The MESHA STELE (also known as the "MOABITE STONE") is a stele
(inscribed stone) set up around 840 BCE by King
kingdom located in modern
Mesha tells how
Chemosh , the god
of Moab, had been angry with his people and had allowed them to be
subjugated to Israel, but at length
Chemosh returned and assisted
Mesha to throw off the yoke of
Israel and restore the lands of Moab.
Mesha describes his many building projects. It is written in the
Phoenician alphabet .
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 a local
Bedouin , although
neither of them could read the text. Before it could be seen by
another European, the next year it was smashed by local villagers
during a dispute over its ownership. A "squeeze" (a papier-mâché
impression) had been obtained by a local Arab on behalf of Charles
Simon Clermont-Ganneau , and fragments containing most of the
inscription (613 letters out of about a thousand) were later recovered
and pieced together. The squeeze and the reassembled stele are now in
Louvre Museum .
Mesha stele is 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 and Palestinian history". The
stele, whose story parallels, with some differences, an episode in the
Books of Kings (2 Kings 3:4–8), provides invaluable
information on the
Moabite language and the political relationship
Israel at one moment in the 9th century BCE. It is
the most extensive inscription ever recovered that refers to the
Israel (the "House of Omri"); it bears the earliest certain
extra-biblical reference to the Israelite god
Yahweh , and—if French
André Lemaire 's reconstruction of a portion of line 31 is
correct—the earliest mention of the "House of
David " (i.e., the
kingdom of Judah ). It is also one of four known contemporary
inscriptions containing the name of Israel, the others being the
Stele , the Tel Dan
Stele , and the
Kurkh Monolith . Its
authenticity has been disputed over the years, and some biblical
minimalists suggest the text was not historical, but a biblical
allegory, but the stele is regarded as genuine and historical by the
vast majority of biblical archaeologists today.
The stele is currently on display in France at the
Louvre museum and
Jordan has demanded its return.
* 1 Description and discovery
* 2 Text
* 3 Interpretation
* 3.1 Analysis
* 3.2 Parallel to 2 Kings 3
* 3.3 Proposed references to
David and "House of David"
* 3.4 Authenticity
* 3.5 Minimalist views
* 4 See also
* 5 References
* 6 Bibliography
* 7 External links
DESCRIPTION AND DISCOVERY
The stele is a smoothed block of basalt approximately one meter tall,
60 cm wide and 60 cm thick, bearing a surviving inscription of 34
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. This was followed a
month later by a letter from
Frederick Augustus Klein published in the
Pall Mall Gazette
Pall Mall Gazette , describing his discovery of the stele in August
1868: Excerpts from Klein's description of the discovery of the Stele
... I afterwards ascertained that 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
... 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, March 23, 1870, as published in the
Pall Mall Gazette
Pall Mall Gazette of April 19th, 1870. A replica of the stele on
display at the
Jordan Archaeological Museum in
Amman , 70km north of
its original location in Dhiban .
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. 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
A "squeeze" (a papier-mâché impression) of the full stele had been
obtained just prior to its destruction. Ginsberg's translation of the
official report, "Ueber die Auffindung der Moabitischen Inschrift,"
stated that Ganneau sent an Arab named Yacoub Caravacca to obtain the
squeeze as he "did not want to venture to undertake the very costly
journey" himself. Caravacca was injured by the local
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.
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. The remainder of the stele was reconstructed by Ganneau from
the squeeze obtained by Caravacca.
Drawing of the
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 text describes:
Moab was oppressed by
Omri King of
Israel and his son as the
result of the anger of the god
* Mesha's victories over Omri's son (not named) and the men of Gad
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 ; and
* A now-lost conclusion in the destroyed final lines.
There is no authoritative full edition of the Moabite inscription.
The translation used here is that published by James King (1878),
based on translations by M. Ganneau and Dr. Ginsberg. Line numbers
added to the published version have been removed.
I am Mesha, son of Chemosh-gad, 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,
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
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, but I did not kill the 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 took 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, and
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.
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....
Detail of a portion of lines 12–16, reconstructed from the
squeeze. The middle line (14), transliterated as "את. נבה. על.
ישראל" reads "Take
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 Kemosh in Qarho, the acropolis (citadel) of Dibon,
Mesha's capital, in thanks for his aid against Mesha's enemies. Kemosh
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 which 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
there is no explicit reference to prior Moabite control.
