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.