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