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Was Shoshenq I Late for His Own War?

When a city is burned and there are short-lived grains involved, the age of the grains as determined by radiocarbon dating serves to date the entire destruction level. Thus, the recent work on 14C dating of grains found in city IV of Tel Rehov provides a check against the chronology of both Egypt and Israel. The destruction of Rehov city IV is associated with a military campaign of Pharaoh Shoshenq I, the founder of Egypt’s 22nd dynasty. Shoshenq I has long been associated with the biblical character “Shishak” (or Shishaq) who invaded Judah in the fifth year of King Rehoboam (1 Kgs 14:25-28).

According to almost all biblical scholars, the fifth year of Rehoboam works out to ca. 927 BC. The destruction layer at Rehov, however, is carbon dated to between 914 and 823 BC, with the highest relative probability placing the event ca. 874-867 (871 being the precise middle of the range). If this is an accurate dating, the chronology of both Egypt and Israel/Judah needs to be down-shifted about sixty years!

Another option, however, is that the conventional chronology of Israel and Judah may still stand at this point (Thiele is hard to refute, although there may be some room for minor tweaks here and there), but that the biblical “Shishak” has been mis-identified. It should be noted that the Shishak-Shoshenq identification was the product of Victorian Christians working at the dawn of modern Egyptology and eager to “prove” the Bible through discovering its connections with the newly available resources of ancient Egypt. This was not a time of dispassionate, value-neutral scholarship! Finding evidence of a Pharaoh named Hedjkheperre Shoshenq I, whose monuments indicate a campaign into Canaan in his twentieth year, it was perhaps natural for these early Egyptologists to comb the pages of their Bibles to find something similar. First Kings 14 was the obvious answer, and the verbal similariy between Shoshenq and Shishak was too good to pass up.

Thus, on the basis of the biblical text, a date was determined for the 20th year of Shoshenq I: 927 BC. But is it absolutely certain that Shoshenq was in fact “Shishak”? Actually, to my mind this is not certain at all. There are, in fact, some discrepancies between the careers of the two Pharaohs. Most significantly, the list of place-names in Shoshenq’s victory monument indicates that his army mainly traversed the central hill country down to the Jordan valley, then up to the eastern entrance of the Jezreel valley and westwards along its floor before crossing the Mount Carmel ridge and heading home along the coastal plain. As Rohl explains,

The whole situation is topsy-turvy: whilst Shishak attacks Judah and enters Jerusalem to plunder the Temple of Yahweh, Shoshenk attacks Israel and does not mention Jerusalem as one of the defeated cities in his campaign record; Shishak is allied to Israel and subjugates Judah whilst Shoshenk subjugates Israel and avoids confrontation with Judah. So can we honestly continue to contend that the Palestine campaign of Shoshenk I is identical with that of Shishak as mentioned in Kings and Chronicles? (Pharaohs and Kings [Crown, 1995] 127)

Rohl argues a better case can be made for Ramesses II as the biblical Shishak. Based on calculations independent of attempts at biblical synchronism, Rohl had estimated that Ramesses II reigned in the late tenth and early ninth centuries—an astounding 300 years later than in conventional chronology, and even more if the Tel Rehov 14C date is accepted! Egyptologists accept that Ramesses did in fact campaign in Palestine and even plundered Jerusalem in the eighth year of his reign. Perhaps this campaign is to be equated with the Egyptian invasion in Rehoboam’s year 5. Perhaps there is a new identification for Shishak that, while still unorthodox, does not require quite such a radical chronological revision.

First, however, we need to ponder the name “Shishak.” The verbal similarity with Shoshenq would seem to count against the identification of Shishak with Ramesses, but not necessarily. Ss, Ssw, Ssy, or Sysw, pronounced “Sesa” (or something similar), can be demonstrated to be a common abbreviated form of the name Ramesses. This is one of Rohl’s arguments in favor of Ramesses II. There are, in addition, numerous examples of the Semitic scripts of Western Asia substituting Egyptian “s” with “sh” and vice versa. (Ibid., 157).

Presented with a name that might have been written “Shisha” in Hebrew characters, a biblical writer or redactor may have made a play on the name by adding a letter qof at the end, creating a pun on the Hebrew word “assaulter” or “the one who crushes” (Ibid., 163).

So perhaps the biblical “Shishak” was in fact a Pharaoh named Ramesses, of which there were a total of eleven during the New Kingdom era. If Rohl’s identification with Ramesses II is too extreme, might any of the others fit? Jeremy Goldberg agrees that Shoshenq I makes a terrible fit with the biblical “Shishak,” but he proposes that it was in fact Ramesses IX (who reigned 934-915 in his chronology) who invaded Judah in Rehoboam’s fifth year. In “Centuries of Darkness and Egyptian Chronology: Another Look,” he explains,

This is unsubstantiated, but then again, no at all appropriate Egyptian record of Shishak’s campaign appears to exist. A Ramesses IX identification would at least help explain this lack by the late Dyn. 20 breakdown of royal authority and increased dependence on foreign troops. Perhaps very significantly, this choice agrees excellently with surprising evidence from Beth-Shan, where Egyptian royal stelae were restored to a position of honor for a significant period beginning during late Dyn. 20. Since there is no evidence for on-going Egyptian military domination of this region then, such continuing respect for Egypt should reflect a pro-Egyptian tendency by its ruler, in very good agreement (contrast the accepted chronology) with expectations concerning Jeroboam. This evident late Dyn. 20 restoration of the Egyptian position in Palestine is best associated with Ramesses IX, since he is the only late Dyn.20 king for whom remains of any monument have been found in Palestine.

