Pithom and Ramesses cities in Exodus 1:11 reviewed

by koot van wyk (DLitt et Phil, ThD) Kyungpook National University, Sangju Campus, South Korea; conjoint  lecturer Avondale College Australia

It is not is not correct to blame W. F. A. Albright for trying to identify archaeologically a conquest of Israel in the Iron Age 1 period that coincide with Ramesses II reign. Yes, his chronology was nearly 200 years out but that is because of a number of factors: he tried to work with the chronology of the Septuagint on this matter, and furthermore, the issue in Exodus 1:11 that the oppressive pharaoh made them built the cities of Pithom and Ramesses, was a strong drive towards trying to allocate the conquest in the Iron I period.

In reality, Albright was allocating destruction strata dating realistically to the period of the judges and those stormy years, to the wars of the Israelites when they conquered Canaan as described in the book of Joshua and the first two chapters of the book of Judges. It is like looking for the French Revolution in the time of Hitler. An enormous mismatch. 

Many scholars followed Albright in letting the expression of ptm and rmss in Exodus 1:11 lead them to seek for a Ramesses II connection. After all, Ramesses II was a great builder.

The book of Judges indicates to us that the period of Ramesses II was actually a period of peace in Israel proper. Ramesses II had wars to fight but he avoided travelling through the territory that we call Israel. He circumvent it by going up next to the Transjordan and then over to Bethshean and through to Lebanon and that way. Or the coastline. But, the Judean highlands are absent from his conquests or trips.

The Exodus took place according to the Masoretic Text in 1450 BCE and the Conquest of Canaan started according to the same text in 1410 BCE. This the beginning of the Late Bronze period. A scholar created controversy when he did sharding at tells in Transjordan and claimed that he could not find any evidence of LB sherds on those tells. Today we know that every single site he cited has been proven to contain LB sherds. Even the contested Hesban or Heshbon site had a number of Late Bronze sherds, though not much.

But, scholars tried to find alternatives and opted for Ramesses II.

Pithom and Ramesses cities in Exodus 1:11

In order to solve the issue of the cities of Pithom and Ramesses, we need to indicate a few things: scholars do not know of any city called Pithom or Ramesses in Egyptian historiography. That does not mean they did not exist. It only means that the Hebrew tongue has coined an expression that was known to their mental lexicon among themselves so well, that future generations would know what they mean by those terms.

Anyone who has studied the variants in spelling the names of the Persian rulers like Darius, Xerxes or Arataxerxes in  Old Elamite, Old Persian, Akkadian, Egyptian, Greek and Hebrew will know what the factors can be that leads to name forms.

For our benefit, someone has done a study of the Nile delta and its rivers. Assuming that the area most likely where the Hebrews would concentrate on staying as the Nile delta, a study like this is very revealing.

We are all familiar with the origin of town names connected to the names of rivers or mountains or the like.

The Nile delta really consisted  at least in about five rivers finally, each with a name of a god in Egyptian.

On the west was the Western River, followed by the Waters of Ptah, the Great River, the Waters of Amun, and on the eastern side, the Waters of Ra.

The following article published in German [reference unfortunately not able to retrieve], illustrate well that a city in the area of the Waters of Ptah would be called Pithom. Or, a city that is located next to the Waters of Ra would be called Ramesses.  The element -messes was in the name of Moses, Thutmosis I, II, III and also in all the Ramesses'.

Conclusion: There is no need to connect the expression Pithom and Ramesses only to the days of Ramesses II. The days of Thumosis III fits the history of Egypt and the chronology of the Masoretic Text the best.

Pithom and Rameses in Exodus 1  v 11.jpg