STELE (stē'lē, Gr. stele, an erect block or shaft). The custom of erecting stone markers, usually upright narrow slabs, prevailed among ancient Egyptians. They were placed in tombs and public buildings where they honored people of high estate. The Hebrews do not seem to have adopted the custom, probably because it was felt they violated the fourth commandment (Exod.20.4). A noted stele showing a Moabite victory over Israel was found in Beth Shan in a.d. 1868. The Grecian stele was the forerunner of modern gravestones.
STELE ste’ le (στήλη). A slab, usually oblong, not forming part of a structure but set up in a vertical position, for votive purposes or as a memorial to some person or event. Upon these slabs were carved inscrs. often accompanied by ornamental designs or reliefs of particular significance.
Such stelae have been found throughout Mesopotamia, Syria, Egypt, Asia Minor, and the Graeco-Rom. world. Some of them have important connections with events narrated in the Bible (see Inscriptions).
The stele was essentially of a secular character even though it may have been erected at a sanctuary and have had religious images carved on it. No Israelite stele has ever been discovered, although a stele may be indicated by יָ֔ד in 1 Samuel 15:12 (cf. 2 Sam 18:18).