The Merneptah Stele is the most widely recognized and accepted earliest inscription of “Israel”. The inscription is from the ancient Egyptian king Merneptah who ruled between 1213BC to 1203BC. This stele is estimated to have been carved around 1208BC.
Prior Egyptian Kings enjoyed control over their cities but a Libyan king boldly invaded in 1208BC. The stone describes the Egyptian victory over that invasion but also describes a conquest to the east in an effort to retain control of those rebelling regions. One of the people groups who were “smitten” was a nomadic people called “I.si.ri.ar”, or Israel.
Arguably this is the oldest widely accepted reference to Israel. But there is an earlier fragment on a column in which may also name Israel prior to this one.
The Berlin Column base fragment is dated around 1453BC to 1401BC and to the far right may record when Israel was enslaved in Egypt. The other shields record other nations and people groups who were conquered as well. The half viable characters are very similar to the characters used to name Israel but given the earlier date may explain the variation as Egyptian inscriptions and names evolved.
Due to the character similarities to Israel, the timing of the history in Israel, and no other people group in that region with that similar characters; “Israel” would be the most logical concision given the limited information. But due to the partial fragment and limited information, some scholars are hesitant to assign that name to this fragment.
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