Jeroboam's Revolt

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Jeroboam's Revolt
Remains of Jeroboam's altar at Tel Dan
Datec. 931 – 913 BCE

Decisive Judahite victory.

Kingdom of Samaria (Ten Lost Tribes)
Twenty-second Dynasty of Egypt
Kingdom of Judah insignia (based on LMLK).jpg Kingdom of Judah
Commanders and leaders
Thousands of soldiers
72,000 Egyptian warriors[1]
Casualties and losses
Thousands Fewer

Jeroboam's Revolt was an armed insurrection against Rehoboam, king of the United Monarchy of Israel, and subsequently the Kingdom of Judah, led by Jeroboam in the late 10th century BCE, according to the First Book of Kings and the Second Book of Chronicles of the Hebrew Bible. The conflict, referring to the independence of the Kingdom of Samaria and the subsequent civil war during Jeroboam's rule, began shortly after the death of Solomon and lasted until the Battle of Mount Zemaraim. The conflict began due to discontent under the rule of Solomon's successor, his son Rehoboam, and was waged with the goal of breaking away from the United Monarchy of Israel. Though this goal was achieved very early on in the conflict, the war continued throughout the duration of Rehoboam's reign[2] and well into the reign of his son, Abijam, who defeated the armies of Jeroboam but failed to reunite the kingdoms.[3]

Jeroboam had fled to Egypt decades prior to the war after Solomon tried to kill him following prophecies by Yahweh (1 Kings 11:9-13) and Ahijah (1 Kings 11:29-39) that God wanted Jeroboam to rule over ten of the twelve Tribes of Israel,[4] and lived under the protection of the pharaoh Shishak, probably Shoshenq I.[5] Following the news of Solomon's death in 931 BCE, Jeroboam ventured back to the kingdoms of Israel, now under the rule of Solomon's son Rehoboam. Rehoboam's rule had been comparatively less appreciated than his father's, having been advised to show no weakness to the people, and to tax them even more.[6] Jeroboam, as part of a delegation, went before Rehoboam and petitioned for a cap on taxes, which Rehoboam refused.[7] Following the rejection, ten of the tribes withdrew their allegiance to the house of David and proclaimed Jeroboam their king, forming Samaria. Only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin remained loyal to Rehoboam in the new kingdom of Judah.[7]

The Battle of Mount Zemaraim in c. 913 BCE proved to be Jeroboam's final defeat,[8] as the armies of Rehoboam's son Abijam reportedly killed half a million of Jeroboam's soldiers and captured the important Samarian centers of Bethel, Jeshanah, and Ephron, with their surrounding villages.[9] Following this defeat, Jeroboam posed little threat to the Davidic kingdom, and died three years later. Despite defeating the separatist forces of the ten rebel tribes, the kingdoms of Judah and Samaria failed to be reunified in the wake of the war's end, and remained increasingly divided until being destroyed by invaders in 586 BCE and 720 BCE respectively.

Biblical narrative[edit]

Jeroboam was the son of Nebat, a member of the Tribe of Ephraim of Zareda. His mother,[10] named Zeruah (צרוע "lepros") was a widow.[11] He had at least two sons—Abijah[12] and Nadab, the latter of whom succeeded him on the throne of Samaria. While still a young man, King Solomon made him superintendent[13] over his tribesmen in the building of the fortress Millo in Jerusalem and of other public works. Solomon's reign was characterized by extravagant projects that demonstrated the royal family's wealth, which caused widespread discontent among the people that Jeroboam naturally became conversant with.[14] Solomon was apparently influenced by God's prophecy to him that his kingdom would be divided due to his idolatrous practices and that the ten northern tribes would be given to his servant[15] (indeed Jeroboam had been seeking council with the prophet Ahijah),[16] and he sought to kill Jeroboam,[17] who fled to Egypt, where he remained under the protection of pharaoh Shishak until the death of Solomon. After this event he returned and participated in a delegation sent to ask the new king Rehoboam to reduce taxes. After Rehoboam rejected their petition, ten of the tribes withdrew their allegiance to the house of David, thus fulfilling the prophecies.

