Tuesday, April 21, 2015


ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: Why is Israel called Israel? A brief history of the tribe and of the word 'Israel,' and how the modern state almost came to be called something completely different. Hint: Who is Isaac Pernhoff? (Elon Gilad, Haaretz).
This week the State of Israel celebrates its 67th Independence Day, which is an apposite time to ask: How did Israel get its name?

This is actually three separate questions. What did the name Israel originally mean? How did the ancient Jewish people and their homeland come to be known as "Israel"? And how and why was this particular name chosen for the modern state?

The Israel Stele

“Israel” has been the name of an ethnic group in the Levant going back at least 3200 years, based on the first known mention of the name in the written record, which was in ancient Egypt.

That is a hieroglyphic inscription on the Merneptah Stele (also known as the "Israel Stele"). Dating from the late 13th century BCE, the inscription says that "Israel is laid waste, its seed is no more".

In any case, for all Pharaoh Merneptah's claim to have crushed the people called Israel, they did survive the Egyptian incursion into Canaan in the late 13th century BCE and would evolve into a consolidated Kingdom of Israel centered around the capital city, Samaria, during the first centuries of the first millennium BCE. But evidently the name Israel goes back more than 3200 years: how did this tribe get that name?

Interesting article. It might have benefitted from also mentioning the ninth-century B.C.E. Mesha Stele, in which the King of Moab made a similar and similarly erroneous claim to have annihilated Israel. The Meneptah Stele and the Mesha Stele (Moabite Stone) contain the two earliest surviving dateable mentions of Israel.