Has the Biblical Moses Been Identified in Secular Egyptian Records?
Moses was a prophet and a leader according to Abrahamic religions, but many scholars view him as a legendary figure rather than a real historic person. They do concede that a Moses-like figure could have existed in history, so is it possible to track this person down through historic records? It is the view of this writer that this is very possible and that in fact the Moses figure can be traced as that of the primary confidant of none other than Egyptian pharaoh Hatshepsut. The trail begins with Th Exodus.
The Exodus and Moses Birth
If we use the Bible as our primary source, we know that this occurred during the ‘ New Kingdom ’ period of Egypt, when the powerful Egyptian families of the south reasserted themselves and drove out the Hyksos invaders , who had been entrenched in the power centers of northern Egypt for over 100 years.
The Hyksos’ stay in Egypt is known in history as the ‘Second Intermediate Period’. However, there is a difference of opinion among biblical scholars as to when, during the New Kingdom, the Exodus occurred. So, can we find anything to help us pin it down?
If one accepts the biblical dating of Solomon’s time , we know that he started building his famous temple in 960 BC, and the text of 1 Kings 6 v1 states that this was 480 years since the Exodus .
Thus, we can fix a date for the Exodus of 1440 BC, when Moses was 80 years old. This would mean that he was born around 1520 BC and is an adult in the court between 1500 and 1480 BC.
Where Does the Name Moses Come From?
1500 – 1480 BC is the time of the pharaoh Queen Hatshepsut, and she had a close confidant, described by the well-known Egyptologist Joyce Tyldesley in her book on Hatshepsut, as the ‘Greatest of the Great’.
The father of Hatshepsut was Thutmose l , and his name means ‘son of Thoth’, the god of wisdom, ‘mose’ meaning ‘son’. This is a common use of the word ‘mose’ as in ‘Ra meeses’, son of the sun god Ra, etc.
The biblical text tells us that it was the pharaoh’s daughter who named Moses. Exodus 2 v 10 states that, “she called him Moses because she said, ‘I drew him out of the water’”.
The finding of Moses. (Light snow / Public Domain )
But we will not find a Prince Moses in the court in Egypt because another bible reference, Hebrews 11 v 24, states that “ Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter”.
Instead, we find that the close confidant of the queen is a man called ‘ Senenmut’. This appears to be a unique name, and one of its meanings is ‘mother’s brother’. Hatshepsut was born in the early 1530s, so they were close in age, so such a name makes sense.
Why Would the Royal Heiress Adopt a Slave Child?
If Hatshepsut is the woman who rescued and adopted Moses, what would make a woman of such high standing adopt a slave child? After her mother, Hatshepsut was the highest woman in the land, and such a woman would not consider saving the life of a slave child, let alone adopt him as her son.
But when we look at the past, it is hard for us to remember that the people we are observing are just like us. They have thoughts and feelings like us, and Hatshepsut, at the time she found the abandoned baby in the basket, was a little girl, with the instincts to protect the helpless that we see so often in children. The text of Exodus 2 v 6 says “she saw the child, he was crying, and she took pity on him”.
Hatshepsut knew that he was a Hebrew child, as the rest of the verse tells us. But she was too young to look ahead and understand the enormity of her action. Almost immediately she must have formed an attachment to him, and as he grew the attachment grew, and her loyalty to him would alter the course of her life.
So, What Do We Know of Hatshepsut?
We know that Hatshepsut married her brother, Thutmose II, becoming his ‘Great Royal Wife’, his principal queen. She bears him two daughters but no sons and, following his death after a reign of only 13 years, his son by a harem woman is made the pharaoh, becoming Thutmose III .
This new pharaoh is an infant and Hatshepsut is made regent. She is effectively the ruler of the land, holding all the power already, and so it seems odd to Egyptologists that after just two years she makes herself pharaoh.
Did she have ambitions to put her adopted son on the throne? This she could do if she were pharaoh, but not if she were only regent. She reigns as the senior pharaoh, jointly with Thutmose III for 22 successful years, until her death.
She rules the country well. She sets up trading expeditions with the lands south of Egypt. She keeps a firm grip on Nubia, Egypt’s southern neighbor from which vast resources are acquired, including gold, cattle, slaves, and soldiers. She carries out extensive building works, both in Waset, the ancient name for Luxor, and around the country.
