The Mesha Stele, also known as the Moabite Stone, is a stele dated around 840 BCE containing a significant Canaanite inscription in the name of King Mesha of Moab (a kingdom located in modern Jordan). Mesha tells how Chemosh, the god of Moab, had been angry with his people and had allowed them to be subjugated to the Kingdom of Israel, but at length, Chemosh returned and assisted Mesha to throw off the yoke of Israel and restore the lands of Moab. Mesha also describes his many building projects.[1] It is written in a variant of the Phoenician alphabet, closely related to the Paleo-Hebrew script.[2][3]

Mesha Stele
The Mesha Stele at the Louvre: The brown fragments are pieces of the original stele, whereas the smoother black material is Ganneau's reconstruction from the 1870s.
WritingMoabite language
Createdc. 840 BCE
Present locationLouvre
IdentificationAO 5066

The stone was discovered intact by Frederick Augustus Klein, an Anglican missionary, at the site of ancient Dibon (now Dhiban, Jordan), in August 1868. A "squeeze" (a papier-mâché impression) had been obtained by a local Arab on behalf of Charles Simon Clermont-Ganneau, an archaeologist based in the French consulate in Jerusalem. The next year, the stele was smashed into several fragments by the Bani Hamida tribe, seen as an act of defiance against the Ottoman authorities who had pressured the Bedouins to hand over the stele so that it could be given to Germany. Clermont-Ganneau later managed to acquire the fragments and piece them together thanks to the impression made before the stele's destruction.[4]

The Mesha Stele, the first major epigraphic Canaanite inscription found in the Southern Levant,[5] the longest Iron Age inscription ever found in the region, constitutes the major evidence for the Moabite language, and is a "corner-stone of Semitic epigraphy",[6] and history.[7] The stele, whose story parallels, with some differences, an episode in the Bible's Books of Kings (2 Kings 3:4–28), provides invaluable information on the Moabite language and the political relationship between Moab and Israel at one moment in the 9th century BCE.[3] It is the most extensive inscription ever recovered that refers to the kingdom of Israel (the "House of Omri");[8] it bears the earliest certain extrabiblical reference to the Israelite god Yahweh.[9][8] It is also one of four known contemporaneous inscriptions containing the name of Israel, the others being the Merneptah Stele, the Tel Dan Stele, and one of the Kurkh Monoliths.[10][11][12] Its authenticity has been disputed over the years, and some biblical minimalists suggest the text was not historical, but a biblical allegory. The stele itself is regarded as genuine and historical by the vast majority of biblical archaeologists today.[13]

The stele has been part of the collection of the Louvre Museum in Paris, France, since 1873.[2] Jordan has been demanding its return to its place of origin since 2014.[14]

Description and discovery edit

The stele is a smoothed block of basalt about a meter tall, 60 cm wide, and 60 cm thick, bearing a surviving inscription of 34 lines.[15]

The stone was discovered intact by Frederick Augustus Klein, an Anglican missionary, at the site of ancient Dibon (now Dhiban, Jordan), in August 1868. Klein was led to it by Emir Sattam Al-Fayez, son of the Bani Sakhr King Fendi Al-Fayez,[16] although neither of them could read the text.[9] At that time, amateur explorers and archaeologists were scouring the Levant for evidence proving the historicity of the Bible. News of the finding set off a race between France, Britain, and Germany to acquire the piece.

A "squeeze" (a papier-mâché impression) of the full stele had been obtained just prior to its destruction. Ginsberg's translation[17] of the official report, "Über die Auffindung der Moabitischen Inschrift",[18] stated that Charles Simon Clermont-Ganneau, an archaeologist based in the French consulate in Jerusalem, sent an Arab named Yacoub Caravacca to obtain the squeeze as he "did not want to venture to undertake the very costly [and dangerous] journey" himself.[19] Caravacca was injured by the local Bedouin while obtaining the squeeze, and one of his two accompanying horsemen protected the squeeze by tearing it still damp from the stone in seven fragments before escaping.[20]

In November 1869 the stele was broken by the local Bedouin tribe (the Bani Hamida) after the Ottoman government became involved in the ownership dispute.[17] The previous year the Bani Hamida had been defeated by an expedition to Balqa led by Reşid Pasha, the Wali of Damascus. Knowing that a demand to give up the stone to the German Consulate had been ordered by the Ottomans, and finding that the ruler of Salt was about to put pressure upon them, they heated the stele in a bonfire, threw cold water upon it and broke it to pieces with boulders.[20]

On 8 February 1870, George Grove of the Palestine Exploration Fund announced the find of the stele in a letter to The Times, attributing the discovery to Charles Warren. On 17 February 1870, the 24-year-old Clermont-Ganneau published the first detailed announcement of the stele in the Revue de l’Instruction Publique.[21] This was followed a month later by a note from Frederick Augustus Klein published in the Pall Mall Gazette, describing his discovery of the stele in August 1868:

... I afterwards ascertained that [Ganneau's] assertion as to no European having, before me, seen the stone was perfectly true. ... I am sorry to find that I was also the last European who had the privilege of seeing this monument of Hebrew antiquity in its perfect state of preservation. ...

... The stone was lying among the ruins of Dhiban perfectly free and exposed to view, the inscription uppermost. ...

... The stone is, as appears from the accompanying sketch, rounded on both sides, and not only at the upper end as mentioned by Monsieur Ganneau. In the lower corner sides there are not as many words of the inscription missing as would be the case if it were square at the bottom, as M. Ganneau was wrongly informed by his authority; for, as in the upper part, so also in the lower, in exactly the same way the lines become smaller by degrees. ...

... according to my calculation, had thirty-four lines, for the two or three upper lines were very much obliterated. The stone itself was in a most perfect state of preservation not one single piece being broken off, and it was only from great age and exposure to the rain and sun, that certain parts, especially the upper and lower lines, had somewhat suffered.

