Biblical Egypt by R. David Pogge

Chapter 8

Israelites in the Wilderness and King Tut

Exodus 15 – 40 and the 18th Dynasty

Section 8.1 - The Israelites After the Exodus

Following their great escape at the Red Sea, the Hebrews headed toward the Promised Land, following God in the form of a supernatural column of fire and smoke. But when they got to the border, they inexplicitly lost their nerve and didn’t trust God to drive out the inhabitants before them. God punished them by making them wait 40 years in the wilderness before letting them enter the Promised Land.

Just as it had taken Moses 40 years in the desert to un-learn everything he had learned in Egypt (in order to be ready to lead the Israelites out of Egypt) the Israelites had to spend 40 years in the wilderness to un-learn everything they had learned in Egypt. It wasn’t a lesson they learned easily.

Section 8.2 - The Egyptians After the Exodus

On the other hand, following their great defeat at the Red Sea, the Egyptians had a “come to Jesus moment.” Amenhotep IV changed his name to Akhenaten ("Useful to Aten") to honor the god of the Israelites. He closed the temples to all other gods, and built a new capital city, Akhetaten ("Horizon of the Aten"), free from the pollution of all those other gods. (The ruins of that city are known today as Amarna.)

Ironically, at the same time that Akhenaten was abolishing the worship of the Apis Bull in Egypt, Aaron was making a golden image of it in the Israelite camp. 1

There were no Egyptian military campaigns during the reign of Akhenaten because he was totally focused on building his new capital, and he didn't have much of an army left after losing so many soldiers, chariots, and weapons in the Red Sea.

Akhenaten ruled for only 16 or 17 years. About one year after his death (during which one or two other pharaohs briefly ruled) the boy king, Tutankhaten, came to the throne. Apparently 18 years was enough time for many of the Egyptians to forget about the plagues and the Exodus.

As I write this in 2018, there are high school and college students who do not remember how they felt on the morning of September 11, 2001. They have seen video of the twin towers falling, but it isn’t the same. There is something about watching a building you once visited fall to the ground that invokes an emotional reaction that can’t be explained. I’ve seen movies of the December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, but those movies don’t have the emotional impact on me that I am sure the few remaining Pearl Harbor survivors feel.

Akhenaten died about 18 years after the Exodus, and was succeeded by Tutankhaten. Since the plagues and the Exodus happened about 9 years before Tutankhaten was born, he clearly didn’t remember them. He didn’t see videos of the Nile turning to blood, the plague of frogs, or the Red Sea parting. Not only that, most Egyptians didn’t want to talk much about those humiliating experiences. Perhaps Tut had no idea what had caused Akhenaten's conversion.

The priests of Amun, the traditional Egyptian Sun god, took advantage of his ignorance, and were able to exert their power and bring back Amun and the other traditional Egyptian gods. So, in his second year, Tutankhaten (which means, “Living image of the Aten” ) changed his name to Tutankhamun (“Living image of Amun”). He is better known today to most people as “King Tut.”

The new capital city, Akhetaten was razed to the ground, with stones from its temples used in later temples. Akhenaten’s name was erased from many kings lists. Every attempt was made to erase all traces of Akhenaten and his religious reformation.

By the time King Tut came to the throne (18 years after the Exodus), Egypt had started to rebuild her military.

From these [carvings in Horemheb’s tomb] we learn that there were at least two small campaigns [led by Horemheb] during Tutankamun’s reign against Libyans and Syrians. 2

Together, Akhenaten and Tut ruled for the first 25 (or 27) years of the 40 years the Israelites spent in the wilderness, waiting to enter the Promised Land. Ay ruled Egypt for a short time, and then Horemheb became pharaoh about 31 years after the Exodus.

Horemheb was the last pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty. He ruled until about 59 years after the Exodus.

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1 Exodus 32
2 Peter A. Clayton, Chronicle of the Pharaohs, 2006, pages 138-139