Personality and beliefs of the Pharaoh at the time of Moses (a.s)

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Personality and beliefs of the Pharaoh at the time of Moses (a.s)

The term Pharaoh which means “Great House” had been derived from a Coptic root. In the ancient times, this term had been the title of rulers of all Egyptian dynasties. In this regard Allameh Tabatabai states that the term "Pharaoh" had not been the name of Egyptian rulers, but it had been a title like "Khadiv or King", by which the Egyptians generally called their rulers or kings. Likewise the Roman called their kings by the title of “Kaiser”, Iranian called them “Kasra” and the Chinese also called their kings by the title of ”Faghfur”. But the question is that “what was the name of the Pharaoh who was contemporary with Moses ibn Omran (a.s) and drowned by him?” In this regard, nothing has clearly been mentioned in the Quran. In the history of ancient Egypt, the first person who is famous by the name of the Pharaoh is King Scorpion but this pharaoh’s real name is not clear. It has to be mentioned that in a figure which had been carved on a stone mace, there was a scorpion in front of this Pharaoh’s face and accordingly they called him “the scorpion”. Some of the Egyptian Pharaohs are as the followings: Khufu, Khafra, Menkaure, Ramses II, Akhenaten, Tutankhamun, Queen Hatshepsut, Thutmose III and Cheops. Among all these Pharaohs Khufu, Khafra and Menkaure are famous for constructing the Pyramids, Thutmose III and Ramses II are famous for having too much power for managing the country and their conquests, Akhenaten is famous for his opposition to all the previous pharaohs’ beliefs and also constructing the city of Akhenaten (Horizon of Aten) and Tutankhamun is famous for his strange death and the intact treasures of his tombs.
The beliefs of Pharaoh
In Surah Araf God says: “And the eminent among the people of Pharaoh said," Will you leave Moses and his people to cause corruption in the land and abandon you and your gods?" (Pharaoh) said, "We will kill their sons and keep their women alive; and indeed, we are subjugators over them.” (Surah Al araf-verse 127). Pharaoh claimed that he was God and at the same time he worshiped some gods. Allameh Tabatabai states that the reason why the elders of Pharaoh’s folks said “and abandon you and your gods” was to emphasize on provoking him to kill Moses (a.s). It means that: O Pharaoh! In addition to being the cause of corruption in the land, Moses and his folks do not accept to worship you and your gods. It is so clear from this sentence that pharaoh also claimed that he was God and therefore he invited the people to worship him and at the same time he had some gods and worshiped them. The history has also proved the same story about some of the ancient nations. For example as it has been quoted, in ancient Rome or other lands, people worshiped the tribal chiefs and the elders in their families. Also the elders and the chiefs themselves worshiped the forefathers and the idols. According to the history, some idolaters had other idols or lords for the idols they worshiped. They believed that the idols they worshiped was also worshiped by that idols. Accordingly they considered their parents as their gods and they also considered another lord for their parents. This is what is inferred from the previously mentioned sentence. The statement of The Pharaoh to his people has been mentioned in the Quran: Accordingly the Quran says “I am your most exalted lord.” (Surah al Naziat-verse 24). Also pharaoh said in another sentence that: “I have not known you to have a god other than me.” (Surah Al-Qasas-verse 24). The previous sentence indicates that he did not have a god but he knew himself as the lord of the people.
Thus, some historians have stated that Pharaoh was an irreligious man whom he believed the world had no creator. In addition, he prevented the people from worshiping the idols and said: “You must only worship me”. So some historians have interpreted the previously mentioned verse in such a way that it meant to worship. Therefore, it is more accurate to pay attention to the appearance of the verse. Also the sentence “I have not known you to have a god other than me.” Indicates that Pharaoh had intended to reject any other god or goddess who could be owner of the world especially the Copts and to allocate managing their affairs to himself. These words does not merely belong to him but all the idolaters have said so. Accordingly they considered a separate and different god for all the things which have been created in this world including the sky, the earth, the sea, the desert and the people and also for different types of events such as war and peace, love and hatred and ugliness and beauty. However, they themselves worshiped the god they needed. For example the inhabitants of the beaches mostly worshiped the god of the sea and the storm. So the meaning of the statement of The Pharaoh who said “I have not known you to have a god other than me” is that I have not known you (the Copts) to have a god other than me, the lord of you (the Copts) is me and not the one Moses claims from whom he has been sent and has mission and also he himself worships him. It has to be mentioned that the existence of an analogy with his statement confirms it. According to what has been mentioned in the Quran, this is what has been added to the previously mentioned sentence. “Then ignite for me, O Haman, (a fire) upon the clay and make for me a tower that I may look at the God of Moses. And indeed, I do think he is among the liars.” (Surah Al-Qasas-verse 38). According to this sentence it is so clear that Pharaoh doubted that he was the god of Moses and this is an analogy based on which in the previous sentence he did not intend to reject the existence of any god except himself and therefore he says: I know that it does not exist but he intended to deny having knowledge of the existence of such a god. In brief, he intended to say that I had not known you a god other than me but not that you had no god except me.
