Chronology of the Old Testament



1. Difficulties of the Subject

2. Plan of Treatment

3. Bible to be Regarded as Highest Authority






1. Causes of Variation in Systems

2. Some Important and Pivotal Dates

3. Difficulties to Be Removed

4. Overlappings


Indications of Overlapping


Main Points at Issue


A Suggested Interpretation


I. Introductory.

1. Difficulties of the Subject:

For evident reasons the student of Biblical chronology must meet many difficulties, and must always be severely handicapped. First of all, the Old Testament is not purely nor intentionally a book of history. Nor does it present a formulated system of chronology, its many numbers and dates being used principally with a view to the spiritual facts and truths with which the authors were concerned. We are not, therefore, to expect to find a perfectly arranged order of periods and dates, though happily for us in our investigation we shall indeed find many accurately dated events, frequent consecutions of events, and orderly success ions of officials; as, for example, the numerous genealogical tables, the succession of judges and the lists of kings.

Furthermore, there is not to be found in the Old Testament one particular and definitely fixed era, from which all of its events are dated, as is the case in Christian history. The points of departure, or reckoning, are found to vary in different periods of the advancing history; being at one stage the Creation, at another the migration of Abraham, or the Exodus, or again the disruption of the kingdom. Ordinarily dates and all time-allusions are comparative, i.e. they are related to the reign of some contemporary monarch, as the vision of Isaiah "in the year that king Uzziah died" (Isa 6:1), or to some unusual occurrence, historical or natural, as the great earthquake (Am 1:1; Zec 14:5). Only occasional reference is found to some event, which marks an era-beginning; such as the Exodus (Jg 11:16,26; 1Ki 6:1).

The general lack of uniformity among writers on Biblical chronology contributes further toward increase of the already perplexing confusion. It is almost possible to say that no two writers agree; and proposed harmonies are with each other most inharmonious. The two articles on Old Testament chronology in a recent work (Murray, Illus. Bible Dictionary, 1908), for example, are several hundred years apart at certain points. Wide diversity of opinion exists about the most prominent events, such as the call of Abraham and the age of his famous contemporary Hammurabi, the year of the Exodus, and the beginning of Solomon's temple. Naturally there is less variance of opinion about later dates, some of which, e.g. the fall of Samaria and the destruction of Jerusalem, may be considered as fixed. A like wide range of opinion prevails among archaeologists with regard to events in contemporaneous history, the difference between Goodspeed and Hommel in the dates of early Babylonian history being five hundred years, and the beginning and extent of the Hyksos period in Egypt varying in different "authorities" by hundreds of years. Nor should the difference in the various and total numbers of the Hebrew, Samaritan and Septuagint texts of the pre-Abrahamic ages be left out of sight in any statement of the difficulties attending the discussion of this subject.

2. Plan of Treatment:

These difficulties, and others as serious, have determined the plan of this article. The usual method of development has been to begin with the sources of Old Testament history, and to follow its course downward. While such a system may have its advantages, there is, however, this serious disadvantage connected with it: that the least certain dates are confessedly those at the beginning of the records, and the use of them at the foundation renders the whole structure of the discussion more or less uncertain. Archaeology and comparative history have done much to fix dates from the Exodus downward, bringing these later centuries by discovery and translation almost into the position of attested history. But the ages before the Exodus, and particularly before Abraham, still lie from the very nature of the ease in great obscurity. And thus any system beginning with the indistinct early past, with its compacted numbers and their uncertain interpretation, is much like a chain hung on thin air. The writer purposes, therefore, beginning with certain familiar, important and pivotal dates, to gather around and relate to these the events and persons of the Old Testament. Such accepted dates are: the completion of the Second Temple in 516, the fall of Jerusalem in 586, the fall of Samaria in 721, tribute to Shalmaneser II from Jehu in 842, and from a member of Omri's dynasty in 854. Such Old Testament events as mark the beginning of eras are the Disruption, Solomon's temple, the Exodus and Abraham's Call. The material and the plan, then, almost necessarily require that we begin at the end of the history and work logically backward to the earlier stages, at which we may hope to arrive with firm ground under our feet for the disposition of the more uncertain problems. It is hoped that on this plan the system of chronology will not be mere speculation, nor a personal theory, but of some certainty and affording some assurance in days of wild assertion and free manipulation.

3. Bible to be Regarded as Highest Authority:

It should be remembered that this is a study of Bible chronology, and therefore full value will be given to the explicit and positive statements of the Bible. Surely the time has come, when all fair-minded men should recognize that a clear and straightforward declaration of the Sacred Scriptures is not to be summarily rejected because of its apparent contradiction by some unknown and irresponsible person, who could stamp clay or chisel stone. It has been all too common that archaeological and critical adventurers have doubted and required accurate proof of every Bible statement, but have been ready enough to give credence to any statement from ancient pagan sources. We assume, as we have every reason to do, the trustworthiness of the Bible records, which have been corroborated in countless instances; and we shall follow their guidance in preference to any other. The help of contemporaneous history and the witness of archaeology can be used to advantage, but should not be substituted for the plain facts of the Scriptures, which are full worthy of our trust and regard. The province of a chronology of the Bible is properly to present in system the dates therein given, with an honest effort to harmonize the difficulties, using the external helps, but ever regardful of Scripture authority and rights.

