1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Rameses
RAMESES, or Ramesses (Gen. xlvii. II; Exod. xii. 37; Num. xxxiii. 3), or, with a slight change in the vowel points, Ramses (Exod. i. 11), the name of a district and town in Lower Egypt, is notable as affording the mainstay of the current theory that King Rameses II. was the pharaoh of the oppression and his successor Minephthas the pharaoh of the exodus. The actual facts, however, hardly justify so large an inference. The first three passages cited above are all by the priestly (post-exile) author and go together. Jacob is settled by his son Joseph in the land of Rameses and from the same Rameses the exodus naturally takes place. The older narrative speaks not of the land of Rameses but of the land of Goshen; it seems probable, therefore, that the later author interprets an obsolete term by one current in his own day, just as the Septuagint in Gen. xlvi. 28 names instead of Goshen Heroopolis and the land of Rameses. Heroopolis lay on the canal connecting the Nile and the Red Sea, and not far from the head of the latter, so that the land of Rameses must be sought in Wādi Tūmīlāt near the line of the modern fresh-water canal. In Exod. i. 11, again, the store cities or arsenals which the Hebrews built for Pharaoh are specified as Pithom and Raamses, to which the Septuagint adds Heliopolis. Pithom also takes us to the Wādi Tūmīlāt. But did the Israelites maintain a continuous recollection of the names of the cities on which they were forced to build, or were these names rather added by a writer who knew what fortiied places were in his own time to be seen in Wādi Tūmīlāt? The latter is far the more likely case, when we consider that the old form of the story of the Hebrews in Egypt is throughout deficient in precise geographical data, as might be expected in a history not committed to writing till the Israelites had resided for centuries in another and distant land. The post-exile or priestly author indeed gives a detailed route for the exodus (which is lacking in the older story), but he, we know, was a student of geography and might supplement tradition by what he could gather from traders as to the caravan routes.1 And at all events to argue that, because the Hebrews worked at a city named after Rameses, they did so in the reign of the founder, is false reasoning, for the Hebrew expression might equally be used of repairs or new works of any kind.
It appears, however, from remains and inscriptions that Rameses II. did build in Wādi Tūmīlāt, especially at Tell Maskhūta, which Lepsius therefore identified with the Raamses of Exodus. This identification is commemorated in the name of the adjacent railway station. But Naville's excavations found that the ruins were those of Pithom and that Pithom was identical with the later Heroopolis. Petrie found sculptures of the age of Rameses II. at Tel Rotāb, in the Wādi Tūmīlāt west of Pithom, and concludes that this was Rameses. The Biblical city is probably one of those named Prarneses, “House of Ramesses,” in the Egyptian texts.