Pithom in the Bible
Pithom in the Old Testament
1. Meaning of Name Pithom:
Champollion (Gesenius, Lexicon, under the word) considered this name to mean "a narrow place" in Coptic, but it is generally explained to be the Egyptian Pa-tum, or "city of the setting sun." It was one of the cities built by the Hebrews, and according to Wessel was the Thoum of the Antonine Itinerary.
Brugsch (History of Egypt, 1879, II, 343) says that it was identical with "Heracleopolis Parva, the capital of the Sethroitic nome in the age of the Greeks and Romans .... half-way on the great road from Pelusium to Tanis (Zoan), and this indication given on the authority of the itineraries furnishes the sole means of fixing its position." This is, however, disputed. Tum was worshipped at Thebes, at Zoan, and probably at Bubastis, while Heliopolis (Brugsch, Geogr., I, 254) was also called Pa-tum.
There were apparently several places of the name; and Herodotus (ii.158) says that the Canal of Darius began a little above Bubastis, "near the Arabian city Patournos," and reached the Red Sea.
2. Situation of Pithom:
In 1885 Dr. E. Naville discovered a Roman milestone of Maximian and Severus, proving that the site of Heroopolis was at Tell el MachuTah ("the walled mound") in Wady Tumeilat. The modern name he gives as Tell el Maskhutah, which was not that heard by the present writer in 1882. This identification had long been supposed probable. Excavations at the site laid bare strong walls and texts showing the worship of Tum.
None was found to be older than the time of Rameses II--who, however, is well known to have defaced older inscriptions, and to have substituted his own name for that of earlier builders. A statue of later date, bearing the title "Recorder of Pithom," was also found at this same site. Dr. Naville concluded that this city must be the Old Testament Pithom, and the region round it Succoth--the Egyptian T-k-u.
Brugsch, on the other hand, says that the old name of Heropolis was Qes, which recalls the identification of the Septuagint (Gen 46:28); and elsewhere (following Lepsius) he regards the same site as being "the Pa-Khetam of Rameses II", which Lepsius believed to be the Old Testament Rameses mentioned with Pithom (Brugsch, Geogr., I, 302, 262).
Silvia in 385 AD was shown the site of Pithom near Heroopolis, but farther East, and she distinguishes the two; but in her time, though Heroopolis was a village, the site of Pithom was probably conjectural. In the time of Minepthah, son of Rameses II (Brugsch, History, II, 128), we have a report that certain nomads from Aduma (or Edom) passed through "the Khetam (or fort) of Minepthah-Hotephima, which is situated in T-k-u, to the lakes (or canals) of the city Pi-tum of Minepthah-Hotephima, which are situated in the land of T-k-u, in order to feed themselves and to feed their herds."
These places seem to have been on the eastern border of Egypt, but may have been close to the Bitter Lakes or farther North, whereas Tell el MachuTah is about 12 miles West of Ism'ailieh, and of Lake Timsah. The definition of the Pithom thus noticed as being that of Minepthah suggests that there was more than one place so called, and the Patoumos of Herodotus seems to have been about 30 miles farther West (near Zagazig and Bubastis) than the site of Heropolis, which the Septuagint indentifies with Goshen and not with Pithom.
The latter is not noticed as on the route of the Exodus, and is not identified in the Old Testament with Succoth. In the present state of our knowledge of Egyptian topography, the popular impression that the Exodus must have happened in the time of Minepthah, because Pithom was at Heropolis and was not built till the time of Rameses II, must be regarded as very hazardous. The Patoumos of Herodotus may well have been the site, and may still be discovered near the head of Wady Tumeildt or near Bubastis.Recommended:
- Return to Bible Places index page.
- Go to Christian biography index page.
- Go to Christianity beliefs index page.
- Go to Christian denominations index page.
- Go to Christian comparison charts index page.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, which is in the public domain.