Different sayings about the religion and beliefs of the Pharaoh
In brief, it can be said that the idolaters believe God does not need to be worshiped by the people. Accordingly He does not also need that people seek His closeness. They believe that if they want to become close to Him, they must intercede with some of the creatures of God and worship them (including angels, jinn or the saints who worshiped by mankind). Additionally many of the idolaters choose the great kings as their gods and believe that they are the manifestations of greatness of God. Yet when a king is worshiped by the people it does not prevent the king from having a god to worship. It means, on the one hand he worships his god and on the other hand, he is worshiped by the others as in the ancient Rome most of Sabians were of the idolaters. Accordingly they considered the so called landlord as the lord of the household that the Pharaoh who was contemporary with Moses was one of them. Accordingly, on the one hand he was the god of the people and on the other hand he claimed divinity and people worshiped him. This very concept is clear from the verses of the Holy Quran and the problem of many interpreters becomes clear from here. According to Ruh al-Ma'ani: Some interpreters believe that Pharaoh was aware of the Almighty God but he was so obstinate and stubborn that he did not accept the invitation of Moses. To prove their claims, these groups of the interpreters have referred to some verses and argued that the territory of kingdom of the Pharaoh did not exceed the territory of the Copts and also it did not reach to Levant. The proof is that when Moses (a.s) fled from Pharaoh and came to Midian, Shuaib said to him: “Fear not. You have escaped from the wrongdoing people.” Therefore, how is it possible that he believes in his own divinity? They have also argued that Pharaoh has certainly been a wise and a mentally mature man. So any wise man would definitely know that at first and before his creation he did not exist but he was born. As a result, such a person would need a creator and therefore he would certainly believe such a creator.
Some people have stated that Pharaoh did not believe in God, though they all agree that no wise man would believe himself to be the creator of heaven and earth and the things between them. However, there are some disagreements regarding the extent of Pharaoh’s ignorance of God. Some of them have stated that perhaps he was an irreligious man who denied the existence of a creator for this world or he probably believed that the thing the existence of which was possible did not need to be affected. They also believed that this world had been created accidentally as quoted from Democritus and his followers who had such beliefs. As some others have stated he has likely been a philosophical person, it means to believe a reason for the creation of this world. Another group have stated that he has probably been of the star worshipers or idolaters. Others have also stated that probably he believed God to have a physical body and if he claimed that he was God, he meant to obey no one but him. Through studying the reality of the idolaters’ religion, one will find out that none of these sayings, possibilities and reasons to which they have referred is based on reality.
The statement of Fakhr Razi regarding the beliefs of the Pharaoh and the drawbacks of his words
Some have stated that Pharaoh has probably been an irreligious man, presumably Fakhr Razi has the same belief. Accordingly he stated in his Tafsir (Exegesis) that: it appears to me that Pharaoh was either a wise or unwise man. Based on the wisdom of God, if he were unwise, God would not send to him a prophet and on the other hand, if he had been wise enough, it would have not been reasonable for such a person to really believe in his divinity and call himself the creator of heaven and the earth. If we do not pay attention to the Pharaoh himself, it does not seem reasonable that a large number of wise people have such a belief about him, because the human intellect rejects that.
Therefore, it is better to say that Pharaoh was an irreligious person who rejected the existence of a creator for this world and believed that the stars govern this world and he himself governs the humans. So by the sentence “I am your most exalted lord.” he meant: “I am the one who guides you and bestows upon you the blessings and gives you sustenance”. Also when he said: “I have not known you to have a god other than me” he meant that I had not known you to have a god other than me whose worship be obligatory and incumbent on you. When he had such religion and ideology, it is not unlikely to say that he made some idols in the form of the stars and worshiped them and like other star worshipers sought closeness to that idols.
The drawbacks of the statement of Fakhr Razi
The drawback of Fakhr Razi’s statement was that this person did not even know that the divinity and deity was not the creation of the heaven and the earth and no idolater or star worshiper would consider his idol or star as the creator of the heaven and the earth but in their view, divinity meant to govern a part of the world. Accordingly, Fakhr Razi has referred to this possibility in his last word. He has also made this mistake that no irreligious or star worshiper will deny the existence of a creator for this world.
Thus, as it was mentioned Pharaoh considered himself as the god of Egypt and the Egyptians and if at that time he denied that these gods were themselves the god of another god or Lord, it was due to their own beliefs and it did not mean that he denied they were themselves the creatures of the Almighty God. “said, "We will kill their sons and keep their women alive; and indeed, we are subjugators over them.”
The previous sentence is what Pharaoh had promised to his seaters. Accordingly he had promised them that soon he would resume the punishments and crackdowns he had exerted on the Israelites and he would kill their sons and keep their women alive as the servants and handmaids of the Copts. At the end, in order to quell his anger and relieve his anxiety he added that: “we are subjugators over them”
The Pharaoh’s ignorance
God says in Surah Al-Qasas: “And Pharaoh said, "O eminent ones, I have not known you to have a god other than me. Then ignite for me, O Haman, a fire upon the clay and make for me a tower that I may look at the God of Moses. And indeed, I do think he is among the liars” (Surah Al-Qasas-verse 38). In the previous sentence Pharaoh quips Moses that his religious invitation to the truth is for the people and he has proved this invitation with miracles. Accordingly Pharaoh intends to say that: it has not been proved to them that what you say is true about your invitation. Also it has not been proved to us that these weird things which you did, was from the Almighty God and I had not known you to have a god other than me. Therefore when Pharaoh said: “I have not known you to have a god other than me” he has used this statement in such a way that he is right and so as to be welcomed and accepted by the people. It has to be said that the concept of another saying of him which has been mentioned somewhere else is the same. Accordingly he says: “I do not show you except what I see, and I do not guide you except to the way of right conduct.” (Surah Al-Ghafir-verse 29). As a result it means that: Pharaoh said to the elders of his folk that the signs and miracles of Moses and also his invitation have not proved him that this world does have a God, a God who is the Lord of all the worlds and does not know a God other than Himself. That is why he orders Haman to make for him a tower so as to look at “the God of Moses” from the top of it and to become aware of Him. This sentence “I have not known you to have a god other than me” clearly indicates that what Moses attributed to God, Pharaoh attributed to himself. Moses only proved the divinity for God and rejected that from whoever other than Him. However, Pharaoh unlike him, proved his divinity and rejected the divinity of the Almighty God. But the verse does not object other goddess that he and his folks worshiped. “Then ignite for me, O Haman, (a fire) upon the clay and make for me a tower” it means that: O Haman! light a fire upon the clay. This sentence means that: bring the raw clay and then light a fire and make bricks. Here the Arabic term for the “tower” refers to a high tower which is conspicuous from everywhere. According to the appearance of the verse he ordered to make bricks and construct him a high palace.
This verse somehow indicates a part of Pharaoh’s ignorance and his narrow-minded views which gave rise to his death. “I may look at the God of Moses”. In this sentence “God” has been attributed to Moses by Pharaoh. Accordingly he has stated “God of Moses” to show that he himself does not know Him and that this is Moses who invites the people to Him. Therefore, he used this statement in order to express the result instead of the introduction. In general what Pharaoh meant was as the following: Build high tower for me that I may go upstairs and look at the heavens and find God of Moses. Seemingly he imagined that the Almighty God has a physical body and lives in layers of the atmosphere or in the heavens. So he expresses hope that if they build him such a tower he could see and find the Almighty God from the top of it. It is possible that he did not have such an imagination but he intended to misrepresent the issue and to mislead the people. It is also possible that he meant they should build an observatory for him so as to observe the stars. Has a messenger ever been sent whose mission was compatible to the one of Moses?
Or is Moses’ claim true or false?
Pharaoh’s another statement which has been mentioned in the Quran proves this issue. Accordingly the Quran says: “O Haman, construct for me a tower that I might reach the ways. The ways into the heavens - so that I may look at the deity of Moses; but indeed, I think he is a liar.” (Surah Al-Ghafir-verses 36-37).
