The Moabite Stone

Photo of the Mesha Stele (Moabite Stone)

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.

Mesha Stele (Moabite Stone)
In the Bible it says that Mesha the king of Moab was paying tribute to Israel and that they suddenly stopped: "Mesha, king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel..." (2 Kings 3:5). Well, Mesha made his own record of this rebellion, and the record has been found. It is known today as "The Mesha Stele" or the more popular designation "The Moabite Stone." It was found in 1868 at Dibon, in Moab. Dibon is located 20 miles east of the Dead Sea. Amazingly enough it was discovered by chance by F.A. Klein, a German missionary who had heard rumors of this stone while visiting the area. It was a bluish basalt stone, about 4 feet high and 2 feet wide, and 14 inches thick, with an inscription from king Mesha. When it was found the Berlin Museum negotiated for it while the French Consulate at Jerusalem offered more money.

The next year some local Arabs, realizing all that was at stake, laboriously hoisted it out of the earth and lit a fire around it, and after pouring cold water on it they chipped away several large pieces which they distributed among a few of them. Later the French re-assembled 669 of the estimated 1100 consonants from the pieces and preserved the inscription. It now remains in the Louvre Museum in Paris.

The Moabite Stone

"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

Size and Description

Language:Moabite (a West Semitic Language)
Medium:basalt (black-bluish) stone stele
Size:1.15 meters high 60-68 centimeters wide
Length:39 lines of writing
Honoree:Mesha, king of Moab (late 9th century BCE)
Approximate Date:830 BCE
Place of Discovery:Dhiban [in modern Jordan]
Date of Discovery:1868
Current Location:Louvre Museum (Paris, France)
Inventory number:AO 5066

"The most extensive inscription ever recovered from ancient Palestine..."

What is Written on the Stone?

  1. "I am Mesha, son of Chemosh[-yatti], the king of Moab, the Dibonite.
  2. My father (had) reigned over Moab for thirty years, and I reigned
  3. after my father. And I made this high-place for Chemosh in Qarcho . . .
  4. because he has delivered me from all kings, and because he has made me triumph over all my enemies. As for Omri
  5. the king of Israel, and he humbled Moab for many years (days), for Chemosh was angry with his land.
  6. And his son reigned in his place; and he also said, "I will oppress Moab!" In my days he said so.
  7. But I ltriumphed over him and over his house, and Israel has perished; it has perished forever! And Omri took possession of the whole land of Medeba,
  8. and he lived there in his days and half the days of his son (Ahab): forty years.
  9. But Chemosh restored it in my days. And I built Baal Meon, and I built a water reservoir in it. And I built
  10. Qiryaten. And the men of Gad lived in the land of Atarot from ancient times; and the king of Israel
  11. built Atarot for himself, and I fought against the city and captured it. And I killed all the people of
  12. the city as a sacrifice for Chemosh and for Moab. And I brought back the fire-hearth of his uncle from there; and I brought it
  13. before the face of Chemosh in Qerioit, and I made the men of Sharon live there, as well as the men of Maharit.
  14. And Chemosh said to me, "Go, take Nebo from Israel."
  15. And I went in the night and fought against it from the daybreak until midday, and I took it
  16. and I killed the whole population: seven thousand male subjects and aliens, and female subjects, aliens, and servant girls.
  17. For I had devoted them to destruction for (the god) Ashtar Chemosh. And from there I took the
  18. vessels of Yahweh, and I presented them before the face of Chemosh. And the king of Israel had built
  19. Yahaz, and he stayed there throughout his campaign against me; and Chemosh drove him away before my face. And
  20. I took two hundred men of Moab, all first class (warriors), and I led it up to Yahaz. And I have taken it
  21. in order to add it to Dibon. I have built Qarcho, the wall of the woods and the wall of
  22. the citadel; and I have built its gates; and I have built its towers; and
  23. I have built the house of the king; and I have made the double reservoir for the spring in the innermost part of the city.
  24. Now the innermost part of the city had no cistern, in Qarcho, and I said to all the people, "Each one of you shall make
  25. a cistern in his house." And I cut the moat for Qarcho by using Israelite captives.
  26. I have built Aroer, and I constructed the military road in Arnon (valley).
  27. I have built Beth-Bamot, for it had been destroyed. I have built Bezer, for it lay
  28. in ruins. And the men of Dibon stood in battle formation, for all Dibon were in subjection. And I am the king
  29. over the hundreds in the towns which I have added to the land. And I have built
  30. Beth-Medeba and Beth-Diblaten and Beth-Baal-Meon, and I brought there . . .
  31. flocks of the the land. And the House of [Da]vid dwelt in Hauranen, . . .
  32. Chemosh said to me, "Go down, fight against Hauranen!" I went down . . . and Chemosh restored it in my days . . ."

