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The Shoshenq Redemption

A couple weeks ago I stumbled upon a new dissertation, “Aspects of Ancient Near Eastern Chronology (c. 1600-700 BC)” by Pierce Furlong. Dr. Furlong has recently completed his doctoral work at the University of Melbourne. His dissertation is a bold attempt to address certain anomalies in the conventional understanding of the chronology of the ancient world. His breathtaking solution is to cut 200 years out of the conventional chronology. By compressing the chronology of Egypt’s Third Intermediate Period (TIP) Furlong’s chronology eventually realigns with what is commonly accepted by the time of the Assyrians’ sack of Thebes in 664 BC.

Furlong is not the only scholar calling for a re-evaluation of ancient chronology. I have discussed some of the options in previous posts (see below) and have even added some chronological revisionist notes to my biblical timelines. Although I have some reservations about Furlong’s synthesis–as I do with the others!–I’ll probably add at least some of his proposed synchronisms between ancient chronology and the Old Testament.

Who Was Shoshenq?

In particular, Furlong sees some interesting correspondences in the early part of the divided monarchy period. In his revision, this time period (c. 930-770 BC) corresponds to Egypt’s 20th to 22nd Dynasties. As with most revisionist models, the “true identity” of Shoshenq I, founder of the 22nd Dynasty, is an important launching point.

As I described here, the traditional identification of Hedjkheperre Shoshenq I with the biblical “Shishak” who invaded Judah in the 5th year of Rehoboam (ca. 927 BC) is the product of 19th-century enthusiasm to prove the historical veracity of the Bible by finding correspondences in the newly-deciphered documentary history of ancient Egypt. In fact, the correspondence is not as firm as it is usually presented. In summarizing anomalies in the conventional chronology that seem to require a rethinking of the data, Furlong concludes with Shishak:

Finally, there is the problematic identification of the biblically cited Pharaoh Shishak with the historical figure of Shoshenq I. At present there is a significant discrepancy between, on the one hand, the list of conquered cities/towns referred to in Shoshenq’s great topographical list from Karnak, and which indicates that the Egyptian army bypassed Judah to attack coastal Palestine and Israel, and, on the other hand, the Hebrew Bible’s account of Shishak having captured the fortified towns of Judah before marching on Jerusalem and taking away all the treasures from both the Jerusalem Temple and from the royal palace (1 Kgs 15:25-26; 2 Ch 12:2-5). Again, were the conventional chronology to be significantly in error, then, this anomaly would disappear since the biblical reference to Shishak would then refer to a Pharaoh other than Shoshenq I. (5)

In “Centuries of Darkness and Egyptian Chronology: Another Look” (DE 33), Jeremy Goldberg notes three issues that make the Shishak-Shoshenq equation problematic.

  1. There is the evident omission of Jerusalem from Shoshenq’s city list at Karnak, suggesting it was not conquered during his year 20 campaign.
  2. The Egyptological evidence suggests what Goldberg calls “the virtually total restriction of Shoshenq I’s campaign to Israel, Transjordan and Edom, rather than Judah” (unlike what is reported of Shishak in 2 Chr 12:4, for example).
  3. The composition of Shishak’s army, described in 2 Chronicles 12:3 to include Libyans, Sukiim (Tjuku or Tjukten), and Ethiopians (i.e., Nubians) seems to describe the end of the New Kingdom period (19th-20th Dynasties), when Nubians were very important in the Egyptian army. But this is unlike the situation in the 21st or early 22nd Dynasty—the era of Shoshenq I. Likewise, the Sukiim/Tjukten are only attested in the late 19th and 20th Dynasties.

Certainly, if a chronology is pinned to a particular synchronism for its validity, as is unquestionably the case for Shishak-Shoshenq I and the chronology of ancient Egypt, one would expect a higher degree of correspondence across multiple sources. In fact, Furlong declares that the biblical account of Shishak’s invasion of Judah is a passage that “cannot be satisfactorily harmonised with the extant record of Shoshenq I’s Palestinian campaign” (333). Like Goldberg, Furlong’s 200-year down-dating brings the early years of Israel’s monarchy into alignment with the end of the New Kingdom and the beginning of the TIP. Furlong in fact finds at least three significant synchronisms between the Old Testament and this period of Egyptian history, and Goldberg agrees with two of them. In each of them, Furlong provides a degree of precision that Goldberg lacks.

