The Mesha Stele, or Moabite Stone
The Mesha Stele, also known as the Moabite Stone, is a stele (inscribed stone) set up around 840 BCE by King Mesha of Moab (now part of 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 then 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. 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 Mesha Stele are now in the Louvre Museum.
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What is Significant About the Mesha Stele?
- The stone was discovered intact in August 1868 by Frederick Augustus Klein, an Anglican missionary, at the site of ancient Dibon (now Dhiban, Jordan)
- After several failed negotiations to purchase it, the Mesha Stele was broken into dozens of pieces and scattered among the Bedouin. In the 1870s several of the fragments were recovered by scholars and reconstructed—comprising only two-thirds of the original Moabite Stone. A paper imprint (called a squeeze) that had been taken of the intact inscription allowed scholars to fill in the missing text.*
- The Mesha Stele is the longest Iron Age inscription ever found in the region
- It contains references to Israel and to YHVH – the God of the Israelites
- The Mesha Stele story parallels an episode in the Bible’s Books of Kings (2 Kings 3:4–8)with some differences (due to different perspectives – see below),
- It speaks of Mesha imploring the god of Chemosh, the god of the Moabites, to go before him in battle. We see here how a leader of an ancient people sought the power of their god to go before them and help them achieve victory.
- The Mesha Inscription provides valuable information on the similarities between ancient Hebrew and the Moabite language, and the political relationship between Moab and Israel at one moment in the 9th century BCE
- The Mesha 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. According to one scholar, it is impossible that it could have been forged.
Why is The Mesha Stele Evidence for the Truth of the Bible?
Both documents, 2 Kings 3 and the Mesha Inscription, describe the same event, the revolt of Mesha, but from entirely different perspectives. Mesha made his record of the event on a stone slab, or stela, 3 ft high and 2 ft wide. Unfortunately the stone was broken into pieces by the local Bedouin before it could be acquired by the authorities. About two-thirds of the pieces were recovered and those, along with an impression made before the stela was destroyed, allowed all but the last line to be reconstructed. There are a total of 34 lines, written in Moabite, a language almost identical to Hebrew. It is the longest monumental inscription yet found in Palestine.
The Perspective of Events from the Bible: 2 Kings 3
The Bible in 2 Kings 3 recounts how Joram, Jehoshaphat, and the king of Edom combined forces to attempt to bring Moab back under Israelite control. They attacked from the south and were successful in routing the Moabite forces and destroying many towns (2 Kgs 3:24–25). But when the coalition tried to dislodge Mesha from Kir Hareseth (modern Kerak), they were unsuccessful. After Mesha sacrificed his oldest son on the ramparts of the city, “the fury against Israel was great they withdrew and returned to their own land” (2 Kgs 3:27). The campaign must have taken place between 848 and 841 BC, the only time when Joram and Jehoshaphat were both on the throne. Although the campaign met with some success, it appears that Moab retained its independence. This is confirmed by the Mesha Inscription.
The Mesha Inscription Perspectiveof Events
The Mesha Inscription (see actual text below) gives us “the rest of the story.” It reads, in fact, like a chapter from the Old Testament. Its language, terminology and phraseology are exactly the same as what we find in the Bible. Mesha credits his successful revolt and recapture of Moabite territory, as well as other accomplishments, to Chemosh, national god of Moab. He does not, of course, record his defeat in the south at the hands of the coalition armies. Similarly, although the Bible records Mesha’s revolt, it gives no details on his successes. So each record, accurate in its own way, records events from a different perspective.
The Actual Text of The Mesha Stele
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, 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, 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 [YHVH], 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. 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….
Comparing the Biblical Record to the Mesha Inscription
The main problem in correlating the Mesha Inscription with the Bible has to do with synchronizing the chronology of the two sources. 2 Kings 3:5 (cf. 1:1) simply states, “But after Ahab died, the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel.” Ahab, father of Joram, died in ca. 853 BC, so Mesha’s revolt must have taken place some time after 853 BC. According to the Mesha Inscription: “Now Omri took the land of Madeba, and occupied it in his day, and in the days of his son, forty years.”
