The aim of such a chronology is to
determine the correct dates of events and persons in the OT as precisely as possible,
that we may better understand their significance.
I. Sources and methods of chronology
Until about a, century ago OT dates were
calculated almost entirely from the biblical statements (so Ussher). Two
difficulties beset this approach. First, the OT does not provide all the
details needed for this task, and some sequences of events may be concurrent
rather than consecutive. Secondly, the ancient versions, e.g. the lxx, sometimes offer variant figures. Hence schemes of this kind are subject to much uncertainty.
Modern scholars try to correlate data
culled both from the Bible and from archaeological sources, in order to
obtain absolute dates for the Hebrews and for their neighbours. From c.
620 bc, a framework is provided by the
Canon of Ptolemy and other classical sources (e.g. Manetho, Berossus)
which can be completed and corrected in detail from contemporary Babylonian
tablets and Egyptian papyri, etc., for the two great riverine states.
The margin of error almost never exceeds a year, and in some cases is reduced
to a week within a month, or even to nil.
Good dates from c.
1400 bc onwards are available,
based on Mesopotamian data. The Assyrians each year appointed an official to
be limmu or eponym, his name being given to his
year of office. They kept lists of these names and often noted down events
under each year, e.g. a king’s accession or a campaign abroad. Thus,
if any one year can be dated by our reckoning, the whole series is fixed. An
eclipse of the sun in the year of the eponym Bur-Sagale is that of 15 June 763 bc, thus fixing a whole series of years and
events from 892 to 648 bc, with
material reaching back to 911 bc.
Alongside these limmu-lists,
king-lists giving names and reigns take Assyrian history back to nearly 2000 bc, with a maximum error of about a
century then, which narrows to about a decade from c. 1400 bc until c. 1100 bc. Babylonian king-lists and
‘synchronous histories’ narrating contacts between Assyrian and Babylonian
kings help to establish the history of the two kingdoms between c.
1400 bc and c. 800 bc. Finally, the scattered information
from contemporary tablets and annals of various reigns provides first-hand
evidence for some periods.
Good dates from c.
1200 bc back to c. 2100 bc can be obtained from Egyptian
sources. These include king-lists, year-dates on contemporary monuments,
cross-checks with Mesopotamia and elsewhere,
and a few astronomical phenomena dated exactly in certain reigns. By this
means, the 11th and 12th Dynasties can be dated to c. 2134–1786 bc, and the 18th to 20th Dynasties to c.
1552–1070 bc, each within a
maximum error of some 10 years; the 13th to 17th Dynasties fit in between
these two groups with a maximum error of about 15 or 20 years in their
middle. Mesopotamian dates during 2000–1500 bc
depend largely on the date assignable to Hammurapi of Babylon: at present it
varies within the period 1850–1700 bc,
the date 1792–1750 bc (S. Smith)
being as good as any.
Between 3000 and
2000 bc all Near Eastern dates
are subject to greater uncertainty, of up to two centuries, largely because
they are inadequately linked to later dates. Before 3000 bc, all dates are reasoned estimates
only, and are subject to several centuries’ margin of error, increasing with
distance in time. The ‘Carbon-14’ method of computing the dates of organic
matter from antiquity is of most service for the period before 3000 bc, and such dates carry a margin of
error of ±250 years. Hence this method is of little use to biblical
chronology; the possible sources of error in the method require that
‘Carbon-14’ dates must still be treated with reserve.
Such a framework
for Mesopotamia and Egypt helps
to fix the dates of Palestinian discoveries and of events and people in the
Bible; thus the story of the Heb. kingdoms affords cross-links with Assyria and Babylonia.
The successive levels of human occupation discerned by archaeologists in the
town-mounds (‘tells’) of ancient Palestine often contain datable objects
which link a series of such levels to corresponding dates in Egyptian history
down to the 12th century bc.
Thereafter, the changes of occupation can sometimes be linked directly with
Israelite history, as at *Samaria, *Hazor and *Lachish.
