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Mesha Stele

From Academic Kids

The stele as photographed circa 1891
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The stele as photographed circa 1891

The Mesha Stele (popularized in the 19th century as the "Moabite Stone") is a black basalt stone, bearing an inscription by the 9th century BC Moabite King Mesha, discovered in 1868. The stone is 124 cm high and 71 cm wide and deep, and rounded at the top. The inscription of 34 lines, the most extensive inscription ever recovered from ancient Palestine, was written in Hebrew-Phoenician characters. It was set up by Mesha, about 850 BC, as a record and memorial of his victories in his revolt against Israel, which he undertook after the death of his overlord, Ahab, recounting:

  1. How Moab was conquered by Omri, King of Israel, as the result of the anger of the god Chemosh. Mesha's victories over Omri's son (not mentioned by name), over the men of Gad at Ataroth, and at Nebo and Jehaz;
  2. His public buildings, restoring the fortifications of his strong places and building a palace and reservoirs for water; and
  3. His wars against the Horonaim.

This inscription can be interpreted as supplementing and corroborating the history of King Mesha recorded in 2 Kings 3:4-27, thereby earning it a prominent place in the corpus of Biblical archaeology. However there are signifiant differences. In the bible it is Ahab, Omri's son who conquers Moab and the rebelion is against Ahab's son Jehoram. Further, in the bible, it is not Chemosh who gives victory to Mesha but Jahweh who gives victory to Jehoram. Israel withdraws, according to the Book of Kings, only because they are disconcerted when they see Mesha sacrifice his son.

The stele was discovered at the ancient Dibon now Dhiban, Jordan, in August 1868, by Rev. F. A. Klein, a German missionary in Jerusalem. "The Arabs of the neighborhood, dreading the loss of such a talisman, broke the stone into pieces; but a squeeze had already been obtained by [Charles] Clermont-Ganneau, and most of the fragments were recovered and pieced together by him"[1] (http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/). A squeeze is a papier-mache impression. The squeeze and the reassembled stele are now in the Louvre Museum.

With the exception of a very few variations, such as -in for -im in plurals, the Moabite language of the inscription is identical with an early form of Hebrew. The Moabite alphabet, is the oldest Phoenician type of the Semitic alphabet. The form of the letters here used supplies very important and interesting information regarding the history of the formation of the alphabet, as well as, incidentally, regarding the arts of civilized life of those times in the land of Moab. This ancient monument, recording the heroic struggles of King Mesha with Omri and Ahab, was erected about 850 BC. Here "we have the identical slab on which the workmen of the old world carved the history of their own times, and from which the eye of their contemporaries read thousands of years ago the record of events of which they themselves had been the witnesses."

In 1994 the French scholar Andre Lemaire reported in Biblical Archaeology Review that the Mesha Stele bears the phrase "House of David" Unlike the later mention of the "House of David" on the Tel Dan fragment, this inscription comes from an enemy of Israel boasting of a victory. Lemaire had to reconstruct a missing letter to decode the wording, but if he's right, there are now two 9th century references to David's dynasty (noted in Time Magazine, December 18, 1995).

Text

The text, in Moabite, transcribed into modern Hebrew letters:

