Did Pharaoh Sheshonq Attack Jerusalem?

The Bubastite Portal's record of the Egyptian Pharaoh's campaigns does not mention the invasion described in 1 Kings

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published in July 2012. It was updated in July 2014.—Ed.


The Bubastite Portal includes a large weathered relief in which the pharaoh lists more than 150 towns and peoples he conquered during his military campaign into Israel and Judah in c. 925 B.C.E. © Regents of the University of California/Courtesy the Digital Karnak Project

“In the fifth year of King Rehoboam, King Shishak of Egypt marched against Jerusalem.”
(1 Kings 14:25)

Shishak, actually Pharaoh Sheshonq I, left his own account of this northern campaign carved into the walls of the Temple of Karnak in Egypt, but he does not mention Jerusalem among the places he conquered. Israeli scholar Yigal Levin’s article “Did Pharaoh Sheshonq Attack Jerusalem” in the July/August 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review examines the historical veracity of both the Egyptian Pharaoh’s account and the Bible’s.

Levin points out that if the Egyptian Pharaoh’s records on the Bubastite Portal match those from 1 Kings, “this would be the earliest event in Biblical history for which we have a contemporaneous reference in an extrabiblical source.” Moreover, Egyptian records of Sheshonq’s rule between 945 and 925 B.C.E. could be used to date the reigns of Rehoboam’s father, Solomon, and his grandfather, David.

Sheshonq was no modest conqueror (Egyptian pharaohs rarely were) and built a great colonnaded forecourt to the temple of Amun in Karnak, including the famous Bubastite Portal. On the Bubastite Portal, Sheshonq is supported by Amun and other gods as he smites his enemies in Asia, who are bound in the depiction below him. Each prisoner features a name-ring with a toponym, identifying a place that Sheshonq conquered or destroyed.

In the FREE eBook Ancient Israel in Egypt and the Exodus, top scholars discuss the historical Israelites in Egypt and archaeological evidence for and against the historicity of the Exodus.


© Erich Lessing CAPTIVE CLUES. More than 150 hieroglyphic name-rings, each represented as a bound and tethered Asiatic captive, give the names of the towns conquered by Sheshonq during his northern campaign. While some of the names clearly refer to towns known from the Bible, such as Arad, Beth-Shean and Megiddo, the identification of others is uncertain, while many names are now unreadable. Noticeably absent from the relief is the name for Jerusalem. Shown here are name-rings from the sixth and seventh rows, in the lower register of the relief, names that are usually associated with toponyms in Israel’s southern Negev desert.

Jerusalem is the only city that Shishak destroys in Kings, but it is not among the surviving toponyms on the Bubastite Portal, which does mention campaigns in Judah, including a mention of fighting in Megiddo. Rehoboam and Jeroboam are also conspicuously absent.

Why was Jerusalem not mentioned on the Bubastite Portal, and why does the passage in Kings mention Jerusalem but not Sheshonq’s other campaigns in Judah? Some scholars believe that Jerusalem’s toponym was erased by time. Others believe that Rehoboam’s tribute to Sheshonq saved the city from destruction and therefore from the Bubastite Portal’s lists. Still others suggest that Sheshonq claimed conquest that he did not enact (Egyptian Pharaohs made false claims about their conquests frequently) and copied the list of conquered territories from an old Pharaoh’s conquest list. Finally, as Kings is a religious text, it focuses on Jerusalem without including full details on the military, history and politics of the surrounding region, though Chronicles tells a fuller account of the Egyptian invasion.

Yigal Levin and most modern scholars believe the Bubastite Portal recounts legitimate and historical campaigns conducted by the Egyptian Pharaoh Sheshonq. He says that “Sheshonq’s campaign in Israel and Judah brought an end to the many architectural, military and political achievements of the United Monarchy of David and
and ushered in a new age—that of the nation divided.”