II. The Ages between the Testaments.

Between the coming of Christ and the end of Old Testament history there lie in round numbers four hundred years. But while these were extra-Biblical ages, they were neither barren nor uneventful years; for in them will be found much of the highest value in the development of Jewish life, and in the preparation for the Messiah. And thus they have their proper place in Bible chronology (see BETWEEN THE TESTAMENTS). The birth of Jesus could not have been later than 4 BC, since Herod the Great died in April of that year. Herod became king of Judea in 37 BC. Palestine had been conquered and Jerusalem entered by the Romans under Pompey in 56 BC, the Jews coming in this way under the power of Rome. The Roman age was preceded by the government of priest-kings, with which the Idumean Antipater became identified by marriage, so that Herod, whom Rome made king, was both Jew and alien.

The period of the Maccabees, which ended in 39 BC with the removal of Antigonus by the Romans in favor of Herod, began 168 BC with Judas. Antipater, who had been appointed procurator of Judea in 47, was assassinated in 43 BC. The period of the Seleucids stretches from its close with the regency of Antiochus VII in 128 back to its founder, Seleucus, 312 BC. The most notable of these monarchs from the Jewish point of view was Antiochus Epiphanes, who reigned from 175 to 164, and in 168 gave occasion to the rise of the Maccabees by his many acts of impiety and oppression, particularly the desecration of the Jerusalem temple. In 203 BC Antiochus the Great, who had become king of Syria in 223, took Jerusalem, and later, in 198, annexed Judea to Syria. Previous to this Judea had been an Egyptian dependency, as after the death of Alexander the Great, 323 BC, and the division of his empire, it had been annexed by Ptolemy Soter to Egypt. Ptolemy Philadelphus, becoming king 280 BC, encouraged the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, the result being the Septuagint version, and all it meant by way of preparation for the spread of Christianity. Alexander's defeat of Darius III, or Codomannus, at Arbela in 331 brought the Persian empire to an end, fulfilling the long-cherished ambition of the Greeks for mastery of Asia. The long reign of the Biblical king of Persia, Artaxerxes Longimanus, extended from 465 to 424 BC, and in reaching his reign we find ourselves in the region of the Old Testament history. Reversing the order of this brief review and setting out from Old Testament point of view, we have the following table for the centuries between the Testaments:

III. Persian Period.

Entering now the last period of Old Testament history, which may be called the Persian period, we find that the activities of Ezra, Nehemiah and other Jewish leaders are dated by the regnal years of the kings of Persia (e.g. Hag 1:1; Zec 1:1; Ezr 1:1; Ne 2:1); and consequently the difficulties in the chronology of this period are not great. Recently a fanciful effort has been made to place the events narrated in Esther, Ezra and Nehemiah in the time of the Babylonian Captivity, claiming Scripture warrant from the occurrence of these names, with Mordecai, in Ezr 2:2 and Ne 7:7; but altogether without success (see Prince of Judah, or Days of Nehemiah Redated). These names were doubtless of common occurrence, and their appearance among those returning with Zerubbabel is not sufficient to affect the historical evidence for the accepted dates of Ezra and Nehemiah. The attempt to move back these dates into the 6th century, to associate Nehemiah with Daniel and Mordecai and to place his work before Zerubbabel may be dismissed as pure fancy and impossible of reconciliation with the Old Testament narrative.

Artaxerxes I began his reign, which gives date to Ezra and Nehemiah, in 465 BC. In his 7th year, 458, Ezra went from Babylon to Jerusalem by the king's decree (Ezr 7:7), taking back with him the vessels of the Temple and much besides for the worship at Jerusalem, accompanied also by a great company of returning Jews. Nehemiah followed from Shushan in the 20th year of the king (Ne 1:1), having heard of and being distressed by the partial failure of Ezra's efforts. Under his wise and courageous leadershi p, the city walls were speedily restored, and many reforms accomplished. He returned after twelve years (433) to the service of the king in Shushan (Ne 13:6), but in a short time, hearing evil tidings from Jerusalem, went back to complete his reforms, and apparently spent the rest of his life in that work. Although the Bible is silent, such is the testimony of Josephus. The Book of Mal, reflecting the difficulties and evils of this time, is evidently to be placed here, but not with exactness, as it might hav e been written as early as 460 or as late as 420.

The period from the return under Ezra (458) back to the completion of the Temple in the reign of Darius I (516) is, with the exception of incidental references and the assignment of undated books and incidents, practically a blank. Here belong, we believe, the Book of Esther, possibly Mal, some of the Psalms, and those social and religious tendencies among the returned exiles, which made the vigorous reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah so necessary. But the Old Testament does not draw the curtain from the mystery of that half-century, that we may know the happenings and watch the development. Beyond this blank we come again to explicit dates. The second temple, begun with the Return under Zerubbabel, was completed in the 6th year of Darius, i.e. 516. The building of it, which had been early abandoned for selfish reasons, was resumed in the 2nd year of Darius under the exhortation of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah (Hag 1:1; Zec 1:1). Darius the Great began his reign in 521. Cambyses succeeded Cyrus in 527. Babyl on was taken by the Persians in 538, and shortly after the Jews, under the edict of Cyrus, began their return to Jerusalem, reaching their destination by 536 at the latest. Cyrus overthrew Lydia in 545, the Medes five years earlier, and must have come to the Persian throne not later than 555. His conquest of Asia Minor opened the contest between Persia and Greece for supremacy, to be continued by Darius and. Xerxes, resulting finally at Arbela (331) in Greek triumph under Alexander, and the inauguration of a new age.

