Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Mesha (no, not the Litvak way of saying Moses) Stele

(click for a larger, readable image)

In 1868 a large inscribed stone was found by a German named F.A. Klein in Dhiban in the Judean desert. It came to be known (then) as the Moabite Stone and is now called the Mesha Stele.The stele was soon broken by overeager Bedouin who broke it into pieces, either for luck or because they thought they could get more money for more pieces. Fortunately a papier-mache squeeze had already been made of it, so we still have (a copy of) it. This inscription is important because it is one of only a few examples of ancient Hebrew (called, in this case, Moabite largely for political reasons--the dialect is almost identical to the Hebrew of the Torah). It also provides a Moabite point of view. Mesha was the 9th century BCE king of Moav mentioned in 2 Melachim 3.

Lately I've been trying to polish up my ketav ivri reading and writing skills, so I was recently reading (okay, transcribing, really) the Mesha Stele (without having read a full translation of its contents). Coming across the first instance of the world Yisrael was awesome (5th line, looks like this: ). Seeing the name of Hashem (yes, "the name of the name, I know) on line 18--wow! I don't know if I'd describe the feeling as a religious experience per se, but it made me swell with satisfaction. I can't even put into words how moving it was to read that word (and Yisrael, mentioned six times) in ketav ivri from the days of the Nevi'im, even if it was "one of theirs" and not one of ours.

To read a translation and transcription of the letters into Hebrew check out Wikipedia.

Worth noting is the almost complete absence of plene spelling (ma'aleh) in the stele, evident from the very first word, אנכ , which is spelled without the י that would make it a proper Biblical Hebrew אנכי . In fact, one of the distinguishing features of ancient Hebrew is that it employed letters like ה, ו and י as vowels to indicate proper pronunciation, a feature that was a revolution in alphabetic writing. This is almost totaly absent in the Mesha Stele.

On the Main Line, now with tags: ,

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