Shishak's Campaign and Egyptian Sources

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Shishak's invasion into Yehuda is one of the earliest events recorded in Tanakh which is explicitly discussed also by an extra-Biblical source. The relief of Shoshenq I engraved on the walls of the Temple of Amun at Karnak tells of the campaign mentioned in Melakhim, but from the Egyptian perspective.  When studied together, each source can shed light on the other, providing a fuller account of the invasion.

Biblical Sources

Shishak, King of Egypt, is mentioned on two occasions in Tanakh, once in reference to Yerovam, and once in connection to his invasion of Yehuda.

  • Granting refuge to Yerovam – Shishak is first mentioned in Melakhim I 11:40, in the context of Yerovam's rebellion against Shelomo. After Yerovam "raised his hand against the king", Shelomo sought to kill him. Yerovam fled to Egypt, where he found refuge by Shishak. Yerovam's choice of haven is not explained in the text, but the story suggests that already at this point Shishak was not on friendly terms with Shelomo and the Davidic dynasty.  The verses do not share how (if at all) this incident was connected to Shishak's later invasion of Yehuda or how it might have affected any later relationship between the Northern Kingdom and Egypt.
  • The Invasion – Shishak's invasion of Yehuda is mentioned twice in Tanakh, in Melakhim I 14 and in a more expanded version in Divrei HaYamim II 12. According to these sources, in the fifth year of Rechavam's reign, Shishak attacked Yehuda, captured its fortified cities, and approached Yerushalayim. Rechavam paid a tribute from the treasures of the Mikdash and palace, saving the city. Neither source speaks of the geopolitical reasons for the invasion, but Divrei HaYamim provides a more detailed theological backdrop for both the attack and the salvation.1 The nation had sinned against Hashem, who therefore abandoned them to Shishak. When the people subsequently submitted and repented, Hashem's anger subsided, and He ensured that Yerushalayim was saved.

Extra-Biblical Sources

Shoshenq I was the founder of the 22nd Dynasty in Egypt, and reigned c. 943–922 BCE. He is identified by most scholars with the Shishak of Tanakh. We know of his invasion of the kingdoms of Yehuda and Yisrael from two material finds, a relief containing a topographical list of his conquered cities found on the Bubastite Portal of the Temple of Amun at Karnak, and a fragmentary victory stele found in Megiddo containing his name.

  • Shoshenq I Relief and Inscription – The Shoshenq I relief in the Temple of Amun lists the places conquered by Shoshenq I in his military campaign against  the kingdoms of Yehuda and Yisrael c. 925 BCE.  The relief depicts the god Amun2 holding onto the defeated enemy kings via several ropes. These vanquished  kings are depicted in 11 rows, with each king portrayed as an identical miniature figure bearing a ring with the hieroglyphic name of his defeated city.3  About 180 names are listed,4 and though many have not been preserved or cannot be definitively identified, the list clearly includes not only places in the Southern Kingdom of Yehuda, but also well known cities in the Northern Kingdom of Yisrael.5  The relief's inscriptions are somewhat vague and hyperbolic, focusing mainly on the glorious victory rather than the background to Shoshenq's invasion or its goals.6
  • Stele from Megiddo – A portion of a commemorative stele containing the cartouche of Shoshenq I was found in Megiddo by the Oriental Institute excavations in 1926.7 Though the stele preserves very little beyond the king's name, it provides further evidence that Shishak had invaded the Northern Kingdom.8

Relationship Between the Sources

Complementary accounts – The Egyptian inscription and stele attest to Shishak's invasion and control over areas of Israel, but in contrast to Tanakh, they suggest that he invaded not only the Southern Kingdom of Yehuda, but the Northern Kingdom as well.  In addition, though Shoshenq's Inscription mentions several place names in Yehuda,9 it does not include Yerushalayim, which is the focus of Tanakh's account. How can these differences be reconciled?10

Synthesizing the information from both Tanakh and the Shoshenq Inscription, Prof. Elitzur11 attempts to reconstruct the chain of events leading up to the invasion, thereby explaining the discrepancies between the accounts:

  • Shishak, the founder of a new dynasty, without the familial ties to Shelomo that his predecessors held, was looking to spread Egyptian control northwards.  To do so, he needed to topple the Davidic dynasty, which had not been possible during the period of the United Monarchy when Israel was at the height of its power.12
  • When Yerovam rebelled against Shelomo, Shishak saw an opportunity to achieve his goals.  He offered Yerovam refuge and Egyptian backing during his revolt, with the understanding that with the split of the kingdom, Yerovam would be a loyal vassal and side with Egypt against Yehuda.  Shishak would invade Yehuda from the south, while Yerovam attacked from the north, guaranteeing victory. 
  • However, after Yerovam succeeded in his initial rebellion, he had second thoughts about allying with Shishak.  The prophet Shemayah's call for Rechavam to cease fighting (Melakhim I 12:22-24) meant that Yerovam no longer needed to fear Yehuda's retaliation and had no further need for Egyptian aid.  Moreover, though he had wanted to overthrow the Davidic dynasty, Yerovam had much cause to be hesitant about introducing Egyptian hegemony into the region.
  • Yerovam's refusal to participate led simultaneously to the salvation of Yerushalayim (hence its absence from the list of conquered cities)13 as well as Shishak's decision to embark on a punitive campaign against Yerovam and the Northern Kingdom who had betrayed him (hence the many northern cities included on the relief). 

Tanakh's silence – Despite the apparent magnitude of the campaign, Tanakh chooses to focus only on the attack on Yerushalayim.14  This is not particularly surprising since Tanakh's purpose is not to tell a complete history of the region, but rather to express particular messages, in this case: the cause of Yehuda's being endangered, and the reason for its salvation. Tanakh focuses solely on the theological plane, explaining that Yehuda was attacked because it turned to idolatry.  When the people surrendered and returned to God, Hashem saved them.15

Contribution to Israel Studies

Due to the many city names on the relief, the relief plays an important role in the study of the geographic history of Israel.