Read the full article “Did Pharaoh Sheshonq Attack Jerusalem” by Yigal Levin in the July/August 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review to find out what Levin learns about the chronology and itinerary of Sheshonq’s campaign.

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Related content in Bible History Daily:

When Egyptian Pharaohs Ruled Bronze Age Jerusalem

The Expulsion of the Hyksos

Largest Known Ancient Egyptian Fortress Excavated at Tell el-Habua


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  1. Dan says

    I propose that Shoshenq I’s invasion of Canaan in 925 BCE was against Ben-Hadad of Damascus, who was attacking Baasha of Israel in the north to relieve pressure on Asa of Judah after Judah was attacked by Zerah the Ethopian (general). A close look at the evidence from the Bible and from Karnak indicates that the events of 926/925 BCE probably took place in four stages, as follows:

    Stage 1Œ: Shoshenq’s general Zerah the Ethiopian launched his invasion of Judah by attacking Hebron from the south, overcoming the defenders at that important fortified city. Zerah then attacked the fortified city of Mareshah, or possibly Hebron was not attacked and the fortified city of Mareshah was the point of first attack. In either case, Zerah and his task force were badly defeated by Asa and his Judean army at Mareshah, then were chased south as far as Gerar near Gaza. In the battle, Asa and his Judean forces took much spoil from Zerah and afterwards celebrated their victory in Jerusalem with a feast of thanksgiving, taking an oath to be loyal to God (2 Chronicles 14:9-15).

    Stage 2: Baasha, king of the northern kingdom of Israel and ally of Egypt, had previously negotiated a non-aggression pact with Benhadad I of Damascus. He was thus free to move against Judah, and did so by fortifying the border town of Ramah to cut off access to Jerusalem from the north, possibly doing so simultaneously as Zerah was attacking Judah from the south.

    Stage 3Ž: Asa, fearing invasion by Baasha, sent gold and other treasures to Damascus, asking Benhadad to renounce his non-aggression pact with Baasha and attack Israel on its northern border with Syria. Benhadad agreed and sent troops south to fight Baasha, in that way relieving the military threat to Judah as Baasha withdrew his troops from Ramah to defend his northernmost territories.

    Stage 4: Baasha, now under attack from Damascus in the north, sent to Egypt for help from Shoshenq I, who was still aggrieved at the earlier defeat of his army under Zerah (as indicated from Karnak: “Now, My [Maj]esty found that … [they] were killing … [my soldiers?, and] my army leaders. His majesty was troubled about them”). Not wanting to have Syria overrun the northern kingdom and control all of Canaan, Shoshenq mustered his army and moved to confront Benhadad in northern Israel, skirting the cities of Judah (except Ajalon) before moving northward into Israel to begin his main campaign to protect the northern kingdom. Shoshenq proceeded to neutralize the threat to Israel by Benhadad, then returned to Egypt.

    Admittedly, the explanation of the campaign into the land of Canaan by Shoshenq I during the time of Asa as proposed above is speculative, but so are all of the traditional explanations that equate that campaign with the time of Shishak and Rehoboam. The advantage of the Shoshenq-Asa scenario, which assumes an invasion by Shoshenq I to defend his ally Baasha of Israel against Benhadad I of Syria after an unsuccessful attack on Judah had been made by his general Zerah the Ethiopian, is that it better fits the details on the Karnak inscription and those in the Bible. Also, the chronology it employs is in agreement with the new chronology of the Hebrew kings, whereas the chronology that results by hypothesizing that Shoshenq I was the Shishak of the Bible who moved against Jerusalem in the fifth year of Rehoboam does not match the facts. Based on the new kingdoms chronology in this book, Shishak was the pharaoh Siamun (r. 978-959).

    All of this is explained on my website at http://www.prophecysociety.org/wordpress/?p=338 in more detail than is possible here.

