Shishak: An Archaeological Biography

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It seems fitting that, having explored the lives of Hebrew, Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian kings, we should now consider an Egyptian Pharaoh.  While many Pharaohs in the book of Genesis are not named, following the convention of Moses’ day, later Pharaohs in Scripture are named, following the convention at the time of later authors.1 One of the most prominent Egyptian rulers identified in Scripture is the Pharaoh Shishak.

Shishak is mentioned in six times in the Bible in connection with two events.  When Jeroboam, son of Nebat, rebelled against the king, Solomon sought to kill him.  In 1 Kings 11:40 we read, “Solomon tried to kill Jeroboam, but Jeroboam fled to Egypt, to Shishak the king, and stayed there until Solomon’s death.”  Some time later, in the fifth year of King Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, Pharaoh Shishak attacked Jerusalem (1 Ki 14:25 and 2 Ch 12:2).  Because the Jewish leaders humbled themselves, the prophet Shemaiah brought a word from the Lord: “Since they have humbled themselves, I will not destroy them but will soon give them deliverance. My wrath will not be poured out on Jerusalem through Shishak. They will, however, become subject to him, so that they may learn the difference between serving me and serving the kings of other lands.” (2 Ch 12:7-8).  Instead of conquering the city of Jerusalem,  Scripture records that Shishak carried off the treasures from the Temple and the royal palace. (2 Ch 12:9).

Sheshonq sphynx2
A Sphynx of Sheshonq (possibly Sheshonq I) in the Brooklyn Museum. Photo: The Brooklyn Museum / CC BY 3.0

Who is Pharaoh Shishak?

Shoshenq1ScarabPetrie
Scarab of Shoshenq I. Photo: From Scarabs and Cylinders With Names (1917), by Flinders Petrie / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Based on linguistic, historical and chronological grounds, nearly all Egyptologists identify the biblical pharaoh Shishak with Sheshonq I (also spelled Shoshenq and Sheshonk)2. Some scholars, using a radically revised Egyptian chronology, have tried to identify Shishak with Ramesses II (David Rohl) or Thutmose III (David Down), but these ideas have not been widely accepted. Linguistically, Sheshonq [Egyptian ššnq] is virtually identical to Shishak [Hebrew שִׁישַׁק šîšaq], and is nothing like Ramses or Thutmose.3   While some have objected that the “n” is dropped from the Egyptian form in the Hebrew rendering, it is sometimes spelled with and sometimes  without the “n” even in Egyptian texts.4  Moreover, Sheshonq I left a record of his military campaign in Canaan on the Bubastite Portal at the Great Temple at Karnak, that dates to time the Bible describes Shishak’s invasion of Judah.  Egyptologist, Kenneth Kitchen, concludes:

Sh. I [Shoshenq I] definitely campaigned in Palestine c. 926 BC, while in the biblical record, Rehoboam of Judah suffered Shishak’s invasion from Egypt at this actual date on the best chronology available. No other Shishak/Shoshenq (of seven!) did, and there was only one king Rehoboam in Judah. So the Egyptian historical background and the biblical accounts do independently correspond in time, persons, and place so far as the data go.5

Shishak/Sheshonq I was the first Pharaoh of the 22nd Dynasty and reigned from approximately 945 to 924 BC.  He had served as a general under Psusennes II, the last Pharaoh of the 21st Dynasty, and appears to have taken the throne without a struggle.6  Being of Libyan descent, he was not considered a “true” Egyptian, and his dynasty is sometimes called the Libyan dynasty.7

Shishak’s Campaign in Canaan

Karnak_Tempel_19
In this relief on the wall of the Great Temple at Karnak, the Pharaoh Shoshenq I (biblical Shishak) listed the places he conquered in his campaign in Israel and Judah in 926 BC. Photo: Olaf Tausch / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0

Near the end of his reign, shortly after King Solomon died, Shishak invaded the lands of Judah and Israel.  Upon returning to Egypt, he commissioned a record of his success to be inscribed on a wall of the Great Temple of Amun-Re at Karnak.  Known as the Bubastite Portal, it lists over 150 places he claims to have conquered in his conquest of the land to the north.  Each “name ring” portrays a bound prisoner with a cartouche beneath it on which a toponym is listed in Egyptian hieroglyphics. While some of these name rings have been lost to erosion, many remain.  One of the places that Shishak conquered was Megiddo.  This was confirmed in the 1920’s, when excavators at Megiddo discovered a fragment of a victory stele that the Egyptian pharaoh had erected to commemorate his conquest of the city.8  Other biblical places that Shishak claims to have conquered include Gibeon, Arad, Gezer, Beth-Shan  and the field of Abraham (possibly Hebron).

