Shoshenq I’s Path of Destruction

Photo Credit:, Samaria and the Center, Megiddo

In Exodus 14, after the Israelites left Egypt, Pharaoh led his army after them. “So Pharaoh prepared his chariot and took his army with him. He took 600 of the best chariots, and all the other chariots of Egypt, with officers over all of them. And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt so that he pursued the Israelites, who were marching out defiantly. The Egyptians, all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, horsemen and troops, pursued the Israelites and overtook them as they camped by the sea near Pi-hahiroth, opposite Baal-zephon.”

Rehoboam led the northern tribes to secede from the Davidic kingdom, creating a Kingdom of Israel in the north and the Kingdom of Judah in the south. In 2 Chronicles 12, shortly after this split, the Egyptian king Shishak led his army to attack the descendants of those escaped slaves. “After Rehoboam’s position as king was established and he had become strong, he and all Israel with him abandoned the law of the Lord. Because they had been unfaithful to the Lord, Shishak king of Egypt attacked Jerusalem in the fifth year of King Rehoboam. With twelve hundred chariots and sixty thousand horsemen and the innumerable troops of Libyans, Sukkites and Cushites that came with him from Egypt, he captured the fortified cities of Judah and came as far as Jerusalem.”

The Book of 2 Chronicles focuses on the southern Kingdom of Judah, but Shishak’s invasion appears to have reached beyond the Kingdom of Judah and into the Kingdom of Israel.

The Karnak Temple north of Luxor was a major temple complex serving Egypt’s southern capital of Thebes. On the Bubasite Portal within the Precinct of Amun-Re, the pharaoh Shoshenq I recorded his campaign into the southern Levant. Beneath of an image of him smiting his captives were 156 ovals containing the image of a bound captive and an associated name. Many of these ovals have been damaged or are illegible, but there are enough names there to track his route.

Early on in his campaign, Shoshenq I headed north, capturing the cities of  Ta’anach, Shunem, Beth-Shean and Megiddo. He crossed the Jordan, capturing Mahanaim. Only after this did he head south and eventually get to the Negev.

Destruction layers are among the most prominent features at an archaeological site. Destruction layers can create a clear break between an earlier period and a later period. Signs of destruction might be collapsed walls with human skeletons beneath them. If a site was destroyed by war, it might show evidence of fire, or many arrowheads or stone slingshot balls.

If destruction layers show evidence of destruction in war, they do not necessarily reveal who did the destruction. If there is no specific evidence pointing to a particular perpetrator, archaeologists can look at the pottery within the destroyed layer to align it to layers at other sites and establish a relative chronology. This can be used to assign the destruction to a particular period.

Archaeological findings are subject to interpretation and are therefore subject to dispute. There is not agreement about who is responsible for each destruction. But according to Amihai Mazar in his book Archaeology of the Land of the Bible, ten sites show evidence of an attack by Shoshenq I. These are Timnah, Gezer, Tell el-Mazar, Tell el-Hama, Tell el-Sa‘idiyeh, Megiddo, Tell Abu Hawam, Tel Mevorakh, Tell Michal, and Tell Qasile.  Notably, Megiddo is explicitly mentioned on Shoshenq I’s list. Beth-Shean contains a destruction layer that may also be attributable to Shoshenq I’s invasion.

The Bible focuses attention on Shishak’s attack on Jerusalem. The record on the Bubasite Portal shows Shoshenq I’s invasion to be a larger campaign. But it creates a synchronism between the Bible and an external source of an invasion by a similarly named Egyptian king in the latter part of the 10th century BCE.  Destruction layers attributable to Shoshenq I reinforce this synchronism.

The image above is of Megiddo, where Shoshenq I left a destruction layer. This song is about the creation of a destruction layer in America.

