At the height of their power, the twelve tribes of Israel enjoyed massive prosperity under the direction of their greatest historical leader, King Solomon. When, in the eighth century BC, Solomon heard of the prophet Ahijah's prediction that a young Jeroboam would soon become king over ten of these tribes, he was furious. Evading Solomon's assassins, Jeroboam escaped safely to Egypt where he met a powerful ally, King Shishak the Pharaoh. Upon King Solomon's death, Jeroboam returned to Israel and triumphantly claimed leadership over the ten northern tribes, fulfilling his destiny and dividing the nation. Solomon's son, Rehoboam, remained king over the two large southern tribes, and immediately began preparing to attack his hated rival. It was at this critical point in time, however, that King Shishak suddenly led a surprise invasion from the south. Surrounded by enemies, Rehoboam's Southern Kingdom was promptly plundered and destroyed. The invasion of Palestine by this Egyptian pharaoh in 925 BC holds great historical significance, though archeologists still find many details of the violent event to be highly controversial.
The preceding Hebrew account of the invasion is recorded in the historical books of the Bible's Old Testament, where a variety of specific military details can also be found. 2 Chron 12:3-4 describes "twelve hundred chariots, sixty thousand cavalry, and more soldiers than could be counted," with which the invading Pharaoh "captured the fortified cities of Judah and advanced as far as Jerusalem." Upon reaching the capital city, 1 Kings 14:25-26 adds that "King Shishak.took away all the treasures in the Temple and in the Palace."
Temple of Amun at Karnak
A possible Egyptian account of the invasion can be found in a triumph relief at the Temple of Amun at Karnak. This inscription refers to a King Shoshenq, listing the names of cities and regions that he conquered in a major invasion of Palestine. Further evidence of this campaign has been discovered on the Plain of Esdraelon, where archeologists have uncovered a fragment of a stone stella erected by Shoshenq upon his conquest of the area (Boardman 457).
Since its discovery in 1802, the Egyptian triumph relief's King Shoshenq has been widely viewed as an alternate spelling of the Hebrew Bible's King Shishak. This connection is so significant to the study of Egyptian history that one scholar has claimed, "Egyptologists use the identification of Shishak as Shoshenq as the most powerful of anchor points in their chronology" (Sanders). This approach to Egyptian history is not without controversy, however, as the theory raises many difficult questions.
The main problem with identifying Shishak as Shoshenq seems to center around the issue of the invasion route. The biblical account describes an invasion of Palestine's Southern Kingdom. As this region was an enemy of Jeroboam's Northern Kingdom, an invasion of this area by Egypt would be consistent with the firmly established Jeroboam-Shishak alliance. In the Egyptian account of King Shoshenq's invasion, however, Rehoboam's Southern Kingdom is largely bypassed by Egyptian forces, with the assault focused mainly on the North. This course of action, however, would certainly seem to contradict the alliance between Jeroboam and the Pharaoh (Sanders).
Despite the continuing controversy, the invasion of Palestine in the eighth century BC still holds great significance to historians and archaeologists of the Middle East. As the founder of Egypt's 22nd dynasty, King Shoshenq held tremendous power, and the accounts of his massive invasion represent the first recorded use of cavalry in battle (Sassoon 291, 710). The aggressive attack also resulted in the permanent removal of Jerusalem's sacred temple treasures (including the Ark of the Covenant), which had a tremendous impact on the nation. Though Shishak remains the first foreign king mentioned in the Bible for which there may be extra-biblical evidence, the Hebrew and Egyptian accounts do not always seem to agree in this area. Perhaps future archeological discoveries will someday clear up what questions still remain about this important historical event.