November 30, 2005

Merneptah's Stele, Then What Is It?

Jim over at Biblical Theology (what a creative title) asking for 'support' of pre-exilic (at least he said that at one point) Israel.

What came immediately to mind (along with drawings of Semites on the walls of Egyptian cities, and certain Semite features of northern cities in Egypt) was Merneptah's Stele which apparently describes an battle with early Israel: "Israel is wasted, bare of seed" at about 1200 BC.

He initially seemed to brush it off, but later responded a bit more here.

I'd like to add a little in response. I’m glad he actually responded to this instead of just tossing it off (as I felt he did earlier.)

That said, I think his response is a bit unfair. However not being a university scholar I’d defer to others for greater explanation. I do think we can safely conclude the following from the stela:

There was in fact a confrontation with a land called, or a group called, or a group fighting under the name “Israel.”
(1) Is there evidence of Egyptians making up people groups completely? There doesn’t seem to be any compelling evidence that “Israel” was made up solely for the use of this stela. It is thus reasonable to trust that such an entity existed. That would certainly be odd --- further if this Israel wasn’t of some (at least minor) importance --- why even state it on the stela?
Merneptah clams to have laid waste to Israel, and “their seed was no more.” This leaves us with at least two options:

(1) The Israel referred to here (perhaps a tribe or small group) were in fact “wiped out” --- yet the larger remnant of Israel (perhaps further North?) survived.

(2) The Egyptians are employing their characteristic hyperbole. The Egyptians were quite well known for this. In fact, they are known for putting quite a spin events but are pretty accurate about the people they went to war with … just not always about the outcome.
It is reasonable to assume that the “core” of the story is true (a conflict with Israel) while also perfectly reasonable to question the Egyptian documentation of the outcome.

I think all this is leads to a reasonable conclusion that Israel did exist during the same time period. I’m not convinced that this now means that one must prove that this Israel has any connection to the Israel of Biblical History (since I think its safe to at least associate the two.)

However as much it doesn’t ‘prove the Bible’ I think it does prove Israel in some fashion at least, which was what I think you wanted. There are other examples however, that one could get into --- this is just a very old, pretty clear one.

If not, what exactly ... is it?


At December 01, 2005 4:30 PM, Blogger Jim said...

I can't really tell if your "what a creative title" in reference to my blog is a compliment or an insult. Oh that I knew....


At December 01, 2005 5:18 PM, Blogger Justin Jenkins said...

Well there sure is no confusing what its about ... is there? :)


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