Rehoboam’s Yesterday and Tomorrows

Photo Credit:, Egypt, Karnak Temple

In Exodus 12, God delivered the 10th plague, the killing of the firstborns. The pharaoh relented and ordered the Israelites to leave Egypt, where they would begin their long journey to Canaan. The pharaoh would soon change his mind and pursue the Israelites to the Reed Sea, but would be thwarted there.

In 1 Kings, after the reign of King Solomon, his son King Rehoboam increased the royal burden on the tribes of Israel. In response, Jeroboam son of Nebat led the tribes to secede from the union, creating the northern Kingdom of Israel and leaving King Rehoboam as leader of the diminished southern Kingdom of Judah.

On the heels of the split in the Davidic kingdom, in 1 Kings 14, a pharaoh succeeded in making his way to Canaan. “In the fifth year of King Rehoboam, Shishak king of Egypt attacked Jerusalem. He carried off the treasures of the temple of the Lord and the treasures of the royal palace. He took everything, including all the gold shields Solomon had made.”

2 Chronicles 12 describes Shishak’s attack as encompassing more than just Jerusalem. “After Rehoboam’s position as king was established and he had become strong, he and all Israel with him abandoned the law of the Lord. Because they had been unfaithful to the Lord, Shishak king of Egypt attacked Jerusalem in the fifth year of King Rehoboam. With twelve hundred chariots and sixty thousand horsemen and the innumerable troops of Libyans, Sukkites and Cushites that came with him from Egypt, he captured the fortified cities of Judah and came as far as Jerusalem.” And ultimately, Jerusalem was spared destruction by Shishak. “Because Rehoboam humbled himself, the Lord’s anger turned from him, and he was not totally destroyed.”

The start of King David’s rule has commonly been assigned a date of 1010 BCE. In the Bible, King David ruled for 40 years, followed by King Solomon’s 40 year rule. This would have King Rehoboam’s reign beginning in 930 BCE, and Shishak’s attack in 925 BCE.

The Karnak Temple Complex is situated just north of Luxor, the site of Egypt’s ancient capital of Thebes in southern, or Upper Egypt. The largest structure within the temple complex is the Temple of Amun-Re. Within the Temple of Amun-Re, between the temple of Ramesses III and the second pylon, is the Bubastite Portal.

As seen in the image above, on the walls of the Bubasite Portal, Shoshenq I recorded a military campaign in the area of biblical Canaan. At the top right hand side, a now eroded area once would have featured Sheshonq I grasping the hair of captives in the lower center of the image and about to strike them. Surrounding the images is space for 156 place names, rings that contain an image of a bound prisoner with the place name below. These represent the places Shoshenq I subdued. Of the 156, a fair number have been damaged and are no longer legible or visible. The list mainly features areas along the coastal plain, regions within the northern Kingdom of Israel, a number of towns in the Transjordan and sites in the Negev. Jerusalem does not appear on the list.

Gebel Es-Silsilah was the site of an ancient rock quarry. A monument there, identified as Silsilah Stele No. 100, records that in Shoshenq I’s 21st year as king he assigned workers to begin quarrying stone for construction at the Karnak Temple, where he would record his triumphs in the southern Levant.  

The dates assigned to Shoshenq I’s reign are debated, with some placing his reign from 945-924. Others down date this to 943-922. Thus the timing of Rehoboam’s reign and Shoshenq’s invasion prior to the 21st year of his reign appear to align, as well as generally align with the biblical timeline.

1 Kings restricts mention of Shishak’s invasion to Jerusalem. Jerusalem does not appear on Shoshenq’s list, but not all the names are legible and it is not clear what criteria Shishak might have had to include the name of a location or not. The Bible does not mention the attack on the Kingdom of Israel, but the Bible, and especially the Book of Chronicles is written from the perspective of the southern Kingdom of Judah and may not have felt the need to include that information. 2 Chronicles does acknowledge an attack of fortified towns of Judah, which could include the southern cities in the Negev.

Thus, while there are loose ends to this story, from a timing and Egyptian king perspective, Shishak’s invasion in the Bible does appear to align with Shoshenq’s invasion that is recorded on the Bubasite Portal in the Karnak Temple. For scholars that make this connection, this alignment can be used to establish an anchor point for the biblical account.

