The mysterious 3,900-year-old Moabite Stone, also known as the Mesha Stele, may have proven the existence of another biblical king. A new high-tech analysis of a damaged portion of the stone reveals an inscription referring to King Balak of Moab, who is mentioned in the Hebrew bible in Numbers, Judges and Micah, and in the New Testament Book of Revelations. Will this push Balak to the list of historically verified biblical figures?
“After studying new photographs of the Mesha Stele and the squeeze of the stele prepared before the stone was broken, we dismiss Lemaire’s proposal to read (‘House of David’) on Line 31. It is now clear that there are three consonants in the name of the monarch mentioned there, and that the first is a beth. We cautiously propose that the name on Line 31 be read as Balak, the king of Moab referred to in the Balaam story in Numbers 22–24.”
In an abstract of their article published in the current Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University, archaeologist Israel Finkelstein, historian Nadav Na’aman – both from Tel Aviv University – and biblical scholar Thomas Römer from the Collège de France explain how they used a “squeeze” – a papier-mâché impression of the inscriptions made shortly after it was found in Dhiban, Jordan, in 1868 and shortly before it was broken into pieces by Bani Hamida tribe protesters upset it was being taken away. The squeeze helped put most of the pieces back together and is the best image of what the impressions once said.
Using new high-resolution photos of the squeeze, the team focused on the incomplete line 31 of the stele,, which scholars have long believed referred to the House of David. In the squeeze, they saw what appear to be three additional consonants in the name of the king, which would change it from David to Balak. This is the first mention of Balak outside of the Hebrew bible.
Bingo! End of story. Add Balak to the list of archeological-prover real biblical people along with David, Mesha of Moab (author of the stele), Hoshea, Hezekiah, Cyrus the Great and others. Right?
Well, the researchers are justifiably hesitant in making such a bold claim about the world’s most studied book. They say the name could be Balak, but it could also be Bedad, Bedan, Becher, Belaʻ, Baʻal or Barak. Also, the bible puts Balak in Moab 200 years before the stele was created. The team attempts to explain this by suggesting the authors of the Moabite Stone may have woven multiple stories into one. That doesn’t negate the authenticity of the existence of Balak but it definitely complicates things.
As with any old puzzle, the missing pieces of the Moabite Stone will never be found and the interpretation is based on the picture on the box – in this case, the “squeeze.” Balak doesn’t go on the ‘real person’ list yet, but he’s definitely closer than Noah and the ark.