Thomas Hartwell

Frozen in stone, events from the pharaoh Merneptah’s campaign into Canaan (conducted sometime between 1211 and 1209 B.C.E.) adorn this wall at Karnak, in Thebes, Egypt. The scene below the pair of horizontal lines in the photo illustrates a line of text on a commemorative stele that Merneptah erected later: “Ashkelon has been overcome.” On top of the fortified city’s crenelated walls, at upper left in the drawing, we see men and women who seem to be imploring heaven to save them from attack. Meanwhile, children are being lowered (or perhaps being dropped as a sacrifice) from the tower on each side. Below them, an Egyptian soldier climbs the wall on a lauder as the battle rages before the city gate. Pharaoh and his chariot team, once again drawn on a larger scale, appear on the right side of the scene. The hieroglyphic text, to the right of the ramparts, identifies the city in this scene as Ashkelon.

The much-damaged panel above the Ashkelon scene is now the center of a controversy. In “3,200-Year-Old Picture of Israelites Found in Egypt,” BAR 16:05, Frank J. Yurco identified the figures in the scene as Israelites based on the argument that this panel corresponds to a line on the Merneptah Stele that mentions Israelites. Now Anson F. Rainey argues that this panel corresponds to another line on the Merneptah Stele and shows Canaanites rather than Israelites, who instead appear in a different panel on the wall.