Life-sized statue of Hatshepsut. She is shown wearing the nemes-headcloth and shendyt-kilt, which are both traditional for an Egyptian king. The statue is more feminine, given the body structure. (Pharos / Public Domain )
She extends the Temple of Amun in Waset, erecting 4 huge obelisks in his honor, two of which are still there, one still standing. It bears engravings as clear as they were when it was erected 3,500 years ago, reading – “Raised for the glory my father Amun that I may be given life”. She builds a magnificent mortuary temple for herself , where the gods are honored, known as the Temple of Deir el Bahri, which still stands and is visited by thousands of tourists every year.
What Happened to Hatshepsut’s Memory After Her Death?
Hatshepsut ruled her country well and was buried honorably, probably with her father Thutmose l in tomb KV 20, a tomb she had built for a double burial.
After the death of his stepmother, Thutmose III continued his long reign of over 50 years, spending much of that time campaigning in the Levant, defeating the power of the Hittites to the northwest and the Mittani to the northeast and bringing the wealthy city states of Canaan firmly under Egyptian control. He is known as the ‘Napoleon of Egypt’ for his success as a military man.
But 30 years after her death, all records of Hatshepsut came under attack. Her statues were removed from the temples, smashed and buried in a pit, and her reliefs were excised from the walls of the temples. In subsequent years, Hatshepsut’s name was omitted from the King Lists , a thing done to no other pharaoh except the great heretic pharaoh Akenaten but not to the one previous female pharaoh Sobekneferu who reigned briefly at the end of the 12th Dynasty.
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Removing all record of Hatshepsut’s name was intended, by the Egyptians, as the ultimate punishment, known as ‘damnatio memoriae’. All records of a person removed from history as if they had never lived resulted in the death of their soul for eternity. This effectively removed Hatshepsut from Egyptian history until all memory of her and why she had been so hated was lost.
She was forgotten for over 1,000 years, until vague references to her were found by the priest Manetho in 300 BC when he was asked by the Greeks in power at that time to search out and list the pharaohs of Egyptian history. He found references to a female pharaoh called Amensis, who was identified by later Egyptologists as Hatshepsut, and recorded her as the fifth pharaoh of the New Kingdom Dynasty, but nothing more was known of her.
It was thought that Hatshepsut’s mummy had been lost, but it has recently been identified lying abandoned in the tomb of her royal nurse Sitre, tomb KV 60. It was identified by a tooth fragment known to belong to Hatshepsut, and the mummy appeared to have been left without ceremony, perhaps in haste to hide it from those who would have destroyed it. The Egyptians believed that the preservation of the body was essential to survival in the afterlife, hence the lengths they went to, to preserve them. It was the ultimate punishment to destroy a person’s body.
So, Who Would Have Tried to Remove Hatshepsut From History?
The action against Hatshepsut’s (and Senemut’s) memory occurs either late in the reign of Thutmose III, when his son Amenhotep II was sharing the throne, or after Thutmose’s death, when Amenhotep II was reigning alone. It seems therefore to be Amenhotep II who is responsible for this destruction.
Head of the Egyptian pharaoh Amenhotep II. (Neuroforever / CC BY-SA 4.0 )
He would be at the correct time to see the return of Moses demanding the release of the Hebrew slaves. The story of the Exodus describes great hardship for Egypt, and one can understand Amenhotep’s fury against both Hatshepsut and Senenmut and wishing to destroy their memory. Being wiped out of history for the Egyptians was tantamount to eternal damnation.
When Were Hatshepsut’s Statues Discovered and What Did They Reveal?
During the 1800s, wealthy gentlemen such as James Breasted went to Egypt specifically with the hope of finding evidence to prove the biblical record . These men effectively established the science of Egyptology.
But at that time, the statues of Hatshepsut still lay buried in the pit where they were thrown 30 years after her death. They remained there undiscovered until found by Herbert Winlock an American Egyptologist employed by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Boston, United States in 1927, by which time the world at large was no longer interested in trying to prove the Bible.
But not only was a hoard of statues of Hatshepsut discovered just east of the first court of her mortuary temple at Deir el Bahri. Another pit was found, containing over 20 hard stone statues of Senenmut, a huge number for a non-royal. In fact, to date, 26 hard stone statues of Senenmut have been identified which causes Egyptologists to wonder what was it about this man that he was given such status.
