A new study of a nearly 3,000-year-old badly damaged stone tablet called the Mesha Stele, or the Moabite Stone, suggests that the biblical King Balak could have existed.
The Mesha Stele is an inscribed tablet that was created around the year 840 B.C. during the reign of King Mesha in the ancient kingdom of Moab, near modern Jordan. The tablet is famous for describing events from the history of Israel that are also described in the Bible, according to Livius.org
French scholar Charles Clermont-Ganneau had attempted to study the stone tablet in the 1800s through a paper impression called a “squeeze.” However, it was then smashed by a local tribe and carried away in pieces.
The fragments were later discovered and are now on display in the Louvre museum in Paris. The squeeze has proved invaluable for helping interpret the stone.
The recent study was conducted by studying new photographs of the stele and the squeeze, which was prepared before the tablet was broken. The research was published in “Tel Aviv: The Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University in Israel.”
“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,” the researchers wrote in the study’s abstract.
Seven letters are missing from the beginning of line 31 on the stele as the bottom part is broken, and these missing letters are followed by the words sheep/small cattle of the land.
“Next there is a vertical stroke that marks the transition to a new sentence, which opens with the words (‘And Hawronēn dwelt therein’). Evidently, a name is expected to follow. Then there is a legible beth, followed by a partially eroded, partially broken section with space for two letters, followed by a waw and an unclear letter. The rest of the line, with space for three letters, is missing,” stated the abstract.
Researchers earlier believed that Line 31 referred to the House of David, however, the researches of the new study, Israel Finkelstein, Nadav Na’aman, and Thomas Römer, believe that the letter beth refers to “Balak.”
“A careful examination of the photograph of the stele and the new images of the squeeze sheds new light on the five letters that follow in Line 31,” the abstract said.
The study began after the stele was displayed at an exhibition titled “Mésha et la Bible” that happened at the Collège de France in collaboration with the Louvre Museum on Sept. 14 to Oct. 14, 2018.
“This was an opportunity to take new, high-resolution photographs of the squeeze and examine it in detail vis-à-vis the stele,” the researchers said in the abstract.
Ronald Hendel, a professor of the Hebrew Bible and Jewish Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, told Live Science that the proposal by the researches at Archaeology of Tel Aviv University is “very tentative.”
He said a reference to King Balak is unlikely because he existed 200 years before the stele’s creation.
Finkelstein, co-researcher of the study, said: “[T]he study shows how a story in the Bible may include layers (memories) from different periods which were woven together by later authors into a story aimed to advance their ideology and theology. It also shows that the question of historicity in the Bible cannot be answered in a simplistic ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.”