City of the Exodus (Pi-Ramesses), Bible, & Archaeology

City of the Exodus (Pi-Ramesses), Bible, & Archaeology June 28, 2021

Genesis 47:11 (RSV) Then Joseph settled his father and his brothers, and gave them a possession in the land of Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land of Ram’eses, as Pharaoh had commanded.

Exodus 1:11 Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens; and they built for Pharaoh store-cities, Pithom and Ra-am’ses.

Exodus 12:37 And the people of Israel journeyed from Ram’eses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children. [regarding this number, see my paper: How Many Israelites in the Exodus?]

Numbers 33:3, 5 They set out from Ram’eses in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the first month; on the day after the passover the people of Israel went out triumphantly in the sight of all the Egyptians, . . . [5] So the people of Israel set out from Ram’eses, and encamped at Succoth.

James K. Hoffmeier (born 1951), an evangelical Protestant, is an American Old Testament scholar and an egyptologist. He was Professor of Old Testament and Ancient Near Eastern History and Archaeology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and obtained his Ph.D from the University of Toronto. [Wikipedia] I shall be citing his article, “Rameses of the exodus narratives is the 13th BC Royal Ramessid Residence” (Trinity Journal, 2007)

Kenneth A. Kitchen (born 1932), also an evangelical Protestant, is a British biblical scholarAncient Near Eastern historian, and Personal and Brunner Professor Emeritus of Egyptology and Honorary Research Fellow at the School of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology, University of Liverpool, England. He specialises in the ancient Egyptian Ramesside Period (i.e., Dynasties 1920), and the Third Intermediate Period of Egypt, as well as ancient Egyptian chronology, having written over 250 books and journal articles on these and other subjects since the mid-1950s. He has been described by The Times as “the very architect of Egyptian chronology”. [Wikipedia] I shall be citing his article, “Archaeology and the Hebrew Exodus” (Theology Network, no date)

Wikipedia, (“Pi-Ramesses”) provides a general, secular background:

Pi-Ramesses (/pɪərɑːmɛs/; Ancient Egyptian: Per-Ra-mes(i)-su, meaning “House of Ramesses”) was the new capital built by the Nineteenth Dynasty Pharaoh Ramesses II (1279–1213 BC) at Qantir, near the old site of Avaris. . . .

In the 1960s, Manfred Bietak recognised that Pi-Ramesses was known to have been located on the then-easternmost branch of the Nile. He painstakingly mapped all the branches of the ancient Delta and established that the Pelusiac branch was the easternmost during Ramesses’ reign while the Tanitic branch (i.e. the branch on which Tanis was located) did not exist at all.  . . . Qantir was recognized as the site of the Ramesside capital Pi-Ramesses. Qantir/Pi-Ramesses lies some 30 km (19 mi) to the south of Tanis; Tell el-Dab´a, . . .

Pi-Ramesses was built on the banks of the Pelusiac branch of the Nile. With a population of over 300,000, it was one of the largest cities of ancient Egypt. Pi-Ramesses flourished for more than a century after Ramesses’ death, and poems were written about its splendour. According to the latest estimates, the city was spread over about 18 km2 (6.9 sq mi) or around 6 km (3.7 mi) long by 3 km (1.9 mi) wide. . . . .

It was originally thought the demise of Egyptian authority abroad during the Twentieth Dynasty of Egypt made the city less significant, leading to its abandonment as a royal residence. It is now known that the Pelusiac branch of the Nile began silting up c. 1060 BCE, leaving the city without water when the river eventually established a new course to the west now called the Tanitic branch.  The Twenty-first Dynasty of Egypt moved the city to the new branch, establishing Djanet (Tanis) on its banks, 100 km (62 mi) to the north-west of Pi-Ramesses, as the new capital of Lower Egypt. . . .

Dr. Hoffmeier states about the name of this city:

