tucson, Arizona." Of course, Tucson, Arizona wasn't a city at the time, nor was Arizona a state, but readers would understand that the author did not say that it was, he or she is merely using it as a modern reference point.

The Qur'an also imposes its own terminology on Old Testament characters. For example, the Qur'an gives the Biblical character Potiphar the Arabic title of al-Aziz, - a term that would have been unknown in ancient Egypt. 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.

In the final anylsis, I do not mind if the place/person names were updated in Scriptures. The Bible is historically reliable because there is so much historical and archeological confirmation of the teachings of Scripture. If the Bible is historically reliable, then God really did what He said He did in history. God's actions throughout history are the entire basis for both Judaism and Christianity.

What is the Significance of the Qur'an's Use of "Malik"?

The situation is entirely different in the Qur'ān. We find mentioned the Egyptian king who was a contemporary of Joseph(P). For him the Qur'ān uses the title "King" (Arabic, Mālik); he is never once addressed as Pharaoh. As for the king who ruled during the time of Moses(P), the Qur'ān repeatedly calls him Pharaoh (Arabic, Fir'awn).

These facts that we have mentioned were unknown at the time of the Qur'anic Revelation. At the time of the Qur'ānic Revelation, the only source of knowledge of the religious past was the Bible. From the time of the Old Testament to the Qur'ān, 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, and no one could read them until the 19th century AD.

Issue 1: The Biblical use of Melek (King)

These "facts" were known during the time of Muhammad. The Qur'an did not invent the title of Malik (King). In fact, the Bible uses both "Pharaoh" and "Melek" (the Hebrew term for King) in the story of Joseph (See Genesis 39:20 , 40:1, 40:5, 41:6)! It is also interesting to note that the Bible, unlike the Qur'an, uses both Pharaoh and Melek to refer to the King of Egypt in the account of Moses and the Exodus (see Exodus 6:11 and 13).

Issue 2: What about the Pharaoh of the Exodus?

Apparently, Mr Karim feels sufficiently confident to date the events of the Exodus. Since, according to Mr. Karim, Amenhophis IV (c.1352-1338 BC) was the first King of Egypt to be referred to as Pharaoh, the Exodus must have occurred during or after the reign of Amenhophis IV for the Qur'an to be historically correct. Is this the case?

There is debate among Biblical archaeologists concerning the chronology of Moses and the Exodus, but we can safely say that most scholars place the Exodus prior to the reign of Amenhophis IV and the use of Pharaoh as a royal title. In Judges 11:26, one of the last Judges, named Jephthah, says that the period of time from the first settlement in Transjordan, during the Conquest, to his own time, is 300 years. I Kings 6:1, tells us that the time from the Exodus to the building the temple by Solomon in 966 BC is recorded as 480 years, which complements the date in Judges. These two passages place the Exodus around 1450 BC, long before Amenhophis IV (c.1352-1338 BC)!

Who was the Pharaoh of the Exodus and when did these events occur? According to one biblical chronology, Moses was born around 1527 B.C.. In the new chronology of Egypt (A Test of Time: The Bible:- From Myth to History by David M. Rohl), the Pharaoh on the throne of Egypt was Neferhotep I of the 13th Dynasty.

What proof exists to support this claim?

John Fulton, in his A New Chronology says:

The early Christian historian Eusebius in his work 'Evangelicae Preparationis' quotes from a book 'Peri Ioudaion' (Concerning the Jews) by the Jewish historian Artapanus. This work of Artapanus has not survived down to the present but is also quoted in Clement's 'Stromata'. Artapanus, writing in the 3rd century BC, had access to ancient records in Egyptian temples and perhaps even the famous Alexandrian library of Ptolemy I.

Artapanus writes that a pharaoh named Palmanothes was persecuting the Israelites. His daughter Merris adopted a Hebrew child who grew up to be called prince Mousos. Merris married a pharaoh Khenephres. Prince Mousos grew up to administer the land on behalf of this pharaoh. He led a military campaign against the Ethiopians who were invading Egypt; however, upon his return, Khenephres grew jealous of his popularity. Mousos then fled to Arabia to return when Khenephres died and lead the Israelites to freedom. It may be only a Mosaic story with similarities to the biblical account, yet the only pharaoh with the name Khenephres was Sobekhotep IV, who took the name Khaneferre at his coronation. He reigned soon after Neferhotep I of the 13th Dynasty, as mentioned above, the pharaoh in power at Moses' birth!

Josephus in his 'Antiquities of the Jews', with access to very old manuscripts and writing in AD 93, also mentioned Moses' Ethiopian or Kushite war. Here, Moses led an Egyptian army down the Nile valley, past the Third Cataract, deep into Kush (modern Ethiopia). In the British Museum is a stela (page 261, fig. 289) which tells of a 13th Dynasty pharaoh undertaking a campaign south into the region of Kush. That pharaoh is none other than Khaneferre, the step-father of Moses according to Artapanus. He is the only 13th Dynasty pharaoh who is recorded as having campaigned into Upper Nubia or Ethiopia. At Kerma on the Nile an official Egyptian building was found, outside of which was discovered a statue of Khaneferre, so dating this building to the 13th Dynasty. This is many hundreds of kilometres south of the known boundaries of 13th Dynasty Egypt and may have been a governor's residence'. It would have been built to secure Egyptian interests in the area after the military victory of the Egyptians led by Moses, as this was the only Kushite war at that time with Egypt. As Moses was a prince of Egypt and was 40 years old according to the Bible when he fled to Arabia, he could certainly have led this military operation - an Israelite leading an Egyptian army to war! If this part of Josephus' account is true then it adds weight to the rest of his account of the life of Moses and also gives us some firmer evidence of the existence of this charismatic leader!

Clearly the King of Egypt during the time of Moses and the Exodus lived much earlier than the reign of Amenhophis IV (c.1352-1338 BC), which Mr. Karim implies to be the time of Moses.

With this chronology, the King of Egypt, during the life of Moses, did not "officially" hold the title of Pharaoh! Therefore, the Qur'an, according to Mr. Karim's argument, is in error.

If there was no human knowledge in existence at the time, then from where did the Prophet Muhammad(P) obtain this information? If human factors are unable to account for the changes in the narrations which affected their meaning with regard to modern knowledge, another explanation has be accepted: the Qur'ān is a Revelation from God, and that Muhammad(P) is his final Prophet.

This is a very hasty conclusion. The Bible clearly shows us how God has acted throughout history and outlines God's plan for humanity. Christians can trust the Bible because the Scriptures are historically reliable. There is an abundance of historical and archeological evidence which confirm for the teachings of the Bible. There are numerous organizations devoted to the study of Biblical archeology including: The Foundation for Biblical Archaeology, BIBARCH, Associates for Biblical Research, Near East Archaeological Society (NEAS), Biblical Chronologist, and Archaeology Society; as well as publications such as Biblical Archaeologist, Biblical Archaeology and American Archaeologist, and Biblical Archaeology. Where are the Muslim counterparts of these organizations and publications?

Andrew Vargo

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