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Mesha

MESHA

MESHA (Heb. מֵישַׁע), king of Moab in the ninth century b.c.e. (see *Moab). The name is formed from the root ʿ, "to deliver, save." In ii Kings 3:4 it is stated that Mesha was a sheep breeder. He was subjugated by *Ahab and paid him tribute. After Ahab's death, the king of Moab, most likely Mesha, revolted and ceased paying tribute (ii Kings 3:4–5; cf. ii Kings 1:1). *Jehoram son of Ahab conducted a military campaign against Moab to subjugate it (ii Kings 3:6ff.).

Most of the information on Mesha is contained in the stele which he erected at Dibon (see *Mesha Stele). The first three lines of the inscription mention that Mesha's father Chemoshyat, whose name is known from a stele found in Kerak (Kir of Moab; W.L. Reed and F.V. Winnett, in: basor, 172 (1963), 6), ruled over Moab for 30 years, and that Mesha succeeded him. Mesha resided at Dibon, situated north of Arnon, and called himself "King of Moab, the Dibonite." The stele then relates how *Omri, king of Israel, took possession of the land of Medeba in the northern part of the plain, and subjugated Moab "his days and a part of the days of his son, forty years." The phrase "his son" obviously refers to Ahab. However, all the days of Omri and Ahab together are considerably fewer than 40 years. Moreover, the Bible relates that the king of Moab revolted after Ahab's death, rather than during his lifetime. Among the many attempts to explain the discrepancy between what is recorded in the Bible and in the Mesha Inscription, the most acceptable theory is that the number 40 is not to be taken literally, but is the conventional length of a generation (cf. Num. 32:13; Ps. 95:10). Mesha apparently revolted twice, once during the reign of Omri's son Ahab, as is related in the stele, and once after Ahab's death, as is stated in the Bible. If this theory is correct, the following sequence of events can be proposed: Moab revolted against Israel following the division of Solomon's kingdom, or at the latest in the days of Baasha. The Moabites even reached north of the Arnon and captured the plateau, including the land of Medeba. The king's residence was established at Dibon, at the latest in the days of Mesha's father. Omri waged war against Moab, recapturing Medeba and several cities in the plateau. For various reasons, the Israelite king preferred to leave Dibon in Moabite hands and was content to receive yearly tribute as a token of subjugation. In Ahab's time, Mesha revolted against Israel. It is not clear if Ahab fought against Mesha, since the stele contains the expression "king of Israel" (lines 10–11, 18), which may refer to either Omri or Ahab. It is more likely that the reference is to Omri (cf. line 7), since Ahab was occupied with wars against the Arameans (but see *Ben-Hadad). Mesha first concentrated upon preparing fortifications for a confrontation with Israel. He secured communications between Dibon and Moab proper by building roads across the Arnon (line 26). He fortified Aroer, strengthened the acropolis (qarḥoh) of Dibon, and prepared the city for withstanding a siege by digging ditches and building a cistern (ʾswḥ; vocalization uncertain) inside the city. Upon the death of Ahab, Mesha exploited Israel's defeat at Ramoth-Gilead and the weakness of *Ahaziah son of Ahab; he erupted northward, capturing all the cities of the plain. He reached Nebo, which he destroyed, killing its population of 7,000 people, "because I consecrated it to Ashtar-Chemosh." Jehoram, king of Israel, combined forces with *Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, and the king of Edom and invaded Moab from the south, through Edom (ii Kings 3:20), reaching the city of Kir-Hareseth in the heart of Moab. The battle in the city of Horonaim in southern Moab and its capture by Mesha, which is related at the end of the inscription, should be connected with this campaign. The biblical account agrees, stating that Jehoram's campaign ended in failure and that he was forced to withdraw without conquering Moab. The Bible attributes the failure to a ritual act performed by the king of Moab: "Then he took his eldest son that should have reigned in his stead and offered him for a burnt offering upon the wall. And there came great wrath upon Israel; and they departed from him, and returned to their own land" (ii Kings 3:27).

bibliography:

Y. Liver, in: peq, 99 (1967), 14–31.

[Bustanay Oded]

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