Skip to: Site Menu | Main content

David, Solomon and Egypt

Scholar claims evidence suggests limited relationship between the kingdoms of David and Solomon and Egypt. (continued from page two)

(Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999)

    Chapter 3 looks at the biblical evidence. For the most part, the references to contact are incidental and passing. These include a mention of encountering a lone Egyptian near Ziklag (1 Sam. 30:11-15), a reference to a Cushite in David’s army (2 Sam. 18:19-31), and Benaiah’s defeat of an Egyptian in one-to-one combat (2 Sam. 23:20-23). These are all of the references regarding contacts with Egyptians during David’s life. One can hardly conclude from this that strong contact existed at the time of David. In addition, many of the references regarding contact with Solomon show hostility rather than close ties of friendship and alliance. For instance, Egypt is said to have harbored David’s and Solomon’s political rivals and enemies (1 Kings 11: 14-22, 40). This corresponds to the Egyptian evidence that shows hostility between Shoshenq and the kingdoms in Palestine.

    The following exceptions to the data noted above, however, have been the lynchpins for arguments that close ties existed: the references to Solomon’s marriage to a princess of Egypt (1 Kings 3:1, 7:8, 9:16, 9:24, 11:1) and a report of trade with Egypt (1 Kings 10: 28). Nevertheless, even if taken at face value as historical remarks, none of these references necessarily indicates strong ties or influences. Moreover, there are good reasons for not taking these references at face value.

    First, the biblical accounts of Solomon in Kings and Chronicles were compiled and written long after Solomon’s reign and it is uncertain how much they preserve an accurate historical memory of the period. Recent scholarship has called into question the existence of any early sources that the biblical writers might have used. In fact, it becomes more apparent with every passing archaeological campaign that the time of David and Solomon was a time of little or no writing. Writing was known but not used.

    Second, the account of Solomon is clearly intended to glorify Solomon and not to give a dispassionate, antiquarian description of his kingdom. Indeed, virtually every aspect of Solomon’s reign fits the pattern of typical ancient Near Eastern royal ideology and propaganda. Therefore, it is unclear whether the references to marriages with foreign potentates and grandiose trade are historical or merely part of the stock repertoire of “activities” in which any ancient Near Eastern king was supposed to have engaged. Consequently, there are good reasons to be initially suspicious of the historicity of these reports.

    In the case of the references to Solomon’s marriage to Pharaoh’s daughter, several other facts lessen my confidence in their historical reliability. First, as noted above, there is nothing in the references to indicate that they were drawn from any first-hand source; that is, any account that was written close in time to the events and by a person or persons in a position to know the facts about Solomon’s reign. Quite the contrary—Had the biblical writers been drawing from first-hand sources found in archives or records coming from Solomon’s time, they surely would have included the names of the pharaoh and his daughter. After all, the point of a royal marriage of this sort was to establish an alliance, and listing the names of the participants was indispensable to this process. Also, a comparison of these notices to the biblical report about Shoshenq’s (Shishak’s) campaign in Palestine (1 Kings 14:22-25) immediately shows the differences. In the latter, not only is a year given, but a specific king’s name is also mentioned. Neither of these data is found in the reports of the marriage. Nor is the princess’s name given. Undoubtedly when the biblical authors had access to specific names, places, dates and such, they included them. Therefore, the references to Solomon’s marriage resemble tradition and stock royal ideology not first-hand reports drawn from inscriptions, annals, archives, etc.

    Second, we have explicit evidence from Egypt itself that pharaohs did not marry their daughters to foreigners. In a letter dating to the time of Amenhotep III (ca. 14th century BCE), Kadashman-Enlil I, king of Babylon, quoted Amenhotep III as having said, “From of old a daughter of the king of the land of Egypt was not given to anyone.” Indeed, from what is otherwise known of the Amarna period, the time of Amenhotep III, Egyptian pharaohs regularly married princesses from foreign countries, but never allowed their own daughters to marry a foreign potentate. Moreover, an analysis of Egyptian evidence from the time of David and Solomon supports this fact by showing a lack of marriages of pharaoh’s daughters to foreigners. Although a few scholars have attempted to demonstrate that such marriages occurred, primarily when Egypt was weak, my analysis of their published evidence and arguments shows that their claim does not hold up. To date, there are no clearly attested marriages of princesses of reigning pharaohs to foreigners. All of these considerations should make us skeptical of the historical reliability of the biblical reports of Solomon’s marriage to an Egyptian princess. True, we cannot prove that it never happened, but prudence and caution make it necessary to avoid placing any weight on these reports in our reconstruction of relations between Egypt and Palestine during Solomon’s reign.

    Regarding Solomon’s alleged trade with Egypt, similar concerns arise. First, reports of elaborate trade are part of typical Near Eastern royal ideology. Indeed, the passage in which the report appears is a description of Solomon’s incredible wealth. Second, external evidence suggests that the report of trade with Egypt in horses and chariots is less than historical. Most importantly, evidence for Egypt’s export of horses or chariots is virtually non-existent. In fact, Egypt usually had to import horses. Hence, both internal problems and external evidence combine to give us a picture that leans against having confidence in the historicity of this report. As with the reports of Solomon’s marriage, there are good reasons to resist the temptation to place any weight on this reference to elucidate the relations between Egypt and Palestine.

    It is at this point that my book differs radically from most scholarship on this topic. Other works usually begin with an acceptance of the historicity of the notices of the royal marriage and trade, usually with very little published critical examination of the texts, and end with these passages as well. The Egyptian evidence in turn is analyzed and interpreted based on acceptance of the historicity of the biblical passages. My book has 1) broadened the examination by including other evidence, 2) interpreted the Egyptian texts in isolation from the Bible and without the biblical framework, and 3) brought a published, critical analysis of the biblical texts.

    When approached in this manner, all three types of evidence yield the same picture: There were few contacts between Egypt and Palestine at the time of David and Solomon and these contacts, when direct, occurred late in the time of Solomon and were hostile, not friendly. Therefore, the time of David and Solomon was not a time of vibrant trade and close political ties resulting in a flood of Egyptian influence on Palestine’s and Israel’s culture. Rather it was a time of minimal relations and few, even hostile, contacts. Hence, two broad conclusions arise:

  1. The lack of Egyptian presence or involvement with Palestine helped to allow the rise of the Iron Ages states during the early first millennium BCE. These include Aram, Israel, Ammon, Moab, Judah and Edom, as well as the Philistine city-states. Egypt’s weakness left a power vacuum that allowed these states to develop.
  2. As yet, there should be no talk of direct, immediate Egyptian influence on Palestine’s political structures, economic structures, art, literature, and the like, during the tenth century. No doubt, Egypt powerfully affected the peoples and civilizations of ancient Palestine, but not at the time of David and Solomon.

|Page 1|Page 2|Page 3|