Recent studies examine the biblical pharaoh’s campaign
The campaign of Pharaoh Sheshonq I (r. 945–925 B.C.E), or Shishak as he is known in the Bible, had a profound and long-lasting impact on the Iron Age kingdoms of the southern Levant. Described in the biblical text as well as in the pharaoh’s famous Bubastite Portal relief at Karnak, Shishak’s campaign is also attested archaeologically at numerous sites in Israel and new discoveries continue to be made. Indeed, several recently published articles have provided important new information about the campaign, its potential motivations, and its effects on the region.
As described in 1 Kings 14:25–28, Shishak came against Jerusalem in the fifth year of King Rehoboam and took away the Temple treasures. The Book of Chronicles further mentions that before Shishak’s march on Jerusalem, he had succeeded in subduing the fortified cities of Judah (2 Chronicles 12:1–12). Shishak’s Bubastite Portal inscription in the temple of Amun at Karnak corroborates the biblical account. The relief, which depicts Shishak smiting his enemies, lists roughly 150 locations the pharaoh conquered on his campaign through the southern Levant. While a number of these locations are too badly broken to read, many names are still intact and can be used to create a basic map of Shishak’s campaign.
Among the places listed as having been captured by Shishak are several sites in the central hill country located along the main east-west route leading to Jerusalem. Although not explicitly mentioned in Shishak’s inscription, one of the settlements destroyed by Shishak was likely Tel Moza. As discussed in a 2021 Jerusalem Journal of Archaeology article, the small agricultural settlement of Tel Moza was destroyed in the tenth century as part of Shishak’s campaign. Tel Moza, located only a few miles west of Jerusalem, would have been directly in the path of Shishak as he made his way to Jerusalem. The attack on Moza and Shishak’s path through the rough Judean highlands strongly suggests that Jerusalem must have posed a serious threat to Egyptian interests in the area.
So did Shishak also conquer Jerusalem? Despite both 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles mentioning that Shishak took away the Temple treasures, neither account states that Shishak succeeded in conquering the city. This is particularly interesting as Jerusalem is not one of the cities that Shishak claims to have conquered in his Karnak inscription. As Yigal Lavin suggests in “Did Pharaoh Sheshonq Attack Jerusalem?” (BAR, July/August 2012), it is possible that Jerusalem is not listed precisely because it was not actually conquered by Shishak. Instead, before the city fell, King Rehoboam saved the city by paying tribute to the Egyptian pharaoh. Thus, the treasures reportedly taken by Shishak were not spoils of war but rather a bribe. This likewise explains the words spoken by the prophet Shemaiah in 2 Chronicles 12:8: “Nevertheless they [Jerusalem] shall be his [Shishak’s] servants, so that they may know the difference between serving me and serving the kingdoms of other lands.”
Jerusalem, however, was certainly not the only concern of Shishak’s campaign. His main army continued to march northward to Megiddo, while a second branch moved south of the Dead Sea to invade the Arava Valley controlled by Edom. Other cities destroyed by Shishak include Gezer, Arad, Shechem, and many others.
Although neither the Bible nor Egyptian sources are explicit about the objectives of Shishak’s campaign, many scholars suggest that a driving factor was greater control over the region’s copper trade and gaining access to the copper mines of the Arava Valley. Egypt’s New Kingdom pharaohs controlled most copper production in the region from the 14th through mid-12th centuries B.C.E. However, after the Bronze Age collapse in the 12th century, Egypt was no longer able to access or control the Arava copper mines. According to a recent study in the journal Plos One, the Arava’s local populations not only continued to produce copper but actually exceeded the production of the earlier Egyptian efforts. By the tenth century, this local industry may have even led to the formation of the nomadic Edomite polity.
At the same time, however, Egypt’s demand for copper only continued to increase but, since the pharaohs no longer controlled the region’s copper mines, they were forced to trade with the Edomites for the valuable resource. With the rise of the 22nd Dynasty under Shishak, Egypt was finally able to affect the situation. It is possible that Shishak’s campaign was aimed at creating a monopoly on the Levantine copper mines and pushing out competition for this scarce and important resource. If this is correct, Shishak’s assault on Judah and the surrounding region may have been an attempt to reassert dominance over the Levantine kingdoms and to regain control of the copper trade.
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