The split in Rehoboam’s united kingdom of the tribes was followed shortly thereafter by Shishak’s attack. The quick turn of events might have had Rehoboam thinking along the lines of this song:

The Bible’s First Name with a Face

Sphinx of King Sheshenq, ca. 945-712 B.C.E. Bronze, 1 15/16 x 13/16 x 2 7/8 in. (4.9 x 2.1 x 7.3 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 33.586. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 33.586_SL1.jpg)

In Exodus 6, God gives Moses instructions. “So the LORD said to Moses, “Go and tell Pharaoh king of Egypt to let the Israelites go out of his land.” But in the LORD’s presence Moses replied, “If the Israelites will not listen to me, then why would Pharaoh listen to me, since I am unskilled in speech? Then the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron and gave them a charge concerning both the Israelites and Pharaoh king of Egypt, to bring the Israelites out of the land of Egypt.”

One of the challenges in pinning down the timing of the exodus story is that the pharaoh is not named. A proper name might have helped scholars isolate the story in a particular period. Instead, for most it requires guesswork.

The term pharaoh comes from the Egyptian “per aa” meaning ‘great house.’ During Old Kingdom Egypt in the 3rd millennium BCE, the term referred to the royal household. During the New Kingdom, in the 14th century BCE, the term pharaoh is used in reference to Akhenaten, but without revealing the associated king’s proper name. Only later is the title pharaoh attached to the king’s name. Thus when a king is referred to by the title Pharaoh in Exodus, it fits this early usage of the term.

The Dakhla Oasis is one of the larger oases in Egypt’s western desert. It lies roughly 250 miles directly west of Luxor in Upper Egypt. The oasis is large, stretching across an area over 50 miles east to west and 15 miles north to south. At the site, archaeologists uncovered the Large Dakhla stela. The monument it is dated to Year 5 of ‘Pharaoh Shoshenk.’ This Shoshenq is the first ruler of Egypt’s Egypt’s 22nd Dynasty in the 10th century BCE. But this is not the only time Shoshenq’s name is significant.

In 1 Kings 11, God begins to penalize Solomon for his worship of other gods. First Solomon faced challenges from Edom and then from Aram. Then Jeroboam son of Nebat, from the tribe of Ephraim, rebelled against the king. Solomon attempted to eliminate the threat, but Jeroboam escaped. “Solomon tried to kill Jeroboam, but Jeroboam fled to Egypt, to Shishak the king, and stayed there until Solomon’s death.”

A seemingly minor part in this affair, the Egyptian king, is an important detail for the archaeological study of the Bible. Most scholars of the Bible believe the Egyptian king Shishak in 1 Kings 11 and the Egyptian king “Pharaoh Shoshenq” to be one and the same. This would make Shoshenq the first figure in the Bible whose name is proven by a record outside of the Bible. The image above is of a sphinx with the face of Shoshenq, the first human biblical character for whom we have an image. It is kept at the Brooklyn Museum.

Its better to be first:

From Libya, a New King in Town

Photo (C) RMN-Grand Palais (musée du Louvre) / Georges Poncet

In Exodus 1, Jacob’s remaining sons died. With their passing, the Israelites lost their connection to Egyptian royalty. “Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.” So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites and worked them ruthlessly. They made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly.

In the middle of the 10th century in Egypt, power changed hands to a new Egyptian dynasty, the 22nd Dynasty.

Libyan tribes from across Egypt’s western desert had long posed a threat to Egypt. In the 12th century BCE, the 20th Dynasty pharaoh Ramesses III reported defeating the invading Libyan tribes, including the Libu, Tehenu, Temehu and Meshwesh. During the 21st dynasty, the Meshwesh gradually settled in the northwestern delta region in northern Egypt, and eventually reached a critical mass to be able to challenge for hegemony.

