Archaeology

The ‘Moabite stone’ or ‘Mesha Stele’

Date: 9th century B.C.

 

The Moabite Stone is also called the ‘stèle de Mesha’ (French) or Mesha Stele. What is special about this archaeological discovery is that it was not found during digging. When the stone was found it was laying on the surface.

 

 

Facsimile made by B. Bonte

 

There are several stories about its history. According to the book "On stone and clay" by Henri Michaud, the stone was discovered by German missionary F. A. Klein in Dibon (now Dibhan) in the year 1868. But, evidently the true finder must have been Clermont-Ganneau. At that time he was working for the French consulate in Jerusalem. He had heard people talking about the stone and ordered a copy to be made of part of the text. This copy can now be seen in the Louvre, together with the Moabite stone. He understood that the stone must have been of great value and so ordered the imprint to be made. Although it was done, the imprint was torn to pieces by a fight amongst the population. Clermont-Ganneau wanted to buy the stone but the Arabs were suspicious. He was too eager. The population could not understand why he wanted to buy a 'worthless' stone. They thought there must be a treasure hidden inside it. In search of the treasure, they lit a fire around the stone. When the stone was very hot, they poured cold water over it. The difference in temperature broke the stone to pieces. There was no hidden treasure. Clermont-Ganneau was able to buy the pieces and they are now in possession of the Louvre museum. The stele is now made of both original pieces and pieces made out of plaster, according to the copy that had been made.

The material of the stone is basalt, 3½ feet long by 2 feet wide. The language is Phoenician. The stone is dated around 800 B.C. On this stone Mesha, king of Moab, relates the story of his uprising against Israel. In order to better understand the account, it should be mentioned that Chemosh is the God whom he worshiped.

The stone reads:

 

 

“I am Mesha, son of Chemosh king of Moab, the Daibonite. My father reigned over Moab for thirty years, and I reigned after my father. And I made this high-place for Chemosh in Kerekhoh a high-place of salvation, because he had saved me from all assailants, and because he had let me see my pleasure upon all them that hated me. Omri was king of Israel and he afflicted Moab for many days, for Chemosh was being angry with his land. And his son succeeded him, and he also said, I will afflict Moab. In my days said he thus, and I saw my pleasure on him and his house. And Israel perished with an everlasting destruction; now Omri had taken possession of the land of Mehdeba. And it dwelt there in his days and half the days of his son, forty years; and Chemosh restored it in my days. And I built Baal Meon and I made in it the reservoir, and I built Kiryathen. Now the men of Gad had dwelt in the land of Ataroth from of old. And the king of Israel built for himself Ataroth. And I warred against the city and seized it. And I slew all the people of the city, a gazing-stock to Chemosh and to Moab. And I captured thence the altar-hearth of Daedoh and I dragged it before Chemosh in Keriyyoth . And I settled there in to men of Sheren and the men of Makharath. And Chemosh said unto me, “Go, take Nebo against Israel”. And I seized it, and slew by night and warred against it from the break of dawn unto noon. And I seized it, and slew all of it, 7,000 men and male sojourners and women and female sojourners and maidens. For to Ashtor-Chemosh had I devoted it. And I took thence the vessels of JHWH, and I dragged them before Chemosh. Now the king of Israel had built Jahas and dwelt in it, when he warred against me. And Chemosh drove him out from me. And I took of Moab 200 men, all its chiefs. And I brought it against Jahas, and seized it, to add it into Daibon. I built Kerekhoth, the wall of the Woods and the wall of the Mound. And I built its gates and I built its towers. And I built the King’s house, and I made the two reservoirs of water in the Midst of the city. Now there was no cistern in the midst of all the city, in Kerekhoth, and I said to all the people, make you every man a cistern in his house. And I cut out the cutting of Kerekhoth with the prisoners of Israel. And I built Aroer, and I made the highway by the Arnon. I built Beth-Bamoth, for it was overthrown. I built Beser for ruins had it become. And the chiefs of Daibon were fifty, for all Daibon was obedient. And I reigned over one hundred chiefs in the cities which I added to the land. And I built Mehdeba and Beth-Diblathen. And Beth-Baal-Meon. And I took thence the sheep-masters... the sheep of the land. And as for Horonen, there dwelt there in...And Chemosh said unto me, Go down, fight against Horonen. And I went down...And Chemosh restored it in my days...”


Further than that the text is too damaged to translate.

 

In ancient Hebrew words were made up of consonants separated by dots. A sentence was separated by two vertical dots. One read from the right side to the left. The language of the Moabite stone looks very much like Hebrew. This is to be expected because the Moabites where descendants of Abraham's nephew Lot.

As concerns the Divine Name, the right side of the stone is very important. On the 18th line we see written 'YHWH'. The Divine Name in the form of YHWH was well known too Mesha and his contemporaries.


 

It is interesting that the Bible account found in 2 Kings chapter 3 happened during the same time. Mesha is even mentioned in verse 4: "And Mesha king of Moab was a sheep-master, and he rendered to the king of Israel a hundred thousand lambs, and a hundred thousand rams, [with] wool" (Young's Literal translation).

To quote the book 'Het verhaal van de bijbel' (translated: 'The story of the Bible') page 32-34 (published by the Belgian Bible Society 1985): "In 2 Kings 3 it is mentioned that an allied army from Israel, Judah and Edom enters the land of Moab, when Mesha was uprising. According to this story Moab was destroyed and Mesha was locked in a stronghold. Only by sacrificing his son, could he prevent a total defeat".

The Biblical account is very different with the report Mesha put on his stone.

 

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