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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.

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Second, the survey of the triumphal reliefs indicates that these reliefs were not intended to preserve information about campaigns. This is seen when interpreting the relief as a whole and taking into account all three parts: the inscription, the relief scene, and the topographical lists. First, the inscriptions, which are set as the speech of Amun, do not mention particular campaigns, nor do they refer to individual battles. Instead, they make reference to general areas, such as Asia and Nubia, and to cultural groups, such as asiatics and bedouin. One of the phrases that occurs repeatedly is a reference to "all foreign lands," which is in contrast to battle reliefs, where the enemy and town are named specifically. The relief scenes have the same character. Each shows the pharaoh smiting a group of prisoners, but the scene depicted is not a battle relief. Nor are the prisoners closely identified. Usually, they are shown as a mixed group of Asiatics and Nubians, i.e. those enemies to the north and south of Egypt. They also hold stylized weapons that are symbolic of the enemies to the east and west of the Nile valley. The captives were probably meant to be understood as representing the hostile people that surrounded Egypt on all sides.13 This is, in fact, how they are identified in the inscription. A part of the text directly above the prisoners in most of the reliefs labels the scene as the smiting of the chiefs of all foreign lands.

If this is the interpretation of the relief scene and the inscription, then the topographical lists should be understood in this light as well. According to this interpretation, the topographical lists should be viewed as representing all foreign lands. So, while the inscription refers to the king as having subdued the entire world, the topographical lists provide a graphic illustration of this same thing. In other words, the inscription says that the pharaoh has conquered all foreign lands, the relief scene depicts the pharaoh simultaneously smiting captives from all foreign lands, and the topographical list lists cities in foreign lands that the pharaoh has defeated. Instead of being the record of a campaign, the triumphal reliefs show an idealized picture of the accomplishments of the pharaoh, who is portrayed as the conqueror of the known world.

These two results of the survey indicate that the triumphal relief of Shoshenq cannot be used as a source of information about the campaign mentioned in the Bible. His relief does not preserve the army’s itinerary, nor was it intended to commemorate the expedition. The Bible must therefore be viewed as the main source for the expedition. There is one other Egyptian text, however, that does shed a small amount of light on the campaign, namely a fragment from a stele of Shoshenq unearthed at Megiddo.14 This stele fragment is unfortunately not well preserved. With the exception of a few stock phrases glorifying the king, only the nomen and pre-nomen of Shoshenq are readable. This stele has often been taken as evidence that Shoshenq conquered Megiddo.15 The unspoken assumption behind that determination is the idea that the only reason a stele would be erected in a particular town would be to commemorate the pharaoh’s conquest of that town. While many stelae were set up on such occasions, stelae were also erected for other reasons. The second Beth-Shean stele of Seti I, for instance, records a campaign against the ‘Apiru and the Tayaru, who were attacking the town of Ruhama.16 But the stele commemorating this battle was set up in Beth-Shean, an Egyptian administrative center that was not directly involved in the fighting. The same is true for the Beth-Shean stele of Ramses II, which is a rhetorical stele that does not mention any specific battles.17 As far as is known from Egyptian sources, Ramses II never campaigned against Beth-Shean, and the fact that Beth-Shean had long been an Egyptian stronghold would mean that he had no need of campaigning there.

Yet although the stele of Shoshenq does not indicate that he conquered that town, it does show that he exerted some control over Megiddo. Unfortunately, it is not possible to state what type of relationship would have existed between Megiddo and Egypt since such stelae are found in towns over which the pharaoh exercised various types of control. In the Beth-Shean stelae, for example, it is obvious that the Egyptians had complete control over the city. It was used as an administrative center throughout the Late Bronze Age, as is attested in Egyptian texts and the archaeological record.18 At Kadesh, where another stele of Seti I is found, a different relationship is evident.19 Seti I had campaigned against the city, but after it was captured, it was not an Egyptian center. Instead, it was a vassal state within the Egyptian realm, which indicates slightly less direct Egyptian control over Kadesh than that which would have been exercised over Beth-Shean. The same situation is evident at Tyre, a vassal state where yet another Seti I stele was discovered. Tyre was never attacked by Egypt, however, and seems to have merely maintained its longstanding good relations with Egypt. This indicates that the stele of Shoshenq can be used as evidence for some form of recognition of Egyptian power by the Israelites at Megiddo, but it cannot be determined whether the pharaoh had conquered that city.

Having exhausted the Egyptian material, the biblical accounts must once again be viewed as the primary source for Shoshenq’s campaign. Unfortunately, these do not provide a great deal of information. The account in 1 Kings 14:25-28 only says that in the fifth year of Rehoboam, Shoshenq came up against Jerusalem and took the treasures of both the palace and the temple. As Noth pointed out long ago, the campaign itself is not even the focus of that passage. Its main concern is to explain why the gold shields of Solomon were no longer seen in the temple. The parallel version in 2 Chronicles 12:1-12 gives more information, including the reaction of the people in Jerusalem, but adds little of historical value.

In addition to these two passages, one other biblical text provides information about Shoshenq. This is the notice that Jeroboam took refuge in the court of Shoshenq after Solomon tried to kill him for treason. Jeroboam had been a high official in Solomon’s administration, but at some point he appears to have rebelled. When Solomon sought to put him to death, Jeroboam fled to Egypt, where he took refuge in the court of the pharaoh. After the death of Solomon, he returned to Israel, where he took part in the Shechem Assembly that rejected Rehoboam as king. Following this meeting, Jeroboam himself was made king.

