Goshen – The Eastern Lakes
Goshen is located in the northeastern Nile Delta region of Egypt. When Joseph’s family came to escape the famine in Canaan and live in Egypt, they settled in an area called Goshen, also referred to as the land of Rameses (Genesis 45:10, 47:11). Abraham would have also passed through this area in Genesis 12:10, when he and Sarah temporarily visit Egypt to avoid a famine.
Goshen – The Ancient Highways
Goshen is a fertile region where many Asiatics migrated during the Middle Kingdom of Egypt. The patriarchs would have traveled on the ancient highways along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea to Egypt. In Egypt, a famous wall painting with text from Beni Hassan showing this type of activity survives. Dated to about 1870 BC, it depicts 15 pastoral, nomadic Semites entering Egypt just like Abraham, Jacob, and even the Midianite traders who took Joseph. Later scribes may have updated the names of the locations to fit the current time in order to give a known location to the current readers. A clear biblical example of this, but where both names have been included, comes from Genesis 35:19 and 48:7 “Ephrath, (that is Bethlehem).”
Goshen – The Archaeological Finds
In Goshen at a major archaeological site encompassing Middle Kingdom Hyksos and New Kingdom cities, the Austrian expedition under Manfred Bietak has uncovered a great deal of archaeological evidence of Asiatic habitation: 20th to 18th centuries Rowarty, 18th to 16th centuries Avaris,16th to 15th centuries Perunefer, 14th century uninhabited, and 13th century Ramses. The ruins of Avaris indicate a crowded, densely populated city with narrow streets and alleys and mud-brick construction. Monuments associated with the 12th, 13th, and 19th Dynasties, spanning over 500 years, were uncovered indicating a very long history and identifying it as one of the largest cities in the ancient world.
The city was built over the ruins of the Middle Kingdom town Rowarty “Door of the Two Roads” that had been captured by the Hyksos. At the site, pottery, weapons, and architecture of the Levant was discovered, indicating Asiatic settlement. Many texts, artifacts, and artwork from the Middle and New Kingdom, including Egyptian papyri, tomb paintings, inscriptions, and scarabs also indicate people from the Levant, even some Semites, were settled in northern Egypt. Some of these Semites were slaves, making mud bricks for building, mining, working in the fields, and serving in households—just as we see various Israelites doing during their time in Egypt.
The Israelites mainly settled in Goshen, so agricultural work was likely one of their jobs, and it is also possible that some of them worked in the seasonal mines. Joseph, Shiphrah, and Puah worked as household-type slaves, and some of the Israelites during the time of Moses worked by making bricks and building structures. As for evidence that is more specific to the Israelites, the Brooklyn Papyrus lists almost 30 slaves with northwest Semitic names, several which are even Hebrew. The type of structure known as the Israelite 4-Room House, found prolifically in Iron Age Israel ca. 1230-587 BC, has been discovered and excavated both at Tel ed-Dab’a and near Memphis.
The term translated “the land of the Shasu of Yahweh” or “Yahweh in the land of the Shasu” has been found in Egyptian inscriptions dating to the 18th and 19th dynasties (ca. 15th to 13th centuries BC) as the earliest reference to Yahweh outside of the Old Testament. The Speos Artemidos Inscription from the 18th Dynasty reign of Hatshepsut mentions Levantine shepherds in the Nile Delta, which compares to Genesis 46, mentioning the sons of Israel as shepherds in the land of Goshen.
Goshen – From the Exodus to the Suez Canal
The lakes on the eastern border of Egypt were at the edge of the Goshen area, and the sea crossing of the Exodus possibly occurred at one of these lakes. These lakes are filled with papyrus reeds, and include from north to south, the Ballah Lakes, Lake Timsah, and the Bitter Lakes. Depicted on various artwork and mentioned in ancient writings, these lakes were sometimes connected by canals, allowing transport for the ancient Egyptians across the isthmus which is now cut by the Suez Canal. An Egyptian text called the “Teaching for Merikare,” reliefs of Hatshepsut’s Punt expedition, and a wall relief of Seti I at Karnak indicate the lakes and canals helped form not only a waterway, but a wall of water, keeping enemies out of Egypt, but the Israelites in. The present day Suez Canal, opened in 1869, is 119 miles long, connecting the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, passing through the region of these eastern border lakes. The ancient lakes are mostly drained now, though reeds still grow in the marshy and watery regions.