Shoshenq I was the commander of the Egyptian army and advisor to the 21st Dynasty king Psusennes II. Shoshenq I married his son Osorkon to Psusennes II’s daughter. When Psusennes II died, Shoshenq I took the reigns of Egypt to become the founder of the 22nd Dynasty.

Shoshenq I’s Libyan roots are recorded in the Stela of Pasenhor. The Stela of Pasenhor was discovered at Saqqara, the site of the necropolis, where dead royalty was buried, for the traditional northern Egyptian capital of Memphis. The Stela of Pasenhor records the death of the Apis bull, the divine bull of Memphis during the reign of a late 22nd king. But on the stele it records the author’s origins, which he traces back through Shoshenq I, to the patriarch, the Libyan Buyuwawa.

The Libyans descended from speakers of a Berber language. Their Libyan roots are also evidenced by names such as Shoshenq and Osorkon, which are not typical Egyptian names.  

The image above is of the Stela of Pasenhor, kept at the Louvre Museum in Paris, France.

For the new king in the Bible and the new king of Egypt, Shoshenq I, a little Prince:

From Parsonage to Power in the Third Intermediate Period

Photo Credit:, Egyptian Museum, Cairo

In Genesis 50 Jacob’s body was given a royal sendoff, befitting his son Joseph’s position. “So Joseph went up to bury his father. All Pharaoh’s officials accompanied him, the dignitaries of his court and all the dignitaries of Egypt, besides all the members of Joseph’s household and his brothers and those belonging to his father’s household. Only their children and their flocks and herds were left in Goshen. Chariots and horsemen also went up with him.”

Despite Joseph’s royal position, there were still areas where his rule did not reach. In Genesis 47, during a famine, Joseph was able to take control of the land, but he could not control the priesthood. “So Joseph established it as a law concerning land in Egypt, still in force today, that a fifth of the produce belongs to Pharaoh. It was only the land of the priests that did not become Pharaoh’s.

In Egypt, in the 11th century BCE, Ramsses XI’s death marked the end of the 20th Dynasty, and with it the end of Egypt’s New Kingdom. Ramesses XI was replaced by Smendes I, the first king of the 21st Dynasty, thus beginning Egypt’s Third Intermediate Period.

In the Bible’s account, Joseph’s dominion did not extend to the priesthood. This was also the case for Egypt’s 21st Dynasty. The 21st Dynasty rulers controlled northern, or Lower Egypt, In the south, in Upper Egypt, the priests of the god Amun were able to assert control. During the reign of Smendes I, the high priest of Amun, Pinedjem I, declared himself ruler of Upper Egypt. The two power centers married into each other’s families, but Egypt was not unified under a single ruler.

The 21st Dynasty ruled from Tanis, in the eastern Delta in Lower Egypt. The city sat along the once active Tanitic branch of the Nile, but this branch has since dried up. In the Bible, the city was known as Zoan, and it makes an appearance in the prophetic works. In Isaiah 19, he writes that “The officials of Zoan are nothing but fools, the wise counselors of Pharaoh give senseless advice. How can you say to Pharaoh, “I am one of the wise men, a disciple of the ancient kings.”

According to the view that King David began his rule at roughly the beginning of the 10th century BCE, the rule of David and his son Solomon would have been concurrent with the reign of the 21st Dynasty.

The exact nature of the ties between the two regions during this time in unclear from the archaeology alone. The end of the New Kingdom coincided with Egyptian withdrawal from Canaan, and at the beginning of the Third Intermediate Period, Egyptian centralized rule was weaker, not stronger.

In 1 Kings 9, the ties are close. “Here is the account of the forced labor King Solomon conscripted to build the Lord’s temple, his own palace, the terraces, the wall of Jerusalem, and Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer. (Pharaoh king of Egypt had attacked and captured Gezer. He had set it on fire. He killed its Canaanite inhabitants and then gave it as a wedding gift to his daughter, Solomon’s wife. And Solomon rebuilt Gezer).” In the biblical account, Solomon had marriage ties to Egypt and the Egyptian military was active in Canaan.