Year 5 Rehoboam = Year 18 Ramesses IX

Furlong identifies Ramesses IX with the biblical Shishak who invaded Judah in Rehoboam’s fifth regnal year, and argues his (otherwise unattested) campaign into Canaan took place in his last full regnal year. According to Rodger Young’s modification of Edwin Thiele’s chronology (“Tables of Reign Lengths from the Hebrew Court Recorders,” JETS 48/2 [June 2005] 225-48; and many other papers on OT chronology), year 5 Rehoboam would have been 927/6 BC (although Furlong himself advocates a modification of Albright’s chronology, which pushes the date down to 922).

Furlong appeals to the “Report of Wenamun” for insights into this particular period of Egyptian history and how the Old Testament intersects it. He sees in the story of the ill-fated envoys who had earlier been sent to Byblos in the Wenamun story an indication of Ramesses IX’s attempts to reassert Egyptian control over Canaan at the beginning of his reign, but to little avail. Perhaps Shishak’s support for Jeroboam’s first failed rebellion against Solomon is another indicator of the same policy. Subsequently, Furlong writes,

when Solomon died…, Jeroboam returned home [from exile in Egypt] to claim the throne of Israel. Now in possession of an indebted ally/vassal as ruler of the kingdom of Israel, Ramesses IX would have been in a stronger position to impose Egyptian authority upon those other recalcitrant minor kingdoms and city-states which had refused to accept Egyptian authority during the preceding decades. Then, in the fifth year of Rehoboam (923/2), Shishak/Ramesses IX would have successfully campaigned in Judah, pillaging the temple in Jerusalem and making Rehoboam a vassal of Egypt. The Pharaoh presumably continued further north, possibly intent on reaching Byblos in order to teach its ruler a lesson for the insult committed by detaining his ambassadors for so many years. However, at some point before reaching his destination, Ramesses must have suffered some setback, or change of plan, resulting in the Egyptian envoys to Byblos being put to death in an act of defiance by the city’s ruler. (352)

Admittedly, there is no explicit evidence that Ramesses IX campaigned in Canaan, but there are traces of an inlay found at Gezer—a city Shishak would have subdued on his way to or from Jerusalem—bearing his name. Furthermore, by his own self-description, “His battle cry is in the foreign lands, crusher of mountains… awe of him pervades the hearts of the northerners” (Ibid.).

Year 11 Asa = Year 22 Ramesses XI

In 2 Chronicles 14, Judah experienced an era of peace during the first ten years of King Asa (2 Chr 14:1, 6). This peace was then shattered when “Zerah the Ethiopian came out against them” with a massive army. Nevertheless, Asa managed to defeat “the Ethiopians,” who fled before them in a rout (vv. 9-15). The Young/Thiele chronology sets Asa’s year 11 at 901/0 BC, although Furlong has it at 898. If this corresponds to Ramesses XI’s 22nd regnal year and thus to year 4 of the “Renaissance” era, then the logical candidate for identification with Zerah is the Nubian general Panehsy (Pinhasy, Panehesy), who was a powerful player in Egyptian politics in precisely this period.

After restoring Amenhotep as High Priest of Amun at Thebes (at the behest of Ramesses XI), Panehsy was in control of Upper Egypt as late has Ramesses XI’s 17th year. In his 19th year, however, Panehsy has become a public enemy at Thebes and Herihor, the High Priest whom Panehsy succeeded in deposing, was restored to his pontificate. Yet Herihor waited until the fifth year of his pontificate before sending to Byblos for the raw materials to make a new ritual barge:

This delay is particularly puzzling when one considers Herihor’s great desire to build the new barge, which he seems to have prematurely depicted in a scene from the temple of Khons, and which he decorated in his own name. If the Panehsy/Zerah equation is correct, then, since this individual was able to invade Judah, the logical deduction is that he must also have controlled Tanis, the acknowledged staging post for any such campaign. Consequently, Herihor could clearly not communicate with Byblos over the supply of timber while his publicly recognized enemy…barred his passage. (354-55)

If, as Furlong argues, Panehsy had control of Tanis in Herihor’s early years, it may be that his crushing defeat at the hands of Judah cleared the way for Smendes to take Tanis just in time to receive Wenamun on his journey from Thebes to Byblos in Ramesses XI’s year 23.