Israelite dates can be fixed within a margin of error of about 10 years in
Solomon’s day, narrowing to almost nil by the time of the fall of Jerusalem in 587 bc. The margins of error alluded to
arise from slight differences in names or figures in parallel king-lists,
actual breakage in such lists, reigns of yet unknown duration and the
limitations of certain astronomical data. They can be eliminated only by
future discovery of more detailed data.
complications in chronology stem from the different modes of calendaric
reckoning used by the ancients in counting the regnal years of their
monarchs. By the accession-year system, that part of a civil year elapsing
between a king’s accession and the next New Year’s day was reckoned not as
his first year, but as an ‘accession-year’ (that year being credited to the
previous ruler), and his first regnal year was counted from the first New
Year’s day. But by the non-accession-year system of reckoning, that part of
the civil year between a king’s accession and the next New Year’s day was
credited to him as his first regnal ‘year’, his second being counted from the
first New Year’s day. The type of reckoning used, by whom, of whom, and when,
is especially important for right understanding of the chronological data in
Kings and Chronicles.
antiquity before Abraham
The creation is sufficiently dated by that
immortal phrase, ‘in the beginning …’, so distant is it. The period from Adam
to Abraham is spanned by genealogies in the midst of which occurs the Flood.
However, attempts to use this information to obtain dates for the period from
Adam to Abraham are hindered by lack of certainty over the right
interpretation. A literal Western interpretation of the figures as they stand
yields too low a date for events recorded, e.g. the Flood. Thus, if,
for example, Abraham’s birth is set at about 2000 bc (the earliest likely period), the figures in Gn.
11:10–26 would then yield a date for the Flood just after 2300 bc a date so late that it would fall
some centuries after Sir Leonard Woolley’s flood-level at Ur, itself
of too late a date to be the flood of either the Heb. or Bab. records.
Similar difficulties arise if Adam’s date be further calculated in this way
from Gn. 5 on the same basis.
attempted interpretation must be sought along other lines. Ancient Near
Eastern documents must be understood in the first place as their writers and
readers understood them. In the case of genealogies, this involves the
possibility of abbreviation by omission of some names in a series. The main
object of the genealogies in Gn. 5 and 11 is apparently not so much to
provide a full chronology as to supply a link from earliest man to the great
crisis of the Flood and then from the Flood down through the line of Shem to
Abraham, forefather of the Hebrew nation. The abbreviation of a *genealogy by omission does not affect
its value ideologically as a link, as could be readily demonstrated from
analogous ancient Near Eastern sources. Hence genealogies, including those of
Gn. 5 and 11, must always be used with great restraint whenever it appears
that they are open to more than one interpretation.
III. Dates before the monarchy
Three lines of approach can be used for
dating the Patriarchs: mention of external events in their time, statements
of time elapsed between their day and some later point in history, and the
evidence of period discernible in the social conditions in which they lived.
The only two
striking external events recorded are the raid of the four kings against five
in Gn. 14 (*Amraphel, *Arioch, *Chedorlaomer) and the destruction of the cities of the
plain in Gn. 19 (*Plain, Cities of the),
both falling in Abraham’s lifetime.
None of the kings
in Gn. 14 has yet been safely identified with a particular individual in the
2nd millennium bc, but the names
can be identified with known names of that general period, especially 1900 to
1500 bc. Power-alliances formed
by rival groups of kings in Mesopotamia and Syria are particularly typical of
the period 2000–1700 bc: a
famous letter from Mari on the middle Euphrates says of this period, ‘there
is no king who of himself is the strongest: ten or fifteen kings follow
Hammurapi of Babylon, the same number follow Rim-Sin of Larsa, the same
number follow Ibal-pi-El of Eshnunna, the same number follow Amut-pi-El of
Qatna, and twenty kings follow Yarim-Lim of Yamkhad.’ In this period also,
Elam was one of several prominent kingdoms.
outline: Old Testament
The purpose of this chart is to set
contemporary events alongside each other, not to show the development of
nationhood or the progress of conquest.
All dates are best taken as ‘about bc, as the possible variation can run
to a century or more in 2000 bc,
down to a decade by 1000 bc.
Most of the dates for the Hebrew monarchies are quoted in double form, e.g.
Asa, 911/10–870/69 bc, because
the Hebrew year does not coincide with the January to December of our civil
For other Near Eastern rulers, space and
scope forbid any explanation of the vast amount of documentation and
reasoning which underlie the dates given in the tables below, but from c.
900 bc onward, Assyrian,
Babylonian and Persian dates are nearly all very closely fixed.
