Pharaoh Merneptah & The Jezreel Valley
H. Abdul Al-Dahir
There has been much debate about the mention of Israel in the Egyptian annals. One of the most contested interpretations occurs in the Merneptah Stele where appears the hieroglyphic word ‘Yssrair’ which many scholars insist refers to Israel. The problem which plagues this interpretation is that the word is followed by determinatives which mean a people rather than a determinative which means a foreign land. The Merneptah Stele was written between 1213 – 1203 BCE or during the Late Bronze Age. Scholars place the Kingdom of Israel during Iron Age I or approximately 900 BCE, which would make the interpretation of the word Yssrair as Israel impossible. However, there was a location in Israel which the Biblical authors named Jezreel, meaning (the god) El sows (seed). This location was known as the Qina Valley to the Egyptians who controlled this area of Canaan during the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age I.
The Egyptian name for the Jezreel Valley was Qina. The valley was named after the Qina N29-Z4-N35-G1-N25 Valley in upper Egypt which is located on both sides of the Nile. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica:
“Qin?, also spelled Qena, mu??fa?ah (governorate) in Upper Egypt, extending 3–4 miles (5–6 km) on each side of the Nile River between the Arabian and Libyan deserts. Occupying the great bend in the Nile valley, it contains the celebrated ruins of Thebes and the Valley of the Tombs of the Kings. Qin? has a dense agricultural population (more than 3,000 persons per square mile), and most of its land is under basin irrigation, yielding only one crop annually. Main crops are sugar (about three-fifths of the nation’s production), lentils, and grains. Perennial irrigation water, mainly from the Kelabiya and A?f?n canals, is supplied from the Isn?”
Qina/Jezreel like Qina in Egypt is a fertile valley which is watered by a body of water the Egyptians named the brook of Qina aka the Wadi of Qina. According to the Annals at Karnak, Thutmosis III conquered the area:
“Now while the rear of his majesty’s victorious army was (still) at [the town] of Aruna, the vanguard had come out into the [Qi]na Valley … His majesty reached the south of Megiddo on the bank of the Qina brook … The southern wing of his majesty’s army was at a hill south of [the] Qina [brook], and the northern wing was to the northwest of Megiddo, while his majesty was in their centre.”
The Egyptians controlled this area and used local and imported corvee labor to work the land according to Am Heltzer who published Society and Economy in the Eastern Mediterranean, C. 1500-1000 B.C, pgs 182-184. These laborers had a history of revolting against their Egyptian masters and their appointed lackeys who ruled the region. According to Amarna letter EA250 they are referred to simply as the people of the land of Gina. Their local name was never mentioned which is unusual as most Egyptian inscriptions mention the name of a people as separate from their locales as the Shasu of Yhw (Bedouin of Edom), the nHsy (Nubians), TmHw (Libyans) etc. There is not mention of Qinites in Egyptian annals, so the people of Qina must have been known by another name and that name was Yssrair or Jezreelites. The name designates the farming status of the people who inhabited the Valley of Qina. They were sowers of seed and their god was El. The Biblical authors appear to have renamed the Valley of Qina as Jezreel after the ‘sowers of seed’ or Jezreelites known to the Egyptians as Yssrair.
“Qina” in Egyptian is spelled N29-N35-M17-G43-M182-Z2 and it means ‘sheaves, bundles’. In other words, the name means the valley of sheaves/bundles (of grain). For the Egyptians, the name would be applied to any fertile, grain producing valley. The most ancient name of the Jezreel Valley was Qina. The Egyptian word qina is a cognate of the Hebrew word qaneh which means reed. The Bible mentions a place and a stream named Qanah or Kanah in Jos 19:28 as the inheritance of Asher:
“And the fifth lot came out for the tribe of the children of Asher according to their families. 25 And their border was Helkath, and Hali, and Beten, and Achshaph, 26 and Allammelech, and Amad, and Mishal; and it reached to Carmel westward, and to Shihor-libnath; 27 and it turned toward the sunrising to Beth-dagon, and reached to Zebulun, and to the valley of Iphtah-el northward to Beth-emek and Neiel; and it went out to Cabul on the left hand, 28 and Ebron, and Rehob, and Hammon, and Kanah, even unto great Sidon; 29 and the border turned to Ramah, and to [b]the fortified city of Tyre; and the border turned to Hosah; and the goings out thereof were at the sea [c]by the region of Achzib; 30 Ummah also, and Aphek, and Rehob: twenty and two cities with their villages. 31 This is the inheritance of the tribe of the children of Asher according to their families, these cities with their villages.”
Although no one has located the exact territory occupied by the tribe of Asher, what is know in that part of Asher’s inheritance lay in the Jezreel Valley according to the site Israel-A-History-Of’s article entitled, The Tribe of Asher:
“The city list of Asher begins with Helkath, located in the southeastern quadrant of the territory. Helkath rested in the ever important Jezreel Valley, near Megiddo.
During the time of the Judges, the Israelites fought against the Canaanite king Jabin and his commander Sisera (Jdgs 4). Sisera’s forces were stationed near Helkath, and the Canaanite forces gathered for battle against Deborah and Barak in Megiddo. The battle itself took place near Mt. Tabor.
Helkath bordered the tribe of Zebulun. Along with Helkath, Scripture lists the cities of Hali, Beten, Achshaph, Allammelech, Amad and Mishal as belonging to the tribe of Asher. These cities, when viewed on a map, delineate the eastern border of Asher.”
So, Qina/Qanah/Kanah/Jezreel was the inheritance of Asher along with the tribe of Issachar who also inherited parts of the Jezreel Valley. The people who worked this valley for their Egyptian masters were the Jezreelites or Yssrair in the Merneptah Stele. They were the sowers of seed who worshipped El that Merneptah massacred after they revolted. The name Jezreel says it all! The Jezreelites sowed the valley on behalf of El while the Egyptians dedicated this valley to Amun. This alone would be enough to instigate trouble. Peasant revolts were common as is mentioned in Amarna letter EA250. There is absolutely no doubt that the Egyptian name for Jezreel was Qina and that the Yssriar who inhabited and cultivated this valley were the Jezreelites. The interpretation of the Egyptian word Yssrair as Israel is mistaken. The correct interpretation should be Jezeerlites.