Juergen Liepe

“Won’t the reverends be pleased!” Thus remarked British archaeologist William Flinders Petrie in 1887 upon learning that a victory stela he had recovered from the funerary temple of the Egyptian pharaoh Merneptah (1213–1203 B.C.E.), in Thebes, was inscribed with the name “Israel.” The Merneptah Stela, also called the Israel Stela, lists the pharaoh’s battle triumphs in Libya and in Canaan, where he defeated the cities of Ashkelon and Gezer. Merneptah also boasts of having conquered a people called Israel in Canaan’s central highlands: “Israel is laid waste; his seed is not.” This is the earliest reference to Israel, and it comes from the day’s most powerful Near Eastern monarch. Not only was there a people calling itself Israel by the latter part of the 13th century B.C.E.—exactly when the biblical chronology says Israelites were emerging in Canaan—but that people was a force to be reckoned with.