Prophets are indicated by *
Before 2000 ad Events of Gn. 1–11
Crossing of Jordan
1200)-1050 (or 1045) Period of the Judges
Deborah and Barak
Samuel, judge and prophet
Dynastyi.e. Setnakht and Rameses III-XI
1st dynasty of Babylon
Nebuchadnezzar I (Babylonia)
Jeoboam II (co-regent from 793/92)
c. 760 Amos*
c. 760 Jonah*
c, 755–722 Hosea*
722 Fall of
Jehoshaphat (co-regent from 873/72)
Jehoram (co-regent from 853)
Joash c. 810–750 Joel*
Azariah (Uzziah) (co-regent from 791/90)
C. 742–687 Micah*
C. 740–700 Isaiah*
Jotham (co-regent from 750)
Ahaz (co-regent from 744/43; senior partner from 735)
Shehonq I (Shishak)
732 Fall of
Manasseh (co-regent from 696/95)
c. 664–612 Nahum*
c. 640 Zephaniah*
Josiah c. 621–580 Jeremiah*
his friends are taken to Babylon) c. 605 Habakkuk*
597 2 Adar
(15/16 March) Jerusalem taken by Nebuchadnezzar II. Many Jews exiled
including Jehoiachin and Ezekiel
Zedekiah c. Obadiah*
587 Fall of
Jerusalem. More Jews into exile
Zerubbabel, Sheshbazzar and others return to Jerusalem
Rebuilding of the temple begun
c. 520 Haggai*
c. 520 Zechariah*
completed 3 Adar (10 March)
c. 460 Malachi*
goes to Jerusalem
Nehemiah at Jerusalem
the Great 332–323
Amasis (Ahmose II)
Ptolemy I Soter
annexed by Ptolemy I
Ptolemy III Euergetes
Ptolemy IV Philopator
Ptomely V Epiphanes
612 Fall of
Nebuchadnezzar II c. 604–535 Daniel*
Ration-tablets of Jehoiachin at Babylon, 10th-35th years of Nebuchadnezzar
562–560 Amēl-Marduk (Evil-merodach)
Jehoiachin favoured by Amēl-Marduk
Nabonidus (Belshazzar usually acting in Babylon)
539 Fall of
Xerxes I (Ahasuerus)
Darius II Nothus
Artaxerxes II Mnemon
Artaxerxes III Ochus
Darius III Codomanus
Alexander of Macedon
Seleucus I Nicator
Antiochus I Soter
Antiochus II Theos
Seleucus III Soter
III the Great
Mattahias inspires revolt at Modin
Macabees/Hasmonaeans in Judea
150 bc-ad 70 General period of the Dead Sea
Salome Alexandra and Hyrcanus II
Hyrcanus II and Aristoblus II
establishes Roman prortectorate
Antiochus VII Sidetes
endeavoured to date the campaign of Gn. 14 from its supposed archaeological
results: he claims that the line of city-settlements along the later ‘King’s
Highway’ was clearly occupied at the start of the 2nd millennium (until the
19th century bc, on modern
dating), but that soon thereafter the area suddenly ceased to be occupied,
except for roving nomads, until about 1300 bc,
when the Iron Age kingdoms of Edom, Moab and Ammon were effectually founded.
has been applied to the date of the fall of the cities of the plain, although
their actual remains appear now to be beyond recovery (probably being under
the Dead Sea).
This picture of
an occupational gap between the 19th and 13th centuries bc has been criticized by Lankester
Harding in the light of certain recent finds in Transjordan, including Middle
Bronze tombs and an important Middle and Late Bronze temple. However, the
views of neither Glueck nor Harding need be pressed to extremes; in all
probability the view of a reduced density of population between the 19th and
13th centuries is true in general and of the Highway cities in particular,
while at certain isolated points occupation may have been continuous.
statements link the day of the Patriarchs with later times. In Gn. 15:13–16
Abraham is forewarned that his descendants will dwell in a land not theirs
for some four centuries. The ‘fourth generation’ of v. 16 is difficult; if a
‘generation’ be equated with a century (cf. Ex. 6:16–20), this
usage would be unusual. A possible but dubious alternative is to see in v. 16
a prophetic allusion to Joseph’s journey to Canaan to bury Jacob (Joseph
being in the ‘fourth generation’ if Abraham is the first). The entry of Jacob
into Egypt (Gn. 46:6–7) was the starling-point of the general four centuries
of Gn. 15:13 as well as of the more specific 430 years of Ex. 12:40. The
Hebrew MT form of Ex. 12:40, giving Israel 430 years
in Egypt, is to be preferred to the lxx
variant, which makes 430 years cover the sojournings in both Canaan and
Egypt, because Ex. 12:41 clearly implies that ‘on that very day’, after 430
years, on which Israel went forth from Egypt was the anniversary of that
distant day when the Patriarch Israel and his family had entered Egypt. Hence
an interval of 430 years from Jacob’s entry till Moses and Israel’s departure
seems assured. The genealogy of Ex. 6:16–20, which can hardly cover the 430
years if taken ‘literally’ Westernwise, is open to the same possibility of
selectivity as those of Gn. 5 and 11, and so need raise no essential
difficulty. Three points are worthy of reflection. First, although Moses is
apparently in the fourth generation from the Patriarch Jacob through Levi,
Kohath and Amram (Ex. 6:20; 1 Ch. 6:1–3), yet Moses’ contemporary Bezalel is
in the seventh generation from Jacob through Judah, Perez, Hezron, Caleb, Hur
and Uri (1 Ch. 2:18–20), and his younger contemporary Joshua is in the
twelfth generation from Jacob through Joseph, Ephraim, Beriah, Rephah, Resheph,
Telah, Tahan, Laadan, Ammihud, Eli-shama and Nun (1 Ch. 7:23–27). Hence there
is a possibility that Moses’ genealogy is abbreviated by comparison with
those of Joshua and even Bezalel. Secondly, Moses’ ‘father’ Amram and his
brothers gave rise to the elans of Amramites, Izharites, etc., who
already numbered 8,600 male members alone within a year of the Exodus (Nu.
