News And Notes -- By: Anonymous

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 08:4 (Autumn 1995)
Article: News And Notes
Author: Anonymous

News And Notes

The Merneptah Stela And Ancient Israel

Undoubtedly, the most important mention of Israel outside the Bible is that in the Merneptah, or “Israel,” Stela. Discovered in 1896 in Merneptah’s mortuary temple in Thebes by Flinders Petrie, the stela is a poetic eulogy to pharaoh Merneptah, who ruled Egypt after Rameses the Great, ca. 1212–1202 BC. Of significance to Biblical studies is a short section at the end of the poem describing a campaign to Canaan by Merneptah in the first few years of his reign, ca. 1210 BC. One line mentions Israel: “Israel is laid waste, its seed is not.” Here we have the earliest mention of Israel outside the Bible and the only mention of Israel in Egyptian records.

Since the date of the reference to Israel in the Merneptah Stela is during the time of the judges, prior to the establishment of the monarchy, it is of crucial importance to understanding Israel’s formative period. For example, a popular theory among Biblical scholars today is that Israel emerged from peoples indigenous to Canaan in the mid 12th century BC. If this is true, Biblical history and chronology prior to ca. 1150 BC would have to be jettisoned. Proponents of the “12th century emergence theory” maintain that the Israelites did not come into Canaan from outside to conquer the land around 1400 BC, as the Bible indicates. The emergence scenario would also reject the historicity of the Wilderness Wanderings, Exodus, Egyptian Sojourn and the Patriarchal narratives. However, if Israel was an established entity in Canaan already in 1210 BC, as the Merneptah Stela implies, then the 12th century emergence theory would be refuted (Bimson 1991). If Israel was well established by the end of the 13th century, it could not have come into being in the middle of the next century.

As a result, the Merneptah Stela has been meticulously scrutinized and analyzed by scholars, perhaps more so than any text outside the Bible. They are out to determine what it “really” says, not that they would want to force any preconceived notions on the text! Michael G. Hasel, a doctoral candidate at the University of Arizona, has recently reviewed the various interpretations concerning the reference to Israel in the stela. Furthermore, he has done an in-depth linguistic study to determine as far as possible the intended meaning of text.

The discussion of the significance of Israel in the Merneptah stela revolves

around the meaning of two words: “Israel” and “seed.” A number of possibilities have been suggested, as summarized by Hasel. Scholars have implied that the name Israel could be interpreted as Iezreel or Jezreal, the valley to the north of the country. Another idea is th...

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