What The Bible Says (Compare)
II Ki 3:4-5 "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. But it happened, when Ahab died, that the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel."

Who Were the Moabites?
The existence of the Biblical "Moabites" were in question by most historians until the recent discovery of the Moabite Stone. The Moabites were a West-Semitic people who lived in the mountains east of the Dead Sea, Trans-Jordan (now considered west- central Jordan) and they flourished in the 9th century BC. They are known mainly through the Old Testament and from the inscription on the Moabite Stone. Scholars have dated their culture from about the late 14th century BC to 582 BC, when they were conquered by the Babylonians, according to the Jewish historian Josephus (1st century AD).

According to the Old Testament (e.g., Genesis 19:30-38), the Moabites belonged to the same ethnic stock as the Israelites, having descended from Moab, a son of Lot, who was a nephew of the first Hebrew, Abraham. There are many mentions in the Bible about the Moabites. King Saul in the 11th Cent. B.C. fought against them, David's great grandmother Ruth was from Moab (Ruth 4:17-22), and it was in Moab that David sought refuge from King Saul (1 Samuel 22:3-4). Sanballat, who in Nehemiah's time was associated with Tobiah the Ammonite and Geshem the Arab against the Jews (<Neh. 2:10,19>; etc.), was a Horonite. If this name is derived from Horonaim, Sanballat was a Moabite, as he is quite often regarded.

One important note that is often overlooked is the mention of Yahweh in verse 18 of the Mesha inscription. It appears that king Mesha knew about the Israleite God Yahweh and says he took "the vessels of Yahweh and presented them before the face of Chemosh" his god.

Chemosh, the national deity of Moab, is mentioned throughout the Mesha Stele inscription. In the Bible Chemosh is mentioned in (Num. 21:29; Judg. 11:24; 1 Kin. 11:7,33; 2 Kin. 23:13; Jer. 48:7,13,46). The great King Solomon was led astray by taking Moabite princesses for his harem (1 Kings 11:1-8) and erecting near Jerusalem a shrine dedicated to Chemosh.

The god whom the Moabites believed protected their nation was Chemosh:

"Chemosh was an ancient West Semitic deity, revered by the Moabites as their supreme god. Little is known about Chemosh; although King Solomon of Israel built a sanctuary to him east of Jerusalem (1 Kings 11:7), the shrine was later abolished by King Josiah (2 Kings 23:13). The goddess Astarte was probably the cult partner of Chemosh."

- Encyclop?dia Britannica

"King Omri and His Son"
The Inscription also makes reference to King Omri of Israel (reigned c. 884-c. 872 BC), and his son, who we know as king Ahab. king Omri is mentioned in 1 Kings 16:23-28, and is knwon for reconquering the Moabite lands that had been lost since Solomon's death in 922 BC, when Israel split into two kingdoms.

"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 kind 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.

Something Interesting To Note
Many a critic of the Bible have scoffed at the alleged contradiction in the Scriptures where (Deut. 2:29) it would appear at first sight that both Moab and Edom granted the request of Israel to be allowed to pass through their territory, but when you compare (Num. 20:18-21) and (Deut. 23:3-4) it seems to show that both Moab and Edom utterly refused. But careful investigation in context removes the difficulty and gives us a clear idea of the whole situation. Israel's request in (Num. 20:17) was permitted IF they would cross the territory of Edom by the royal highway.

The Moabite Language
The language of Moab was merely a dialect of Hebrew, differing from biblical Hebrew only in some minor details. The Moabite language differed only dialectally from Hebrew, and Moabite religion and culture were very closely related to those of the Israelites.

