Nov 11, 2023

The Mesha Stele

 

 

The Mesha Stele (or Moabite Stone).

Louvre Museum, Department of Oriental Antiquities, Sully Wing, ground floor, room D (AO 5066). © Mbzt / Wikimedia Commons

 The Mesha Stele

The Mesha Stele (or Moabite Stone) is a black basalt slab inscription that was discovered near Dibon (modern Dhiban, Jordan), the ancient region of Moab, in 1868 by Frederick Augustus Klein (fig 89).[1] It is one of the longest monumental stone inscriptions that have survived.[2]

Charles Clermont-Ganneau

Kleins interest in the stone alerted the local Bedouin to its value, and they significantly increased the price from their original agreement. Later, the local tribes refused to let the stone be transported through their territories. Upon hearing of the find, Clermont-Ganneau sent Ya’quµb Karavaca to take paper-mâché impressions (squeeze) of the inscription. Soon the Turkish authorities were prepared to send soldiers into Transjordan to take the stone by force, which led to the local tribes breaking the stone into several fragmented pieces and distributing them among the local tribes as fertility amulets. However, Clermont-Ganneau and Charles Warren were successful in purchasing some 57 pieces from the locals, which comprised about two-thirds of the original inscription.[3] With many of the pieces still missing, Karavaca’s squeeze cast is an important artifact in its own right in preserving this significant discovery.[4]

The stela dates to 850–840 BC and speaks of Moabite/Israelite relations in the ninth cent. BC, the time of King Ahab and King David.[5] Moab was a vassal state during the time of David and Solomon, but after 930 BC it rebelled against Israel. When King Ahab died in 853 BC, Moab was again under Israel’s control, though once again preparing to rebel.[6] Second Kings states: “Now Mesha king of Moab was a sheep breeder, and he had to deliver to the king of Israel 100,000 lambs and the wool of 100,000 rams. But when Ahab died, the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel (2 Kgs 3:4–5 ESV).”[7]

Not only does it contain one of the earliest mentions of Yahweh, the God of Israel, but also mentions the “house of David,”[8] confirming the statement of 2 Kings 3:4–5 as historically accurate. It is presently housed in the Louvre Museum, Department of Oriental Antiquities (AO 5066).


 



[1] John Andrew Dearman, ed., Studies in the Mesha Inscription and Moab, SBL Archaeology and Biblical Studies 2 (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1989).

[2] James Maxwell Miller, “The Moabite Stone as a Memorial Stela,” PEQ 106 (1974): 9–18.

[3] Charles Warren, “The Moabite Stone,” PEFSt. 1, no. 4 (1869): 169–82.

[4] Siegfried H. Horn, “Why the Moabite Stone Was Blown to Pieces: 9th Century B.C. Inscription Adds New Dimension to Biblical Account of Mesha’s Rebellion,” BAR 12, no. 3 (June 1986): 50–61.

[5] P. M. Michèle Daviau and Paul-Eugène Dion, “Moab Comes to Life,” BAR 28, no. 1 (2002): 38.

[6] Gary A. Rendsburg, “A Reconstruction of Moabite and Israelite History,” Journal of the Ancient Near Eastern Society of Columbia University 13 (1981): 67–73; John A. Emerton, “The Value of the Moabite Stone as an Historical Source,” VT 52, no. 4 (2002): 483–92; André LeMaire, “The Mesha Stele and the Omri Dynasty,” in Ahab Agonistes: The Rise and Fall of the Omri Dynasty, ed. Lester L. Grabbe, The Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies 421 (New York: Continuum International, 2007), 135–44; Brian B. Schmidt, “Neo-Assyrian and Syro-Palestinian Texts I: The Moabite Stone,” in Ancient Near East: Historical Sources in Translation, ed. Mark W. Chavalas, Blackwell Sourcebooks in Ancient History (Oxford: Wiley & Sons, 2006), 311–12; “Palestinian Inscriptions: Moabite Stone,” trans. W. F. Albright (ANETP, 287); Alviero Niccacci, “The Stele of Mesha and the Bible: Verbal System and Narrativity,” Orientalia 63, no. 3 (1994): 226–48; Gibson, Textbook of Syrian Semitic Inscriptions, 1:1:71–84.

[7] Philip D. Stern, “Of Kings and Moabites: History and Theology in 2 Kings 3 and the Mesha Inscription,” HUCA 64 (1993): 1–14.

[8] LeMaire, “‘House of David’ Restored in Moabite Inscription,” 30–37.

 

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Updated Feb, 2024

 

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