PARALLEL TO 2 KINGS 3
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
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 Kemosh 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
PROPOSED REFERENCES TO DAVID AND "HOUSE OF DAVID"
The discovery of the Tel Dan
Stele led to a reevaluation of the Mesha
Stele by some scholars. In 1994,
André Lemaire reconstructed BTWD as
"House of David", meaning Judah, in line 31. 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 are BTWD, with the square brackets representing a damaged
space that probably contained just one letter. This is not universally
accepted—Nadav Na'aman, for instance, reads it as BTWD, "House of
Daodoh", a local ruling family; but if Lemaire is correct, then this
is 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. 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 Kemosh 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 Kemosh, where he was presumably sacrificed.
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.
The stele is regarded as genuine by the vast majority of biblical
archaeologists today, on the basis that there were no other
inscriptions of comparable age known to scholars at the time. Back
Assyrian lion weights
Assyrian lion weights were the oldest Phoenician-style
inscription that had been discovered.
In the years following the discovery of the stele, a number of
scholars questioned its authenticity, including
Leopold Zunz , Moritz
Moses Gaster , F.W. Schulz, Gustav Jahn, Rupert
Storr, and particularly Albert Löwy, who wrote two monographs
disputing the authenticity of the stele in 1887 and 1903. Its
authenticity was also challenged in detail by
Abraham Yahuda in 1944
in his article, "The Story of a Forgery and the Mēša Inscription".
Thomas L. Thompson believes that the inscription on the
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
* Tel Dan
* ^ Rollston 2010 , p. 53–54.
* ^ A B C D
André Lemaire "\'House of David\' Restored in Moabite
Inscription" Biblical Archaeology Review 20:03 (May/June 1994)
* ^ Albright 1945 , p. 250: "The Moabite Stone remains a
corner-stone of Semitic epigraphy and Palestinian history"
* ^ Rollston 2010 , p. 54.
* ^ 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
* ^ Maeir, Aren. "Maeir, A. M. 2013.
Israel and Judah. Pp.
3523–27 in The Encyclopedia of Ancient History. New York:
Blackwell". The earliest certain mention of the ethnonym
in a victory inscription of the Egyptian king MERENPTAH, his
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
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.
* ^ FLEMING, DANIEL E. (1998-01-01). "MARI AND THE POSSIBILITIES OF
BIBLICAL MEMORY". Revue d'Assyriologie et d'archéologie orientale. 92
(1): 41–78. 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.
* ^ Gottwald, Norman Karol (2001-01-01). The Politics of Ancient
Israel. Westminster John Knox Press. 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.
* ^ Mykytiuk 2004 , p. 95.
* ^ "The Moabite Stone, With An Illustration", Palestine
Exploration Fund Quarterly Statement 2.5 (1 Jan. – 31 March 1870):
* ^ As published in the
Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly
Statement, No. 6, April to June 1870, page 42
* ^ A B Ginsberg 1871 , p. 13.
* ^ A B King 1878 , p. 20.
* ^ Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft, Bd.
* ^ Ginsberg 1871 , p. 13–14.
* ^ A B Ginsberg 1871 , p. 15.
* ^ Parker 1997 , p. 44.
* ^ King 1878 , p. 55-58.
* ^ 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 Chemosh-yat(ti) (yatti might be short for
yattin, a verbal form derived from Semitic root ntn, "to give").
* ^ Parker 1997 , pp. 44–58.
André Lemaire The
Stele and the
Omri Dynasty in Ahab
Agonistes: The Rise and Fall of the
Omri Dynasty, Edited by Lester L.
Grabbe. Continuum International Publishing Group. 2007
* ^ Green 2010 , p. 118 fn.84.
* ^ Rainey 2001 , p. 300–306.
* ^ Lipiński 2006 , p. 339–340.
* ^ Schmidt 2006 , p. 315.
* ^ 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 cir. 900 and cir. 590 B. C. E., there was thus no possible way
of knowing what the alphabet of Mesha's time might be. Now we have
many inscriptions dating from between cir. 850 and 750 B. C. E., some
of which, like the nearly contemporary stele of Kilamuwa of Sham\'al ,
the Hazael inscription from
Arslan Tash , and the Ben-hadad stele ,
Mesha Stone very closely in script. Some of the forms of
characters had not then been found in any documents. It was thus
humanly impossible for the
Mesha Stone to be forged.
* ^ 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
* ^ A B 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".
* ^ 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
* ^ Friedrich Wilhelm Schultz, Professor of Theology at the
University of Breslau, wrote in the 1877 Realencyklopädie für
protestantische Theologie und Kirche (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.
* ^ Das Buch Daniel nach der Septuaginta Hergestellt, Leipzig:
Eduard Pfeiffer, 1904, "Die Mesha-Inschrift Aufs Neue Untersucht"
* ^ Die Unechtheit der Mesainschrift, Rupert Storr, Laupp, 1918
* ^ A B 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?"
* ^ "The Story of a Forgery and the Mēša Inscription", A. S.
Yahuda, The Jewish Quarterly