The table for the Persian period of Old Testament history, following the stream upward, is therefore as follows:

IV. Babylonian Period.

Just preceding the Persian is the Babylonian period of Old Testament chronology, overlapping, of course, the former, and finally superseded by it in Cyrus' conquest of Babylonia. This period may properly be said to begin with the death in 626 BC of Ashurbanipal, the last great ruler of Assyria. At this time Nabopolassar had been made governor of Babylonia, subject to the supremacy of Assyria. With Ashurbanipal's death Nabopolassar became independent sovereign of Babylonia , and shortly entered into league with the Medes to overthrow the rule of Assyria, and then to divide its empire between them. This was accomplished in the fall of Nineveh (606) which brought the end of the mighty Assyrian empire, the last king being Sinsharishkun (the historic Saracus), a son of Ashurbanipal. Some years before his death in 604 Nabopolassar associated with him on the throne of Babylonia his son Nebuchadnezzar, most illustrious ruler of the new Babylonian empire, and intimately connected with the history of Judah in the last years of that kingdom. His long reign came to an end in 562.

While the conflict, which brought Assyria to its end, and the attendant confusion, were absorbing the attention of Mesopotamian countries, Egypt under a new and virile dynasty was reviving her ambitions and intrigues for dominion in Asia. Pharaoh-necoh II taking advantage of the confusion and helplessness of Assyria invaded Palestine in 609, intending to march on through Palestine to attack Mesopotamia. King Josiah in loyalty to his Assyrian overlord opposed him, but was defeated and slain at the battle of Megiddo, after a reign of 31 years; apparently an unnecessary and foolish opposition on Josiah's part, as the plan of Necoh's march shows that Judah was not directly affected. After the victory at Megiddo, Necoh continued his march north-eastward, subduing Syria and hoping to have a hand in Mesopotamian affairs. But in 606 or 607 BC he was defeated at Carchemish and driven back to Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar, fresh from victory over Nineveh. In the same year Nebuchadnezzar marched against Egypt, receiving the submission of Jerusalem as he passed through Palestine, and sending noble hostages back to Babylon, among whom were Daniel and his three friends. The death of his father and his endangered succession recalled Nebuchadnezzar suddenly to Babylon, where he became sole ruler in 604. It appears that Necoh must have returned to Egypt after Megiddo and before the battle of Carchemish, as he made Jehoiakim, king in place of Jehoahaz, whom he carried captive to Egypt. Nebuchadnezzar's victory at Carchemish and his march southward brought Judah in close relations with Babylon, and opened up the dramatic chapter of Jerusalem's fall and exile. These historic events fix the dates of the last kings and the closing incidents of the kingdom of Judah, as shown in the following table:

V. Assyrian Period and Judah after Fall of Samaria.

This section, which may for convenience be treated as a division, is the chronology of Judah under Assyria after the fall of the Northern Kingdom in 721. As the Scripture time-references are frequent and explicit, and the contemporaneous Assyrian records are full, and explicit also, the problems of this period are neither many nor insoluble. One difficulty is found in the fact that the aggregate years of the reigns of Hezekiah, Manasseh, Amon and Josiah fall one or two years short of the period between Hezekiah's accession in 726 and Josiah's death in 609. But there is evidence of anarchical conditions at the close of Amon's reign (2Ki 21:23,14), and it is probable that at least a year should be counted for the interregnum. The chief difficulty is with the invasions of Sennacherib in Hezekiah's reign. The confusion is caused by the apparent dating of Sennacherib's famous and disastrous invasion of 701 in the 14th year of Hezekiah's reign (2Ki 18:13). Various attempts reconciliation have been made; one attempt has been to place the beginning of Hezekiah's reign in 715, which is out of the question entirely, as it disregards the exact terms in which the beginning of his reign is placed before the fall of Samaria (2Ki 18:10). Another suggestion has been that "24th" be read instead of "14th"; but this is pure conjecture. There is a simple and satisfactory solution: in the chapters which contain the record (2Ki 18:1-37 and Isa 36:1-22) it is evident that two invasions are described. Frequently in the Scriptures records are topical rather than chronological, and just so in this instance the topic is Sennacherib's menace of Judah, and the ultimate deliverance by Yahweh. The story includes two invasions: the first in the 14th year of Hezekiah (713) when Sennacherib led the armies of his father Sargon, the end of which, so far as Jerusalem was concerned, was the payment of tribute by Hezekiah, as is accurately stated in 2Ki 18:16. The second invasion, the description of which begins with the following verse (2Ki 18:17), was the more serious, and is probably identified as that of 701, when Sennacherib had become king. The necessary insertion of a paragraph indicator between 18:16 and 17 satisfies every demand for harmony.

From 609 BC, the year of Josiah's death, we count back 31 years to the beginning Of his reign in 639; he attained his majority in the 8th year (632; 2Ch 34:3); the reformation in his 12th year, at the time of the Scythian irruption, would fall in 628 (2Ch 34:3); in the following year Jeremiah began to prophecy; and in Josiah's 18th year (621) the temple was cleansed and the Book of the Law found (2Ch 34:8). Allowing a year of confusion, Amon began his short reign in 642, and Manasseh his long reign of 55 years in 697, Hezekiah's reign of 29 years dating back to 726. Some fixed important dates of contemporaneous history are: death of Ashurbanipal, Assyria's last great king, in 626, with the consequent independence of Babylon and beginning of the 2nd Babylonian empire. Ashurbanipal's long reign began in 668 on the death of his father Esarhaddon; who succeeded his father Sennacherib in 681. Sargon usurped the Assyrian throne in 722, and died in 705. Shalmaneser IV, successor of Tiglath-pileser III, r eigned for the brief space between 727 and 722. In Egypt the XXVth, or Ethiopian Dynasty, was in power from circa 720 to 667, two of its kings, So and Tirhakah, having mention in the Old Testament (2Ki 17:4; 19:9; Isa 37:9), and after this the XXVIth (a native) Dynasty appeared, Pharaoh-necoh being one of its kings. The dates of this period we may summarize in the following table:

VI. Period of Divided Kingdom.

The most complex, but most interesting, problems of Old Testament chronology are found in the period of the Divided Kingdom. In the literature of this period are found larger number of dates and historical references than in that of any other. We have the assistance of several important sources and factors in arranging these dates: (1) The parallel records of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah serve as checks to each other, since the accession and death of the kings in each nation are fixed by reference to reigns of those of the other. Many other events are similarly related. (2) The history of the two kingdoms, or parts of it, at least, is given in three parallel authorities: the Books of Kings, of Chronicles, and of the Prophets. (3) The Assyrian records are fullest and are practically continuous in this period, the limu lists extending unbroken from 893 to 650 BC.

1. Causes of Variation in Systems:

But while this apparently should be the most satisfactory field for the chronologist, it has been found impossible to arrive at anything approaching certainty, and consequently there is considerable divergence among individuals and schools. One cause of variation is the difference between the Assyrian royal lists and the total of the Old Testament numbers for this period, the Old Testament aggregate being 51 years greater then the Assyrian lists. Two common methods of harmonizing this difference have bee n adopted: (1) to accept the Old Testament aggregate as correct and to assume that the 51 years have been omitted from the Assyrian lists (see W. J. Beecher, Dated Events of Old Testament, 18, 19); (2) to harmonize the Old Testament numbers with the Assyrian lists by taking into account the overlapping of reigns of kings who were, for brief periods, associated on the throne. Instances of such overlapping are the co-regency of Uzziah and Jotham in Judah (2Ki 15:5), and possibly the reign of Pekah contemporaneously with Menahem and Pekahiah in Israel (2Ki 23:1-37-28). The latter method yields the most satisfactory results, and will be adopted in this article. The chief point of difference will be the age of Solomon and the foundation-laying of the Temple. This may be found according to the former method by adding 51 years to the dates as given below. That the method of following the aggregate of the Old Testament numbers must assume arbitrarily that there have been omissions from the Assyrian lists, and that it also must resort to some overlapping and justment of the numb ers as they are given in the text, are sufficient reasons against its adoption. And in meeting the difficulties of this period it should always be borne in mind that the Old Testament is not a book of annals merely, and that dates are given not for any special interest in them, but to correlate and emphasize events. Ordinarily dates are given with reference to local situations and contemporary persons, and not as fixed by some great epoch-marking event; e.g. Uzziah's reign is fixed not with reference to the Disrupti on nor the Temple building, but by relation to his Israelite contemporary, Jeroboam II.

2. Some Important and Pivotal Dates:

However, there are some fixed dates, which are so by reason of their international significance, and upon these we may rest with reasonable assurance. Such are the fall of Samaria (721 BC); the accession of Tiglath-pileser III (745); tribute paid to Shalmaneser II by Jehu in 842, and by Ahab, or one of his dynasty, in 854; and the invasion of Judah by Pharaoh-shishak in the fifth year of Rehoboam (1Ki 14:25). There are also certain coincident dates, fixed with fair accuracy, in the parallel history of the two kingdoms, which serve both as starting-points and as checks upon each other. The most prominent of these are: the beginning of Hezekiah's reign, 5 years before the fall of Samaria (2Ki 18:10); the synchronism of the reigns of Jeroboam II and Jotham (1Ch 5:17), Jotham's accession being used as a basis of calculation for the reigns of Israelite kings (2Ki 15:30); the coincidence of the end of the Omri Dynasty and the death of Ahaziah, king of Judah (2Ki 9:1-37), Jehu and Athaliah therefore beginning their reigns at the same time; and, primarily, the division of the kingdom and the synchronous beginning of the reigns of Jeroboam I and Rehoboam. Using these fixed dates and coincidences, we must find the summaries of the reigns of Israelite and Jewish kings between 721, the 9th year of Hoshea and the 6th of Hezekiah, and 843, the beginning of the reigns of Jehu add Athaliah, to be 122 years each; and likewise the summaries from 843 back to the Disruption to be the same.

3. Difficulties to Be Removed:

The most serious difficulties are found near the end of the period, when conditions in the Northern Kingdom were becoming anarchical, and, also evident co-regencies, the extent of which is not evident, occurred in the Southern Kingdom. Pekah is said to have reigned 20 years (2Ki 15:27); and yet Menahem paid tribute to Assyria in 738, and he was succeeded for two years by his son Pekahiah, from whom Pekah seized the kingdom. This would allow Pekah only 6 years of sovereignty. The explanation lies in the context: in the confusion which followed the death of Jeroboam, Pekah established his authority over the section East of the Jordan, and to that year the numbers in 2Ki 15:27,32; 16:1 refer. Uzziah was leprous the last 16 years of his life, and Jotham his son was over the kingdom (2Ki 15:5). The length of Jotham's reign was just 16 years, not additional to the 16 of the co-regency, as this would result in the absurdity of making him co-regent at the age of 9 years (2Ki 15:33). Therefore nearly his whole reign is included in the 52 years of his father. For some reason Ahaz was associated with his father Jotham before the death of the latter, since the 16 years of his reign plus the 5 of Hezekiah before the fall of Samaria bring his accession before the death of Uzziah and Jotham, i.e. in 741. So that for approximately 6 years the three reigns were contemporaneous. That these 6 years may not be accounted for by a co-regency with Hezekiah at the other end of Ahaz' reign is evident from the age of Hezekiah at his accession (2Ki 18:2), and from the radical difference in the policy of the two kings. 2Ki 7:1 may suggest that Uzziah and Jotham died about the same time, and that Ahaz was regarded as succeeding both directly.

