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PITHOM (Egyptian Per Atum, "House of the god Atum"), a city mentioned once in the Bible (Ex. 1:11) as one of the two treasury cities (see also *Ramses) which the Israelites were forced to build for Pharaoh. The identification of Pithom with the site of Tell el-Maskhutah near the eastern end of the Wadi Tumilat has been accepted for many years by a large number of scholars despite the lack of any definite evidence that the town located there, Tjeku (= biblical Succoth?), was called Pithom (Per Atum) earlier than the Egyptian 22nd Dynasty (c. 945–730 B.C.E.) or that Ramses II, the supposed pharaoh of the bondage, had built a completely new city there (as implied in Ex. 1:11). The 19th-Dynasty Egyptian text mentioning the "pools of Per-Atum of Merneptah which are in Tjeku" (Papyrus Anastasi IV, 4:56) may or may not refer to this city. An alternative identification of the site as Tell er-Ratabeh, about 22 miles west of Ismailia, has also been proposed and has been accepted by some. The most recent and most convincing identification depends on the Egyptians' use of Per (literally "house") in a wider, administrative context as the large region, under the control of the temple of a particular god. Per could then refer to a city sacred to that god, as did Per Amun to Thebes and Per Bastet to Bubastis. Since Atum was a manifestation of the sun god, Per Atum could very well have meant *Heliopolis (called On in the Bible). It is quite probable that the Beth-Shemesh of Jeremiah 43:13 is a Hebrew translation of Per Atum. Such an identification is well supported by the size, importance, and fame of Heliopolis.


E.P. Uphill, in: JNES, 27 (1968), 291–316; 28 (1969), 15–39.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.