3:27–28), an unlikely situation unless Amram and his brothers themselves
flourished distinctly earlier than Moses. Thirdly, the wording that by Amram
Jochebed ‘bore’ Moses, Aaron and Miriam (Ex. 6:20; Nu. 26:59), like ‘became
the father’, av ‘begat’, in Gn.
5 and 11, need not imply immediate parenthood but also simply descent.
Compare Gn. 46:18, where the preceding verses show that great-grandsons of
Zilpah are included among ‘these she bore to Jacob’. On these three points,
see also WDB, p. 153. For the date of the Exodus occurring on
independent grounds 430 years after a late-18th-century date for Jacob, see
conditions reflected in the patriarchal narratives afford no close dating,
but fit in with the general date obtainable from Gn. 14 and 19 and from the
use of the 430-year figure to the Exodus. Thus the social customs of adoption
and inheritance in Gn. 15–16; 21; etc., show close affinity with those
observable in cuneiform documents from Ur, etc., ranging in date from
the 18th to 15th centuries bc.
The great freedom
to travel long distances—witness Abraham’s path including Ur and Egypt—is
prominent in this general age: compare envoys from Babylon passing Mari to
and from Hazor in Palestine. For power-alliances at this time, see above. In
the 20th and 19th centuries bc
in particular, the Negeb (‘the South’) of the later Judaea supported seasonal
occupation, as illustrated by Abraham’s periodic journeys into ‘the South’.
The general results, bearing in mind the traditional figures for the lives,
births and deaths of the Patriarchs, is to put Abraham at about 2000–1850,
Isaac about 1900–1750, Jacob about 1800–1700 and Joseph about 1750–1650;
these dates are deliberately given as round figures to allow for any later
adjustment. They suit the limited but suggestive archaeological evidence, as
well as a plausible interpretation of the biblical data.
A date for the
entry of Jacob and his family into Egypt at roughly 1700 bc would put this event and *Joseph’s ministry in the 13th Dynasty
and Hyksos period of Egyptian history, during which rulers of Semitic stock
posed as pharaohs of Egypt; the peculiar blend of Egyptian and Semitic elements
in Gn. 37:1 would agree with this.
Exodus and Conquest
(For alternative Egyptian dates in this
section, see the Chronological Tables.) The next contact between Israel and
her neighbours occurs in Ex. 1:11, when the, Hebrews were building the cities
Pithom and Ra’amses in Moses’ time. Ra’amses was Egypt’s Delta capital named
after, and largely built by, Rameses II (c. 1279–1213 bc) superseding the work of his father
Sethos I (c. 1294–1279 bc);
this is true of Qantir, the likeliest site for Ra’amses. Rameses I (c.
1295–1294 bc) reigned for just
over a year, and so does not come into consideration. Before Sethos I and
Rameses II, no pharaoh had built a Delta capital since the Hyksos period
(Joseph’s day); the city Ra’amses is thus truly an original work of these two
kings, and not merely renamed or appropriated by them from some earlier
ruler, as is sometimes suggested. Hence, on this bit of evidence, the Exodus
must fall after 1300 bc and
preferably after 1279 bc
(accession of Rameses II). A lower limit for the date of the Exodus is
probably indicated by the so-called Israel Stele, a triumphal inscription of
Merenptah dated to his fifth year (C. 1209 bc),
which mentions the defeat of various cities and peoples in Palestine,
including Israel. Some deny that Merenptah ever invaded Palestine; for
Drioton, La Bible et l’Orient, 1955, pp. 43–46, the Palestinian
peoples were merely overawed by Merenptah’s great victory in Libya, which his
stele principally commemorates; and the mention of Israel would be an
allusion to the Hebrews disappearing into the wilderness to, as the Egyptians
would think, certain death. See further, C. de Wit, The Date and Route of
the Exodus, 1960. The Exodus would then fall in the first five years of
Merenptah (c. 1213–1209 bc).
