2019-06-30 Biblical chronology – Part 1

The bible has sufficient clues to enable one to reconstruct a religious timeline that stretches back to the time of the creation of Adam. There are chiefly three kinds of clues that contribute to this timeline:

  • Genealogical lists
  • Regnal dates
  • Statements of elapsed time

Some of the old testament genealogies include the age of the father when his son was born. Here are some examples:

When Adam had lived a hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth. …

When Seth had lived a hundred and five years, he became the father of Enosh. …

When Enosh had lived ninety years, he became the father of Kenan. …

Genesis 5:3 – 9, Revised Standard Version

Such genealogies enable us to reconstruct a continuous series of relative dates; but not all of the genealogies in the bible provide the age of the father at the time of the son’s birth. So this method only works for a portion of the time between the creation of Adam to the birth of Jesus.

An example of both a regnal date and a statement of elapsed time can be found in this passage:

In the four hundred and eightieth year after the people of Israel came out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, which is the second month, he began to build the house of the LORD.

1 Kings 6:1, Revised Standard Version

A regnal date is a date from the beginning of a king’s reign. “…The fourth year of Solomon’s reign” is such a date. Regnal dates were used widely throughout the ancient world, including in Sumer, Babylonia, and Egypt. The statement that Solomon began building his temple 480 years after the exodus from Egypt is a record of elapsed time.

There are several ambiguities in the biblical text that require one to make assumptions about how some of these three types of dates in the bible are to be interpreted. So any chronology resulting from a study of biblical text alone will necessarily involve some key assumptions. In the text that follows the dates I provided are based on a chronology I have developed from my own study. I have documented the assumptions I have made in developing this chronology in Part 2 of this blog.

Another important consideration is that the Jewish calendar is a lunisolar calendar. An additional month was added to the Jewish calendar every two or three years to bring it into line with the solar calendar. The precise times when intercalary months were added in the ancient past is not known. The “years” in the bible do not therefore necessarily correspond to years in the Gregorian calendar.

According to the bible God created the universe, the earth, all living things, and the first man Adam and the first woman Eve in six days in about 4117 BCE. Noah, the man whose family was chosen by God to survive the flood, was born in 3061 BCE. The flood took place in 2461 BCE. The flood wiped out all human beings and all traces of their civilizations– except for the 8 people on board the ark. The descendants of Noah dispersed all over the planet and repopulated it. The great civilizations of the ancient world– Egypt, Sumer, Akkadia, Babylon, Assyria– were all founded after the flood by the sons and descendants of Noah.

The sons of Noah who went forth from the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Ham was the father of Canaan. These three were the sons of Noah; and from these the whole earth was peopled.

Genesis 9:18 – 19, RSV

The sons of Ham: Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan.

Genesus 10:6, RSV

So Egypt was a grandson of Noah who traveled to the Nile river valley and founded the entire Egyptian civilization.

Sometime between 2168 BCE and 2093 BCE Terah left the city of Ur of the Chaldeans with his son Abram and headed west toward Canaan, but they settled in Hanan.

Terah took Abram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sar’ai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife, and they went forth together from Ur of the Chalde’ans to go into the land of Canaan; but when they came to Haran, they settled there.

Genesis 11:31, RSV

Ur was a great city of Sumer that was destroyed by the Elamites in roughly 2000 BCE. So Terah and his son Abram were likely refugees of the destruction of Ur.

In 2069 BCE God renamed Abram to Abraham, which means “father of a multitude”.

No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come forth from you.

Genesis 17:5 – 6, RSV

The bible traces a line of descent from Abraham to King David over a total of 13 generations. The time from the birth of Abram’s son Isaac to the time that King Solomon broke ground for his temple was 1100 years.

In addition the new testament books of Matthew and Luke provide genealogies that trace the lineage of Jesus. Matthew’s traces his lineage back through Abraham, and Luke traces it back to Adam.

There is almost nothing about this chronology that is actually true. The creation of the universe did not happen about 6,100 years ago; it happened roughly 13.5 billion years ago. That’s more than 2 million times longer ago than the bible says. How do we know this? Oh, many ways– but for starters we can actually see galaxies that are as far away as 10 billion light years. Since a light year is the distance that light travels in one year (in a vacuum) the light we are currently seeing must have been in transit for at least 10 billion years. Biblical apologists respond by claiming that modern physics and astronomy are completely wrong.

Let’s consider the story of the flood. The whole point of the story is that God had concluded that the people of the earth were bad because they had all deserted the worship of God. All, that is, except for Noah and the members of his family. So God decided to wipe all of the bad people– the ones who refused to worship Yahweh– from the face of the earth. So he told Noah to build an ark and to put himself, his wife, his three sons and their wives, and two of every kind of animal (and fourteen of every kind of “clean” animal) on board the ark.

After the waters of the flood receded the descendants of Noah were dispersed across the entire earth to rebuild the population. The bible specifically mentions a grandson of Noah’s by the name of Egypt:

The sons of Ham: Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan.