The pharaoh Siamun ruled for roughly 20 years during the first half of the 10th century BCE. He is believed to have expanded the Temple of Amun at Tanis. On the walls of the Temple of Amun at Tanis there is a relief depicting this pharaoh smiting his enemies. An argument has been extended that this is an image of him smiting the inhabitants of Gezer, based on the Aegean style design of an axe in the hands of possibly a Philistine prisoner, but this interpretation is neither clear nor universally accepted.

The image above is of the funerary mask of the 21st Dynasty pharaoh Amenemope, which was discovered at Tanis. Amenemope would have been a contemporary of King David in the early 10th century BCE.

For the Third Intermediate Period, Third Degree blues:

A Weak Egypt, an Israelite Window

Photo Credit:, Egyptian Museum, Cairo

In the Book of Genesis, the specter of Egypt hangs over many of the stories. Without a major river system traversing the land, Canaan was dependent upon rain for its irrigation, leaving its inhabitants vulnerable to the threat of starvation during periods of drought. It was a desire to survive drought that brought Joseph’s brothers before him in Genesis 44 and which ultimately brought Jacob to Egypt in Genesis 46.

The Late Bronze Age (LBA) Collapse led to the demise of the major kingdoms of the early 12th century BCE. The Mycenaean Greek civilization collapsed, as did the Hittite Kingdom and Kassite Babylonian Kingdom. The Assyrian Kingdom shrunk to become a rump state.

The Egyptian New Kingdom was not impervious to the changes. The LBA Collapse ushered in a period of slow decline in Egypt. Yet even as Egyptian power waned, Egypt still had an influence in the broader region. A cartouche is an oval symbol containing hieroglyphs. A cartouche with the name of Ramesses IX was found in Gezer, roughly between today’s Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, indicating that in the late 12th century BCE, Egypt still remained involved in the southern Levant. Eventually though, a weaker Egypt gradually withdrew from Canaan, until by the late 12th century it seemingly had little to no significant presence there.

Egypt’s New Kingdom 20th Dynasty began with Setnakhte’s ascension to the throne in 1189 BCE. The remaining pharaohs of this dynasty were all name Ramesses. It started out well enough with Ramesses III defeating the Sea Peoples, but presumably difficulties securing food led to a workers strike and later Ramesses III was assassinated. The 20th Dynasty kings Ramesses IV, Ramesses VI and Ramesses VIII were all children of Ramesses III, indicating problems in royal succession.

In this slow winding Egyptian collapse, Libyan tribes such as the Libu, Tehenu, Temehu and Meshwesh attacked Egypt.

The Meshwesh, a Libyan tribe with Berber origins, were speakers of the Afroasiatic language Berber, distantly related to the Semitic and Egyptian languages. The Meshwesh do appear to have been defeated by the Egyptians during Ramesses III’s reign, but they continued to harass the Egyptians throughout the 20th Dynasty.

Eventually, Egypt’s 20th Dynasty could not hold power. The priests of Amun took power in southern, or Upper Egypt, while new rulers emerged in northern, or Lower Egypt. This ushered what has been coined the Third Intermediate Period. At the outset the Egyptian kings were weaker than they had been earlier. As in the Genesis stories, conditions in Egypt in the Iron Age had an impact on the southern Levant. In the Iron IIA period, a diminished Egypt enabled new states such as the Ammonite, Moabite, Aramean and Israelite kingdoms to emerge.

The image above is a statue of Ramesses III, one of the last powerful kings of the 20th Dynasty, on display at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

King David in the Borderlands of Dan

In Genesis 41, the pharaoh made Joseph part of Egyptian royalty. “So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.” Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. He had him ride in a chariot as his second-in-command, and people shouted before him, “Make way!” Thus he put him in charge of the whole land of Egypt.”

