Mesha, King of Moab -- By: Bryant G. Wood
BSP 9:2 (Spring 1996) p. 55
Mesha, King of Moab
Background of the Inscription
“I am Mesha, son Chemosh[ît], king of Moab, the Dibonite.”1 So begins one of the most extraordinary ancient documents ever found. (For the unusual circumstances surrounding its discovery, see Archaeology and Biblical Research, Winter 1991: 2–3). 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 a record he left us, referred to as the Mesha Inscription, or Moabite Stone. It was discovered in Dhiban, Jordan, in 1868 by a French Anglican medical missionary by the name of F.A. Klein.
Both documents, 2 Kings 3 and the Mesha Inscription, describe the same event, the revolt of Mesha, but from entirely different perspectives. Mesha made his record of the event on a stone slab, or stela, 3 ft high and 2 ft wide. Unfortunately the stone was broken into pieces by the local Bedouin before it could be acquired by the authorities. About two-thirds of the pieces were recovered and those, along with an impression made before the stela was destroyed, allowed all but the last line to be reconstructed. There are a total of 34 lines, written in Moabite, a language almost identical to Hebrew. It
BSP 9:2 (Spring 1996) p. 56
is the longest monumental inscription yet found in Palestine.
The heartland of Moab was the territory east of the southern half of the Dead Sea, from the great Arnon Gorge in the north to the Zered River in the south. North of the Arnon River, to about the northern end of the Dead Sea, was a disputed area called the “land of Medeba” in the Mesha Inscription (line 8). Medeba was a major city in the region some 18 mi north of the Arnon. The area was sometimes under the control of Moab, sometimes under the control of others. At the time of the Conquest at the end of the 15th century BC, the region was occupied by the Amorites, who had earlier taken it from the Moabites (Nm 21:26). The Israelites then captured the area (Nm 21:24; Dt 2:24, 36;
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