Joseph Davidovits claims that the word "iisii-r-iar", "ysrỉar" or however you want to transcribe it, which appears on the Merneptah Stele, is an Egyptian phrase meaning "those who are exiled for their sins".

Now, this word is usually assumed to mean "Israel", and Davidovits agrees, meaning that he implies that "Israel" in fact means "Those who are Exiled for their sins", and since the God says that the Israelites are exiled for their sins in the bible, this sounds just a little bit too good to be true.

What I wonder is, what is the basis for his claims? Does he have anything real to base this on, or is it just wishful thinking?

  • I think you're miss reading Davidovits. He doesn't think the table has anything at all to do with Israel. A recent BBC documentary I saw gives a totally different etymology for the word Israel. I've also seen the table used as evidence that Israel was invaded and thus proof that the bible is wrong. Basically, people read into the evidence want they want to believe and lack objectivity and scientific reasoning. If you believe the world is flat, you will only find evidence that proves your correct. If you question the shape of the world, you will find other possibilities. Oct 28, 2011 at 16:52
  • @Rincewind42: Well, it's possible I misunderstood that part, but I don't think so. In any case it is irrelevant for the question, which is about the basis for his claims of what "iisii-r-iar" means and it's usage in other places. But it seems no-one knows, and I'll have to buy the book... And then it probably just turns out to be overactive imagination. That's usually how it is. Oct 28, 2011 at 21:54
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    I always thought Ishmael meant exile, as in "Call me Ishmael." Dec 1, 2013 at 20:34
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    @PieterGeerkens Doesn't seem like it. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ishmael#Etymology Dec 1, 2013 at 21:51
  • @LennartRegebro: I wasn't referring to the etymology of the name, but to it's subsequent meaning in Western literature. Ishmael is chosen as the name of the protaganist of Moby Dick by Melville because he is a nomad; a roamer with no home; in other words, an exile, self-imposed. Dec 1, 2013 at 21:55

2 Answers 2


Isra'el means "he struggles with God" and is the name granted to Jacob after he wrestles with an angel in Genesis 32:

Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” He said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but [n]Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.”

[n]: I.e. he who strives with God; or God strives

Jacob is said to be the ancestor of all the tribes of Israel, to whom his name attached.

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    Well, for arguments sake, one could always say that Israel or a name similar to it came first from some other source, and then the authors of Genesis created a new etymology more suitable for their own purposes. A kind of "how the leopard got its spots" story, y'know? That said, I've never heard of this "exiled for their sins" business, and like you said it sounds way too pat. Jul 6, 2012 at 11:38
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    Bible claims can be coroborated from hebrew language. The el simply means God. Isra means fighting I guess.
    – user4951
    Jan 2, 2013 at 21:34
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    @Vector let us continue this discussion in chat I have as usual deleted my comments from here, as discussion in comments is not constructive. Aug 14, 2013 at 7:31
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    No attempt whatsoever to answer the question here...
    – user2590
    Jan 20, 2014 at 7:51
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    @user2590 "your premise is wrong" is a perfectly valid answer, especially if you also give an alternate explanation instead.
    – o0'.
    Sep 4, 2015 at 16:50

According to the Hebrew commentators on the word, "Isra" means "fought" and is derived from the root "sar", and there is a double entendre because it also means lord or prince, "sar". So in this context it seems to mean "lorded over greater powers" - i.e. he won the fight against the angel, i.e. "El" (which can mean any sort of higher power, not necessarily God) described in Genesis 32:25-30, as Evan Harper has aptly explained.

According to Medrashim cited by Rashi, the angel in that case was the "guardian angel" of Esau, whom Jacob was about to encounter after a long separation and considerable animosity. The metaphorical battle with the angel portends Jacob's success in winning over and to some degree healing his old feuds with Esau.

The name Yisroel - Israel is associated with that victory and it is possible that this incident and the bestowing of this special name denotes the birth of Yisroel - the Jewish People, as a nation, rather than just a collection of tribes. The subsequent narrative in B'reishit (Genesis) also supports this. Subsequently Jacob and Esau each went their own respective ways and established their own domains through their descendants: Esau dominating certain areas which are identified perhaps with the Negev and Sinai region or even parts of the Arabian peninsula, while Jacob and his seed eventually ended up in Egypt, following Joseph, who was the first to arrive there and achieved power and prominence according to the biblical account. This account has some support in the archaeological and anthropological record: See pilgrimtours.com/mideast/israel/Info/ExodusNile.pdf - The Historicity of Joseph, and for a more scholarly discussion of confirmation of parts of the biblical account, see "The Jews of Egypt: From Rameses II to Emperor Hadrian" from The Jewish Publication society, a scholarly work.

In short, this title Yisroel - Israel, denotes victory, dominance and the rise of the Jewish People, and is generally used in such manner in the biblical context. The Jews are sometimes referred to as "Israel" and at other times as "Jacob" or "The House of Jacob", and commentators have noted that "Israel" is generally used in laudatory fashion, while "Jacob", denotes a lower sort of status, associated with subservience, defeat, being downtrodden, etc - analogous to Jacob's situation previous to earning the name "Israel" through his victory against the angel and subsequent success in placating his long-hostile brother Esau.

That being the case, I can say with some authority that if Davidovits makes such a claim, it is patently false, based on the original source material. If he has some other source, he must bring it and prove that it trumps what I have stated herein, based on primary, authoritative Hebrew etymology and source material detailed in the classical commentators on the book of B'reishit (Genesis), discussing the derivation of the name Yisroel - Israel.

Sources - Rashi, Targum, Rashbam on B'reishit Kaf Beit.

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    The term "original source material" seems to assumes that the bible story is literally true, and the described events happened as described. Aug 14, 2013 at 7:16
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    No - original source simply means the original biblical source of the name and its derivation. The name Israel from that point forward persists in the Old and New Testaments, but theretofore was never used. The story itself can be metaphorical (as I mentioned) or even mythical. No reason to say the story itself is literal.
    – user2590
    Aug 14, 2013 at 7:25
  • Fair enough. I've answered in the chat. chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/10131/… Aug 14, 2013 at 7:30

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