In the Bible, King David underwent a multi-stage process on the way to becoming the king over Israel. In 1 Samuel 16, after Saul had disobeyed God’s command, God pointed out David to the prophet Samuel. “So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David.”

In 2 Samuel 2, after King Saul was killed in battle, “Then the men of Judah came to Hebron, and there they anointed David king over the tribe of Judah.” After he defeated Saul’s son, in 2 Samuel 5 “When all the elders of Israel had come to King David at Hebron, the king made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel.” King David secured his leadership over all of Israel.

In the 1970s, certain academics began to take a more skeptical approach to events described in the Bible. They argued that many of the stories and characters were fictional. They questioned the existence of King David, of a united monarchy of 12 tribes, and of the establishment of a Davidic kingdom centered in Jerusalem. Scholars pointed to the lack of corroborating evidence for King David as evidence that this central story was a later invention.

In Joshua 19, the tribe of Dan was allotted territory along the central coastline of the southern Levant. “The territory of their inheritance included Zorah, Eshtaol, Ir Shemesh, Shaalabbin, Aijalon, Ithlah, Elon, Timnah, Ekron, Eltekeh, Gibbethon, Baalath, Jehud, Bene Berak, Gath Rimmon, Me Jarkon and Rakkon, with the area facing Jaffa.” However, the tribes were unable to conquer and hold this territory and the tribe of Dan was forced to find land elsewhere.

In Judges 18, the tribe members of Dan went north, to the northern edge of modern day Israel, to look for suitable territory. “So the five men left and came to Laish, where they saw that the people were living in safety, like the Sidonians, at peace and secure. And since their land lacked nothing, they were prosperous. Also, they lived a long way from the Sidonians and had no relationship with anyone else.”

The Danites decided this was perfect land for themselves. “They attacked them with the sword and burned down their city. There was no one to rescue them because they lived a long way from Sidon and had no relationship with anyone else… The Danites rebuilt the city and settled there. They named it Dan after their ancestor Dan, who was born to Israel, though the city used to be called Laish.”

One skeptic about King David was Philip Davies. In his 1992 book In Search of “Ancient Israel”: A Study in Biblical Origins, he wrote “there are no literary criteria for believing David to be more historical than Joshua, Joshua more historical than Abraham, and Abraham more historical than Adam. An additional problem, in fact, is that there is no non-literary way of making this judgment either, since none of these characters has left a trace outside the biblical text!  Even within the text, the David of 1 Samuel is not the David of 2 Samuel, literarily speaking. These are two characters, created by (probably) different authors.”

In 1993, an excavation of Tel Dan led by Avraham Biran unearthed a stele at Tel Dan in northern Israel. In it, what appears to be an Aramean king boasts of killing the king of Israel and a king of the ‘House of David.’ There are some who question the reading of the monument, but the consensus is that this is a 9th century recognition of a ruler descending from the royal lineage of a King David. How powerful this Davidic kingdom was is a different debate, but the clear attestation of a “House of David” after its mention of a king of Israel has produced a consensus amongst scholars that King David is indeed a historical figure.

The image above is of the Tel Dan Stele, discovered in 1993 and now on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

With confirmation of King David, a little Milli Vanilli:

King David at the Louvre?

In Genesis 37, Joseph’s brothers sold him to Ishmaelite traders. “As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt. Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed. So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.”

These traders are described as having coming first from Midian, in the Arabian Peninsula, and then via Gilead, in the Transjordan between the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee. In taking this path, they would have crossed Moab.

In the Bible, Joseph and King David are the two most developed characters, and their stories contain the most complete narrative arcs. Despite his centrality in the Bible, evidence for King David in the archaeological record has been hard to come by. One of the earliest potential mentions of King David may have come from Moab, in modern Jordan.

