The Merneptah Stele and Early ‘Israel’.

2339 words 10 pages
The mention of ‘Israel’ as a people rather than a region in the Merneptah Stele identifies them as an important socioeconomic entity and therefore a political threat to a hegemonic Egypt. The resilience of the people ‘Israel’ was established through a segmented tribal coalition, formed as a religious and social identity that attributed to their survival in the turbulent times of the early 12th century .

The inclusion of ‘Israel’ in the Merneptah Stele demonstrates the importance of these people. It was not in the traditions of the Egyptian scribes to mention an entity that was considered socially inferior or of little importance in the political environment of the era. Poetic licence and propaganda was employed to ensure the Egyptian
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Leuchter posits a strong argument based on the tool of warfare that was favoured by the Pharaohs, namely the chariot. To clarify, a hill dwelling community would be hard to conquer with chariots as the dominant weapon of conquest. This may also explain why the Israelites had chosen to inhabit the hills, obviously a calculated strategy to provide a safe refuge for the tribal coalition and a stronghold that served them well in the unsettled times of the early Canaan region.

Different interpretations of the line mentioning ‘Israel’ also support Leuchter’s claim a full victory may not have been achieved. Egyptologist Joseph Davidovits refutes the accepted translation of ‘Israel is laid waste, his seed is not’ and proposes a new translation on the basis of the hieroglyphs being read incorrectly (the owl being read as a vulture in line 27), therefore the new translation is ‘existing is Israel the people’. If the Israelites were not conquered and their ‘seed’ was not laid waste then this would also allow for a solid framework for the establishment of the Hebrew monarchy and much to the consternation of minimalist scholars, a loose confirmation of the biblical traditions .

The location of ‘Israel’ in the central highlands, protected them from conquering factions and larger armies, and also set them apart from the people of the Canaan lowlands . The other factor that constituted a strong coalition of the people was the common identity shared by