Jeroboam traveled north and rebuilt and fortified Shechem as the capital of the northern kingdom. Fearing that pilgrimages to the Temple in Jerusalem prescribed by the Torah might be an occasion for his people to go back to their old allegiance, he built two state temples,[18] with golden calves, one in Bethel and the other in Dan.[14] Although criticized for his heretical activities,[19] calf worship was not new in Israelite ritual, but a reintroduction of earlier ritual. Bethel and Dan were already established cultic sites. Jeroboam was engaged in offering incense at Bethel, when a "man of God" warned him that "a son named Josiah will be born to the house of David" who would destroy the altar.[20]

Four years later,[21][22][23]: 174–175  Jeroboam's former compatriot Pharaoh Shishak invaded Jerusalem,[24] leading an army of 60,000 horsemen and 1,200 chariots,[1] in order to provide aid to Jeroboam. According to Josephus, his army met with no resistance throughout the campaign, taking Rehoboam's most fortified cities "without fighting."[25] Finally, he conquered Jerusalem without resistance, because "Rehoboam was afraid." Shishak's forces stripped the city, including the Holy Temple,[25] of Solomon's gold, which was later replaced with brass crafted by Rehoboam.

In the eighteenth year of Jeroboam's reign, Abijam, Rehoboam's son, became king of Judah.[26] During his short reign of three years, Abijam went to considerable lengths to bring the Kingdom of Israel back under his control. He waged a major battle against Jeroboam on Mount Zemaraim, in the mountains of Ephraim using a force of 400,000, and Jeroboam 800,000.[27] Abijam addressed the armies of Israel, urging them to submit and to let the Kingdom of Israel be whole again,[28] but his plea fell on deaf ears. Abijam then rallied his own troops with a phrase which has since become famous: "God is with us as our leader." His elite warriors fended off a pincer movement to rout Jeroboam's troops, killing 500,000 of them,[29] while simultaneously annexing the towns of Bethel, Jeshanah, and Ephron, and their surrounding villages.[9]

Jeroboam was crippled by this severe defeat to Abijam and posed little threat to the Kingdom of Judah for the rest of his reign.[8] Abijam died two years later, with Jeroboam dying about a year after.


The matter of "proving" the revolt actually occurred is difficult. There is neither definitive proofs nor disproofs of a war of succession within Israelite society, and while the existence of a true "united monarchy" of Israel is considered doubtful by most modern historians, it has not led to a concrete theory on the historical origins of the independent kingdoms of Samaria and Judah. The matter of the historicity of the United Monarchy of Israel is central to ascertaining the historicity of Jeroboam's Revolt — if there was no unified state, there could not have been a succession conflict. The prevailing opinion is that the kingdoms of Samaria and Judah developed independently of one another,[30] and that the narrative of a united Israelite monarchy and subsequent breakup is an invention of later writers, made in order to glorify David, and by extension the kingdom of Judah, which was finally codified into Israel's holy texts during the Babylonian exile. There are, however, some challenges to this theory. The Tel Dan Stele shows that the House of David was indeed a historical dynasty, and not a later literary invention as some scholars had postulated. Furthermore, excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa[31] and Gath[32] show that large-scale urban civilizations were more than possible in Judea during the timeframe of the United Monarchy, but nonetheless, they still do not prove such an entity truly existed. Even more so, on the other hand, the alleged empiric capital of Jerusalem shows few signs of such political power during this time. As a middle road, some accept the position of Israel Finkelstein and Neil Silberman, authors of The Bible Unearthed, who state that while David and Solomon may well be based on "certain historical kernels", their kingdom simply could not have been the biblical text's large, centralized, and opulent Israelite empire, based on the evidence available to us in the present day.