In 2 Kings 3, Mesha the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel and against Israelite control of Moab. “When the king of Moab saw that the battle had gone against him, he took with him seven hundred swordsmen to break through to the king of Edom, but they failed. Then he took his firstborn son, who was to succeed him as king, and offered him as a sacrifice on the city wall. The fury against Israel was great; they withdrew and returned to their own land.” In the biblical account, Mesha sacrificing his own son was a turning point and the kings of Israel and Judah did not capture Mesha, the king of Moab.

In the 19th century, local Bedouins in Dhiban, biblical Dibon, east of the Dead Sea in Transjordan, produced the longest Iron Age inscription found in the southern Levant. This monument, the Mesha Stele, recorded the triumphs of the Moabite king Mesha, over the Israelite king.

One potential antiquities buyer took a “squeeze” of the monument, an impression of the letters on paper. The stele was later damaged, and the inscription has been reconstructed using a combination of the surviving pieces and readings of the imprint on the squeeze. Despite the reconstruction, some of the letters are still missing, leaving the inscription subject to interpretation.

One scholar has suggested that there is mention of “the house of David.” With this reading, the “house of David is in Horonen” and the Moabite god Kemosh tells the Moabite king Mesha to capture Horonen, which Mesha does.

In 2 Samuel 7:26, King David’s dynasty is referred to as “the house of your servant David.” If the “House of David” is the correct reading, the “House of David” would presumably be referring to rulers from the lineage of King David, giving us a 9th century mention of King David.

The Mesha Stele is shown in the image above. It is on display at the Louvre Museum in Paris, France.

The Abandoned Hill of Kings

Photo Credit:, Samaria and the Center

Genesis 35 records the birth of Jacob’s last son, Benjamin. “Then they moved on from Bethel. While they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth and had great difficulty. And as she was having great difficulty in childbirth, the midwife said to her, “Don’t despair, for you have another son.” As she breathed her last,for she was dying, she named her son Ben-Oni. But his father named him Benjamin.”

In Joshua 18, it delineates the tribe of Benjamin’s borders. “On the north side their boundary began at the Jordan, passed the northern slope of Jericho and headed west into the hill country, coming out at the wilderness of Beth Aven. From there it crossed to the south slope of Luz (that is, Bethel) and went down to Ataroth Addar on the hill south of Lower Beth Horon. From the hill facing Beth Horon on the south the boundary turned south along the western side and came out at Kiriath Baal (that is, Kiriath Jearim), a town of the people of Judah. This was the western side. The southern side began at the outskirts of Kiriath Jearim on the west, and the boundary came out at the spring of the waters of Nephtoah. The boundary went down to the foot of the hill facing the Valley of Ben Hinnom, north of the Valley of Rephaim. It continued down the Hinnom Valley along the southern slope of the Jebusite city and so to En Rogel. It then curved north, went to En Shemesh, continued to Geliloth, which faces the Pass of Adummim, and ran down to the Stone of Bohan son of Reuben. It continued to the northern slope of Beth Arabah and on down into the Arabah. It then went to the northern slope of Beth Hoglah and came out at the northern bay of the Dead Sea, at the mouth of the Jordan in the south. This was the southern boundary. The Jordan formed the boundary on the eastern side.”

This region was sandwiched between the tribal areas of Ephraim to the north, and Judah to its south. There appears to be come confusion in the text about which tribe was given Jerusalem. In Joshua 18, the list of Benjamin’s towns includes “Zelah, Haeleph, the Jebusite city (that is, Jerusalem), Gibeah and Kiriath.” In Joshua 15, which discusses the tribal allotment of Judah, “Judah could not dislodge the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem,” suggesting that Jerusalem was in Judah’s territory.

Regardless of whose territory Jerusalem was in, in the biblical account, during Saul’s kingship, Jerusalem was occupied by Jebusites, and not available for use as a capital. In the biblical story of the Levite’s concubine who was killed at Gibeah, the other tribes nearly eliminated the entire tribe of Benjamin. Saul was from the tribe of Benjamin, and when he was anointed king he chose to rule from Gibeah, which he did for a period of 38 years.