— F. A. Klein. to George Grove (of the Palestine Exploration Fund), Jerusalem, 23 March 1870, as published in the Pall Mall Gazette of 19 April 1870.[22]

Pieces of the original stele containing most of the inscription, 613 letters out of about a thousand, were later recovered and pieced together. Of the existing stele fragments, the top right fragment contains 150 letters, the bottom right fragment contains 358 letters, the middle-right contains 38, and the rest of the fragments contain 67 letters.[23] The remainder of the stele was reconstructed by Ganneau from the squeeze obtained by Caravacca.[23]

Visiting the site in 1872, Henry B. Tristram was convinced that the stele could not have been exposed for long, and believed that it had probably been utilised as building material by the Roman era until thrown down in the Galilee earthquake of 1837.[24]

Text edit

Original edit

Drawing of the Mesha Stele (or Moabite Stone) by Mark Lidzbarski, published 1898: The shaded area represents pieces of the original stele, whereas the plain white background represents Ganneau's reconstruction from the 1870s based on the squeeze.

The inscription, known as KAI 181 is pictured to the right, and presented here after Compston, 1919, to be read right to left.:[25]

𐤀𐤍𐤊 𐤟 𐤌𐤔𐤏 𐤟 𐤁𐤍 𐤟 𐤊𐤌𐤔 ? ? 𐤌𐤋𐤊 𐤟 𐤌𐤀𐤁 𐤟 𐤄𐤃

𐤉𐤁𐤍𐤉 | 𐤀𐤁𐤉 𐤟 𐤌𐤋𐤊 𐤟 𐤏𐤋 𐤟 𐤌𐤀𐤁 𐤟 𐤔𐤋𐤔𐤍 𐤟 𐤔𐤕 𐤟 𐤅𐤀𐤍𐤊 𐤟 𐤌𐤋𐤊

[𐤕𐤉 𐤟 𐤀𐤇𐤓 𐤟 𐤀𐤁𐤉 | 𐤅𐤀𐤏𐤔 𐤟 𐤄𐤁𐤌𐤕 𐤟 𐤆𐤀𐤕 𐤟 𐤋𐤊𐤌𐤔 𐤟 𐤁𐤒𐤓𐤇𐤄 | 𐤁[𐤍𐤎 𐤟 𐤉

𐤔𐤏 𐤟 𐤊𐤉 𐤟 𐤄𐤔𐤏𐤍𐤉 𐤟 𐤌𐤊𐤋 𐤟 𐤄𐤔𐤋𐤊𐤍 𐤟 𐤅𐤊𐤉 𐤟 𐤄𐤓𐤀𐤍𐤉 𐤟 𐤁𐤊𐤋 𐤟 𐤔𐤍𐤀𐤉 | 𐤏𐤌𐤓

𐤉 𐤟 𐤌𐤋𐤊 𐤟 𐤉𐤔𐤓𐤀𐤋 𐤟 𐤅𐤉𐤏𐤍𐤅 𐤟 𐤀𐤕 𐤟 𐤌𐤀𐤁 𐤟 𐤉𐤌𐤍 𐤟 𐤓𐤁𐤍 𐤟 𐤊𐤉 𐤟 𐤉𐤀𐤍𐤐 𐤟 𐤊𐤌𐤔 𐤟 𐤁𐤀𐤓

𐤑𐤄 | 𐤅𐤉𐤇𐤋𐤐𐤄 𐤟 𐤁𐤍𐤄 𐤟 𐤅𐤉𐤀𐤌𐤓 𐤟 𐤂𐤌 𐤟 𐤄𐤀 𐤟 𐤀𐤏𐤍𐤅 𐤟 𐤀𐤕 𐤟 𐤌𐤀𐤁 𐤟 | 𐤁𐤉𐤌𐤉 𐤟 𐤀𐤌𐤓 𐤟 𐤊

[𐤅𐤀𐤓𐤀 𐤟 𐤁𐤄 𐤟 𐤅𐤁𐤁𐤕𐤄 | 𐤅𐤉𐤔𐤓𐤀𐤋 𐤟 𐤀𐤁𐤃 𐤟 𐤀𐤁𐤃 𐤟 𐤏𐤋𐤌 𐤟 𐤅𐤉𐤓𐤔 𐤟 𐤏𐤌𐤓𐤉 𐤟 𐤀𐤕 𐤟 [𐤀𐤓

𐤑 𐤟 𐤌𐤄𐤃𐤁𐤀 | 𐤅𐤉𐤔𐤁 𐤟 𐤁𐤄 𐤟 𐤉𐤌𐤄 𐤟 𐤅𐤇𐤑𐤉 𐤟 𐤉𐤌𐤉 𐤟 𐤁𐤍𐤄 𐤟 𐤀𐤓𐤁𐤏𐤍 𐤟 𐤔𐤕 𐤟 𐤅𐤉𐤔