The Mesha Inscription not only mentions Mesha, king of Moab, known in the Bible, but also Omri, one of the most powerful kings of the Northern Kingdom (1 Kings 16:21–28), who ruled 885–873 BC. Omri established a dynasty which lasted until his grandson Joram was assassinated by Jehu in 841 BC. The term “son” in the inscription simply means descendent, as we know from the Bible and other ancient Near Eastern texts. Thiele gives absolute years for the period from the beginning of the reign of Omri to the sixth year of Joram as 885 to 846 BC, or 40 years (1983:217). Thus, it appears that Mesha revolted in the sixth year of Joram, ca. 846 BC. The Bible indicates that the retaliation by Joram recorded in 2 Kings 3 took place immediately upon Mesha’s revolt (verses 5–7), or 846 BC. This date falls within the time period of 848–841 BC when both Joram and Jehoshaphat were ruling.
The God of Israel vs. Chemosh the god of Moab
The Mesha Stele contains the earliest mention of YHVH, the God of the Israelites, outside of the Bible. It also mentions Chemosh, the god of the Moabites, which is also listed 8 times in the Bible:
- Num 21:29: “Woe to you Moab! You have perished, O people of Chemosh!”
- Judges 11:24 “Do you not possess what Chemosh your god gives you to possess? So whatever the LORD our God has drive out before us, we will possess it.”
- 1 Kings 11:6-7: “Solomon did evil in the sight of the LORD (YHVH), and did not fully follow the LORD, as did his father David. The Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, on the hill that is east of Jerusalem…”
- 1 Kings 11:33: “because they have forsaken Me, and worshipped … Chemosh the god of the Moabites…”
- 2 Kings 23:13: “..Chemosh, the abomination of the Moabites”
- Jer 48:7: “For because you have trusted in your works and your treasures, You shall also be taken. And Chemosh shall go forth into captivity, his priests and his princes together.”
- Jer 48:13: “Moab shall be ashamed of Chemosh”
- Jer 48:42; 48:46: “And Moab shall be destroyed as a people, becasue he has magnified himself against the LORD… Woe to you, O Moab! The people of Chemosh perish”.
Chemosh is mentioned 11 times in the Mesha Stele (see text above), as is idolized by Mesha as the god of his nation. Of course in the inscription he tells his view of how his god led him, protected him, and cared for him:
- Mesha made a high place for Chemosh, since Chemosh gave Mesha victory over his enemies (line 3)
- Because Chemosh was angry with Moab, Omri oppressed Moab (line 5)
- Chemosh gave Moab back her territory (line 9)
- Mesha slew the people of Ata-roth to satisfy Chemosh (lines 11–12)
- Mesha dragg-ed the altar-hearth(?) of Ataroth before Chemosh (lines 12–13)
- Chemosh directed Mesha to attack the town of Nebo (line 14)
- Mesha devoted the inhabitants of Nebo to Chemosh (line 17)
- The altar-hearths(?) of Yahweh from Nebo were dragged before Chemosh (lines 17–18)
- Chemosh drove the king of Israel out of Jahaz (lines 18–19)
- Chemosh directed Mesha to fight against Horanaim (line 32)
- Chemosh gave Mesha victory over Horanaim (line 33)
Other Archaeological Evidence Supporting the Bible
According to Numbers 21: 21-25,31, Dibon was captured from the Amorites by Israel and assigned to the tribe of Reuben (Jos 13:17). But evidently it was reassigned to the tribe of Gad, since Gad built the city (Nu 32:34) and it was called “Dibon of Gad” (Nu 33:45, 46).
