Exodus 12:29-30 says. "At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the prisoner who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock. Pharaoh arose in the night, he and all his officials and all the Egyptians; and there was a loud cry in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead." You would think there would be a note in Egyptian history mentioning the death of Pharaoh's son. What do you say?
First, I should clarify that of the two centuries in which most Christians locate the Exodus, I go with the later (13th century BC) date, not the earlier one (15th century). The archaeological evidence is stronger for an Exodus in the early 1200s BC.
The dominant pharaoh of that century is Rameses (or Ramesses or Ramses) II, also called Rameses the Great. This king of Egypt lived from about 1303 to 1213 BC -- ninety years. (There was an even earlier pharaoh who lived even longer, Pepi II.) Rameses acceded to the throne in 1279. Other 13th-century pharaohs were Horemheb (1319-1292), Rameses I (1292-1290), Set I (1290-1279), Merneptah (1213-1203), and Seti II (1203-1197).
Rameses II may well be the pharaoh of the Exodus. Exodus 1:11 tells us that the Israelites were drafted for the construction of the city of Rameses, implying that one of the Rameses pharaohs was on the throne -- thus 1292-1290 or 1279-1213.
If this is the case, it is noteworthy that his firstborn son (he had around 100 children from his seven wives and many concubines) seems to have suddenly died 17 years into his reign, about 1268/7. Although we may not be able to reach total certainty on the identity of the pharaoh of the Exodus, such a scenario makes sense. It fits well with the biblical account.
Interestingly, Rameses outlives his next 11 sons, and it is the 13th son (the total was 52!) who ascends to the throne as the next pharaoh. His name is Merneptah.
- For more on this matter, Bob Brier's course History of Ancient Egypt (48 lessons) is excellent.
- For something lighter, Rob Moll's interview with archaeologist James Hoffmeier, "Pharaoh's Firstborn, Proof of the Plagues?" is also good.
- See also "Who Struck Down Pharaoh's Firstborn Son?" (article at beliefnet.com).