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ZOAN (zō'ăn, Heb. tsō‘an). An ancient Egyptian city, built on the east part of the Delta seven years after Hebron was built (Num.13.22). The first kings of the Twelfth Dynasty made it their capital; the Hyksos fortified it and changed the name to Avaris. When the Hyksos were driven out, the city was neglected, but it was reestablished by Sethi I. The Egyptian god Seth had a center of worship there. Moses met Pharaoh at Zoan (Ps.78.12, Ps.78.43). Isaiah and Ezekiel refer to it as an important city (Isa.19.11, Isa.19.13; Ezek.30.14). For a time the Assyrians were in control of it. The Greeks called it “Tanis.” Eventually it was superseded by the new city of Alexandria. Extensive ruins survive near the modern village of San (i.e., Zoan), about eighteen miles (thirty km.) SE of Damietta.

ZOAN zō’ ən (צֹֽעַן, from Egyp. d’nt). Ancient Egyp. city, classical Tanis now represented by the ruins of Sân-el-Ḥagar in the NE Delta, just S of Lake Menzaleh.

Before the Ramesside age (c. 1300 b.c.), the history of Zoan remains obscure, esp. as the commonly proposed identification of Zoan-Tanis with the Hyksos settlement of Avaris and later city of Ramesses is perhaps erroneous (see Raamses, Rameses (city); Exodus). In that case, the Era of 400 years on a stela of Ramesses II found at Tanis could not so easily be correlated with Numbers 13:22 if the stela was originally erected elsewhere.

The geographical term “fields of Tanis” (sḫt-D’) occurs from Ramesses II’s day onward (Gardiner, JEA, V [1918], 246f.), while Dja ’net, Tanis-Zoan itself, is attested from c. 1100 b.c. (Onomasticon of Amenemope; Story of Wenamun). The Egyp. term “field of Tanis” corresponds closely to the OT “fields of Zoan” (Ps 78:12, 43) which witnessed the miracles of the Exodus (q.v.).

From the 21st to late 22nd dynasties, c. 1085-715 b.c., Tanis-Zoan was the capital of the pharaohs, several royal tombs of this period and the ruins of important temples having been discovered there. During the Nubian 25th dynasty (c. 715-664 b.c.), Tanis was still used as an occasional royal residence and as a northern base, with Memphis as main center. This background lends point to references by Isaiah (19:11, 13) to the “princes of Zoan” as pharaoh’s counselors—i.e., his court and government, officials and envoys there (30:4). In the 26th dynasty (664-525 b.c.), Zoan was still a major city, and this is reflected in Ezekiel’s denunciation of it (30:14) with other Egyp. centers.


J. van Seters, The Hyksos (1966), 128ff., 140ff., and sources there cited.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(tso`an; Tanis):

1. situation

2. Old Testament Notices

3. Early History

4. Hyksos Monuments

5. Hyksos Population

6. Hyksos Age

7. Description of Site

1. Situation:

The name is supposed to mean "migration" (Arabic, tsan). The site is the only one connected with the history of Israel in Egypt, before the exodus, which is certainly fixed, being identified with the present village of San at the old mouth of the Bubastic branch of the Nile, about 18 miles Southeast of Damietta. It should be remembered that the foreshore of the Delta is continually moving northward, in consequence of the deposit of the Nile mud, and that the Nile mouths are much farther North than they were even in the time of the geographer Ptolemy. Thus in the times of Jacob, and of Moses, Zoan probably lay at the mouth of the Bubastic branch, and was a harbor, Lake Menzaleh and the lagoons near Pelusium having been subsequently formed.

2. Old Testament Notices:

The city is only once noticed in the Pentateuch (Nu 13:22), as having been built seven years after Hebron, which existed in the time of Abraham. Zoan was certainly a very ancient town, since monuments of the VIth Egyptian Dynasty have been found at the site. It has been thought that Zoar on the border of Egypt (Ge 13:10) is a clerical error for Zoan, but the Septuagint reading (Zogora) does not favor this view, and the place intended is probably the fortress Zar, or Zor, often mentioned in Egyptian texts as lying on the eastern borders of the Delta. Zoan is noticed in the Prophets (Isa 19:11,13; 30:4; Eze 30:14), and its "princes" are naturally mentioned by Isaiah, since the capital of the XXIIInd Egyptian Dynasty (about 800 to 700 BC) was at this city. In Ps 78:12,43 the "field (or pastoral plain) of Zoan" is noticed as though equivalent to the land of GOSHEN (which see).

