What Did the Ancient Israelites Look Like?

About 13 years ago the brilliant Anson Rainey suggested that Shasu pastoralists were depicted on a well-known relief of the Egyptian Pharaoh Merneptah (1209 BC) featured on one of the walls of the temples at Karnak in southern Egypt.

The Egyptian Pharaoh Merneptah Crushing His Shasu Foes (1209 BC)

At least four Shasu are pictured as being trodden under by legs of the horse of Merneptah.  Note their headdresses and pointed beards.

He furthered noted that the Shasu pastoralists were active east of the Jordan River—from whence the Israelites entered Canaan—and that the Israelites may have been a sub set of these Shasu (reference below).  Even if one does not follow Rainey in all of the details it would seem that the relief of Merneptah is about as close as we can get to a “photograph” of Israelites (or their cousins) from the Early Iron Age (1200–1000 BC)!

Rainey, Anson F. “Shasu or Habiru — Who Were the Early Israelites?” Biblical Archaeology Review vol. 34, no. 6 (November/ December 2008): 51–55 and additional references there.


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