Earliest Textual References to Israel

A list of earliest known textual references to the name "Israel". There are at least four known inscriptions, from the Iron Age, that date to the time of and mention ancient Israel, under this name.

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circa 1208 BCE

The earliest certain mention of the ethnonym Israel occurs in a victory inscription of the Egyptian king MERENPTAH, his well-known Merneptah Stele or the “Israel Stela” (ca. 1210 BCE); recently, a possible earlier reference has been identified in a text from the reign of Rameses II as well. The text is largely an account of Merneptah's victory over the Libyans and their allies, but the last 3 of the 28 lines deal with a separate campaign in Canaan, then part of Egypt's imperial possessions. The stele is sometimes referred to as the "Israel Stela" because a majority of scholars translate a set of hieroglyphs in line 27 as "Israel".

circa 852 BCE

The inscription on the Shalmaneser III Stela deals with campaigns Shalmaneser made in western Mesopotamia and Syria, fighting extensively with the countries of Bit Adini and Carchemish. At the end of the Monolith comes the account of the Battle of Qarqar, where an alliance of twelve kings fought against Shalmaneser at the Syrian city of Qarqar. This alliance, comprising eleven kings, was led by Irhuleni of Hamath and Hadadezer of Damascus, describing also a large force of two thousand chariots and and ten thousand foot soldiers; led by King Ahab of Israel.

circa 840 BCE

The Mesha Stele also known as the Moabite Stone, is a stele (inscribed stone) set up around 840 BCE by King Mesha of Moab (a kingdom located in modern Jordan). Mesha tells how Chemosh, the god of Moab, had been angry with his people and had allowed them to be subjugated to Israel, but at length, Chemosh returned and assisted Mesha to throw off the yoke of Israel and restore the lands of Moab. Mesha describes his many building projects.

circa 800 BCE

The Tel Dan Stele, is a broken stele (inscribed stone) discovered in 1993–94 during excavations at Tel Dan in northern Israel. It consists of several fragments making up part of a triumphal inscription in Aramaic, left most probably by Hazael of Aram-Damascus, an important regional figure in the late 9th century BCE. Hazael (or more accurately, the unnamed king) boasts of his victories over the king of Israel and his apparent ally the king of the "House of David" (bytdwd). It is considered the earliest widely accepted reference to the name David as the founder of a Judahite polity outside of the Hebrew Bible, though the earlier Mesha Stele contains several possible references with varying acceptance. A minority of scholars have disputed the reference to David, due to the lack of a word divider between byt and dwd, and other translations have been proposed.

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