See Manfred Bietak, Avaris and Piramesse, on the location of Ramses at Tell ed-Dab‘a, and John van Seters, The Hyksos: A New Investigation (New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press, 1966), pp 127–151; see esp. Manfred Bietak, Tell ed-Dab‘a II. Der Fundort im Rahmen einer archäologisch-geographischen Untersuchung über das ägyptische Ostdelta (Vienna: Oesterreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1975), pp. 179–221. The identification of Tanis (San) with Avaris/Ramses, long held to be most probable, is precluded by the absence from that site of any Asiatic material culture antedating the 11th century. Interestingly, the onomasticon of Amenope, at the end of the Ramesside era, still reflects the knowledge that Tanis and Per-Ramses were distinct sites, see Alan H. Gardiner, Ancient Egyptian Onomastica II (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1947), #410 and #417.

On the location of Pithom, for Merneptah’s building activity there, see Papyrus Anastasi 6.51–61, translated in Breasted, ARE 3.638. In Wilson, “Egyptian Historical Texts,” ANET, p. 259, a border official reports the passage of “pastoralists of Edom (‘dwm)” from the fort of Merneptah—in the region of Tjeku (T_kw)—to the pools of “Per-’Atum of Merneptah” (or Pithom). This indication of settlement—and use of the pools by Edomite elements for grazing—in New Kingdom times precludes an identification of Merneptah’s Per-’Atum with Tell el-Maskhuta: Maskhuta was unoccupied from the time of the Middle Kingdom until the Saite period. See John S. Holladay, Cities of the Delta, Part III/Tell el-Maskhutah, American Research Center in Egypt Reports 6 (Malibu, CA: Undena, 1982), pp. 6, 19; Redford, “Exodus I, 11, ” Vetus Testamentum (VT) 13 (1963), pp. 401–418. Contrast W. Helck, “Tjeku und die Ramses Stadt,” VT 15 (1965), pp. 35–48, for an effort to locate Pithom at Tell el-Maskhuta and to identify it with Tjeku—an effort that must be judged abortive in light both of the archaeological evidence and of the clear indications from Papyrus Anastasi 6 that Tjeku was a region.

The other principal candidate in the Wadi Tumilat, Tell er-Retaba, halfway (eight and a half miles) between Maskhuta and the Delta, remains a possibility. A Roman milestone found at Maskhuta seems to indicate that Tell er-Retaba is that site (Alan H. Gardiner, “The Delta Residence of the Ramessides,” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 5 [1918], pp. 127–138, 179–200, 242–271, esp. p. 269; recently, William H. Stiebing, Jr., Out of the Desert? Archaeology and the Exodus/Conquest Narratives [Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1989], p. 58). Holladay’s survey did not detect occupation at Tell er-Retaba before the XXth Dynasty either, but there were signs of settlement shortly thereafter, and the possibility of a small New Kingdom establishment therefore remains (see Holladay, Tell el-Maskhutah 6 and in conversation). However, this may have no direct bearing on the location of the more ancient site.

In any event, Pithom was located in the region of Tjeku, on the eastern border of Egypt, where nomads might enter from Asia. Tjeku was probably biblical Succoth—Egyptian t_ corresponding to Hebrew s—identified in late texts as Israel’s first stopping place after its departure from the city, Ramses (Exodus 13:20; Numbers 33:5–6); the Hebrew term may well reflect a familiarity with the Egyptian terminology—indicating in what area the Israelites encamped (other references to waystations include areas such as the wilderness of Sin, the Reed Sea and the like), rather than giving a name to a particular encampment.

Probably identifying Ramses as Tanis, the author of one Pentateuchal source (probably E) felt called upon to explain the route of the Exodus from Egypt: “When pharaoh sent the people forth, God did not lead them by the way of the land of the Philistines [i.e., the coastal route]. God diverted the people onto the way of the wilderness of the Reed Sea … ” (Exodus 13:17–18). This can only mean that instead of taking the direct route eastward from Tanis, between Lake Menzaleh and Lake Ballah, by Qantara and past the fortress of Sile, the Israelites were deflected southward, to the region of the Wadi Tumilat, between Lake Ballah and Lake Timsah to the south.

