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Mesha Stele

The Moabite Stone

The Moabite stone is one of the most significant archeological discoveries that has been made regarding the Bible.  It is one of the archeological discoveries that Christian apologists like to cite that "proves the Bible is true".  Discovered in 1868, it is a 9th century B.C. stone monument, erected by King Mesha of the Moabites, who are mentioned many times in the Bible, and are the constant rivals/enemies of the Israelites .  King Mesha erected the stone to commemorate his defeat over Israel, in a revolt against King Omri.  The stone somewhat confirms the historicity of the account of the battle from the Bible from 2 Kings 3:4- 27. Today it is on display at the Louvre in Paris.

Above picture: Here's me with the Moabite Stone, the Louvre

So yes, this discovery does generally show that the Bible's account is historical, or at least that there was a battle between Moab and Israel, in which King Mesha prevailed.  So the apologist do very much like to point out the fact that this stele does essentially verify the historicity of the battle.  However what is interesting is that this stele gives the Moabite's account, while the Biblical text gives the Israelite's account.  And the details are quite different.  According to the stele it is Omri that is king of Israel, and the Moabites handily defeated Israel.  According to the Bible it is Joram that is king of Israel.  And though the Bible text does concede that the Moabites eventually prevailed, it says that it was only after King Mesha sacrificed his son during the battle that "the fury against Israel became great", so they withdrew.

But in my opinion, the important thing about this stele's text is the similarity between the religious beliefs of the Moabites and the Israelites, as reflected in their respective texts.  The only difference is that for the Moabites it was Chemosh who was their national god, in exactly the same way that Yahweh was the national god of Israel. (see here for Biblical mentions of Chemosh).  This is no surprise however, we can see this line of thinking also expressed in the Bible, where the Israelites ask the Moabites "Won’t you possess that which Chemosh your god gives you to possess? So whoever Yahweh our God has dispossessed from before us, them will we possess" Judges 11:24, and Woe to you, O Moab! You are destroyed, O people of Chemosh! Numbers 21:29.  However where the Biblical text states that Yahweh the god of Israel commanded the Israelites to attack their various enemies, the Moabite Stone text says that Chemosh the god of Moab commanded King Mesha to attack Israel, the Moabite's enemy.  Where the Biblical text says that the Israelites would kill all of the men, women, and children of their defeated enemies, putting them to "the ban", as a devotion to Yahweh, in the Moabite Stone it is recorded  that the Moabites did exactly the same thing to their enemies the Israelites, putting them to "the ban" as a devotion to Chemosh.  Where the Biblical text says that when Yahweh was angry with Israel he would allow it to be defeated, oppressed, and exhiled by its enemies, the Moabite Stone text says that Chemosh was angry with his land Moab and so allowed Israel to oppress it.  Where the Biblical text says that the Israelites would destroy the sacred religious objects of competing gods, the Moabites stone text says that the Moabites destroyed the sacred objects of Yahweh.  Where the Biblical text gives Yahweh credit for Israel's victories, the Moabite Stone gives Chemosh credit for Moab's victories.  The stele shows that the Moabites saw the hand of Chemosh in their affairs in the same way that the Israelites saw the hand of Yahweh in their own affairs.

Comparison of the Biblical & Moabite Stone Texts

Bible Says  Bible Text Moabite Stone says  Moabite Stone Text*
Yahweh allowed his people Israel to be defeated/oppressed by their enemies when he was angry with them 2 Kings 17:17-19

2 Chronicles 28:4-10

Judges 2:13-15

Ezekiel 23:28

Ezekiel 35:6

Lamentations 2

Chemosh allowed his people Moab to be defeated/oppressed by their enemies when he was angry with them Omri, king of Israel -- he oppressed Moab many days, because Chemosh was angry with his land.
Yahweh saved the king of Israel from those who hated him 1 Samuel 12:10-12

