Solomon dies and the kingdom is divided

1 Kings 11:14-22   Following the near defeat of Solomon’s chief ally, Pharoah Ramesses II of Egypt, by the Hittites at the Battle of Kadesh in c.939BC (see 11 on Map 57), King Hadad of Edom rebels and refuses to pay tribute to Solomon.

 

Ramses II at Kadesh - relief at Abu Simbel (Public Domain)

Ramesses II at Kadesh - relief at Abu Simbel

 

The Treaty of Kadesh

The Battle of Kadesh in c.939BC is one of the great turning points in history that is not recorded in the Bible. But it had a tremendous influence on events that took place shortly afterwards in Israel.

During the reign of King Solomon, Israel’s most important ally was Egypt. It was in Egypt’s interest to support Solomon (and their mutual ally, King Hiram of Tyre) in order to defend the major trade route (the Via Maris) that went north from Egypt via the coastal plain of Palestine (the Plain of Sharon) and across the Vale of Jezreel to their great trading partners in the lowlands of Mesopotamia.

Towards the end of Solomon’s reign, this important trading route was threatened by the southward expansion of the Hittite empire based on the Anatolian Plateau in modern-day Turkey (see the feature on The Hittites). In the fifth year of his reign, Pharoah Ramesses II decided to take decisive action against the Hittites. He marched north along the Plain of Sharon with thousands of soldiers and chariots, and moved inland to confront the Hittites at Kadesh, north of Damascus.

Scenes depicting the Battle of Kadesh can still be seen today decorating the walls inside the Temple of Ramesses at Abu Simbel.  Unfortunately for the Egyptians (and for the Israelites), the Hittites stood firm, and the indecisive outcome of the battle was confirmed some fifteen years later by the Treaty of Kadesh - the oldest known treaty of which we still have a copy today.

The outcome was particularly devastating for Israel, as news of the near defeat of its superpower ally - Egypt - soon spread among Israel’s neighbours. If Egypt couldn’t stop the Hittites on the northern border of its empire, then it was unlikely to support its ally Solomon if his neighbours rebelled against Israeli overlordship.

King Hadad of Edom was the first to rebel against paying tribute to King Solomon (see 1 Kings11:14). He was followed soon after by King Rezon of Damascus (see 1 Kings11:23-25).

Our knowledge of the Treaty of Kadesh is particularly good as there are two remaining copies that can still be seen today. The Egyptian version of the treaty is recorded boldly in hieroglyphs on the west-facing outer wall of the Cachette Court at Karnak Temple, near Luxor. The Hittite version is written in Akkadian cuneiform, and can be seen on a small clay tablet preserved in the Archaeology Museum in Istanbul.

 

The Treaty of Kadesh

The Treaty of Kadesh on a cuneiform tablet in the Archaeology Museum, Istanbul

     

1 Kings 11:23-25   Shortly afterwards, in c.938BC, King Rezon of Damascus also rebels against Solomon.

1 Kings 11:26-39   To make matters worse, Jeroboam - one of Solomon’s officials - also turns against him. Ahijah, a prophet from Shiloh, tells Jeroboam that - because Solomon has turned away from the LORD and has worshipped Ashtoreth, Chemosh and Molech - Solomon’s son Rehoboam will only rule over two of the twelve tribes of Israel.

1 Kings 11:40   Solomon tries to kill Jeroboam, but he escapes. Jeroboam flees to Egypt to the court of the Egyptian Pharoah ‘Shishak’ (Ramesses II) (see the feature on Pharoah Shishak in the next section).

1 Kings 11:41-43 Solomon dies in 931BC and is buried in the City of David (Zion). He is succeeded by his unpopular son Rehoboam.

1 Kings 12:1-24 Rehoboam meets the elders of Israel at Shechem where he is asked to make the burden of taxation lighter than under his father. Rehoboam refuses and responds that he will make the burden heavier.

As a result, the people of Israel rebel against Rehoboam and appoint Jeroboam - who has returned to Israel with Egyptian support after Solomon’s death - as King of Israel. Rehoboam is left as King of Judah, with the Temple and royal palace in Jerusalem.

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