Monday, September 18, 2006

The terms “King” vs. “Pharaoh”

My pastor was reading this blog, and came across an earlier post in which I mentioned that I’m not sure about the difference between the terms “King” and “Pharaoh”, when referring to the ruler of Egypt. Are the terms interchangeable, or do they have different meanings?

Here is his email. He gives the link to the main Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (TWOT) site, but the direct link, to the Pharaoh definition, is


I was catching up on your Bible Blog this morning and decided to address your inquiry regarding the interchangeability of the words “Pharaoh” and “King” (from your Exodus 1 comments). …

The definition below comes from the “Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament” (TWOT) and I include it below. There is a web site for TWOT but unless you know Hebrew or have copies of Strong’s Concordance AND TWOT it won’t help you much. If you want to check out the website it is: < >.

Hope you find this helpful,


1825 h[or]P’ ( par>oμh ) Pharaoh. The Hebrew h[or]P’ ( par>oμh ) (in Akkadian, pircu ) represents the transcription and vocalization from the Egyptian per a>o “the Great House.”

Originally the Egyptian designation did not refer to the king of Egypt, but rather to his palace. Not until the middle of the eighteenth Dynasty (1575–1308 B.C. ) did the expression become the appellative title of the king. As a circumlocution used to specify the king, the phrase per a>o may be analogous to the phrase “the White House,” or to the title “the Sublime Porte,” i.e. the Turkish sultan of the Ottoman Empire. There is no indication that Egyptian texts ever used “Pharaoh” as part of the official titulary of the king.

There are several pharaohs named in the Bible: (1) Necho, II Kgs 23:29, (the twenty-sixth Dynasty) who killed Josiah (609 B.C. ) at Megiddo. II Chronicles 35:22 says that Josiah met his death because he would not listen to God’s word from Necho’s mouth! (2) Hophra, Jer 44:30, who succeeded Necho, is an object of Jeremiah’s prophecy; (3) Shishak, I Kgs 11:40 (twenty-second Dynasty) who harbored Jeroboam when the latter escaped the wrath of Solomon; (4) So, king of Egypt to whom Hoshea sent envoys (II Kgs 17:4). H. Goedicke argued that this is not the name of a king but of a city ( BASOR 171:64–6). K. Kitchen holds that it is Osorkon IV (The Third Intermediate Period in Egypt, Aris & Phillips, 1973, pp. 372–75).

There are also a number of pharaohs in the Bible who are incognito. Some of these are: (1) the Pharaoh visited by Abraham ( Gen 12:10–20 ); (2) the Pharaoh under whom Joseph served, presumably one of the Hyksos kings ( Gen 39ff.): (3) the Pharaoh of the oppression of the Exodus, either Thutmose III and Amenhotep II, (eighteenth Dynasty), or Ramesses II and his son Merenptah (nineteenth Dynasty), depending on whether one dates the Exodus events in the fifteenth or early thirteenth centuries B.C. Concerning the Pharaoh whose heart “God hardened” (reflecting perhaps the monistic way in which the Hebrew put the facts of history), see Rom 9:14–29. To use the unfaithful man providentially as a means of revealing God’s gracious redemption to others so that they may become redeemed is itself an act of mercy; (4) the father-in-law of Solomon ( I Kgs 3:1; 9:16, 24; 11:1). Solomon’s marriage with Pharaoh’s daughter signifies, possibly, Egypt’s inferior status as a political power is-a-is Israel at this time. The Pharaoh’s donation of Gezer is most likely a territorial concession made in the guise of a dowry. This Pharaoh has been identified, tentatively, as Siamun or Psusennes II, the last two kings of the twenty-first Dynasty.

Bibliography: Gardiner, A., Egyptian Grammar, London: Oxford University, 1966, pp. 71–76. Redford, D., “The Pronunciation of Pr in Late Toponyms,” JNES 22:119–22. Wilson, J., “Pharaoh” in IDB , III, pp. 773–74.


[Note that I added the links to Bible Gateway—they weren’t part of the original text.]

So, if I’m reading this correctly, especially the first paragraph, the person who ruled Egypt was the “King”. When the term “Pharaoh” is used, it seems that the Bible is referring to the office/system, rather than the person. Calling the person who ruled Egypt “the King” would be analogous to calling the person who runs the United States “the President”, whereas using the term “the Pharaoh” would be analogous to using the term “Washington” or “the White House” to refer to the system of people who are running the United States.

P.S. I realize that, as a Canadian, I should probably use Canadian examples, rather than American ones. However, although I’ve heard the term “Ottawa” used to refer to the system of government—as in “‘Ottawa’ decided today to eliminate taxes”—I don’t know that I’ve heard the term “24 Sussex Drive” used in that manner. But I have heard people using “the White House”, to refer to the President and all of his advisors, staff, etc. Of course, it could just be that I don’t follow Canadian politics as closely as I should.

P.P.S. Before you step in to correct me, I realize that the people in the White House (or 24 Sussex Drive) don’t run the country; there are multiple branches of government in American and Canada, blah blah blah. That’s not the point.

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