With this new interpretation of the Egyptian material and the preceding summary of the biblical evidence, the following reconstruction of the campaign of Shoshenq and the events leading up to it can now be offered. The foreign policy of the 21st Dynasty in Egypt seems to have been rather mixed. On the one hand, the pharaohs appear to have had a political treaty with the United Monarchy of David and Solomon, as is evidenced by the marriage of Solomon to the pharaoh’s daughter mentioned several times in 1 Kings. At the same time, however, Egypt was not above harboring political refugees who were enemies of Israel, such as Hadad, of the Edomite royal family, who returned to Palestine to cause trouble upon the death of David. Military actions in Palestine may have also occurred. The Bible mentions, for instance, that Gezer was captured by the pharaoh, but later returned to Solomon as part of the wedding arrangement. It is likely, therefore, that Egypt followed a dual policy. Due to the internal weaknesses, Egypt was not in a position to openly oppose the United Monarchy, so the pharaohs ensured good relations between the countries through a political alliance. Yet they could not have been happy with such a strong military presence dominating their north-eastern border, so they worked behind the scenes to bring unrest and instability to Israel by backing political opponents.

With the passing of the 21st Dynasty and the beginning of the 22nd, this situation was still in place. This explains Shoshenq’s willingness to harbor Jeroboam, one of the chief opponents of the Davidic Monarchy. But with the death of Solomon, Shoshenq seems to have seized upon the opportunity to bring an end to the United Monarchy. When Jeroboam returned from Egypt to take part in the Assembly at Shechem, he probably had promises of support from Shoshenq. When Israel separated from Judah, it had the strength of Egypt behind it. This would explain the presence of the stele of Shoshenq at Megiddo since it could easily have been set up either to commemorate a treaty between the two nations or to signify the vassal status of Israel.

After the split of Israel and Judah, the Bible notes that there was constant warfare between Israel and Judah. It is in this context that the campaign of Shoshenq against Judah should be viewed. With the two states fighting, the pharaoh may have come to the aid of his ally, Jeroboam. Attacking only Jerusalem on this campaign, Shoshenq would have weakened Jerusalem, either through conquest or, more likely, through the looting of the temple and palace. In fact, the appearance of Shoshenq on the scene may lie behind the notice in 1 Kings 12:21-24 that says Rehoboam had planned to retake Israel by force, but quickly changed his mind, ostensibly at the urging of the prophet Shemiah. Having persuaded Rehoboam not to attack Israel, Shoshenq returned to Egypt, leaving Jerusalem with little will or resources to fight against Jeroboam.

From a foreign policy standpoint, this was a wise course of action for Egypt. Throughout the early 10th century, Egypt had not been strong enough to directly oppose the United Monarchy. When the chance to encouraged internal rebellion came along, however, Egypt jumped at the chance. The split of Israel and Judah left Egypt in a much better position. Before, the pharaohs found themselves with a strong military presence on their northern border, a situation which forced them into a relationship between equals with the strongest of these states. After the division of the United Monarch, the political landscape in Palestine changed. No longer was Egypt confronted by a strong united enemy. Instead, it now faced a collection of smaller states that were fighting among themselves. In addition, one of those states was somewhat dependant on Egypt. By supporting the rebellion of Jeroboam, Egypt had been able to change a defensive situation into a position of strength.

The beginning of this paper discussed the current debate over the dating of 10th century archaeological strata and the reliance on destruction levels left by Shoshenq. Although the current study does not decide the issue one way or the other, it does show that both sides are mistaken in searching for destruction layers left by the Egyptian campaign. As has been shown above, 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. This should not be difficult, however, since the 10th and early 9th centuries saw a great deal of fighting in Palestine, both between Judah and Israel, as well as between Israel and neighboring states. And, of course, the Israelites kingship changed hands several times through military coups during that period, so the causes of these destruction may have been internal. In any event, it is clear that the campaign of Shoshenq can play little role in the dating of 10th century archaeological strata.

Book form of Campaign of Pharaoh Shoshenq I into Palestine will be published by J C B Mohr (Paul Siebeck) in 2005

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(back)13 On this idea, see G. Belova, “The Egyptian’s Idea of Hostile Encirclement,”    Proceedings of the Seventh International Congress of Egyptologists, ed. C.J. Eyre, Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 82 (Leuven: Uitgeverij Peeters, 1998): 143-148.

(back)14 C. S. Fischer, The Excavation of Armageddon, Oriental Institute Communications 4 (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1929): 12-16 and Fig. 7b.;  R. S. Lamon and G. M. Shipton, Megiddo I.  Seasons of 1935-39, Strata I-V, Oriental Institute Publications 42 (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1939): 61 and Fig. 70.

(back)15 Noth 281; Mazar 141; Kitchen TIP, 299; Ussishkin 74.

(back)16 Kenneth A. Kitchen, ed.,  Ramesside Inscriptions: Historical and Biographical, vol. 1 (Oxford: B. H. Blackwell, Ltd., 1975): ?  A translation may be found in Kenneth A. Kitchen, Ramesside Inscriptions: Translated and Annotated, vol. 1 (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1993): 12-13.

(back)17 Kenneth A Kitchen, Ramesside Inscriptions: Historical and Biographical, vol. 2 (Oxford: B. H. Blackwell, Ltd., 1979): 150-151.  The text is translated in Kenneth A. Kitchen, Ramesside Inscriptions: Translated and Annotated, vol. 2 (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1996): 27-29.

(back)18 See Frances W. James, Patrick E. McGovern, et al., The Late Bronze Age Garrison at Beth Shan: A Study of Levels VII and VIII, 2 vols.  (Philadelphia: University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania, 1993).

(back)19 Kitchen, Inscriptions, ?  Translated in Kitchen Inscriptions: Translated, 20.  Unfortunately, very little of the stele remains, and just enough text is preserved to show the nomen and pre-nomen of Seti I.

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