𐤁𐤄 𐤟 𐤊𐤌𐤔 𐤟 𐤁𐤉𐤌𐤉 | 𐤅𐤀𐤁𐤍 𐤟 𐤀𐤕 𐤟 𐤁𐤏𐤋𐤌𐤏𐤍 𐤟 𐤅𐤀𐤏𐤔 𐤟 𐤁𐤄 𐤟 𐤄𐤀𐤔𐤅𐤇 𐤟 𐤅𐤀𐤁𐤍

𐤀𐤕 𐤟 𐤒𐤓𐤉𐤕𐤍 | 𐤅𐤀𐤔 𐤟 𐤂𐤃 𐤟 𐤉𐤔𐤁 𐤟 𐤁𐤀𐤓𐤑 𐤟 𐤏𐤈𐤓𐤕 𐤟 𐤌𐤏𐤋𐤌 𐤟 𐤅𐤉𐤁𐤍 𐤟 𐤋𐤄 𐤟 𐤌𐤋𐤊 𐤟𐤉

[ 𐤔𐤓𐤀𐤋 𐤟 𐤀𐤕 𐤟 𐤏𐤈𐤓𐤕 | 𐤅𐤀𐤋𐤕𐤇𐤌 𐤟 𐤁𐤒𐤓 𐤟 𐤅𐤀𐤇𐤆𐤄 | 𐤅𐤀𐤄𐤓𐤂 𐤟 𐤀𐤕 𐤟 𐤊𐤋 𐤟𐤄𐤏𐤌 𐤟 [𐤌

[𐤄𐤒𐤓 𐤟 𐤓𐤉𐤕 𐤟 𐤋𐤊𐤌𐤔 𐤟 𐤅𐤋𐤌𐤀𐤁 | 𐤅𐤀𐤔𐤁 𐤟 𐤌𐤔𐤌 𐤟 𐤀𐤕 𐤟 𐤀𐤓𐤀𐤋 𐤟 𐤃𐤅𐤃𐤄 𐤟 𐤅𐤀[𐤎

𐤇𐤁𐤄 𐤟 𐤋𐤐𐤍𐤉 𐤟 𐤊𐤌𐤔 𐤟 𐤁𐤒𐤓𐤉𐤕 | 𐤅𐤀𐤔𐤁 𐤟 𐤁𐤄 𐤟 𐤀𐤕 𐤟 𐤀𐤔 𐤟 𐤔𐤓𐤍 𐤟 𐤅𐤀𐤕 𐤟 𐤀𐤔

𐤌𐤇𐤓𐤕 | 𐤅𐤉𐤀𐤌𐤓 𐤟 𐤋𐤉 𐤟 𐤊𐤌𐤔 𐤟 𐤋𐤊 𐤟 𐤀𐤇𐤆 𐤟 𐤀𐤕 𐤟 𐤍𐤁𐤄 𐤟 𐤏𐤋 𐤟 𐤉𐤔𐤓𐤀𐤋 | 𐤅𐤀

𐤄𐤋𐤊 𐤟 𐤁𐤋𐤋𐤄 𐤟 𐤅𐤀𐤋𐤕𐤇𐤌 𐤟 𐤁𐤄 𐤟 𐤌𐤁𐤒𐤏 𐤟 𐤄𐤔𐤇𐤓𐤕 𐤟 𐤏𐤃 𐤟 𐤄𐤑𐤄𐤓𐤌 | 𐤅𐤀𐤇

[𐤆 𐤟 𐤅𐤀𐤄𐤓𐤂 𐤟 𐤊𐤋𐤄 𐤟 𐤔𐤁𐤏𐤕 𐤟 𐤀𐤋𐤐𐤍 𐤟 𐤂[𐤁]𐤓𐤍 𐤟 𐤅𐤂𐤓𐤍 | 𐤅𐤂𐤁𐤓𐤕 𐤟 𐤅[𐤂𐤓

[𐤕 𐤟 𐤅𐤓𐤇𐤌𐤕 | 𐤊𐤉 𐤟 𐤋𐤏𐤔𐤕𐤓 𐤟 𐤊𐤌𐤔 𐤟 𐤄𐤇𐤓𐤌𐤕𐤄 | 𐤅𐤀𐤒𐤇 𐤟 𐤌𐤔𐤌 𐤟 𐤀[𐤕 𐤟 𐤊

𐤋𐤉 𐤟 𐤉𐤄𐤅𐤄 𐤟 𐤅𐤀𐤎𐤇𐤁 𐤟 𐤄𐤌 𐤟 𐤋𐤐𐤍𐤉 𐤟 𐤊𐤌𐤔 | 𐤅𐤌𐤋𐤊 𐤟 𐤉𐤔𐤓𐤀𐤋 𐤟 𐤁𐤍𐤄 𐤟 𐤀𐤕

[𐤉𐤄𐤑 𐤟 𐤅𐤉𐤔𐤁 𐤟 𐤁𐤄 𐤟 𐤁𐤄𐤋𐤕𐤇𐤌𐤄 𐤟 𐤁𐤉 | 𐤅𐤉𐤂𐤓𐤔𐤄 𐤟 𐤊𐤌𐤔 𐤟 𐤌𐤐𐤍[𐤉 𐤅

𐤟 𐤀𐤒𐤇 𐤟 𐤌𐤌𐤀𐤁 𐤟 𐤌𐤀𐤕𐤍 𐤟 𐤀𐤔 𐤟 𐤊𐤋 𐤟 𐤓𐤔𐤄 | 𐤅𐤀𐤔𐤀𐤄 𐤟 𐤁𐤉𐤄𐤑 𐤟 𐤅𐤀𐤇𐤆𐤄

𐤋𐤎𐤐𐤕 𐤟 𐤏𐤋 𐤟 𐤃𐤉𐤁𐤍 | 𐤀𐤍𐤊 𐤟 𐤁𐤍𐤕𐤉 𐤟 𐤒𐤓𐤇𐤄 𐤟 𐤇𐤌𐤕 𐤟 𐤄𐤉𐤏𐤓𐤍 𐤟 𐤅𐤇𐤌𐤕

𐤄𐤏𐤐𐤋 | 𐤅𐤀𐤍𐤊 𐤟 𐤁𐤍𐤕𐤉 𐤟 𐤔𐤏𐤓𐤉𐤄 𐤟 𐤅𐤀𐤍𐤊 𐤟 𐤁𐤍𐤕𐤉 𐤟 𐤌𐤂𐤃𐤋𐤕𐤄 | 𐤅𐤀

𐤍𐤊 𐤟 𐤁𐤍𐤕𐤉 𐤟 𐤁𐤕 𐤟 𐤌𐤋𐤊 𐤟 𐤅𐤀𐤍𐤊 𐤟 𐤏𐤔𐤕𐤉 𐤟 𐤊𐤋𐤀𐤉 𐤟 𐤄𐤀𐤔[𐤅𐤇 𐤟 𐤋𐤌]𐤉𐤍 𐤟 𐤁𐤒𐤓𐤁

𐤄𐤒𐤓 | 𐤅𐤁𐤓 𐤟 𐤀𐤍 𐤟 𐤁𐤒𐤓𐤁 𐤟 𐤄𐤒𐤓 𐤟 𐤁𐤒𐤓𐤇𐤄 𐤟 𐤅𐤀𐤌𐤓 𐤟 𐤋𐤊𐤋 𐤟 𐤄𐤏𐤌 𐤟 𐤏𐤔𐤅 𐤟 𐤋

𐤊𐤌 𐤟 𐤀𐤔 𐤟 𐤁𐤓 𐤟 𐤁𐤁𐤉𐤕𐤄 | 𐤅𐤀𐤍𐤊 𐤟 𐤊𐤓𐤕𐤉 𐤟 𐤄𐤌𐤊𐤓𐤕𐤕 𐤟 𐤋𐤒𐤓𐤇𐤄 𐤟 𐤁𐤀𐤎𐤓

𐤟 𐤉] 𐤟 𐤉𐤔𐤓𐤀𐤋 | 𐤀𐤍𐤊 𐤟 𐤁𐤍𐤕𐤉 𐤟 𐤏𐤓𐤏𐤓 𐤟 𐤅𐤀𐤍𐤊 𐤟 𐤏𐤔𐤕𐤉 𐤟 𐤄𐤌𐤎𐤋𐤕 𐤟 𐤁𐤀𐤓𐤍𐤍]

𐤟 𐤀𐤍𐤊 𐤟 𐤁𐤍𐤕𐤉 𐤟 𐤁𐤕 𐤟 𐤁𐤌𐤕 𐤟 𐤊𐤉 𐤟 𐤄𐤓𐤎 𐤟 𐤄𐤀 | 𐤀𐤍𐤊 𐤟 𐤁𐤍𐤕𐤉 𐤟 𐤁𐤑𐤓 𐤟 𐤊𐤉 𐤟 𐤏𐤉𐤍

𐤔 𐤟 𐤃𐤉𐤁𐤍 𐤟 𐤇𐤌𐤔𐤍 𐤟 𐤊𐤉 𐤟 𐤊𐤋 𐤟 𐤃𐤉𐤁𐤍 𐤟 𐤌𐤔𐤌𐤏𐤕 | 𐤅𐤀𐤍𐤊 𐤟 𐤌𐤋𐤊

𐤕𐤉.. 𐤌𐤀𐤕 𐤟 𐤁𐤒𐤓𐤍 𐤟 𐤀𐤔𐤓 𐤟 𐤉𐤎𐤐𐤕𐤉 𐤟 𐤏𐤋 𐤟 𐤄𐤀𐤓𐤑 | 𐤅𐤀𐤍𐤊 𐤟 𐤁𐤍𐤕

𐤉 𐤟 [𐤀𐤕 𐤟] 𐤌𐤄𐤃[𐤁]𐤀 𐤟 𐤅𐤁𐤕 𐤟 𐤃𐤁𐤋𐤕𐤍 | 𐤅𐤁𐤕 𐤟 𐤁𐤏𐤋𐤌𐤏𐤍 𐤟 𐤅𐤀𐤔𐤀 𐤟 𐤔𐤌 𐤟 𐤀𐤕 𐤟 𐤅𐤒𐤃

𐤑𐤀𐤍 𐤟 𐤄𐤀𐤓𐤑 | 𐤅𐤇𐤅𐤓𐤍𐤍 𐤟 𐤉𐤔𐤁 𐤟 𐤁𐤄 𐤟 𐤁𐤕 𐤟 𐤅𐤒 𐤟 𐤀𐤔....

𐤅𐤉𐤀𐤌𐤓 𐤟 𐤋𐤉 𐤟 𐤊𐤌𐤔 𐤟 𐤓𐤃 𐤟 𐤄𐤋𐤕𐤇𐤌 𐤟 𐤁𐤇𐤅𐤓𐤍𐤍 | 𐤅𐤀𐤓𐤃....

𐤅𐤉𐤔]𐤁𐤄 𐤟 𐤊𐤌𐤔 𐤟 𐤁𐤉𐤌𐤉 𐤟 𐤅𐤏𐤋 𐤟 𐤓𐤄 𐤟 𐤌𐤔𐤌 𐤟 𐤏𐤔].....

𐤔𐤕 𐤟 𐤔𐤃𐤒 | 𐤅𐤀𐤍‎ ............

It describes:

  • How Moab was oppressed by Omri King of Israel and his son as the result of the anger of the god Chemosh
  • Mesha's victories over Omri's son (not named) and the men of Gad at Ataroth, Nebo and Jehaz
