The Oldest Reference to Israel

Explore ancient texts in a video lecture presented by Jacob L. Wright

In the first week of the free online course “The Bible’s Prehistory, Purpose and Political Future” (see below for details), I examine the larger geopolitical context of Israel’s place on the “land bridge” connecting the centers of civilization. To initiate this discussion, I pose a basic question: Where do we find the first references to Israel outside the Bible?

One of the central themes of the course is defeat and the responses to it that we find in the Hebrew Scriptures. Given the significance of defeat in the Bible, it’s remarkable that the first references to Israel, as well as the important places within its borders, are found in texts that pronounce curses or that declare that these people have been wiped out of existence.

The irony is that we didn’t know about these non-Biblical texts until archaeologists discovered them in recent times. In contrast, Israel survived. And one of the things that ensured its survival is a corpus of sacred writings — the Bible. It was transmitted from generation to generation for thousands of years, and in the process, it profoundly shaped both religious and political communities.

My course addresses the question: Why does the Bible have this extraordinary impact?


Click here to read Dr. Wright’s Bible History Daily post Why Do We Have a Bible?


The Bible’s Prehistory, Purpose, and Political Future

A new phenomenon is changing the public face of university education, making first-rate courses from the world’s best universities available to all, wherever they live. The phenomenon is often subsumed under the umbrella term “Massive Open Online Course” (MOOC). One of the leaders in the new realm of MOOC courses is Coursera, which reaches millions of students of all ages across the globe. This year Dr. Jacob L. Wright was selected to teach for Coursera one of its first courses on religion—and its very first on the Hebrew Bible as a whole. Titled “The Bible’s Prehistory, Purpose and Political Future,” the course is offered through the prestigious Emory University, which is world-renowned for its graduate programs in Biblical Studies (the largest in the USA).

This new course on the Bible is free, and enrollment is open to everyone. Beginning May 26, it runs for six weeks. You can take it for credit and a diploma, or you can just watch the lectures at leisure and take the quizzes for fun, without anyone knowing how well you did—or didn’t do.

The religion section of most bookstores includes an amazing array of Bibles. In our free eBook The Holy Bible: A Buyer’s Guide, prominent Biblical scholars Leonard Greenspoon and Harvey Minkoff expertly guide you through 21 different Bible translations (or versions) and address their content, text, style and religious orientation.

WrightJacob L. Wright is associate professor of Hebrew Bible at the Candler School of Theology of Emory University. He is author of Rebuilding Identity: The Nehemiah Memoir and Its Earliest Readers (De Gruyter) and two related works on the Bible’s most celebrated ruler: King David’s Reign Revisited (Aldina/Apple iBooks) and David, King of Israel, and Caleb in Biblical Memory (Cambridge University Press). He is currently at work on an exciting new book on the Bible to be published by Simon & Schuster—Atria.

Posted in Ancient Israel, Video.

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  • Benjamin says

    All asked important questions, BUT after reading questions up here there are no answeres to them. My question is, the Merneptah Stele seperates Canaan from Israel, wheres Israel and where is Canaan?

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