Exodus 1:8 says, “Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” Who was that king? The quick answer is that his name was Ahmose. If you’re curious how we know that, keep reading.
The first five books of the Bible refer many times to the kings of Egypt, but never by name. They either refer to him as “king” or as “pharaoh.” In fact, no king of Egypt is named in the Hebrew Bible until Shishak (Shoshenq), who attacked Israel a few years after the death of Solomon (1 Kgs 14:25; cf. Acts 7:18). Incidentally, “pharaoh” just means “Great House” in Egyptian, a polite way of referring to the king without using his other titles or names.
The identification of the “king who knew not Joseph” can be deduced from even a general overview of Egyptian history and a knowledge of when the Israelites were there. Joseph had come to Egypt as a slave in the early part of the 12th Dynasty, during a period of Egyptian strength known as the Middle Kingdom. His family came down to join him in 1875 BC, perhaps during the reign of Amenemhet II. I say “perhaps” because there is still a degree of uncertainty about the dates of the Egyptian kings of this time, with estimates varying by up to 50 years one way or the other. At any rate, the 12th Dynasty slowly weakened, and eventually people filtering in from Canaan in the north, referred to by the Egyptians as “Hyksos,” came to power. Egyptologists refer to this as the Second Intermediate Period, mainly because it was a time of upheaval, weakness, and division. Incidentally, the Hyksos kings were probably favorable toward the growing Israelite clan. They came from the same region. The Second Intermediate Period lasted for about 220 years, from 1760-1540 BC.
The Hyksos were eventually kicked out by native Egyptians. The Egyptians were initially led by a man named Khamose, but he was killed in battle, and his brother Ahmose took over and succeeded defeating and removing the Hyksos. Ahmose became the first king of the newly minted 18th Dynasty, which also ushered in a new period of Egyptian strength known as the New Kingdom (1540-1080; see chart below). This was the king who did not know of Joseph. In fact, he was (justifiably) concerned about having any Asiatics (either Canaanites or Israelites) in his land, which led to his enslavement of them and his attempt to reduce their numbers by killing all the baby boys. Ahmose came to the throne around 1540 BC, and Moses was born a few years later, in 1525 BC, during the middle of the reign of Ahmose (see Ex 2:1-10).
Chronological chart of select Egyptian periods and the Bible.
Some interesting relics from the personal possessions of Ahmose have been found. They can be identified as once having belonged to him because they are marked with his name. One is this gold finger ring.
Gold signet ring of Ahmose; photo by AD Riddle.
Another is a ceremonial dagger, made with a bronze blade, an ivory pommel, an ebony handle, and with decorations of gold. The cover photo for this blog post shows a closer view of the pommel, with it’s cartouche bearing the name of Ahmose.
Dagger bearing the name of the Egyptian king Ahmose.
The mummy of Ahmose is thought to have been discovered as part of the Deir el-Bahri Cache in 1881, although some have questioned this identity. The mummy is on display at the Luxor Museum.
Mummy of Ahmose, at the Luxor Museum.