The Joy of Museums

Finding Meaning in Art & History

Merneptah Stele

Merneptah Israel Stele Cairo
“The Merneptah Stele”, also known as the “Israel Stele” is a granite slab monument with an inscription by the ancient Egyptian King Merneptah, who reign 1213 to 1203 BC. It was discovered by Flinders Petrie an English Egyptologist in 1896 at Thebes. The stele was found in Merenptah’s funerary chapel in Thebes, the ancient Egyptian capital on the west bank of the Nile.

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 final two lines mention a campaign in Canaan, where Merneptah says he defeated and destroyed Ashkalon, Gezer, Yanoam and Israel.

The 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 text referencing Israel and 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.

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The name Israel written in hieroglyphs as it appears on the stele (mirror view) in line 27

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Essential Facts:

  • Title:                         Merneptah Stele
  • Year:                         c. 1208 BC
  • Medium:                  Granite
  • Discovered:             1896
  • Findsite:                   Thebes
  • Discoverer:              Flinders Petrie (British)
  • Dimensions:             3 meters (10 feet) high
  • Museum:                 Egyptian Museum, Cairo

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“For the benefit of the flowers, we water the thorns, too.” Egyptian Proverbs

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Photo Credits: 1) By Webscribe (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons 2) By Brave heart, using free hieroglyphic fonts (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons