SANDS OF TIME: THE MESHA STELE

mesha stele2I was back home visiting a few months ago when I decided to pay a visit to the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute. The place was populated by church groups and seminary students shuffling about, Bibles in hand, eyes gleaming with curiosity. Why not? They had definitely come to the right place as the museum has one of the largest collections of Biblical artifacts in the world. I remember trying, rather poorly I admit, to spy on a tour group leader explaining the words of an ancient Babylonian tablet when my eye caught a dark stone peeking out from around the corner. It was the Mesha Stele, also known as the Moabite stone, an amazing find of the late 19th century that contains the most extensive reference to the ancient Kingdom of Israel.

Omri, 6th King of Israel and founder of the Omri dynasty.

Omri, 6th King of Israel and founder of the Omri dynasty.

The stele that I saw that day was actually a copy, with the original being housed at the Louvre in Paris. Though it was an imitation, one could see that the reproduction was flawless. The original is a smooth block of black basalt engraved with 34 lines in the Moabite language. It was originally discovered intact on February 8, 1870 by Anglican missionary Augustus Klein in what is now Dhiban, Jordan. However, politics infiltrated the moment and it was later smashed in a dispute over ownership between local Bedouins and the Ottoman government. A “squeeze”, or papier-mache impression, had fortunately been made and the stele was finally reconstructed from it.

The name of God, "Yahweh", engraved on the Mesha stele in the Moabite language.

The name of God, “Yahweh”, engraved on the Mesha stele in the Moabite language.

This treasure is significant for the Jude o-Christian world as it not only mentions Israel, but also has the earliest certified extra-biblical inscriptions of the name of their God, Yahweh, dating back to around 840 B.C.  This plays out in the details of an event that is similarly recorded in the Bible’s Old Testament book of 2nd Kings 3:4-8.  The king of Moab, Mesha, chronicles how his country was oppressed by the “House of Omri”.  Omri was the 6th king of Israel after Jeroboam.  He reigned from 880 to 874 B.C. and would later bequeath the kingdom to Ahab, husband of the infamous Jezebel.  The tide is eventually turned and Moab is able to defeat one of Omri’s sons in battle, rebuilding altars to his god Chemosh, who he believes guided this victory over Israel and Yahweh (Jehovah in Latin).  Here is a translated snippet from the text:

“…And Chemosh said to me, Go take Nebo against Israel, and I went in the night and I fought against it from the break of day till noon, and I took it: and I killed in all seven thousand men, but I did not kill the women and maidens, for I devoted them to Ashtar-Chemosh; and I took from it the vessels of Jehovah, and offered them before Chemosh…”

– Based on translations by M. Ganneau and Dr. Ginsberg from a published copy by James King, (1878).

The Moabite Stone at the Louvre, Paris.

The Moabite Stone at the Louvre, Paris.

There are many, many more artifacts that shed light on the truth of Biblical scripture as being anything but clever fables.  We’ll visit more in the future, in case you can’t immediately get to the Louvre.  However, you can satisfy your curiosity at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute which has many original finds as well as reproductions.  The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday.  Check the website for hours which may change.  Keep on digging!

– Mesha Stele translations:

http://www.kchanson.com/ANCDOCS/westsem/mesha.html

– Louvre: http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/mesha-stele

– Oriental Institute Chicago: http://oi.uchicago.edu/

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