This inscription was discovered in 1896 by Flinders Petrie in western Thebes. The stele itself is a reuse of one of Tutmose III’s inscriptions, and records Merneptah’s victory over the Lybians and the Sea Peoples who allied with them. The creation of the stele dates to 1209 BCE, the year 5 of Merneptah’s reign (1213-1203 BCE). The last 12 lines form a unit that outlining general domination of Egypt’s neighbors, not necessarily demonstrating a second conquest after the Lybian victory. The last unit includes the name of Israel, with the determinative for people, saying “Israel is wasted, its seed is not." It has been argued by Hasel that “seed” might refer to grain and thus might tell us that Israel was a sedentary agrarian people, but most take “seed” to refer to human offspring. Many scholars agree that this last unit has a type of chiastic structure, but there is disagreement over which toponym Israel is being compared too. This is the earliest extra-biblical attestation of the name Israel, which makes it an important piece of evidence in assessing the rise of early Israel. There has been some doubt raised about whether this does refer to Israel, with possibilities like Jezreel being put forward as a viable options. Most scholars hold to the traditional reading of "Israel."


COS II:40-41; Lichteim, Ancient Egyptian Literature III:73-78; Ian Shaw, The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, p. 302, 481

Fun FactEdit

Apparently a copy of the Merneptah stele was made in antiquity and is only partially extant now in Karnak. The place where Israel should be mentioned in unfortunately broken.

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