Moabite Stone

MOABITE STONE. Figure 1. The Moabite Stone. (Courtesy ASOR Archives)

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The inscription of Mesha, king of Moab, known both as the Moabite Stone and as the Mesha Stone/Inscription, was the first (1868) of the major epigraphic documents discovered in either Cis- or Transjordan and couched in a language closely related to Hebrew (see figure 1). More than a century later, it is still one of the most important of the Canaanite inscriptions, providing data on the religion, history, geography, language, and thought of the Moabite people.

The discovery did not take place in the course of regular excavations, and attempts by Europeans to obtain the stela from local inhabitants resulted in the inscription being broken into pieces. Many fragments were recovered, but our knowledge of approximately one-third of the text rests on a partial and inexpert copy of the intact stela and on a squeeze hastily taken before the stone was broken. As is often the case with antiquities discovered at the dawn of modern scientific archaeological research, there is no readily identifiable editio princeps (on matters of discovery and early publications, see Clermont-Ganneau, 1887, and M. P. Graham in Dearman, 1989, pp. 41–92).

The text deals with the deeds of Mesha, the defeat of his enemies, and the construction projects his new glory permitted (on the questions of text structure and literary genre, see Smelik 1990, 1992). The greatest of these projects was designated by the term qrḥh, apparently a quarter of the capital city of Dibon, wherein Mesha erected a bmt, a type of sanctuary (cf. Hebrew bāmâ), in which the inscription itself was deposited (1.3). He (re)built the walls, the gates, and the towers of the qrḥh, as well as a palace within, and installed waterworks (ll. 21–26). For the correlation of archaeological data from Dibon with the text of the Moabite stone, see A. D. Tushingham (1990). The (re)building activity extended beyond Dibon, to other towns (ll. 26–28).

The enemy was the Israelite Omride dynasty, which had occupied Moab “for many days” (1.5), indeed “forty years” (1.8). Both the Omride occupation and the defeat of the occupiers is described as the work of the deity Kemosh, who had first “been angry with his land” (ll. 5–6) and then “restored it” (ll. 8–9). The interpretation of particular details is uncertain, as is any correlation with data from other sources—for example, the chronology of the Omrides or the geography of both the Israelite occupation and of the Moabite borders with Ammon to the north and Edom to the south (on these matters, see Timm, 1989; Smelik, 1992; and the bibliographies therein).

This text constitutes the primary source for the Moabite language, for most other inscriptions identified as Moabite belong to the category of minor inscriptions, such as seals (Israel, 1987; 1992, pp. 105–110). The primary isoglosses are monophthongization of -ay- and -aw- diphthongs and -n as the plural marker of masculine nouns and adjectives (for details, see Israel, 1984; and K. P. Jackson in Dearman, 1989; pp. 96–130). A fragment of another monumental inscription providing the name of Mesha's father, Kemoshyatti, was published In 1963 (Reed and Winnett, 1963; Swiggers, 1982); more recently, a brief text on papyrus appeared that was identified by its editors as belonging to a dialect of Moabite (Bordreuil and Pardee, 1990).

[See also Dibon; and Moab.]


  • Bordreuil, Pierre, and Dennis Pardee. “Le papyrus du marzeah.” Semitica (Hommages à Maurice Sznycer, vol. 1) 38 (1990): 49–68. Editio princeps of a brief text in what may be a Moabite dialect. Find it in your LibraryFind it in your Library
  • Clermont-Ganneau, Charles S. “La stèle de Mésa.” Journal Asiatique 9 (1887): 72–112. Early description of the stela and of previous attempts at deciphering the text. Find it in your Library
  • Dearman, Andrew, ed. Studies in the Mesha Inscription and Moab. American Schools of Oriental Research, Society of Biblical Literature, Archaeological and Biblical Studies, 2. Atlanta, 1989. Collection of survey articles by various scholars on aspects of Moabite studies. See in particular M. Patrick Graham, “The Discovery and Reconstruction of the Mesha Inscription” (pp. 41–92), and Kent P. Jackson, “The Language of the Mesha Inscription” (pp. 96–130). Contains extensive bibliographical information on previous research; however, data are indicated only in footnotes and with an inconvenient form of cross-reference in subsequent notes. Find it in your Library
  • Israel, Felice. “Geographic Linguistics and Canaanite Dialects.” In Current Progress in Afro-Asiatic Linguistics: Papers of the Third International Hamito-Semitic Congress, edited by James Bynon, pp. 363–387. Current Issues in Linguistic Theory, vol. 28. Amsterdam, 1984. Linguistic description of Moabite in contrast with neighboring languages. Find it in your Library
  • Israel, Felice. “Studi moabiti I: Rassegna di epigrafia moabita e i sigilli moabiti.” In Atti della 4a giornata di studi Camito-Semitici e Indeuropei, edited by Giuliano Bernini and Vermondo Brugnatelli, pp. 101–138. Quaderni della Collana di Linguistica Storica e Descrittiva, 1. Milan, 1987. Overview of Moabite inscriptions, the best attested category being seals. Find it in your Library
  • Israel, Felice. “Note di onomastica semitica 7/2: Rassegna critico-bibliografica ed epigrafica su alcune onomastiche palestinesi; La Transgiordania.” Studi Epigrafici e Linguistici 9 (1992): 95–114. Moabite onomastics in the Transjordanian context. Find it in your Library
  • Reed, William L., and Fred V. Winnett. “A Fragment of an Early Moabite Inscription from Kerak.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, no. 172 (1963): 1–9. Editio princeps of the Kerak inscription. Find it in your Library
  • Smelik, K. A. D. “The Literary Structure of King Mesha's Inscription.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 46 (1990): 21–30. Find it in your Library
  • Smelik, K. A. D. “King Mesha's Inscription: Between History and Fiction.” Oudtestamentische Studiën 28 (1992): 59–92. Study of the text as a literary document in praise of Mesha and of its value as a historical document. Find it in your Library
  • Swiggers, Pierre. “The Moabite Inscription of el-Kerak.” Annali: Istituto Universitario Orientale di Napoli 42 (1982): 521–525. Careful historical and linguistic study of the Kerak inscription. Find it in your Library
  • Timm, Stefan. Moab zwischen den Mächten: Studien zu historischen Denkmälern und Texten. Ägypten und Altes Testament, vol. 17. Wiesbaden, 1989. Critical study of all Moabite epigraphic material and of references to Moab in other sources (e.g., Egyptian and biblical). Find it in your Library
  • Tushingham, A. D. “Dhībān Reconsidered: King Mesha and His Works.” Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 34 (1990): 183–192. Overview of archaeological work at Tell Dhiban (Dibon), correlated with the Mesha inscription. Find it in your Library

Dennis Pardee