Unger makes mention that:

"The inscription on this stone in a remarkable degree supplements and corroborates the history of King Mesha recorded in (2 Kin. 3:4-27). It affords evidence of the knowledge of alphabetic writing in the lands of the Jordan."

and Sayce comments:

"The art of writing and reading can have been no new thing. As soon as Mesha has shaken off the yoke of the foreigner, he erects an inscribed monument in commemoration of his victories. . . . It is the first and most natural thing for him to do, and it is taken for granted that the record will have numerous readers. . . . Moreover, the forms of the letters as they appear on the Moabite Stone show that alphabetic writing must have been long practiced in the kingdom of Mesha. They are forms which presuppose a long acquaintance with the art of engraving inscriptions upon stones, and are far removed from the forms out of which they must have developed. Then, again, the language of the inscription is noteworthy. Between it and Hebrew the differences are few and slight. It is a proof that the Moabites were akin to the Israelites in language as well as in race, and that like their kinsfolk they had adopted the ancient 'language of Canaan.' The likeness between the languages of Moab and Israel extends beyond the mere idioms of grammar and syntax. It is a likeness which exists also in thought" (Sayce, Higher Crit. and the Mon., p. 364).

What Happened to the Moabites?
Exactly as the Bible had predicted the Moabites were conquered. Moab had become a tributary of Assyria by the late 8th century BC and was conquered by the Babylonians in 582 BC, upon which the Moabites disappeared from history. Their territory was resettled by the Nabataeans in the 4th-3rd century BC.

Isaiah, in his "burden against Moab" (Isa. 15-16; 25:10), predicts, in poetic lamentation, the fall of Moab reducing it to a small and feeble remnant (16:14).

Isa 15:1-3 "The burden against Moab. Because in the night Ar of Moab is laid waste and destroyed, because in the night Kir of Moab is laid waste and destroyed, He has gone up to the temple and Dibon, to the high places to weep. Moab will wail over Nebo and over Medeba; on all their heads will be baldness, and every beard cut off. In their streets they will clothe themselves with sackcloth; on the tops of their houses and in their streets everyone will wail, weeping bitterly." (NKJ)

Isa 25:10-12 "For on this mountain the hand of the LORD will rest, and Moab shall be trampled down under Him, as straw is trampled down for the refuse heap. And He will spread out His hands in their midst as a swimmer reaches out to swim, and He will bring down their pride together with the trickery of their hands. The fortress of the high fort of your walls he will bring down, lay low, and bring to the ground, down to the dust. (NKJ)

The name Moab became a typical byword for the enemies of God.

The Moabite Stone in Smith's Bible Dictionary

Moabite Stone, The
In the year 1868 Rev. F. Klein, of the Church Missionary Society at Jerusalem, found at Dhiban (the biblical Dibon), in Moab, a remarkable stone, since called the Moabite Stone. It was lying on the ground, with the inscription uppermost, and measures about 3 feet 9 inches long, 2 feet 4 inches wide and 1 foot 2 inches thick. It is a very heavy, compact black basalt. An impression was made of the main block, and of certain recovered parts broken off by the Arabs. It was broken by the Arabs, but the fragments were purchased by the French government for 32,000 francs, and are in the Louvre in Paris. The engraved face is about the shape of an ordinary gravestone, rounded at the top. On this stone is the record in the Phoenician characters of the wars of Mesha, king of Moab, with Israel. 2Ki 3:4 It speaks of King Omri and other names of places and persons mentioned in the Bible, and belongs to this exact period of jewish and Moabite history. The names given on the Moabite Stone, engraved by one who knew them in daily life, are, in nearly every case, identical with those found in the Bible itself, and testify to the wonderful integrity with which the Scriptures have been preserved. "The inscription reads like a leaf taken out of a lost book of Chronicles. The expressions are the same; the names of gods, kings and of towns are the same." --(See Rawlinson's "Historical Illustrations;" American Cyclopedia; and Bibliotheca Sacra, Oct. 20, 1870. Full Article