2 Samuel 18:18-20

2 Samuel 22:1-3

2 Samuel 22:4

Chemosh saved the king of Moab from those who hated him I made this high place for Kemosh in Qarhar . . . because of the deliverance of Mesha, and because he has saved me from all the kings and because he caused me to see [my desire] upon all who hated me.
Israelites take cities and kill all the people Deuteronomy 2:32-35

Deuteronomy 3:4-7

Joshua 6:21

Joshua 8:18-26

Joshua 10:29-32

Deuteronomy 7:1-2

Deuteronomy 20:10-16

1 Samuel 15:1-3

Moabites take cities and kill all the people And I fought against the city and took it, and I slew all the people of the city, a sight pleasing to Chemosh and to Moab.
Yahweh commands Israel to attack a city, the Israelites kill all the people as a devotion to Yahweh

Joshua 6:21

Joshua 8:18-26

Joshua 10:29-32

Deuteronomy 7:1-2

Deuteronomy 20:10-16

1 Samuel 15:1-3


Chemosh commands Moab to attack a city, the Moabites kill all the people as a devotion to Chemosh Chemosh said to me: "Go take Nebo against Israel"; and I went by night and fought against it from break of dawn till noon, and I took it and slew all, seven thousand men, boys (?), and women, and girls, for I had devoted it to Ashtar-Chemosh

.....Chemosh said unto me: "Go down, fight against Horonaim," and I went down and...

Israelites destroyed the altars and worship objects of  gods other than Yahweh Exodus 34:13

Deuteronomy 12:3

Judges 6:24-26

2 Kings 10:26-27

2 Kings 11:18

2 Kings 23:12-13

2 Chronicles 31:1

2 Chronicles 34:6-7

Moabites destroyed the altars and worship objects of  gods other than Chemosh, including those of... Yahweh! And I brought back from there the altar-hearth of Duda and I dragged it before Chemosh in Kiryoth

And I took from there the altar-hearths of Yahweh, and I dragged them before Chemosh.

Yahweh drives out Israel's enemies, Yahweh hands over Israel's enemies Judges 3:28-29

Joshua 24:18

Exodus 34:11

Exodus 34:24

1 Samuel 30:23

Deuteronomy 7:22

Deuteronomy 33:27

Chemosh drives out Moab's enemies the king of Israel built Jabaz and dwelt in it while he fought with me and Chemosh drove him out from before me.

* Source: George A Barton, Archaeology and the Bible, Seventh Edition, p. 460-461, obtained from: Moabite Stone - The Mesha Stele - 930 BC

Conclusion- My take on it:

It was a primitive, brutal, and pathetic ancient world.  Semitic tribes of the near east were continually at war, and the victors would kill all the people- men, women, and children- of the vanquished towns in order to appease their national/tribal god.  It was a way of sharing the spoils of war with the god. They really believed that doing so would help to ensure the god's help in the next battle. If they indeed were victorious, then it was because of this "devotion".  If not, then it must have been because they didn't kill enough of the people, keeping too much of the loot for themselves, or they didn't use the right rituals, or they tolerated too much worship of the competing gods.

So while that was pathetic, what is even more pathetic is that here we are today in the modern world, some 3000 years later, and we actually have people believing that the Israelites really were commanded by Yahweh to kill those people, and defending their doing so**.  But did Chemosh really command the Moabites to kill the Israelites?  Hah!  That's preposterous!

