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The Campaign of Pharaoh Shoshenq I in Palestine

 Shoshenq's campaign was not as widespread as previously thought.  Instead, it focused only on Jerusalem, and Jerusalem itself was not destroyed.  This means that archaeologists will need to find another method for determining the date of 10th century strata.  It also means that they will need to find other suspects for the destruction layers previously assigned to Shoshenq.

Kevin A. Wilson
Professor of Biblical Studies
Lithuania Christian College
September 2004

A recent debate has been going on among our colleagues in the field of archaeology about the dating of 10th century B.C.E. strata at sites in Israel. The debate is over which strata should be assigned to the period of Solomon and which should be dated to the following period. On one side are those, such as Lawrence Stager and William Dever, who defend the traditional dating, which assigns the strata with excellent architectural remains to the Solomonic period, thereby confirming the biblical account of Solomon’s building activity. Others, such as Israel Finkelstein and David Ussishkin, date the layers with the monumental architecture to the 9th century, while viewing the earlier – and less rich – layers as those of Solomon.1 But no matter which side of the debate is taken, the same method is followed. Each relies heavily on identifying the destruction layers left by Shoshenq I – the biblical Shishak, who campaign in Palestine around 926 B.C.E. Once that layer is identified, the stratum to which it belongs is viewed as the Solomonic level since the Shoshenq campaign occurred just five years after the death of Solomon. Although the debate usually focuses on Megiddo, destruction levels at a large number of sites in Israel have been attributed to Shoshenq.2 This fact allows levels at multiple sites to be dated to the same period, and the Shoshenq campaign is therefore thought to provide an anchor for the archaeological sequence of the 10th century. Obviously, this is a greatly over-simplified statement of a complex issue, but it shows the importance of the campaign of Shoshenq in contemporary scholarship.

The campaign of Pharaoh Shoshenq I, the founder of the 22nd Dynasty who ruled from approximately 946-925 B.C.E., has been the focus of studies by quite a number of scholars this century. On the biblical side, scholars of such stature as Martin Noth, Benjamin Mazar, Sigfried Herrmann, and Gösta Ahlström have each produced articles on the campaign.3 And from the egyptological side, Kenneth Kitchen explored the campaign in his book on the Third Intermediate Period in Egypt.4 Although these scholars disagree on the details of the campaign, all take the same general approach to the source material. Each begins with a short study of the biblical accounts of the campaign, found in 1 Kings 14:25-28 and 2 Chronicles 12:1-12. After exhausting the small amount of information the Bible provides, they turn to the triumphal relief of Shoshenq found next to the Bubastite Portal at the Temple of Karnak in Luxor, Egypt.5 They use the topographical list that forms a part of that relief as a road map for the campaign. Each scholar arranges these toponyms – all of which are sites in Palestine – to reconstruct the line of march of the pharaoh’s army.

The reconstructions of the campaign offered by these scholars leave a couple of questions unanswered. First, while the biblical account of the campaign only mentions Jerusalem as the focus of the Egyptian attack, few sites in Judah are found in the triumphal relief. Instead, the list comprises sites in Israel and the Negev. Scholars explain this discrepancy by saying that 1 Kings is only concerned with Judah, so it ignores the part of the campaign that dealt with Egypt. This explanation is unsatisfying, however, since the book of Kings actually spends much more space discussing the reign of Jeroboam in Israel than it does describing the reign of Rehoboam in Judah. Why, then, would it leave out the portion of the campaign that took place in Israel? Second, these reconstructions do not explain why Shoshenq attacked Jeroboam, a man he had recently harbored as a political refugee. Some say Shoshenq made the campaign to punish Jeroboam for being a disobedient vassal.6 But although there is some information that suggests Jeroboam was a vassal of Egypt, there is no evidence that he ever rebelled.

Scholars’ use of the triumphal relief of Shoshenq suffers from several methodological problems as well. First, the triumphal relief comprises three parts: the relief scene itself, the accompanying inscription, and the topographical list. Yet those who have studied the Shoshenq campaign have mostly ignored the relief and the inscription, while focusing almost exclusively on the topographical list. This leads to problems in interpretation since such reliefs must be understood as a whole. Second, scholars have overlooked the fact that the triumphal relief of Shoshenq is actually one of many such triumphal reliefs.7 These reliefs were built by pharaohs throughout the New Kingdom, which means that the relief of Shoshenq is only one example of a genre that was used for many centuries. But without coming to a complete understanding of this genre in its many manifestations, it will be difficult to interpret any one example.

In order to rectify this situation, I undertook a study of several other triumphal reliefs. Twelve reliefs were selected for this study: six belong to Thutmose III, two were built by Seti I, two were left by Ramses II, and two belong to Ramses III. With the exception of the reliefs of Ramses III, which are found at Medinet Habu, all of the reliefs are at Karnak Temple, the same temple where the Shoshenq relief is located. Although a complete discussion of these reliefs is not possible in this forum, the following summary details the two most important conclusions of the survey.

