Mesha Inscription

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A 34line inscription of King Mesha (Mesa) of Moab on a stele of black basalt measuring 44 by 28 by 14 inches, discovered in 1868 at Dhībân (Old Testament, Dibon) in Transjordan, ancient Moab. While negotiations for its removal were going on, the local Bedouin, suspecting the value of the antiquity and hoping to command a higher price by selling each piece individually, smashed it into many pieces, but not before C. Clermont-Ganneau had secured a squeeze (facsimile impression) while it was still intact. Two large fragments and 18 small ones were recovered, and the missing portions were reconstructed from the squeeze; so that the inscription can be read in a fairly complete text. Since 1873 the stele has been in the Louvre.

The two letters missing from the name of King Mesha's father in the first line kmš can be supplied from a fragment of an early Moabite inscription published by W. L. Reed and F. V. Winnett [The Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 172 (1964) 19], so that the full name reads kmšyt. The divine name Chemosh (Chamos) appears in Ugaritic as km, while yt figures among Ugaritic personal names.

Though scholars admit the close similarity of moabite to Biblical Hebrew, they do not agree on the precise terms in which to define it linguistically. Some label it a Canaanite dialect, just as Hebrew is a Canaanite dialect, while others prefer to term it a dialect of Hebrew, just as the Byblos Phoenician inscriptions are a dialect of Phoenician. Two respected scholars have even proposed that the text was composed by an Israelite captive, since the text itself states that Mesha employed Israelite prisoners in the construction of Qaroh (apparently a place in or near Dibon). There are, however, several features that set Moabite off from Hebrew, such as the masculine plural and dual ending in n, as against Hebrew - m; the third person masculine singular suffix - h as against Hebrew - ō ; so one is justified in using the term Moabite dialect.

After the dedication the account begins in line five with the statement that Chemosh was angry with his people and allowed Amri (Omri), King of Israel (876-869 B.C.), to subdue Moab. The text specifies that it was Amri who conquered northern Moab as far south as the Arnon, information that supplements 1 Kgs 16.2128. When Amri's son succeeded to the throne, he too promised, "I will humble Moab," but Mesha was successful in breaking Israel's strong hold over Moab so that "Israel completely perished forever." Amri's son was Achab (Ahab: 8697850), but 2 Kgs 1.1; 3.5 states that Moab took advantage of the confusion following the death of Achab to revolt. This apparently conflicting testimony can be resolved, it would seem, by interpreting line 8, bnh, usually "his son," by "his grandson," since bn can denote "grandson" (cf. Gn 29.5). Hence the successful Moabite revolt that the stele commemorates took place under Joram (Jehoram: 849-842). This is further sustained by 2 Kgs 3.327, which describes Joram's military campaign to crush the rebellious Moabites, a campaign that was successful until the Israelites were forced to retire when Mesha offered his eldest son as a sacrifice to Chemosh, a fact not mentioned in the inscription.

The text mentions ten place names in Israel and five in Moab, and shows that the practice of ērem or ban (anathema) was observed in Moab. It also states that Moab's subjection to Israel was the result of Chemosh's anger, and that there was a Yahweh sanctuary in nebo.

Bibliography: g. a. cooke, A Text-Book of North-Semitic Inscriptions (Oxford 1903) 114. w. f. albright, tr., j. b. pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (2d, rev. ed., Princeton 1955), 320321. a. h. van zyl, The Moabites (Leiden 1960).

[m. j. dahood]