  • His building projects, restoring the fortifications of his strong places and building a palace and reservoirs for water
  • His wars against the Horonaim
  • A now-lost conclusion in the destroyed final lines

Translations edit

Here is the beginning of a transliteration and translation by Alviero Niccacci from his article "The Stele of Mesha and the Bible: Verbal System and Narrativity" in Orientalia NOVA SERIES, Vol. 63, No. 3 (1994), pp. 226–248.[26]

No authoritative full edition of the Moabite inscription remains.[27] The translation used here is that published by James King (1878), based on translations by M. Ganneau and Dr. Ginsberg.[28] Line numbers added to the published version have been needlessly removed. A century and a half of scholarship has greatly improved our understanding of the text, so accessing other translations linked here is recommended, rather than relying on this very outdated one.

I am Mesha, son of Chemosh-gad,[29] king of Moab, the Dibonite. My father reigned over Moab thirty years, and I have reigned after my father. And I have built this sanctuary for Chemosh in Karchah, a sanctuary of salvation, for he saved me from all aggressors, and made me look upon all mine enemies with contempt.

Omri was king of Israel, and oppressed Moab during many days, and Chemosh was angry with his aggressions. His son succeeded him, and he also said, I will oppress Moab. In my days he said, Let us go, and I will see my desire upon him and his house, and Israel said, I shall destroy it for ever. Now Omri took the land of Madeba, and occupied it in his day, and in the days of his son, forty years. And Chemosh had mercy on it in my time. And I built Baal-meon and made therein the ditch, and I built Kiriathaim.

