Hophra and the Watch Tower Society


One of the Pharaohs mentioned in the Bible is Hophra (aka Apries or Ha’a’ibra Wahibra). Jeremiah 44:30 states:

This is what Jehovah has said: “Here I am giving Phar´aoh Hoph´ra, the king of Egypt, into the hand of his enemies and into the hand of those seeking for his soul, just as I have given Zed·e·ki´ah the king of Judah into the hand of Neb·u·chad·rez´zar the king of Babylon, his enemy and the one seeking for his soul.”’”

In a Questions from Readers article in the 1 October 1970 issue of The Watchtower (incidentally, on page 607 of the bound volume), the Watch Tower Society suggested that Hophra was “believed” to be the Pharaoh during the reign of Zedekiah:

Egypt made one last attempt to remain a power in Asia. The ruling Pharaoh (believed to be Hophra) came to Canaan in answer to Judean King Zedekiah’s request for military support in his revolt against Babylon in 609–607 B.C.E.

Aid to Bible Understanding (page 788) similarly named Hophra as the Pharaoh during the reign of Zedekiah when Jews fled to Egypt following the destruction of Jerusalem. Aid also correctly identified Hophra as the Pharaoh alluded to in Ezekiel chapter 29. The three associated paragraphs were completely removed from the article about Hophra in Insight (volume 1, page 1140) and replaced with a single statement seeking to cast doubt on the years of Hophra’s reign:

Hophra is believed to have reigned for 19 years. However, according to Herodotus (II, 161), he reigned for 25 years.

Not mentioned in Insight is that Hophra challenged the reign of his successor Amasis II (aka Chenibra Amose-si-Neith) for several years, clearing up Herodotus’ supposed discrepancy. This is despite the fact that Insight (volume 1, page 450), under Chronology (Problems of Egyptian Chronology), acknowledges that “perhaps several Egyptian kings ruled at one and the same time.”

Contrast this with the fact that—without any supporting documentary evidence for the years given—the Watch Tower Society elsewhere states that “Pharaoh Necho … killed [King Josiah] … (c. 629 B.C.E.)” (Insight, volume 1, page 418) and in “(625 B.C.E.), Necho’s forces suffered defeat” at Carchemish (Insight, volume 2, page 483). Why is it that the Watch Tower Society willingly asserts years for Necho’s reign, but is unwilling to do so for Hophra? Why do they not simply adjust Hophra’s reign by the missing twenty years as they do for Necho?

According to secular historians, Hophra ruled Egypt from 589–570 BCE.* Amasis took the Egyptian throne in 570 BCE, at which time Hophra became allied with Nebuchadnezzar to contest Amasis’ reign until Hophra was killed in 567 BCE. After Hophra’s defeat, Amasis ruled over Egypt for a further forty years. This is in agreement with Jeremiah 44:30, which states that Hophra would be given into his enemies’ hands. Because the length of Amasis’ reign is known, and because it would be difficult to extend his already lengthy sole reign from forty years to sixty years (required in order for ‘Hophra to come to Canaan in 609–607 B.C.E.’), it is awkward for the Watch Tower Society to indicate exactly when Hophra is supposed to have reigned.
*See page 10 of timeline from 1048 BCE to 515 BCE (PDF).

Why not then just adjust the dates for Amasis by twenty years as well? This cannot easily be done because of the connection between Egyptian and Babylonian rulers. The Watch Tower Society’s acceptance of the so-called ‘pivotal year’ of 539 BCE is drawn from a “Babylonian clay tablet” (Insight, volume 1, page 453)—actually an astronomical diary catalogued as ‘Strm.Kambys.400‘—which “establishes the seventh year of Cambyses II as beginning in the spring of 523 B.C.E”.* This cannot easily be separated from the fact that Cambyses ruled Egypt in 525 BCE a short time after the end of Amasis’ reign—certainly not enough to create a twenty-year gap.
*In the version of Insight that appears in the Watchtower Online Library, “establishes” is changed to “points to”. The print version of Insight describes the evidence for Cambyses’ reign as “an astronomically confirmed date”, which has also been deleted from the online version. See also Watchtower Online Library—Let the reader use discernment.

Therefore, the Watch Tower Society is forced to either admit that it is wrong about 607 BCE, or to claim that a mystery twenty years is missing from Egyptian history at exactly the same time as Babylon’s missing twenty years. The Watch Tower Society chooses the latter option, stating in Insight, volume 1, page 450:

The difference between the [Watch Tower Society’s] dates and those generally assigned by modern historians … narrows down to about 20 years by Pharaoh Necho’s time.

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