In the sentence “but indeed, I think he is a liar” he extends his previous statement who said: “I have not known you to have a god other than me” and says: Not only have I not known you to have a god other than me but I also doubt that such a thing ever existed and I think Moses is a liar and he has made this claim in order to deceive and mislead the people. In this verse, if it is said that, Pharaoh had called Moses (a.s) a liar despite the fact that nothing had been quoted there from Moses, then why Pharaoh had stated that he was a liar? The answer to this question is that Moses’ statement has been mentioned in Surah Isra and verse 102 of the Holy Quran. Accordingly he said, "You have already known that none has sent down these signs except the Lord of the heavens and the earth as evidence.”
“I have not known you to have a god other than me”. To justify this sentence some of the interpreters have stated that: it is the rejection of what is known by something about which you have knowledge. Such an interpretation is used in a situation that if there was a fact, everybody would become aware of. In such cases, it is said that, I don’t know and it means that it does not exist. The same thing has been mentioned in the following verse: “Say, Do you inform Allah of something He does not know in the heavens or on the earth?" (Surah Yunus-verse 18). Therefore, this justification is not in accordance with this verse because Pharaoh continues his statement and says: “make for me a tower that I may look at the God of Moses.” the verse “And he was arrogant, he and his soldiers, in the land, without right, and they thought that they would not be returned to Us” means that they are like those who prefer not to return to Us because by their heart they believed that they would return to God. Accordingly regarding these people the Almighty God has said: “And they rejected them, while their inner selves were convinced thereof, out of injustice and haughtiness.” The verse “So We took him and his soldiers and threw them into the sea, so see how the end of the wrongdoers was” means that Pharaoh and his soldiers were thrown into the sea and it has to be mentioned that the offensive language which has been used for referring to Pharaoh and his soldiers indicates their terrible punishment. In the verse “And We made them leaders inviting to the Fire, and on the Day of Resurrection they will not be helped” the meaning of “inviting to Fire” is inviting to the deeds which is punishable by the Fire and accordingly they are as the followings: Atheism and various sins, because on the Day of Resurrection doing these deeds has been depicted as a fire with which the sinners will be tortured. The word possibly “Fire” refers to those deeds which are punishable by the Fire, the deeds which are called Fire (through utilizing the causative and the will of cause and through metonymy). When it is said that We made the pharaoh’s folks leaders inviting to the Fire, “making them leaders inviting to the Fire” means that He made them pioneer in Atheism and committing sin. As a result, other people followed and joined them. If it is asked why God made them leaders of Atheism or isn’t it against God's justice, in response it has to be said that it would be against God's justice if God went them astray without them to commit a sin which is punishable by the Fire. But if they have gone astray due to the atheism or because they knowingly denied the existence of God before the other people, it is has to be said that it is not against God's justice.
Some interpreters have stated that when it is said “they are leaders inviting to the Fire” the purpose is merely to use a term to call them like naming. It is also obvious in the verse “And they have made the angels, who are servants of the Most Merciful, females” (Surah Az-Zukhruf-verse 19). This interpretation is not correct, because it does not match the concept of the next verse. The reason is that it is said, on the Day of Resurrection the curse of others also follows him. Therefore, it becomes clear that it is not merely a matter of naming but they were really the leaders for those who have gone astray. In addition, in the other verse to which the above mentioned interpreter has referred, it is not obvious that the term “to call” actually means “to name”. Also when it is said: “on the Day of Resurrection they will not be helped” it means that no savior can intercede with them. “And We caused to overtake them in this world a curse, and on the Day of Resurrection they will be of the despised.” This verses states the need for description which was mentioned in the previous verse for the Pharaoh’s folks. So it says: Since they were the leaders and other people followed them in atheism and committing sin, other people always were inspired by these leaders in atheism and committing sin and followed them. So the leaders will surely carry the burdens of their followers and the curse of God also will follow them until the atheism and the effect of committing the sin does continue after them. Therefore, in fact the verse “But they will surely carry their own burdens and other burdens along with their burdens” (Surah Al-Ankabut-verse 13) and the verse “and record what they have put forth and what they left behind” (Surah Ya-Sin -verse 12) have the same concept. It has to be mentioned that in the previously mentioned verse the Arabic equivalent for the word “curse” has been used in such a way that it indicates the significance and continuity of this curse. Also since on the Day of Resurrection nobody will be helped by the saviors, inevitably the people on this day will hate and disgust these people by their hearts and people will flee from them and nobody will become close to them and this is the so-called meaning of ugly face which has been mentioned in many cases in the Quran by the Almighty God regarding the people who have the so called ugly faces.