And the men of Gad dwelled in the country of Ataroth from ancient times, and the king of Israel fortified Ataroth. I assaulted the wall and captured it, and killed all the warriors of the city for the well-pleasing of Chemosh and Moab, and I removed from it all the spoil, and offered it before Chemosh in Kirjath; and I placed therein the men of Siran, and the men of Mochrath. And Chemosh said to me, Go take Nebo against Israel, and I went in the night and I fought against it from the break of day till noon, and I took it: and I killed in all seven thousand men...women and maidens, for I devoted them to Ashtar-Chemosh; and I took from it the vessels of Jehovah, and offered them before Chemosh.

And the king of Israel fortified Jahaz, and occupied it, when he made war against me, and Chemosh drove him out before me, and I took from Moab two hundred men in all, and placed them in Jahaz, and took it to annex it to Dibon.

I built Karchah the wall of the forest, and the wall of the Hill. I have built its gates and I have built its towers. I have built the palace of the king, and I made the prisons for the criminals within the wall. And there were no wells in the interior of the wall in Karchah. And I said to all the people, 'Make you every man a well in his house.' And I dug the ditch for Karchah with the chosen men of Israel. I built Aroer, and I made the road across the Arnon. I built Beth-Bamoth for it was destroyed. I built Bezer for it was cut down by the armed men of Daybon, for all Daybon was now loyal; and I reigned from Bikran, which I added to my land. And I built Beth-Gamul, and Beth-Diblathaim...Beth Baal-Meon, and I placed there the poor people of the land.

And as to Horonaim, the men of Edom dwelt therein, on the descent from old. And Chemosh said to me, Go down, make war against Horonaim, and take it. And I assaulted it, And I took it, for Chemosh restored it in my days. Wherefore I made.... ...year...and I....

There is also a more modern translation by W.F. Albright on pages 320–321 of Ancient Near Eastern Texts (ed. Pritchard, 1969):[30]

A yet newer translation was presented in a page authored by Jona Lendering.[31]

Interpretation edit

Analysis edit

Detail of a portion of lines 12–16, reconstructed from the squeeze. The middle line (14), transliterated as את. נבה. על. ישראל‎ ('t nbh 'l yšr’l) reads "Take Nabau against Israel"

The Mesha Stele is the longest Iron Age inscription ever found in the region, the major evidence for the Moabite language, and a unique record of military campaigns. The occasion was the erection of a sanctuary for Chemosh in Qarho, the acropolis (citadel) of Dibon, Mesha's capital, in thanks for his aid against Mesha's enemies. Chemosh is credited with an important role in the victories of Mesha, but is not mentioned in connection with his building activities, reflecting the crucial need to give recognition to the nation's god in the life-and-death national struggle. The fact that the numerous building projects would have taken years to complete suggests that the inscription was made long after the military campaigns, or at least most of them, and the account of those campaigns reflects a royal ideology that wishes to present the king as the obedient servant of the god. The king also claims to be acting in the national interest by removing Israelite oppression and restoring lost lands, but a close reading of the narrative leaves it unclear whether all the conquered territories were previously Moabite – in three campaign stories, no explicit reference is made to prior Moabite control.[32]

Parallel to 2 Kings 3 edit

The inscription seems to parallel an episode in 2 Kings 3: Jehoram of Israel makes an alliance with Jehoshaphat king of Judah and an unnamed king of Edom (south of Judah) to put down his rebellious vassal Mesha; the three kings have the best of the campaign until Mesha, in desperation, sacrifices to his god Chemosh either his eldest son or the eldest son of the king of Edom; the sacrifice turns the tide, "there came great wrath against Israel", and Mesha apparently achieves victory. This apparent correspondence is the basis of the usual dating of the inscription to about 840 BCE, but André Lemaire has cautioned that the identification is not certain and the stele may be as late as 810 BCE.[33]

Proposed references to David and "House of David" edit

The Tel Dan Stele: Fragment A is to the right, Fragments B1 and B2 to the left

The discovery of the Tel Dan Stele led to a re-evaluation of the Mesha Stele by some scholars. In 1994, André Lemaire reconstructed BT[D]WD as "House of David", meaning Judah,[9] in line 31.[34] This section is badly damaged, but appears to tell of Mesha's reconquest of the southern lands of Moab, just as the earlier part dealt with victories in the north. Line 31 says that he captured Horonen from someone who was occupying it. Just who the occupants were is unclear. The legible letters were taken by Lemaire to be BT[*]WD, with the square brackets representing a damaged space that probably contained just one letter. This is not universally accepted—Nadav Na'aman, for instance, suggested it as BT[D]WD[H], "House of Daodoh", a local ruling family.[35] Were Lemaire correct, the stele would provide the earliest evidence of the existence of the Judean kingdom and its Davidic dynasty.

In 2001, Anson Rainey proposed that a two-word phrase in line 12—'R'L DWDH—should be read as a reference an "altar hearth of David" at Ataroth, one of the towns captured by Mesha.[36] The sentence reads: "I (i.e., Mesha) carried from there (Atartoth) the 'R'L of its DWD (or: its 'R'L of DVD) and I dragged it before Chemosh in Qeriot". The meaning of both words is unclear. One line of thought sees 'R'L as the name of a man (literally "El is my light") and translates DWD as "defender", so that the sense of the passage is that Mesha, having conquered Ataroth, dragged its "defender", whose name was "El is my light", to the altar of Chemosh, where he was presumably sacrificed.[37] It seems more likely that some kind of cult-vessel is meant, and other suggestions have included "the lion-statue of its beloved", meaning the city god.[38][39]