One of the challenges for archaeology is to correctly locate ancient places in the Bible. One view is that ancient Gibeah is at the modern site of Jaba’, 5.5 miles north of ancient Jerusalem. The more generally accepted view is that ancient Gibeah is on the site of modern day Tall al-Fūl, which translates to “mound of fava beans,” 3 miles north of ancient Jerusalem’s walls, near today’s Pisgat Ze’ev and Shuafat neighborhoods.

Excavations on the site revealed an Iron I fortress dating to the late 13th-12th century BCE. This earlier fortress was destroyed and then rebuilt at the end of the Iron I period between 1050 and the 10th century BCE. The second fortress was more impressive and contained high quality pottery, suggesting that it may have housed an important houseguest, possibly King Saul.

In the biblical account, Gibeah was a one king capital, and did not amount to a “hill of beans” relative to the capital at Jerusalem. If this is indeed the correct site, then it would not be the only time in history that Tall al-Fūl did not amount to a “hill of beans.”

In 1965, King Hussein of Jordan began construction on a summer palace at  Tall al-Fūl. In 1967, Israel captured the site during the Six Day War. The shell of King Hussein’s uncompleted palace remains standing today, abandoned, just as Saul’s capital was said to have been abandoned.

The photo above is of King Hussein’s abandoned palace, possibly the second abandoned palace in the site’s history. In honor of these kings ruling from this hill, the theme song of King of the Hill. 

Over the Jordan and Back Again

In Genesis 31-32, Jacob left his father-in-law Laban the Aramean’s home in Padan Aram, in the region of Syria. He crossed the Euphrates and then headed south into the region of Transjordan. He moved further south to Mahanaim, crossed the Yabbok River and there wrestled with a man. At the completion of their battle, Jacob named the place Peniel, “for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.”

In 2 Samuel 2, after King Saul was killed in battle, David settled in Hebron with his wives. There he was anointed king over the tribe of Judah. As this was taking place, at Mahanaim, Abner son of Ner, the commander of Saul’s army, had Saul’s son Ish-Bosheth made king over the Gilead region in the Transjordan, over Jezreel and over the tribal areas of Ephraim and Benjamin to the north of Judah.

The two sides ultimately went to war. In 2 Samuel 3 Abner was killed, and in 2 Samuel 4 Ish-Boshet was killed. This allowed David to consolidate his reign over all the tribes of Israel from his capital at Hebron.

The exact location of Mahanaim is unknown. In the Bible, it is located in the Gilead region on the eastern side of the Jordan River, in the Transjordan. It is presumably near the Yabbok River, between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. In the pharaoh Shoshenq I’s topographical list in the Karnak temple in Luxor, Egypt, it appears to show that Shoshenq I crossed the Jordan and attacked Mahanaim during the Iron IIA period.

A number of suggestions have been offered to the site location based on the name. Mahanaim is translated as ‘two encampments.” Archaeologists have offered sites based on double features, such as sites with two adjacent hills. However, to date, the location of Mahanaim cannot be determined with confidence.

An interesting aspect to this story in the Bible is the flexibility in choosing capitals at this early stage. The tribes who requested to stay on the eastern banks of the Jordan were required to participate in the battles to conquer the lands west of the Jordan River. A highlight of the story in the Book of Joshua is of God stopping the waters of the Jordan to allow the tribes of Israel to cross to the western banks of the Jordan River. The crossing of the Jordan River marked Israel’s arrival in the promised land. Israel was first ruled by Saul at Gibeah north of Jerusalem, yet Ish-Boshet was appointed king back on the eastern side of the Jordan at Mahanaim.

The photo above is of the ruins of Jarash, in the similar region as Mahanaim on the Jordanian Plateau.

In The Door’s song ‘The End,” Jim Morrison sang “The west is the best.” Ish-Boshet’s death east of the Jordan marked the end of Saul’s dynasty and the beginning of the Davidic rule in the west. In this instance, west bested east.