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In English translations of the Mesha Stele, the opening words are "I am Mesha son of Chemosh-melekh, king of Moab the Dibonite". However, the truth is that the actual text of the Stele (rendered in Hebrew characters) reads:

אנך משע בן כמש** מלך מאב הדיבני.

The stars are apparently unreadable letters, which some scholars have deciphered as ית, rendering the name of Mesha's father Chemoshyat. So where does it come from that his father's name is Chemosh-melek, but that is not what the text of the Stele says. This explanation, it seems takes the word מלך and repeats it twice, the first attached to Chemosh- as in Chemosh-melekh and then again to mean king. I think this is a mistake. Can anyone corroborate my findings or point me to a paper which discusses this issue?

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In the Hebrew square script, the first line of the stele says

אנכ.משע.בנ.כמש[מלכ].מלכ.מאב.הד

The letters "מלכ" (m-l-k) are indeed repeated twice, but none of these two copies is a part of the true name of the father which is just "Chemosh". The line really says "I am Mesha son of King Chemosh, the king of Moab the Dibonite". The word "King" is probably repeated at the beginning to distinguish the king (father) from Chemosh, the Moabite god, after whom the nation sometimes called itself "the people of Chemosh". The king had to be named after the god, not the other way around.

The modified king's (father's) name Cheroshyat boils down to another stele, the El-Kerak Inscription, discovered in Jordan in 1958, which starts almost identically, except for the extra characters in the king's name.

  • Interesting that the Czech Wiki put the word מלכ in the brackets, because as far as I know there is only space for two letters, not three. Could you point me to a real source (not Wiki) which fills the lacuna with מלכ? Also, according to your theory, there should be a dot between כמש and מלכ, but it seems that there isn't. It's also redundant to say Chemosh was a king if in the next line Mesha himself says his father was a king. – Reb Chaim HaQoton May 6 '16 at 7:10
  • Dear Reb, at least the Czech translation is from a 2011 paper in Czech in Studia Theologica, cejsh.icm.edu.pl/cejsh/element/… - I don't have access to the full text of the paper right now but I believe that it should contain the Hebrew version of the text as well. ... No idea about dots. The next line could be too late to fix the possible reader's misconception that it's the Chemosh God who is talked about. – Luboš Motl May 6 '16 at 7:31
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Mesha's father's name was most likely כמשית kmšyt.

The missing letters in Mesha's father's name were supplied only by various conjectures. M. Clermont-Ganneau, in a publication from 1887 ("La stèle de Mésa: examen critique du texte" p. 18), quotes different readings: כמשנדב kmšndb, כמשגד kmšgd, כמשמלכ kmšmlk (a name meaning "Chemosh is king," not "King Chemosh"). However, they were all supported by names from Assyrian and Ammonite documents that quoted those names or similar names, or by pure guesses.

The first epigraphic evidence came from the El-Kerak inscription, discovered in 1958, which starts:

..]yt mlk m'b hd[...

which is very similar to the opening of the Mesha stele:

'nk mš` bn kmš ** mlk m'b hdybny

(shared letters highlighted in bold)

Since they likely shared the same formula as an opening, the newer inscription can be used together with the older stele to supply the end of Mesha's father's name (assuming it too was written by Mesha); putting them together gives his name as kmšyt.

This reading is accepted by Douglas Green, "I Undertook Great Works": The Ideology of Domestic Achievements in West Semitic Royal Inscriptions p. 99 and Shmuel Ahituv, Collected Inscriptions from Israel and Transjordan Kingdoms from First Temple Times p. 362 (Hebrew) p. 362, as well as in K. C. Hanson's website here.

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