Inscribed Moabite Altar Mentions Biblical Rebellion

Found in Ataroth, Jordan, it appears to discuss Mesha's fight against Israel

Two Moabite inscriptions appear on a 2,800-year-old stone altar from Ataroth in modern Jordan. Notably, the words are written in the Moabite language and script, while the numerals are written in Egyptian Hieratic. This is the earliest attestation of a distinct Moabite script. One inscription seems to detail bronze plundered after Mesha, King of Moab, rebelled and won Ataroth from the Kingdom of Israel. The other, incomplete inscription references 4,000 foreign men “scattered and abandoned in great number,” in one spot. In another, it talks about “the desolate city.”

Inscribed 2,800-yr-old altar from Ancient Ataroth

Photo courtesy of Adam Bean

This rebellion is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, and also on the Mesha Stele, found more than a hundred years ago in Dhiban, Jordan. The Bible states the Israelites withdrew after Mesha sacrificed either his own eldest son or that of the Edomite king to his god Chemosh (2 Kings 3:4). The Mesha Stele, written in the Moab language but in Paleo-Hebrew (also called Phoenician) script, states that Mesha vanquished the Israelites at Ataroth and then killed many of the city’s inhabitants.

This altar was found at Khirbat Ataruz, the site of ancient Ataroth, in 2010. Ongoing excavations there are led by Chang-Ho Ji of La Sierra University, California. Adam Bean of Johns Hopkins University and Christopher Rollston of The George Washington University authored the study on the inscriptions recently published in the journal Levant.

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