As an atheist I believed in what I could see, not in what I could not see. The “natural” was something I could see – the “supernatural” was not. So, the archaeological finds that supported various aspects of the historicity of the Old Testament impressed me. Even though most of the ancient discoveries were located in museums around the world, being able to see photos of the objects and knowing that I could see them in person if I wanted to helped me in my investigation about whether the Old Testament of the Bible was verifiable on any level. I was especially interested in whether the Old Testament was rooted in myth and legend or in history.
The 19th and 20th centuries AD were a great period of time for archaeological discoveries about some of the oldest civilizations of the world. Oriental studies and research led many explorers and archaeologists into the Middle and Far East looking for ancient treasures. Some of them that we’ve already looked at include the Philistines, Hittites, Dead Sea Scrolls, and Assyrians. Another ancient people recorded in the Old Testament and uncovered by archaeologists are the Moabites.
The Moabites were an ancient people living in an area of the Middle East known as Moab. Moab was located just east of the Dead Sea, directly across from the ancient Kingdom of Judah. Moab is first mentioned in Genesis 19.
“Thus both the daughters of Lot were with child by their father. The firstborn bore a son and called his name Moab; he is the father of the Moabites to this day.” Genesis 19:36-37
Lot was Abraham’s nephew, so Moab and his family were relatives of Abraham’s son Isaac and his son Jacob (Israel). However, the Moabites and Israelites were not usually friendly relatives. The Old Testament of the Bible records many problems between the two peoples, but where’s the proof that the Moabites existed and that they had any relation with ancient Israel?
One such archaeological find is known as the Moabite Stone, also known as the Mesha Inscription or Stele (named after King Mesha of Moab). F.A. Klein discovered the stone in 1868 and a French scholar named Charles Clermont-Ganneau made a “squeeze” impression of the writing for further investigation. Arabs in possession of the stone reportedly broke it into several pieces. However, more than half of the stone’s pieces were found and eventually housed at the Louvre in Paris.
Dating of the Mesha Stele is to the middle of the 9th century BC. It commemorates the victory of King Mesha and his troops over the king of Israel and his armies. Here’s how the Moabite inscription reads. (A reminder that Chemosh was the chief god of the Moabite people.)
I (am) Mesha, son of Chemosh-[…], king of Moab, the Dibonite—my father (had) reigned over Moab thirty years, and I reigned after my father,—(who) made this high place for Chemosh in Qarhoh […] because he saved me from all the kings and caused me to triumph over all my adversaries. As for Omri, king of Israel, he humbled Moab many years (lit., days), for Chemosh was angry at his land. And his son followed him and he also said, “I will humble Moab.” In my time he spoke (thus), but I have triumphed over him and over his house, while Israel hath perished forever (Pritchard, 1958a, p. 209).
The Mesha Stele names the nation Israel and two of its kings, Omri and his son. King Mesha admitted that King Omri humbled Moab for many days, but said it was because Chemosh was angry at his land. Mesha said that Omri’s son also humbled Moab, but that Mesha truimphed over him and his house. How does that compare to the Bible’s reference to King Mesha and the Moabites during the same period of time (9th century BC)?
“Now the rest of the acts of Omri which he did, and the might that he showed, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel? So Omri rested with his fathers and was buried in Samaria. Then Ahab his son reigned in his place … Moab rebelled against Israel after the death of Ahab. … Now Jehoram the son of Ahab became king over Israel at Samaria in the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, and reigned twelve years … Now Mesha king of Moab was a sheepbreeder, and he regularly paid the king of Israel one hundred thousand lambs and the wool of one hundred thousand rams. But it happened, when Ahab died, that the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel. So King Jehoram went out of Samaria at that time and mustered all Israel. And he said, “I will go up; I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses … And when all the Moabites heard that the kings had come up to fight against them, all who were able to bear arms and older were gathered; and they stood at the border. Then they rose up early in the morning, and the sun was shining on the water; and the Moabites saw the water on the other side as red as blood. And they said, ‘This is blood; the kings have surely struck swords and have killed one another; now therefore, Moab, to the spoil!’ So when they came to the camp of Israel, Israel rose up and attacked the Moabites, so that they fled before them; and they entered their land, killing the Moabites. Then they destroyed the cities, and each man threw a stone on every good piece of land and filled it; and they stopped up all the springs of water and cut down all the good trees. But they left the stones of Kir Haraseth intact. However the slingers surrounded and attacked it. And when the king of Moab saw that the battle was too fierce for him, he took with him seven hundred men who drew swords, to break through to the king of Edom, but they could not. Then he took his eldest son who would have reigned in his place, and offered him as a burnt offering upon the wall; and there was great indignation against Israel. So they departed from him and returned to their own land.” 1 Kings 16:27-28; 2 Kings 1:1; 3:1, 4-7, 21-27
Though the endings of the stories are different, what we see is the record of an ancient enemy king of Israel confirming basic historical information about Israel’s kings, their humbling of Moab and a revolt by Moab against Israel. That’s a lot of confirmation in the world of ancient civilizations.
Some of the reference books and articles available for research on this subject in 1971
Albright, W. F. “Palestinian Inscriptions.” In Ancient Near Eastern Texts, edited by James B. Pritchard, 320-22. 3rd ed. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1969.
Miller, Patrick D. “A Note on the Mesha Inscription.” Orientalia 38 (1969) 461-64.
G.W. Anderson; “The History and Religion of Israel”; Oxford University Press, 1966