The name of Ramesses (II) as the Egyptian writing shows is actually made up of three words: Rms sw/sy, which means “Ra bore him.” The Hebrew writings . . . in the Torah all end with the double samek, which preserves precisely the final of the participle ms and the that begins the dependent pronoun sw or sy (both variations are used in Egyptian). While the name Ramose (rc ms) is attested before the Nineteenth Dynasty, the name formula for Rameses (Rc ms sw/sydoes not occur until the Nineteenth Dynasty or thirteenth century B.C. . . . The reality is, then, that the Hebrew writing reflects the name Ramesses documented first in the Nineteenth Dynasty which coincides with Egypt’s most prolific builder pharaoh, Ramesses II, and he built a city which he named after himself.
Sir Alan Gardiner thoroughly investigated the occurrences of the name of the Ramesside Delta metropolis in Egyptian texts 90 years ago.  . . . [He] concluded that of these four different cities that use the name Ramesses, none of them are attested before the time of Ramesses II, only one is located in the NE Delta, and that is “Pi-Ramesses, Beloved of Amun, Great of Victories.” It is specifically called a city (dmi). Because the Hebrew names Raamses or Rameses linguistically corresponded to the Egyptian (Pi-) Ramesses, he observed:
There is not the least reason for assuming that any other city of Ramesses existed in the Delta besides those elicited from the Egyptian monuments. In other words, the Biblical Raamses-Rameses is identical with the Residence-city of Pi-Ramesses.
The omission of the initial element  pr pi in the Pentateuchal occurrences of Rameses, should not be seen as a reason for distinguishing the biblical references from the Ramesside residence of the northeast Delta. Wolfgang Helck demonstrated that the writing Ramesses is attested in Egyptian records and was a well-known abbreviation for this city. (pp. 6-8)
As for its equation with the biblical Ram’eses / Ra-am’ses, he notes:
Locating Rameses of the exodus narratives occupied early Egyptologists for a century before its identification was finally established. In the 1950s the Coptic Christian Egyptologist, Labib Habachi, began investigating a little-known site in the NE Delta called Qantir. He believed that he had identified Pi-Ramesses. It took another twenty to thirty years before a consensus was reached and his claim validated. Since 1980 the site of Qantir has been excavated by German Egyptologists. There is no more doubt that this is ancient Pi-Ramesses, the city built by and named for Ramesses the Great, and used by his successors until late in the Twentieth Dynasty (ca. 1100 B.C.). Geo-physical ground-penetrating surveys have shown that this metropolis occupied about six square miles. (p. 8)
The question arises as to why Moses would use the same place name of this city in referring to Jacob’s time (Gen 47:11: see above). Dr. Hoffmeier explains:
If one believes that Moses is the author of the Pentateuch, and that he lived in the thirteenth century B.C., then one would expect him to use the name that was current in his day and not necessarily the one from four hundred years earlier if that toponym was no longer in use. The writer of Psalm 78 locates the events of the plagues of the exodus in the Fields of Zoan/Tanis (78:12, 43) and not Rameses. Why is this?

Sometime early in the first millennium B.C. when the Psalmist was writing, Ramesses was abandoned. About twelve miles to the north of Qantir (Pi-Ramesses) a new city, Zoan (Heb.) or Tanis (Gr.) from Egyptian dcnbecame the capital of the Twenty-First Dynasty ruler, Smendes. Around 1070 B.C. he built Tanis out of the ruins of the abandoned city of Pi-Ramesses and blocks taken from other nearby sites. In other words, when the author of Psalm 78 wrote, Pi-Ramesses had not existed for centuries. Hence he uses the contemporary name for the Delta capital rather than the earlier name (Pi)-Ramesses. The reference to Ramesses in Genesis, then, it turns out is a cogent argument that the same author who wrote Genesis also wrote Exodus and Numbers. (pp. 8-9)

