Researchers have confirmed that a more than 2,800-year-old stone artifact has written references to King David in the Bible.
The Mesha Stele, also known as the Moabite Stone, dates to about 840 BC. The 3-foot-tall stone slab of black basalt chronicles the 9th-century BC victories of King Mesha of Moab, an ancient Levantine kingdom located in what is now the country of Jordan.
World History Encyclopedia details the 34 lines of text inscribed on the Mesha stele:
The inscription describes two aspects of how Mesha led Moab to victory over ancient Israel. First, he claims to have defeated ancient Israel on many fronts, capturing or recapturing many cities and killing the inhabitants. Second, Mesha claims to have rebuilt or repaired many cities and buildings, including a fortress, the king’s residence, and cisterns for water storage.
In 1868, the Mesha Stele was discovered in Jordan, about 15 miles east of the Dead Sea. It is believed to be the largest known source of Moabite writings. The slab was found completely intact. However, local villagers destroyed Mesha’s stele before it was obtained by archaeologists.
According to the patterns of evidence:
Arguments over possession of the stele led to the Bani Hamida (Bedouin) tribe breaking it into several pieces as an act of defiance against the Ottoman authorities. When it became clear that the ownership dispute and bidding war over the stele was about to go in favor of the Ottoman Turks, the Bedouin heated the stele on fire while pouring water on it causing the stone to explode in pieces
Archaeologists wisely made a papier-mâché impression, known as a “shrinkage,” of the stone before it was destroyed. Archaeologists were able to reconstruct the Mesha stele using pressure. The Moabite stone now resides in the Louvre Museum in Paris, France.
Two historians, Jean-Philippe Delorme and André Lemaire, have found evidence that the Mesha Stele specifically refers to the biblical King David.
In 2015, a team from the West Semitic Research Project at the University of Southern California took new digital photographs of both the restored stele and the paper print. The team used a method called Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI), in which numerous digital images of an artifact are taken from different angles and then combined to create an accurate three-dimensional digital representation of the piece. This method is especially valuable because digital rendering allows researchers to control the lighting of an inscribed artifact, so that hidden, faint, or worn incisions become visible. In 2018, the Louvre Museum also took new high-resolution backlight images of the narrowing, where light was projected directly through the 150-year-old paper to provide a clearer view of the letters old records.
The Society for Biblical Archeology notes: “The reference to the ‘House of David’ consists of five letters: btdwd (bt = ‘house of’ and dwd = David). The first and fourth letters, bet and waw, were visible before. Lemaire and Delorme see the remains of the other three letters, taw, dalet, and dalet, in the new images. For them, the reading ‘House of David’ is now engraved in stone.”
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