Kneeling statue of Senenmut, Chief Steward of Queen Hatshepsut. (FA2010 / Public Domain )
What Do We Know About Senenmut?
The first thing to confront us when looking at the records of Senenmut are the many beautiful statues of him as a young lad holding Hatshepsut’s elder daughter, the Princess Neferure . She is there wrapped in his cloak as a baby as he sits on the ground.
He is holding her in his arms the way a woman would hold a child. In some examples he sits on a chair holding her on his lap. Some are of him standing holding Neferure as a toddler, but altogether they show a level of intimacy between the two of them, as we would have in photos taken of our children together.
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Seated Senenmut – Moses – holding the princess Neferure in his arms. (Captmondo / CC BY-SA 3.0 )
He is said to be the tutor to Neferure, but statues of a royal child being held like this had never been made before this date. And this is breaking protocol because a non-royal is not allowed to touch a royal child in this way.
And we know that Senenmut is not royal because he names his parents in one of his tombs, and they have no titles at all, showing that they are of humble origin. But the extraordinary thing about Senenmut is that he is treated as a royal.
He has two beautiful tombs built for himself, one, TT 353 has the oldest known star chart, a work of great expertise, on the ceiling. And this tomb is actually within the sacred precinct of Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple. This is a sacred space and to have Senenmut’s tomb in such a place, sacred in itself, but also the personal space of the pharaoh, shows a degree of closeness between them that is shocking, unless there is an explanation for it.
TT 353 Senenmut tomb. (Edal / CC BY-SA 3.0 )
The other tomb TT 71 has decorations described by the Egyptologist Peter Dorman in the book ‘ Hatshepsut from Queen to Pharaoh’ , page 131 as being clearly done “by artists from the royal ateliers”. Dorman also dismisses the suggestion that Senenmut may have been Hatshepsut’s lover.
In this tomb TT 71, a sarcophagus belonging to Senenmut was found. It is made of quartzite, a material only allowed to be used by the royals.
We know that Moses neither dies nor is buried in Egypt. And Senenmut is not buried in either of his tombs but disappears from Egyptian records.
Besides the statues of Senenmut holding the infant princess, there are many statues made of him making offerings to the gods. These statues were made to stand in the presence of the gods, and again, it is not permitted for a non-royal to enter the presence of the gods; having your statue there was the equivalent of you being there in person.
Here again he is treated as a royal. And all these statues are of a very young man, so it must be Hatshepsut who ordered these statues to be made. To be in the presence of the gods was a very favored position, because you would receive the continual blessings of the gods.
We also find a number of reliefs carved in the most sacred space of all in the Deir el Bahri Temple, in the sanctuary of Amun itself. One is even carved in the back wall of the sanctuary, where the ceremonial boat which carried the idol of Amun was placed overnight before its return journey to Waset. For the images of a common citizen to be placed in such a sacred space, breaks every rule in the book, but Hatshepsut must have done this, and done it because Senenmut was the son she had adopted, and she was ambitious for him to rise high in Egypt.
During the course of his years at the court of Hatshepsut, Senenmut is acknowledged by experts in Egyptology, to have held many of the highest titles in the land, showing that he truly was the ‘Greatest of the Great’, in Hatshepsut’s court.
Senemut’s high standing in the court during the reign of Hatshepsut, coupled with him being wiped from the Egyptian historical narrative, and the correlation between the biblical and Egyptian dating, would suggest therefore that he was the person we know from the Bible as Moses.
Having discovered the story of Hatshepsut and Senenmut, I decided to present it as an historical novel. It was published in October 2018 by Mirador. It is called ‘ The King and her children’ and is available from Waterstones and Amazon.
Top image: Moses crossing the Red Sea. Source: Davy Cheng / Adobe Stock.
Dorman, P., Roehrig, C., and Keller, C. 2005. Hatshepsut from Queen to Pharaoh (Metropolitan Museum of Art Series) . Yale University Press.
The Bible. 1989. New Revised Standard Version, Anglicized Edition . Oxford University Press.
The Bible. 1979. New International Version . Hodder and Stoughton Ltd.
Tyldesley, J. 1998. Hatshepsut the Female Pharaoh . Penguin Books.