Sheshonq stele megiddo
A fragment of Pharaoh Shoshenq’s victory stele found at Megiddo. Photo: https://megiddoexpedition.wordpress.com/past-excavations/#jp-carousel-434


What about Jerusalem?

While Shishak’s inscription generally affirms the biblical description of his invasion of Judah, one of the most difficult questions to answer is why Jerusalem, which is the only city mentioned in 1 Kings 14:25, does not seem to be among the places mentioned on the Bubastite Portal.  Several solutions have been proposed.  It could be one of the name rings that has been lost to erosion; it is known that the row recording the places in Judah is heavily damaged.  Another theory is, that because Rehoboam gave Shishak the treasures of the Temple and his royal palace, the city was not destroyed (2 Chron. 12:7-9). Thus, Rehoboam saved Jerusalem from destruction by paying tribute to the Egyptian king.One final solution has been proposed by Egyptologist, Kenneth Kitchen.  He has reconstructed name rings 105 and 106 to read, h(y)dbt dwt – the “Heights or Highlands of Davit” or “Heights of David.”  Kitchen has found confirmation of Davit as an alternate spelling for David in a sixth-century AD Ethiopic inscription with a clear reference to King David (from one of his Psalms).  He also notes that the toponyms in the Shishak list are arranged geographically, and the “Heights of Davit” occurs in a row which includes sites in southern Judah and the Negev, the same general area in which David was a fugitive when he was on the run from Saul.  Kitchen claims that, while not certain, there is a “high degree of possibility” that Shishak claimed to have conquered an area called the Heights of David, when he invaded Judah in the 10th century BC.10  Some scholars believe that this may be a reference to the city of Jerusalem.

Heights of David
Some of the place name rings that are listed on the Triumphal Relief of Shoshenq I at Karnak. Rings 105 and 106 have been reconstructed by Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen to read, “Heights or Highlands of David.” Image: Drawing by Champion in University of Chicago Oriental Institute Epigraphic Survey (1954), Reliefs and inscriptions at Karnak: The Bubastite portal, vol. III. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Political Opportunist

Scripture records that Shishak harbored Jeroboam when he fled from Solomon (1 Kings 11:40).  According to the Bubastite Portal, after Jeroboam returned and became ruler of the northern Kingdom, Shishak then invaded Canaan, attacking both the southern kingdom of Judah and the northern kingdom of Israel.  Some have objected that this discrepancy is evidence of the Bible’s historical inaccuracy. Why would Shishak attack Jeroboam, whom he had recently protected?  One explanation is that Shishak was an astute political opportunist.  Archaeologist, Dr. Bryant Wood explains:

Shishak evidently had his eye on his northern neighbor for some time. By harboring Jeroboam, he was contributing to the division of Israel. When the split occurred, it was an opportune time for him to deal a major blow to the two now weakened kingdoms, so he launched a campaign. The underlying cause seems to have been to break Israel’s commercial monopoly in the north and to obtain much needed booty, rather than to annex the area.11

One Final Clue

Given King Solomon’s wealth (2 Ch 9:13-28), if Shishak did indeed pillage the Temple and royal treasuries, then vast amounts of gold and silver flooded the Egyptian coffers.  Is there any evidence of this?  It is interesting to note that when Shishak’s son, Osorkon I became king, he erected a granite pillar in a temple at Bubastis, in the eastern Nile Delta, on which he boasts of making an offering of 2,300,000 deben (383 tons!) of gold and silver to the deities of Egypt.12  Further, his successor, Sheshonq II, was buried in a coffin made of pure silver.  Some have questioned where the Egyptian pharaoh’s acquired so much gold and silver. One plausible explanation is that it may have come, in large part, from the royal treasury and Temple of Jersualem, as well as from other cities taken in Shishak’s invasion of Judah and Israel in 926/5 BC.13

Sheshonq II coffin
The sphynx-headed, silver coffin of Sheshonq II. Photo: (c) Aidan McRae Thomson / https://www.flickr.com/photos/amthomson/29475555428/ Used with permission.

