The Merneptah Stele is famous for its inscription by the ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Merneptah (1213 to 1203 BC) discovered in 1896 at Thebes. The text glorifies King Merneptah’s victories over the Libyans and their Sea People allies. It also describes a separate campaign in Canaan which was then part of Egypt’s imperial possessions. The last two lines mention a campaign in Canaan, where Merneptah says he defeated and destroyed many ethnic groups including Israel.
The Merneptah Stele is sometimes referred to as the “Israel Stela” because a majority of scholars translate a set of hieroglyphs on the stele as “Israel.” The stela represents the earliest surviving text referring to Israel, and it is the only reference from ancient Egypt. It is one of four known inscriptions that mention Israel and date to the time of ancient Israel and is thus of unique historical importance.
The name Israel written in hieroglyphs as it appears on the stele (mirror view) in line 27
The stele was found in Merenptah’s funerary chapel in Thebes, the ancient Egyptian capital. The stele is a black granite slab, over 3 meters (10 feet) high, and the inscription says it was carved in the 5th year of Merneptah of the 19th dynasty.
Did you know?
- A Stele like this one was called a Victory Stele by the Egyptians, a because it boasted military conquests.
- Merneptah was the son of Ramesses II, and during his time he ruled the dominant superpower of the region.
- This stele claims that Israel was destroyed. History has proven this claim a mistaken.
- Egyptian Art and Artefacts
- Nefertiti Bust
- Narmer Palette
- Tutankhamun’s Mask
- Merneptah Stele
- Standing Figure of Nefertiti
- A house altar showing Akhenaten and Nefertiti with their children
- The Temple of Dendur
- The Sphinx of Hatshepsut
- William the Faience Hippopotamus
- Shawabti of King Senkamanisken
- Younger Memnon (Ramesses II)
- Imagine being the archaeologist who discovered this 3,000 years old document?
- How many controversies or debates surround the interpretation of this text?
- Is this object important as art or a historical artefact?
- Is Ancient Egyptian culture the most alien to our modern eyes?
- Title: Merneptah Stele
- Also Known as: Israel Stele or Victory Stele of Merneptah
- Year: 1208 BC
- Medium: Granite
- Discovered: 1896
- Find site: Thebes
- Dimensions: 3 meters (10 feet) high
- Museum: Egyptian Museum, Cairo
“For the benefit of the flowers, we water the thorns, too.”
– Egyptian Proverbs
Photo Credits: 1) Alyssa Bivins [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons 2) By Brave heart, using free hieroglyphic fonts (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons