Stele of Merneptah: Archaeology in Agreement that the Events in the Book of Exodus Truly Took Place

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Originally appeared at: The Catalogue of Good Deeds

The long-term slavery of the Hebrews by the Egyptians and the events of their exodus from Egypt is one of the darkest and most controversial pages in the history of the Egyptian state. There are few archaeological finds, directly related to this event, and each of them plays an important role in justifying its historicity. Very often in polemics with believers statements are made that there is no evidence whatsoever to prove any relation of the Hebrews to the Egyptian history of the exodus period. But this is not true.

The Stele of the Egyptian pharaoh Merneptah (1213–1203 BC), found in 1896 in Thebes, is the most famous of these finds. This stele, dedicated to the military triumph of the pharaoh, contains the oldest mention of Israel known today, “Israel is devastated, and his seed [is no more]”. The hieroglyphic transcription of the word “Israel” is accompanied in the text by a particular hieroglyph (a determinative), which was not pronounced, but was used to explain the meaning of the adjacent word or concept. This determinative defines Israel not as a state, but as a people hostile to Egypt. This is very important, since Pharaoh Merneptah was the heir of Ramses II – presumably the same Pharaoh who is mentioned in the biblical book of Exodus and who, despite many formidable signs revealed by God through Moses, refused to let the Jews out of Egypt.

According to the Holy Scriptures, the exodus of the Jews from Egypt opened the door for the formation of Jewish statehood, but Israel did not become a state until the conquest of the promised land. The reign of Merneptah was the “beginning of the end” for Egyptian hegemony in the eastern Mediterranean coast, the final downfall of which took place in the era of Pharaoh Ramses VI (1143-1135 BC). The new states in this region were formed mainly by the “peoples of the sea”, immigrants from the south of Italy, the Aegean Sea basin and Western Anatolia (modern western Turkey). Recognizing the historicity of the Exodus as a biblical account is a logical explanation for the mention of the Israeli people in this context. According to it, the Israelites (in contrast to the “sea peoples” who came to the eastern shores of the Mediterranean from the north) returned to their homeland from the south.

For Christians, the exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt and the related events (the disasters that befell the Egyptians for refusing to release the Jews from slavery, the crossing of the Red Sea, etc.) are important precursors in the Gospel history. It was the exodus from Egypt that formed the basis of the Old Testament holiday of Pascha, which later acquired a new meaning thanks to the Substitutionary Atonement, making it a holiday of our liberation from slavery to sin, death and the devil.


Sergey Kovach. PhD in Theology, lecturer at the Kiev Theological Academy

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