Thus, the Bible is minutely accurate for the zillionth time, about place names at precisely the right period of history, and in relation to the known history of Egyptian Pharaohs.
Dr. Kitchen adds, regarding what skeptics constantly refer to as the utter lack of Egyptian evidence regarding the Exodus:
Some quarters of (would-be?) academia appear to be rather poorly-informed on the state-of-play in this subject-area.  Thus, warrior-pharaohs always report victories, but never defeats – any data on that have to come from the victorious opponent’s record!  A ‘draw’ is glossed-over as a victory; so, Ramesses II’s battle of Qadesh with the Hittites.  Thus, the successful escape of a good-sized body of rebellious slaves – such as our Hebrews under Moses – will not be found celebrated in any Egyptian official text!  Minor escapes get reported-back, but nobody celebrates, of course.  So, there will never be found any official Egyptian record of the Exodus.  Again, archaeology will never produce the humble dwellings of the Hebrews; once abandoned, the mud-brick hovels would soon fall back into the mud they came from.  . . . In other words, the old adage applies with a vengeance: “absence of evidence does NOT prove to be evidence of absence”.
However, there are also positive aspects to be noted.  The Exodus set off from the city of Raamses, where the Hebrews had slaved (cf. Exodus 1:11;12:37).  This place is well-known archaeologically and sets a date for the event.  Raamses (now, Khataana/Qantir) is (Pi)-Ramesse, the great new East-Delta capital  – its site (massively devastated) is 4 miles long by 2 miles wide! – founded brand-new by Ramesses II (reigned 1279-1213 BC) in his 1st year [1279], as his great Abydos text makes clear.  So, the Exodus could not precede that year at the very earliest, but was more likely to have occurred some years later.
Kitchen also has done much research on similarities of the writings of the Torah to other ancient legal-type documents:
At the heart of Exodus + Leviticus (and almost all of Deuteronomy) we have two exposés of a treaty-type covenant between Israel and its heavenly King, echoed also in Joshua 24.  The format and content of these three presentations is basically consistent (with minor variations).  From the ancient biblical world, between c. 2800 BC and Julius Caesar (46 BC), we have from the Near East over 100 examples of such documents. Importantly, the format varies from age to age – and that of Ex-Lev., Deut. & Jos 24 is consistent in all 3 cases exclusively with the forms current within c. 1350 to c. 1180 BC, and with no other period, earlier or later.  In short, those three are contemporary with the dates of Moses and Joshua as now known, and neither earlier nor later.
Joshua merely followed Moses; so, the buck stops with him.  He was brought up at the Egyptian court, in which Ramesses II of Egypt made just such a treaty with Hattusil III, emperor of Hatti – which document is available to us in both versions, Egyptian and Hittite.  “Learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians”, was Moses, as Acts 7:22 so well puts it.  As a foreigner at court, he surely was put to serve in the Egyptian “foreign office” (yes, the ancient Egyptians actually had one, that early in history…!) There, he would be involved with treaties, laws, etc.  And it is shown off to perfection in Ex-Lev. and Deut.
A colleague (Dr. PJN Lawrence) and I have presented a total corpus of all of this, in three massive volumes of Treaty, Law and CovenantI-III, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2012, some 1700 pp. & colour-charts; see it in a library!).  A “621 BC” Deuteronomy is a total impossibility, on this run of definitive evidence; bluntly, the old-style critics have ‘had their chips’, and there is no going back to their fantasies ever again.
Kitchen then takes on the common claim that there is “no evidence whatsoever” of the presence of wandering Hebrews for forty years in the Sinai Peninsula after the Exodus:
[B]eware of the spin “we’ve found no evidence, so nowt [no one] was there” attitude.  We have at present almost no “on the ground” camps left by Egyptian, Hittite, Assyrian, or Babylonian invasion-forces in the Levant.  No camps in transit, any more than for our Hebrews going from Egypt to Moab to Canaan.  We moderns cannot lay down arbitrary rules to judge ‘historicity’ anytime, on false criteria of our own choosing, for either the OT or Near-Eastern sources; it doesn’t work.
Related Reading (Bible and Archaeology)

OT Camels & Biblically Illiterate Archaeologists [5-24-21]

When Were Camels Domesticated in Egypt & Israel? [5-25-21]

Pearce’s Potshots #27: Anachronistic “Israelites”? [5-25-21]

Pearce’s Potshots #28: Pharaoh Didn’t Know Joseph?! [5-26-21]

Pearce’s Potshots #29: No Pitch / Bitumen in Moses’ Egypt? [5-26-21]

Pearce’s Potshots #32: No Evidence for Joshua’s Conquest? [5-28-21]

Pearce’s Potshots #33: No Philistines in Moses’ Time? [6-3-21]

Genesis, Joseph, Archaeology, & Biblical Accuracy (A Brief Survey of Evidence for “The King’s Highway” in Jordan in the Bronze Age: Prior to 1000 BC) [6-8-21]

Arameans, Amorites, and Archaeological Accuracy [6-8-21]

Abraham & Beersheba, the Bible, & Archaeology [6-9-21]

Moses, Kadesh, Negev, Bronze Age, & Archaeology [6-10-21]

Edomites: Archaeology Confirms the Bible (As Always) [6-10-21]

Pearce’s Potshots #34: Atheist Throws a Screwball Pitch (Part II of “Pitch / Bitumen in Moses’ Egypt”) [6-12-21]

Did Moses Exist? No Absolute Proof, But Strong Evidence (Pearce’s Potshots #35, in Which Our Brave Hero Classifies Moses as “a Mythological Figure” and I Reply!) [6-14-21]


Photo credit: The Israelites Leaving Egypt, c. 1828, by David Roberts (1796-1864) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


Summary: I highlight some notable archaeological / historical evidences regarding the Egyptian city of Pi-Ramesses (biblical, Ram’eses): from which Moses & the Hebrews departed in the Exodus.

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