Another difficulty is found at the beginning of Uzziah's reign, where he is said to have succeeded his father Amaziah at the age of 16, but is also said to have accomplished certain notable things after his father's death (2Ki 14:21-22). Evidently, then, he became king before the death of Amaziah. When did this co-regency begin? No better time is suggested than Amaziah's ignominious defeat by Jehoash of Israel in the 15th year of his reign, after which the people arose and put Uzziah in his place, Amaziah living on for 15 years (2Ki 14:17), so that 15 of Amaziah's 29 years were contemporaneous with Uzziah. Further, in the last years of Joash of Judah there may have been a co-regency, since he was "very sick" in those years (2Ch 24:25). Thus the totals of 146 years for the reigns of the kings of Israel and of 165 for the reigns of the kings of Judah between 721 and 842 are reduced to the actual 121 by the overlappings, which are suggested in the narrative itself.

4. Overlappings:

For the first division of this period, from the rise of Jehu, circa 843, to the division of the kingdom, the totals of the reigns of the kings of Israel is 98 years, and of the kings of Judah is 95. But there must be some overlappings. The interval between Ahab and Jehu, as shown by mention of them in the Assyrian records, is 12 years; but the two sons of Ahab reigned 14 years, Ahaziah 2 and Jehoram 12. Evidently the last year of Ahab, in which came the defeat at Karkar, was the 1st of Ahaziah, and the 2nd of Ahaziah, who suffered in that year serious accident (2Ki 1:2), was the first of Jehoram. It is probable that the long reign of Asa closed with Jehoshaphat as co-regent (1Ki 15:23), so the above totals of both kingdoms must be reduced to some extent, probably to 90 years, and the disruption of the kingdom placed about 933 BC. Shishak, founder of the XXIId Dynasty, invaded Palestine in the 5th year of Rehoboam (1Ki 14:25), and in, or shortly before, the 21st year of his own reign, so that he must have bec ome sovereign of Egypt about 950 BC. Jeroboam fled to Egypt after Solomon had reigned more than 20 years, as is shown by the connection of Jeroboam with the building of Millo; and so Jeroboam's flight must have been about the beginning of Shishak's reign. This is in accord with the Old Testament records, since the hostile Shishak Dynasty must have arisen in the reign of Solomon, the dynasty which was ruling at the beginning of his reign having been in alliance with him. So we place the accession of Shishak about 950, his invasion of Judah in 929, and the Disruption in 933 BC.

An interesting instance of co-regency in this period is that of Jehoshaphat and Jehoram, for while Ahaziah of Israel began to reign in the 17th year of Jehoshaphat (1Ki 22:51) and died in the 2nd year of Jehoram (2Ki 1:17), the year of his death was also the 18th of Jehoshaphat, so that the father and son reigned together about 5 years. It is evident also that Jehoshaphat ruled before his father's death, as the total of his reign is counted from the co-regency's beginning (1Ki 22:41), but certain events are dated from his sole reign on the death of Asa (1Ki 22:51; 2Ki 3:1). It is probable that the 6 years of Athaliah were included in the 40 years of the reign of Joash, the legitimate king. The age of his son, Amaziah, at his accession (2Ch 25:1) does not operate against this probability, since the precocious Jewish sovereigns attained their majority at 15 years of age (compare 2Ch 34:3). The co-regency for 2 years of Joash and Amaziah (2Ch 24:25) brings the aggregate years of the reigns of the kings of both kingdoms down to the accession of Jeroboam II, three years before Uzziah's accession, into exact accord. Finally, the difference of three years in the totals of reigns in the two kingdoms from Jehu' to the Disruption is explained by the fact that in Israel the first year of a king was coincident with the last of his predecessor, whereas in Judah, certainly at the beginning of this period, the first year of a king followed the death of his predecessor; e.g. while Asa began to reign in the 20th year of Jeroboam (1Ki 15:9), Jeroboam, who reigned 22 years, died three years later in the second year of Asa (1Ki 15:25). Observation of this principle in the accessions of the first three kings after Jeroboam removes the difference, the long numbers of the reign of Asa being found to corroborate. The preceding table will illustrate these facts of the records, as harmonizing the dates of the two contemporaneous kingdoms.

VII. From the Disruption to the Exodus.

The period now to be considered extends from the disruption of the kingdom back to the Exodus. The reasons for combining the Biblical events within these widely separated dates into one period of such length are evident, namely, (1) the regular sequence of the history; (2) the occurrence of comprehensive numbers for the period as a whole, e.g. Jg 11:26 and 1Ki 6:1; the chronological data of the Book of Judges, which lead directly up to the developments in the time of the united kingdom, e.g. the narrative of Ruth preparing the way for the reign of David. Characteristic of this period is the frequent occurrence of the general numbers 80, 40 and 20, which are not necessarily to be taken always as exact, but possibly at times indicating a round, or generation, number. In order to get the time limits of this period, it is necessary to count back 37 years from the end of Solomon's reign in 933 BC, and this brings us to that epoch-marking event, the laying of the foundations of the Temple in 969 or 970, the 4th year of his reign (1Ki 6:1); and from this event we are brought by the addition of the comprehensive number 479, given in the same verse, back to the year of the Exodus, approximately 1448 BC, making the total length of the period about 516 years.