In 2019, Israel Finkelstein, Nadav Na'aman and Thomas Römer concluded, on the basis of high-resolution photographs of the squeeze, that the monarch mentioned is referred to by three consonants, beginning with 'B', and the most probable candidate is not David, but Balak, a biblical Moabite.[40][41][39] Disagreeing, Michael Langlois pointed to his own new imaging methods that "confirm" line 31 contains the phrase "House of David".[42][43] A similar judgment was expressed by biblical scholar Ronald Hendel, who noted that Balak lived 200 years before David and, therefore, a reference to it would not make sense; Hendel also dismissed Finkelstein's hypothesis as "nothing more than a guess".[44][45][40] Matthieu Richelle argues that the supposed dividing stroke that Finkelstein, Na'aman and Römer cite as evidence that the name of the monarch began with a 'B' does not appear on the stone itself, but as part of a later reconstruction made of plaster.[46]

In 2022, the epigraphists André Lemaire and Jean-Philippe Delorme argued that newer photographs using Reflectance Transformation Imaging by a team part of the West Semitic Research Project of the University of Southern California in 2015, as well as high-resolution backlit pictures of the squeeze by the Louvre Museum in 2018, supported their view that line 31 of the Mesha Stele contains a reference to king David.[47][48][49] This evidence is regarded as inconclusive by Matthieu Richelle and Andrew Burlingame, who hold that the reading "House of David" in the stele remains uncertain.[50][51]

Authenticity edit

A replica of the stele on display at the Jordan Archaeological Museum in Amman, 70 km north of its original location in Dhiban.

In the years following the discovery of the stele a number of scholars questioned its authenticity.[52][53][54][55][56][57][58]

The stele is now regarded as of genuine antiquity by the vast majority of biblical archaeologists on the basis that no other inscriptions in this script or language of comparable age were yet known to scholars at the time of its discovery.[59] At that time the Assyrian lion weights were the oldest Phoenician-style inscription that had been discovered.[60]

The discovery of the Khirbat Ataruz Inscribed Altar inscriptions by archaeologist Chang-ho Ji at an ancient Moabite sanctuary site in Jordan in 2010, provided evidence for the Mesha Stele's authenticity.[61] The authenticity of the stele is held as wholly established and undisputed by biblical archaeologists today.[62][13][63]

Minimalist views edit

Thomas L. Thompson, a former professor of theology at the University of Copenhagen, closely associated with the Biblical minimalism movement known as the Copenhagen School, which holds that "Israel" is a problematic concept, believes that the inscription on the Mesha stele is not historical, but an allegory. In 2000, he wrote: "Rather than an historical text, the Mesha inscription belongs to a substantial literary tradition of stories about kings of the past... The phrase "Omri, king of Israel," eponym of the highland patronate Bit Humri, belongs to a theological world of Narnia."[64] This view has received criticism by John Emerton and André Lemaire, who have both reasserted the historical value of the Mesha Stele.[65][66]

