New study calls into question the history of Israel

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TEL AVIV – May 5, 2019 – A new investigation into the wake of Mesha suggests that King Balak, the Moabite leader who according to the Bible tried to curse the Israelites, may have been a historical figure. This has implications in the chronology of the history of ancient Israel.

The study published in the Journal of the Institute of Archeology of the University of Tel Aviv and conducted by the archaeologist Israel Finkelstein and the historian Nadav Naaman, both from the University of Tel Aviv, together with the expert in the Bible, Thomas Romer from the University of Lausanne in France, proposes a new reading of one of the darkest sections of the Mesha Stele.

The research is based on new high-resolution images of a photograph of the Stela, taken shortly after its discovery and which, in some cases, has preserved the old letters better than the original inscription.

This is because local residents broke the stone shortly after it was found and, although most of it was assembled again, some parts are still missing. Currently, the stone is in the Louvre Museum, France.

According to previous studies, one of the names engraved on the stone was that of the House of David, royal dynasty that ruled over the Kingdom of Israel.

However, the new analysis refutes this interpretation and proposes that the name located in an unreadable fragment on line 31, is that of King Balak, rival of Mesha (who named the Stele) for the supremacy of Moab. The Moabites were a Semitic people who lived east of the Dead Sea, in present-day Jordan and who clashed several times with the people of Israel.

This study is important because it allows us to understand the territory of Judah and Moab and their expansion processes, added to the history of Jerusalem in the 9th century BC, Finkelstein explained.

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In the Bible, Balak appears much earlier in the history of the Hebrews, apparently centuries before the time of Mesha.

According to the sacred scriptures, forty years after the Exodus, when the Israelites, still led by Moses, emerge from the desert on their way to the Promised Land, they pass through Moab. Scared by the great multitude, King Balak hires a prophet and seer named Balaam to curse the Hebrews.

If the new interpretation of the Mesha Stele is correct, this would mean that Balak really existed. However, it would also show that the biblical episode in which it appears is anachronistic and mythological in nature.

It would be another confirmation that the sacred text was written centuries after the alleged events it narrates and that its authors have a penchant for taking known historical figures and then projecting them at a different time and turning them into stories and parables for their own theory.

According to the researchers, by leaving aside the reading of the House of David, we discard the fact that the kingdom of Judah has conquered that of Moab, which may be significant for the ancient history of Israel.

The black basalt stone known as the wake of Mesha is a monument that was discovered 150 years ago in the desert of Transjordan. It has been an important source of information about the history of ancient Israel and has served to debate the accuracy of the Bible.

In the text, dating from the second half of the ninth century BC. C., the Moabite king Mesha boasts of defeating the Northern Kingdom of Israel and its deity, YHWH. This is the first extra biblical reference to the tetragrammaton, or YHWH, the name with which Yahweh appears in the Old Testament.

The inscription also attests to the historicity of several biblical figures, including Mesha himself (listed in 2 Kings 3: 4), as well as the Israeli king Omri and his son Ahab.

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