1. אנכ. משע. בנ. כמש.. . מלכ. מאב. הד
2. יבני | אבי. מלכ. על. מאב. שלשנ. שת. ואנכ. מלכ
3. תי. אחר. אבי | ואעש. הבמת. זאת. לכמש. בקרחה | ב[נס. י]
4. שע. כי. השעני. מכל. המלכנ. וכי. הראני. בכל. שנאי | עמר
5. י. מלכ. ישראל. ויענו. את. מאב. ימנ. רבן. כי. יאנפ. כמש. באר
6. צה | ויחלפה. בנה. ויאמר. גמ. הא. אענו. את. מאב | בימי. אמר. כ[...]
7. וארא. בה. ובבתה | וישראל. אבד. אבד. עלמ. וירש. עמרי. את א[ר]
8. צ. מהדבא | וישב. בה. ימה. וחצי. ימי. בנה. ארבענ. שת. ויש
9. בה. כמש. בימי | ואבנ. את. בעלמענ. ואעש. בה. האשוח. ואבנ
10. את. קריתנ | ואש. גד. ישב. בארצ. עטרת. מעלמ. ויבנ. לה. מלכ. י
11. שראל. את. עטרת | ואלתחמ. בקר. ואחזה | ואהרג. את. כל. העמ. [מ]
12. הקר. רית. לכמש. ולמאב | ואשב. משמ. את. אראל. דודה. ואס
13. חבה. לפני. כמש. בקרית | ואשב. בה. את. אש. שרנ. ואת. אש
14. מחרת | ויאמר. לי. כמש. לכ. אחז. את. נבה. על. ישראל | וא
15. הלכ. הללה. ואלתחמ. בה. מבקע. השחרת. עד. הצהרמ | ואח
16. זה. ואהרג. כלה. שבעת. אלפנ. גברנ. ו[גר]נ | וגברת. וגר
17. ת. ורחמת | כי. לעשתר. כמש. החרמתה | ואקח. משמ. א[ת. כ]
18. לי. יהוה. ואסחב. המ. לפני. כמש | ומלכ. ישראל. בנה. את
19. יהצ. וישב. בה. בהלתחמה. בי | ויגרשה. כמש. מפני | ו
20. אקח. ממאב. מאתנ. אש. כל. רשה | ואשאה. ביהצ. ואחזה.
21. לספת. על. דיבנ | אנכ. בנתי. קרחה. חמת. היערנ. וחמת
22. העפל | ואנכ. בנתי. שעריה. ואנכ. בנתי. מגדלתה | וא
23. נכ. בנתי. בת. מלכ. ואנכ. עשתי. כלאי. האש[וח למי]נ. בקרב
24. הקר | ובר. אנ. בקרב. הקר. בקרחה. ואמר. לכל. העמ. עשו. ל
25. כמ. אש. בר. בביתה | ואנכ. כרתי. המכרתת. לקרחה. באסר
26. [י]. ישראל | אנכ. בנתי. ערער. ואנכ. עשתי. המסלת. בארננ.
27. אנכ. בנתי. בת. במת. כי. הרס. הא | אנכ. בנתי. בצר. כי. עינ
28. ----- ש. דיבנ. חמשנ. כי. כל. דיבנ. משמעת | ואנכ. מלכ
29. ת[י] ----- מאת. בקרנ. אשר. יספתי. על. הארצ | ואנכ. בנת
30. [י. את. מה]דבא. ובת. דבלתנ | ובת. בעלמענ. ואשא. שמ. את. [...]
31. --------- צאנ. הארצ | וחורננ. ישב. בה. ב
32. --------- אמר. לי. כמש. רד. הלתחמ. בחורננ | וארד
33. ---------[ויש]בה. כמש. בימי. ועל[...]. משמ. עש
34. -------------- שת. שדק | וא

Translation

I am Mesha, son of Chemoshit ... King of Moab, the Dibonite.

My father was king over Moab for thirty years and I succeeded my father. I made this altar for Chemosh in the Acropolis (the new area of the city, which Mesha built).

...For he had delivered me of all the kings, and he had shown me (the fall of) all my foes.

Omri, the king of Israel, had oppressed Moab for many days, for Chemosh made wrath in his land.

And his son succeeded him, and he said: I too shall oppress Moab.

Thus he said in my days, and I saw him (in his fall) within his house.

And Israel was lost forever.

And Omri took possession of the land of Medeba.

And he dwelt in it, in his own days and in half of the days of his son, and Chemosh had returned it in my days. And I had built Ba'al-Maon, and within it I made the Ashu'ach (a pool made to hoard water) and I had built Kiriathain.

And the people of Gad had always dwelt in the land of Ataroth. And the king of Israel had built Ataroth. And I fought the city, and I held it. And I have killed all of its people.

..From the city that was for Chemosh and for Moab.

And from there I have returned Arel, the head of the city, and I had dragged him before Chemosh in the cities.

And I sat in the midst of the city the man of Sharon, and the man of Mahrath.

And Chemosh saith unto me: Go forth, and take Nebo from Israel.

So I walked in the night, and I made war upon it from the crack of dawn until noon; And I held it.

I killed all of them, seven thousand in number, men and women and maidens and slaves, unto Ashthar-Chemosh (The god Chemosh appears as a double god, female and male) I dedicated it.

And I have taken from there the vessels of Yahweh, and carried them before Chemosh.

The king of Israel had built Yahaz (Jahaz: an ancient city in the Transjordan, in the land of Moab, appears several times in the bible), and he dwelt within it while he made war upon me, and Chemosh expelled he before me.

External links

  • Louvre collection (http://www.louvre.fr/francais/collec/ao/ao5066/ao_f.htm) - includes a large modern photo of the stele
  • The Jewish Encyclopedia (http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/), 1901 - 6: "Moabite Stone," includes a translation of part of the inscription.
This entry incorporates text from Easton's Bible Dictionary, 1897, with some modernisation.
de:Mesa-Stein

he:מצבת מישע ja:メシャ碑文

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