Indications of Overlapping:

But the addition of the numbers given for the various reigns and administrations of the period yields a total which is much greater than 516, and therefore one must seek in the text indications of overlapping, which will bring the narrative into harmony with itself. The reigns of Solomon (1Ki 11:42), David (1Ki 2:11) and Saul (Ac 13:21), are given as 40 years each; and here there may be some overlapping, Solomon, e.g. becoming king before David's death (1Ki 1:43-48). We are rather surprised to find that there is no statement of the length of Samuel's ministry, such as its important place in the national life would lead us to expect. The probable reason for this is that his life was paralleled largely by the reign of Saul and the administration of Eli. A period of 40 years is assigned to Eli (1Sa 4:18); the aggregate of numbers given for the Judges is 410 years; Joshua ruled for 40 years (Jg 2:8); and finally the wilderness wanderings covered another 40-year period. The sum total of all these numbers is 670--far beyond the comprehensive reckonings of Jg 11:26; 1Ki 6:1, and Ac 13:19. It is evident from Jg 10:7-8; 13:1 that the periods of Ammonite and Philistine oppression were either contemporaneous or very near together, and therefore that the comprehensive number, 300 years, of Jg 11:26, reaches from the entrance into Canaan under Joshua down to the age of Samson, as well as of Jephthah. The administrations of Ibzan, Elon and Abdon (Jg 12:8-13) should then be regarded as practically synchronous with Jephthah and Samson, and the number of their years should, in part at least, be left out of account. The numbers from Samson and Eli to Solomon are approximately fixed, 20 to Samson, 40 to Eli, 40 to Saul and 40 to David; and their total accords with the 300 before Jephthah, and the 40 of wilderness wanderings in making up the grand total (1Ki 6:1) from Solomon to the Exodus. This proportion before and after Jephthah, or Samson, and the Philistine oppression, approximately 330 and 150 yea rs, is in agreement with the genealogies of Ru 4:18-22; 1Sa 14:3; 22:9; 1Ch 2:1-55; 6:1-81; 24:1-31. The shortening therefore of the excessive aggregate of 670 years must be sought in the records from Samson back to Joshua. Assuming that the oppressions may be synchronous with the administrations of preceding or succeeding judges, that Abimelech's abortive attempt to become king (Jg 9:1-57) should be included in Gideon's 40 years, and that parallelings are possible in the three judges just after Jephthah (Jg 12:8-13) and the two just before (Jg 10:1-5), it is possible to bring the detailed time-references of the Books of Jdg into satisfactory agreement with the comprehensive numbers. That the period of the Judges is shorter than the aggregate of the numbers assigned to each is further indicated by the manner in which the brief narratives at the end of the book--the migration of the Danites, the sin and punishment of Benjamin--and the Book of Ruth, bring the earlier generations into close touch with the later; compare the genealogy of David (Ru 4:18-22).

The preceding table (p. 641) shows the dates of events according to the longer reckoning, and also according to the suggested shortening by taking into account the possible synchronisms. It should be remembered that these figures are not indisputable, but merely tentative and suggestive.

VIII. From the Exodus to Birth of Abraham.

The period of Old Testament chronology now to receive our attention is that which extends from the Exodus in circa 1448 BC back to the call and migration of Abraham. This may be called the period of the patriarchal wanderings, the formative or infancy period of the nation, and therefore of the highest interest historically and religiously. But it is not possible to fix its dates with indisputable accuracy, since, with rare exceptions, the events of the Old Testament record are not related in their narration to eras or definite persons of the contemporary nations; and since also the chronology of these nations is much in dispute among historians and archaeologists, with variations of hundreds of years.

Main Points at Issue:

