NELC 150

Introduction to the Bible

Slide 3

Passage from the Merneptah Stele Inscription showing the word "Israel" (this is the oldest reference to Israel in a text outside the Bible). From 4th year of Pharaoh Merneptah (1212-1202 BCE), possibly the pharaoh under whom the Exodus took place (his father Ramesses II [1279-13] may have been the pharaoh who enslaved the Israelites). The passage reads as follows:

            The Great Ones are prostrate, saying: "Peace" (shalama); 
              Not one raises his head among the Nine Bows; 
                Plundered is Thehenu; Khatti is at peace; 
                  Canaan is plundered with every evil;  
                    Ashkelon is conquered; 
                      Gezer is seized;  
                    Yanoam is made non-existent;  
                  Israel is laid waste, his seed is no more;
                Kharu has become a widow because of Egypt! 
              All lands together are at peace;
            Any who roamed have been subdued.

The three characters on the left [woman, man, bent throwstick], along with the three vertical strokes beneath the first two, indicate that "Israel" refers to a people, not a land or a city like Ashkelon, Gezer, and Yanoam. In other words, Israel was an unsettled people in or near Canaan at this time. Translation by Anson F. Rainey, "Israel in Merneptah's Inscription and Reliefs," Israel Exploration Journal 51 (2001): 63.