What Were the Israelites Building in Egypt? https://mosaicmagazine.com/picks/history-ideas/2020/04/what-were-the-israelites-building-in-egypt/

April 1, 2020 | David Falk
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Neither the biblical text nor archeological evidence supports the enduring misconception that Jewish slaves in Egypt built the pyramids. But references in the book of Exodus to the Israelites gathering straw to make mudbricks, and having specific quotas to fill, resemble quite closely slave labor as described in ancient Egyptian texts. David Falk, drawing on the latest scholarship, makes some specific conjectures about the construction projects these slaves may have been involved in:

Brickmaking was a [typical] labor specialization . . . for slaves in ancient Egypt. . . . Exodus 1:11 alludes to the Israelites building Egyptian storage cities: “So they appointed taskmasters over them to afflict them with hard labor. And they built for Pharaoh storage cities, Pithom and Ramses.”

These storage cities are not simply coterminous with Pithom and Rameses, since these two cities had a variety of buildings that included stone temples. In other words, Pithom and Rameses cannot properly be described as “storage” cities, and thus the verse likely refers to structures within these cities—probably a series of mudbrick depots attached to the temples used to store vast quantities of food. . . . Examples of storage depots can be found surrounding several mortuary temples.

The reason the temples needed such storage depots was because Egypt had a barter economy that did not use money. Any temple cult lasted only so long as there was food to make offerings and feed priests. Storing food for offerings was essential for a temple to continue operating. Many of the temples in Egypt could not rely upon state support once the king died, and this was especially true of royal mortuary temples.

The storage cities ensured a constant supply of offerings for a king’s mortuary . . . following his death. Given these circumstances, Pharaoh’s command forcing the Israelites to build these storage depots was more than just slavery. It was a command to make God’s chosen people labor in service to gods other than Him.

Read more on Biblical Archaeology Review: https://www.baslibrary.org/biblical-archaeology-review/46/2/6