New technique links ancient stele to King David — but not everyone agrees

Using state-of-the-art digital imaging techniques, researchers have concluded that the “Mesha Stele” dating to the ninth century B.C. and bearing a Canaanite inscription named after King Mesha of Moab does contain references to the biblical David king.

The discovery is the latest in a decades-long debate in the archaeological community over whether the basalt slabs, also known as the “stones of Moab,” mentioned biblical monarchs.

Discovered in 1868 in the Jordanian town of Diban (known in Biblical times as Dibben), east of the Dead Sea, the stele depicts King Mesha’s military victories over his enemies, including Israel, as the Bible states in The Book of Kings mentioned in the second book. However, shortly after its discovery, the approximately 2,800-year-old slab was broken into several pieces, despite the inscriptions being embossed or embossed in pulp.

The finally restored stele is on display at the Louvre in Paris. It is about 3 feet high and 2 feet wide, and contains 34 lines, the 31st of which may refer to the “House of David.” The debate revolves around the five letters, which correspond to “bt” or “house of” and “dwd”, which means David. While two of the letters were clearly visible in the past, the other three were not.

To solve this mystery, researchers Andre Lemaire and Jean-Philippe Delorme used a technique called Reflection Transform Imaging (RTI), which takes numerous digital images of an artifact from different angles and then combines them together. The researchers claim that the results confirmed that the reference was indeed referring to the “House of David.”

“These insights…not only confirm Mesha Stele’s reference to the ‘House of David’, but allow us to draw new conclusions about various historical and biblical events described in the text, Lemaire and Delorme in Biblical Archeology Review.

Not surprisingly, the discovery has divided the archaeological community and antiquities scholars, with some supporting the interpretation, others against it, and still others still unsure.

“Due to the broken nature of that part of the stele, we had to read it carefully,” said Dr. Joe Uziel, Head of the Dead Sea Scrolls Division of the Israel Antiquities Authority. “It’s possible, but I’m not sure,” he added.

An earlier study published jointly by Tel Aviv University and the Collège de France found that the term Lamel and Delorme interpreted as “House of David” referred to King Balek, a character from the Book of Numbers. Ruler of Moab.

Professor Israel Finkelstein, co-author of the 2019 study, stands by his previous conclusions.

“I can’t really detect what the author of the BAR article saw in line 31 of the Mesha inscription,” he said.

While the academic debate continues, Uzier says new techniques he himself used on the Dead Sea Scrolls are helping scholars decipher ancient texts like never before.

“Suddenly we can see a lot more,” he said.

As imaging techniques and techniques continue to improve, Uzier hopes that this and other ancient texts will come to life.

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