Champollion’s Big Mistake

Jean Francois Champollion has been called ‘the Father of Egyptology.’ David Rohl, in his book Pharoahs and Kings: A Biblical Quest, relates that the Conventional Chronology of Egypt, such as that presented by Professor Kenneth Kitchen is based upon certain key assumptions received from Champollion, one of which, Rohl says, has never been questioned before his time. This key assumption is that the Egyptian Pharoah, Shoshenk I whose name is found on the Egyptian monuments is one and the same as ‘Shishak,’ the Pharoah who plundered Solomon’s temple according to the Bible (II Chron. 12). (Rohl, p. 10) This Conventional Chronology is probably out by several centuries because of this, and it has caused archaeologists to look for Israel’s activities in the wrong time period. But where did this assumption come from? It came from Champollion when he made his first (and only) visit to Egypt. Rohl writes (p. 122) …

First, Champollion was entirely wrong in reading name-ring 29 as Iouda-ha-malek (‘Judah the Kingdom’). As Wilhelm Max-Muller pointed out as early as 1888 (Rohl footnote 5), ring 29 should be read Yad-ha-melek which translated literally means ‘Hand of the King’ and should be understood as ‘Monument’ or ‘Stela of the King.’ In other words, it is a location in Palestine where some un-named ruler had erected a commemorative stela. More damaging still to Champollion’s hasty reading is the geographical location of this Yadhamelek;(6) its position in the list locates it in northern Israel, well outside the boundaries of Judah, and so name-ring 29 cannot possibly be translated as ‘Judah the Kingdom.’

Below is a map of Shoshenk’s campaign with Rehoboam’s fortified cities shown with letters. As you can see, name-ring 29 would most logically fall somewhere close to name-rings 30 & 31 and 27 & 28 on the map … that is, nowhere close to Rehoboam’s kingdom at all.

Finally, I Kings 11:40 tells us that Jeroboam, the king of Israel (Northern kingdom) took refuge with Shishak to escape the wrath of Solomon. If Shishak = Shoshenk (Champollion’s view), then why would Shishak invade his ally’s (Jeroboam’s) kingdom in the northern part of Israel and leave the southern kingdom untouched? This is not logical.

Rohl goes on to explain how this fundamental error of Champollion has caused the Third Intermediate Period (TIP) Chronology to be out by several centuries, thus causing archaeologists to look in the wrong dynasty for evidence of Israel’s activities. Again, the points Rohl makes are …

1) Champollion mistranslated name-ring 29 on Shoshenk I’s campaign list, causing him to equate Shoshenk I with the Biblical Shishak.
2) Champollion failed to notice that the location represented by name-ring 29 could not possibly have been ‘Judah the Kingdom’ because of the positively identified locations of the name-rings surrounding name-ring 29
3) No Egyptologists since Champollion (except Rohl) — including the great Kenneth Kitchen — have questioned Champollion’s assertion that Shoshenk = Shishak, thus perpetuating a several century error in Egyptological studies
4) Once we correct this error, we find all kinds of evidence for Israel’s activities as Rohl shows in this book (See my article HERE)

Why does this matter? It matters because now, with Rohl’s New Chronology, the Biblical accounts of the Israelites are confirmed as historical by the findings of archaeology. The Bible is a real history book which relates real activities of real people. It is not a “Bronze Age myth” as skeptics like to say. In fact, it is the most accurate history book in the world … which makes sense that it would be if it truly is the Message of the Creator to Mankind.

One Response to “Champollion’s Big Mistake”

  1. lordkalvan says:

    Whether Rohl is correct or not about Champollion’s ‘big mistake’, it remains the case that the modern chronology of Ancient Egypt is founded on nearly two centuries additional research and study since Champollion’s death and to claim that our current understanding depends on Champollion’s work is misleading. There are three basic components to the modern chronology:

    1. Relative dating methods, such as stratigraphic excavation, pioneered by Flinders Petrie more than 60 years after Champollion’s death.

    2. Absolute chronologies based on calendars and astronomical information derived from contemporary texts and undergoing continual refinement.

    3. Radiometric dating, including carbon-14 and thermoluminescence.

    It is undoubtedly true that there is some imprecision inherent in all these methods, but the likelihood of the modern chronology being in error to the extent Rohl proposes is unlikely. For anyone interested in critiques of Rohl’s methods and conclusions, you can do no better than start here: