IF Moses and Akhenaten are the same person, they must have been born at the same place at the same time.

From Old Testament and Egyptian sources we have mention of six Eastern Delta cities:

•  Avaris, the old Hyksos capital, dating from more than two centuries earlier;

•  Zarw-kha, the city of Queen Tiye, mentioned in the pleasure-lake scarab of Year 11 of her husband, Amenhotep III;

•  Zarw or Zalw (Sile of the Greeks), the frontier fortified city, mentioned in texts starting from the Eighteenth Dynasty, whose precise whereabouts in the fourteenth nome is known;

•  Pi-Ramses, the Eastern Delta residence of Pharaohs of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Dynasties, known as ‘House of Ramses, Beloved of Amun, Great of Victories’;

•  Raamses, the city built by the Israelites’ forced labour;

•  Rameses (the same place as Raamses), where the Exodus began.

There is now general agreement among scholars that Pi-Ramses was situated on the site of the former Hyksos capital, Avaris, and that it was the same city as Raamses, the city built by the Israelites’ harsh labour, and Rameses, named in the Old Testament as the starting point of the Exodus. The two questions at issue, therefore, are: are Pi-Ramses/Avaris to be found in the same location as Zarw? Was Zarw also Tiye’s city, Zarw-kha? The answers to these questions are critical because of what we know of the birth of Moses and Akhenaten.

On their arrival in Egypt the Israelites settled at Goshen in the Eastern Delta, near to the known position of Zarw. As there is no evidence that they ever migrated to another part of the country, this must have been the area that provides the background for the Book of Exodus account of the birth of Moses. It is also implicit in the story that the ruling Pharaoh of the time had a residence nearby: he was in a position to give orders in person to the midwives to kill the child born to the Israelite woman if it proved to be a boy, and, according to the Book of Exodus, the sister of Moses was able to watch what happened when ‘the daughter of Pharaoh came down to wash herself at the river’ and noticed the basket containing Moses hidden among the reeds on the bank of the Nile. Later, when Moses and his brother Aaron had a series of meetings with Pharaoh there is no indication that they had to travel any distance for these meetings to take place.

In the case of Akhenaten, the pleasure lake scarab, dated to Year 11 (1394 BC) of his father, Amenhotep III, plus other evidence, points to his birth having taken place at Zarw-kha. Six versions have been found of the scarab, issued to commemorate the creation of a pleasure lake for the king’s Great Royal Wife, Tiye. Although there are some minor differences, they all agree on the main points of the text, which runs as follows:

Year 11, third month of Inundation (first season), day 1, under the majesty of Horus… mighty of valour, who smites the Asiatics, King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Neb-Maat-Re, Son of Re Amenhotep Ruler of Thebes, who is given life, and the Great Royal Wife Tiye, who liveth. His Majesty commanded the making of a lake for the Great King’s Wife Tiye, who liveth, in her city of Zarw-kha. Its length 3700 cubits, its breadth 700 cubits. [One of the scarabs, a copy of which is kept at the Vatican, gives the breadth as 600 cubits, and also mentions the names of the queen’s parents, Yuya and Tuya, indicating that they were still alive at the time.] His Majesty celebrated the feast of the opening of the lake in the third month of the first season, day 16, when His Majesty sailed thereon in the royal barge Aten Gleams.1

In my previous book2 I argued that Pi-Ramses, Avaris and Zarw-kha were all to be found at one location – the frontier fortified city of Zarw, to the east of modern Kantarah, which is to the south of Port Said on the Suez Canal. To recapitulate what I believe to have been the correct sequence of events …

Here the kings of the Twelfth Dynasty are known to have built a fortified city (20th century BC.) The autobiography of Sinuhi, a court official who fled from Egypt to Palestine during the last days of Amenemhat I, the first king of the Twelfth Dynasty (1970 BC), mentions his passing the border fortress, which at that time bore the name ‘Ways of Horus’. The border city was rebuilt and refortified by the Asiatic Hyksos rulers who took control of Egypt for just over a century from the mid-seventeenth century BC. During this period it became known as Avaris. Later, when the kings of the Eighteenth Dynasty expelled the Hyksos, they in turn rebuilt the city with new fortifications, it was given the new name of Zarw and it became the main outpost on the Asiatic frontier, the point at which Egyptian armies began and ended their campaigns against Palestine/Syria.

