The Mesha Stele

by Jeffrey W. Hamilton

In 1868, a stone monument was found at the ancient site of Dibon, once the capital of Moab. The site is currently located in the modern country of Jordan. The black basalt stele is a record of King Mesha of Moab recounting his rebellion against Israel.

"Now Mesha king of Moab was a sheepbreeder, and he regularly paid the king of Israel one hundred thousand lambs and the wool of one hundred thousand rams. But it happened, when Ahab died, that the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel.

So King Jehoram went out of Samaria at that time and mustered all Israel. Then he went and sent to Jehoshaphat king of Judah, saying, "The king of Moab has rebelled against me. Will you go with me to fight against Moab?" And he said, "I will go up; I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses." Then he said, "Which way shall we go up?" And he answered, "By way of the Wilderness of Edom."

So the king of Israel went with the king of Judah and the king of Edom, and they marched on that roundabout route seven days; and there was no water for the army, nor for the animals that followed them. And the king of Israel said, "Alas! For the LORD has called these three kings together to deliver them into the hand of Moab." But Jehoshaphat said, "Is there no prophet of the LORD here, that we may inquire of the LORD by him?"

So one of the servants of the king of Israel answered and said, "Elisha the son of Shaphat is here, who poured water on the hands of Elijah." And Jehoshaphat said, "The word of the LORD is with him."

So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat and the king of Edom went down to him. Then Elisha said to the king of Israel, "What have I to do with you? Go to the prophets of your father and the prophets of your mother." But the king of Israel said to him, "No, for the LORD has called these three kings together to deliver them into the hand of Moab." And Elisha said, "As the LORD of hosts lives, before whom I stand, surely were it not that I regard the presence of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, I would not look at you, nor see you. "But now bring me a musician." Then it happened, when the musician played, that the hand of the LORD came upon him.

And he said, "Thus says the LORD: 'Make this valley full of ditches.' For thus says the LORD: 'You shall not see wind, nor shall you see rain; yet that valley shall be filled with water, so that you, your cattle, and your animals may drink.' And this is a simple matter in the sight of the LORD; He will also deliver the Moabites into your hand. Also you shall attack every fortified city and every choice city, and shall cut down every good tree, and stop up every spring of water, and ruin every good piece of land with stones."

Now it happened in the morning, when the grain offering was offered, that suddenly water came by way of Edom, and the land was filled with water. And when all the Moabites heard that the kings had come up to fight against them, all who were able to bear arms and older were gathered; and they stood at the border. Then they rose up early in the morning, and the sun was shining on the water; and the Moabites saw the water on the other side as red as blood. And they said, "This is blood; the kings have surely struck swords and have killed one another; now therefore, Moab, to the spoil!"

So when they came to the camp of Israel, Israel rose up and attacked the Moabites, so that they fled before them; and they entered their land, killing the Moabites. Then they destroyed the cities, and each man threw a stone on every good piece of land and filled it; and they stopped up all the springs of water and cut down all the good trees. But they left the stones of Kir Haraseth intact. However the slingers surrounded and attacked it. And when the king of Moab saw that the battle was too fierce for him, he took with him seven hundred men who drew swords, to break through to the king of Edom, but they could not. Then he took his eldest son who would have reigned in his place, and offered him as a burnt offering upon the wall; and there was great indignation against Israel. So they departed from him and returned to their own land" (II Kings 3:4-27).

The stele tells the account of this rebellion from the Moabite's point of view.

Translation of the Mesha Stele

by K. C. Hanson
(Adapted from Albright 1969:320-21)

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 . . . 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 Medeba, 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 the land. And Hauranen, there lived [in it the house of (D)avid] . . . Kemosh said to me, "Go down, fight against Hauranen!" I went down . . . and Kemosh restored it in my days . . .

Notice there is mention of the Moabite god, Chemosh (I Kings 11:33). That Omri, king of Israel (I Kings 16:16-28), had oppressed Moab as well as his son who would have been Ahab (I Kings 16:29). It was when Ahab died, that Mesha made his move. "Moab rebelled against Israel after the death of Ahab" (II Kings 1:1). The God of Israel, Yahweh, is also mentioned, as well as the tribe of Gad. Near the bottom is a controversial reference to the house of David. On the stele, the letter "D" is missing, but Andre Lemaire has argued in Biblical Archaeology Review [May/June 1994], pp. 30-37, that no other letter can fit in this spot and make a sensible statement. Hanson's translation above left this phrase out, but I inserted Andre Lemaire's translation so you could see where it appears.

As you would expect, Mesha put a postive spin on his exploits. Still the two sides of the story of the rebellion mesh well. Thus, once again we find that the Bible's record of history to be accurate.