Biblical Archaeology Review 38:1, January/February 2012

When Did Ancient Israel Begin?

New hieroglyphic inscription may date Israel’s ethnogenesis 200 years earlier than you thought

By Hershel Shanks

Longtime BAR readers are familiar with the Merneptah Stele, now in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, which is generally recognized as containing the oldest extrabiblical reference to Israel.a The hieroglyphic inscription can be dated quite precisely to somewhere between 1210 and 1205 B.C.E.

But is it the oldest?

Egyptologists are now twittering about whether there is another hieroglyphic inscription, centuries earlier than the Merneptah Stele, that mentions Israel.

If so, this may have significant implications for the early history of Israel, they say, suggesting that the Bible is more reliable than some doubting scholars have been willing to admit.

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