3. Early History:

Zoan was the capital of the Hyksos rulers, or "shepherd kings," in whose time Jacob came into Egypt, and their monuments have been found at the site, which favors the conclusion that its plain was that "land of Rameses" (Ge 47:11; Ex 12:37; see Raamses) where the Hebrews had possessions under Joseph. It is probably the site of Avaris, which lay on the Bubastic channel according to Josephus quoting Manetho (Apion, I, xiv), and which was rebuilt by the first of the Hyksos kings, named Salatis; for Avaris is supposed (Brugsch, Geog., I, 86-90, 278-80) to represent the Egyptian name of the city Ha-uar-t, which means "the city of movement" (or "flight"), thus being equivalent to the Semitic Zoan or "migration." It appears that, from very early times, the pastoral peoples of Edom and Palestine were admitted into this region. The famous picture of the Amu, who bring their families on donkeys to Egypt, and offer the Sinaitic ibex as a present, is found at Beni Chasan in a tomb as old as the time of Usertasen II of the XIIth Dynasty, before the Hyksos age. A similar immigration of shepherds (see Pithom) from Aduma (or Edom) is also recorded in the time of Menepthah, or more than four centuries after the expulsion of the Hyksos by the XVIIIth, or Theban, Dynasty.

4. Hyksos Monuments:

Besides the name of Pepi of the Vlth Dynasty, found by Burton at Zoan, and many texts of the XIIth Dynasty, a cartouche of Apepi (one of the Hyksos kings) was found by Mariette on the arm of a statue apparently of older origin, and a sphinx also bears the name of Khian, supposed to have been an early Hyksos ruler. The Hyksos type, with broad cheek bones and a prominent nose, unlike the features of the native Egyptians, has been regarded by Virchow and Sir W. Flower as Turanian, both at Zoan and at Bubastis; which agrees with the fact that Apepi is recorded to have worshipped no Egyptian gods, but only Set (or Sutekh), who was also adored by Syrian Mongols (see Hittites). At Bubastis this deity is called "Set of Rameses," which may indicate the identity of Zoan with the city Rameses.

5. Hyksos Population:

In the 14th century BC the city was rebuilt by Rameses II, and was then known as Pa-Ramessu. The Hyksos rulers had held it for 500 years according to Manetho, and were expelled after 1700 BC. George the Syncellus (Chronographia, about 800 AD) believed that Apepi (or Apophis) was the Pharaoh under whom Joseph came to Egypt, but there seems to have been more than one Hyksos king of the name, the latest being a contemporary of Ra-Sekenen of the XIIIth Dynasty, shortly before 1700 BC. Manetho says that some supposed the Hyksos to be Arabs, and the population of Zoan under their rule was probably a mixture of Semitic and Mongolic races, just as in Syria and Babylonia in the same ages. According to Brugsch (Hist of Egypt, II, 233), this population was known as Men or Menti, and came from Assyria East of Ruten or Syria. This perhaps connects them with the Minyans of Matiene, who were a Mongolic race. This statement occurs in the great table of nations, on the walls of the Edfu temple.

6. Hyksos Age:

The Hyksos age corresponds chronologically with that of the 1st Dynasty of Babylon, and thus with the age of the Hebrew patriarchs Abraham and Jacob--time when the power of Babylon was supreme in Syria and Palestine. It is very natural, therefore, that, like other Semitic tribes even earlier, these patriarchs should have been well received in the Delta by the Hyksos Pharaohs, and equally natural that, when Aahmes, the founder of the XVIIIth Egyptian Dynasty, took the town of Avaris and expelled the Asiatics, he should also have oppressed the Hebrews, and that this should be intended when we read (Ex 1:8) that "there arose a new king over Egypt, who knew not Joseph." The exodus, according to the Old Testament dates, occurred in the time of the XVIIIth Dynasty (see Exodus) when Israel left Goshen. The later date advocated by some scholars, in the reign of Menepthah of the XIXth Dynasty, hardly agrees with the monumental notice of the immigration of Edomites into the Delta in his reign, which has been mentioned above; and in his time Egypt was being invaded by tribes from the North of Asia.

7. Description of Site:

Zoan, as described by G. J. Chester (Mem. Survey West Palestine, Special Papers, 1881, 92-96), is now only a small hamlet of mud huts in a sandy waste, West of the huge mounds of its ancient temple; but, besides the black granite sphinx, and other statues of the Hyksos age, a red sandstone figure of Rameses II and obelisks of granite have been excavated, one representing this king adoring the gods; while the names of Amen, Tum and Mut appear as those of the deities worshipped, in a beautiful chapel in the temple, carved in red sandstone, and belonging to the same age of prosperity in Zoan.