The latest Journal of Near Eastern Studies is now available. The paper that most aroused my abnormal interests was Jonathan Kaplan’s “The Mesha Inscription and Iron Age II Water Systems.”
A little background: in 1969, Yadin suggested a correlation between the public waterworks at Gibeon, Hazor, Gezer, and Megiddo and a few words and lines in the Mesha Inscription. Then, in 2001, King and Stager suggested that Moabite ʾšwḥ in this inscription correlated with the water systems, the reservoirs, at Tell Arad, Beth-Shemesh, Tel Sheva, and Kadesh Barnea in the south. There were several other developments along the way but that’s enough background for now.
Here’s Kaplan’s, 24, summary of his position,
I argue that King and Stager’s correlation of ʾšwḥ with the southern group of water systems is highly probable and that the northern group of water systems may be correlated with the term hmkrtt in line 25 of the Mesha Inscription.
The northern group of water systems (Yadin’s group) are basically gigantic public wells cut through bedrock to below the water table or to an aquifer or underground spring. The systems of the southern group are reservoirs sometimes cut into rock or ground and sometimes build with retaining walls but always fed by runoff.
Here are the lines from the Mesha Inscription that are relevant to the discussion. My translation draws on Jackson, 97-98, as modulated by Kaplan’s paper.
From line 9, “So I [re]built Baal Meon, and I made the reservoir(?) (ʾšwḥ) in it.”
Lines 23 – 26:
I built a royal palace; and I made the banks (retaining wall?) for the reservo[ir (ʾšwḥ) for wat]er in the midst of the city. But there was no cistern (br) in the midst of the city, in Qarḥoh, so I said to all the people, “Make [for] yourselves each man a cistern in his house.” And I dug the shaft(?) (hmkrtt) for Qarḥoh with prisoners of Israel.
Kaplan supports his conclusion, in part, on the use of ʾšwḥ in the Copper Scroll from Qumran (3Q15) and the use of a similar word (wʾšḥt) on the Ammonite Tell Siran bottle inscription and in part on the use of hmkrt in the new Moabite inscription recently published by Aḥituv. He also develops the arguments for the meaning of ʾšwḥ proposed by King and Stager.
While I find Kaplan’s thesis interesting, what I find abnormally interesting in his work as well as that of Yadin and King and Stager is the unabashed interaction between archaeological evidence and text. To be sure, the archaeological evidence seems to inform their understanding of text more than the other way around but there is an important interplay between the two. Given a few hundred years plus of minus, the text of Mesha text and the archeological evidence are roughly contemporaneous. At least this is true if we consider the time in which the various installations were still in use and not only the time when the older of them may have been made. But, even if similar installations were still build and used in Hellenistic times, I don’t think one can say that the Mesha text and the text of the Copper Scroll are contemporaneous in the same way. There are conservative factors in language and culture that methodologically allow correlations between text and archeology even over time. I think the proper stance toward such correlations is modesty with regard to claims rather than undue skepticism.
Jackson, Kent P. “The Language of the Mesha’ Inscription” in Studies in the Mesha Inscription and Moab (Andrew Dearman ed, Archaeology and Biblical Studies, 2; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1998), 96-130.
Jonathan Kaplan, “The Mesha Inscription and Iron Age II Water Systems,” JNES 69:1, 2010, 23-29
King, Philip J. and Lawrence E. Stager, Life in Biblical Israel, Library of Ancient Israel, (Douglas A. Knight ed .; Louisville: John Knox Press:, 2001), 127–28, 212.
Yadin, Yigael , “Excavations at Hazor, 1968–1969: Preliminary Communiqué,” IEJ 19 (1969)