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Aug 19 The Moabite Stone & the Exodus

Its 1868 and we are in Jordan where late in the afternoon during a coffee break, the sheikh of the Banî Hamîdi tribe informed the German Anglican missionary Frederick Klein of a massive inscribed basalt stone lying on a nearby mound called Tell Dhiban. Although time was too short for a thorough inspection of the stone, Klein told Julius Henry Petermann, German consul and orientalist at Jerusalem, about the sensational discovery.


Klein and Petermann’s attempt to keep the find secret was unsuccessful. News spread quickly. In addition to the Germans and French, the British became interested in acquiring the stone, and its price soared. The stone is currently on display in France at the Louvre museum, and Jordan has demanded its return. It is known as the Moabite Stone, dated at around 840 BC containing a significant inscription in the name of King Mesha of Moab (a kingdom located in modern Jordan). It is the most extensive inscription ever recovered that refers to the kingdom of Israel (the "House of Omri"); (Omri reigned in Israel a half-century after the death of Solomon split the nation in two.) The Stone also it bears the earliest certain extrabiblical reference to the Israelite god Yahweh.

Tell Dhiban is located 40 miles south of Amman and 12 miles east of the Dead Sea. It is a mound of more than 30 acres in area and 130 feet in height, and contains a fascinating record of some 6,000 years of human occupation. Archaeologists, have revealed the story of Dhiban is one of “boom and bust”, of rapid settlement growth and equally rapid contraction. Exodus, the liberation of the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt can be dated to the 13th century BCE, under the leadership of Moses; it seems that the stone indicates that Tell Dhiban was a stopping of place for the tribe of Israel before they would reach the promised land. The stone also tells how Chemosh, the god of Moab, had been angry with his people and had allowed them to be subjugated to Israel, but at length, Chemosh returned and assisted Mesha to throw off the yoke of Israel and restore the lands of Moab. It is of particular interest to biblical archaeologists because the stone’s story parallels, with some differences, an episode in the Bible's Books of Kings (2 Kings 3:4–8).

When Klein discovered the Moab stone or the Mesha Stele amateur explorers and archaeologists were scouring the Levant for evidence proving the Bible's historicity. A "squeeze" or a papier-mâché impression) had been obtained by a local Arab on behalf of an archaeologist based in the French consulate in Jerusalem. On 8 February George Grove of the Palestine Exploration Fund announced the find of the stone in a letter to The Times, sparking an international scramble for such a prized antiquity. However, the following year, the stone was smashed into several fragments by the Bani Hamida tribe in an act of defiance against the Ottoman authorities who had pressured the Bedouins to hand it over so that it could be given to Germany. The French managed to acquire most of the fragments and piece together 613 of the original letters of about a thousand letters original cut into the stone, thanks to the impression made before the stele's destruction. Christian Ginsburg's book, The Moabite Stone (1871) reproduced the text of the Stele from the "squeeze" and various differing translations by different scholars.

Klein published a note in the Pall Mall Gazette, describing his discovery of the stele in August 1868 and his sadness that it remained intact for such a short time : ... I afterwards ascertained that [Ganneau's] assertion as to no European having, before me, seen the stone was perfectly true. ... I am sorry to find that I was also the last European who had the privilege of seeing this monument of Hebr antiquity in its perfect state of preservation. ...

Moab and Israel had a long history of interchange and conflict in the Bible with control of certain areas shifting back and forth over the centuries. But as well as conflict we have intermarriage, as famously happens with Ruth, the person after whom the Book of Ruth is named. In the narrative, she is not an Israelite but rather is from Moab; she marries an Israelite. Both her husband and her father-in-law die, and she helps her mother-in-law, Naomi, find protection. The two of them travel to Bethlehem together, where Ruth wins the love of Boaz through her kindness. She becomes the great-grandmother of King David and is one of five women mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus found in the Gospel of Matthew, alongside Tamar, Rahab, the "wife of Uriah" (Bathsheba), and Mary.


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