The Importance of Bible Artifacts Found Outside the Trench: The Moabite Stone

The Mesha Stele, or Moabite Stone, provides yet another example of the value of unprovenanced Biblical artifacts

The Importance of Bible Artifacts Found Outside the Trench: The Moabite Stone

The Mesha Stele, or Moabite Stone, is one of many unprovenanced Biblical artifacts found by Bedouin in the process of archaeological looting. Photo: Les Monuments.

A product of archaeological looting, the Mesha Stele, or Moabite Stone, provides yet another instance of the value of unprovenanced Biblical artifacts, that is, Bible artifacts found outside of a professional excavation. Although the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) and the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) have strict policies regarding the publication of articles and the presentation of papers about unprovenanced objects and Biblical artifacts in an attempt to curb archaeological looting and forgery of Bible artifacts found in Israel and Jordan, other scholars believe that Biblical artifacts found without a stratified context still merit scholarly study.

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.*
 


 
Are several famous objects actually fakes? How can they be tested? And should they even be studied by scholars? Read about a BAS conference held in Jerusalem in which leading scholars assessed a number of well-known artifacts that had in recent years been labeled as forgeries in the FREE eBook Real or Fake? A Special Report.
 

 
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.

* See Siegfried H. Horn,“Why the Moabite Stone Was Blown to Pieces,Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 1986.
 


 
BAS Library Members: Read more about the Moabites as well as Bible artifacts found outside a stratified context:

P. M. Michèle Daviau and Paul-Eugène Dion, “Moab Comes to Life,” Biblical Archaeology Review, January/February 2002.

Finds or Fakes, “Defending the Study of Unprovenanced Artifacts: An Interview with Othmar Keel,Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August 2005.

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Posted in Artifacts and the Bible, Inscriptions.

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  1. Darrell says

    I would love to read a good book (article?) about the items found inside and/or out “the trench” and their effect on biblical archeology. Perhaps a good title would be “artiFACTS and artiFICTION” ?

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Biblical Prophecy part 1 | Biblical Views and World Economics linked to this post on April 25, 2014

    […] over the destruction of ur,  Ludlul  Bel nemeqi,  Mari tablets,  Merneptans stele,  Mesha stele, (Moabite stone)  Murashu tablets,  Mursilis treaty with duppi-tessub,  Nabdonidus chronicle,  Nebuchadnezzar […]


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