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Ramses (Per-Ramses AKA Pi-Ramses)
Unearth the mysteries of biblical archaeology with a focus on Exodus 1:11. Delve into the cities of Pithom and Raamses, exploring their role in determining the Exodus date. The article investigates ancient historical practices, archaeological discoveries, and contextual biblical interpretation to illuminate these significant landmarks in the Israelites’ journey. Explore the intersection of history, archaeology, and faith in our deep dive into Exodus 1:11.
Rameses (Ra·amʹses or Ramʹe·ses), is a term derived from the Egyptian language, translating to “Ra [the sun-god] Has Begotten Him.” Historical texts indicate that when Jacob’s family relocated to Egypt, they were appointed to live in “the land of Rameses.” (Ge 47:11). Given the context, it is deduced that Rameses was either a subset of the region of Goshen or another name for Goshen itself (Ge 47:6). Later on, the Israelites were enslaved and compelled to construct cities, specifically “Pithom and Raamses,” intended for storing Pharaoh’s goods. The term “Raamses” here has a slightly different pronunciation than “Rameses” (Ex 1:11). Some scholars theorize that Raamses was named after the district of Rameses where they presume it was situated.
When the historic Exodus from Egypt commenced, Rameses was indicated as the origin point. Majority of scholars assume that this refers to a city, likely the gathering spot for the Israelites from various areas of Goshen. However, it is plausible that Rameses might have represented a district, and the Israelites may have left from diverse parts of this district, converging on Succoth as their meeting point (Ex 12:37; Nu 33:3-5).
The precise location of Rameses, assuming it denotes a city rather than a district, remains quite ambiguous. Present-day scholars link Rameses with the city termed Per-Ramses (House of Ramses) in Egyptian archives. Some scholars locate it at San el-Hagar in the northeast corner of the Delta, while others suggest it was in Qantir, around 20 km (12 miles) to the south. However, this correlation hinges on the hypothesis that Ramses II was the Pharaoh during the Exodus. This belief is primarily based on Ramses II’s inscriptions which state his claims of constructing the city named after him (Per-Ramses), utilizing slave labor.
Yet, there’s scarce evidence to confirm that Ramses II was the ruler during the Exodus as his reign likely commenced no earlier than the 13th century B.C.E., a period between 200 and 300 years after the Exodus (1446 B.C.E.). The Biblical Raamses began construction before Moses’ birth, hence more than 80 years prior to the Exodus (Ex 1:11, 15, 16, 22; 2:1-3). Moreover, Per-Ramses was the capital city during Ramses II’s era, whereas the Biblical Raamses was merely a storage site.
Many consider Ramses II as usurping his predecessors’ accomplishments, suggesting he may have only expanded or rebuilt Per-Ramses. The term Rameses was already in use as far back as Joseph’s time (in the 18th century B.C.E.), suggesting that its usage (in the form Raamses) as a city’s name was not exclusive to Ramses II’s era (Ge 47:11). Given its meaning, it was probably prevalent among Egyptians from ancient times. By Ramses II’s rule, several towns bore that name.
Due to the paucity of corroborating evidence, it is essential to exercise caution when equating the Biblical Raamses and the capital Pr Rʽ-mś-św (Per-Ramses), as they seem to share only the personal name (Vetus Testamentum, Leiden, 1963, p. 410). Because of the lack of definitive data, it is safe to say that Rameses was likely in proximity to the Egyptian capital during the Exodus period. This aligns with the narrative that Moses was at Pharaoh’s palace on the night of the tenth plague and managed to lead the Israelites out of Egypt before the end of the following day (Ex 12:31-42; Nu 33:1-5). If the capital was then located at Memphis, a city that served as the capital for many centuries, this would support the Jewish tradition asserting that the Exodus march, with Rameses as its starting point, began from the vicinity of Memphis (Jewish Antiquities, II, 315 (xv, 1), which refers to Letopolis, a location near Memphis).