Year 3 Jehoshaphat = Year 20 Shoshenq I

Finally, Furlong proposes that Shoshenq I’s year 20 campaign into Israel is actually to be equated with an unusual story from the third year of Jehoshaphat, 871/0 BC in the Young/Thiele chronology or 875 in Furlong’s model:

In the third year of his reign he sent his officials…. They taught in Judah, having the book of the law of the LORD with them; they went around through all the cities of Judah and taught among the people.

The fear of the LORD fell on all the kingdoms of the lands around Judah, and they did not make war against Jehoshaphat. Some of the Philistines brought Jehoshaphat presents, and silver for tribute; and the Arabs also brought him seven thousand seven hundred rams and seven thousand seven hundred male goats. (2 Chr 17:7-12)

Even if one accepts this radical redating of Egyptian history, this particular identification is not as obvious as the other two. First, it requires there to be a significant overlap between Egypt’s 21st and 22nd Dynasties. Although this is in the very nature of the kind of chronological revision Furlong is advancing, Furlong requires the two dynasties to begin concurrently (or nearly so). Goldberg’s similar model has Shoshenq I’s campaign detached from any kind of synchronism with Jehoshaphat and a full 20 years later in history (c. 850 BC).

Second, equating the “fear of the LORD” with neighboring nations’ dread of an Egyptian invasion is not self-evident. Furlong advances the following lines of circumstantial evidence:

  • Shoshenq I appears to have campaigned in the territory surrounding Judah but not to have touched Judah itself. This seems to comport with the notice that fear gripped “all the kingdoms of the lands around Judah.”
  • That Judah was not attacked may suggest that Jehoshaphat, seeing the handwriting on the wall, quickly moved to submit to Shoshenq in order to avoid hostilities.
  • This act of submission would have to be quickly communicated to all the Judahite garrisons: “Even one recalcitrant town offering resistance to the Egyptian army could have potentially led to Shoshenq deeming Judah a hostile kingdom and attacking it in like manner to the other surrounding nations” (357). This may explain the need for royal officials to go through “all the cities of Judah.”
  • The fact that civil officials are listed before Levites and priests in verses 7-8 may hint that there was more to their mission than simply religious instruction of the masses, and in fact the religious element (providing a theological rationale for submitting to Egypt??) may have been secondary.
  • The tribute Jehoshaphat later received might be understood as Shoshenq’s reward for allegiance. Perhaps he was granted sovereignty over certain Philistine towns and over the regions inhabited by Arab nomads. Whatever the reason the Philistines and Arabs sent tribute, it cannot have been (purely) spiritual in nature. Furlong is certainly right to suggest, “whatever theological ‘spin’ the Chronicler may have wished to put on Jehoshaphat”s righteousness and piety, neighbouring peoples would not have sent tribute to Judah without an underlying military or political reason” (Ibid.).

Finally, it should be noted that this date for Shoshenq’s campaign matches nearly perfectly with the radiocarbon date of c. 871 BC from Tel Rehov city IV, commonly identified with the city destroyed by Shoshenq.

If this line of argument is valid—and that is of course far from certain—it may turn out that, rather than being the scourge of Jerusalem in the days of Rehoboam, Shoshenq I was responsible for Judah’s growing influence during the reign of Jehoshaphat. He would become literally the person who put the fear of God into Judah’s neighbors and won for them both a degree of sovereignty and payments of tribute from certain of the kingdoms around them. And thus in the eyes of readers of the Old Testament, his reputation will have been at least somewhat redeemed.


technorati tags: asa, chronology, egypt, jehoshaphat, judah, rehoboam, shoshenq i, third intermediate period, zerah


  1. […] The title is worth the price of admission. […]


  2. Dan Bruce says:

    In my new book, Sacred Chronology of the Hebrew Kings, which harmonizes the reigns of the kings of Israel and Judah and establishes a Bible-only based timeline for their reigns, I show that the reign of Rehoboam as king of Israel began in 966 BCE, and that the divided kingdoms began in 961 BCE. Shishak is the pharaoh Siamun (K.A. Kitchen documents a foray by Siamun into the Levant which is depicted on a wall at Tanis). This is the invasion of Shishak described in 2 Chronicles 12. Thus, Shishak is not Shoshenq I. Shoshenq invaded Israel during the reign of Asa of Judah and Baasha of Israel in the year 926/925 BCE. Below is how I think Shoshenq’s invasion unfolded:

    (from pages 49-50 of Sacred Chronology)

    “A close look at the evidence from the Bible and from Karnak indicates that the events of 926/925 BCE probably took place in four stages, as follows:

    Stage 1Œ: Shoshenq’s general Zerah the Ethiopian launched his invasion of Judah by attacking Hebron from the south, overcoming the defenders at that important fortified city. Zerah then attacked the fortified city of Mareshah, or possibly Hebron was not attacked and the fortified city of Mareshah was the point of first attack. In either case, Zerah and his task force were badly defeated by Asa and his Judean army at Mareshah, then were chased south as far as Gerar near Gaza. In the battle, Asa and his Judean forces took much spoil from Zerah and afterwards celebrated their victory in Jerusalem with a feast of thanksgiving, taking an oath to be loyal to God (2 Chronicles 14:9-15).

    Stage 2: Baasha, king of the northern kingdom of Israel and ally of Egypt, had previously negotiated a non-aggression pact with Benhadad I of Damascus. He was thus free to move against Judah, and did so by fortifying the border town of Ramah to cut off access to Jerusalem from the north, possibly doing so simultaneously as Zerah was attacking Judah from the south.

    Stage 3Ž: Asa, fearing invasion by Baasha, sent gold and other treasures to Damascus, asking Benhadad to renounce his non-aggression pact with Baasha and attack Israel on its northern border with Syria. Benhadad agreed and sent troops south to fight Baasha, in that way relieving the military threat to Judah as Baasha withdrew his troops from Ramah to defend his northernmost territories.

    Stage 4: Baasha, now under attack from Damascus in the north, sent to Egypt for help from Shoshenq I, who was still aggrieved at the earlier defeat of his army under Zerah (as indicated from Karnak: “Now, My [Maj]esty found that … [they] were killing … [my soldiers?, and] my army leaders. His majesty was troubled about them”). Not wanting to have Syria overrun the northern kingdom and control all of Canaan, Shoshenq mustered his army and moved to confront Benhadad in northern Israel, skirting the cities of Judah (except Ajalon) before moving northward into Israel to begin his main campaign to protect the northern kingdom. Shoshenq proceeded to neutralize the threat to Israel by Benhadad, then returned to Egypt.

    Admittedly, the explanation of the campaign into the land of Canaan by Shoshenq I during the time of Asa as proposed above is speculative, but so are all of the traditional explanations that equate that campaign with the time of Shishak and Rehoboam. The advantage of the Shoshenq-Asa scenario, which assumes an invasion by Shoshenq I to defend his ally Baasha of Israel against Benhadad I of Syria after an unsuccessful attack on Judah had been made by his general Zerah the Ethiopian, is that it better fits the details on the Karnak inscription and those in the Bible. Also, the chronology it employs is in agreement with the new chronology of the Hebrew kings, whereas the chronology that results by hypothesizing that Shoshenq I was the Shishak of the Bible who moved against Jerusalem in the fifth year of Rehoboam does not match the facts. Based on the new kingdoms chronology in this book, Shishak was the pharaoh Siamun (r. 978-959).”


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