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Shishak or Sesac (Hebrew: שישק, Tiberian: IPA: [ʃiʃaq]) or Shishaq is the biblical Hebrew form of the first ancient Egyptian name of a pharaoh mentioned in the Bible.

Shishak's Reign

He is best known for his campaign through Israel and Judah, as recorded in the Hebrew Bible (1 Kings 14:25;2 Chronicles 12:1-12).

Shishak had provided refuge to Jeroboam during the later years of Solomon's reign, and upon Solomon's death, Jeroboam became king of the breakaway tribes in the north, which became the Kingdom of Israel. In the fifth year of Rehoboam's reign (commonly dated between 926 and 917 BC), Shishak swept through the kingdom of Judah with a powerful army, in support of his ally. According to 2 Chronicles 12:3, he was supported by "the Lubim, the Sukkiim, and the Kushites," the latter being called "Ethiopians" in the Septuagint.

Shishak captured a number of cities of that kingdom, including Jerusalem, where he pillaged the temple and the royal palace, and carried away the shields of gold which Solomon had made. Although Judah was humbled, hostilities still continued between the two kingdoms; yet this was the only recorded intervention of a third party into the affairs of these two kingdoms during Rehoboam's reign.

Shishak's name

Texts written in various ancient languages seem to indicate that the first vowel was both long and round, and the final vowel was short. For example, the name is written in the Hebrew Bible as שישק [ʃiːʃaq]. The variant readings in Hebrew, which are due to confusion between the letters < י > Yod and < ו > Vav that are particularly common in the Masoretic Text, indicate that the first vowel was long and received emphasis in pronunciation. The Septuagintuses Σουσακιμ [susakim], derived from the marginal reading שושק [ʃuːʃaq] of Hebrew. This indicates during the 2nd century BC Hebrew-speakers or Alexandrian Greek-speakers pronounced the name with an initial long close back rounded vowel [u].

Shishak identified as Pharaoh Shoshenq I

Bubastis portal at Karnak

Portal showing cartouches of Sheshonq I.

In the very early years after the decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphs, on chronological, historical, and linguistic grounds, nearly all Egyptologists identified Shishak with Shoshenq I. This position was maintained by most scholars ever since, and is still the majority position. The fact that Shoshenq I left behind "explicit records of a campaign into Palestine (scenes; a long list of Palestinian place-names from the Negev to Galilee; stelae), including a stela [found] at Megiddo" supports the traditional interpretation.[1]

While Jerusalem is not mentioned in the list of towns that Shoshenq seized, the Karnak reliefs of this pharaoh are damaged in several sections and some town's names were lost; therefore, many scholars believe that it would have been mentioned here.[2] Specifically, the huge triumphal relief scene of Shoshenq I at Karnak, while extensive, is damaged in rows IV and XI where several Philistine/Canaanite place names are permanently lost.[3]

Shishak identified as another Pharaoh

However, the Egyptologist David Rohl, controversially proposed a massive revision of the traditional chronology of the ancient Near East, and attempted to identify Shishak with Ramesses II.[4] A few scholars, such as Peter James,[5] who accept Rohl's criticism of identifying Shishak with Shoshenq I while not his other theories, have sought to identify Shishak with one of the other Ramesses kings of this period with varying success. The so-called "James" chronology was first developed by Michael Sanders and published in Catastrophism and Ancient History in 1985 many years before James published his revision.[6]

David Rohl, and other followers of the New Chronology, assert that the identification of Shishak as Shoshenq I is based solely on a reading made by Jean-François Champollion of the text of Shoshenq’s Triumphal Relief near the Bubastite Portal of the temple of Karnak at Thebes. There, in a list of cities Shoshenq I had boasted he conquered, Champollion had read the 29th city from the list as y-w-d-h-m-r-k. He then surmised that this could mean Yhuda Malkhut (Hebrew: יְהוּדָה מַלְכוּת, Tiberian: [jəhuðɔh malxuθ]), that is, "Judah Kingdom" — an unlikely Hebrew phrase, Malkhut Yhuda would be more natural — and concluded this list referred to the biblical Shishak's invasion of Judah. However, Max Müller (building on a related proposal by Heinrich Brugsch) later showed that y-w-d-h-m-r-k(yud-he-merek) should be read in Hebrew as Yad Ha-Melekh (יַדְ־הַמֶּלֶך, Tiberian: [jað hamːɛlɛx] meaning "Monument (lit. "hand") of the King", to the king of Judah.