Still, the existence of the revolt is not without its support. The matter of the accuracy of the biblical text in describing the monarchy's wealth and size is arguably a separate issue from whether or not a unified kingdom existed. Operating off the assumption of the Albright school of biblical archeology (i.e. neither maximalist nor minimalist), the idea that that Tanakh may present events with genuine historical basis but with considerable embellishment can very well apply to the narrative of the United Monarchy and its collapse. The significance of Khirbet Qeiyafa, an extensively developed urban settlement existing centuries before most biblical archeologists assert Judah could have sustained urban society, is not lost on scholars. Amélie Kuhrt, while acknowledging a general lack of material evidence explicitly indicating a United Monarchy, concludes "[a]gainst this must be set the evidence for substantial development and growth at several sites, which is plausibly related to the tenth century."[33] Kenneth Kitchen reaches a similar conclusion, arguing that "the physical archaeology of tenth-century Canaan is consistent with the former existence of a unified state on its terrain."[34] Furthermore, levels IX and X of Tell Balata, a.k.a. Shechem, Jeroboam's first capital, show that the city was suddenly refurbished during the time period Jeroboam is believed to have reigned, circumstances which Edward F. Campbell Jr. called "tangible evidence of Jeroboam I's rebuilding (1 Kg 12:25) and a return to city status".[35]

The pharaoh Sishak has been historically identified with Shoshenq I. Many inscriptions have been discovered which omit the n glyph from the pharaoh's name, however miscopyings and misspellings of pharaonic names are not at all uncommon in hieroglyphic sources. The Bubastite Portal, a relief discovered at Karnak, in Upper Egypt, and similar reliefs on the walls of a small temple of Amun at el-Hibeh, show Shoshenq I holding in his hand a bound group of prisoners. The names of captured towns are located primarily in the territory of the Kingdom of Israel (including Megiddo), with a few listed in the Negeb, and perhaps Philistia. Some of these include a few of the towns that Rehoboam had fortified according to Chronicles.[36]

The portal is generally believed to record a historical campaign of Sheshonq I in Judah, but it makes no mention of Jerusalem being sacked, nor of Rehoboam or Jeroboam. Various explanations of this omission of Jerusalem have been proposed: its name may have been erased, the list may have been copied from an older pharaoh's list of conquests, or Rehoboam's ransoming the city (as described in the Book of Chronicles) would have saved it from being listed.[21]

