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The Moabite Stone

The Discovery

The Moabite stone is an important biblical archaeological discovery for several reasons. It corroborates with the biblical text and provides insight, though most especially it points to the historicity of King David. It was discovered in Dhiban (biblical Dibon and modern- day Jordan) by F.A. Klein in 1868 who was a German missionary and is now safely kept in the Louvre in Paris. Whilst the French and the Germans were bargaining with the Turks for the stone, the Arabs sought to capitalise on the situation. They constructed a fire around it and poured cold water over it which caused it to break in pieces. The idea being that by doing so that would make it more valuable, hence the stone had to be bought and pieced together.[i]

The Steele

There is a black basalt inscription left by Mesha king of Moab circa 850BC (hence it is also referred to as the Mesha Steele) to memorialise his revolt against Israel and rebuilding of several important towns (cf. 2 Kings 3:4-5).[ii]The dimensions were formerly over 1:15 metres/3 feet 9 inches high and 68cm/27cm wide at the base. [iii]669 letters were recovered out of an estimated 1100 letters[iv]It was written in 34 lines in the Moabite language which is akin to Hebrew and could even be considered a Hebrew dialect.[v]

The Language

The similarity in language should not surprise us if we consider the origins of the Moabite people (Genesis 19:30-38) and also the proximity where they lived since the Moabites resided just east of the Dead Sea. The inscription is written in Phoenician letters, which were also used for writing Hebrew according to Alan Millard (Rankin Professor Emeritus of Hebrew and Ancient Semitic Languages) and is similar compared with the Hebrew of the books of Judges, Samuel and Kings.[vi] Remember also that Ruth was a Moabitess (Ruth 1:4). Significantly both Chemosh the God of Moab and YHWH the God of Israel are mentioned in the inscription and are of course, mentioned in the Bible.

Mesha celebrated his achievements writing:

 “My father reigned over Moab thirty years, and I reigned after my father. Omri, King of Israel, oppressed Moab many days and his son after him. But I warred against the king of Israel and drove him out, and took his cities, and devoted the spoil to Chemosh, and the women and girls to Ashtar. I built Quorah with prisoners from Israel. In Beth-Diblathaim, I placed sheep-raisers.”

Mesha the Sheep Breeder (2 Kings 3:4)

Placing sheep raisers in a town may seem incidental and may easily escape our attention though that would not be the case if you were a sheep breeder! This is an important piece of information closely aligned to and in agreement with the biblical account since Mesha formerly paid tribute to Israel with sheep on a large scale.

2 Kings 3:4 reads, “Now Mesha King of Moab was a sheepbreeder, and he regularly paid the king of Israel one hundred thousand lambs and the wool of one hundred thousand rams.”

King David

This inscription is valuable in terms of language, insight and confirming biblical details and also with reference to king David. In 1994, Andre Lemaire stated that ‘the house of David’ is included in the inscription (BAR May/June 1994 pp30-37) and that line would read ‘As for Horonen, there lived in it the house of David.[vii] Admittedly the letter D is missing but when one considers when it was written, who it was concerning and what it was writing about, an alternative reading would not make sense. Hence it is according to Anderson and Edwards, generally but not universally accepted.[viii]

[i] The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary General Editor Merrill C. Tunney (Zondervan, 1963; London), p550

[ii] The New Bible Dictionary Organising Editor J.D. Douglas (Inter-Varsity, 1967; London), p835

[iii] Allan Millard Treasures from Bible Times (Lion Publishing, 1985; Tring), p118

[iv] Douglas, p835

[v] Tunney, p550

[vi] Millard, 118

[vii] Evidence for the Bible Clive Anderson and Brian Edwards (Day One Publications, 2015; Leominster), p36

[viii] Ibid, p36