However, this view is open to certain objections. An inscription of Merenptah
in a temple at Amada in Nubia in strictly parallel clauses names him as
‘Binder of Gezer’ and ‘Seizer of Libya’. ‘Seizer of Libya’ refers beyond all
doubt to Merenptah’s great Libyan victory in his 5th year, recounted at
length in the Israel Stele. Hence the very specific, strictly parallel, title
‘Binder of Gezer’ must refer to successful intervention by Merenptah in
Palestine, even if of limited scope. With this would agree the plain meaning
of the Israel Stele’s references to Ascalon, Gezer, Yenoam, Israel and Khuru
as ‘conquered’, ‘bound’, ‘annihilated’, ‘her crops are not’ and ‘widowed’
respectively Then, the reference to ‘Israel, her crops (= lit. ‘seed’) are
not’ may reflect the Egyptians’ practice of sometimes burning the growing
crops of their foes- applicable to Israel beginning to settle in Palestine,
but not to Israel going forth into the wilderness. Hence, on the
likelier interpretation of the Israel Stele here upheld, Israel must have
entered Palestine before 1209 bc,
and the Exodus 40 years earlier would therefore fall before 1250 bc. The probable date of the Exodus is
thus narrowed down to the period 1279–1250 bc.
A good average date for the Exodus and wanderings would thus be roughly the
period 1270–1230 bc. For views
which postulate more than one Exodus, or that some tribes never entered
Egypt, there is not a scrap of objective external evidence, and the biblical
traditions are clearly against such suggestions.
The figure of 40
years for the wilderness travels of the Hebrews is often too easily dismissed
as a round figure which might mean anything. This particular 40-year period
is to be taken seriously as it stands, on the following evidence. Israel took
a year and a fraction in going from Ra’amses to Kadesh-barnea (they left
Ra’amses on the fifteenth day of the ‘first month’, Nu. 33:3) leaving Mt
Sinai on the twentieth day of the second month of the second year, Nu. 10:11.
To this period, add at least: 3 days, Nu. 10:33; perhaps a further month, Nu.
11:21; and 7 days, Nu. 12:15; total 1 year and 21/2 months’ travel; then the
subsequent 38 years from Kadesh-barnea to crossing the brook Zered (Dt. 2:14
and Nu. 21:12), Moses addressing Israel in the plains of Moab in the eleventh
month of the fortieth year (Dt. 1:3). The function of the 40 years in
replacing one generation (rebellious) by another is clearly stated in Dt.
that Hebron was founded 7 years before Zoan in Egypt (Nu. 13:22) is sometimes
linked with the contemporary Era of Pi-Ramesse in Egypt, covering 400 years
from approximately 1720/1700 to about 1320/1300 bc. This Era would then run parallel to the 430 years of
Hebrew tradition. This idea, however, is interesting rather than convincing.
evidence agrees in general terms with the Egyptian data.
Palestinian city-sites show evidence of clear destruction in the second half
of the 13th century bc, which
would agree with the onset of the Israelites placed at roughly 1240 bc onward. Such sites are Tell Beit
Mirsim, Lachish, Bethel and Hazor. Two sites only have given rise to
controversy: Jericho and Ai.
At Jericho the
broad truth seems to be that Joshua and Israel did their work so well that
Jericho’s ruins lay open to the ravages of nature and of man for five
centuries until Ahab’s day (cf. 1 Ki. 16:34), so that the Late Bronze
Age levels, lying uppermost, were almost entirely denuded, even earlier
levels being distinctly affected. Thus on some parts of the mound the uppermost
levels that remain date as far back as the Early Bronze Age (3rd millennium bc), but the evidence from other parts
and the tombs demonstrates clearly the existence of a large Middle Bronze Age
settlement subsequently much denuded by erosion. The exceedingly scanty
relics of Late Bronze Age Jericho (i.e. of Joshua’s age) are so few simply
because they were exposed to erosion for an even longer period, from Joshua
until Ahab’s reign; and any areas not occupied by the Iron Age settlement of
Ahab’s time and after have been subject to erosion right down to the present
day. Hence the nearly total loss of Late Bronze Jericho of the 14th century bc and the likelihood of the total
loss of any settlement of the 13th century bc.
