The Mesha stele is the longest Iron Age inscription ever found in the region, constitutes the major evidence for the Moabite language, and is a "corner-stone of Semitic epigraphy and Palestinian history". The stele, whose story parallels, with some differences, an episode in the Bible's Books of Kings (2 Kings 3:4-8), provides invaluable information on the Moabite language and the political relationship between Moab and Israel at one moment in the 9th century BCE.
The stone was discovered intact by Frederick Augustus Klein, an Anglican missionary, at the site of ancient Dibon (now Dhiban, Jordan), in August 1868. Klein was led to it by a local Bedouin, although neither of them could read the text.
It is the most extensive inscription ever recovered that refers to the kingdom of Israel (the "House of Omri"); it bears the earliest certain extra-biblical reference to the Israelite god Yahweh, and—if French scholar André Lemaire's reconstruction of a portion of line 31 is correct—the earliest mention of the "House of David" (i.e., the kingdom of Judah). It is also one of four known contemporary inscriptions containing the name of Israel.
The stele is currently on display in France at the Louvre museum and Jordan has requested its return.
TRANSLATION OF THE MESHA STELE
by K. C. Hanson
(Adapted from Albright 1969:320-21)
I am Mesha, son of Kemosh[-yatti], the king of Moab, the Dhibanite. My father was king over Moab for thirty years, and I became king after my father. And I made this high-place for Kemosh in Qarcho . . . because he has delivered me from all kings, and because he has made me look down on all my enemies.
Omri was the king of Israel, and he oppressed Moab for many days, for Kemosh was angry with his land. And his son reigned in his place; and he also said, "I will oppress Moab!" In my days he said so. But I looked down on him and on his house, and Israel has been defeated; it has been defeated forever! And Omri took possession of the whole land of Medeba, and he lived there in his days and half the days of his son: forty years. But Kemosh restored it in my days.
And I built Baal-Meon, and I built a water reservoir in it. And I built Qiryaten. And the men of Gad lived in the land of Atarot from ancient times; and the king of Israel built Atarot for himself, and I fought against the city and captured it. And I killed all the people of the city as a sacrifice for Kemosh and for Moab. And I brought back the fire-hearth of his uncle from there; and I brought it before the face of Kemosh in Qerioit, and I made the men of Sharon live there, as well as the men of Maharit.
And Kemosh said to me, "Go, take Nebo from Israel." And I went in the night and fought against it from daybreak until midday, and I took it and I killed the whole population: seven thousand male subjects and aliens, and female subjects, aliens, and servant girls. For I had put it to the ban for Ashtar Kemosh. And from there I took Yahweh's vessels, and I presented them before Kemosh's face.
And the king of Israel had built Yahaz, and he stayed there throughout his campaign against me; and Kemosh drove him away before my face. And I took two hundred Moabite men, its entire division, and I led it up to Yahaz. And I have taken it in order to add it to Dhiban. I have built Qarcho, the wall of the woods, and the wall of the citadel; and I have built its gates; and I have built its towers; and I have built the king's house; and I have made the double reservoir for the spring in the innermost part of the city.
Now the innermost part of the city had no cistern, in Qarcho, and I said to all the people, "Each one of you shall make a cistern in his house." And I cut the moat for Qarcho by using Israelite prisoners. I have built Aroer, and I constructed the military road in Arnon. I have built Beth-Bamot, for it had been destroyed. I have built Bezer, for it lay in ruins. And the men of Dhiban stood in battle formation, for all Dhiban were in subjection. And I am the king over the hundreds in the towns that I have added to the land. And I have built Beth-Medeba and Beth-Diblaten and Beth-Baal-Meon, and I brought there . . . flocks of the the land. And Hauranen, there lived . . .
Kemosh said to me, "Go down, fight against Hauranen!" I went down . . . and Kemosh restored it in my days . . .