The Biblical City Of Ramses -- By: Charles F. Aling

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 25:2 (Jun 1982)
Article: The Biblical City Of Ramses
Author: Charles F. Aling

The Biblical City Of Ramses

Charles F. Aling*

Perhaps the most perplexing problem facing the advocates of an early exodus (fifteenth century B.C.) is the series of references in the sojourn and exodus narratives to a land (as in Gen 47:11) and to a city (as in Exod 1:11) of Ramses. The difficulty is chronological: If, as is commonly assumed, the land and city were named after King Ramses II (1290-1223 B.C.), how could the name be used centuries earlier? If the start of the sojourn is to be dated to the Middle Kingdom period of Egyptian history1 (ca. 1876 B.C.), and if the exodus took place in the 1440s,2 it would stand to reason that no city or land could yet have been named after Ramses II. What solutions to this problem are available, short of abandoning an early date for the exodus? It is the purpose of this paper to examine several of the more popular proposed solutions to this obstacle in the light of the Egyptological evidence. We will confine our discussion mainly to the city of Ramses, but our conclusions may be applied to the land of Ramses as well.

Let it be said at the outset that the location of the delta capital of Ramses II, the commonly accepted Biblical city of Ramses, has recently been established beyond serious doubt.3 In contrast to an older theory that located Per-Ramses (“House of Ramses”) at Tanis in the northeastern delta, it can now be shown that Ramses II’s northern residence was situated in the Khatana-Qantir Tell el-Daba region to the south of Tanis.

Among conservative American defenders of the early exodus, two explanations of the seemingly anachronistic mentions of Ramses have been suggested. The first, originated and elaborated by John Rea4 and accepted by G. L. Archer5 and Leon Wood,6 denies that the name Ramses was derived from Ramses II and states that it was in fact far older, probably going back to Hyksos times (seven-

*Charles Aling is academic dean at Valley Baptist Theological Seminary in Minneapolis.

teenth century B.C.). Thus if the bondage began in Hyksos times, the term Ramses would not be an anachronism. The second view, advocated most recently by the late M. F. Unger,7 simply regards the references to Ramses in the Pentateuch as updatings of place-names by Hebrew scribes...

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