attributed to the Late Bronze Age by Garstang prove, on fuller examination,
to belong to the Early Bronze Age, c. 2300 bc, and so cease to be relevant to Joshua’s victory. The
apparent cessation of Egyptian kings’ scarabs at Jericho with those of
Amenophis III (died c. 1353 bc)
does not of itself prove that Jericho fell then, but merely witnesses to the
temporary eclipse of direct Egyptian influence in Palestine in the time of
that king and his immediate successors, known also from other sources. Of
Mycenaean pottery (commonly imported into Syria-Palestine in the 14th and
13th centuries bc), a paucity at
Jericho likewise does not prove that Jericho fell earlier in the 14th century
rather than well on in the 13th. The fact has been overlooked hitherto that
these imported vessels are sometimes very rare on inland Syro-Palestinian
sites at the same time as they are common in other settlements at, or readily
accessible from, the coast. Thus the equally inland town of Hama in Syria is
known to have been occupied during the 13th century bc, but it yielded only two late Mycenaean potsherds-which
is less than even the few from Jericho; for Hama, see G. Hanfmann, review of
P. J. Riis, ‘Hama II’, pt. 3, in JNES 12, 1953, pp. 206–207. The net
result of all this is that a 13th-century Israelite conquest of *Jericho cannot be formally proven on
the present archaeological evidence, but neither is it precluded thereby.
*Ai presents a problem
demanding further field-research; the parts of the mound of Et-Tell so far
excavated ceased to be occupied about 2300 bc.
The answer may be that a Late Bronze settlement is still to be located in the
neighbourhood, but certainty is at present unattainable.
At Hazor the
destruction of city XIII probably reflects the attack under Joshua, but the
date 1230 bc is too high (based
on wrong Egyp, dates), and should read ‘within 1220–1200 bc’. The proposed 1275 bc (P. Beck, M. Kochavi, Tel Aviv
12, 1985, pp. 33, 38), also fails for the same reason. At Lachish (Tell
ed-Duweir), the partial burning in stratum VII might be Israelite, not
stratum VI, too late (cf. D. Ussishkin, in J. N. Tubb, ed., Palestine
in the Bronze and Iron Ages, 1985, p. 224). It is usually impossible to
tell arehaeologically who destroyed any particular settlement: The
Habiru/ Apiru of the Amarna Tablets (c. 1350 bc) are sometimes identified with the invading Israelites
under Joshua. But the details in each case disagree; and the very equation of
Habiru/Apiru with ‘Hebrew’ is now often discounted. For a defence of a
15th-century date of the Exodus and Entry, see J. J. Bimson, Redating the
Exodus and Conquest, 1978; but new data (e.g. on history of
Covenant) is not in favour.
Joshua until David’s accession
This period presents a problem in detail
which cannot be finally solved without more information. If the 40 years of
the Exodus journeyings, the 40 years of David’s reign and the first 3 of
Solomon’s be subtracted from the total of 480 years from the Exodus to
Solomon’s 4th year (1 Ki. 6:1) a figure of about 397 years is obtained for
Joshua, the elders, the judges and Saul. The archaeological evidence
indicates roughly 1220 bc for
the start of the conquest (see above), giving only some 210 years to 1010 bc, the probable date of David’s
accession. However, the actual total of recorded periods in Joshua, Judges
and Samuel amounts neither to 397 nor to 210 years, but to 470 + .v + y + z
years, where x stands for the time of Joshua and the elders, y for the number
of years beyond 20 that Samuel was judge and z for the reign of Saul, all
unknown figures. But the main outline of the problem need not be difficult to
handle in principle, if viewed against the background of normal ancient
oriental modes of reckoning, which alone are relevant. It is nowhere
explicitly stated that either the 397 years obtained from using 1 Ki. 6:1 or
the 470 plus unknown years of Joshua-Samuel must all be reckoned
consecutively, nor need this be assumed. Certain groups of judges and
oppressions are clearly stated to be successive (‘and after him …’), but this
is not said of all: at least three main groups can be partly contemporary. So
between the evidently consecutive 210 years obtained arehaeologically and the
possibly partly-concurrent 470-plus-unknown years recorded, the difference of
some 230-plus-unknown years can readily be absorbed. The 397 years in turn
would then be simply a selection on some principle not yet clear (such as
omission of oppressions or something similar) from the greater number of the
470-plus-unknown total years available.