Summary

The evidence from ancient texts (the Bible and the inscription on the Bubastite Portal) and from archaeology (Shishak’s victory stele at Megiddo and destruction layers at various sites) converge to affirm that Shishak was Sheshonq I, and that he did indeed invade Judah and Israel.  Discrepancies in the events, as recorded by each side, are to be expected, and are plausibly explained.  It would appear that Shishak did not destroy Jerusalem, but took a great amount of gold and silver from the city, making Jerusalem an Egyptian vassal state, as described in Scripture (2 Ch 12:7-8).  Due, in part, to his effective political maneuvers, history records that Shishak was one of the most powerful Pharaohs of the 22nd Dynasty, consistent with his image in the pages of Scripture.

 

 

Title Photo: The head of the Sphynx of Sheshonq (possibly Sheshonq I), The Brooklyn Museum / CC BY 3.0

Endnotes:

1 James Hoffmeier, notes, “From its inception until the tenth century [BC], the term ‘Pharaoh’ stood alone, without juxtaposed personal name. In subsequent periods, the name of the monarch was generally added on.” In Israel In Egypt. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 87.

2 Yigal Levin, “Did Pharaoh Sheshonq Attack Jerusalem?” Biblical Archaeology Review 38:4, (July/August 2012), 43.

3 Charles Ailing, Personal email to the author. January 13, 2020.

4 Troy Leiland Sagrillo, “Shoshenq I and Biblical Šîšaq: a philological defense of their traditional equation,” 70. Online: file:///C:/Users/Owner/Downloads/Shoshenq_I_and_biblical_Sisaq_A_philolog.pdf (Accessed January 14, 2020).

5 K. A. Kitchen, Review of Lawrence J. Mykytiuk, Identifying Biblical Persons in Northwest Semitic Inscriptions of 1200-539 B.C.E., SEE-J Hiphil 2 (2005), 3.  Online: https://www.see-j.net/index.php/hiphil/article/viewFile/19/17 (Accessed January 14, 2020).

6 The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Sheshonk I,” Encyclopædia Britannica. May 9, 2014. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Sheshonk-I (Accessed January 15, 2020).

7 Yigal Levin, “Did Pharaoh Sheshonq Attack Jerusalem?” Biblical Archaeology Review 38:4, (July/August 2012), 43.

8 David G. Hansen, “Megiddo, the Place of Battles.” Associates for Biblical Research. Nov. 5, 2014. Online: https://biblearchaeology.org/research/conquest-of-canaan/3084-megiddo-the-place-of-battles  (Accessed January 18, 2020).

9 Yigal Levin, “Did Pharaoh Sheshonq Attack Jerusalem?” BAR 38:4 (July/August 2012), 45.

10 Hershel Shanks, “Has David Been Found In Egypt?” BAR 25:1 (January/February 1999), 34. Online: https://www.baslibrary.org/biblical-archaeology-review/25/1/4 (Accessed January 18, 2020).

11 Bryant G. Wood, “What evidence has been found of the Egyptian king, Shishak?” ChristianAnswers.net. Online: https://christiananswers.net/q-abr/abr-a017.html (Accessed January 18, 2020).

12 Kenneth A. Kitchen, “Where Did Solomon’s Gold Go?” Bible and Spade, Vol. 7, No. 4 (Autumn 1994), 108.

13 Bryant G. Wood, “What evidence has been found of the Egyptian king, Shishak?” ChristianAnswers.net. Online: https://christiananswers.net/q-abr/abr-a017.html (Accessed January 18, 2020).

 

 

3 comments

  1. It has been proposed that Jerusalem is on the Bubastite Portal under the name “Kadesh”, which means “holy”. Although this is not widely accepted.

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