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Solomon and Shishak

30 June 2017
Ancient history

'Solomon and Shishak: Current perspectives for archaeology, epigraphy, history and chronology' the Proceedings of the Third BICANE* Colloquium held at Sidney Sussex college in Cambridge (26-27th March, 2011). BAR International Series 2732 (2015) (BAR is British Archaeological Reports of Oxford). Published originally by Archaeopress in conjunction with BAR (see www.barpublishing.com) The Preface is by Peter James and Peter Van Der Veen. They begin by looking at the current state of play. We ar told, 'hardly a single point of the Biblical story has remained undisputed in recent years'. In particular the minimalist school (especially strong at the universities of Copenhagen and Sheffield) have even disputed the very existence of David and Solomon. Others consider them minor regional rulers of no consequence. The archaeological record is used to support these ideas – and it has got worse. At one time Solomon was thought to be contemporary Iron IIA – as the achaeological record shows this as a prosperous phase, a return to stability after the chaos at the end of the Late Bronze Age. In recent years this synchronism has been challenged – by Finkelstein for instance, by James, Wightman and Chapman etc. It is now looking very likely that Iron IIA belongs to the 9th century – during the dynasty of the Omrides. It was a period of economic stability, it is thought, although there was a backdrop of natural disaster in the way of famine and drought (at the close of the dynasty). The fallout from this shift is that the glorious reign of Solomon is placed during Iron 1, described by James and van der Veen as an arcaheological vacuum. In comparison with Iron IIA it has that appearance – and it is a sort of poverty stricken period, or one of low population levels, wedged as it is between the more successful Late Bronze and Iron II periods. Relegating David and Solomon to Iron I will please the minimalists even more – as the archaeology seems to completely contradict the Biblical emphasis on the splendour of Solomon's court and the geographical spread of his kingdom. There is nothing in early Iron archaeology to support such the Biblical description of the reign of Solomon – or his munificence. This has caused some friction amongst Israeli archaeologists, some of whom are rigorously opposed to Finkelstein's downdating of Iron IIA. 

The  elephant in the room is Shoshenk I – a lynchpin of mainstream chronology. He is identified with Biblical Shishak (and the two names appear to have a distinct similarity). In retrospect, it is somewhat amusing that the Bible still plays a prominent role in Iron Age chronology (and the orthodox historical narrative). The Bible actually props up the consensus chronology – and it is even more amusing to realise the minimalists are hanging their coat on the same hanger. They cannot arbitrarily dismiss this one Biblical synchronism because if they do their house of cards might fall down. For example, if Shishak is not Shoshenk and then Solomon may date prior to the Iron Age. He may have lived in the Late Bronze Age.

The colloquium set out to explore the issue of Shoshenk (and Solomon). A number of scholars were invited to participate. Essentially, this is academics ruminating on the chronology – the professionals. Although SIS began largely as a student movement, and attracted writers and speakers who went on to have a career in universities, including some of the participants in this book, there has always been a strong amateur interest in the subject of revising chronology. SIS, over the years, has attracted a lot of amateur chronological sleuths, some of which are unafraid of putting forward major reconstructions of history (in the spirit of Velikovsky). The academics, on the other hand, can't be expected to stray too far from the orthodox timeline. If you are interested in what the experts have to say this is a book for you. If you dream of a more expansive revision – possibly not so. However, you should get to know the arguments from all sides whichever shirt you are wearing.

* BICANE = Bronze to Iron Age Chronology of the Ancient Near East.

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