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Bust of Ramesses II in the British Museum

Pharaoh (Latin: Pharao; Greek φαραώ, Pharaō; Hebrew: פַּרְעֹה, Par‘ōh) is the title given to the heads-of-state of ancient Egypt prior to the conquest of Egypt by Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Octavianus, Emperor of Rome (at which time Egypt became a Roman Imperial province).


Originally, the title referred to the Royal residence. In Egyptian usage, beginning at about the time of the Exodus of Israel, the title came to refer to the Royal bureaucracy (similar to the use of the term White House in the United States) and eventually to the ruler himself, beginning during the eighteenth dynasty of Manetho, when we read of its usage in addressing King Amenhotep IV, or Akhenaten or Ikhnaten as he is variously known. Beginning with the twenty-second dynasty, the title of "Pharaoh" was always prefixed to the personal name to refer to the king.

The Biblical use of the term, however, ended sooner than the twenty-second dynasty. The first named Pharaoh was Shishak. Originally, most scholars (relying as they did on the Sothic cycle and this assumed convention of the usage of the term "Pharaoh") identified Shishak as Shoshenq I. Current thinking among Bible scholars favors Ramesses III or possibly Thutmose III as Shishak.


A king of Egypt commonly wore a double crown--red for Lower Egypt and white for Upper Egypt. He (or occasionally, she) also carried the crook and flail, with the crook held in the right hand and the flail in the left. (Papyrus renderings from the period always show a king holding these two scepters so that they point away from one another. No historical warrant exists for the common depiction, in motion pictures, of a king of Egypt holding his scepters crossing one another.) The tomb of Tutankhamun, the one having the most nearly intact collection of regalia, contained his crook and flail. No archaeologist has ever recovered a crown of Egypt.


A king of Egypt was at once a political and a religious leader. He therefore was addressed as "Lord of the Two Lands" and "High Priest of Every Temple."

Beyond this, an individual king of Egypt, beginning with the Middle Kingdom, had as many as five personal titles: four throne-names and one personal name, which last was the name he was born with. The throne names were as follows:

  1. The Horus name, reflecting his status as a reincarnation of this Egyptian bovine god
  2. The Two-ladies name, reflecting the personifications of Upper and Lower Egypt
  3. The golden Horus name, expressing his immortality and eternal life
  4. The sedge and bee name, another reflection of his dominion over Upper and Lower Egypt

Specific Pharaohs Mentioned in the Bible

The earliest dealings of the Hebrew people with any ruler of Egypt were, of course, those of Abraham and his wife when they briefly stayed in Egypt during a famine in Canaan. However, the Bible does not name him. Similarly, the Bible does not name the Pharaoh who knew Joseph, nor the Pharaohs of the Oppression and later of the Exodus of Israel, the Pharaoh from whom Adad sought political asylum during the reign of King David, or the Pharaoh whose daughter became one of the many wives of King Solomon. However, the Bible does name the following kings of Egypt:

  1. Shishak, probably Thutmose III or Ramesses III from whom Jeroboam I sought political asylum in the final years of Solomon's reign, and who then raided Jerusalem during the reign of Rehoboam in the Southern Kingdom. (I_Kings 11:40 , II_Chronicles 12:2 ff.)
  2. King So, who formed an abortive alliance with King Hoshea of the Northern Kingdom shortly before the Fall of Samaria. His identity is in dispute today, but the favorite theory identifies him as Sheshonq I, founder of the twenty-second dynasty. (II_Kings 17:4 )
  3. King Tharaca or Taharqa, an opponent of Sennacherib. He is called King of Ethiopia, probably because the twenty-fifth dynasty was an Ethiopian or Cushite line. (II_Kings 19:9 , Isaiah 37:9 )
  4. Necho II, opponent of King Josiah and ultimately of Nebuchadnezzar II (II_Kings 23:29 , II_Chronicles 35:20 )
  5. Hophra, or Aries, whose attempted invasion of the Holy Land prompted Zedekiah to make one last fruitless rebellion against Nebuchadnezzar. (Jeremiah 44:30 )

Related References