First, it is clear that the topographical lists in these reliefs do not preserve the army’s route of march. This may be seen by comparing these topographical lists with known itineraries for Egyptian campaigns. The route of Thutmose III’s march, for instance, is known from his Annals, which are also inscribed on the walls of Karnak.8 The Annals give a prose account of his first campaign, which is the same campaign mentioned in the superscription to the topographical list in three of his triumphal reliefs. When the route of march from the Annals is compared with the topographical lists, it becomes apparent that the latter are not arranged according to the army’s itinerary. Gaza, one of the first cities of Canaan mentioned in the Annals, is not listed on the triumphal relief at all. The next two towns that Thutmose III passes are listed in two out of three of the topographical lists, but they fall far down the list.9 The order of these two names in the list is also different from that given in the Annals, with Yehem, which was reached first, coming after Aruna, which was reached later. Megiddo, which was visited after passing all of these towns, is the second town in the lists.10 And Kadesh, a town to which Thutmose III did not go, is first on the lists.11 In addition, the superscriptions to the topographical lists indicate that Thutmose III did not march to all these towns, but that they all assembled against him at Megiddo instead. The same results are also found when comparing the topographical lists of Seti I with known campaign itineraries. This is even more evident in the triumphal reliefs of Ramses III. His lists contains approximately 125 sites in Palestine, but not one of the cities where he is known to have campaigned in found in those lists.12 All these factors demonstrate that the topographical lists do not preserve the route of the pharaoh’s march.


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(back)1 Israel Finkelstein and David Ussishkin, “Back to Megiddo,” Biblical Archaeology Review 20.1 (January/February 1994): 26-43; David Ussishkin, “Notes on Megiddo, Gezer, Ashdod, and Tel Batash in the Tenth to Ninth Centuries B.C.,”  Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 277/278 (1990): 71-91.

(back)2 Amihai Mazar lists ten destructions attributed to Shoshenq: Timnah, Gezer, Tell el-Mazar, Tell el-Hama, Tell el-Sa‘idiyeh, Megiddo, Tell Abu Hawam, Tel Mevorakh, Tell Michal, and Tell Qasile.  Amihai Mazar, Archaeology of the Land of the Bible:10,000-586 B.C.E. (New York: Doubleday, 1990): 398.

(back)3 Martin Noth, “Die Wege der Pharaonenheere in Palästina und Syrien IV,”  Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palästine-Vereins 61 (1938): 277-304; Benjamin Mazar, “Pharaoh Shishak’s Campaign to the Land of Israel,” Vetus Testamentum Supplement 4 (1957): 57-66; reprinted in Benjamin Mazar, The Early Biblical Period: Historical Studies, ed. Smuel Aituv and Baruch A. Levine (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1986): 139-150; Siegfried Herrmann, “Operationen Pharao Schoschenks I. im östlichen Ephraim,” Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palästine-Vereins 80 (1964): 55-79; Gösta W. Ahlström, “Pharaoh Shoshenq’s Campaign to Palestine,” History and Traditions of Early Israel: Studies Presented to Eduard Nielsen, ed. André Lemaire and Benedikt Otzen (Lieden: E.J. Brill, 1993): 1-16; see also Frank Clancy, “Shishak/Shoshenq’s Travels,”  Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 86 (1999): 3-23.

(back)4 Kenneth A. Kitchen,  The Third Intermediate Period in Egypt (1100-650 B.C.),  2nd ed. with supp. (Warminster: Aris and Phillips, 1986).  The main section is found on pp. 292-302, while  an excursus surveying previous works and discussing the identification of name rings in the topographical list is found on pp.432-47.

(back)5 The Epigraphic Survey, Reliefs and Inscriptions at Karnak III: The Bubastite Portal, Oriental Institute Publications, vol. 74 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1954).

(back)6 Mazar 147 (Mazar refers to Rehoboam in this section, though it is clear from the context that “Rehoboam” is a typo for “Jeroboam.”); Kitchen 298; Ahlström 14.

(back)7 A triumphal relief as defined here must include all three elements: smiting scene, inscription, and topographical list.  These elements are not confined to triumphal reliefs, of course.  The smiting scene is known from as far back as the Pre-Dynastic Period and continued in use through Roman times.  For a survey of the smiting scene throughout Egypt’s history, see Emma Swan Hall, The Pharaoh Smites his Enemies: A Comparative Study, Münchner Ägyptologische Studien 44 (Berlin: Deutscher Kunstverlag, 1986).  Topographical lists are found in a variety of locations, including temple reliefs and statue bases.
      In the Theban area alone, at least eleven additional sets of triumphal reliefs are known.  These include:

(back)8 The text of the Annals is transcribed in Urk. IV, 645-67.  A convenient translation of the Megiddo section is available in Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, vol. 2 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976): 29-35.

(back)9 Yehem is no.68 in Lists A and B, while Aruna is no.27 on Lists A and C.

(back)10 Megiddo is not found in List C, but the first three names of that list are not preserved.

(back)11 Donald Redford reached similar conclusions that he related in passing in a work devoted to Egyptian day-books.  He commented that “the progression of sites, when plotted on a map, produces such a curiously meandering line at times that one might easily be led to the further supposition that the field commander of the Egyptian army was drunk.”  Donald B. Redford, Pharaonic King-Lists, Annals, and Day-Books: A Contribution to the Study of the Egyptian Sense of History, SSEA Publication IV (Mississauga, Ontario: Benben Publications, 1986): 125.

(back)12 Ramses III campaigned in the following areas: Amor (amr; KRI V, 40:1), Zahi (Dh; KRI V, 30:5 and 40:7), Tunip (tnp; KRI V, 78:15), Ereth (irT; KRI V, 79:12), and Naharain (nhrn; KRI V, 88:8).  He also fought several groups of “Sea Peoples” on these campaigns, including the Peleset (prST; KRI V, 40:3), the Tjeker (Tkr; KRI V, 40:3), the Sheklesh (SkrS; KRI V, 40:3), the Denyen (dini; KRI V, 40:3-4), and the Weshesh (wSS; KRI V, 40:4).  None of these groups appear in the topographical lists either.

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