In 1896 archaeologists discovered a stele in Pharaoh Merneptah’s mortuary temple in Thebes,Egypt.  The stele measures 10’4” x 5’4”, and is written in Egyptian Hieroglypics.  It dates to 1209-1208 BC, which places it during the time of the Judges.

The stele was originally erected by Pharaoh Amenhotep III, but later inscribed by Merneptah (1213-1203 BC), the son of Ramses II.

Mummy of Pharaoh Merneptah

And we have Merneptah’s mummy!

The stele describes Merneptah’s victories over the Libyans et al, but the last two lines mention a prior military campaign in Israel (this campaign is not mentioned in the Bible): “Canaan is captive with all woe. Ashkelon is conquered, Gezer seized, Yanoam made nonexistent; Israel is wasted, bare of seed.  Hurru is become a widow for Egypt! All lands together, they are pacified; everyone who was restless has been bound by the king of Upper and Lower Egypt; Be-en Re Meri-Amon; the Son of Re; Merneptah Hotep-hir-Maat, given life like Re every day.”

"Israel" in the Merneptah Stele

Significance:

  1. This is the oldest extra-biblical mention of the name “Israel” (and the only mention in Egyptian records).  The next oldest is the Mesha Stele, 300 years later.
  2. This is the only reference to Israel prior to the Divided Kingdom.
  3. This proves that a people group named “Israel” existed, and was dwelling in Palestine in the 13th century B.C.  A particular hieroglyphic used to indicate a country is missing.  This means thatIsrael is depicted as a people-group rather than as a nation with clearly defined boundaries.  This depiction ofIsrael at this time in history is consistent with the portrait painted in the book of Judges.
  4. Given the fact that the purpose of the stele is to celebrate the great accomplishments of Pharaoh Merneptah—the most powerful man in the world at the time—the fact that he mentionsIsraelat all is significant.  It indicates that they were seen as a worthy opponent, sufficient to be mentioned in the annals of a great king’s military victories.
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