(Ra·amʹses), Rameses (Ramʹe·ses) [Ra (the sun-god) has begotten him].
When Jacob’s family moved into Egypt they were assigned to live in “the land of Rameses.” (Gen. 47:11) Since elsewhere they are spoken of as residing in the land of Goshen, it appears that Rameses was either a district within Goshen or was another name for Goshen. (Gen. 47:6) Later, the Israelites were enslaved and put to building cities “as storage places for Pharaoh, namely, Pithom and Raamses [the vowel pointing here differs slightly from that of “Rameses”].” (Ex. 1:11) Many scholars suggest that Raamses was so named for the district of Rameses in which they assume it was located.
When the exodus from Egypt began, Rameses is given as the starting point. Most scholars assume that the city is here meant, perhaps being the rendezvous site where the Israelites gathered from various parts of Goshen. But Rameses may here refer to a district, and it may be that the Israelites pulled away from all parts of the district, converging on Succoth as the place of rendezvous.—Num. 33:3-5.
The exact location of this starting point, if a city rather than a district is meant, is very uncertain. Modern scholars identify Rameses with the city called Per-Ramses (House of Ramses) in Egyptian records, placed by some at San el-Hagar in the NE corner of the delta, and by others at Qantir, about eleven miles (c. 18 kilometers) to the S. But this identification rests on the theory that Ramses II was the Pharaoh of the Exodus. This theory, in turn, is based on inscriptions of Ramses II giving his claim to having built the city bearing his name (Per-Ramses), using slave labor. There is little reason, however, to believe that Ramses II was the ruler at the time of the Exodus, since his rule is not likely to have been much earlier than the thirteenth century B.C.E., or some two hundred years after the Exodus (1513 B.C.E.). The Biblical Raamses began to be built before Moses’ birth, hence over eighty years before the Exodus. (Ex. 1:11, 15, 16, 22; 2:1-3) Furthermore, it is held that Per-Ramses was the capital city in the time of Ramses II, whereas the Biblical Raamses was only a ‘storage place.’ It is generally accepted that Ramses II was guilty of taking credit for certain achievements of his predecessors, and this raises the possibility that, at best, he only rebuilt or enlarged Per-Ramses. Finally, the name Rameses was clearly in use as far back as the time of Joseph (in the eighteenth century B.C.E.); so there is no reason to assume that its application (in the form Raamses) as the name of a city was exclusive with the time of Ramses II. (Gen. 47:11) Its very meaning, too, makes it likely that it was popular among the Egyptians from early times. By the reign of Ramses II there were a number of towns that bore that name. D. B. Redford says: “Biblical Raamses and the capital Pr Rʽ-ms-sw [Per-Ramses], apart from the personal name, seem to have nothing in common. In the complete lack of corroborative evidence it is absolutely essential to exercise caution in equating the two.”—Vetus Testamentum, Oct. 1963, p. 410.
Due to the lack of reliable information, it can only be said that Rameses was likely not far from the Egyptian capital of the time of the Exodus. This would allow for Moses to have been at Pharaoh’s palace on the night of the tenth plague and, before the next day’s end, to begin leading the people of Israel on their march out of Egypt. (Ex. 12:31-42; Num. 33:1-5) If the capital was then at Memphis, a city holding that position for many centuries, this would explain the Jewish tradition, expressed by the ancient historian Josephus, that the exodus march (with Rameses as its starting point) began from the neighborhood of Memphis.