The Inscription on the Stele of Méšaʿ/Introduction


The Inscription here set forth is accepted, with practical unanimity on the part of experts, as authentic. It was chiselled on a monument of basalt, by order of the Méšaʿ, King of Moab, who is mentioned in 2 Kings iii. 4, and who here recounts his victories over Israel, to whom Moab had long been subject. The date must be somewhere about mid-ninth century B.C., the era of Omri and Ahab, Elijah and Elisha, and Jehu. Line 7 may allude to the overthrow of Omri’s dynasty by Jehu, circa 843 B.C.

The interest of this famous monument is manifold.

(a) To the student of palæography it offers a good specimen of Phœnician script, parent of Alphabets, used not only by Moab but by Israel (as shown e.g. by the Siloam Inscription, eighth century B.C.); the older portions of the Old Testament were, in all probability, written in this script.

(b) The linguist can here study the essential features of the Grammar and Syntax, along with a useful vocabulary, of the Moabite language, separated from Hebrew by merely dialectical differences. A Hebrew student will find the inscription very like historical narrative in the Old Testament.

(c) The historian finds in the Inscription a valuable contribution to the little-known story of a people long extinct.

(d) The theologian sees evidence confirming what modern Biblical study has revealed as to Semitic religion. For there are, e.g. references to Kemôš, the god of Moab, and to Yahweh God of Israel, and His shrine at Nebo, with allusions to the treatment of conquered cities "devoted," i.e. put under the ban (ḥérem), to the national god.

The stele, or rather the upper portion of the original monument, measuring 3½ feet in height, 2 feet in width, and 2 feet in thickness, was discovered in 1868 by the Rev. F. A. Klein, or the Church Missionary Society, on the site of the ancient Moabite city of Dibon. Its existence was known, from the report of natives, shortly previous to this event, to Monsieur Clermont-Gannean, the eminent French archæologist. The great interest shown by Europeans, and their offers to purchase, led the Arabs in the neighbourhood to break it up, possibly with the object of selling the fragments at fancy prices. Fire was kindled beneath the stone, cold water dashed on the top of it, and the priceless monument was soon cracked in pieces. Happily, before this stupid act of vandalism was perpetrated, rubbings of the inscription had been secured. Later on most of the fragments were recovered, the missing portions restored with the help of the rubbings, and the Stele of Méšaʿ now stands in the Louvre. There is a facsimile in the British Museum.

The Inscription may be studied more fully with the aid of the works mentioned in the Preface to the present edition and other works named in their bibliographies, or in the various Dictionaries of the Bible.

Students offering the subject for examination should practise transcription in Phœnician and Hebrew, and should add vowel-points to the latter. This would prove a useful exercise. After the revision of his vocalization the student should, with a fine pen, point the Hebrew text on pp. 11–13, adding in the margin, or on an inserted fly-leaf, any various readings or alternative pointings.