The Royal Precinct at Rameses -- By: Bryant G. Wood

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 17:2 (Spring 2004)
Article: The Royal Precinct at Rameses
Author: Bryant G. Wood

The Royal Precinct at Rameses

Bryant G. Wood


When Jacob and his family migrated to Egypt, they were settled in “the land of Rameses.” Initially, they were property owners there (Gn 47:11, 27). Soon, however, the Egyptians subjected the Israelites to bondage, using them as slave laborers to build the city of Rameses (Ex 1:11). When Israel left Egypt after 430 years (Ex 12:40), the Bible tells us they departed from Rameses (Ex 12:37). From these references, we can conclude that most Israelites spent the years of the Sojourn in and around Rameses.

Although the location of Rameses was in dispute for some years, that dispute has now been settled. Not only do we know where Rameses is located, but also we know much about the history and culture of the ancient site thanks to archaeological investigation. Extensive excavations have been carried out under the direction of Manfred Beitak of the Austrian Archaeological Institute, Cairo, since 1966.

The mention of Rameses in Exodus 1:11 has been used as an argument for dating the Exodus to the reign of Rameses II (ca. 1279–1212 BC; Egyptian dates in this article are from Wente and Van Siclen 1977:218), rather than the earlier date of ca. 1450 B.C. derived from the Bible (1 Kgs 6:1; Jgs 11:26; 1 Chr 6:33–37). First, it is argued, if the Israelites were used as slave labor to build the city of Rameses, they must have still been in Egypt during the reign of Rameses II, who built a capital city in the eastern Delta and named it after himself (Hoffmeier 1997:125; Shea 2003:237, 248–49). But this interpretation neglects the fact that the Biblical editors often updated archaic place names with later, more familiar, names (Jack 1925:24–28; Shea 2003:248–49; Wood 2003:258, n. 8).

Secondly, many scholars have assumed, based on surviving Egyptian texts, that there was no royal capital in the Delta prior to the city built in the 13th century BC by Rameses II. Thus, Moses could not have confronted a Pharaoh in the Delta prior to the reign of Rameses II (LaSor 1988:43; Kitchen 2003:310). However, an argument based on what has not been found from antiquity is always questionable. The number of surviving texts from ancient Egypt is meager, at best. Therefore one cannot base an argument on something not being mentioned in the texts. Furthermore, this assumption has now been proven wrong by recent discoveries.

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