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Merneptah Stele

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Apollo
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« on: April 18, 2007, 01:32:09 pm »



The Merneptah Stele (also known as the Israel Stele or Victory Stele of Merneptah) is the reverse of a large granite stele originally erected by the Ancient Egyptian king Amenhotep III, but later inscribed by Merneptah who ruled Egypt from 1213 to 1203 BC. The black granite stela primarily commemorates a victory in a campaign against the Libu and Meshwesh Libyans and their Sea People allies, but its final two lines refer to a prior military campaign in Canaan in which Merneptah states that he defeated Ashkelon, Gezer, Yanoam and Israel among others.[1] The stele was discovered in the first court of Merneptah's mortuary temple at Thebes by Flinders Petrie in 1896.[2] Petrie remarked "This stele will be better known in the world than anything else I have found" [3]and is now in the collection of the Egyptian Museum at Cairo; a fragmentary copy of the stela was also found at Karnak.[4] It stands some ten feet tall, and its text is mainly a prose report with a poetic finish, mirroring other Egyptian New Kingdom stelae of the time. The stela is dated to Year 5, 3rd month of Shemu (summer), day 3 (c.1209/1208 BC), and begins with a laudatory recital of Merneptah's achievements in battle.

The stele has gained much notoriety and fame for being the only Egyptian document generally accepted as mentioning "Isrir" or "Israel". It is also, by far, the earliest known attestation of Israel. For this reason, many scholars refer to it as the "Israel stele". This title is somewhat misleading because the stela is clearly not concerned about Israel—it mentions Israel only in passing. There is only one line about Israel—"Israel is wasted, bare of seed" or "Israel lies waste, its seed no longer exists"—and very little about the region of Canaan. Israel is simply grouped together with three other defeated states in Canaan (Gezer, Yanoam and Ashkelon) in the stela. Merneptah inserts just a single stanza to the Canaanite campaigns but multiple stanzas to his defeat of the Libyans. The line referring to Merneptah's Canaanite campaign reads: Canaan is captive with all woe. Ashkelon is conquered, Gezer seized, Yanoam made nonexistent; Israel is wasted, bare of seed
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Apollo
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« Reply #1 on: April 18, 2007, 01:32:48 pm »

Merneptah's campaign

There is disagreement over whether or not Merneptah did actually campaign in Canaan and didn't merely recount what was there, mirroring later Assyrian documents that could never admit that Assyria could lose in battle. This argument holds some weight, as a stela by Merneptah's predecessor Ramesses II about the Battle of Kadesh indicates firm control of the Levant, making it strange that Merneptah had to reconquer it – unless Merneptah had faced a revolt in this region that he felt compelled to crush in order to exert's Egypt's authority over Canaan. In this case, Merneptah's control over Caanan was precarious at best.
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Apollo
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« Reply #2 on: April 18, 2007, 01:34:19 pm »



Israel, a people without a state

Mention of Israel

As the stela mentions just one line about Israel, it is difficult for scholars to draw a substantial amount of information about what "Israel" means in this stela. The stela does make clear that Israel, at this stage, refers to a people since a hieroglyphic determinative for "country" is absent regarding Israel. While the other defeated enemies listed beside Israel in this document such as Ashkelon, Gezer and Yanoam are given the determinative for a city-state—"a throw stick plus three mountains designating a foreign country"—the hieroglyphs which refer to Israel instead employ "the determinative sign reserved for foreign peoples: a throw stick plus a man and a woman over three vertical plural lines. This sign is typically used by the Egyptians to signify nomadic groups or peoples without a fixed city-state, thus implying a seminomadic or rural status" for Israel in Merneptah's Year 5.[5] Apart from this, there is little other information which can be concluded about Israel at this time.

 
Libyans (Tjeḥenu) are described by determinatives: foreign person + people + foreign country (=state/country of Libyan people)A theory by Donald Redford states that "Israel" was a band of Bedouin-like wanderers known to Egyptians as "Shasu". Redford notes that among the Shasu in a 15th century BC list at the Soleb temple of Amenhotep III is one labelled "Yhw- in the land of the Shasu", which has been considered an early form of Yaw, or Yahweh, thus providing a possible explanation for the origin of Israel. The proposed link between the Israelites and the Shasu is undermined, however, by the fact that in the Merneptah stela, the Israelites are not depicted as Shasu, but wear the same clothing and have the same hairstyles as the Canaanites, who are shown defending the fortified cities of Ashkelon, Gezer, and Yanoam.[6] As far as what "Israel" became after that, there is little that can be drawn. The next extra-Biblical source about Israel, detailing a campaign against Moab by Omri, appears some 300 years later in the Mesha Stele, and Biblically-speaking, the 200 years between the stele and the foundation of the Kingdom of Israel by Saul in c.1000 BC are treated in a rather cursory manner, leaving much to speculation about how Israel became a kingdom. Regardless, the stele becomes an important source for Israelite history simply because it is the first official record in history of an "Israel", even if this record does not explain much.

Another explanation offered by Michael G. Hasel, director of the Institute of Archaeology at Southern Adventist University, is that Israel was already a well established political force in Canaan in the late 13th century BCE:

"Israel functioned as an agriculturally based or sedentary socioethnic entity in the late 13th century BCE one that is significant enough to be included in the military campaign against political powers in Canaan. While the Merneptah stela does not give any indication of the actual social structure of the people of Israel, it does indicate that Israel was a significant socioethnic entity that needed to be reckoned with."[7]
"Israel is laid waste; its seed is not."   
 
 
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« Reply #3 on: April 18, 2007, 01:35:48 pm »



Libyans (Tjeḥenu) are described by determinatives: foreign person + people + foreign country (=state/country of Libyan people)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israel_Stela
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