A stele is a stone or wooden slab, generally taller than it is wide, erected (in the ancient world) as a monument.
The Mesha Stele, a Moabite Stone, was discovered in 1868 about 20 miles east of the Dead Sea. What is most amazing about the stone is that it mentions "Israel," "Yahweh" and the "House of David." It is now in the Louvre Museum in Paris. The stone unfortunately was broken into pieces by the local Bedouin before it could be acquired and reconstructed by the authorities.
Around 1868, an Anglican minister Frederick Klein found a black lava rock monolith in Jordan with an engraving documenting the actions of Mesha, King of Moab near 840 BC. This archeological evidence consists of 34 lines of text written in Moabite that explains the very same occasion as 2 Kings 3.
The verse tells of how Moab had actually once been under the authority Israel, and had rebelled. 2 Kings 3:4 -6 states, “Now Mesha king of Moab was a lamb breeder, and he needed to provide to the king of Israel 100,000 lambs and the fleece of 100,000 rams. When Ahab passed away, the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel. King Jehoram marched out of Samaria at that time and summoned all Israel.”
Mesha was ruler of the small kingdom of Moab, east of the Dead Sea, in the mid-ninth century BC. He was a contemporary of Jehoshaphat, king of the southern kingdom of Judah (870-848 BC), and Joram, king of the northern kingdom of Israel (852-841 BC). Everything we know about Mesha from the Bible is recorded in 2 Kings 3. But we know a lot more about him from these Mesha Inscriptions.
Both documents, 2 Kings 3 and the Mesha Inscription, describe the same event, the revolt of Mesha, but from apparently different perspectives. Mesha made his record of the event on a stone slab, or stela, 3 ft. high and 2 ft. wide. 2 Kings 3 recounts how Jehoram (or Joram) Jehoshaphat, and the king of Edom combined forces to attempt to bring Moab back under Israelite control. They attacked from the south and were successful in routing the Moabite forces and destroying many towns (2 Kgs. 3: 24-25). But when the coalition tried to dislodge Mesha from Kir Hareseth (modern Kerak), they were unsuccessful.
The campaign must have taken place between 848 and 841 BC, the only time when Joram and Jehoshaphat were both on the throne. Although the campaign met with some success, it appears that Moab retained its independence. This is confirmed by the Mesha Inscription.
The Mesha Inscription gives us “the rest of the story.” It reads, in fact, like a chapter from the Old Testament. Its language, terminology and phraseology are exactly the same as what we find in the Bible. Mesha credits his successful revolt and recapture of Moabite territory, as well as other accomplishments, to Chemosh, national god of Moab. He does not, of course, record his defeat in the south at the hands of the coalition armies. Similarly, although the Bible records Mesha's revolt, it gives no details on his successes. So each record, accurate in its own way, records events from a different perspective.
The Moabite stone is notable for 3 main reasons:
1) The stele proves the occurrences in 2 Kings 3 and other scriptural passages. It verifies that Moab went through Israel however rebelled. It validates that the main god of the Moabites was Chemosh (Kemosh). It even verifies that Mesha was a lamb herder.
2) It includes a reference to YHWH. Amongst the spoils Mesha declares to have actually been drawn from Israel were the “altar-hearths of YAHWEH” (lines 17– 18). This is the earliest reference of YAHWEH, God of the Israelites, apart from the Bible.
3) It includes a mention to the “household of David”. Through 1994, French Archaeologist André Lemaire had the ability to recognize a formerly equivalent document which led to the expression “house of David” being actually deciphered. This would be the oldest extra-biblical mention of King David and to his empire. This predates the second archaeological discovery referring to the “House of David” (The Tel Dan Stele is a fragmentary stele containing a Canaanite inscription in 1993 in Tel-Dan. The stele is currently on display at the Israel Museum).
The TIME magazine narrated the importance of the find, thus:
"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."
What needs to be appreciated is that 2Kings 3 is the only OT battle campaign that God actively intervenes with a miraculous victory and still Israel fails to take over Moab because in disobedience, they did not destroy all the cities as God has commanded and aborted the campaign in 2Kings 3:27 (see the one page summary on this website). Thus, the claim of victory by King Mesha has no direct contradiction with the Bible. In fact, there is harmony in the details.
Archaeology in the Middle East is always difficult after the change of landscape, geographical and political occupations in the past several thousand years. Some houses, fortresses and walls are built upon one another so that the original premises could be many tens of feet down from the “surface” of the ground. Politics also played another dampening role.
We look forward to more finds in the not so distant future, and important ones that will reveal to the skeptics evidence for many events in the Bible.
For further reading of the Moabite stone, please see “The inscription on the stele of Mésa commonly called the Moabite stone the text in Moabite and Hebrew” by Herbert Fuller Bright Compston.
Return from “Archeological Evidence For The Moabite Stone” to “Archeological Evidence For The Bible”
Mesha Stele - Wikipedia
Moabite Stone [Mesha Stele] - World History Encyclopedia
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