In Near Eastern
works involving chronology, it is important to realize that ancient scribes
did not draw up synchronistic lists as is done today. They simply listed each
series of rulers and reigns separately, in succession on the papyrus or
tablet. Synchronisms were to be derived from special historiographical works,
not the king-lists or narratives serving other purposes. An excellent example
of this is the Turin Papyrus of Kings from Egypt. It lists at great length
all five Dynasties 13 to 17 in successive groups, totalling originally over
150 rulers and their reigns accounting for at least 450 years. However, it is
known from other sources that all five Dynasties, the 150-odd rulers and
450-odd regnal years alike, must all fit inside the 234 years from c.
1786 to c. 1552 bc:
rarely less than two series, and sometimes three series, of rulers are known
to have reigned contemporaneously. The lack of cross-references between
contemporaries (e.g. among the judges) is paralleled by similar lack
of such references for most of the period of Egyptian history just cited.
situation can be discerned in the king-lists and history of the Sumerian and
Old Babylonian city-states of Mesopotamia. Hence, there is no reason why such
methods should not apply in a work like the book of Judges. It must be
stressed that in no case, biblical or extra-biblical, is it a question of
inaccuracy, but of the methods current in antiquity. All the figures may be
correct in themselves-it is their interpretation which needs care. Selective
use of data by omission, as suggested above for the origin of the 397 (of
480) years, is known from both Egyptian lists and Mesopotamian annals, as
well as elsewhere. The biblical figures and archaeological data together
begin to make sense when the relevant ancient practices are borne in mind;
any final solution in detail requires much fuller information.
IV. The Hebrew monarchies
That David’s reign actually lasted 40 years
is shown by its being a compound figure: 7 years at Hebron, 33 at Jerusalem
(1 Ki. 2:11). Solomon’s reign of 40 years began with a brief co-regency with
his father of perhaps only a few months; cf. 1 Ki. 1:37–2:11; 1 Ch.
28:5; 29:20–23, 26–28. As Solomon’s reign appears to have ended c.
931/30 bc, he acceded c.
971/70 bc, and David at c.
The reign of Saul
can only be estimated, as something has happened in the Hebrew text of 1 Sa.
13:1; but the 40 years of Acts 13:21 must be about right, because Saul’s
fourth son, Ishbosheth, was not less than 35 years old at Saul’s death (dying
at 42, not more than 7 years later, 2 Sa. 2:10). Hence if Jonathan the eldest
was about 40 at death, Saul could not be much less than 60 at death. If he
became king shortly after being anointed as a ‘young man’ (1 Sa. 9:2; 10:1,
17ff.), he probably would not be younger than 20 or much older than 30, so
practically guaranteeing him a reign of 30 or 40 years. Thus if taken at a
middle figure of about 25 years old at accession with a reign of at least 35
years, the biological data suit, and likewise Acts 13:21 as a figure either
round or exact. Saul’s accession is thus perhaps not far removed from about
1045 or 1050 bc.
(i) To the fall of Samaria. From
comparison of the Assyrian limmu or eponym lists, king-lists and historical texts, the date 853 bc can be fixed for the battle of
Qarqar, the death of Ahab and accession of Ahaziah in Israel; and likewise
Jehu’s accession at Joram’s death in 841 bc.
The intervening reigns of Ahaziah and Joram exactly fill this interval if
reckoned according to the customary methods of regnal counting. Similar
careful reckoning by ancient methods gives complete harmony of figures for
the reigns of both kingdoms back to the accessions of Rehoboam in Judah and
Jeroboam in Israel in the year 931/930 bc.
Hence the dates given above for the United Monarchy.
dates of both sets of kings can be worked out down to the fall of Samaria not
later than 720 bc. This has been
clearly shown by E. R. Thiele, Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings3,
1965. It is possible to demonstrate, as he has done, co-regencies between Asa
and Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat and Jehoram, Amaziah and Azariah (Uzziah),
Azariah and Jotham, and Jotham and Ahaz. However, Thiele’s objections to the
synchronisms of 2 Ki. 17:1 (12th year of Ahaz equated with accession of
Hoshea in Israel), 2 Ki. 18:1 (3rd year of Hoshea with accession of Hezekiah
of Judah) and 2 Ki. 18:9–10 (equating Hezekiah’s 4th and 6th years with
Hoshea’s 7th and 9th) are invalid. Thiele took these for years of sole reign,
12/13 years in error. However, the truth appears to be that in fact these
four references simply continue the system of co-regencies: Ahaz was
co-regent with Jotham 12 years, and Hezekiah with Ahaz. This practice of
co-regencies in Judah must have contributed notably to the stability of that
kingdom; David and Solomon had thus set a valuable precedent.
