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.
Learn more about the Paleo-Hebrew script in Bible History Daily:
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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