In about 2000 B.C., an Egyptian pharaoh named Sesostris ordered construction of a new temple near Luxor, Egypt. For 1300 years, his successors kept building on the same site until the complex of temples, halls and obelisks now called Karnak had grown into the largest collection of religious structures in the world. Grateful pharaohs built and decorated walls at Karnak to thank the gods for enabling their military successes. One of those walls can date the reigns of Biblical Kings David and Solomon.
Amun was one of the most important of the gods worshipped at Karnak. An annotated wall drawing shows Amun delivering about 150 captured cities, each identified by hieroglyphs, to a pharaoh named Sheshonk (or Shoshenq). The translated names of the cities include Arad, Beth-Shean, Megiddo and other cities of ancient Israel. Scholars recognized that the Karnak wall memorializes an Egyptian campaign against “the fortified cities of Judah” the Bible says succeeded because King Rehoboam had abandoned the laws of Yahweh. The Bible identifies the conquering pharaoh as Shishak, which scholars say is another name for Sheshonk. So we have two records of the same military campaign, with only the god mandating the outcome differing between them.
Using Greek and Egyptian records, scholars have determined that Sheshonk ruled Egypt from about 943 to 922 B.C. Somewhat arbitrarily, they have dated his campaign against Judah to 925 B.C., three years before his reign ended. Since the Bible says the campaign occurred in Rehoboam’s fifth year, his father Solomon must have passed the throne to him in 930 or 931 B.C. Because Solomon reigned for 40 years, his father David died in about 970 B.C.
Jerusalem is missing from Karnak’s long list of captured cities. The Biblical version of Sheshonk’s campaign (2 Chronicles 12) provides the reason. Sheshonk (or Shishak) spared Jerusalem (and Rehoboam) in exchange for “the treasurers of the temple of the Lord [Yahweh] and the treasurers of the royal palace.”
For people curious about whether events described in the Bible really happened, a visit to Karnak can provide some insight. It also provides an opportunity to view some truly spectacular ancient structures.