BAR 32:03, May/Jun 2006
Abraham Isaac & Jacob Meet Newton, Darwin & Wellhausen
Israel first appears in an epigraphic source (that is, in a surviving ancient document) around 1200 B.C.E.,1 in a stone victory stele of the Egyptian pharaoh Merneptah. At the end of this long inscription, almost as an afterthought, the intrepid king informs us that he put an end to “Israel,” a group located somewhere in Palestine, probably in the hill country of what would later be called “Samaria” or “Judah.”
If we attempt to embed Merneptah’s “Israel” in the Biblical story, this first mention of Israel must correspond to the period of Joshua’s conquest or later, during the period of the Judges. Before the time of Joshua, the Bible tells us, Israel was not in Palestine. And much before Joshua, Israel was not even a cohesive group, just a rabble of slaves or a family.