The Merenptah Stele, which is also known as the Israel Stele or the Victory Stele of Merneptah, is a stone with an inscription which dates to around 1209 BC. It is attributed to Pharaoh Merenptah (1213-1203 BC). Part of the inscription reads “Israel has been wiped out…its seed is no more.” While this is clearly an exaggeration, it is the oldest known artifact referring to Israel making it a significant find.
The granite stele (a stone pillar) was discovered at Thebes in 1898. The text is in hieroglyphics. It is currently housed at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
Alternative translations have been offered but all of them mention Israel in line 27. Besides being the earliest known mention of Israel, it is the only mention from ancient Egypt. This does not cast doubt on the historical accuracy of the biblical account. There are other references to Semitic people laboring in Egypt and it is unlikely that the Egyptians would have cared if they were Israelites of some other Semitic group.
A translation of the inscription on the This translation was done by Miriam Lichtheim (Ancient Egyptian Literature, Volume II. Berkeley: U of CA Press, 1976). It can be found online here along with a very nice photo of the stele.
Text © 2018 Gary J. Sibio. All rights reserved.