Per-Ramses AKA Pi-Ramses Introduction
Per Ramessu, also known as Pi Ramesse and referred to as Raamses in biblical texts, is a historical site currently known as Qantīr, which also encompasses the location of Tall al-Dabʿa. This ancient Egyptian city served as a capital during three separate eras: the 15th dynasty (c. 1630–c. 1523 BCE), the 19th dynasty (1292–1190 BCE), and the 20th dynasty (1190–1075 BCE). The city was situated in the northeastern delta region, approximately 62 miles (100 km) northeast of present-day Cairo. In antiquity, it was located on the Bubastite branch of the Nile River.
During the early Middle Kingdom era (1938–c. 1630 BCE), Per Ramessu experienced a steady influx of Palestinian peoples, eventually becoming the capital city of the Hyksos around 1530 BCE. The city was destroyed by the triumphant Pharaoh Ahmose I around 1521 BCE and subsequently fell into relative obscurity until the rise of the 19th dynasty, whose origins were in the nearby region. It was during this timeframe that the Hebrews are believed to have established their settlement in this area.
Per Ramessu, also known as Pi-Ramses, was an ancient Egyptian city that played a significant role during several dynastic periods. It was situated in the northeastern delta of the Nile River, about 62 miles (100 km) northeast of what is now Cairo.
The city’s origins date back to the Middle Kingdom era (1938–c. 1630 BCE). Over the years, it experienced a steady influx of people, notably from Palestine. By around 1530 BCE, it had become the capital of the Hyksos, a people of West Asian origin who had infiltrated Egypt.
Despite the city’s destruction by the pharaoh Ahmose I circa 1521 BCE, Per Ramessu did not vanish into complete obscurity. It witnessed a resurgence during the 19th dynasty when the ruling families, who hailed from nearby regions, established their power base there.
One notable aspect of Pi-Ramses is its link to biblical narratives. During the time of the 19th dynasty, the city was home to a significant Hebrew population, an assertion that finds mention in the Bible (Exodus 1:11). The city’s original name, Per Ramessu, means “Domain of Ramesses,” and it was the namesake of several pharaohs in the Ramesside period, most notably Ramesses II. The Ramesside period (1292–1075 BCE) was a time of great architectural activity, with Pi-Ramses serving as one of the royal residences.
However, the exact location of Pi-Ramses and its relation to the biblical city of Raamses has been a subject of debate among scholars. Some suggest that Pi-Ramses and Raamses are one and the same, a hypothesis based on linguistic similarities. Others propose that the cities were different, with the biblical Raamses being only a part of the larger city of Pi-Ramses.
The city was eventually abandoned around the beginning of the 21st dynasty due to the changing course of the Nile, which led to a decline in the region’s importance. The site of the city is now a significant archaeological site, offering valuable insights into Egypt’s rich past.
However, while the archaeology of Pi-Ramses is fascinating, it’s important to remember that our understanding of the city, its people, and its historical significance is continually evolving as new discoveries are made. As with all ancient history, the story of Pi-Ramses is pieced together from a combination of archaeological evidence, historical records, and linguistic studies. As such, interpretations and theories should be approached with an open mind, understanding that our knowledge of the past is always subject to revision based on new information.
EXODUS 1:11—Are the cities of Pithom and Raamses evidence for the date of the Exodus?
Exodus 1:11 reads, “Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. They built for Pharaoh store cities, Pithom and Raamses.” Some view the mention of these two cities, Pithom and Raamses, as an anachronism, asserting that they did not exist or were not significant until much later in history than the commonly accepted timeframe of the Israelite Exodus. This issue can be understood by taking into consideration a few key factors: the nature of historical writing, the archaeological findings related to these cities, and the understanding of the term “city” in the ancient context.
Firstly, in the writing of historical accounts, it was common practice in the ancient world to use contemporary names for places, even when writing about events that occurred before those names were in use. Thus, the writer of Exodus might have used the name “Raamses” because it was familiar to his audience, even if the city had a different name at the time of the events he was describing. This technique is used today when we refer to Istanbul in discussing the Roman Empire, although it was called Byzantium at the time.