The Moabite Stone in the Bible Encyclopedia - ISBE

A monument erected at Dibon (Dhiban) by Mesha, king of Moab (2 Ki 3:4,5), to commemorate his successful revolt from Israel and his conquest of Israelite territory. It was discovered, August 19, 1868, by a German missionary, V. Klein, who unfortunately took neither copy nor squeeze of it. It was 3 ft. 10 inches high and 2 ft. broad, with a semicircular top. The Berlin Museum entered into negotiations for the purchase of it, but while these were proceeding slowly, M. Clermont-Ganneau, then dragoman of the French consulate at Jerusalem, sent agents to take squeezes and tempt the Arabs to sell it for a large sum of money. This led to interference on the part of the Turkish officials, with the result that in 1869 the Arabs lighted a fire under the Stone, and by pouring cold water on it broke it into pieces which they carried away as charms. M. Clermont-Ganneau, however, succeeded in recovering a large proportion of these, and with the help of the squeezes was able to rewrite the greater part of the inscription. The last and most definitive edition of the text was published by Professors Smend and Socin in 1886 from a comparison of the fragments of the original (now in the Louvre) with the squeezes (in Paris and Bale) and photographs...

The Biblical character of the language of the inscription will be noticed as well as the use of "forty" to signify an indefinite period of time. As in Israel, no goddess seems to have been worshipped in Moab, since the goddess Ashtoreth is deprived of the feminine suffix, and is identified with the male Chemosh (Ashtar-Chemosh). Dodah appears to have been a female divinity worshipped by the side of Yahweh; the root of the name is the same as that of David and the Carthaginian Dido. The Arels were "the champions" of the deity (Assyrian qurart), translated "lion-like men" in the King James Version (2 Sam 23:20; compare Isa 33:7). There was an Ophel in the Moabite capital as well as at Jerusalem.
The alphabet of the inscription is an early form of the Phoenician, and resembles that of the earliest Greek inscriptions. The words are divided from one another by dots, and the curved forms of some of the letters (b, k, l, margin, n) presuppose writing with ink upon papyrus, parchment or potsherds.
The revolt of Mesha took place after Ahab's death (2 Ki 3:5). At the battle of Qarqar in 854 BC, when the Syrian kings were defeated by Shalmaneser II, no mention is made of Moab, as it was included in Israel. It would seem from the inscription, however, that Medeba had already been restored to Mesha, perhaps in return for the regular payment of his tribute of 100,000 lambs and 100,000 rams with their wool (2 Ki 3:4). Full Article

The Bible Mentions the "Moabites" and "Moab"

Deuteronomy 23:3 - An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the LORD for ever:

Nehemiah 13:1 - On that day they read in the book of Moses in the audience of the people; and therein was found written, that the Ammonite and the Moabite should not come into the congregation of God for ever;

1 Chronicles 11:46 - Eliel the Mahavite, and Jeribai, and Joshaviah, the sons of Elnaam, and Ithmah the Moabite

Judges 3:12 - And the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the LORD: and the LORD strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel, because they had done evil in the sight of the LORD.

Judges 10:6 - And the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the LORD, and served Baalim, and Ashtaroth, and the gods of Syria, and the gods of Zidon, and the gods of Moab, and the gods of the children of Ammon, and the gods of the Philistines, and forsook the LORD, and served not him.

Jeremiah 48:36 - Therefore mine heart shall sound for Moab like pipes, and mine heart shall sound like pipes for the men of Kirheres: because the riches [that] he hath gotten are perished.

2 Kings 3:13 - And Elisha said unto the king of Israel, What have I to do with thee? get thee to the prophets of thy father, and to the prophets of thy mother. And the king of Israel said unto him, Nay: for the LORD hath called these three kings together, to deliver them into the hand of Moab.

Judges 11:17 - Then Israel sent messengers unto the king of Edom, saying, Let me, I pray thee, pass through thy land: but the king of Edom would not hearken [thereto]. And in like manner they sent unto the king of Moab: but he would not [consent]: and Israel abode in Kadesh.

2 Kings 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.

2 Chronicles 20:23 - For the children of Ammon and Moab stood up against the inhabitants of mount Seir, utterly to slay and destroy [them]: and when they had made an end of the inhabitants of Seir, every one helped to destroy another.

Judges 3:15 - But when the children of Israel cried unto the LORD, the LORD raised them up a deliverer, Ehud the son of Gera, a Benjamite, a man lefthanded: and by him the children of Israel sent a present unto Eglon the king of Moab.