During the time of Tuthmosis IV (1413–1405 BC), his queen had an estate and residence within Zarw. Subsequently, Amenhotep III, the son of Tuthmosis IV, gave this royal residence, Zarw-kha, within the walls of Zarw, to his wife, Queen Tiye, as a present. I explained this event as stemming from the king’s desire to allow Tiye to have a summer residence in the area of nearby Goshen in the Eastern Delta where her father’s Israelite family had been allowed to settle. (I regard Yuya, Queen Tiye’s father, as being the Patriarch Joseph, of the coat of many colours, who brought the tribe of Israel from Canaan to dwell in Egypt.)

Later still, after the fall of the Amarna kings, who were descendants of both Amenhotep III and Yuya, Horemheb, the king who succeeded them, deprived the Israelites of their special position at Goshen and turned their city of Zarw into a prison. There he appointed Pa-Ramses and his son, Seti, as viziers and mayors of Zarw as well as commanders of the fortress and its troops. Pa-Ramses, the new mayor of the city, forced the Israelites into harsh labour, building for him what the Book of Exodus describes as a ‘store city’ within the walls of Zarw. Pa-Ramses followed Horemheb on the throne as Ramses I in 1335 BC, establishing the Nineteenth Dynasty, and it was during his brief reign, lasting little more than a year, that Moses led the Israelites out of the Eastern Delta into Sinai.

At the time he came to the throne, Ramses I already had his residence at Zarw, being the city’s mayor. His son, Seti I, and the latter’s son, Ramses II, later established a new royal residence at Zarw that became known as Pi-Ramses and was used as the Delta capital of the Ramesside kings of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Dynasties for about two centuries. The kings of the Twenty-first Dynasty established a new residence at Tanis, south of Lake Menzalah, and made use in its construction of many monuments and much stone from Pi-Ramses, which misled later scribes into the erroneous belief that Pi-Ramses and Tanis were identical locations.

The whole issue of whether or not Pi-Ramses/Avaris and Zarw are to be found at the same location has been clouded by the fact that, while we know the precise location of Zarw, scholars have in the course of this century canvassed the claims of no fewer than six other sites in the Eastern Delta, in addition to Tanis, as the location of Pi-Ramses/Avaris, and two alternative sites – one at Thebes, the other in Middle Egypt – as the site of Tiye’s city. The Delta sites have been advanced even if they failed to yield the required archaeological evidence, were in the wrong nome and, in some cases, did not exist at the relevant time. Each was abandoned in turn to be replaced by a seventh site, Qantir/Tell el-Dab’a. Investigations at Tell el-Dab’a, just over a mile south of Qantir (one of the sites suggested earlier, and now revived), were begun by the University of Vienna and the Austrian Archaeological Institute in 1966 and are still continuing.

This location has achieved considerable acceptance as the site of Pi-Ramses/Avaris since Manfred Bietak, the Austrian Egyptologist in charge of the excavations, gave an interim report on the expedition’s findings in 1979. Yet this site, too, does not withstand close scrutiny any more than the previous six in the Eastern Delta that had been put forward. Recent archaeological discoveries in the Kantarah area make it unnecessary to argue at this point the objections to the Qantir/Tell el-Dab’a location, which can be found in Appendix D: instead I am concentrating here on some of the mass of evidence that Pi-Ramses/Avaris is to be found on the same site as Zarw. From written sources we know that:

•  Pi-Ramses was situated in a fertile wine-producing area and lay in the centre of a great vineyard: Zarw was in a wine-producing area, which is supported by two pieces of evidence. Remains of wine jars, sent from Zarw by its then mayor Djehutymes for celebrations of Amenhotep III’s first jubilee in his Year 30, were found in the Malkata palace complex at Western Thebes,3 and a wine jar from the house of Aten at Zarw, belonging to his Year 5, was found in the tomb of Tutankhamun;

•  Pi-Ramses was ‘the forefront of every foreign land, the end of Egypt’, located ‘between Palestine and Egypt’:4 Zarw had an identical location, at the starting point of the ‘road of Horus’, leading to Palestine;