There are also some inconsistencies involving the dates of certain events. The calendars for reckoning the years of kings in Judah and Israel were offset by six months, that of Judah starting in Tishrei and that of Israel in Nisan. Cross-synchronizations between the two kingdoms therefore often allow narrowing of the beginning and/or ending dates of a king to within a six-month range. For Abijam, the scriptural data allow the narrowing of his accession to some time between 1 Nisan 914 BCE and the day before 1 Tishri of that year. For calculation purposes, this should be taken as the Judean year beginning in Tishri of 915/914 BC, or more simply 915 BCE. His death occurred at some time between 1 Tishri 912 BCE and 1 Nisan 911 BCE, i.e. in 912 (912/911) BCE. These dates are one year earlier than those given in the third edition of E. R. Thiele's Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, thereby correcting an internal consistency that Thiele never resolved; Thiele's chronology for the first kings of Judah contained an internal inconsistency that later scholars corrected by dating these kings one year earlier, so that Abijam's dates are taken as 915/914 to 912/911 BCE in the present. In addition, Thiele produced 931/930 BC for the division of the kingdom when working backwards from the Battle of Qarqar in 853 BC. According to newer chronologists such as Gershon Galil and Kenneth Kitchen, however, the values are 931 BC for the beginning of the coregency and 915/914 BC for Rehoboam's death.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "7. The First Oppressors: Shishak of Egypt" (PDF), BIIW, Biblical Studies, p. 1.
  2. ^ 2 Chronicles 12:15
  3. ^ Eugene H. Merrill, Kingdom of Priests: A History of Old Testament Israel (2008), p. 347.
  4. ^ 1 Kings 11:40
  5. ^ Troy Leiland, Sagrillo (2015), Shoshenq I and biblical Šîšaq: A philological defense of their traditional equation, Swan, p. 61, ISBN 9781407313894.
  6. ^ Geikie, Cunningham (1887), Hours with the Bible: From Rehoboam to Hezekiah, New York: John B. Alden.
  7. ^ a b Oded, Bustanay; Sperling, S. David, Encyclopaedia Judaica, vol. 11 (2nd ed.), p. 142.
  8. ^ a b 2 Chronicles 13:20.
  9. ^ a b 2 Chronicles 13:19.
  10. ^ An alternative interpretation of the English text, claims Zeruah was the grandmother of Jeroboam, being the mother of Nebat. But this is not supported by the Hebrew source. Additionally throughout the Books of Kings, it is standard practice to also list the names of kings' mothers, on the occasion of the beginning of their reign.
  11. ^ 1 Kings 11:26
  12. ^ 1 Kings 14:1
  13. ^ 1 Kings 11:28
  14. ^ a b Driscoll, James F. "Jeroboam". The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 8. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 6 Jan. 2014
  15. ^ 1 Kings 11:1–11:13
  16. ^ 1 Kings 11:29–11:39
  17. ^ 1 Kings 11:35–11:40
  18. ^ Title = A short introduction to the Hebrew Bible | author = John J Collins | pub = Fortress Press | date = 2007 | pg = 47
  19. ^ 1 Kings 11:25–11:33
  20. ^ 1 Kings 13:1–13:6
  21. ^ a b 'Did Pharaoh Sheshonq Attack Jerusalem?' - Biblical Archaeology Review - 1 July 2014
  22. ^ 'The Chronological Study Bible', Thomas Nelson (2008) - Google Books pg 520
  23. ^ Finkelstein, Israel (2006). "The Last Labayu: King Saul and the Expansion of the First North Israelite Territorial Entity". In Amit, Yairah; Ben Zvi, Ehud; Finkelstein, Israel; Lipschits, Oded (eds.). Essays on Ancient Israel in Its Near Eastern Context: A Tribute to Nadav Naʼaman. Eisenbrauns. pp. 171 ff. ISBN 9781575061283.
  24. ^ 1 Kings 14:25; 2 Chronicles 12:1–12
  25. ^ a b Antiquities of the Jews - Book VIII, Chapter X.
  26. ^ 2 Chronicles 13:1
  27. ^ 2 Chronicles 13:3
  28. ^ 2 Chronicles 13:4–12
  29. ^ 2 Chronicles 13:17
  30. ^ Finkelstein, Israel; Silberman, Neil Asher (2007). David and Solomon: In Search of the Bible's Sacred Kings and the Roots of the Western Tradition. New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 20. ISBN 978-1-416-55688-6.
  31. ^ Garfinkel, Yossi; Ganor, Sa'ar; Hasel, Michael (19 April 2012). "Journal 124: Khirbat Qeiyafa preliminary report". Hadashot Arkheologiyot: Excavations and Surveys in Israel. Israel Antiquities Authority. Archived from the original on 23 June 2012. Retrieved 12 June 2018.
  32. ^ Hasson, Nir (4 August 2015). "Philistine city of Gath a lot more powerful than thought, archaeologists suggest". Haaretz. Haaretz Daily Newspaper Ltd. Retrieved 12 June 2018.
  33. ^ Kuhrt, Amélie (1995). The Ancient Near East, c. 3000-330 BC, Band 1. New York: Routledge. p. 438. ISBN 978-0-41516-762-8.
  34. ^ Kitchen, Kenneth (2003). On the Reliability of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. p. 158. ISBN 978-0-80280-396-2.
  35. ^ "Shechem", pp. 1345–54; The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, ed. 4. Ephraim Stern. New York: Simon & Schuster. (1993)
  36. ^ 2 Chronicles 11:5–12