The ruins of Dhiban were excavated 1950–1956 and 1965, and a city wall and gateway were found, as well as a large podium which the excavators believe supported the royal quarter constructed by Mesha. In addition, a text from around the time of Mesha was found which refers to the “temple of Che[mosh],” and nearly 100 cisterns were found on the site and in the surrounding area, possibly made in response to Mesha’s directive to “make yourself each a cistern in his house” (lines 24–25).
Its interesting to note that in his prophecy against Moab, Isaiah states, “Dibon goes up to its temple, to its high places to weep” (15:2, NIV). Jeremiah also predicted that the fortified cities of Dibon would be ruined (48:18 cf. 48:21–22).
Evidence for The House of David Mentioned
Line 31 of the Mesha Stele is perhaps the most significant line in the entire inscription. In 1993 a stela was discovered at Tel Dan in northern Israel mentioning the “House of David” (see Bible and Spade , Autumn 1993: 119–121). This mid-ninth century BC inscription provided the first mention of David in a contemporary text outside the Bible.
The find is especially significant since in recent years several scholars have questioned the existence of David. At about the same time the Dan stela was found, French scholar Andre Lemaire was working on the Mesha Inscription and determined that the same phrase appeared there in line 31 (Bible and Spade, Summer 1995: 91–92). Lemaire was able to identify a previously indistinguishable letter as a “d” in the phrase “House of David.” This phrase is used a number of times in the Old Testament for the Davidic dynasty.
What Can We Learn from the Mesha Inscription?
- The Mesha Stele is yet another example of how archaeology supports the truth of the Bible. The Bible continues to be confirmed by archaeological finds, over and over again. Which should bring confidence in the believer to but his/her full trust in the reliability of scripture.
- If the Bible contains a prophecy, you can bet it will come true. This has been confirmed numerous times through archaeological discoveries.
- Nations are backed by either the One True God, or a god of the evil one. Mesha pays homage to his “god” Chemosh, the god of his country, who speaks to him and directs his actions. It is said in scripture that the nations all have their gods, working behind the scenes, motivating and directing the activities of nations. For example, see Daniel 1013: “But the price of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; and behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left alone there with the kings of Persia. Here we see that a demon prince of Persia was doing spiritual battle with this angel who was sent to Daniel.
- Realize there is a is a spiritual battle going on behind every physical battle, and we must remember that the spiritual realm is much more powerful than the physical realm. The spirit is eternal; the physical temporal. The entire physical universe sprang into existence from the Spirit of God (Gen 1:1 “In beginning created God the heavens and the earth”.)
- The God of the Bible – YHVH – is the one and only true God – there is no other. History is “His Story”, and He wins in the end. While the leaders of the nations truest in their various gods, there is only one Almighty Creator God, the Maker of the heavens and the earth. It all started with Him, and will end with Him (He is the Alpha and the Omega, the A-Z). Believers need to remember to always seek Him first, before we go into any battle, and He will bring His own victory. As 2 Cor 10:3 says, “For although we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds.”
Which God are You Placing Your Trust in?
Where are you in your relationship with the LORD? Are you trusting in high places, and in treasures such as Mesha? Or will you place your trust in the one, true God – the Maker of the heavens and the earth? God is reaching out to everyone one of His creatures, and “not willing that any should perish”. We have a;; “sinned”, all fallen short. But He has not left us alone. He loves you and I so much that He became one of us in the form of Jesus , or Yeshua. He lived a perfect life, and gave Himself as the perfect, spotless sacrifice to pay for all of humankind’s sins.
Why not ask God to reveal Himself to you? If Jesus is who He claims to be? Here is a link to Billy Graham’s web site that can show you how you can invite Jesus into your life and be the creation He has always intended you to be …
Take Me to Steps to Peace With God ==> http://www.billygraham.org/SH_StepsToPeace.asp
Wikipedia, “Mesha Stele”. Ref https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mesha_Stele
Associates for Biblical Research: “Mesha, King of Moad” Ref http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2006/09/27/Mesha-King-of-Moab.aspx#Article