(ii) Judah to
the fall of Jerusalem. From Hezekiah’s reign until that of Jehoiachin,
dates can still be worked out to the year, culminating in that of the Babylonian
capture of Jerusalem in 597 bc,
precisely dated to 15/16 March (2nd of Adar) 597 by the Babylonian Chronicle
tablets covering this period. But from this point to the final fall of
Jerusalem, some uncertainty reigns over the precise mode of reckoning of the
Hebrew civil year and of the various regnal years of Zedekiah and
Nebuchadrezzar in 2 Kings and Jeremiah. Consequently two different dates are
current for the fall of Jerusalem: 587 and 586 bc. The date 587 is here preferred, with Wiseman and Albright
(against Thiele for 586).
V. The Exile
Most of the dates in the reigns of
Babylonian and Persian kings mentioned in biblical passages dealing with this
period can be determined accurately. For over half a century, opinions have
been divided over the relative order of Ezra and Nehemiah at Jerusalem. The
biblical order of events which makes *Ezra
reach Jerusalem in 458 bc and *Nehemiah arrive there in 445 is
perfectly consistent under close scrutiny (cf. J. S. Wright).
intertestamental period is reasonably clear; for the main dates, see the
Eastern chronology: W C. Hayes, M. B. Rowton, F. Stubbings, CAH3
1970, ch. VI: Chronology; T. Jacobsen, The Sumerian King List,
1939—deals with the early Mesopotamian rulers; R. A. Parker and W. H.
Dubberstein, Babylonian Chronology 626 bc-ad 75, 1956—full dates for Babylonian,
Persian and later kings for 626 bc-ad 75, with tables; K. A. Kitchen, in
.P. Astrom (ed.), High, Middle or Low?. Acts of an International Colloquium
on Absolute Chronology 1–3, 1987–9; E. R. Thiele, Mysterious Numbers
of the Hebrew Kings, 1965. A. Jepsen and A. Hanhart, Untersuchungen
zur Israelitisch-Jiidischen Chronologic, 1964; J. Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology, 1964; V.
Pavlovsky, E. Vogt, Bib. 45, 1964, pp. 321–347, 348–354. A.
Ungnad, 6, in E. Ebeling and B. Meissner, Reallexikon der
Assyriologie, 2, 1938, pp.
412–457-full statement and texts of the Assyrian eponym-lists.
Egypt: Sir A. H. Gardiner, in JEA
31, 1945, pp. 11–28—Egyptian regnal and civil years; R. A. Parker, The
Calendars of Ancient Egypt, 1950— standard work; W. G. Waddell, Manelho,
1948—standard work; K. A. Kitchen, in Acta Archaeo-logica 67, 1996, I; idem.
World Archaeology 23/2, 1991, pp. 201–208; W. A. Ward, BASOR
288, 1992, pp.53–66.
Palestine: W F. Albright, Archaeology of
Palestine, 1956—a very convenient outline of its subject; N. Glueck, Rivers
in the Desert, 1959—a popular summary of his work on 20th century bc seasonal occupation of the Negeb,
continuing his reports in BASOR, Nos. 131, 137, 138, 142, 145, 149,
150, 152 and 155; N. Glueck, The Other Side of the Jordan, 1940,
‘1970—on the question of Middle Bronze and Iron Age settlements in
Transjordan, concerning the dates of Abraham and the Exodus; G. L. Harding in
90, 1958, pp. 10–12—against Glueck on Transjordanian settlement; H. H.
Rowley, ‘The Chronological Order of Ezra and Nehemiah’, in The Servant of
the Lord and Other Essays on the Old Testament, 1952, pp. 129ff.; J. S.
Wright, The Building of the Second Temple, 1958—for the post-exilic
dates; idem. The Date of Ezra’s Coming to Jerusalem2, 1958.
The fall of
Judah: D. J. Wiseman, Chronicles
of Chaldaean Kings (626–556 bc),
1956—fundamental for its period; compare the following: W F. Albright in BASOR
143, 1956, pp. 28–33; E. R. Thiele, ibid., pp. 22–27; H. Tadmor, in JNES
15, 1956, pp. 226–230; D. J. A. Clines, ‘Regnal Year Reckoning in the Last
Years of the Kingdom of Judah, AJBA 2, 1972, pp. 9–34.