The Moabite Stone—Destroyed but Not Lost
THE Moabite, or Mesha, Stone was deliberately broken up within a year of its discovery in 1868. It was almost 3,000 years old. A piece of polished black basalt with a neatly rounded top, it was 44 inches high, [112 cm] 28 inches [71 cm] wide, and 14 inches [36 cm] thick. Some time after it was broken up, 2 large and 18 smaller fragments were recovered, but a third of the stone was irretrievably lost. How was such an extraordinary artifact almost lost forever? And how valuable is it to students of the Bible?
Intrigue and Distrust
F. A. Klein was the first and last European to see the stone in its unbroken state. It was lying among the ruins of Dibon to the northeast of the Dead Sea. He made some brief sketches of parts of the 35-line inscription within its raised border and, upon returning to Jerusalem, reported the find to his Prussian superior. The script was immediately identified as Phoenician and its importance recognized. The Royal Museum of Berlin put up money to buy the stone, but soon other interested parties were contending for it. Alerted to the value of their prize, the local sheikhs hid it and raised its price to ridiculous heights.
A French archaeologist managed to get a paper squeeze of the writing, but because the squeeze had to be snatched away before it was dry, the impression was barely legible. In the meantime, orders came from Damascus for the Bedouin to surrender their stone to government officials. Rather than comply, the Bedouin determined to destroy it. So they lit a fire around the precious relic and repeatedly doused it with water. When the stone fractured, the fragments were quickly distributed among local families to be placed in their granaries, ostensibly in order to ensure a blessing for their crops. It was also the best way for individuals to negotiate personally for the sale of the scattered fragments.
Biblical History Comes to Life
With the aid of plaster casts and paper pressings to augment the pieces that were purchased, the inscription on the stone was ultimately recovered. When the full text was revealed, scholars were astounded. The ancient stela was described at the time as “the most remarkable monolith that has ever been discovered.”
King Mesha of Moab erected the Moabite Stone to his god Chemosh to commemorate Mesha’s breaking of Israel’s domination, which, he says, had lasted 40 years and was allowed by Chemosh because he was “angry with his land.” This revolt of Moab is usually considered to be related to the events recorded in the third chapter of 2 Kings. On the monument, Mesha boasts of being very religious, of building cities and a highway, and of winning a victory over Israel. In this, he gives all credit to his god Chemosh. Mesha’s defeat and the sacrifice of his own son—reported in the Bible—are, as one would expect, omitted in this self-glorifying inscription.
Many locations listed by Mesha as places he captured are mentioned in the Bible, among them Medeba, Ataroth, Nebo, and Jahaz. Thus, the stone supports the accuracy of the Bible’s accounts. Outstanding, however, is Mesha’s use of the Tetragrammaton, YHWH, the name of Israel’s God, in the 18th line of the record. There Mesha brags: “I took from there [Nebo] the [vessels] of Yahweh, dragging them before Chemosh.” Outside of the Bible, this is probably the earliest record of the use of the divine name.
In 1873 the Moabite Stone was restored, with plaster casts of the missing text added, and put on exhibition in the Louvre museum, Paris, where it has remained. A facsimile can be seen in the British Museum, London.
- April 15, 1990 Watchtower, WTB&TS
The Moabite Stone was discovered in 1868 about 20 miles east of the Dead Sea. What is most amazing is that it mentions "Israel," "Yahweh" and the "House of David." It is now in the Louvre Museum in Paris.
