22

Throughout the Torah, the various Egyptian Pharaohs are always referred to as simply "Pharaoh" or "the king of Egypt" (or both), but never with any other parts of their official titulary.

By contrast, in Nach, some of them are also left otherwise unidentified (such as the one whose daughter Shlomo married), but for others a name is given:

And to top it off, some of the ones who are named in some places are unnamed in others. For example, Yechezkel, even though fully four chapters of his book are devoted to prophecies of the downfall of Egypt and its king, never names him as anything other than "Pharaoh" or "king of Egypt" (though we know from the events as described by Yirmiyahu that they refer to Chofra).

Does anyone address the reason for these differences? [If it's because the Torah didn't want to use any of their names, all of which refer to various Egyptian deities, then the same should be true in Nach. But, after all, the Torah seemingly has no problem mentioning other idolatrous personal names of non-Jewish figures, such as the Edomite kings Hadad (Gen. 36:35) and Baal-Chanan (ibid. v. 38).]

(In a comment, DoubleAA pointed out that the same thing can be asked regarding the Avimelechs of Philistia: they are referred to only by that title in Chumash, and mostly also in Nach; but the one of David's times is usually identified by his personal name, Achish (except in Ps. 34:1).)

  • They don't deserve to be called by name. – Hacham Gabriel Jan 9 '12 at 3:17
  • 4
    @HachamGabriel: and in Nach they do? – Alex Jan 9 '12 at 3:17
  • 3
    Also Avimelech has no name. It's just Avimelech for Avraham and Yitzchak. Unless those are the same exact person, but wasn't it a long time between them? – Double AA Jan 9 '12 at 3:20
  • 4
    @HachamGabriel: not arguing that point, of course. But see my examples of the kings of Edom. For that matter, most other non-Jewish kings mentioned in the Torah are also named: Nimrod; the four kings against whom Avraham fought, and four of the five kings of Sodom and its sister cities; Balak; etc. So why is Pharaoh the exception? (Not to mention that at least the Pharaoh of Yosef's times seems to have been relatively decent.) – Alex Jan 9 '12 at 3:22
  • 1
    @Alex But I wonder about Pichol the General. Did he also have an honorary title? That seems a bit odd. – Double AA Jan 9 '12 at 3:49
7

When no name is given, the lesson and meaning of the story can be expanded for all generations. When a name is given, it is because what is being said is mostly just relevant to the time period that is being discussed, and generalities should not be derived from those verses.

As a quick example.. When dealing with Nimrod, Nimrod has his own special characteristically that allowed him to do what he did, and the fall that happened to him. However his successor had a different personality and ruled differently, and the character traits of Nimrod did not become the character traits of Babylonia forever. However with Egypt, we are not allowed to ever live in Egypt, and the character traits of the Pharoah, existed for all the Pharoahs. Egypt becomes a symbol for all the nations of the world that would eventually harm us, or treat us poorly, or cause us suffering. And the leaders of those nations would also be considered Pharoahs to us. When the behavior and details of a Pharoah did not match that pattern, then a name was given to them, so it would be recognized as not part of the pattern, but rather the behavior of that specific individual.

  • 4
    +1, nice explanation. Do you have a source for this? – Alex Jan 9 '12 at 14:21
  • Just a method of drash that I have picked up over the years. Sorry. – avi Jan 9 '12 at 16:31
  • 1
    @Alex and apparenlty, it's sourced in the Zohar :) Zohar, part II, 34a – avi Jan 28 '12 at 16:48
  • @avi Does this apply only to rulers? – SAH Jan 9 '18 at 14:34
  • 1
    @SAH Applies to any measuring tape really ;) It applies when it applies. It's a drash. – avi Jan 10 '18 at 12:12
10

To add to what @avi said:

According to Kabbalah (Zohar, part II, 34a), Pharaoh represents a serpent who sits in the Nile and says "I created myself and this river." This idea comes from a prophecy in Yechezkel (29:3), where Pharaoh says this. But the Pharaoh in the prophecy is referring to a later Pharaoh, the one that Nevuchadnetzar would destroy.

The Zohar lumps all the Pharaohs' characteristics together, and says that generally, Pharaoh represents this idea.

So, as @avi said, Pharaoh represents one Kabalistic concept, which is why all the Pharaohs are just called Pharaoh. If we were to refer to Pharaoh by his name, we would be saying that this Pharaoh was unique and distinct from other Pharaohs.

From here:

To quote the mystical words of the Zohar: “G-d summoned Moses into a chamber within a chamber, to the unique, supernal and mighty serpent… But Moses was afraid. Until this point, Moses had only approached the rivers surrounding the serpent (Pharaoh), and he was scared to approach the serpent itself, because Moses saw how profound its roots were on high!”[5]

The Zoharic “serpent” metaphor is based on a description of the prophet Ezekiel.[6] Ezekiel defined Pharaoh as “the great serpent who couches in the midst of his streams, who says: ‘My river is my own, and I have created myself.’” To enter into the center of power of this “great serpent,” the man with a mega-ego who insists “I have created myself,” terrified even Moses. How can you overcome a person who considers himself to be a god, the exclusive authority over his own life, the ultimate arbiter of right and wrong?


Note the Midrash Tanchuma Va'eira, Siman 5 also quotes Pharaoh as telling Moshe "The River is mine and I have created myself".

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .