The Moabite Stone

MOABITE STONE, THE. An inscribed stone found in Moab and recording Moabite history. In 1868 F. A. Klein, a German missionary employed by the Church Missionary Society (Church of England), while traveling through the territory formerly occupied by the tribe of Reuben east of the Dead Sea, was informed by an Arab sheik of a remarkable stone inscribed with writing and lying at Dibon, near Klein’s route. The stone was bluish basalt, neatly cut into a monument about four by two feet (about one by one-half m.), with its upper end curved and a raised rim enclosing an inscription. Klein informed the authorities of the Berlin Museum, and meanwhile M. Ganneau of the French Consulate at Jerusalem and a Captain Warren made “squeezes” and so secured roughly the material of the inscription. While the French and the Germans were bargaining with the Turks for the stone, the Arabs, with Oriental astuteness, argued that if the stone as a whole was of value it would be far more valuable if cut to pieces, so they built a fire around it, poured cold water over it, and well-nigh destroyed it. However, their purpose was largely thwarted because the inscription had already been ascertained. The fragments of the stone were purchased and pieced together and are now in the Louvre in Paris. The writing consisted of thirty-four lines, in the Moabite language (practically a dialect of the Hebrew) by Mesha, king of the Moabites in the time of Ahaziah and Joram, the sons of Ahab. It gives his side of the account found in 2Kgs.3.1-2Kgs.3.27. It reads, in part: “I, Mesha, king of Moab, made this monument to Chemosh to commemorate deliverance from Israel. My father reigned over Moab thirty years, and I reigned after my father. Omri, king of Israel, oppressed Moab many days and his son after him. But I warred against the king of Israel, and drove him out, and took his cities, Medeba, Ataroth, Nebo and Jahaz, which he built while he waged war against me. I destroyed his cities, and devoted the spoil to Chemosh, and the women and girls to Ashtar. I built Qorhah with prisoners from Israel. In Beth-Diblathaim, I placed sheep-raisers.” It seems strange that though Mesha names Omri who had long since died, he does not name his son Ahab, who reigned almost twice as long, and to whom Mesha had paid heavy tribute (2Kgs.3.4). Perhaps he hated his very name. Neither does he mention the sons of Ahab, Ahaziah and Joram, though he warred against them. Probably he had the monument made before the time of his defeat by Joram and Jehoshaphat.

Although the inscription is almost in pure Hebrew, it was written in the old “round” letters, which were later superseded (some say in Ezra’s time) by the “square” letters in which Hebrew is printed today. Very ancient Hebrew, and Arabic as well, were written practically without signs for vowel sounds, but the Moabite Stone used the aleph, waw, and yodh as both consonants and vowels, and also used the silent he at the end of the words, just as in the OT. Some have called the Moabite Stone “the earliest important Hebrew inscription” though written in Moabite. Since Moab and Jacob were both descendants of Terah, it is not strange that their tongues should resemble one another.——ABF