Mesha Stele: the oldest inscription about tetragrammaton

The Moabite Stone, also known as the Mesha Stone, contains an ancient inscription of Mesha, the king of Moab dating back to the late ninth century B.C., whose elements correspond to the events narrated in the Hebrew Bible.
The story refers to the place corresponds to a kingdom located in modern Jordan, and the stele tells of how Chemosh, the God of Moab, was angry with his people, allowing them to be subjugated to Israel. In the end, however, Chemosh came to the aid of Mesha to free himself from the opposing dominion and restore the lands of Moab.

Mesha also claims to have rebuilt or repaired many cities and buildings, including a fortress, the king’s residence, and cisterns for storing water. Unfortunately, the last five lines of the inscription are interrupted, so scholars do not know how exactly the inscription ends.

Discovery

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 the stele by Sattam Al-Fayez , son of King Bani Sakhr Fendi Al-Fayez, although no one knew how to interpret the text at the time. Archaeologists were, and still are, very busy looking for evidence to prove the historicity of the Bible, and then the news of the discovery has sparked a race between France, Britain and Germany to acquire the find. This is not simply because the Mesha Stone is the first important Canaanite epigraphic inscription found in the region of Palestine (and the longest Iron Age inscription ever found in the region), but because the story it tells runs parallel to a Biblical episode from the Book of Kings (2 Kings 3: 4-28). It makes references to the kingdom of Israel (the “House of Omri“) and the first extra-biblical reference to the Name of GOD, the Tetragrammaton.

Summary of the stele and translation

This find sheds light on the history of the Holy Land, its traditions, its domestic and foreign policies of the time.
The French epigraphers, André Lemaire and Émile Puech, even suggested that a badly damaged part of line 31 might contain “House of David“, which could mean the first extra-biblical testimony of Solomon‘s father David.

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.

The stele is currently on display in France at the Louvre Museum and Jordan has requested its return.

Summary

The Moabite stone is written in the first person and the one speaking is Mesha, king of Moab who reigned from about 850 B.C. until the end of the ninth century B.C. Moab was located east of ancient Israel and Judah, crossing the Dead Sea. To the south of Moab was Edom and to the north of Moab was Ammon.

The inscription opens by describing who Mesha is and clarifying the purpose of the stone itself: “because he (Chemosh, the Moabite deity; also written as Kemoš) delivered me from all assaults and because he made me see my desire over all my adversaries.” The adversary is specified as Israel, because King Omri of Israel had captured portions of Moab. Around the time Omri’s son was king (about 850 B.C.), Mesha began to reconquer the lost territory, rebuilding, killing the inhabitants, and taking Israelite slaves (lines 7-21). The next section of the text describes various things Mesha claims to have accomplished for the common good: rebuilding cities, building water cisterns, repairing roads, and providing land for shepherds (lines 22-31). Unfortunately, the last five lines of the text are unclear and interrupted. Although conjectural, it is very likely that these lines further detail alliances established by Mesha or other campaigns completed by Mesha.

Translation

[1] I am Mesha, the son of Kemoš-yatti, the king of Moab, from Dibon. My father was king over Moab for thirty years, and I was king after my father.

[2] And in Karchoh I made this high place for Kemoš […] because he has delivered me from all kings, and because he has made me look down on all my enemies.

[3] Omri was the king of Israel, and he oppressed Moab for many days, for Kemoš was angry with his land. And his son succeeded him, and he said – he too – “I will oppress Moab!” In my days he did so, but I looked down on him and on his house, and Israel has gone to ruin, yes, it has gone to ruin for ever!

[4] Omri had taken possession of the whole land of Medeba and he lived there in his days and half the days of his son, forty years, but Kemoš restored it in my days. And I built Ba’al Meon, and I made in it a water reservoir, and I built Kiriathaim.

[6] And the men of Gad lived in the land of Ataroth from ancient times, and the king of Israel built Ataroth for himself, and I fought against the city, and I captured, and I killed all the people from the city as a sacrifice for Kemoš and for Moab, and I brought back the fire-hearth of [Daudoh] from there, and I hauled it before the face of Kemoš in Kerioth, and I made the men of Sharon live there, as well as the men of Maharith.

[7] And Kemoš said to me: “Go, take Nebo from Israel!” And I went in the night, and I fought against it from the break of dawn until noon, and I took it, and I killed its whole population, seven thousand male citizens and aliens, female citizens and aliens, and servant girls; for I had put it to the ban of Aštar Kemoš. And from there, I took the vessels of YHWH, and I hauled them before the face of Kemoš.

[8] And the king of Israel had built Jahaz, and he stayed there during his campaigns against me, and Kemoš drove him away before my face, and I took two hundred men from Moab, all its division, and I led it up to Jahaz. And I have taken it in order to add it to Dibon.

[9] I have built Karchoh, the wall of the woods and the wall of the citadel, and I have built its gates, and I have built its towers, and I have built the house of the king, and I have made the double reservoir for the spring, in the innermost of the city. Now, there was no cistern in the innermost of the city, in Karchoh, and I said to all the people: “Make, each one of you, a cistern in his house.” And I cut out the moat for Karchoh by means of prisoners from Israel.

[10] I have built Aroer, and I made the military road in the Arnon. I have built Beth Bamoth, for it had been destroyed. I have built Bezer, for it lay in ruins.

[11] And the men of Dibon stood in battle-order, for all Dibon, they were in subjection. And I am the king over hundreds in the towns which I have added to the land.

[12] And I have built the House of Medeba and the House of Diblathaim, and the House of Ba’al Meon, and I brought there […] the flocks of the land.

[13] And Horonaim, there lived […]. And Kemoš said to me: “Go down, fight against Horonaim!” I went down […] and Kemoš restored it in my days. And […] from there […]

[14] And I […]

 

Conclusions

The historicity of the Bible has always been a sensitive issue. The Bible’s relationship to history runs parallel with the ability to understand the literary forms of the biblical narrative. As the Christian New Testament, which cannot be proven to be an accurate record of the historical Jesus character and apostolic age or not, so it is with the Old Testament.

But referring to this stele as an archaeological document simply helps the believing reader to be able to “rest” his feet on the ground while Scripture makes him “fly.” When we study the books of the Bible, it is important to examine the historical context of the passages, the importance given to the events by the authors, and the contrast between the descriptions of these events. Only in this way is it possible to create in one’s own Spirit the right context for growth and elevation, because sometimes even the most unshakable faith needs cornerstones.

 

 


References

 

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