With Ramesses IX identified with the biblical “Shishak” and slipped into place ca. 927 BC, Shoshenq I is allowed to be down-dated as well. In fact, Goldberg assigns his campaign a date of around 850 BC‚Äîonly 17 years below the highest relative probability dating for the Tel Rehov destruction! This places Shoshenq’s foray into Canaan in a historical context that, unlike the era of Rehoboam and Jeroboam, makes some degree of biblical sense:

Shoshenq I’s campaign would then be dated to c. 850, and would have respected to some degree the independence of a still powerful Judah, while treating Israel (in the wake of 2 Kg 3:27) as a weak vassal. The main focus would likely have been a demonstration (at least) against Damascus (cf. the alignment implied by 2 Kg 7:6). In view of the great wealth of Israel and Judah a few years earlier (1 Kg 22:39, 2 Chr 17:5,11f.), their treasuries would probably have contributed significantly to Shoshenq I’s great profit from this campaign.

There may yet be found a compelling reason for maintaining the Shoshenq-Shishak connection, although to me the Egyptian and Hebrew documents seem to describe two very different military campaigns. Should that connection stand, biblical scholars will have to decide how to trim a couple of generations off the biblical chronology in order to bring the fifth year of Rehoboam down to something close to 871 BC. Otherwise, we will be left with the embarrassing situation of Shoshenq I showing up 56 years late for his own war.



  1. Duane says:

    Hmmm. Interesting post. Thanks. You may well be correct; I need to give this a lot more thought.


  2. Darrell,

    Your views about Shishak is new to me. I will have to do more research in light of your post.

    If you take the Albright’s chronology for the divided monarchy, then the chronology makes some sense. According to the Albright’s chronology, Rehoboam’s first year as king was 922 so, his 5th year would be 917, which would fit with your 914 date. What do you think?

    Claude Mariottini


  3. bruce says:

    While at Seminary, I got to go to work on a dig at Tel Gezer, one of Solomon’s four fortified cities. We worked to date an older wall below the typical solomonic casemate wall. The myth I remember of the time was we were dating Shishak’s destruction of the city, and, something about it being a gift to somebody. We had a great time kibbutzing and drinking LaTroun monastery wine. Thanks for reminding me of a great time.


  4. D. P. says:

    Thanks Duane, Claude, and Bruce.

    Claude: There seem to be at least two issues involved here: (1) the reliability of the Rehov 14C dating, and (2) the Shoshenq-Shishak identification. If there is some reason to suspect the Rehov sample was contaminated by somewhat younger materials, a later date for the destruction can be justified regardless of whether one prefers Albright or Thiele’s chronology. If Shishak has been somehow misidentified, the whole chronology is subject to some degree of adjustment.

    I note that the Goldberg article I linked to now seems inaccessible. I’ll double-check the link, but here is an important section with respect to Shoshenq-Shishak (footnotes in original):

    The first chronological element discussed by Kitchen involves the identity of the Egyptian king, Shishak (1 Kg 14:25, etc.), who conquered Judah in the 5th year of Solomon’s successor, Rehoboam (c.925 BC). A rejection of the usual candidate, Shoshenq I (founder of the 22nd Dynasty), would probably trigger a major chronological shift because no nearly contemporary Egyptian ruler provides an at all attractive alternative.

    While Kitchen’s conclusion in favor of Shoshenq I is remarkably extreme: “We either accept straight and strict philological facts, or give up all equations entirely; and that is the end of the matter.” (CAJ 1,239), this king’s philological attractiveness is certainly undeniable. However, Kitchen’s characterization of the historical problems facing a Shoshenq I / Shishak identification as “frivolous and exaggerated” (ibid) is not at all accurate. Concerning, e.g., the evident omission of Jerusalem from Shoshenq’s city-list, Kitchen argues that this list “is not complete, nor was Jerusalem stormed; hence, it may be lost in a lacuna, but never need have been mentioned at all”. However, Kitchen’s own Third Intermediate Period in Egypt (TIPE) states flatly (p.298) that Jerusalem “does not appear” in this list. And Shishak’s alleged failure to take Jerusalem is not very helpful, since such lists routinely included sites under much less onerous Egyptian domination (if any) than was Jerusalem at this time. An equally serious problem arises from the virtually total restriction of Shoshenq I’s campaign to Israel, Transjordan and Edom, rather than Judah (contrast 2 Chr 12:4: ‘he took the fenced cities which pertained to Judah’).

    Other problems, arising from the description of Shishak’s army as ‘Lubim, Sukiim and Ethiopians’ (2 Chr 12:3), may help point the way to an alternative chronology. This description can be compared with the situation in year 15 of Asa (c.896) when ‘Zerah the Ethiopian’ (2 Chr 14:8 [Eng. 9]) is said to have invaded Judah with an army of ‘Ethiopians and Lubim’ (2 Chr 16:8). As many scholars (e.g. Kitchen) have argued, the presence of Libyans (‘Lubim’) as a major component in Zerah’s army (cf. Shishak’s army ca.30 years earlier) suggests strongly that it came from Egypt. I.e. ‘Ethiopians’ appear to have been of great military importance in late 10th / early 9th c. Egypt. As a result, it appears difficult to interpret these ‘Ethiopians’ (literally ‘Kushites’) as anyone except Nubians. But while Nubian troops were very important under Dyn.19-20 and especially late Dyn.19-Dyn.20, there appears to be no evidence for Nubian troops in Egypt (or for any Egypto-Nubian relations at all) during Dyn.21 or the 1st half of Dyn.22 (usually dated to c.1075-825). ‘Sukiim’ provides the same chronological pointer, as its accepted Egyptian equivalent, ‘Tjukten’, is only attested under late Dyn.19-Dyn.20 (TIPE 295 n.291; CAJ 2,127).


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