Satan and the Pharaoh
One day the Pharaoh who claimed divinity and considered the people as his servants was taking a rest. For him, a bowl of grapes were brought and the Pharaoh took a bunch of grapes and began putting the green grapes into his mouth. At that time, a man was appeared to him, a person whom Pharaoh had never seen him. In addition, he did not know that how he had entered the palace. So he gave up eating the grapes and said:
Who are you? How did you enter the palace? The unidentified man replied with a weird voice:
I am Satan, Satan!
Pharaoh was filled with fear, put away the bowl of grapes which was next to him and held his hands on the ground. In such a way he could hide his trembling limbs. Then his trembling and pale lips were moved and he uttered some obscure words. Satan laughed out loud and said: You're afraid! Pharaoh replied with difficulty: Yes, because I was not waiting for you. Then he asked without even looking at Satan’s face: why did you come to me?! Satan stretched out his hand to the bowl of Grapes and took a bunch of it. Then he held it in front of the Pharaoh and asked: Can anyone change the bunch of grapes to a bunch of precious Pearls? Pharaoh immediately replied: No, nobody can do such a thing. Through his magic, Satan acted in such a way that it seemed to Pharaoh that the bunch of grapes was changed to a bunch of pearls! While he was surprised, Pharaoh said: bravo! You are so skillful. Satan threw the bunch of grapes into the bowl and with the same hand which was moving hit hard in the neck of the Pharaoh. The hit in his neck was so hard that caused him to hit the ground with the tip of his nose. Again Satan laughed out loud and said: O miserable! God expelled me from His holy presence and did not accept me as His servant, though you observe that I am very skillful. Then how do claim divinity in spite of your stupidity?!
The overthrow of Pharaoh
Finally God says: “So Pharaoh pursued the Israelites with his soldiers, and there covered them from the sea that which covered them.” (Surah Taha -verse 78). When Pharaoh and his soldiers reached to the Israelites, they were all in the sea. He found a flat path and followed the Israelites into the sea. Then all the Pharaoh's army followed him into the sea. When Moses and the Israelites crossed the sea, the sea which had been separated became normal and Pharaoh and his army drowned in the middle of the way. The Almighty God then, refers to the deviation of the Pharaoh: “And Pharaoh led his people astray and did not guide.” (Surah Taha -verse 78). This sentence is a strong proof against the statement of the Pharaoh who said: “I do not guide you except to the way of right conduct.” (Surah Al-Ghafir-verse 29). The above mentioned verse rejects his statement.
The difference of the Quran with Torah and the Bible regarding the fate of the Pharaoh
None of the verses of the Quran has mentioned the name of the Pharaoh who was contemporary with Moses and ruled over the Egypt. The identity of this Pharaoh who is the manifestations of injustice, oppression and rebellion against God, is not completely clear. In fact not only the Quran but also Torah and the Bible have simply called him as Pharaoh.
The story of Moses’ life from growing up in an Egyptian Royal family to being chosen as a Prophet in sacred valley of Tuwa and to revealing the miracles of God against the Pharaoh has been mentioned in the Quran, Torah and the Bible with somehow the same details. Perhaps the most important difference of the story of Moses in the Quran with the two other Holy Books is related to the fate of Pharaoh after pursuing the Moses and the Israelites. In the two other Holy Books the fate of Pharaoh has not clearly been mentioned while in this regard God says in the Quran: “And We took the Children of Israel across the sea, and Pharaoh and his soldiers pursued them in tyranny and enmity until, when drowning overtook him, he said, "I believe that there is no deity except that in whom the Children of Israel believe, and I am of the Muslims. Now? And you had disobeyed Him before and were of the corrupters? So today We will save you in body that you may be to those who succeed you a sign. And indeed, many among the people, of Our signs, are heedless” so Pharaoh decided to expel them from the land of (Egypt) and We drowned him and whoever were with him. According to above mentioned verses not only Pharaoh was drowned but also his body was thrown in the seashore for those who succeed him a sign. This issue has been a stimulus for the Muslims to find the mummy of a Pharaoh whose cause of death had been drowning. Unfortunately, none of these efforts have reached a satisfactory conclusion. Every so often, some people for the purpose of serving Islam, talk about discovering such a mummy based on the weak scientific evidences, and such claims have obviously been failed. From the other hand, since the Christian and Jewish scholars are not looking for a Pharaoh who has been drowned, their efforts have reached no conclusion.


1 – Translation of Al-Mizan, vol. 8, pp. 285-287, vol. 16, pp. 53-55, vol. 14, p. 231

2 - Journal of the Besharat, August and September 2007, No. 60, Article of Satan and Pharaoh, by Seyyed Jaafar Mousavi


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