Further, much controversy has resulted because from the list of cities in this inscription it appears that the target of Shoshenq's campaign was not the heartland of the kingdom of Judah (which is what the Bible seems to imply), but the northern cities that became the kingdom of Israel. Many of the cities listed are known today and their order clearly indicates the progression of a military campaign. The conquest of Jerusalem would have been given pride of place, not buried between two insignificant hill-towns hundreds of miles away. It could be Shoshenq only listed the cities he either destroyed, or whose garrisons he defeated in support of the break-away kingdom of Israel. It may be, however, that the text only lists cities that the Egyptians regarded as under their political control, and so not intended to be read as an itinerary or list of directly conquered cities at all, which would be in line with similar lists from elsewhere in Egypt.

Rohl further argued that Shishak does not properly equate to how the Egyptian name Shoshenq would have been spelled by the contemporary Hebrews, and put forth his own identification of Shishak with Ramesses II, based on the hypocoristic form sysw which he claimed was used to refer to Ramesses and abused by the Hebrews into sysq (which Rohl claims is a pun on verbal root שׁקק šqq, the Hebrew word for "to attack, fall upon, storm").

In order for the name Shishak to be read as Shoshenq, the "n" must be dropped— which automatically happens in Biblical Hebrew before a consonant—but for it to agree with sysw, a "q" must be added, which does not correspond to any known phonological rule in Biblical Hebrew other than puns, which are a bit more rare than Rohl seems to suggest. In Northwest Semitic languages (such as Hebrew) /š/ is usually used to record Egyptian /š/ and rarely /s/ after a certain point (as would be the case for sysw), though it has been shown, by Édouard Naville, that it was used in a number of cases, such as in Goshen, which derives from the Egyptian gsm.[7] This does not hold for East Semitic languages such as Akkadian, where confusion between /s/ and /š/ is evident. Rohl seems to suggest in his thesis that any "Semitic" evidence (such as Akkadian) will support his theory with very little caution.[8]. Though Akkadian was used quite often throughout many ancient empires in correspondence, for this to be fully supported, one would probably need to assume his New Chronology is correct.

In response to Rohl's theory, Egyptologists such as Kenneth Kitchen have pointed out that no other known king of Egypt fits the identification as well as Shoshenq I. Setting the reign of Ramesses II three centuries later would not only cause complications with the date of the Battle of Qadesh, it would also conflict with the chronology of Hittite history and with the chronology of Assyrian history.


Some or all of this article is forked from Wikipedia. The original article was at Shishak. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.


  1. K.A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament, William Erdsman & Co, 2003. pp.10, 32-34 & p.607 Page 607 of Kitchen's book depicts the surviving fragment of Shoshenq I's Megiddo stela which bears this king's cartouche
  2. The Epigraphic Survey, Reliefs and Inscriptions at Karnak III: The Bubastite Portal, Oriental Institute Publications, vol. 74 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1954)
  3. Kitchen, op. cit., p.33
  4. Rohl, David (1995). Pharaohs and Kings. New York: Crown Publishers. ISBN 0517703157. 
  5. James, Peter (1993). Centuries of Darkness. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. ISBN 0813519500. 
  6. Sanders, Michael S. (1985). "New Theses for the Reconstruction of Ancient History based upon the Recurrent Cyclic Pertubations of the Earth prior to 648 B.C.". Catastrophism and Ancient History 8 (1). 
  7. Muchiki 1999:315.
  8. Rohl 1995:162

Other sources

  • Muchiki Yoshiyuki (1999). Egyptian Proper Names and Loanwords in North-West Semitic. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature. 
  • Rohl, David M. (1995). Pharaohs and Kings: A Biblical Quest. New York: Crown Publishers, inc.. 

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