#80. Were the children of Jacob given the land of Rameses to inhabit OR did they build it generations later? (Gen 47:11 vs Ex 1:11)


This is our last contradiction for the book of Genesis and it should be held in tandem with tomorrow’s #81, our first Exodus contradiction.

The various textual traditions that we have been examining in Genesis—the Yahwist, Elohist, and Priestly—continue into the book of Exodus. The Yahwist source makes minor appearances in Exodus and when it does it often presents duplicate traditions to those narrated by the Elohist. The Elohist has a stronger presence, particularly visible in the Plague narrative, the Horeb revelation, the giving of the laws, and the Golden Calf story. The Priestly sources emerges as the dominant and sole source in the later third of the book of Exodus, giving way to the core of the Priestly literature, the book of Leviticus.

The beginning of the Exodus narrative in its present composite form retains variant traditions related to Rameses. Exodus 1:8-12, for example, relates how on account of the growing fear in the increasing number of Hebrews in Egypt a new and unnamed Pharaoh assigned corvee masters over them in order to oppress them: “and they built storage cities for Pharaoh: Pithom and Rameses” (1:11). This passage is usually assigned to the Yahwist source because it shares affinities with the themes and language of J.

Regardless what source this narrative derives from, it clearly clashes with the tradition recorded in Genesis 47:11, usually assigned to P—namely, that the Hebrews inhabited the land of Rameses when they first arrived in Egypt. Apparently this also means that the events enumerated in Genesis 47:11 would have occurred much earlier than those of Exodus 1:8-12, and thus chronologically generations before the action of Ex 1:8-12, when the Pharaoh of Joseph’s day had passed and the children of Jacob had multiplied extensively (Ex 1:8), by 100s and 100s of thousands in fact (Ex 12:37)!

Put differently: How could Joseph and Jacob’s sons have settled in the land of Rameses (Gen 47:11) before its city was founded, allegedly, by subsequent generations of Jacob’s offspring and under another Pharaoh in Ex 1:11? Both Pharaohs could not have been Rameses! Additionally, in the P source the Israelites settle in Rameses because the Pharaoh had given them that land, and this supposedly happens before the explosion in their numbers (1:7-9), while in J they only build the city Rameses after they have increased and multiplied. We should also note that J consistently uses Goshen to refer to this land (Gen 46:28, 34, etc.).

This chronological discrepancy in the narrative is, as we have seen elsewhere (#42, #45, #60), the sole result of later editors who had stitched together these divergent textual traditions. It is even more apparent when we put the numbers to it.

For instance, according to the Priestly tradition the captivity in Egypt lasted 430 years (#32). Exodus 1 is Moses’ birth story, which is non-P material (see #83), and a later P text (Ex 7:7) states the Moses was 80 when he led the people out of Egypt. Thus according to P’s chronology—which was forced upon these earlier non-P traditions when these texts were edited together—350 years would have elapsed between settling in the land of Rameses in Genesis 47:11 and building the city of Rameses in Exodus 1:11. Certainly Rameses did not reign for 350 years! Or, if the new Pharaoh that arose in Exodus 1:8 was Rameses, whom Egyptian records accredit with the building of his city, then how could the land of Rameses have existed 350 years earlier? Simply, it didn’t. The details of this story, as well as the exodus narrative as a whole, were culled from shared cultural memories of a variety of past events and stories.

In other words each tradition preserved some sort of reference to or cultural memory about Rameses, but each one presented that reference differently in their telling of the story. The earlier Yahwist tradition placed Rameses as the central Pharaoh who had the Israelites build his city—which is not attested in Egyptian sources until the 13th century BC, when the city was itself built by Rameses II (1279-1213 BC). The Priestly version placed the reference to Rameses at Jacob’s initial settling of the land; it was “the land of Rameses.” The discrepancy between these two tellings of the story only becomes visible when a later editorial endeavor stitched these two traditions together.

Finally, both of these traditions’ reference to the land or city of Rameses is an anachronism: the royal name is only first attested in the 13th century BC when Rameses II built the city. And Egyptian records indicate that Rameses did indeed use Semites. But there is no mention of Israelites…. to be continued in #81.

One thought on “#80. Were the children of Jacob given the land of Rameses to inhabit OR did they build it generations later? (Gen 47:11 vs Ex 1:11)

  1. Anticipating an argument: They never say which Rameses, and there were 11. From what I can find, there was a Rameses reigning most of the time from 1292 through 1078. Even so, that’s a period of 214 years, much too short for there to have been a Rameses on the throne when they first entered Egypt and another ruling when the city was built 350 years later.

Leave a Reply