This 3-foot-high black basalt Moabite Stone was first brought to the attention of scholars in 1868 by Bedouin living east of the Jordan River and just north of the Arnon River. After several failed negotiations to purchase it, the Mesha Stele was broken into dozens of pieces and scattered among the Bedouin. In the 1870s several of the fragments were recovered by scholars and reconstructed—comprising only two-thirds of the original Moabite Stone. A paper imprint (called a squeeze) that had been taken of the intact inscription allowed scholars to fill in the missing text.*
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Even in its fragmentary condition, the 34 lines of Phoenician script (also called paleo-Hebrew) on the Mesha Stela constituted the longest monumental inscription on a Bible artifact found in Palestine, making the Mesha Stele a key example of the value of Biblical artifacts found outside professional excavations, often via archaeological looting. The inscription, which dates to the ninth century B.C.E., is a victory stela set up to commemorate the triumph of the rebellious Moabite vassal king Mesha over the Israelite king and his armies (thus the names Mesha Stele or Moabite Stone). The Bible records a similar episode in 2 Kings 3, but not surprisingly, each account is much more flattering to its own author than the other.
The Mesha Stele, one of the most valuable Biblical artifacts found due to archaeological looting, also helped scholars clarify the tribal land allotments among the northern tribes of Israel.