Zev Radovan

Mesha king of Moab (ninth century B.C.E.) set up this 4-foot-high stela as part of a shrine to the god Chemosh. The Mesha Stela celebrates triumphs by Moab, which lay east of the Jordan River, over her adversaries, including the northern kingdom of Israel. In the Bible, King Mesha paid a tribute of wool, lambs and rams to Israel, which held Moab under its yoke, but after “Ahab died [852 B.C.E.] the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel” (2 Kings 3:4–5).

Recently, André Lemaire of the Collège de France found another reference to Israelites on the Mesha Stela—this time to the kingdom of Judah. According to Lemaire’s reading of the inscription, Mesha defeated the “House [or dynasty] of David” at Hauronen, a town in Moab. The Mesha Stela and the Tel Dan Stela provide the oldest-known references to Israel in Semitic script. Significantly, both monumental inscriptions list among the kings’ accomplishments a victory over the Judahite kingdom—which the biblical minimalists claim had little standing in the ninth century B.C.E.—and both refer to that kingdom as the House of David.