Just imagine how history could have been different.  If the Moabites would have been more Xenophobic, if they would have had Chemosh issue strict prohibitions against intermingling with foreigners, if they would have adopted strict food and dress restrictions making interaction and socialization with foreigners even more difficult, if they would have been more prolific in producing religious texts in praise of Chemosh and detailing his hand in the affairs in his people, if later Moabites would have come to regard these texts as sacred and preserved them for the generations, if the Moabites would have been more zealous in stamping out worship of competing gods besides Chemosh, if monotheistic thought began to develop among later Moabites and they began to see Chemosh as not just the god of Moab but as God of all people, if some traumatic experience such as a national tragedy of a foreign captivity and then a later return would have caused the Moabites to reassess and reinterpret events and redouble efforts to stamp out any worship of competing gods and renew the focus on Chemosh as God of the universe, if they would have edited and redacted the earlier brutal texts to give justification for the slaughter of the Israelites, if the texts would have said that it was because of the judgment of Chemosh that the Israelites were condemned to die and that they were a wicked people doing detestable things like sacrificing people in the name of Yahweh, if the prophets of Chemosh dreamed and predicted that someday all nations would recognize Chemosh as the one true God, if a seemingly insignificant itinerant preacher arose in 1st century Moab spreading a message of the coming of the kingdom of Chemosh, if that preacher ran afoul of the Roman authorities and got himself executed, if the followers of that preacher then reinterpreted his death to be a sacrifice for the sins of humanity, if they became influenced by the dying savior-god myths of the mystery religions of the Roman Empire in contrast to strict Moabite monotheism and came to believe that this preacher was the son of Chemosh who had been resurrected, if these early followers gave rise to a new sect that believed this risen preacher was actually divine and equal to Chemosh being both Chemosh in the flesh and the son of Chemosh at the same time, if this new religion placed an emphasis on proselytizing with a message that salvation was available not only to the Moabites but to everyone, if there was one particularly devout and inexhaustible person that traveled the Roman Empire spreading the religion of the worship of this resurrected son of Chemosh, if this new religion offered a fresh alternative to the stale and worn-out older pagan and imperial religions of Rome and began to prosper in spite of and because of intermittent persecution, if eventually the mother of the Roman emperor became a convert to this religion and influenced her son to convert as well, if this religion eventually became the official religion of the Roman Empire and competing religions were violently suppressed, if the Roman Empire eventually broke up and several centuries later several countries of the former empire would undertake imperialistic exploration, conquest, and colonization of a vast portion of the world, displacing and exterminating the indigenous peoples, if the colonies left by those imperialist countries continued the faith of the resurrected son of Chemosh, and spread and imposed that faith among the indigenous people remaining, if due to this eventually this faith would become the most popular religion in the world,...  if ALL that happened.... THEN maybe today in the modern world we would have people believing that Chemosh truly did command the ancient Moabites to slaughter the ancient Israelites!  Then maybe today they would be arguing with skeptics about it, saying that Chemosh, as the giver of life, has the right to take it, and who are we to question his motives?  Then maybe today apologists would be saying that the Israelites had to be destroyed because they were unusually aggressive and oppressed Chemosh's people the Moabites, and if allowed to remain would have enticed the Moabites to worship their god Yahweh.  Then maybe they would be saying that the Moabites killing the Israelite children was okay, because the children would have grown up wicked and worshipping Yahweh, and by killing them before the age of accountability they would go to heaven and be with Chemosh instead.  But hey, that's just MY take on it.  What do I know?   

** see Holy War, my companion essay to this one


Info Links

Moabite Stone - The Mesha Stele - 930 BC from

Mesha Stele article from Wikipedia

Moab, Moabites  Catholic Encyclopedia article

The Moabite Stone: Lessons in Biblical Archaeology by Kerry A. Shirts, from Mormonism Researched website

The Stele of Mesha p. 2 by David Ross

Chemosh - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Apologist Links Citing the Moabite Stone as "Proving the Bible"

What does the Moabite Stone reveal about the revolt of Mesha? from

Digging up the Bible

Is the Bible the Word of God - Chapter 4 - at See the heading "THE MOABITE STONE AND OTHER RECORDS PROVE VARIOUS

The Accuracy of the Bible See IV C where it says "The Moabite stone is a monument that was carved by Mesha, king of Moab, in 850 BC. It confirms most of the Biblical story recorded in..." 

Moabite Stone  says 'This artifact is another important source that corroborates the biblical account of the early Israelites. It currently resides in the Louvre Museum, Paris"


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