The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1924

Letter to a Pharaoh. Abi-milki, king of Tyre, writes to Pharaoh Akhenaten (Amenophis IV, 1353–1335 B.C.E.) that he is “protecting the city” during a period of rebellion. This cuneiform tablet is one of more than 350 similar examples of correspondence on baked clay found in an archive at Akhenaten’s capital of tell el-Amarna. Many of the letters were sent by and to Akhenaten and his predecessor to and by vassal kings in Canaan. Some letters mention the ‘apiru, an itinerant, socially marginal people who served various Near Eastern government as agricultural workers or mercenary soldiers, or who engaged in brigandage for themselves. Because of the similarity of “‘apiru” to the Hebrew word for “Hebrew” (‘ivri), some scholars think that the ‘apiru represent our first historical record of the people who would become the Israelites. Professor Gottwald believes that many of the ‘apiru became Israelites, but that not all Israelites had been ‘apiru.