In Genesis 37, Joseph’s brothers sold him to Ishmaelite traders. “As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt. Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed. So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.”
These traders are described as having coming first from Midian, in the Arabian Peninsula, and then via Gilead, in the Transjordan between the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee. In taking this path, they would have crossed Moab.
In the Bible, Joseph and King David are the two most developed characters, and their stories contain the most complete narrative arcs. Despite his centrality in the Bible, evidence for King David in the archaeological record has been hard to come by. One of the earliest potential mentions of King David may have come from Moab, in modern Jordan.
In 2 Kings 3, Mesha the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel and against Israelite control of Moab. “When the king of Moab saw that the battle had gone against him, he took with him seven hundred swordsmen to break through to the king of Edom, but they failed. Then he took his firstborn son, who was to succeed him as king, and offered him as a sacrifice on the city wall. The fury against Israel was great; they withdrew and returned to their own land.” In the biblical account, Mesha sacrificing his own son was a turning point and the kings of Israel and Judah did not capture Mesha, the king of Moab.
In the 19th century, local Bedouins in Dhiban, biblical Dibon, east of the Dead Sea in Transjordan, produced the longest Iron Age inscription found in the southern Levant. This monument, the Mesha Stele, recorded the triumphs of the Moabite king Mesha, over the Israelite king.
One potential antiquities buyer took a “squeeze” of the monument, an impression of the letters on paper. The stele was later damaged, and the inscription has been reconstructed using a combination of the surviving pieces and readings of the imprint on the squeeze. Despite the reconstruction, some of the letters are still missing, leaving the inscription subject to interpretation.
One scholar has suggested that there is mention of “the house of David.” With this reading, the “house of David is in Horonen” and the Moabite god Kemosh tells the Moabite king Mesha to capture Horonen, which Mesha does.
In 2 Samuel 7:26, King David’s dynasty is referred to as “the house of your servant David.” If the “House of David” is the correct reading, the “House of David” would presumably be referring to rulers from the lineage of King David, giving us a 9th century mention of King David.
The Mesha Stele is shown in the image above. It is on display at the Louvre Museum in Paris, France.