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

“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.

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. Photo: © Regents of the University of California/Courtesy the Digital Karnak Project.

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.

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. Photo: © Erich Lessing.

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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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.


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

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published in July 2012.


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  • Eve says

    It was Heqakheperre Sheshonq IIa who attacked Jerusalem and usurped his father’s (Sheshonq I’s) victory wall, and was later buried in a silver coffin.

  • Arttai says

    That also gives a great credibility to the minimalists who claim that Jerusalem was a very small settlement at the time and Judea just a little bit more than a chiefdom.

  • Stanley says

    The information for most of the above comes from the Bible, but there is no other evidence. During Iron Age IIA, the time of David and Solomon, Judah appears to have been a backward area, with poor quality pottery. What major urban sites existed in the hill country were mainly on the perifery, Hazor, Megiddo, etc, and there is no evidence that any were inhabited by ‘Hebrews’, in fact the evidence suggests cosmopolitian sites where gods and goddesses were worshipped.

    The triumphal list indicates that the area around Megiddo was the king’s principal target, and perhaps Philistine power.

    The Biblical books are religious in intention and written to demonstrate how human behaviour affects the cosmos, i.e YHWH, and how important control of human behaviour is to ensure societal and political stability, but it is not a history. At best it contains folklore gather from the hill country and surrounding territories and reflects other societies as well as Israel When the Philistines arrived in Palestine they burnt existing settlements, and killed the inhabitants, the stories of David might be from Hibiru folk tales, those of Solomon from stories of the wealth of great kings. All serve something of a moral purpose. Saul might, if he had existed, been the warrior chief of the Benjamite tribe in alliance with the nearby Simeon tribe fighting back against the Philistines-and thereby he lived in folklore. A local phenomenon was reguritated as a national one.

  • Veli says

    I am proposing a different chronology for the kings, that before about 740 BC they were using an equinox year, 6 months long. Thus Rehoboam would be from 837 to 825 BC. That was the time of Shesonq III (837 to 773 BC), but there is no record that Shesonq III attacked Jerusalem nor the Levant.

  • Lia says

    Shoshenq’s military campaign to Israel did not impact David and Solomon’s “united monarchy” directly, to create a divided kingdom; this occurred when Solomon’s son Rehoboam was crowned in Shechem and Jeroboam (Solomon’s servant) returned to Canaan.
    Jeroboam was an ally of Egypt, where he self-exiled with the Egyptian king until Solomon’s death. (Recall, Solomon’s first wife was daughter of Pharaoh; and after one campaign along the coast, gifted his daughter with Gezer. Solomon fortified that city, yet Solomon’s kingdom is described as greater than Pharaoh’s.) Jeroboam instigated the split and ruled “Israel” to the north.
    Rehoboam continued to rule “Judah” and the rest of the south from Jerusalem–even after Pharaoh attacked Jerusalem, five years later (12:13). This attack subjected Rehoboam’s people to vassal-hood, which is far different that totally destroying a city, such as Jericho. (perhaps the reason it is not on the Karnak list?)
    2 Chronicles says Pharaoh took the treasures, and the people became his subjects; and despite being under Egypt’s control, Rehoboam “continued as king of Judah”. This wise political practice of retaining vassal states after a show of force occurred under several Pharaohs of previous Egyptian dynasties; and subsequent kings of Judah continued as kings following Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion.
    Another interesting observation (I believe) are the areas of servant hood listed at Karnak, following his invasion. Taanakh, Beth She’an, and Megiddo for instance are within the Northern Territory (of “Israel”, under Jeroboam)–so, it seems that Shishak wasn’t partial towards his old ally Jeroboam & the areas he attacked.
    An addendum: From the partial list on http://m.touregypt.net/featurestories/sheshonq1.htm I find, Yadth-mlk most interesting–not that it implies Jerusalem–but it seems to suggest the place of a king. Melchi/Melech are Hebrew forms of “king; ruler”. Hmm…M.L.K. Did the parents of Martin Luther King know this?!

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