Pharaon So

Hoshea began to reign in Samaria in the twelfth year of Ahaz, king of Judah. When Tiglath-Pileser died, Hoshea made some moves towards greater independence. “Against him came up Shalmaneser [V] king of Assyria” (II Kings 17:3); Hoshea submitted and became a tribute-paying vassal. But in his sixth year, weary of the heavy oppression, Hoshea sought protection of the king of Egypt.

And the king of Assyria found conspiracy in Hoshea: for he had sent messengers to So king of Egypt, and brought no present to the king of Assyria, as he had done year by year: therefore the king of Assyria shut him up, and bound him in prison.(1)

Who was pharaoh So, to whom the king of Israel gave allegiance? He was not identified by the historians: many efforts were made and no acceptable assumption made.

Since most of the eighth century before the present era Egypt was dominated by the kings of the Libyan Dynasty, and the time when Hoshea dispatched messengers to So, king of Egypt, was about -726, the simple solution is to identify one of the Shoshenks as the biblical So, king of Egypt. And further, since on the walls of the Amon temple at Karnak a bas-relief with Israeli cities depicted as tributaries to Shoshenk Hedjkheperre of the Libyan Dynasty is a well-known and much discussed archaeological relic, the identification of the pharaoh So should be simple. Then why was not this identification made?

It was not made because Shoshenk of the Karnak relief was already identified in the conventionally written history with Shishak, the plunderer of Solomon’s temple and conqueror of Judah over two hundred years before the time of king Hoshea of Samaria.

The Karnak temple has on its walls also a relief of Thutmose III of the Eighteenth Dynasty with the captured cities of Palestine shown as men with shields covering the body, inscribed with the names of the cities. Shoshenk’s relief with its scores of similar men symbolizing cities imitates the relief of Thutmose. But whereas the names of cities claimed by Thutmose are all identifiable names, mainly in Judea, the cities listed by Shoshenk are only partly identified, and those are sites in Samaria and Galilee, not in Judea.(2) With the reliefs of Thutmose (Shishak of the Book of Kings) we occupied ourselves in detail in the fourth chapter of Ages in Chaos.

Thutmose left also a description of his campaign accompanying the reliefs; besides, he pictured the booty he brought back from the campaign and presented to the temple of Amon. We have identified this booty, object upon object, with the description of the furnishings and the utensils of the temple of Solomon, and found the designs, the metals, whether gold or silver or brass, from which they were made, and the number of individual objects in the booty (such as the number of golden targets), all in agreement between the biblical and hieroglyphic accounts. Nevertheless it was thought that Thutmose III’s booty was from a pre-Israelite Canaan.

On the other hand, Shoshenk left no record of any campaign in Palestine; next to his relief in Karnak there is only a brief mention of tribute from Syria (Kharu) received by Shoshenk. Therefore it was also repeatedly said that the relief does not convey anything beyond the fact that cities in the northern part of Palestine were claimed as paying tribute to Shoshenk and that on the basis of his relief we could not learn anything about a military conquest of Palestine.(3) While the text seems to show that there was an “oral or written request” from Palestine for the pharaoh to intervene,(4) there is nothing to suggest that Shoshenk ever acted on it—nevertheless, all historians agreed that Shoshenk’s relief serves as a counterpart to the biblical record of the events in the fifth year after Solomon’s death when the pharaoh Shishak invaded Judea, took Jerusalem and other fortified cities, and carried away the treasures of the Temple built by Solomon. An omission to refer to such facts on the part of Shoshenk did not provoke the question of the truth in the identification of Shoshenk and Shishak.

Since, in accordance with the conventional scheme, Shoshenk of the Karnak relief was made to Shishak (this in violation of the way Hebrew letters are transcribed in hieroglyphics) there was no way to identify pharaoh So as another Shoshenk of which there were more than one in the Libyan Dynasty: the name Shoshenk could not be transcribed as both, Shishak and So. Thus the identity of So became an unsolved, and in the frame of that scheme, an unsolvable problem. How annoying it became can be judged by the fact that when, some years ago, a scholar offered to dispose of So and to read the biblical text: “for he [Hoshea] sent messengers to Sais, to the king of Egypt,” Sais being identified as the village Sa el-Hagar, and called his paper “The end of ‘So, king of Egypt,’” (5) it was acclaimed with relief as one of the “most important clarifications of biblical history in recent years—precisely because ‘So, king of Egypt’ was so difficult to identify with any known historical figure.” (6) Yet were So a geographical name, the Hebrew phrase would be le So, le melech Mitzraim—"to So, to the king of Egypt.” As the sentence stands, the second “le” being absent, So is clearly the name of an Egyptian king, and in the revised scheme there is no necessity to dispose of So, king of Egypt.

The seemingly complicated problem is very uncomplicated. In the Scriptures there is a record of tribute paid by Rehoboam, son of Solomon, to pharaoh Shishak as a result of his conquest of Judah; and there is a record of tribute paid two hundred years later by Hoshea of Israel to pharaoh So. In Egypt there are two reliefs depicting tribute received from Palestine: by Thutmose III of the Eighteenth Dynasty from the cities of Judah, and by Shoshenk of the Libyan Dynasty from the cities of Israel. We have identified the first of the two pharaohs who received tribute (from Rehoboam) as Thutmose III(7) and the second, who received tribute from Hoshea, as Shoshenk. Thus two biblical records and two Egyptian documents are in complete agreement. Conventional history, however, by making the Libyan Shoshenk the sacker of Solomon’s Temple, has no counterpart to the records of Thutmose III concerning his campaign in Palestine or tribute paid to him; and it has no Egyptian counterpart to the biblical record of a tribute paid by Israel to pharaoh So.


  1. II Kings 17: 4.

  2. B. Mazar in Vetus Testamentum, Suppl. 4 (1956), pp. 57ff.

  3. J. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Vol. IV, Sect. 709; J. A. Wilson, “Egyptian Historical Texts” in Ancient Near Eastern Texts, ed. by J. Pritchard (Princeton, 1950), p. 263.

  4. D. B. Redford, “Studies in Relations between Palestine and Egypt during the First Millennium B.C.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 93 (1973), p. 10.

  5. H. Goedicke, Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 171 (Oct., 1963), pp. 63-66. See also idem., “727 vor Christus” in Wiener Zeitschrift fuer die Kunde des Morgenlandes 69 (1977), pp. 1-19.

  6. W. F. Albright, “The Elimination of King ‘So’” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research  171 (Oct., 1963), p. 66.

  7. Ages in Chaos, Volume I, Chapter “The Temple in Jerusalem.”