Moabite language

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RegionFormerly spoken in northwestern Jordan
Eraearly half of 1st millennium BCE[1]
Phoenician alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-3obm
Glottolog(insufficiently attested or not a distinct language)

Moabite is an extinct Canaanite language, the Canaanite languages being a branch of Northwest Semitic languages, formerly spoken in Moab (modern day central-western Jordan) in the early 1st millennium BC. An altar inscription written in Moabite and dated to 800 BC was revealed in an excavation in Motza.[3] It was written using a variant of the Phoenician alphabet.[4]

Most knowledge about Moabite comes from the Mesha Stele,[4] which is the only known extensive text in the language. In addition, there is the three-line El-Kerak Inscription and a few seals. The main features distinguishing Moabite from fellow Canaanite languages such as Hebrew and Phoenician are: a plural in -în rather than -îm (e.g. mlkn "kings" for Biblical Hebrew məlākîm), like Aramaic (also Northwest Semitic) and Arabic (Central Semitic); retention of the feminine ending -at or "-ah", which Biblical Hebrew reduces to -āh only (e.g. qiryat or qiryah, "town", Biblical Hebrew qiryāh) but retains in the construct state nominal form (e.g. qiryát yisrael "town of Israel"); and retention of a verb form with infixed -t-, also found in Arabic and Akkadian (w-’ltḥm "I began to fight", from the root lḥm).

According to Glottolog, referencing Huehnergard & Rubin (2011),[5] Moabite was not a distinct language from Hebrew.[2] Moabite differed only dialectally from Hebrew, and Moabite religion and culture was related to that of the Israelites.[6] On the other hand, although Moabite itself had begun to diverge, the script used in the 9th century BC did not differ from the script used in Hebrew inscriptions at that time.[7]

While knowledge of Moabite is limited primarily to the Mesha Stele and a few seals, it is clear that Moabite, together with Ammonite and Edomite, belonged to the dialect continuum of the Canaanite group of northwest Semitic languages, together with Hebrew and Phoenician.[8]


Moabite appears to use a variant of the Phoenician alphabet, much like Paleo-Hebrew. Most of the letters don't seem to have changed in appearance in Moabite context, however a few have noticeable differences.

Phoenician Moabite English name
Phoenician aleph.svg Moabite aleph.svg Aleph
Phoenician beth.svg Moabite beth.svg Bet
Phoenician gimel.svg Moabite gimel.svg Gimel
Phoenician daleth.svg Moabite dalet.svg Daleth
Phoenician he.svg Moabite he.svg He
Phoenician waw.svg Moabite waw.svg Vav
Phoenician zayin.svg Moabite zayin.svg Zayin
Phoenician heth.svg Moabite khet.svg Heth
Phoenician teth.svg Moabite tet.svg Teth
Phoenician lamedh.svg Moabite lamed.svg Lamedh
Phoenician samekh.svg Moabite samek.svg Samekh
Phoenician sade.svg Moabite sade.svg Tsade
Phoenician qoph.svg Moabite quf.svg Qoph


  1. ^ Moabite at MultiTree on the Linguist List
  2. ^ a b Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Moabite". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ Owen Jarus (2019-08-22). "Biblical War Revealed on 2,800-Year-Old Stone Altar: The altar reveals new details about a rebellion against the Kingdom of Israel". Retrieved 2019-08-24.
  4. ^ a b Bromiley, Geoffrey W. (2007). Moab. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 395. ISBN 9780802837851.
  5. ^ John Huehnergard and Aaron D. Rubin, 'Phyla and Waves: Models of Classification of the Semitic Languages' in Stefan Weninger (ed.), The Semitic Languages: An International Handbook, Berlin, De Gruyter Mouton, 2011 ISBN 978-3-11-025158-6 pp. 259-278.
  6. ^ "Moabite | people". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2018-04-13.
  7. ^ "isbn:0805446796 - Sök på Google". (in Swedish). Retrieved 2018-04-13.
  8. ^ Simon B.Parker, 'Moabite, Ammonite and Edomite' in John Kaltner, Steven L. McKenzie (eds.), Beyond Babel: A Handbook for Biblical Hebrew and Related Languages, SBL Press, 2019 ISBN 978-0-884-14384-0 pp.43-59 p.46ff.