The Wadi Tumilat is also the area most probably to be identified as the biblical Goshen, where the Israelites take up residence. It was “the best of the land of Egypt” (Genesis 45:10, 47:6, 11) where one could eat “the fat of the land”—agricultural produce, including cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic (Numbers 11:5)—and sustain extensive herds (as Genesis 45:10, 46:34, 47:3–4; Exodus 12:38), both of caprovines and of draft animals. Indeed, even the pharaoh’s flocks were pastured there (Genesis 47:6). Conditions in the Wadi Tumilat area, which is not so marshy as the lower Delta, evince all these traits. The traditional identification of Goshen with the Wadi Tumilat, in fact, certainly dates to the time when the name of Pithom (Tell el-Maskhuta) was added to the text of Exodus 1:11, which is to say, at least to the sixth century B.C.E. See John S. Holladay, “‘And they built for Pharaoh Store-cities, Pithom and Ramses (Exodus 1:11c).’ An Archaeological Whodunnit,” Canadian Mediterranean Institute Bulletin (Summer 1987).

The introduction of Pithom into Exodus 1:11 is explicable if refugees from Judah, who settled there in the Saite era, encountered the Semitic Middle Bronze pottery on the site from the Hyksos era or, as Holladay suggests, learned of earlier Semitic occupation from local informants. Yet the identification of the site as one built earlier by Israelites presupposes Israel’s earlier residence in the Wadi Tumilat. In other words, the tradition that Israel inhabited Goshen is older than the introduction of Pithom into the Exodus account; this is why Pithom, of an the towns in which Judahites later settled, is singled out as a city of the oppression.

On the location of Goshen in the Wadi Tumilat, see esp. M. Har-El, The Sinai Journeys (San Diego, CA: Ridgefield, 1983), pp. 301–307. An alternate route for the Exodus, possibly along the coast in the line from Herakleopolis to Pelusium, or farther south in the region of Daphnae, is not to be excluded—either at some earlier stage of Israelite tradition or in terms of the historical Exodus. See generally, Yohanan Aharoni, The Land of the Bible. A Historical Geography, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1979), pp. 195–200.

The term “Goshen” (like the term “Tjeku”) probably designates not just the Wadi Tumilat but a region stretching from the Wadi Tumilat toward the Pelusiac branch of the Nile (van Seters, Hyksos, p. 148). Goshen was “in the land of Ramses” (Genesis 47:11 [J]), which is to say, in the hinterland of the capital. Moreover, the assumption of the Genesis and Exodus narratives is that Israel dwelled in the vicinity of the city Ramses. Not only does the Exodus begin from Ramses (Numbers 33:3, 5; Exodus 12:37), but Moses and Aaron repeatedly address both the pharaoh and the Israelites, and no narrator suggests that this mediation involved significant travel. Similarly, the daughter of the pharaoh is said to have found the infant Moses in the reeds of the Nile’s bank in the presence of Moses’ sister, who recommended his mother as a nursemaid (Exodus 2:3–9)—J’s text, thus, situates the household at Ramses. Possibly, the earliest traditions placing Israel in Goshen presupposed that the city Ramses was at Tell ed-Dab‘a on the Pelusiac branch of the Nile, rather than at Tanis to the north. Yet this must remain unsure: The tradition has adjusted to the transfer of the capital, making the assumption that the capital at Tanis was adjacent to Goshen. Thus, the possibility exists that the Israelite authors located Goshen between the Pelusiac and the Tanitic arms of the Nile (and, thus, the flight by way of Succoth to the south of Goshen). Indeed, Egyptians today identify the Ibn-Ezra synagogue (that of the Cairo Genizah) as the place where the pharaoh’s daughter found Moses on the Nile. As the capital city migrates, so does the residence of the ancient Israelites.