Bible paper. Insert: Mesha stele.

This 2,800-Year-Old Stele Tells A Bible Story From A Different Point Of View

(Read the article on one page)

As soon as you fit the words “Bible” and “history” into the same sentence, people start reacting. Most people are in one of two camps: either every word of the Bible is completely, literally true, or else the whole thing is a made-up fairy tale.

The truth, though, is a bit more complicated. There are stories in the Bible that we know for a fact really happened. We have found ancient tablets created by other countries that tell the same stories written in the Bible - proof that these things really happened.

But they’re never exactly the same. The people who went to war against Israel don’t write about how great Israel is – they tell the story from their own point of view. And from the other side, it’s always a little bit different.

Case and point: the Moabite Stele , a 2,800 year-old stone slab that tells the story of 2 Kings 3 , about a war between the kingdom of Moab and Israel. The author of this stone slab, though, is the King of Moab – and from his point of view, he wasn’t some evil, pagan warlord. He was a hero.

Israel The Oppressor

The Biblical story doesn’t give a lot of details about why the war started. It mentions that Moab was “rebelling” against Israel, and it suggests that God let it happen to punish the Israelites for worshiping false idols – but it doesn’t really worry itself with what Moab’s grievances might be.

The Moabite Stele, though, was written by Mesha, the King of Moab – and he’s very clear about it. “ Omri, King of Israel , oppressed Moab many days,” he writes. Israel, it seems, invaded a Moabite city called Medeba. Mesha’s father had tried to negotiate with him peacefully, but when he asked the Israelites to let Medeba go, the Israelites threatened to “destroy it forever”.

Depiction of Omri from Guillaume Rouillé's ‘Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum’.

Depiction of Omri from Guillaume Rouillé's ‘Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum’. ( Public Domain )

The Moabites, it seems, had been putting up with this kind of thing for a while. Medeba wasn’t the first city they’d taken – it was just the last straw. About a dozen cities are listed as towns that Israel stole from the Moabites, meaning that they’d been slowly encroaching on Moabite land for years.

It fills in some gaps in the Biblical record. The town Nebo, for example, is first mentioned in the Bible as a Moabite town where Moses died . The next time we hear about it, though, is in a verse complaining that the Moabites have “ despoiled” it and “taken” it from Israel.

Detail of a portion of lines 12–16. The middle line (14) reads "Take Nabau (Nebo) against Israel."

Detail of a portion of lines 12–16. The middle line (14) reads "Take Nabau (Nebo) against Israel." (Mbzt/ CC BY 3.0 )

The Israelite’s history doesn’t really explain when Nebo stopped being part of Moab and became their city – but Mesha makes it clear. The Israelites took it by force. This, to the Moabites, was part of Israel’s “oppression”, invading their cities and threatening to destroy them if they complain.

Mesha The Conquerer

Mesha, unlike his father, didn’t just ask the Israelites nicely if they would please let his people go – he went to war.

His description of the war reads a lot like a biblical story. It’s pretty clear that the Moabites were heavily influenced by the people they called their “oppressors”. It’s written in a language that’s nearly identical to Hebrew, and, like a Biblical story, credits every victory to the will of god. The only difference is that, in this case, that god’s name is Chemosh.

“The king of Israel fortified Ataroth,” Mesha says, “and I assaulted the wall, and captured it, and killed all the warriors of the wall, for the well-pleasing of Chemosh and Moab.” After his victory in Ataroth, he relates, he went on through Israel, taking back cities he felt were his by right.

The Moabites got a little brutal when they reached Nebo. After attacking the town at night and killing “in all seven thousand men”, the Moabites pulled aside all the women and offered them as human sacrifices to Chemosh .

From there, the Moabites went on, conquering cities, building new ones, and rebuilding their former kingdom. They seem to have taken Israelite slaves, as Mesha boasts that he put “the chosen men of Israel” to work digging ditches.

Comments

Moses died on top of Pisgath alone after he surveyed the land the Israelities would enter, He was buried in the valley opposite of Beth Peor. Where his actual grave is - unknown or who buried him. The events in 2 King schapter 3 states The King of Moab Mesha, had to pay tribute to the King of Israel a hundred thousand lambs and a hundred thousand rams wool. He decided no and went to war and lost most of his army and they fled the battlefield with the Hebrews in pursuit , entered the land, distroyed towns, fields, all the trees, stopped up any springs of water and slaughtered all the people- men, women and children they found. The only city left was the heavily fortified city of Kir hareseth . Mesha took more soilders to try to kill the King of Edom and failed. Out of desperation- he sarcrificed his heir to the throne by throwing him into the fire on top of the wall of the city. I guess he figures he won because the opposing army withdrew (on reason is given) and left. His ecomoy ( raising sheep) would have been ruined, water sources and fodder for grazing destroyed, most of his cities, settlements and people utterly distroyed. One city left standing . Not much of a victory. Only because the Israel army left did he survive. to sacrifce another child another day.

It is funny that no one mentions how the Moab ites arrived in the Holy Land. Their very name repeats their shame. Mo Ab From the Father. Lot's daughters had sons by their father.

Mesha's stele does give us interesting insight, but may not be referring to the same incident that is recorded in the Bible.. Omri (or Amri), in spite of his international importance. is only given a very short space in the biblical narrative which dismisses him as a thoroughly evil king. Having said this, his loss of the control of Moab was really an outworking of Solomon's misguided policies. Due to conquest. Transjordan was never a part of the promised land and they only captured it because Og and Sihon had barred their way and attacked them. They later lost it as the Moabite moved in again.

They say history repeats itself.and is still happening today re Israel and it's neighbors.

The value of the steele in this case , is immense when it comes to filling in the gaps of ancient history. The current Israeli history in the making will also abound with the accounts of historians. How will our descendants interpret them? The "winners'" version will probably be chosen more for its appeal than its accuracy or comprehensiveness.
Has it ever or will it ever be different?

Pages

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Top New Stories

Virtual recreation by Charles Chipiez. A panoramic view of the gardens and outside of the Palace of Darius I of Persia in Persepolis.
Once the stunning capital of the Persian Empire (also known as the Achaemenid Empire), Persepolis was lost to the world for almost nineteen hundred years, buried in the dirt of southwestern Iran until the 17th century. Founded in 518 BC by Darius I of the Persian Empire, Persepolis (called Parsa by the native Persians) lasted only a mere two hundred years despite the grandeur Darius and his followers abundantly heaped on its construction. Notwithstanding Persepolis’ tragic end, what remains of the Persian citadel is astounding.

Myths & Legends

The Smelliest Women of Ancient Greece: Jason and the Argonauts Get Fragrant
We all know Aphrodite, Greek goddess of love and beauty, made sure that she was worshipped by punishing those who ignored her altars. One brief appearance of this wrath in the tale of Jason and the Argonauts turned into a particularly fragrant episode.

Ancient Places

Inside one of the tunnels under Valetta, Malta.
Hordes of tourists visit the Mediterranean island of Malta each year to enjoy the above ground attractions the country has to offer such as breath-taking sandy beaches, historical buildings, and traditional cuisine. Yet, there is also a subterranean world hidden beneath the island’s surface. These are the rumored secret tunnels of Malta.

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article