Jeremiah 48:11 - Moab hath been at ease from his youth, and he hath settled on his lees, and hath not been emptied from vessel to vessel, neither hath he gone into captivity: therefore his taste remained in him, and his scent is not changed.

Jeremiah 27:3 - And send them to the king of Edom, and to the king of Moab, and to the king of the Ammonites, and to the king of Tyrus, and to the king of Zidon, by the hand of the messengers which come to Jerusalem unto Zedekiah king of Judah;

Isaiah 15:8 - For the cry is gone round about the borders of Moab; the howling thereof unto Eglaim, and the howling thereof unto Beerelim.

Zephaniah 2:9 - Therefore [as] I live, saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, Surely Moab shall be as Sodom, and the children of Ammon as Gomorrah, [even] the breeding of nettles, and saltpits, and a perpetual desolation: the residue of my people shall spoil them, and the remnant of my people shall possess them.

2 Samuel 8:2 - And he smote Moab, and measured them with a line, casting them down to the ground; even with two lines measured he to put to death, and with one full line to keep alive. And [so] the Moabites became David's servants, [and] brought gifts.

Deuteronomy 34:8 - And the children of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days: so the days of weeping [and] mourning for Moses were ended.

1 Samuel 12:9 - And when they forgat the LORD their God, he sold them into the hand of Sisera, captain of the host of Hazor, and into the hand of the Philistines, and into the hand of the king of Moab, and they fought against them.

Jeremiah 48:33 - And joy and gladness is taken from the plentiful field, and from the land of Moab; and I have caused wine to fail from the winepresses: none shall tread with shouting; [their] shouting [shall be] no shouting.

Jeremiah 9:26 - Egypt, and Judah, and Edom, and the children of Ammon, and Moab, and all [that are] in the utmost corners, that dwell in the wilderness: for all [these] nations [are] uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel [are] uncircumcised in the heart.

Jeremiah 48:45 - They that fled stood under the shadow of Heshbon because of the force: but a fire shall come forth out of Heshbon, and a flame from the midst of Sihon, and shall devour the corner of Moab, and the crown of the head of the tumultuous ones.

Deuteronomy 32:49 - Get thee up into this mountain Abarim, [unto] mount Nebo, which [is] in the land of Moab, that [is] over against Jericho; and behold the land of Canaan, which I give unto the children of Israel for a possession:

Isaiah 16:4 - Let mine outcasts dwell with thee, Moab; be thou a covert to them from the face of the spoiler: for the extortioner is at an end, the spoiler ceaseth, the oppressors are consumed out of the land.

Isaiah 16:14 - But now the LORD hath spoken, saying, Within three years, as the years of an hireling, and the glory of Moab shall be contemned, with all that great multitude; and the remnant [shall be] very small [and] feeble.

Judges 3:17 - And he brought the present unto Eglon king of Moab: and Eglon [was] a very fat man.

Deuteronomy 2:8 - And when we passed by from our brethren the children of Esau, which dwelt in Seir, through the way of the plain from Elath, and from Eziongaber, we turned and passed by the way of the wilderness of Moab.

Deuteronomy 29:1 - These [are] the words of the covenant, which the LORD commanded Moses to make with the children of Israel in the land of Moab, beside the covenant which he made with them in Horeb.

2 Samuel 23:20 - And Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, the son of a valiant man, of Kabzeel, who had done many acts, he slew two lionlike men of Moab: he went down also and slew a lion in the midst of a pit in time of snow:

1 Kings 11:7 - Then did Solomon build an high place for Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, in the hill that [is] before Jerusalem, and for Molech, the abomination of the children of Ammon.

Numbers 22:7 - And the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the rewards of divination in their hand; and they came unto Balaam, and spake unto him the words of Balak.

Ruth 1:22 - So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter in law, with her, which returned out of the country of Moab: and they came to Bethlehem in the beginning of barley harvest.

Jeremiah 48:1 - Against Moab thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Woe unto Nebo! for it is spoiled: Kiriathaim is confounded [and] taken: Misgab is confounded and dismayed.

Jeremiah 48:28 - O ye that dwell in Moab, leave the cities, and dwell in the rock, and be like the dove [that] maketh her nest in the sides of the hole's mouth.