•  Pi-Ramses could be reached by water from Memphis: Zarw could be reached by water from Memphis;

•  Pi-Ramses was connected by water with the fortress of Zarw and the Waters of Shi-hor (north and north-west of Zarw), which fits exactly what we know of the Ramesside Delta residence;

•  Pi-Ramses was supplied with papyrus by the Waters of Pa-Twfy, ‘The Sea Of Reeds’, which has been identified with Lake Ballah, to the south of Zarw;

•  Pi-Ramses’ boundaries were marked by some of its chief temples, with Seth the main deity worshipped there: ‘Its western part is the house of Amun, its southern part the house of Seth, Astarte is in its Orient, and Buto in its northern part’:5 Seth was also the main deity worshipped at Zarw;

•  An indication that Pi-Ramses was built originally as a royal residence within the walls of Zarw is to be found in the name Pi-Ramses itself. Instead of a usual determinative for a city, a cross inside a circle, we have a sign for a house, Pi (Pr) preceding the name. This term Pr is usually applied either to a temple area, a religious area or a walled area containing a royal palace as well as a temple and other administrative buildings.

•  Pi-Ramses was located in the fourteenth Egyptian nome and to the east of the Pelusiac branch of the Nile Delta: so was Zarw;

•  Pi-Ramses had strong military fortifications, and, according to Manetho, as quoted by Josephus, Avaris, which was on the same site, was very favourably situated, well-fortified and in a strategic military position: this was equally true of Zarw.

Abundant evidence exists to confirm that Pi-Ramses was heavily fortified. A stela at Abu Simbel of the thirty-fifth year of Ramses II has the god Ptah telling the king: ‘I have made for thee a noble Residence in order to strengthen the boundary of the Two Lands, House of Ramses, Beloved of Amun,’ thus confirming that the residence was both fortified and near the borders. Gardiner has pointed out that the special epithets attached to the city’s name indicate its location near the border: ‘… two epithets [are] frequently … added to the cartouche and its adjuncts; these, according to the habit of Egyptian names, express the precise aspect in which the king appears in the particular locality that they designate, and are the real distinguishing marks by which that locality could be differentiated from others owing their names to the same king. The original name of the city in its complete form was … The House of Ramses, Beloved of Amun, Great of Victories, and the boastful addition here made to the royal nomen conveys a significant hint as to the position of the city near the military road to Asia.’6

Another indication that Pi-Ramses was designated as being a ‘mighty place’ is provided in Ramses II’s inscription at his father’s temple in Abydos, while Papyrus Anastasi III describes Pi-Ramses as being ‘the marshalling place of thy [Pharaoh’s] cavalry, the rallying point of thy soldiers, the harbourage of thy ships’ troops …’

All the sources we have about Avaris confirm – as one would expect if it is the same place – that, like Pi-Ramses, it was a fortified city. The Egyptian name of Avaris consists of two elements, hwt-w’ret, which are followed by a determinative, not of a city but of a walled area. The first element, hwt, indicates a settlement surrounded by a high brick wall, the second element, w’ret, as Alan Gardiner has explained, signifies a ‘desert strip’. So the very name of the city indicates that it was both fortified and near the desert border, just as Zarw was. This was precisely what one would expect in the case of Asiatic invaders in order both to protect themselves against the natives and be near their escape road to Asia. The account of Manetho, as quoted by Josephus, agrees with this understanding: ‘In the Saite [Sethroite fourteenth nome], he [the Hyksos ruler] founded a city very favourably situated on the east of the Bubastite branch of the Nile [the north section of the Pelusiac], and called Avaris after an ancient religious tradition. This place he rebuilt and fortified with massive walls, planting a garrison … to guard the frontier. Here he would come in summertime, partly to train them carefully in manoeuvres and to strike terror into foreign tribes … ‘7 This also agrees with the description of Avaris as a walled settlement in the Kamose Stela, which gives an account of campaigns against the Hyksos invaders by the brother of King Ahmosis, founder of the Eighteenth Dynasty, and the autobiography of Ahmose, a naval officer, who also took part in the war of liberation and describes in his tomb at el-Kab in Nubia how ‘they [the Egyptian army] sat down [in siege] before the town of Avaris’.8

