The Mesha Stele (also known as the “Moabite Stone”) is a stele (inscribed stone) set up around 840 BCE by King Mesha of Moab (a kingdom located in modern Jordan). Mesha tells how Kemosh, the God of Moab, had been angry with his people and had allowed them to be subjugated to Israel, but at length Kemosh returned and assisted Mesha to throw off the yoke of Israel and restore the lands of Moab. Mesha then describes his many building projects.
The stone was discovered intact by a missionary at the site of ancient Dibon (now Dhiban, Jordan), in August 1868. The next year it was smashed by local villagers during a dispute over its ownership, but a “squeeze” (a papier-mâché impression) had been obtained, and fragments containing most of the inscription (613 letters out of about a thousand) were later recovered and pieced together. The squeeze and the reassembled stele are now in the Louvre Museum.
The stele, whose story parallels, with some differences, an episode in the bible’s Books of Kings (2 Kings 3:4-8), provides invaluable information on the Moabite language and the political relationship between Moab and Israel at one moment in the 9th century BCE. It is the most extensive inscription ever recovered that refers to the kingdom of Israel (the “House of Omri”), it bears the earliest certain extra-biblical reference to the Israelite god Yahweh, and — if French scholar André Lemaire’s reconstruction of a portion of line 31 is correct — the earliest mention of the “House of David” (i.e., the kingdom of Judah).
2Ki 3:4 And Mesha king of Moab was a sheepmaster, and rendered unto the king of Israel an hundred thousand lambs, and an hundred thousand rams, with the wool.
2Ki 3:5 But it came to pass, when Ahab was dead, that the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel.
2Ki 3:6 And king Jehoram went out of Samaria the same time, and numbered all Israel.
2Ki 3:7 And he went and sent to Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, saying, The king of Moab hath rebelled against me: wilt thou go with me against Moab to battle? And he said, I will go up: I am as thou art, my people as thy people, and my horses as thy horses.
2Ki 3:8 And he said, Which way shall we go up? And he answered, The way through the wilderness of Edom.
Mesha Stale Translation
1. I am Mesha, son of KMSYT (Kemosh[-yat]), the king of Moab, the Di-
2. -bonite. My father was king of Moab thirty years, and I reign-
3. -ed after my father. And I built this high-place for Kemosh in QRH (“the citadel”), a high place of [sal-]
4. -vation because he saved me from all the kings (or “all the attackers”), and because let me be victorious over all my adversaries. Omr-
5. -i was king of Israel and he oppressed Moab for many days because Kemosh was angry with his
6. land. And his son replaced him; and he also said, “I will oppress Moab”. In my days he spoke thus.
7. But I was victorious over him and his house. And Israel suffered everlasting destruction, And Omri had conquered the lan-
8. -d of Madaba, and he dwelt there during his reign and half the reign of his son, forty years. But Kemosh
9. returned it in my days. So I [re]built Baal Meon, and I the water reservoir in it. And I bu[ilt]
10. Qiryaten. The man of Gad had dwelt in Ataroth from of old; and the king of Israel
11. built Ataroth for him. But I fought against the city and took it. And I slew all the people [and]
12. the city became the property of Kemosh and Moab. And I carried from there the altar for its DVDH (“its Davidic altar”?) and I
13. dragged it before Kemosh in Qerioit, and I settled in it men of Sharon m[en]
14. of Maharit. And Kemosh said to me, “Go! Seize Nebo against Israel.” so I
15. proceeded by night and fought with it from the crack of dawn to midday, and I to-
16. -ok it and I slew all of them: seven thousand men and boys, and women and gi-
17. and maidens because I had dedicated it to Ashtar Kemosh I took [the ves-]
18. -sels of YHWH, and I dragged them before Kemosh. And the king of Israel had built
19. Yahaz, and he dwelt in it while he was fighting with me, but Kemosh drove him out before me. so
20. I took from Moab two hundred men, all his captains. And I brought them to Yahaz, And I seized it
21. in order to add (it) to Dibon. I (myself) have built the ‘citadel’, ‘the wall(s) of the forest’ and the wall
22. of the ‘acropolis’. And I built its gates; And I built its towers. And
23. I built a royal palace; and I made the ramparts for the reservo[ir for] water in the mid-
24. -st of the city. But there was no cistern in the midst of the city, in the ‘citadel,’ so I said to all the people, “Make [for]
25. yourselves each man a cistern in his house”. And I hewed the shaft for the ‘citadel’ with prisoner-
26. -s of Israel. I built Aroer, and I made the highway in the Arnon.
27. I built Beth-Bamot, because it was in ruins. I built Bezer, because it was
28. a ruin [with] the armed men of Dibon because all of Dibon was under orders and I ru-
29. -led [ove]r [the] hundreds in the towns which I have annexed to the land. And I bui-
30. -lt Medeba and Beth-Diblaten and Beth-Baal-Meon, and I carried there [my herdsmen]
31. [to herd] the small cattle of the land, and Horonain, in it dwelt house of Dw[D]…
32. [and] Kemosh [s]aid to me, “Go down, fight against Horonain”. And I went down [and I fou-
33. -ght with the city and I took it and] Kemosh [re]turned it in my days. Then I went up from there te[n...]
34. [...a high] place of justice and I [...]