Genesis 10:6, RSV

And it names a great grandson of Noah named Nimrod who ostensibly founded Babel, and the Akkadian and Assyrian empires:

Cush became the father of Nimrod; he was the first on earth to be a mighty man. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD; therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the LORD.” The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, and Accad, all of them in the land of Shinar. From that land he went into Assyria and built Nin’eveh, Reho’both-Ir, Calah, and Resen between Nin’eveh and Calah; that is the great city.

Genesis 10:8 – 12, RSV

But curiously none of the inhabitants of those empires ever erected a single temple or monument or even a stele to Yahweh. In Egypt the descendants of Noah erected temples to Ra, to Amun, to Ptah, to Hathor, to any of a number of of Egyptian gods and godesses. But not one temple to Yahweh. The whole reason that Yahweh wiped all of the bad people from the face of the earth was to ensure that only the worshipers of Yahweh would be left. But the descendants of Noah strayed from the worship of Yahweh within just two generations. The Sumerian city of Ur had a ziggurat that was a temple to the moon god Nanna, but throughout ancient Sumer there was not one temple to Yahweh. The Zhou dynasty of China and the Olmecs in Central America and the Incas of South America– not one of them worshiped Yahweh. So when Yahweh decided that he was going to wipe all those who had failed to worship him from the face of the earth and replace them all with devoted followers, he obviously blew it.

Surely an omniscient God who knows absolutely everything about the behavior of his greatest creation– human beings– would have known how to prevent the descendants of Noah from worshiping any god other than him.

Modern archaeology asserts that the unification of Upper (i.e. Southern) and Lower (i.e. Northern) Egypt took place sometime between 3100 BCE and 3000 BCE. That’s at least 550 years before the flood would have taken place, according to the biblical chronology. Biblical apologists respond by claiming that all of modern archaeology is completely wrong.

The man named Nimrod was a great-grandson of Noah. As shown in the citation from Genesis 10 above Nimrod was described as the world’s first “mighty man”. But that couldn’t possibly be true. The bible actually lists all of the men who would have been alive at the time that Nimrod was founding his empires in Genesis 10. The main lines of descent are as follows:

  • Ham’s son Cush would have migrated south toward what is now Ethiopia
  • Ham’s son Egypt would have migrated to the Nile river valley
  • Ham’s son Put would have migrated toward what is now Libya
  • Ham’s son Canaan would have migrated to the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea
  • Genesis 10:5 says that the sons of Japheth became the “coastland” people, presumably living on the coast of either the Mediterranean Sea or of the Red Sea
  • Genesis 10:30 says that the sons of Shem migrated toward the Jordan river valley

The only person who is specifically named in Genesis 10 as a descendant of Noah who migrated to Mesopotamia was Nimrod. So this “mighty man” Nimrod would have ruled over a population of just one family– his own.

The books of Matthew and Luke have genealogies of Jesus. These genealogies are at odds with each other. They have 16 names in common, but Luke lists 38 names that are nowhere to be found in Matthew’s list. And the lists are different in length for the period of time between King Solomon and Jesus. They differ by a total of 15 generations. That’s around 300 years.

Matthew says that there were 14 generations between Abraham and King David, 14 more between King David and the Babylonian exile, and 14 more between the exile and Jesus. But his own list actually has only 13 generations between Abraham and King David.

The genealogy that appears in the book of Luke extends back to the birth of Adam. But Luke’s list includes someone that is mentioned nowhere in the Old Testament. Luke says that Aphraxad was the father of Cainan who was the father of Sala. But Genesis 11 says that Aphraxad was the father of Salah. And of the 40 names that Luke lists between King David and Joseph the “father” of Jesus only two are mentioned anywhere else in the bible.

Both the genealogies in Matthew and Luke trace the lineage of Jesus through Joseph. But if Mary was a virgin at the time she gave birth to Jesus then Joseph would have had no blood relationship to Jesus. Why was the lineage of Jesus not traced through Mary rather than Joseph?

These are some of the more obvious internal problems of the chronologies in the bible. There are many more external problems, including the following:

  • The oldest rocks of earth have been dated (by radioisotope dating) to about 4.2 billion years. That’s about 700,000 times older than the bible says the earth is old.
  • The oldest fossils found on earth have been dated to about 3.5 billion years old.
  • The Big Bang theory is a far better explanation for the observed current state of the universe than is any other hypothesis. It predicts the distribution of elements that should have been created– and the actual distribution fits the predicted value almost perfectly. It explains the existence of the Cosmic Background Radiation and the corresponding average temperature of the universe. And it accounts for the observation that the universe is expanding. The bible makes no such predictions.
  • There is evidence of the existence of human activity and settlements throughout the world going back long before 6,000 BCE. There is evidence of human activity in the Nile river valley going back more than 100,000 years.

Of course biblical apologists claim that all of the above evidences are false.