2 Kings 3:4-6,24  Now Mesha king of Moab was a sheep breeder, and he had to deliver to the king of Israel 100,000 lambs and the wool of 100,000 rams. 5 But when Ahab died, the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel. 6 So King Jehoram marched out of Samaria at that time and mustered all Israel. [The account goes on to talk about an alliance with Jehoshaphat of Judah and the king of Edom.  When they run out of food and water, they consult Elisha who prophesies that the Lord will provide water for them, and defeat Moab.] 24 But when they came to the camp of Israel, the Israelites rose and struck the Moabites, till they fled before them. And they went forward, striking the Moabites as they went. … 26 When the king of Moab saw that the battle was going against him, he took with him 700 swordsmen to break through, opposite the king ofEdom, but they could not. 27 Then he took his oldest son who was to reign in his place and offered him for a burnt offering on the wall. And there came great wrath against Israel. And they withdrew from him and returned to their own land.

In 1868, at Dhiban in Jordan, archaeologists uncovered a black basalt stone measuring 3’8” x 2’3” with an inscription recording the acts of Mesha, King of Moab around 850 BC.  It contains 34 lines of text written in Moabite:

  1. I am Mesha, son of KMSYT (Kemosh[-yat]), the king of Moab, the Di-
  2. -bonite. My father was king of Moab thirty years, and I reign-
  3. -ed after my father. And I built this high-place for Kemosh in QRH (“the citadel”), a high place of [sal-]
  4. -vation because he saved me from all the kings (or “all the attackers”), and because let me be victorious over all my adversaries. Omr-
  5. -i was king of Israel and he oppressed Moab for many days because Kemosh was angry with his
  6. land. And his son replaced him; and he also said, “I will oppress Moab”.
  7. But I was victorious over him and his house. And Israel suffered everlasting destruction, And Omri had conquered the lan-
  8. -d of Madaba, and he dwelt there during his reign and half the reign of his son, forty years. But Kemosh
  9. returned it in my days. So I [re]built Baal Meon, and I the water reservoir in it. And I bu[ilt]
  10. Qiryaten. The man of Gad had dwelt in Ataroth from of old; and the king of Israel
  11. built Ataroth for him. But I fought against the city and took it. And I slew all the people [and]
  12. the city became the property of Kemosh and Moab. And I carried from there the altar for its DVDH (“its Davidic altar”?) and I
  13. dragged it before Kemosh in Qerioit, and I settled in it men of Sharon m[en]
  14. of Maharit. And Kemosh said to me, “Go! Seize Nebo against Israel.” So I
  15. proceeded by night and fought with it from the crack of dawn to midday, and I to-
  16. -ok it and I slew all of them: seven thousand men and boys, and women and gi-
  17. and maidens because I had dedicated it to Ashtar Kemosh I took [the ves-]
  18. -sels of YHWH, and I dragged them before Kemosh. And the king of Israel had built
  19. Yahaz, and he dwelt in it while he was fighting with me, but Kemosh drove him out before me. So
  20. I took from Moab two hundred men, all his captains. And I brought them to Yahaz, And I seized it
  21. in order to add (it) to Dibon. I (myself) have built the ‘citadel’, ‘the wall(s) of the forest’ and the wall
  22. of the ‘acropolis’. And I built its gates; And I built its towers. And
  23. I built a royal palace; and I made the ramparts for the reservo[ir for] water in the mid-
  24. -st of the city. But there was no cistern in the midst of the city, in the ‘citadel,’ so I said to all the people, “Make [for]
  25. yourselves each man a cistern in his house”. And I hewed the shaft for the ‘citadel’ with prisoner-
  26. -s ofIsrael. I built Aroer, and I made the highway in the Arnon.
  27. I built Beth-Bamot, because it was in ruins. I built Bezer, because it was
  28. a ruin [with] the armed men of Dibon because all of Dibon was under orders and I ru-
  29. -led [ove]r [the] hundreds in the towns which I have annexed to the land. And I bui-
  30. -lt Medeba and Beth-Diblaten and Beth-Baal-Meon, and I carried there [my herdsmen]
  31. [to herd] the small cattle of the land, and Horonain, in it dwelt …
  32. [and] Kemosh [s]aid to me, “Go down, fight against Horonain”. And I went down [and I fou-
  33. -ght with the city and I took it and] Kemosh [re]turned it in my days. Then I went up from there te[n...]
  34. [...a high] place of justice and I [...]

Significance:

  1. The stele corroborates events in 2 Kings 3.

    Kings mentions that Moabwas subject to Israel, but it does not name the king who subjected them (so it could have been Omri as the stele says).

    Who did Moab rebel against?  According to the stele it was the son of Omri (Ahab), but according to 2 Kings they did not rebel until after the death of Ahab (2 Kings 1:1; 3:5).  Kings implies that they rebelled first against Ahab’s son Ahaziah (reigned 2 years), and continued to rebel against Jehoram (nothing in 2 Kings 3 requires that we see the rebellion as beginning under Jehoram, but it would be ok even if that was the meaning).

    Is this a contradiction?  No, not if we understand “son” to mean “descendent of.”  Perhaps Mesha mentioned the grandfather (Omri) rather than the actual father of the king(s) he rebelled against (Ahaziah, Jehoram) because Omri was the one who was responsible for the defeat of Moab.

    This might also help us make sense of Mesha’s mention of the king of Israel being present in Madaba for 40 years.  Omri only reigned for 12 years and died.  But Ahab reigned for 22 years, Ahaziah 2 years, and Jehoram reigned for 12 years.  Assuming Omri defeated Moab early in his reign, then Moab would have been subject to Israel for 36 years.

  1. It contains the earliest extra-biblical reference to YHWH in any artifact.
  2. It may also contain a reference to the “house of David.”  In 1994, André Lemaire argued that line 31 should be translated “as for Horonen, there lived in it the house of [D]avid.”[1]  To support this translation Lemaire had to supply one missing letter: the Hebrew letter “D” for David’s name.[2]  If Lemaire is correct, then this would be the earliest extra-biblical reference to King David.


[1] Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 1994, pp. 30-37.
[2] http://biblicalarcheology.net/?p=62.

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