Does the Merneptah Stele Contain the First Mention of Israel?

Scholars Manfred Görg, Peter van der Veen and Christoffer Theis say maybe not

Does the Merneptah Stele Contain the First Mention of Israel?

Does this fragmentary hieroglyphic inscription contain the first mention of Israel? According to a recently published article by Manfred Görg, Peter van der Veen and Christoffer Theis, the name-ring on the right may indeed read “Israel,” and they date it almost 200 years earlier than the reference to Israel on the Merneptah Stele.

The Merneptah Stele has long been touted as the earliest extrabiblical reference to Israel.* The ancient Egyptian inscription dates to about 1205 B.C.E. and recounts the military conquests of the pharaoh Merneptah. Near the bottom of the hieroglyphic inscription, a people called “Israel” is said to have been wiped out by the conquering pharaoh. This has been used by some experts as evidence of the ethnogenesis of Israel around that time.

But a new publication by Egyptologists and Biblical scholars Manfred Görg, Peter van der Veen and Christoffer Theis suggests that there may be an even earlier reference to Israel in the Egyptian record. Manfred Görg discovered a broken statue pedestal containing hieroglyphic name-rings in the Egyptian Museum of Berlin and, after studying it with colleagues Peter van der Veen and Christoffer Theis, they suggest that one of the name-rings should be read as “Israel.” Not all scholars agree with their reading because of slight differences in spelling, but Görg, van der Veen and Theis offer strong arguments, including supportive parallels in the Merneptah Stele itself. This newly rediscovered inscription is dated to around 1400 B.C.E.—about 200 years earlier than the Merneptah Stele. If Görg, van der Veen and Theis are right, their discovery will shed important light on the beginnings of ancient Israel.

As the point where three of the world’s major religions converge, Israel’s history is one of the richest and most complex in the world. Sift through the archaeology and history of this ancient land in the free eBook Israel: An Archaeological Journey, and get a view of these significant Biblical sites through an archaeologist’s lens.


* See Frank J. Yurco, “3,200-Year-Old Pictures of Israelites Found in Egypt,” Biblical Archaeology Review, September/October 1990.

For more about the discovery of a possible first mention of Israel before the Merneptah Stele by scholars Manfred Görg, Peter van der Veen and Christoffer Theis, see “When Did Ancient Israel Begin?” in Biblical Archaeology Review, January/February 2012.


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  • Marc says

    I try not to be abrupt on websites like this, but commentators like Vince and Malcolm know not what they speak of, at the very least. At worst they are trying to foist upon the rest of us figments of their own imaginations. Malcolm especially imagines parallels between known Egyptian personages and established biblical heavy hitters that are assertions of a radically overheated mind.
    Back to the original point:
    Exact translation of Merneptah’s stele:
    Canaan is captive with all woe. Ashkalon is conquered, Gezer seized, Yanoam made nonexistent; Israel is wasted, bare of seed. Khor is become a widow for Egypt. All who roamed have been subdued”, etc. This is from “Ancient Egyptian Literature” by Miriam Lichtheim, Univ. of California Press, 1976

  • Marc says

    When Flinders Petrie discovered this stele in the late 19th Century he, as well as every other linguist specializing in hieroglyphs, knew the glyph deciphered IN CONTEXT means Israel. The glyph does not read NORTH! If you have a political or religious stance that clouds your judgement, do not comment on purely linguistic/ scientific matters! We will never know the identity of the specific Pharaoh mentioned in Exodus. The Freudian theory has Moses as the Egyptian born High Priest of Aten under Akhenaten. Upon Akhenaten’s death in 1335 BC, this Moses and his followers escape Amarna/Thebes and spend 40 years among the Midianites who worship Yahweh- a mountain god among many lesser gods. Moses, the Egyptian, introduces them to monotheism in the form of Atenism, that many generations later, is absorbed by the Yahweh cult, turning Yahweh into YHWH who is none other than Adonai or Elohim the singular Creator of the Universe.
    Ever visit the Cairo Museum? The Merneptah stele is referred to as the Israel stele by the Egyptian guide!

  • vince says

    the word isra el is Egyptian for northearn and nothing more

  • Walter says

    Some scholars, citing 1 Kings 6:1, opt for an Exodus circa 1446 BC. However, two Egyptologists, Kenneth Kitchen and James Hoffmeier, have noted that almost 600 years elapsed from the Exodus to Solomon’s Temple, not 480 years (1 Kings 6:1). This aligns the Exodus with the Hyksos Expulsion under Pharaoh Ahmoses I, founder of the 18th Dynasty. Manetho, an Egyptian historian, said the Hyksos fled Egypt for Jerusalem. The hill country of Canaan circa Iron I explodes with 300 new settlements, believed to be Israel settling the land under Joshua. How to account for the Hyksos Expulsion being recast as Israel’s Exodus? The answer is Judges 3:5-6, which sttaes after the conquest of Canaan Israel married Canaanites and worshiped their gods. If this be so, then Iron I Canaanites, descendants of the expelled Hyksos, passed on to their Israelite sons and daughters of Iron II traditions of their ancestors removal from Egypt, to Canaan.
    If the 300 Iron I villages are Israel settling in Canaan and Transjordan, are they coming from Egypt or elsewhere? Abraham and family are portrayed entering Canaan and Transjordan in a Philistine world. Rameses III mentions the Philistine conquest of Canaan and their attempt to conquer Egypt. He defeats them circa 1174 BC. So, Israel (Abraham) is entering Canaan circa 1174 BC or later? Abraham is a Iron Age I patriarch, not of 2000 BC as portrayed in the Bible. He is of Harran and of Ur of the Chaldees. If so, then the Iron I pottery should resemble Syrian forms of Late Bronze Age and Iron Age I times. For more info visit my website,

  • Malcolm says

    Israel was Lower Egypt and dates back to at least the Third Dynasty Pharaoh Djoser or Joshua if 1 Samuel chapters 4 to 6 are correct. The Army marched out carrying the Benben or Ark which was then captured by Philistines (Sumerians in other ancient texts telling the same story). When returned the Kine towed the cart holding the Benben back to Bethshemesh which according to Jeremiah was Heliopolis, the Sacred City of Iunu or On. Only a King could have owned a field in Egypt to Joshua the Bethshemite had to be Djoser and the Great Stone of Abel would have been his Pyramid. If the Egyptian name Djoser was indeed Joshua then we should find another following Akhenaten and we do – Djoser HEPREW Setepenre whose praenomen was Horemheb Mery Ymn (Miriam). Horemheb was a General and he did knock down the city walls of Akhetaten though not with trumpets. The Pharaoh Ay therefore had to be the prophet Ahijah of 1 Kings. It all makes sense when one looks at the massive and overwhelming evidence – at least 17 main points which confirm that Ymn Htp III was also known as Salim Amen or Solomon and we do know that his father was Dhwt IV) and his son King Twt was also known as David according to the Kebra Nagast.

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