•  Pi-Ramses was also called ‘The Dwelling of the Lion’: Zarw agrees with descriptions of Pi-Ramses in the fact that it is connected both with Horus and the lion: according to the text in Papyrus Anastasi,9 Horus took the form of a lion at Zarw and a seated lion forms the second part of the city’s name;

•  Exodus 13:17 indicates that the city of Ramses was near ‘the way of the land of the Philistines’, known from Egyptian sources as the ‘road of Horus’, leading from Zarw to Gaza;

•  The triumphal Poem of Pe-natour, recording the victories of Ramses II in his Year 5, and a letter describing the delivery of some stele identify Pi-Ramses and Zarw as being in the same vicinity, and the account of Seti I’s return from his Year 1 campaign against the Shasu in Sinai indicated that the royal family had a residence in the area from the early days of the Nineteenth Dynasty;

•  A reference was made in Papyrus Anastasi (vol. 24, pp. 7, 8) to ‘the fortress of Ramses, which is in Zarw’, indicating that the fortress of Zarw was sometimes referred to as ‘the fortress of Ramses, myr Amun’: this could also have been the case regarding the city;

•  A channel through the Isthmus of Kantarah was first noticed by Napoleon’s French expedition of 1798–1801. This channel was called the ‘separating water’ (ta-dynt in Egyptian), and is the canal represented on Seti I’s war inscriptions in the Hypostyle Hall at Karnak. It connected Shi-Hor to the north and north-west with the Waters of Pa-Twfy in the south, and separated Zarw from the Eastern Delta. Access to the fortress was provided by a bridge, which became the origin of the modern name, Kantarah (bridge).

This mass of circumstantial evidence, which is by no means exhaustive, served to persuade some scholars that Avaris, Pi-Ramses and Zarw occupied one and the same location: ‘Dr Gardiner has told us that Ramses, the capital, and Avaris are the same place. The question is therefore: where was Avaris? I have no hesitation in agreeing with M. (Jean) Clédat, (the French Egyptologist), that it was the region and the city called Zarw, the present Kantarah, and its neighbourhood.’10 Yet very few accepted this identification when it was first put forward by Clédat in 1922.11

Basically it was the lack of archaeological evidence that caused the failure of scholars to give proper attention to Clédat’s views for, although he was correct in identifying Pi-Ramses/Avaris and Zarw as occupying the same location in the Kantarah area, he was wrong in identifying the precise spot as Tell Abu-Seifah, just over a mile south-east of modern Kantarah, where only monuments of a late Graeco-Roman period were discovered. This error stemmed fundamentally from the assumption that the starting point of the ancient ‘road of Horus’ was the same as that of the modern road leading from the Kantarah area to Gaza.

The fact that the ancient ‘road of Horus’ began elsewhere became clear when Mohammad Abdel Maqsoud, a senior excavations officer with the Egyptian Antiquity Organization, began to supervise diggings at Tell Heboua, some two-and-a-half miles north-east of Kantarah, three years ago. From the war reliefs of Seti I at Karnak we know the names of different guarded military posts between Zarw and Gaza, the first of which, from the Egyptian side, is called the ‘Dwelling of the Lion’. After two seasons of excavation, Maqsoud gave an account of his findings to members of the Fifth International Congress of Egyptology in Cairo in November 1988, concluding his speech with the words: ‘It is possible now to identify the fortress of Tell Heboua with the “Dwelling of the Lion” depicted in the reliefs of Seti I at Karnak.’

Maqsoud released some details of his findings at the end of the third season, and on reading them in an Egyptian newspaper in April 1989 I realized that, without being aware of it, he had found the location of Pi-Ramses/Avaris/Zarw, a view which was published by the Sunday Times of London a month later and has since become the subject of discussion by Egyptologists all over the world. What, in fact, had Maqsoud discovered?