Archaeological findings indicate that a city named Pi-Ramesses was built by Ramesses II in the 13th century B.C.E. on the site of a much older city. This older city, named Avaris, was significant from around the 18th to the 16th century B.C.E. and fits within the timeframe of the Israelites’ presence in Egypt as traditionally understood from biblical chronology. It’s plausible that the term “Raamses” in Exodus 1:11 refers to this older city, Avaris, under its later and more familiar name.
Regarding Pithom, its exact location is less certain, and archaeological findings are less conclusive. However, there’s no definitive evidence to say that a city or significant location named Pithom couldn’t have existed during the relevant period.
Finally, it’s important to understand the term “city” in the context of Exodus 1:11. The Hebrew word translated “city” can refer not only to a populated place but also to other forms of significant structures or locations, such as fortresses, sanctuaries, or even regions. Therefore, the “cities” of Pithom and Raamses that the Israelites built for Pharaoh could have been fortifications, storehouses, or other significant structures within or around existing locations.
In conclusion, the mention of Pithom and Raamses in Exodus 1:11 doesn’t present an insurmountable difficulty for the historicity or dating of the Exodus. Rather, it reflects common practices in the writing of ancient history and can be plausibly understood in the light of archaeological and linguistic knowledge.
It is important to note that the historical information provided does not delve into specific biblical interpretations or theological views but rather aims to provide a broad historical context. It does not quote or cite apocryphal books and does not engage in higher criticism or the subjective historical-critical method of interpretation. Furthermore, it does not rely on liberal-moderate scholars for sourcing.
Ultimately, the interpretation of biblical text and the understanding of its historical context is a complex task that can be viewed through various scholarly lenses. This information aims to provide a broad understanding of the historical context without delving into the specifics of individual theological interpretations or beliefs.
Pithom, an Egyptian term meaning “House or Temple of Atum,” is one of the two storage cities purportedly constructed by the Israelites during their period of enslavement in Egypt – the other being Raamses, as referenced in Exodus 1:11. Despite numerous archaeological expeditions, no definitive identification of this ancient location has been successfully accomplished. The general consensus among archaeologists seems to be influenced by the widespread belief that the Pharaoh during the period of the Israelites’ oppression was Ramses II. However, upon close examination, this belief lacks substantial and cogent evidence to stand as an irrefutable fact.
Pithom is one of the cities mentioned in the Bible that the enslaved Israelites were forced to build for the Pharaoh (Exodus 1:11). Its Egyptian name translates to “House or Temple of Atum,” suggesting it might have had a religious or ceremonial significance in addition to its function as a storage city. Atum, in Egyptian mythology, is a god associated with the setting sun and believed to be the creator of the universe.
Despite this biblical reference, the exact geographical location of Pithom has been a subject of debate among archaeologists and biblical scholars. Some suggest it might be located in the eastern part of the Nile Delta, based on the Septuagint translation of the Bible, which refers to Pithom as “Heroonpolis,” known to be in that region.
Excavations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries at a site known as Tell el-Maskhuta in the Wadi Tumilat, an east-west valley connecting the Nile to the Sinai, revealed a city that some archaeologists believe might be Pithom. These excavations uncovered inscriptions referring to a place called Pi-Atum (House of Atum), which could potentially be the same as the biblical Pithom.
However, others argue that Tell el-Maskhuta was not founded until the 7th century B.C.E., much later than the Israelite sojourn in Egypt, casting doubts on this identification. Furthermore, the city seemed to be a fortress or a military settlement rather than a storage city.
Another proposed site is Tell el-Retabeh, located further west of Tell el-Maskhuta. This site revealed a city with silos, suggesting it could be a storage city. But again, the dating of this site is a matter of debate.
Therefore, while Pithom holds significant historical and biblical interest, its exact location, nature, and the timeframe of its existence remain uncertain. Further archaeological investigations and scholarly research are necessary to provide more definitive insights about this enigmatic city.