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PITHOM (pī'thŏm, Heb. pithōm). A city in Egypt in the valley between the Nile and Lake Timsah; perhaps Tell er-Retabah; dedicated to the sun-god Atum; with Rameses to the north, one of the store cities built by the slave labor of the Israelites (Exod.1.11), probably in the reign of Seti I or Ramses II (1319-1234 b.c.). Recent excavations at Tell Mashkutah near Succoth have uncovered bricks made without straw in the upper layers; made with stubble and weeds pulled up by the roots on the middle level; and made with good, clean straw at the bottom of the walls. An inscription at Rameses relates that it was built with Semitic slave labor from Asia. Whether Pithom is at Tell Mashkutah or Tell er-Retabah, it must be in the neighborhood; and the archaeological evidence mentioned above illustrates its construction by Israelite slaves. As a store city on the frontier it held supplies of grain for military forces operating there.

PITHOM pĭ’ thəm (פִּתֹ֖ם; LXX Πειθω, and ̔Ηρωωνπολις). Store-city built by the Hebrews before the Exodus; mentioned only in Exodus 1:11 (MT).

Although Pithom is securely attested as a proper name in Egyp. sources from the 13th cent. b.c. onward, yet its precise identification and localization present some problems, esp. in the relation between Pithom and Tjeku (Succoth).

The phonetic equation of Heb. Succoth (Skt) with Egyp. Tjeku (Ṯkw) presents no special difficulty. Hebrew sukkot, “booths,” is but a slight adaptation of the Egyp. Tjeku. Of the location of Tjeku, there can be no serious doubt. In the Wadi Tumilat in the SE Delta, the ancient site of Tell el Maskhuta has produced a long series of monuments that repeatedly mention Tjeku. Furthermore, they most frequently do so in connection with the god Atum or Tum as the god of Tjeku. Tjeku indubitably contained a temple of that deity, from which have come various monuments of Ramses II and later times. A statue of the priest ’Aak (Naville, Pithom, plate 4A) entitles him Overseer of Prophets of Atum and Chief Priest over Tjeku, and addresses all the priests “who (shall) enter the temple of Atum...residing in Tjeku.” Tjeku-cum-Succoth contained a temple (Per) of Atum, being located at present day Tell el Maskhuta. This agrees with literary references in Egyp. sources. A letter in Ostracon Deir el Medineh 1076:1 offers greetings “in the favor of all the gods of Tjeku” determined with the town sign (Posener, Catalogue des Ostraca Littéraires de Deir el Médineh I [1934/38], plate 43). Papyrus Anastasi V twice mentions Tjeku in connection with the Medjay police as desert scouts, very appropriate so near to the wilderness of Etham (cf. Papyrus Anastasi V 19:2; 25:2; 26:1, Caminos, Late-Egyptian Miscellanies [1954], 253, 269). At Succoth was a “keep” which could be reached in one day’s travel from “the Palace” (Papyrus Anastasi V, 19:3-8; Caminos, op. cit., 255-258). The Palace would then be that at Pi-Ramessē (Heb. Raamses), and the day’s journey would correspond in length with the march of the Hebrews from Rameses to Succoth (Exod 12:37). Papyrus Anastasi VI, 55ff., mentions an Edomite tribal group coming in past the fort of King Merenptah in Tjeku to go to the Pools of the House (or Estate) of Atum of Merenptah in Tjeku (ANET, 259a), i.e., in the reverse direction to the Israelites when they went out toward Etham.

The term Per-Atum is used in the passage last cited and also by an official of Osorkon II on his statue from Tell el Maskhuta (Naville, Pithom, plate 4). Insofar as Per-Atum or Pi-Tum is the Egyp. equivalent of Heb. Pithom, Tjeku-Succoth has been advocated as the site of Biblical Pithom—Tjeku would be the ordinary name of the town, fort, and immediate neighborhood, whereas Per-Atum was its religious name. A Lat. inscr. Lo(cus) Eropolis, Ero castra would suggest that classical Hero(on)polis was at Tell el Maskhuta, supporting the latter’s identity with Pithom via the LXX and Coptic equation of Pithom and Heroonpolis.

However, some doubt persists over this neat solution. Some nine m. W of Tell el Maskhuta, the site of Tell er Rotab (or Retabeh) has also yielded monuments of Ramses II and traces of a temple of Atum (see Petrie, Hyksos and Israelite Cities [1906], plates 29-31). With Gardiner, this too could be a Per-Atum and perhaps Biblical Pithom. Late sources might favor this, and a second Lat. inscr. from Tell el Maskhuta could be taken as a milestone to be read “from Ero (on the way) to Clysma, nine miles,” i.e., that Ero (Pithom) was already nine m. W of Tell el Maskhuta, on the road to Clysma (Suez); (cf. Gardiner, JEA, V [1918], 269). Furthermore, a more westerly location for Pithom would bring it closer to the land of Goshen where the Hebrews were principally domiciled. Thus, the Pithom of Exodus 1:11 may be either Succoth at Tell el Maskhuta or else nine m. to the W at Tell er Rotab.


E. Naville, The Store City of Pithom and the Route of the Exodus4 (1903); A. H. Gardiner, JEA, V (1918), 261-269; Naville and Gardiner, JEA, X (1924), 32-36, 95, 96; D. B. Redford, VT, XIII (1963), 403-408; H. W. Helck, VT, XV (1965), 35-40.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(pithom; Peitho (Ex 1:11)):

1. Meaning of Name:

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 (see Raamses), 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:

(1) Dr. Naville’s Theory.

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 (but see Succoth). Brugsch, on the other hand, says that the old name of Heropolis was Qes (see Goshen), which recalls the identification of the Septuagint (Ge 46:28); and elsewhere (following Lepsius) he regards the same site as being "the Pa-Khetam of Rameses II" (see Etham), which Lepsius believed to be the Old Testament Rameses (see Raamses) 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."

(2) Patoumos of Herodotus.

These places seem to have been on the eastern border of Egypt, but may have been close to the Bitter Lakes or farther North (see Succoth), 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. See Exodus. The Patoumos of Herodotus may well have been the site, and may still be discovered near the head of Wady Tumeildt or near Bubastis.