  2. Gertoux says

    Absolute chronology (from synchronisms dated by astronomy) is necessary for dating the campaign of Shoshenq I in Palestine (972 BCE)

  3. David says

    David Rohl, a ‘fringe” archaeologist, presents evidence that the Shishak of the Bible is actually Ramsess II. This is based on the new chronology for Egypt he presents in Pharaohs and Kings and elsewhere. It is an excellent read and should not be dismissed.

  4. Dan says

    About the name Shishak: It makes sense that the Egyptian name Sheshonq is the same as the biblical name Shishak. It is quite possible that Sheshonq (who became a pharaoh in 945 BCE) was the commander of pharaoh Siamun’s army who led the Egyptian forces against Jerusalem in 961 BCE, which was the fifth year of Rehoboam described in the Bible according to the Bible-based chronology in my book Sacred Chronology of the Hebrew KIngs. That would mean that Sheshonq I led an invasion into Canaan on two separate occasions, the first time against Judah and Jerusalem in 961 BCE and the second time in 925 BCE against Ben-Hadad of Damascus who was attacking Shoshenq’s ally Baasha of Israel at the request of Asa of Judah. So, even though Sheshonq was not pharaoh (during the reign of Siamun) when he came against Rehoboam, he was pharaoh by the time the scribes recorded that event. The name Shishak thus becomes an anachronism.

  5. Dan says

    That last line in the comment above should read, “The description of Shishak as ‘king of Egypt’ is an anachronism.”

  6. Ric says

    Do any of you know the origin of Sheshonq= Shishak? I bet not or you wouldn’t be promoting it any longer. I just don’t believe that 17th century mostly English Protestant scholars, based upon far older European scholars, were so gifted by God. That without archaeological based knowledge they knew Biblical times well enough to insist that their chronology supersedes modern archaeology. I would also like to point out that scholarship in the 17th century couldn’t read Egyptian.

    The first dating of scripture begins with Josephus, identification of the Shepard Kings as his people the Jews. It was disproved, much later. The next great name in Biblical chronology is Sir John Marsham, 1st Baronet 1602-1682. He is the man that disproved Josephus’ work, and identified Sheshonq I as Shishak. How did he do this? By adding and subtracting cool really scientific, yes!

    The next great name in Bible Chronology is Rev. Edward Hincks he determined that King Jehu was on the Black Obelisk. Supposedly by translating the original Assyrian, however take a minute to add and subtract Biblical numbers. King Jehu, to Sheshonq, and then Sheshonq, back to Moses you get the 18th dynasty. All you really need is to add and subtract no knowledge, no Assyrian, no archaeology, and no realistic within historical events is needed.

    It is a shame that the dependence of such an archaic creation, maintains a strangle hold over Middle Eastern history. For there is no need; the real history of scripture when placed in the correct time, magnifies the Lord, in all manners and fashions befitting reality.

  7. JOHN says

    I don’t care what any of you say the bible has been proven too many times to be right on the money.Not one spade of dirt has ever been turned over to disprove one thing in the Bible.

  8. kiko says

    was Jerusalem already “that established” at the time of Sheshonq? Or maybe the text in Kings was a much later written text that eventually mentioned Jerusalem. Wasn’t Shshonq around more prior to the united Kingdom….say at the time of King Saul who was based more on the north of Jerusalem? Just wondering

  9. patricia says

    Time will tell .Every word of scripture is true.

  10. Eve says

    When Champion attributed the Bubasite portal to the biblical Shishak, only Sheshonq I was known, but there are a dozen pharaohs named Sheshonq. The one who took the spoils of Jerusalem’s Temple would have been buried with great wealth like Heqakheperre Sheshonq IIa (gold mask and silver coffin), the son of Sheshonq I. I propose the alterations to the Bubasite wall were done at the command of his son so that he could share his great victory with his father.

