God Steps Onto the Archaeological Scene

In Leviticus 9, the priests formally begin their sacrificial service. As the chapter closes, “Then Aaron lifted his hands toward the people and blessed them. And having sacrificed the sin offering, the burnt offering and the fellowship offering, he stepped down. Moses and Aaron then went into the tent of meeting. When they came out, they blessed the people; and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. Fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar. And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell facedown.”

The word Lord is used as a translation for God’s name YHWH.

YHWH is recognized archaeologically as Israel’s God via theophoric names, names that contain God’s personal name. One such example is the name Aviyah on the 10th century BCE Gezer Calendar. But the first known mention of YHWH’s name appears on a non-Israelite monument.

The Mesha Stele is mid-9th BCE monument that was recovered at Dibon, Jordan. On the stele, King Mesha of Moab describes how the Moabite god Chemosh helped him end the rule of the Kingdom of Israel. The stele partially mirrors elements of a biblical story in 2 Kings 3, although in the biblical account King Mesha sacrificed his son and successor and offered him as a sacrifice on the city wall.

In the Mesha Stele, Mesha describes some of the particulars of his battles and his defeat of Israel. “And Chemosh said to me, Go take Nebo against Israel, and I went in the night and I fought against it from the break of day till noon, and I took it: and I killed in all seven thousand men…women and maidens, for I devoted them to Ashtar-Chemosh; and I took from it the vessels of YHWH, and offered them before Chemosh.”

This first mention of YHWH, as Israel’s primary god, demonstrates YHWH being accepted as a significant deity of Israel in the 9th century BCE.

The image above is of a replica of the Mesha Stele.