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ Rollston 2010, p. 53–54.
  2. ^ a b "Stèle de Mecha". Musée du Louvre. 830. Retrieved 11 September 2021.
  3. ^ a b Rollston 2010, p. 54.
  4. ^ David, Ariel (13 September 2018). "When God Wasn't So Great: What Yahweh's First Appearance Tells About Early Judaism". Retrieved 11 October 2018.
  5. ^ Meyers, Eric M.; Research, American Schools of Oriental (1997). "Moabite Stone". The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East. Oxford University Press. p. 39. ISBN 978-0-19-511218-4. the Moabite Stone and as the Mesha Stone / Inscription, was the first (1868) of the major epigraphic documents discovered in either Cis- or Transjordan and couched in a language closely related to Hebrew
  6. ^ Albright 1945, p. 250: "The Moabite Stone remains a corner-stone of Semitic epigraphy and Palestinian history"
  7. ^ Katz, Ronald (1986). The Structure of Ancient Arguments: Rhetoric and Its Near Eastern Origin. New York: Shapolsky / Steinmatzky. p. 76. ISBN 9780933503342.
  8. ^ a b Niehr, Herbert (1995). "The Rise of YHWH in Judahite and Israelite Religion: Methodological and Religio-Historical Aspects". In Edelman, Diana Vikander (ed.). The Triumph of Elohim: From Yahwisms to Judaisms. Leuven: Peeters Publishers. p. 57. ISBN 978-9053565032. OCLC 33819403. The Meša inscription (ca. 850 BCE) clearly states that YHWH was the supreme god of Israel and of the Transjordanian territory occupied by Israel under the Omrides.
  9. ^ a b c Lemaire, André (May–June 1994). ""House of David" Restored in Moabite Inscription". Biblical Archaeology Review. 20 (3). Washington, D.C.: Biblical Archaeology Society. ISSN 0098-9444. Archived (PDF) from the original on 31 March 2012.
  10. ^ Lemche 1998, pp. 46, 62: "No other inscription from Palestine, or from Transjordan in the Iron Age, has so far provided any specific reference to Israel ... The name of Israel was found in only a very limited number of inscriptions, one from Egypt, another separated by at least 250 years from the first, in Transjordan. A third reference is found in the stele from Tel Dan – if it is genuine, a question not yet settled. The Assyrian and Mesopotamian sources only once mentioned a king of Israel, Ahab, in a spurious rendering of the name."
  11. ^ Maeir, Aren M. (2013). "Israel and Judah". The Encyclopedia of Ancient History. New York: Blackwell: 3523–3527. The earliest certain mention of the ethnonym Israel occurs in a victory inscription of the Egyptian king MERENPTAH, his well-known 'Israel Stela (ca. 1210 BCE); recently, a possible earlier reference has been identified in a text from the reign of Rameses II (see RAMESES I–XI). Thereafter, no reference to either Judah or Israel appears until the ninth century. The pharaoh Sheshonq I (biblical Shishak; see SHESHONQ I–VI) mentions neither entity by name in the inscription recording his campaign in the southern Levant during the late tenth century. In the ninth century, Israelite kings, and possibly a Judaean king, are mentioned in several sources: the Aramaean stele from Tel Dan, inscriptions of SHALMANESER III of Assyria, and the stela of Mesha of Moab. From the early eighth century onward, the kingdoms of Israel and Judah are both mentioned somewhat regularly in Assyrian and subsequently Babylonian sources, and from this point on there is relatively good agreement between the biblical accounts on the one hand and the archaeological evidence and extra-biblical texts on the other.
  12. ^ Fleming, Daniel E. (1 January 1998). "Mari and the possibilities of Biblical memory". Revue d'Assyriologie et d'archéologie orientale. 92 (1): 41–78. JSTOR 23282083. The Assyrian royal annals, along with the Mesha and Dan inscriptions, show a thriving northern state called Israël in the mid—9th century, and the continuity of settlement back to the early Iron Age suggests that the establishment of a sedentary identity should be associated with this population, whatever their origin. In the mid—14th century, the Amarna letters mention no Israël, nor any of the biblical tribes, while the Merneptah Stele places someone called Israël in hill-country Palestine toward the end of the Late Bronze Age. The language and material culture of emergent Israël show strong local continuity, in contrast to the distinctly foreign character of early Philistine material culture.
  13. ^ a b Gottwald, Norman Karol (1 January 2001). The Politics of Ancient Israel. Westminster John Knox Press. p. 194. ISBN 9780664219772. In fact, the conduct of the military operations and the ritual slaughter of captives is so remarkably similar to the style and ideology of biblical accounts of 'holy war' that many interpreters were at first inclined to regard the Mesha Stele as a forgery, but on paleographic grounds, its authenticity is now undisputed.
  14. ^ "Centre planning protest to demand return of Mesha Stele from Louvre". Jordan Times. 12 April 2016. Retrieved 19 April 2023.
  15. ^ Mykytiuk 2004, p. 95.
  16. ^ Walsh, William (1872). The Moabite Stone. LONDON : HAMILTON AND CO.; J. NISBET AND CO.: PORTEOUS AND GIBBS, PRINTERS 16 WICKLOW STREET. pp. 8, 12.
  17. ^ a b Ginsberg 1871, p. 13.
  18. ^ Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft, Bd. 24 (1870)
  19. ^ Ginsberg 1871, p. 13–14.
  20. ^ a b King 1878, p. 20.
  21. ^ "The Moabite Stone, With An Illustration", Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Statement 2.5 (1 January – 31 March 1870): 169–183.
  22. ^ As published in the Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Statement, No. 6, April to June 1870, page 42
  23. ^ a b Ginsberg 1871, p. 15.
  24. ^ Tristram, Henry B. (1873). The Land of Moab. London: Cambridge University Press. pp. 134–135.
  25. ^ Compston, H.F.B. The Inscription on the Stele of Mesha, MacMillan, 1919
  26. ^ Alviero Niccacci from his article "The Stele of Mesha and the Bible: Verbal System and Narrativity" in Orientalia NOVA SERIES, Vol. 63, No. 3 (1994), pp. 226-248
  27. ^ Parker 1997, p. 44.
  28. ^ King 1878, p. 55-58.
  29. ^ This reading of Mesha's father name, quoted here for copyright reasons, is no longer accepted. In light of the El-Kerak Inscription, the common reading is now "kmš[yt]", i.e. "Chemosh-yt". According to H. L. Ginsberg, the second element might be vocalized yatti, short for yattin, a conjugation of Northwest Semitic ytn, from Proto-Semitic wtn "to give"; a well-known derivative is ntn. See William L. Reed and Fred V. Winnett, "A Fragment of an Early Moabite Inscription from Kerak", Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 172 (1963), p. 8 n. 20a; and Romain Garnier and Guillaume Jacques A neglected phonetic law: The assimilation of pretonic yod to a following coronal in North-West Semitic. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, Cambridge University Press (CUP), 2012, 75 (1), pp.135–145.
  30. ^ Prithcard, J.B. Ancient Near Eastern Texts 3rd ed. 1969, pp. 320–321
  31. ^ The Stela of Mesha at by Jona Lendering created 2006, last modified 12 October 2021
  32. ^ Parker 1997, pp. 44–58.
  33. ^ Lemaire 2007, p. 137.
  34. ^ Pioske, Daniel (2015). David's Jerusalem: Between Memory and History. Routledge Studies in Religion. Vol. 45. Routledge. p. 210, fn. 18. ISBN 978-1317548911. Archived from the original on 18 June 2020. Retrieved 16 September 2020.
