Stele (also known as the "Moabite Stone") is a stele
(inscribed stone) set up around 840 BCE by King
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 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. Some say it is written
in the Phoenician alphabet, but others say it is written in the Old
Hebrew script, which is closely related.
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 the
Mesha stele, 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 history. The
stele, whose story parallels, with some differences, an episode in the
Books of Kings
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
scholar 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
Merneptah 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
3.2 Parallel to 2 Kings 3
3.3 Proposed references to
David and "House of David"
3.5 Minimalist views
4 See also
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 lines.
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, describing his discovery of the stele in August
Excerpts from Klein's description of the discovery of the Stele
... 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
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 [and dangerous] journey" himself.
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
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 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; 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
Nabau against Israel"
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 BT[D]WD
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 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, reads it as BT[D]WD[H], "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 Steinschneider, 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
Thomas L. Thompson 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."
Tel Dan Stele
^ Rollston 2010, p. 53–54.
^ Rollston, Chris A. (2010). Writing and Literacy in the World of
Ancient Israel: Epigraphic Evidence from the Iron Age. Society of
Biblical Lit. p. 54. ISBN 9781589831070.
^ 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"
^ Katz, Ronald (1986). The Structure of Ancient Arguments: Rhetoric
and Its Near Eastern Origin. New York: Shapolsky / Steinmatzky.
p. 76. ISBN 9780933503342.
^ 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
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
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
^ 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): 169–183.
^ As published in the
Palestine Exploration Fund
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. 24
^ 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
^ "The Story of a Forgery and the Mēša Inscription", A. S. Yahuda,
The Jewish Quarterly Review New Series, Vol. 35, No. 2 (October 1944),
Thomas L. Thompson (2000). "Problems of Genre and Historicity with
Palestine's Descriptions". In André Lemaire, Magne Saebo. Supplements
to Vetus Testamentum, Volume 80. Brill. pp. 323–326.
Albright, William F. (1945). "Is the
Mesha Inscription a Forgery?".
The Jewish Quarterly Review. University of Pennsylvania Press. 35 (3):
247–250. JSTOR 1452186.
Green, Douglas J. (2010). "I Undertook Great Works": The Ideology of
Domestic Achievements in West Semitic Royal Inscriptions. Mohr
Ginsberg, Christian (1871). The Moabite Stone A Facsimile of the
Original Inscription (PDF). Reeves and Turner. Archived from the
original (PDF) on 31 March 2012.
King, James (1878). Moab's Patriarchal Stone: being an account of the
Moabite stone, its story and teaching. Bickers and Son.
Lemche, Niels Peter (1998). The Israelites in History and Tradition.
Westminster John Knox Press.
Lemche, Niels Peter (2008). The Old Testament Between Theology and
History: A Critical Survey. Westminster John Knox Press.
Lipiński, Edward (2006). On the Skirts of Canaan in the Iron Age:
Historical and Topographical Researches. Peeters Publishing.
Mykytiuk, Lawrence J. (2004). Identifying Biblical Persons in
Northwest Semitic Inscriptions of 1200–539 B.C.E. Society of
Parker, Simon B. (1997). Stories in Scripture and Inscriptions:
Comparative Studies on Narratives in Northwest Semitic Inscriptions
and the Hebrew Bible. Oxford University Press.
Rainey, Anson F. (2001). "
Mesha and Syntax". In Dearman, J. Andrew;
Graham, M. Patrick. The Land That I Will Show You. Sheffield Academic
Press Supplement Series, no. 343.
Rollston, Chris A. (2010). Writing and Literacy in the World of
Ancient Israel: Epigraphic Evidence from the Iron Age. Society of
Schmidt, Brian B. (2006). "Neo-Assyrian and Syro-Palestinian Texts I:
the Moabite stone". In Chavalas, Mark William. The Ancient Near East:
Historical Sources in Translation. John Wiley & Sons.
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