Maryl Levine

“Israel is laid waste, his seed is not” proclaims the Victory Stele of the Egyptian pharaoh Merneptah (see detail. The stele, erected in about 1210 B.C.E., commemorates the defeat of several of Merneptah’s enemies in Canaan in the late 13th century. On the stele, “Israel” is followed by a sign for “people”—proof, writes Dever, that Israel was already known as a distinct ethnic group at that time. The archaeological record demonstrates that a new people had settled Canaan’s central highlands in Iron Age I; the Merneptah Stele gives a name to that people: Israel. And these people, Dever concludes, are the direct predecessors of ninth- to seventh-century B.C.E. Israelites, for whom we have abundant evidence.