"The skeptics' claim that King David never existed is now hard to defend. Last year the French scholar Andre Lemaire reported a related "House of David" discovery in Biblical Archaeology Review. His subject was the Mesha Stele (also known as the Moabite Stone), the most extensive inscription ever recovered from ancient Palestine. Found in 1868 at the ruins of biblical Dibon and later fractured, the basalt stone wound up in the Louvre, where Lemaire spent seven years studying it. His conclusion: the phrase "House of David" appears there as well. As with the Tel Dan fragment, this inscription comes from an enemy of Israel boasting of a victory--King Mesha of Moab, who figured in the Bible. 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." - TIME Magazine, December 18, 1995 Volume 146, No. 25
"The House of David"
Line 31 is very significant. In 1993 a stela was discovered at Tel Dan in northern Israel mentioning the "House of David" (Bible and Spade, Autumn 1993: 119-121). This inscription provided the first mention of David in a contemporary text outside the Bible. The existence of king David has been in question by scholars for centuries. 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 was used commonly in the Old Testament for the Davidic dynasty. http://www.bible-history.com/resource/ff_mesha.htm
“AS REGARDS Mesha the king of Moab, he became a sheep raiser and he paid to the king of Israel a hundred thousand lambs and a hundred thousand unshorn male sheep. And it came about that as soon as Ahab died the king of Moab began to revolt against the king of Israel.” (2 Ki. 3:4, 5) The revolt of King Mesha of Moab is corroborated by ancient writing outside the Bible—an inscribed stone called the Moabite Stone. Written in a dialect differing little from Biblical Hebrew, it was erected by King Mesha partly to commemorate this revolt. In 1868 this stone was found within the territory of Moab. Concerning it, James B. Pritchard writes in Archaeology and the Old Testament:
“A most spectacular enlargement of biblical history has come from a Canaanite inscription, called the Moabite stone, which turned up ninety years ago in the Arab village of Dhiban in Transjordan, about halfway along the east side of the Dead Sea. . . . The famous slab of black basalt [is] inscribed with an account of the wars and building program of Mesha, king of Moab. . . . The text, a long one of thirty-four lines, is written in the first person singular and begins with a somewhat boastful recital by Mesha, king of Moab, of his triumphs over the house of Omri, king of Israel. . . .
“Mesha interpreted the success of his enemy, Israel, as a token of his own god’s anger with his land: ‘As for Omri, king of Israel, he humbled Moab many years, for Chemosh was angry at his land. And his son followed him and he also said, “I will humble Moab.” In my time he spoke thus, but I have triumphed over him and over his house, while Israel hath perished for ever!’
“Mesha [said he] received his instructions for battle from his god Chemosh. When his god gave him a victory, he ‘devoted’—the same word is used in the inscription as appears in the Hebrew account of Joshua devoting the spoils of Jericho to Yahweh—all the inhabitants of the town of Nebo to his god Ashtar-Chemosh. The incident of the taking of Nebo is described by Mesha: ‘And Chemosh said to me, “Go, take Nebo from Israel!” So I went by night and fought against it from the break of dawn until noon, taking it and slaying all, seven thousand men, boys, women, girls and maidservants, for I had devoted them to destruction for the god Ashtar-Chemosh. And I took from there the . . . of Yahweh [Jehovah], dragging them before Chemosh.’ In this brief passage we have the only mention of the name of Israel’s god, Yahweh [Jehovah], ever found outside Palestine proper.”
Moab’s king was indeed boastful. His boastings might seem to indicate that Moab’s false god Chemosh was victorious over the true God Jehovah. But the Moabite stone does not tell the full story. After Mesha’s revolt, King Jehoram of Israel enlisted the aid of King Jehoshaphat of Judah in an expedition against Moab. The allied forces were almost destroyed, however, in the dry wilderness because of lack of water. At this critical time Jehoshaphat called for Elisha the prophet. Elisha explained that Jehovah would help in the war against Moab only for the sake of Jehoshaphat. Said Elisha to the king of Israel: “As Jehovah of armies before whom I do stand is living, if it were not that it is the face of Jehoshaphat the king of Judah for which I am having consideration, I would not look at you or see you.” Jehovah would give the victory over Moab, said Elisha, “and this will indeed be a trivial thing in the eyes of Jehovah and he will certainly give Moab into your hand.” True to Jehovah’s promise, the Moabites were greatly humiliated and defeated.—2 Ki. 3:14, 18.
The false god Chemosh could not save Moab, and King Mesha’s writing on the Moabite Stone cannot cover up Jehovah’s victory over Moab, because the Bible records many prophecies and history attests to their fulfillment. Said Jeremiah: “Moab will certainly be annihilated from being a people, for it is against Jehovah that he has put on great airs [as did Mesha on his Moabite Stone]. Woe to you, O Moab! The people of Chemosh have perished.” And Zephaniah prophesied: “‘Therefore, as I am alive,’ is the utterance of Jehovah of armies, the God of Israel, ‘Moab herself will become just like Sodom, and the sons of Ammon like Gomorrah, a place possessed by nettles, and a salt pit, and a desolate waste, even to time indefinite. . . . This is what they will have instead of their pride, because they reproached and kept putting on great airs against the people of Jehovah of armies.’”—Jer. 48:42, 46; Zeph. 2:9, 10.
December 1, 1960 Watchtower, WTB&TS