Monday, February 26, 2007

Merneptah Victory Stele

Attended the BASNY lecture last night on Merneptah's Victory stele, by Prof. Colleen Manassa of the Egyptology Department at Yale. As many of you probably know, this stele contains the first historical mention of "Israel." It was erected by Pharoah Merneptah, of Egypt's Nineteenth Dynasty in the latter part of the thirteenth century, following his campaigns into Canaan. Less well known is that the stele is mostly about Merneptah's victory over a combined force of Libyans and Sea Peoples, that latter group entering into Canaan in waves. The "Sea Peoples" is a collective term for a wave of foreign enemies that entered into Canaan about this time. In the next wave shortly thereafter we learn of a group participant that the Egyptians referred to as the "Peleset", and who were settled into the areas occupied by the biblical Philistines, leading many scholars to believe that the Peleset and the Philistines were one and the same, and probably of Mycenaean origin. BASNY will have another talk about the Sea Peoples in April.

A couple of interesting points:

She discussed Frank Yurco's theory, which is now gaining widespread acceptance, that some illustrations on the wall at the Egyptian temple of Karnak correspond to the battle descriptions involving the Canaanite campaign described on the Merneptah stele. The section is badly damaged, but if the theory is correct, a portion of the wall pictures may depict the bottom half of some Israelites. The top half is missing, the bottom half shows part of the long tunics worn by whoever these people were. The evidence is far from certain, however.

She also suggested, based on her own slightly reworked translation, that the portion of the stele describing the Canaanite campaigns indicates that the Egyptians saw Canaan as two large geographic areas, one in the south and one in the north. The dividing line that she describes places Israel just over the birder into the north, suggesting an early geopolitical parallel for the divide between Judah and Israel.


LePenseur said...

Just a small correction: Merenptah was not a Pharao of the 18th Dynasty, he was in fact the 4th Pharao of the 19th Dynasty.

Gary Greenberg said...

I am embarssed. Of course he is the Nineteenth Dynasty and I have corrected the post acccordingly. The disadvantages of typing out quickly under personal time pressures.