The Moabite Stone and Israel

Moabite Closeup
AO 5066, The Moabite Stone. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Moore, Amridge University. Photo taken at the Louvre Museum, Paris.

The Moabite Stone (also called the Mesha Stele) is one of the earliest discoveries directly related to the biblical narrative. For it refers by name to King Omri of Israel, and thus, provides a written source from another ruling power of Israel’s existence. Moreover, it claims to have conquered the people of Israel, who were led by this king and his unnamed son, and to have captured cultic objects of worship that were dedicated to YHWH (line 18). Thus, the inscription makes an explicit connection between YHWH and Israel.

The Moabite stone is written in the first person, and therefore it is assumed to have been written by “Mesha, son of Chemosh-[ . . . ],1 king of Moab, the Dibonite,”2 who inherited the throne after his father’s thirty-year reign (more on authorship momentarily).3 According to the inscription, Mesha attributes Israel’s presence in Moab to Chemosh’s, the Moabite god, divine anger. Israel’s king, Omri, had evidently “humbled Moab many years (lit., days), for Chemosh was angry at his land” (lines 4–5).4 Also inscribed on the stone is the claim that Omri’s son also desired to humble Moab, but Chemosh intervened and returned his divine favor, and “Israel perished forever” (lines 6–7).5 Likewise, according to the text, “Omri had occupied the land of Medeba, and (Israel) had dwelt there in his time and half the time of his son (Ahab), forty years; but Chemosh dwelt there in my [Mesha’s] time” (lines 7–9).


     [1] There are some indistinguishable characters on the stela after “Chemosh.” It is thought that they should be rendered as “king.” Though there has been much discussion in the guild over what is exactly meant, it is probably intended to distinguish the king (father) from Chemosh, the Moabite god.

     [2] “The Moabite Stone” translated by W. F. Albright (ANET 320–21).

     [3] The thirty-year reign is likely to be “understood within the context thematically significant numbers.” See Andre Lemaire, “The Meshe Stele and the Omri Dynasty” in Ahab Agonistes: The Rise and Fall of the Omri Dynasty (London: T & T Clark, 2007), 137.

     [4] “The Moabite Stone” translated by W. F. Albright (ANET 320–21).

     [5] Ibid.

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