  35. ^ Green 2010, p. 118 fn.84.
  36. ^ Rainey 2001, p. 300–306.
  37. ^ Lipiński 2006, p. 339–340.
  38. ^ Schmidt 2006, p. 315.
  39. ^ a b Israel Finkelstein, Nadav Na’aman and Thomas Römer (2019). "Restoring Line 31 in the Mesha Stele: The 'House of David' or Biblical Balak?" (PDF). Tel Aviv. 46 (1): 3–11. doi:10.1080/03344355.2019.1586378. S2CID 194331133.
  40. ^ a b Ariel David, "Biblical King, Starts With a B: 3,000 Year-old Riddle May Have Been Solved", Haaretz, 2 May 2019
  41. ^ 'New reading of Mesha Stele could have far-reaching consequences for biblical history,' 2 May 2019.
  42. ^ Amanda Borschel-Dan (May 3, 2019); "High-tech study of ancient stone suggests new proof of King David's Dynasty", The Times of Israel; Jerusalem. Accessed 22 October 2020.
  43. ^ Langlois, Michael (2019). "The Kings, the City and the House of David on the Mesha Stele in Light of New Imaging Techniques" (PDF). Semitica. 61. Paris, France: Peeters: 23–47. doi:10.2143/SE.61.0.3286681. ISSN 2466-6815.
  44. ^ Geggel, Laura (2 May 2019). "Smashed Ancient Tablet Suggests Biblical King Was Real. But Not Everyone Agrees". Retrieved 12 August 2021.
  45. ^ American Friends of Tel Aviv University (news release) (2 May 2019). "New reading of the Mesha Stele inscription has major consequences for biblical history". American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Retrieved 22 October 2020.
  46. ^ Richelle 2021, p. 154*.
  47. ^ Lemaire, André (2022). "The Mesha Stele: Revisited Text and Translation". In Lubetski, Meir; Lubetski, Edith (eds.). Epigraphy, Iconography, and the Bible. Sheffield Phoenix Press. ISBN 978-1-914490-02-6.
  48. ^ Lemaire, André; Delorme, Jean-Philippe (Winter 2022). "Mesha's Stele and the House of David". Biblical Archaeology Review. 48 (4).
  49. ^ Lemaire, André; Delorme, Jean-Philippe (May 2023). "Defending the "House of David"". Bible History Daily. Biblical Archaeology Society.
  50. ^ Richelle, Matthieu; Burlingame, Andrew (Spring 2023). "Set in Stone? Another Look at the Mesha Stele". Biblical Archaeology Review. 49 (1): 54–57.
  51. ^ Richelle, Matthieu; Burlingame, Andrew (August 2023). "Why Mesha's "House of David" Remains Hypothetical". Bible History Daily. Biblical Archaeology Society.
  52. ^ Albert Löwy, A critical examination of the so-called Moabite inscription in the Louvre, 1903, 3rd issue rev. and amended, p31: "In the domain of Semitology, the prominent critics, Professor Steinschneider and the late Dr. Zunz, were almost the only scholars who, when asked for their opinion, expressed their strong doubts about the authenticity of the Moabite Inscription".
  53. ^ Studies and Texts in Folklore, Magic, Mediaeval Romance, Hebrew Apocrypha, and Samaritan Archaeology, Volume 1, Moses Gaster, KTAV Publishing House, Inc., 1971 "...Moabite Stone, if the latter be genuine..."
  54. ^ Friedrich Wilhelm Schultz, Professor of Theology at the University of Breslau, wrote in the 1877 Realencyklopädie für protestantische Theologie und Kirche [1] (translation from German by A Lowy): "Although the authenticity is acknowledged by all who have expressed themselves on the subject, there are several points which call forth strong doubt." Schulz describes the coincidences: (a) the only Moabite king mentioned by name in the Bible left the only Moabite stele discovered, and (b) nearly all the names in the biblical "prophesy against Moab" (chapters 15–16 of the Book of Isaiah) are mentioned on the stele.
  55. ^ Das Buch Daniel nach der Septuaginta Hergestellt, Leipzig: Eduard Pfeiffer, 1904, "Die Mesha-Inschrift Aufs Neue Untersucht"
  56. ^ Die Unechtheit der Mesainschrift, Rupert Storr, Laupp, 1918
  57. ^ Albert Löwy, A Critical Examination of the So-called Moabite Inscription in the Louvre, 1903, 3rd issue rev. and amended. Lowy's arguments against the authenticity of the stele were related to (a) apparent errors in the language, composition and palaeography of the text, (b) signs of plagiarism from the bible, and (c) the rhetorical question "Can an absolute unicum which, as a literary production, is alleged to have emanated from an ancient, now defunct, nation, serve as acceptable evidence of its own genuineness, if such evidence be challenged?"
  58. ^ "The Story of a Forgery and the Mēša Inscription", A. S. Yahuda, The Jewish Quarterly Review New Series, Vol. 35, No. 2 (October 1944), pp. 139–164
  59. ^ Albright 1945, pp. 248–249: "In the first place, no inscription of comparable age was then known, and it would, accordingly, have been impossible for the greatest scholar of the day to have divined the true forms of characters in use in the third quarter of the ninth century B. C. E… It is very easy to determine the exact state of knowledge at that time by examining Schroder's handbook, Die phonizische Sprache, and Levy’s monograph, Siegel und Gemmen, both of which appeared in 1869. No lapidary Hebrew or Canaanite inscription antedating the sixth century (reign of Psammetichus II) was then known, aside from the still unintelligible Nora and Boss inscriptions and a few Old-Hebrew seals which could not then be dated at all. Since the forms of characters changed rapidly between around 900 and 590 BCE, thus no possible way existed of knowing what the alphabet of Mesha's time might be. Now, we have many inscriptions dating from between around 850 and 750 BCE, some of which, like the nearly contemporary stele of Kilamuwa of Sham'al, the Hazael inscription from Arslan Tash, and the Ben-hadad Stele, resemble the Mesha Stone very closely in script. Some of the forms of characters had not then been found in any documents. Thus, forging the Mesha Stone was humanly impossible.
  60. ^ Henry Rawlinson (1865), Bilingual Readings: Cuneiform and Phœnician. Notes on Some Tablets in the British Museum, Containing Bilingual Legends (Assyrian and Phœnician), "Before concluding my notes on these tablet and seal legends, I would observe that they are among the most ancient specimens that we possess of Phoenician writing. I should select as the earliest specimens of all, the legends on the larger Lion Weights in the British Museum, one of which is clearly dated from the reign of Tiglath Pileser II. (b.c. 744–726). The other weights bear the royal names of Shalmaneser, Sargon, and Sennacherib."
  61. ^ Adam L. Bean ; Christopher A. Rollston ; P. Kyle McCarter ; Stefan J. Wimmer (2018). "An inscribed altar from the Khirbat Ataruz Moabite sanctuary" ; Levant ; vol.50, no.2, pp. 211-236; Routledge; UK
  62. ^ Mykytiuk 2004, p. 99.
  63. ^ Meir Lubetski ; Shlomo Mossaieff (2007). New Seals and Inscriptions, Hebrew, Idumean, Cuneiform; p. XV , Sheffield Phoenix Press, UK
  64. ^ Thomas L. Thompson (2000). "Problems of Genre and Historicity with Palestine's Descriptions". In André Lemaire, Magne Saebo (ed.). Supplements to Vetus Testamentum, Volume 80. Brill. pp. 323–326. ISBN 978-9004115989.
  65. ^ Emerton, J. A. (2002). "The Value of the Moabite Stone as an Historical Source". Vetus Testamentum. 52 (4): 483–492. doi:10.1163/156853302320764807. ISSN 0042-4935. JSTOR 1585139.
  66. ^ Lemaire 2007, p. 136.

Bibliography and further reading edit

External links edit