The chief points at issue here for determination of the chronological problems are the time of the Exodus, the duration of Israel's sojourn in Egypt and the date of Hammurabi. Considering these in their order: (1) As to the Exodus, opinions have been divided among the XVIIIth, XIXth and XXth dynasties as the time of the Oppression and Exodus of Israel, and there are plausible arguments for, and serious objections to, each of these periods. When all things have been considered it seems best to fix upon the XVIIIth Dynasty as the age of the Oppression and Exodus, Thothmes III as the Pharaoh of the Oppression, and the years immediately following his death as the time of the Exodus, for the following reasons: (a) This is in harmony with the time-reckoning from the Temple of Solomon back to the Exodus (1Ki 6:1), and fully satisfies the Biblical numbers for the intervening period, as shown above; while either later dynastic period would necessitate either unnatural cramping or ruthless rejection of the Biblical numbers. To place the Exodus so late as Ramses III, after 1200 BC, is in the light of the Biblical reckoning an evident absurdity. (b) In the XVIIIth Dynasty we can look best for the Pharaoh "that knew not Joseph," as it was the leader of this dynasty, Ahmes I, who conquered and drove out the Hyksos, and left to his followers as a legacy cordial hatred of the Asiatics. (c) Thothmes III was a great builder, and the heavy tasks of the Hebrews would fit well into his reign. He was also the champion of Amon, the god of Thebes, having been a priest of that god; therefore the religious significance of the Exodus and the struggle preceding it were most natural in his age. (d) An inscription of Menephthah, son of Ramses II, indicates that Israel was in Palestine in his time, therefore he could not have been the Pharaoh of the Exodus, nor his father the oppressor. (e) The objection that Pharaohs of the XIXth and XXth dynasties invaded and claimed sovereignty over Palestine is of little consequenc e, since these invasions usually involved only the sea-plain, and any city or district might secure immunity and maintain its status quo by payment of tribute. In later centuries many foreign invasions swept through Israel without disturbing the national integrity. As for the objection that the cities Ramses and Pithom indicate the age of Ramses II, it is altogether probable that they were built long before his time, and only restored by him. For these reasons the earlier date is assigned to the Exodus. (2) Whether the duration of the sojourn in Egypt was 430 or 215 years will depend upon the interpretation of the comprehensive 430, or roundly 400, which is of frequent occurrence in the Bible as indicating the extent of the period of the Hebrews' wanderings among, and oppression by, the nations (Ge 15:13; Ex 12:40; Ac 7:6; Ga 3:17). These passages have been, and may properly be, interpreted as indicating the time of the actual sojourn in Egypt, or the time from the entrance of Abraham into Canaan to the Exodus. Modern archaeological discoveries and the logical conclusions from them, our better knowledge of the history and conditions of contemporaneous Egypt, the shortening of the Hyksos period, as by Meyer, Mahler and Breasted, and the acceptance of a later date for Hammurabi, all seem to favor the shorter, or 215-year, view of the sojourn. The remaining 215 years cover the period from Jacob's descent into Egypt back to the migration of Abraham. The shorter period is adopted here for the reasons alread y given; but by the addition of 215 the dates from the death of Joseph backward may be conformed to theory of the longer period. (3) Accepting the almost universal and well-grounded judgment that the Amraphel of Ge 14:1-24 is the famous Hammurabi of the Ge 1:1-31st Babylonian Dynasty, we should have assistance in determining the date of his Biblical contemporary Abraham, if the opinions of scholars about the age of Hammurabi were not so divergent. Goodspeed (Hist Babylonian and Assyrian.) places his reign at Ge 22:24 BC; Hommel (art. on "Babylonia," HDB) fixes the probable date at 1772-1717, an astonishing divergence of 500 years, and suggestive of the spend-thrift manner in which chronologists are accustomed to dispose of the past ages of man. The difference in this instance is caused by the disposition of the IId Babylonian Dynasty, Goodspeed making its more than 360 years follow the Hammurabi Dynasty, and adding the years of the two; Hommel on the other hand regarding the IId, or Southern, Dynasty as contemporaneous with the Ist, or Northern. But it is more probable that the truth lies between these extremes, since the IId Dynasty must have had some independent standing, and must have ruled alone for a time, in order to secure consideration as a dynasty. This moderate reckoning is now commonly adopted, Breasted placing Hammurabi at 1900 BC, Davis (in DB) about 1975, and Pinches (in Murray's Illus. B. Dict.) later than 2000 BC. It is in accord with the Bible numbers, as the following table shows, and does not vary materially from the reckoning of Ussher, which was based upon those numbers. Therefore the age of Hammurabi and Abraham may be considered as about 1900 BC, or 2100, if one estimates the sojourn in Egypt at 430 years. The former is more reasonable. The Tell el-Amarna Letters, preserving correspondence of the 14th and 15th centuries between the Pharaohs of the XVIIIth Dynasty and Palestine and Babylon, by showing the contemporary sovereigns of the empires of the Nile and the Euphrates, contribute confirmation to the Biblical reckoning. It is possible that increased knowledge of the Hittite empire and its dealings with Egypt, Palestine and Babylonian may in the near future contribute further confirmation. The foregoing conclusions may be summarized in the following table:

IX. From Abraham to the Creation.

One other general period of Old Testament chronology remains for consideration: from the age of Abraham back to the creation of the world, about which in the nature of the case there can be no absolute certainty, and in which there is neither reason nor need for inflexible accuracy. The system, or succession, of numbers in the early chapters of Gen (5 and 11:10-26) has given rise, in the effort to explain these numbers, to several theories.

(1) The literal interpretation, the best known advocate of which was Archbishop Ussher (died 1656), whose literal arrangement was introduced into the margin of the King James Version after his death. This theory takes the birth- and death-numbers just as they are, and by addition of the time intervals between the birth of the various patriarchs, together with Adam's age at the birth of Seth, shows that 1,656 years elapsed from the Creation to the Flood, and 290 years from the Flood to Abraham's birth, accor ding to the Massoretic Text. But it must be apparent at the very outset, that, on the most liberal arrangement of the numbers and the most conservative geological and anthropological estimate, this reckoning is not sufficiently long to satisfy the known facts of the age of the earth, of the life of man upon the earth, and of established historic dates. Even the conservative system of Professor Breasted (Ancient Egypt) places the first certain date of Egyptian history, namely, the introduction of the Sothic calendar, as early as 4241 BC, which is more than two centuries beyond Ussher's beginning of the world. Moreover, at that time an astronomical basis of reckoning time was in existence, implying an age of culture already gone before. This difficulty was appreciated by the earliest interpreters, as indicated by the variations of the Sam and Septuagint texts, the latter increasing the total of the age about 1,500 years and inserting a new name into the genealogical list of Ge 11:1-32. An interesting commentary on the literal method is that it make s Noah live until Abraham was seventy years old, and prolongs the life of Shem to within the lifetime of Jacob.

(2) A second theory is the dynastic: that the long number of a patriarch's lifetime indicates the era during which his house or dynasty prevailed, to be followed by the long number of the next dynasty; e.g. the 930 years of Adam were followed by the 912 of Seth, and so on until the period is stretched to cover thousands of years. But there are evident objections to this view: it does not account for the invariable origin of each succeeding dynasty so near the beginning of its predecessor, and it disregards the manifest plan of the inspired author to narrate the descent of the human race through families and not by eras or empires.

