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Artifact of the Month: The Merneptah Stela

(Posted by Michael J.
Caba)

This month’s
artifact is an engraved slab of granite that is more than ten feet tall. It was
discovered in 1896 in Western Thebes, Egypt by Sir Flinders Petrie and it
contains the oldest* certain reference to “Israel” outside of the Bible. It is commonly
referred to as the Merneptah Stela and the text was carved c. 1210 BC in
hieroglyphs under the auspices of Pharaoh Merneptah.  It is now located in
the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, and the word “Israel” is in the
darkened section in the second line from the bottom that can be seen more
clearly by clicking on the photo to enlarge it.
 
The wording on the stela is hymnic in
nature and recounts the military exploits of Pharaoh Merneptah, especially
against the Libyans. Indeed, of the 28 lines of inscribed text, 23 deal with
the Libyan conflict. It is only in the later part of the inscription that
Israel is mentioned, and in this regard the Israelites are referred to with the
language designating them as an ethnic group instead of a settled nation state.
This description is fully in line with the Biblical portrayal of the Israelites
during the era of the Judges, which represents them as a  people group lacking in central leadership
and without a capital city.  
 
(Photo:
BiblePlaces.com. Significant resource for further study: The Context of Scripture, Volume 2, page 40-41.)
 
*The Berlin Pedestal may contain a
reference to Israel that is older than the Merneptah Stela. See:
 Israel
in Canaan (Long) Before Pharaoh Merenptah? A Fresh Look at Berlin Statue
Pedestal Relief 21687. Journal
of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections
2.4: 15–25.

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5 thoughts on “Artifact of the Month: The Merneptah Stela

  1. Todd: I remembered that you wrote this article regarding the Merneptah Stele. (I think it may have appeared in Artifax.) I actually thought about adding some of the comments you expressed in the article to my post today; but decided to go shorter with this initial one in the series. On the other hand, your points are quite important, and I thank you for adding them.

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