Paris - Musée du Louvre: Stèle de Mesha
The Mesha Stele, popularized in the 19th century as the Moabite Stone, is a black basalt stone, bearing an inscription by the 9th century BC Moabite King Mesha that constitutes one of the most important direct accounts of the history of the Biblical world. The inscription of 34 lines, the most extensive inscription ever recovered from ancient Israel, was written in Paleo-Hebrew alphabet. It was set up by Mesha, about 850 BC, as a record and memorial of his victories in his revolt against the Kingdom of Israel, which he undertook after the death of his overlord, Ahab.
The 124 cm high, 79 cm wide, 36 cm deep stele was discovered in present day Dhiban, Jordan, which has been identified as Dibon, the ancient capital of the kingdom of Moab. Scholars were competing at this time for material proofs relating to the Bible, which encouraged a number of fakes. While in Jerusalem, Charles Clemont-Ganneau (1846-1923), a great Orientalist and disciple of Ernest Renan, learned from an Alsatian missionary, Reverend F.A. Klein, that a large block of black stone covered with characters had been found. He first sent an Arab intermediary from Jerusalem, Selim al-Qarim, who, in October 1869, made a schematic copy of the inscription, enabling Clermont-Ganneau to recognize the importance and early date of the monument. He then sent a second intermediary, Yaqoub Karavaca, to make a stamp of the inscription, in December 1869. In details lost to history, this operation aroused the anger of the villagers, and in the skirmish, the print was torn and the stele was broken. Clermont-Ganneau succeeded in retrieving the two main pieces from the antiquities market in Jersualem and donated them to the Louvre. the great British excavator in Jerusalem, Captain Warren and the Palestine Exploration Fund company, and to Professor Schlottmann, from the German Oriental Society (Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft). When the Palestine Exploration Fund learned that the Louvre had acquired the pieces retrieved by Clermont-Ganneau, it generously donated its fragments, and the daughter of Professor Schlottman donated her piece in 1891.
The arched shape and the basalt used are characteristic of the votive steles erected in the Levant since the Bronze Age, from Ugarit on the Syrian coast to Hazor in Galilee. The absence of figurative representation is unique, as is the prominence given to the text.
The glorification of the king and his undertakings were a standard part of the traditional literature of royal ideology in the ancient Orient and Egypt. The inscription features the earliest written occurence of the world Israel and constitutes the most detailed documentary source of information about the kingdom of Moab and its rivalry with the kingdom of Israel. It describes how Moab was conquered by Omri, King of Israel, as the result of the anger of the god Chemosh (whose spiritual sun Mesha claims to be); Mesha's victories over Omri's son (not mentioned by name), over the men of Gad at Ataroth, and at Nebo and Jehaz; his public buildings, restoring the fortifications of his strong places and building a palace and reservoirs for water; and his wars against the Horonaim. This inscription can be interpreted as supplementing and corroborating the history of King Mesha recorded in 2 Kings 3:4-27, thereby earning it a prominent place in the corpus of Biblical archaeology. However there are significant differences. In the Bible it is Ahab, Omri's son, who conquers Moab, and the rebellion is against Ahab's son Jehoram. Further, in the Bible, it is not Chemosh who gives victory to Mesha but Jahweh who gives victory to Jehoram. Israel withdraws, according to the Book of Kings, only because they are disconcerted when they see Mesha sacrifice his son.
In 1994, after examining both the Mesha Stele and the paper squeeze, the French scholar André Lemaire reported Biblical Archaeology Review that line 31 of bears the phrase "the house of David". Lemaire had to supply one destroyed letter, the first "D" in "[D]avid," to decode the wording. The complete sentence in the latter part of line 31 would then read, "As for Horonen, there lived in it the house of [D]avid," וחורננ. ישב. בה. בת[ד]וד. This assertion, however, has been contested by many.
The full translation of the stele reads as follows:
I am Mesha, son of Kemosh[-yatti], the king of Moab, the Dibonite. My father was king over Moab for thirty years, and I became king after my father. And I made this high-place for Kemosh in Qarcho (or Qeriho, a sanctuary) because he has delivered me from all kings, and because he has made me look down on all my enemies. Omri was the king of Israel, and he oppressed Moab for many days, for Kemosh was angry with his land. And his son reigned in his place; and he also said, "I will oppress Moab!" In my days he said so. But I looked down on him and on his house, and Israel has been defeated; it has been defeated forever! And Omri took possession of the whole land of Madaba, and he lived there in his days and half the days of his son: forty years. But Kemosh restored it in my days. And I built Baal Meon, and I built a water reservoir in it. And I built Qiryaten. And the men of Gad lived in the land of Atarot from ancient times; and the king of Israel built Atarot for himself, and I fought against the city and captured it. And I killed all the people of the city as a sacrifice for Kemosh and for Moab. And I brought back the fire-hearth of his uncle from there; and I brought it before the face of Kemosh in Qerioit, and I made the men of Sharon live there, as well as the men of Maharit. And Kemosh said to me, "Go, take Nebo from Israel." And I went in the night and fought against it from the daybreak until midday, and I took it and I killed the whole population: seven thousand male subjects and aliens, and female subjects, aliens, and servant girls. For I had put it to the ban for Ashtar Kemosh. And from there I took the vessels of Yahweh, and I presented them before the face of Kemosh. And the king of Israel had built Yahaz, and he stayed there throughout his campaign against me; and Kemosh drove him away before my face. And I took two hundred men of Moab, all its division, and I led it up to Yahaz. And I have taken it in order to add it to Dibon. I have built Qarcho, the wall of the woods and the wall of the citadel; and I have built its gates; and I have built its towers; and 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. 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 a cistern in his house." And I cut the moat for Qarcho by using Israelite prisoners. I have built Aroer, and I constructed the military road in Arnon. I have built Beth-Bamot, for it had been destroyed. I have built Bezer, for it lay in ruins. And the men of Dibon stood in battle formation, for all Dibon were in subjection. And I am the king over the hundreds in the towns which I have added to the land. And I have built Beth-Medeba and Beth-Diblaten and Beth-Baal-Meon, and I brought there...flocks of the land. And Horonaim, there lived Kemosh said to me, "Go down, fight against Hauranen!" I went down and Kemosh restored it in my days...