The man who discovered the Temple Mount Inscription, Charles Clermont-Ganneau, is our link to the story. He was in Jerusalem in 1868, serving as dragoman — translator and interpreter — for the French Consulate, when a startling discovery was reported from Trans-Jordan. A German medical missionary named Frederick Klein had found a large basalt stone with an inscription on it at the site of the ancient city of Dibon (Joshua 13:9). A strange and complicated series of negotiations then followed as Klein, the German consul, and the Bedouin struggled to own it. In the end, the bedouin broke the stone into some 20 pieces and took most of the pieces to their tents as amulets and good-luck charms.
But Clermont-Ganneau had managed to send one of his people to the place with paper and a wet sponge to make a “squeeze” – a paper-maché impression — of the inscription. They managed to escape with the precious copy despite a ferocious attack by the Bedouin. This copy, together with the pieces which Clermont-Ganneau managed to assemble in the months that followed, allowed him to reconstruct the entire inscription. It made him world-famous. The stone, now located in the Louvre in Paris, is a piece of basalt 11.76 cm (44 inches) high and 68.5 cm (27 inches) wide, with a rounded top. It was written in Aramaic, a language very close to Biblical Hebrew, around the year 850 BCE by Mesha, king of Moab. It was carved in celebration of his victory over Jehoram, King of Israel, who had continued the policy of his father Ahab and grandfather Omri in oppressing Moab. It is a direct confirmation of the Biblical account in II Kings 3:4-6. The 34-line inscription contains the oldest datable reference to YHWH, the unpronounceable Name of God, on line 18, and may even have another example of “the House of David” if some eminent scholars are correct in adding the letter /dalet/ – d – to complete a broken word in line 34. The Mesha Stele is indeed an important piece of Biblical archaeology.
Author: Walter Zanger