2019-09-14 Biblical Chronology – Part 2

As described in Part 1 of this blog the events of the bible can be given chronological dates relative to the time of the creation of Adam. To associate that biblical chronology with historical chronology it is necessary to find one or more narrations in the bible that clearly correlate with known historical events. The most obvious of such common events would be the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem, which is known to have happened in 587 BCE. The problem with using this date as an anchor for the biblical chronology is that the biblical narrative loses all chronological consistency several hundred years before Nebuchadnezzar began his siege of the city.

The following passages describe the attack of the city of Jerusalem by the Pharaoh Shishak:

In the fifth year of King Rehobo’am, Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem; he took away the treasures of the house of the LORD and the treasures of the king’s house; he took away everything.

I Kings 14:25, Revised Standard Version

In the fifth year of King Rehobo’am, because they had been unfaithful to the LORD, Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem with twelve hundred chariots and sixty thousand horsemen. And the people were without number who came with him from Egypt– Libyans, Suk’kim, and Ethiopians.

2 Chronicles 12:2 – 3, RSV

The date of this event is known from historical sources to be 925 BCE, as seen in the following quotation:

After more than a century of passivity on the part of Egyptian rulers, Sheshonq I intervened aggressively in the politics of the Levant to reassert pharonic prestige there. His Karnak inscriptions record a major military expedition c.925 BC against Israel and Judah and the principal towns of southern Palestine, including Gaza and Megiddo. The Old Testament records the same event, stating (I Kgs. 14:25-6) that, int he fifth year of Rehoboam, ‘Shishak, king of Egypt’ seized the treasures of Jerusalem, and adding (2 Chr. 12:2-9) that he came with 1,200 chariots and an army that included Libyans and Nubians. These sources indicate that the campaign was launched in support of Jeroboam, an exile in Egypt who claimed the throne of Judah.

The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, Oxford University Press, pg. 337

Fortunately there is just enough chronological detail in the bible to provide a complete timeline from the fifth year of Rehobo’am’s reign to the creation of Adam. The following listing traces the evidence from the bible, starting from the sacking of Jerusalem by Sheshonq I and working backwards to the creation of Adam.

  • 925 BCE – Egyptian Pharaoh Sheshonq I invades the Levant and sacks the city of Jerusalem in the fifth year of King Rehoboam’s reign. 1 Kings 14:25 – 26; 2 Chronicles 12:2 – 9
  • 930 BCE – Rehoboam succeeds King Solomon as King after Solomon had reigned for 40 years. 1 Kings 11:42 – 43
  • 968 BCE – King Solomon breaks ground for the temple in the second year of his reign and 480 years after the Israelites leave Egypt. 1 Kings 6:1
  • 1448 BCE – The Israelites leave Egypt 430 years after entering it. Exodus 12:40; Galatians 3:17
  • 1878 BCE – The Israelites settle in Egypt at the invitation of Joseph. Genesis 47:7 – 9
  • 2008 BCE – Isaac fathered Jacob, who was later renamed Israel by God, when he was 60 years old. Genesis 25:26
  • 2068 BCE – Abraham fathered Isaac when he was 100 years old. Genesis 21:5
  • 2069 BCE – Abram is renamed Abraham by God when he was 99 years old. Genesis 17:1 – 5
  • 2093 BCE – Abram leaves Haran when he is 75 years old and settles in Canaan. Genesis 12:4 – 5
  • 2168 BCE – Terah fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran when he was 70 years old. Genesis 11:26
  • 2238 BCE – Nahor fathered Terah when he was 29 years old. Genesis 11:24
  • 2267 BCE – Serug fathered Nahor when he was 30 years old. Genesis 11:22
  • 2297 BCE – Reu fathered Serug when he was 32 years old. Genesis 11:20
  • 2329 BCE – Peleg fathered Reu when he was 30 years old. Genesis 11:18
  • 2359 BCE – Eber fathered Peleg when he was 34 years old. Genesis 11:16
  • 2393 BCE – Shelah fathered Eber when he was 30 years old. Genesis 11:14
  • 2423 BCE – Arphaxad fathered Shelah when he was 35 years old. Genesis 11:12
  • 2458 BCE – Shem fathered Arphaxad 2 years after the Flood. Genesis 11:10 (Note that this passage says that Shem was 100 years old when he should have been 103 years old.)
  • 2460 BCE – End of the flood one year after it started. Genesis 8:13
  • 2461 BCE – Beginning of the flood in the 600th year of Noah’s life. Genesis 6:9, Genesis 7:6
  • 2561 BCE – Noah fathered Shem, Ham, and Japheth when he was 500 years old. Genesis 5:32
  • 3061 BCE – Lamech fathered Noah when he was 182 years old. Genesis 5:28
  • 3243 BCE – Methuselah fathered Lamech when he was 187 years old. Genesis 5:25
  • 3430 BCE – Enoch fathered Methuselah when he was 65 years old. Genesis 5:21
  • 3495 BCE – Jared fathered Enoch when he was 162 years old. Genesis 5:18
  • 3657 BCE – Mahalalel fathered Jared when he was 65 years old. Genesis 5:15
  • 3722 BCE – Kenan fathered Mahalalel when he was 70 years old. Genesis 5:12
  • 3792 BCE – Enosh fathered Kenan when he was 90 years old. Genesis 5:9
  • 3882 BCE – Seth fathered Enosh when he was 105 years old. Genesis 5:6
  • 3987 BCE – Adam fathered Seth when he was 130 years old. Genesis 5:3
  • 4117 BCE – Adam was created by God on the sixth day of the creation week. Genesis 1:26 – 27

It is important to remember that the above calculations cannot be regarded as absolute. The majority of these dates are based on the Hebrew calendar which was a lunisolar calendar and was therefore subject to intercalations that did not follow a predictable rule.

A key assumption in these calculations concerns the time at which the Israelites settled in Egypt. Here is what Exodus says about their leaving:

The time that the people of Israel dwelt in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years. And at the end of four hundred and thirty years, on that very day, all the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt.

Exodus 12:40 – 41, RSV

But exactly when did the Israelites enter Egypt in the first place? Some have argued that when Terah and Abram entered Canaan in (roughly) 2093 BCE they were settling in Egypt because Egypt controlled the Levant. The chronology above instead assumes that the 430 years is to be counted from the time that the Israelites entered Egypt at the invitation of Joseph in 2239 BCE, roughly 146 years later. The bible doesn’t give an explicit answer to this question, so it’s entirely a matter of interpretation. The above chronology is, I believe, the most generous possible in the respect that it represents the greatest possible antiquity for the time of the creation of Adam. And in any case we know for a fact that humans of a fully modern physiology have existed for at least 200,000 years.