Saturday, June 10, 2006

The story of Mesha

Almost three thousand years ago, specifically around 930 BC, there was a king in the southern Jordan, in the region of Moab (the Karak and Madaba area). The name of the king was Mesha. Mesha's kingdom was contemporaneous with the Jewish kingdoms of Judah (southern Palestine) and Israel (northern Palestine).

According to the Old Testament of the Bible (2 Kings, chapter 3), the kings of Judah (Jehoshaphat) and Israel (Jeroham) agreed to attack Moab after he rebelled against Israel. In agreement with the king of Edom (in the Tafileh area to the south), they marched on Moab, enduring some troubles along the way. Apparently, God was unhappy that Jeroham came along, but agreed to help the alliance anyway, after some music softened His mood.

Through deception, the alliance dealt death and devastation to the kingdom of Moab. The Biblical story says that in desperation, King Mesha gave his eldest son as an offering, after which "there was great indignation against Israel: and they departed from him, and returned to their own land".

This terse ending would be the only record of the event, had it not been for the Mesha Stella (or the Moabite stone), which was discovered in Hisban in 1868. Today it resides in the Louver Museum in Paris. It contains a detailed account of how Mesha ultimately beat back the Israeli invasion. It also details other great accomplishments.

Part of the Mesha Stella states "Now Omri had possessed all the land of Medeba (Madaba?) and dwelt in it his days and half the days of his son, forty years, but Chemosh (the Moabite god) restored it in my day. And I built Baal-Meon and I made in it the reservoir and I built Kiryathaim. And the men of Gad (one of the Jewish tribes) had dwelt in the land of Ataroth from of old and the king of Israel had built for himself Ataroth. 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.

And I brought back from there the altar-hearth of Duda and I dragged it before Chemosh in Kiryoth. And I caused to dwell in it the men of Sharon and the men of Meharoth".

"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.

And I took from there the altar-hearths of Yahweh, and I dragged them before Chemosh. And the king of Israel built Jabaz and dwelt in it while he fought with me and Chemosh drove him out from before me. And I took from Moab two hundred men, all its chiefs, and I led them against Jahaz and took it to add unto Dibon (Dhiban, Mesha's capital)".

The decisive defeat of Israel in this text went along with accounts of numerous building projects, including building Baal-Meon (Ma'in), Kiryathaim (mentioned before) and Aroer (Kh. 'Ara'ir on the northern rim of the Mujib river gorge) , and building a highway through the Arnon (Mujib River).

One of the interesting legislations enacted by Mesha is the Mesha law. One the Stella, Mesha says " And there was no cistern in the midst of the city, in Qarhar (?); and I said to all the people: "Make you each a cistern in his house"". Cisterns were until recently the major water source used in many areas in Jordan, and some suggest we should require people to collect rainwater in new buildings as a way of alleviating some of our water problems today.

Happy Army day, sons and daughters of Mesha.


At 8:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Khalaf! I've been studying the Bible for references to the ancient inhabitants of Moab recently, hadn't heard of this other source.

At 10:06 PM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Kinzi: You are very welcome. Good luck with your studies.

At 2:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Khalaf, thanks for the translation.

I've got a picture of the reproduction of the stone (which is at the U of J) on my blog.

At 8:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think they are right about the water cisterns. Also, wind towers for cooling seem to be a good feature.____As for the fighting between Israelis and Palestinians 3000 years ago, one can only sigh.


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