  11. Hans says

    From the article above: Jerusalem is the only city that Shishak destroys in Kings,…
    Ummm – where in 1 Kings 14 or Chronicles does it state or even imply that Jerusalem was destroyed? In fact if this happened: 2 Chronicles 12:9 (NASB) So Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem, and took the treasures of the house of the LORD and the treasures of the king’s palace. He took everything; he even took the golden shields which Solomon had made.
    and then this: 2 Chronicles 12:10 (NASB) 10 Then King Rehoboam made shields of bronze in their place and committed them to the care of the commanders of the guard who guarded the door of the king’s house.
    does it not follow that the buildings housing the Solomonic shields (the Temple and the palace) were still standing in order for the replacement bronze shields to be hung in them? It doesn’t take an imagination or any stretching of the text to conclude that a large tribute had to be paid to the Pharaoh as his new vassals but that Jerusalem itself was spared: 2 Chronicles 12:7-8 (NASB)
    7 When the LORD saw that they humbled themselves, the word of the LORD came to Shemaiah, saying, “They have humbled themselves so I will not destroy them, but I will grant them some measure of deliverance, and My wrath shall not be poured out on Jerusalem by means of Shishak.
    8 “But they will become his slaves so that they may learn the difference between My service and the service of the kingdoms of the countries.”

  12. Chris says

    Pharoah ‘Shishak’ in the Bible.

    Although the Bible tells us that Pharoah ‘Shishak’ plundered Jerusalem and carried away the temple treasures (see 1 Kings 14:25-26), there is no record of a Pharoah called ‘Shishak’ in the numerous clay tablets and stone inscriptions that record the names of the kings of ancient Egypt.

    In the early nineteenth century, great emphasis was placed on identifying the Egyptian Pharoah ‘Shishak’ in order to date the dynasties of Egyptian pharoahs ruling during the reigns of King Rehoboam of Judah and his father, King Solomon of Israel. As the two names sounded similar, ‘Shishak’ was identified by the great Egyptologist Jean François Champollion as Pharaoh Shoshenk I. The traditional system of dating Egyptian pharoahs and events during the United Monarchy and the Divided Monarchy was based largely on this identification.

    However, more recent examination of the campaign city list (adjacent to the Bubastite Portal on the southern outer wall of the Hypostyle Hall at Karnak Temple) which records Pharoah Shoshenk I’s military incursion into Palestine shows that he campaigned largely in northern Israel, and did not plunder Jerusalem.

    The Pharoah who is responsible for plundering ‘Shalem’ (or Salem – the old name for Jerusalem – see Genesis 14:18) is Ramesses II. A stone inscription on the north pylon of the monumental gateway at the Ramesseum, Ramesses’ mortuary temple at Thebes, reads, “The town which the king plundered in Year 8 – Shalem”.

    Although the name ‘Ramesses’ doesn’t sound anything like ‘Shishak’, Ramesses was, in fact, widely known by a nickname – the ‘hypocorism’ or shortened form of his name – ‘SS’ or ‘SySa’, translated into Hebrew as ‘Shysha’ or ‘Shyshak’, meaning ‘the plunderer’, and written in English as ‘Shishak’).

    The correct identification of Pharoah ‘Shishak’ as Ramesses II means that the United Monarchy of Israel (and the subsequent Divided Monarchy) took place during the reign of pharoahs who ruled some 250 years earlier than those identified in the traditional chronology used since Victorian times. The Bible Journey adopts this more rigorous dating system determined in recent years by archaeologist David Rohl (see The Bible Journey’s section on ‘Dating events in the Old Testament’ @ http://thebiblejourney.org/biblejourney2/22-the-world-of-the-old-testament-journeys/dating-events-in-the-old-testament/ ).

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Biblical Archeology Society: July 26, 2012 « The Ginger Jar linked to this post on July 27, 2012

    […] Did Pharaoh Sheshonq Attack Jerusalem? […]

  2. The lost Ark of the Covenant – Found, Lost, Found and Lost again | btho5531 linked to this post on May 14, 2015

    […] are biblical scholars that believe that Shishak was really the Pharaoh Shoshenq I who ruled Egypt from 943-922 B.C. We […]

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