The site of Tell Heboua proved to be near the ancient Pelusiac branch of the Nile, between two lakes – north and south – on the western side of which are indications of an ancient canal, and it is at the start of what has now been established as the ‘road of Horus’. Remains of massive fortifying walls, more than thirteen feet wide, enclose a square area of some 190,000 square yards. Inside the walls are the remains of at least two ancient towns – one Hyksos, the other dating from the Eighteenth Dynasty – with houses, streets, storehouses, bread and clay ovens, and burials of two different kinds on two levels. Maqsoud also found four identical stelae of Nehesy, the king of the weak Thirteenth Dynasty, two of which bear his cartouche. It was Nehesy (c. 1715 BC) who re-established Seth as the main deity of the fourteenth nome. Seth had earlier been discredited as a result of development of the myth that he had been responsible for the assassination of the good god Osiris. There was also a fragment of an architrave, belonging to a temple, with a cartouche of Seti I.

Although much of the site has not yet been excavated, scarabs and other small items found there point to the existence of temples and palaces. Skeletal remains of children also make it clear that this was not simply a fortress but also a non-military settlement during both the Hyksos and Empire periods. In addition, Maqsoud even found remains of an Asiatic community that had occupied the site before construction of the fortifying walls in the Hyksos period, indicating that the site had been occupied by a Canaanite community during the Thirteenth Dynasty which preceded Hyksos rule in the Eastern Delta.

The most important evidence, however, is provided by the fortifications themselves. This is the only fortified city ever to have been found in the Eastern Delta. Moreover, it has at least three different walls at three levels, confirming what we know from literary sources of Pi-Ramses/Avaris/Zarw.

Dr Eric Uphill, Hon. Research Fellow of Egyptology at University College, London, has accepted in a discussion at the Egyptian Cultural Centre that the city at Tell Heboua could be identified with Zarw, and even Maqsoud himself has changed the subject of the PhD thesis he is preparing at Lille University in France from having found the ‘Dwelling of the Lion’, accepting that what he has actually found is the fortified city of Zarw. I think that before long others will come to the same conclusion regarding the remains of the upper strata.

The next question that will have to be faced is: what about the fortified Hyksos city beneath Zarw? The textual information we have not only informs us that Avaris was fortified, but that it was the only fortified Hyksos city in Egypt – and none of the other locations suggested hitherto for the Hyksos capital so far reveals any kind of fortifications.

Archaeological work in Syria/Palestine has brought to light a number of Hyksos cities, all of which were almost identical. They featured a characteristic system of fortification whose most dominant feature was the use of glacis, a steeply-sloping inner wall of plastered limestone, encircling the sides of an ancient mound on which the city was built; a heavy retaining wall of battered stone at the foot of the inner wall, and a large city wall around the summit. In defence of the site of Qantir/Tell el-Dab’a being the location of Pi-Ramses, it has been suggested that the lack of massive walls and fortifications, which are essential evidence for such an identification, is to be explained by the fact that they were long ago washed away by the waters of the Nile: yet, if this were the case, one is entitled to ask how ordinary houses, much less strongly built, have managed to survive in the same layers and under the same conditions?

In the meantime, as the walled city of Zarw found by Maqsoud lies on top of a mound, it seems likely that the walls of Avaris lie beneath it; and Dr Ali Hassan, the head of the Egyptian Antiquity Organization, has admitted: ‘The remains found beneath the city are the first Hyksos remains to be found in Sinai and raise a new doubt regarding the position – now generally accepted as Tell el-Dab’a – of the Hyksos capital in Egypt.’ As there is complete agreement among scholars that the finding of Avaris would also mean having located Pi-Ramses, I do not think we are too far from establishing the truth now that both of those cities are located at Tell Heboua, particularly when the site yields further evidence in the planned fourth season of excavation.

Tiye’s City

As the final part of the word Zarw-kha has the determinative of a city – a circle including a cross – some early Egyptologists, such as Petrie, Maspero and Clédat, having removed this final part of the name, identified Tiye’s city, Zarw-kha, with the border fortress and city of Zarw.12 In addition, Clédat demonstrated13 that Lake Ballah, to the south of Kantarah, is the pleasure lake mentioned in the scarab. As Zarw was the frontier city on the road to Asia, the use of the epithet ‘who smites the Asiatics’ in the scarab again points to Zarw as the location of Tiye’s city. More recently, however, two alternative sites – distant from the frontier – have been canvassed as Tiye’s city (see Appendix D).

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