New technology connects ancient stele with King David–but not everyone agrees

Using modern digital imaging techniques, researchers have concluded that the “Mesha Stele,” which dates to the 9th century BCE and bears a Canaanite inscription in the name of the Moabite king Mesha, does indeed contain a reference to the biblical king David.

The discovery is the latest development in a decades-long debate within the archaeological community over whether the basalt stone, also known as the “Stone of Moab,” refers to a biblical king.

This monument was found in 1868 in the Jordanian city of Dhiban (known as Dibon in Bible times) east of the Dead Sea, this document recorded the history of King Mesha’s military victory over his enemies, including Israel, as mentioned in the Bible in the second. The Book of Kings. However, shortly after the discovery, the stone tablet, which is about 2,800 years old, was broken into several pieces, and the damage made it difficult to decipher the ancient text, even though it was made of paper machete, or squeeze. text.

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The monument, which was eventually restored, is on display at the Louvre in Paris. It measures 3 feet long and 2 feet wide, and contains 34 lines of text, possibly with a reference to “The House of David” in the 31st line. The debate centers on the five letters associated with “bt,” or “house of,” and “dwd,” meaning David. Although two of these letters were clearly visible in the past, the other three were not.

To try to solve this mystery, the researchers, Andre Lemaire and Jean-Philippe Delorme, used a technique called Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI), where multiple digital images of the artifact are taken from different angles and combined. The results, say the researchers, confirm that it is indeed referring to the “House of David.”

“These ideas… not only confirm that the Mesha Stele refers to the ‘House of David’ but also allow us to reach new conclusions about the various historical and biblical events described in the text, Lemaire and Delorme wrote in the book. Review of Biblical Archaeology.

The findings, not surprisingly, have divided the archaeological community and ancient scholars, with some supporting the reading, others opposing it and others still unsure.

“Due to the deterioration of that part of the monument, we must be careful when reading it,” said Dr. Joe Uziel, head of the Dead Sea Scrolls Division at the Israel Antiquities Authority. “It’s possible but I’m not sure,” he added.

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An earlier study, published by Tel Aviv University and the College de France, found that the name Lamaire and Delorme translated as “House of David” instead refers to King Balak, the Moabite ruler known in the Book of Numbers.

Professor Israel Finkelstein, who wrote that 2019 study, stands by his previous conclusions.

“I really can’t see what the authors of the BAR article saw in line 31 of the Mesha text,” he said.

Even as the scholarly debate continues, Uziel said that new technology, which he himself used on the Dead Sea Scrolls, is helping scholars interpret ancient texts in ways that were previously impossible.

“Suddenly we can see more,” he said.

As thought and technology continue to advance, Uziel hopes that both this and other ancient texts will survive.


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