Newly deciphered Moabite inscription may be first use of written word ‘Hebrews’

Almost Heaven

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The earliest written use of the word “Hebrews” may have been found upon an inscribed Moabite altar discovered during ongoing excavations at the biblical site of Atarot (Khirbat Ataruz) in Jordan. The two newly deciphered late 9th century or very early 8th century BCE Moabite inscriptions incised into the cylindrical stone altar serve as tangible historical anchors for a battle of epic proportions.
According to researcher Adam Bean’s Levant article on the find, “An inscribed altar from the Khirbat Ataruz Moabite sanctuary,” the inscriptions offer new insight into the bloody aftermath of the conquest of Atarot that is described in the famed Mesha Stele and in the Bible. In 2 Kings 3:4-5, after the death of King Ahab of Israel (reigned ca. 869-850 BCE), King Mesha of Moab rebelled against Israelite hegemony but was defeated.
The two accounts, however, give opposing victors. In the Mesha Stele narrative, the vengeful Moabite king razes the city and annihilates its inhabitants, only to later repopulate it with other peoples.

Writes Bean, these two new inscriptions — the earliest extant evidence for a distinctive Moabite script — could be Moabite records of tallied booty and a description of the conquered peoples. If his reading is accurate, those peoples could potentially include the Hebrews.
Taken alongside the Mesha Stele, the two new inscriptions provide strong counter evidence against the biblical narrative.

“The inscriptions on this ‘pedestal’ come from the site mentioned by King Mesha in his Mesha Stele as a site that he himself (i.e., Mesha) took from the Omrides and then rebuilt!” explained leading epigrapher Prof. Christopher Rollston in an email to The Times of Israel. “Fascinatingly also, the inscriptions are not only written in the Moabite language, they are also written in the Early Moabite script.”
Rollston said the Ataruz inscription complements the Mesha Stele account “and even provides evidence for the veracity of Mesha’s statements.” Taking into account the Moabite language etched onto the altar, “Clearly the Moabites are in charge here at Ataruz,” said Rollston.
Inscribed with seven lines of text in two separate inscriptions, the 50 cm tall and 18.5 cm in diameter cylindrical altar is thought to have been used for burning incense. It was discovered inside a modest square building which Khirbat Ataruz excavation director Chang-ho Ji describes as a simple sanctuary, or perhaps a Moabite shrine to the historic battle, in his recent Levant article, “A Moabite sanctuary at Khirbat Ataruz, Jordan: stratigraphy, findings, and archaeological implications.”
The sanctuary, a single 4.8 m x 4.9 m room, was erected at the high point of the town, writes Ji, and was equipped with a platform, an altar, offering tables and a fireplace. The small inscribed altar was found in situ in a layer that Ji, as well as other leading archaeologists, have dated to 9th–8th centuries BCE based on stratification, carbon dating and pottery typology.
In terms of both content and language, the new inscriptions represent a missing link between the Mesha Stele and later Moabite texts such as the Khirbet Mudineyah Incense Altar.