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‚Äîan 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‚Äôs 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.