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: