Today an English archaeologist, Flinders Petrie discovered a remarkable stone with an inscription on it by the ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Mernepta. The stone is known as the Victory Stele of Merneptah and is of immense interest and value because it dates back to the Iron Age. Its the earliest reference to Israel outside of the Bible
A stele is a standing stone slab used in the ancient world primarily as a grave marker but also for dedication, commemoration, and demarcation. The stele that Petrie had discovered had on it an extensive set of hieroglyphs that give an account of the Pharaoh’s victory over the Libyans and their allies, 13 centuries before the birth of Christ. It is sometimes referred to as the "Israel Stele" because the last 3 of the 28 lines deal with a separate campaign in Canaan, then part of Egypt's imperial possessions, and is the earliest textual reference to Israel. It may give clues to the life of this tribe around the time of Moses.
Petrie and his archaeological team were conducting excavations on a temple in Luxor. This temple had been built by Merneptah who was the son and successor of Ramesses II. Scholars believe that Rameses was the Pharoah who lost his eldest son, in the final plague of the Angel of Death in the Exodus Story. During the excavations Petries team discovered that the temple had been constructed almost entirely from stone which had been plundered from a temple nearby. Statues of the latter had been smashed and the pieces thrown into the foundations; fragments of stone jackals, which must have once formed an imposing avenue approaching the pylon, and broken drums gave some idea of the splendour of the original temple.
A statue of Merneptah himself was found—the first known portrait of this king. Then two splendid stelae or standing stones were found and an inscription of Merneptah was revealed, recording his triumphs over the Libyans and the Peoples of the Sea; Wilhelm Spiegelberg [a noted German philologist] came over to read it when the stone had been discovered, it is quite detailed with many hieroglyphs spanning 28 lines. Near the end of the text Spiegelberg was puzzled by one name, that of a people or tribe whom Merenptah had victoriously smitten-"I.si.ri.ar?" It was Petrie whose quick imaginative mind leapt to the solution: "Israel!" Spiegelberg agreed that it must be so. "Won't the reverends be pleased?" was his comment. At dinner that evening Petrie prophesied: "This stele will be better known in the world than anything else I have found." It was the first mention of the word "Israel" in any Egyptian text and the news made headlines when it reached the papers.J
The hieroglyphs that refer to Israel are the throw stick (the determinative for "foreign") plus a sitting man and woman (the determinative for "people") over three vertical lines (a plural marker). According to The Oxford History of the Biblical World, ... sign is typically used by the Egyptians to signify nomadic groups or peoples, without a fixed city-state home, thus implying a seminomadic or rural status for 'Israel' at that time" It is not clear who this Israel was or where they were located. A continued reading of the hieroglyphs reveal Merneptah's claim to have destroyed Israel's "seed". This has been open to some interpretation, if it means that he destroyed its grain supply, then Israel can be taken to be a settled, crop-growing people; if, however, it means he killed Israel's progeny, then Israel can be taken to be pastoralists, The normative Egyptian use of "wasted, bare of seed" was as a repeated, formulaic phrase to declare victory over a defeated nation or people group whom the Egyptian army conquered and had literally destroyed their grain supply in the specific geographic region that they inhabited. Michael G. Hasel, has suggested that "Israel functioned as an agriculturally based or sedentary socioethnic entity in the late 13th century BC, this does not suggest that the Israelites were an urban people at this time, nor does it provide information about the actual social structure of the people group identified as Israel. As for its location, most scholars believe that Merneptah's Israel must have been in the hill country of central Canaan, but some think it was across the Jordan
Historians believe that a Moses-like figure may have existed somewhere in the southern Transjordan in the mid-late 13th century B.C but that so far archeology can do nothing" to prove or confirm either way, However what the Merneptah Stele does is confirm that a group of people called Israel The last three lines state how the enemies of Egypt (referred to as the Nine Bows) have been suppressed,It reads like this. The princes are prostrate, saying, "Peace!" Not one is raising his head among the Nine Bows. Now that Tehenu (Libya) has come to ruin, Hatti is pacified; The Canaan has been plundered into every sort of woe: Ashkelon has been overcome; Gezer has been captured; Yano'am is made non-existent. Israel is laid waste and his seed is not; Hurru is become a widow because of Egypt. The Stele It is now housed in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo