Line 31 in the Mesha Stele is Restored, Confirming a Biblical Story

It was traditionally thought that the missing letters on line 31 of the Mesha Stele, an inscribe Moabite stone dating around 840 BCE, referred to the “House of David” until a group of archaeologists published an article last week disproving that reading. Experts agreed that the Mesha Stele describes how the god of Moab assisted King Mesha in rising against the kingdom of Israel that had conquered Moab. The stone is written in Old Hebrew Script detailing events that coincide with the third chapter of the second book of Kings. The 31st line contains a couple of clearly defined words followed by the Hebrew letter ב / bet; the first letter of an unknown name that must logically follow the previous words.

In the latest article about the stone, three issues were raised about the traditional reading of the stone. One of the concerns was why Mesha would call the enemy by this term “House of David” when he could simply refer to the proper noun Omri, King of Israel? Another question was about chronology, where there was a fundamental contradiction. There is no proof that the weak 9th-century BCE Kingdom of Israel occupied Moab. In fact, Kings 2 chapter 3 details a failed campaign by the Kingdom of Israel and Judah to conquer Moab.

Once the previous reading was debunked, the researchers revisited what the name in line 31 could be. They noticed a vertical line following the three letter space after the bet, signifying the end of a line. Going through the short list of 4 letter names that start with a bet, the researchers decided that Balak King of Moab makes the most sense. Mesha included the king Balak in the stone to give authority to the biblical story of Balak, who sent Balaam to curse the Jewish people. The story of Balak and Balaam was transcribed from oral recitation much earlier than the inscribing of the Mesha Stele meaning that the reference to Balak was with purpose and has significant importance to the contents of the Stele.

Further reading: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/figure/10.1080/03344355.2019.1586378

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