Courtesy the Center for Online Judaic Studies

ISRAEL IN HIEROGLYPHIC. First discovered in 1896, the 7.5-foot-high Merneptah Stele contains the earliest mention of Israel outside the Bible. The black granite stele, which was erected in the Egyptian capital of Thebes in about 1207 B.C.E., commemorates the victories of the pharaoh Merneptah over his many enemies, including the Canaanite city-states of Ashkelon, Gezer and Yenoam and a people called “Israel” (highlighted at the bottom of the photo).

Many of the defining characteristics that distinguished the ancient Israelites from other peoples and led to Israel’s ethnogenesis—avoidance of pork, circumcision, an egalitarian ethos and simple homemade pottery—can be traced back to the historical and social circumstances at the time of the Merneptah Stele, confirming Merneptah’s reference to the people Israel at this time.