The Mesha Stele From Ancient Moab

Inscriptions on the Moabite Stone Add to Historical Understanding

Until the discovery in 1868 of the 9th century Mesha Stele at Dhiban (modern Jordan), scant evidence of Moab, a vassal state of the Kingdom of Israel survived.

Although Josephus mentions the Moabites in Antiquities 6.171, historians interested in the study of Moab relied on writing from long forgotten Assyrian, Babylonian and Egyptian scribes together with texts scattered throughout the Old Testament.

Genesis 19:37 for example, explores its origins: “The elder daughter had a son (conceived in an incestuous union with her father Lot) she named him Moab. He was the ancestor of the present day Moabites.”

Mesha Stele

The Mesha Stele is a black basalt stone, 1.15 metres high and about 68 centimetres wide. It bears a 34-line inscription, carved around 860 BCE in the ancient Moabite language and honours theMoabite King Mesha.

The Stele, sometimes known as the Moabite Stone and now in the Louvre Museum in Paris, is written as a first hand account by the king and relates how he freed Moab from Israelite tutelage.

The first lines announce:” I am Mesha, son of Chemosh, king of Moab, the Dibonite. My father has reigned over Moab thirty years and I reigned after my father… As for Omri, king of Israel, he humbled Moab many years…and his son followed him and he also said’ I will humble Moab.’ In my time he spoke thus, but I have triumphed over him and over his house…” (Moshe Pearlman, Digging up the Bible)

In the rest of the inscription Mesha describes the restoration and the fortification of cities that he thought rightfully belonged to Moab, of constructing a palace for himself, and of building reservoirs for water.

King of Israel

The Biblical Archaeological Review (May – June 1994) reporting on the Stele said: “Avraham Biran found a remarkable inscription from the ninth century BCE that refers to the ‘House of David’ and to the ‘King of Israel’. This is the first time the name David has been found in any inscription outside the Bible…”

Biblical Similarities to Stele

“The inscription on this stone in a remarkable degree supplements and corroborates the history of King Mesha recorded in (2 Kings 3:4-27). It affords evidence of the knowledge of alphabetic writing in the lands of the Jordan.” (P. Kyle McCarter, Johns Hopkins University)

Although McCarter talks about corroboration, some Biblical scholars have highlighted the apparent lack of synchronisation, in terms of historical dates, between Stele and Bible.

The research continues.

Note: Different interpretation and English translations of the Mesha Stele means some variation in detail. This writer has referred to the work of eminent Israeli, Moshe Pearlman.

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