Friday, February 26, 2016

Fact-Checking the Torah -- Exodus 1:11, 12:37

You were supposed to look at Exodus 1:11 because it mentions Ramses and Pi-Tum as treasure cities of the Pharaoh of the oppression.
But I just said that the place known to the 26th dynasty as Pi-Tum had no conclusive residential remains in the 19th dynasty of Ramses II.  Think about it.  If you’re going to keep treasure somewhere, you don’t just need big buildings.  You need guards barracks.  You need a warehouse for rations and weapons.  You need carters to bring in the rations and weapons.  You need somewhere for the carters to stay overnight after a trip of up to 55 kilometers from Avaris on an oxcart that travels about 5 kph.  You need homes for the inn-keepers (although they probably live in their own inns).  You need a market where they can buy things to feed their families and the carters and buy new housewares.  You need somewhere for the caravans to stay after bringing in the things the innkeepers buy.  The soldiers guarding the gatehouses might have families but they might also only use prostitutes; those women need somewhere to live and supplies to live on. 
That’s not what archaeologists found at the 19th dynasty level at Pi-Tum. 
The modern name for the site of Pi-Tum is Tell el-Maskhuta.
Sound familiar?  It should. 
Exodus 12:37 names the jumping off point, on the trip from Ramses/Avaris into the Sinai Peninsula, as Sukkot.
We don’t know why the modern name of the location resembles Sukkot.  It’s a sound that would have to survive 36 centuries, despite the fact that it was occupied first by the Greek conquerors of Egypt, then by the Roman conquerors, and then by Persians, prior to the Muslim conquest.
Tell el-Maskhuta lies on a line directly from Avaris to Mt. Sinai.  Following that line takes the traveler across the northern end of the Bitter Lakes.  Twenty-five centuries ago this area was much moister than it is now; paleontologists have also found remains of crocodiles and hippopotami around the Bitter Lakes area.  Crocs and hippos are both fresh-water animals, although the nearest relatives of hippos, whales and porpoises, are sea-going.  There is now a thin canal of water between the upper and lower lakes, but it would have been larger and deeper 25 centuries ago.
A trip  to the southeast  makes perfect sense for the Israelites.  If they had gone south, they would have wound up in the middle of Ahmose’s  attacking forces.  If they had gone west, they would have crossed the Nile delta and wound up in Libya (which of course was not the desert it is now).  If they had gone northeast, the Hyksos would have overtaken them while fleeing Ahmose’s troops, and then the troops themselves would have caught up to them and they would have “seen war”.  And that is the meaning of Exodus 13:17.
For next week read Exodus 7:14 through 9:35.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved


  1. Dovetails with the theories of

  2. It's neat that Wikipedia picked up on this although as everybody knows its articles have to be taken with a larger or smaller grain of salt. I got my data from Redmount's article (see bibliography) in the ASOR's magazine, Biblical Archaeologist. She worked at the dig for a couple of seasons before the turn of the century, when Wikipedia didn't exist yet.

    1. Not Wikipedia per se, but Simcha Jacobovici. You might consider checking out and laying out what critiques you think are valid and which not.

    2. The film itself is at

  3. mmmm well that might take a while because I insist on digging into the sources of what people write. I have so much uncomfortable experience with second and third hand material that I generally get more out of reading the material listed in a bibliography than out of the work based on the bibliography. Which is why I have put so much work for so long into reading Tannakh and Mishnah and Gemara and Midrash than into reading material on websites...

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  5. Thank you. One of the points doing this blog was that things I learned decades before I did it helped me develop perspectives like this. That's why I keep telling young relatives never turn down a chance to learn something, you never know when it will be useful.