Through the ages that have come and gone, generation after generation has tried to record the events of the lives of the people and of nations. Mankind has been transmitting information for millennia. Thus, the breadth and depth of the earth soil lie treasured of the history of the world, in our specific case, the Merneptah Stele. And though we sometimes come across obvious legends and myths, we also many times find historical corroboration through archeology.
The biblical Old Testament (OT) book of Genesis tells us of a famine, under which conditions the Jews of Abraham’s descent end up in Egypt. While initially, the Jews were simply living alongside the Egyptians, they were eventually enslaved and subjected to hard labor by the Egyptians. The book of Exodus tells us that eventually the Jews were forced to be released by Pharaoh through God’s miraculous intervention. This recorded narrative has been a hot target for those who are not only skeptical of the supernatural events that lead to Pharaoh’s release of the Jews but that any of the biblical narratives is historical at all.
The biblical account has been further scrutinized because of the lack of known Egyptian reference to the events recorded in the OT. However, the significant discovery of the Merneptah Stele in the late 19th century and some scant knowledge of Egyptology reveals the skepticism to be hollow.
It is well known that the ancient Egyptians were quite egocentric in recording historical information. It appears that they would reverse their defeats into victories when recording events, and at other times (perhaps when more difficult to revise history), they avoided making reference to events altogether. This is well demonstrated, for example, in the four-seated colossi of Rameses II overlooking the Nile (now Lake Nasser) at Abu-Simbel. Though Rameses is known to have barely escaped with his life at the battle of Kadesh against the Hittites, the recordings of the event inside the walls speak of an enormous Egyptian victory. As such, we would not and should not expect to find some Egyptian historical record with a confession that under the rule of the pharaoh a large band of Jewish slaves successfully escaped from Egypt even though the Egyptians tried to prevent them. The Egyptian habit of historical revisionism and suppression, therefore, does not necessarily allow us to draw anything out of the silence of its historical records.
With relation to the discovery that sheds light on historical Israel, the seven-foot Merneptah Stele (also known as Israel Stele) found in Thebes, Egypt (currently in the Cairo Museum in Egypt), gives us some good clues. The stone slab with Egyptian hieroglyphics inscriptions dates back to Pharaoh Merneptah (c. 1230 B.C.) and makes mention of Israel. Though the reference is brief and simply states, “Israel – his seed is not,” it is nonetheless important in its explicit and implicit information. First, the reference tells us that there was a significantly large people group called Israel known to the Egyptians, that were already living in the “promised land” by the time of the mention. Second, the reference made to such a people group implicitly demonstrates that Israel was not merely a tribe, but significant enough to be deemed worthy of mention along with other major city-states also defeated by the pharaoh. The implication is that Israel was a significant player in the region during the late 13th century B.C., providing a good level of corroboration with the biblical narrative.