(3) By others it has been conjectured that the units of time have been different in the ancient ages of man; that originally the time-unit was the lunar cycle, by which the 969 lunar cycles of Methuselah's life really should be reduced to a little more than 80 years of more recent times; and that in the days of Abraham a year measured from equinox to equinox had superseded the lunar time-measurement. It is possible that the Septuagint variations were based upon this idea, since it increased the age at which every father begat a son to at least 162 in the generations before the Flood. But even this expedient would not remove all difficulties from the physical side; nor have we the slightest indication of the points at which these radical changes of the time-units were made. On the contrary the decrease of man's years seems to have come by somewhat gradual process, and not by sharp and tremendous breaks.

(4) Others have thought to meet the difficulties by suggesting the omission of links in the chain of descent, in accordance with Hebrew custom of omitting inconsequential names from a genealogical list. The omission by Matthew of certain names from his genealogy of Jesus Christ, in order to preserve his symmetrical scheme of fourteens (Mt 1:8), is an illustration in point. As corroborative of this it might be urged that the Septuagint does insert a name between Arpachshad and Shelah (Ge 11:12). It may be said confidently that whatever theory of the genealogies before Abraham one may adopt, it is altogether reasonable to suppose that one name, or many, may have been omitted from the line of descent.

The dates resulting from the literal and exact interpretation of the genealogical lists of Ge 5:1-32 and Ge 11:1-32 may be tabulated as follows:

If the 130 years of Kainan, whom the Septuagint inserts between Shelah and Arpachshad, be added, the date for Adam's creation is increased to 4031 BC. The exhibit of this table is most interesting and suggestive. Noah, Shem, Arpachshad, Shelah, Eber, Peleg were contemporaries of Abraham. Shem, Shelah and Eber were living after Jacob's birth. Adam, Enoch, Methuselah and Lamech were contemporary; and Methuselah's long life came to an end in the year of the Flood.

A Suggested Interpretation:

These genealogical lists of the early chapters of Gen appear therefore not to have been given as an exact and exclusive system of chronology; but it is more probable that they were written to present a general, compact, or mere outline statement of the origin, early experience and apostasy of the human race, given without the purpose of recording every possible link in the chain of descent, or every incident in the early racial experience. There are many indications, or suggestions at least, that this is the sensible and Divinely intended interpretation, some of which have been stated: the variant items and summaries of the Massoretic Text, Septuagint and Sam; the frequent omission in Hebrew genealogies of one or more generations, the third, or later, descendant being truly regarded as a son; the age of the world; the comparative antiquity of man; and the more ancient dates disclosed by archaeology. It should be noticed further that the inspired writer gives ten generations from Adam to the Flood, and ten also from the Flood to Abraham, as if by the use of the decimal, or representatively human, number he would indicate to us that he is dealing with comprehensively complete numbers and not with those that are minutely complete, arranging in symbolic form the account of man's descent.


But while the age of man may be greater than the mechanical and exact sum of the Genesis numbers, we should not be deluded into the belief that it is so great as some anthropologists and geologists, who are prodigal of their numbers, would have us think. The numbers of Gen are much nearer the facts than these dreary stretches and wastes of time. The formation of the Nile and the Euphrates valleys, which furnished historic man's first home, is quite recent, possibly not antedating 7000 BC; the account of the Flood is the record of a great cataclysm which came upon historic man within these millenniums; we have the records of the presence of intelligent man in these fertile and recently formed centers without traces of his origin and development in, and movement from, other homes. Archaeology and ancient history bring civilized man upon us with somewhat of suddenness, well established in homelands of recent formation. Whence came these peoples whose great works and thoughts are found near the beginning of an era so clearly limited by history and geography? If they came from elsewhere and developed tediously, why have they left no trail of their movement and no trace of the evolution? So late as the 3rd millennium BC Mesopotamia was sparsely settled, and Palestine in the first half of the 2nd millennium was still thinly settled. It is a legitimate conclusion, then, that intelligent man's life on the earth does not extend far beyond the total of the Bible numbers (see ANTEDILUVIANS; DELUGE OF NOAH). At the same t ime it is far from necessary to force a literal and exact interpretation on these numbers, which were given rather to trace lineage, keep relationships, show development under the Divine purpose, and fix responsibility, than to mark particular years.


Ussher, Chronologia Sacra; G. Smith, Assyrian Eponym Canon; Maspero, The Dawn of Civilization; The Struggle of the Nations; The Passing of the Empires; Goodspeed, A History of the Babylonians and Assyrians; Breasted, Ancient Egypt; History of Egypt, Mesopotamia and Israel in Hist of World; Hommel, Ancient Hebrew Tradition; L. W. King, Chronology of the Babylonian Kings; Beecher, Dated Events of Old Testament; Auchinloss, Chronology of the Holy Bible; various commentaries; Driver, Book of Genesis; Skinner, Genesis; Moore, Commentary on Judges; G. A. Smith, "Isaiah" in Expositor's Bible, etc. Magazines: James Orr, "Assyrian and Hebrew Chronology" in Presbyterian Review, 1889; "Israel and the Exodus" in Expositor, 1897; J. D. Davis. "Chronology of the Divided Kingdom" in Presbyterian and Reformed Review, 1891. Bible Dictionaries: J. D. Davis in Dict. of the Bible, Westminster Press; Hommel, articles on "Assyria" and "Babylonia" in HDB. Of interest also, Franke Parker, Chronology, 1858.

Edward Mack

Bible Verses by Topic Nave's Bible Concordance McClintock and Strong Biblical Cyclopedia Online Bible KJV Dictionary

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