Truth That Matters

"What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?" - Jesus Christ

How are the dates of Biblical events determined?

The Bible uses the ages of prominent individuals and the reigns of kings to give chronological information. For instance, the Bible tells us that king Solomon started the construction of the First Temple in the fourth year of his reign (1 Kings 6:1). Such information thus yields a "relative chronology" - we can predict the interval between two events but not their dates in terms of BC or AD. This is because the people of Israel did not specify time in terms of astronomical events. However, the Bible also records the interactions that Israel had with the neighboring nations. Among these nations, the Babylonians and the Assyrians kept precise records, specifying events using astronomical details. This enables us to convert the relative chronology of the Bible into an absolute one. For example, the Bible records that king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon took king Jehoiachin of Judah captive in the latter's first (and only) year (2 Kings 24:8-15). From the Babylonian Chronicles, we know that this event took place in 597 BC. We can therefore work out the dates for other Biblical events. These dates are however approximate because of rounding off errors involved in counting the years for which kings ruled.
 
After the Babylonians, the prominent empires in the world of the Bible were Persia, Greece and Rome. It is easy to correlate events in the Bible to these empires, because they also kept systematic records. For example, Luke records that Jesus was about 30 years old when he started his ministry during the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar. Any student of Roman history can identify this as 29 AD. Thus, all Biblical events after 700 BC are synchronized with secular history. It is worth noting that the Egyptians, who are important in the Biblical narrative before 700 BC, did not keep astronomically-timed records, and it is therefore difficult to correlate Biblical events with Egyptian history.

When did the Exodus take place according to the Bible?

The Exodus is the departure of the people of Israel from Egyptian slavery. Their destination was Canaan (present day Israel). We can work out a date for the Exodus as follows:-
  • As pointed out above, King Jehoiachin went to exile in 597 BC.
  • Working our way backwards using the number of years for which each king ruled, we find that king David began his reign in 1011 BC.
  • Using the information in Acts 13:17-22, we find that the Exodus occurred 40 + 450 + 40 = 530 years before the beginning of David's rule
  • Therefore, the Exodus occurred in about 1541 BC.

Why have secular archaeologists such as Israel Finkelstein concluded that Biblical stories such as the Exodus and conquest of Canaan, and kings such as David and Solomon are myths?

As explained above, the Bible implies that the Exodus took place in 1541 BC. After wandering in the Arabian desert for 40 years, the Israelis conquered Palestine. Their culture reached its zenith during the reign of Solomon in 971-931 BC.

However, according to the Standard Egyptian Chronology (SEC), the mighty 18th dynasty was ruling in Egypt during the 1500s - a time of great peace, prosperity and stability. There were no Semitic slaves in Egypt during the 18th dynasty. Moreover, the 18th dynasty ruled from Luxor in South Egypt, not Goshen (near the Nile Delta) where the Bible says the Israelite slaves lived in Egypt. Thus, the SEC clearly implies that the Exodus did NOT take place as written in the Bible.

The same standard chronology dates periods in Israel according to the corresponding periods in Egypt. Thus, the standard chronology tells us that during the 1500s, Palestine was in the Middle to Late Bronze period, a time of prosperity and peace, not the upheaval that would have accompanied the Israelite conquest of Canaan. Five centuries later takes us to the iron age, a time of poverty, not the time of grand affluence that the Bible claims for Solomon and David.

Thus, if the standard chronology for Egypt (and thus, Palestine) is true, the Bible is false. This is why secular archaeologists reject the authenticity of the early sections of the Old Testament (Genesis to 1 Kings).

Some scholars have tried to remedy this situation by imposing an interpretation on the Bible that forces the Exodus to be in about 1280 BC. This helps the situation in Egypt somewhat, because we come to the 19th dynasty which includes kings named Rameses (a name that occurs in Exodus), and Pharaoh Merneptah who seems to have referred to Israel as nomads in the process of settling down in his stele. However, this reinterpretation of the Bible gets no comfort from the standard chronology in Palestine. According to the standard chronology, for instance, Jericho was a deserted ruin in 1280-1240 BC. This contradicts the Biblical narrative of Israel storming Jericho (Joshua 6).

Thus, the standard Egyptian chronology (which includes claims about Palestine) contradicts the Bible. Forcing an artificial interpretation on the Bible does not solve this problem. If I accepted the standard chronology, this website would not exist.

What are the reasons to modify the Standard Egyptian Chronology (SEC)?

Firstly: The SEC leads to the "dark age" in Greece and Turkey in which all the cities were supposedly abandoned. This was first noticed in 1991 by the Cambridge University scholar Peter James. He found that Egypt was the only country in the region not to have a "dark age". He concluded that the dark age did not exist. Those events in Egypt considered by the SEC to be contemporaneous with the dark age should therefore be assigned to other periods.

Secondly: The so called Sothic Cycle was considered reliable in constructing the SEC but recent research has cast doubts on its reliability [One example is Patrick O'Mara, "Censorinus, the Sothic Cycle, and calendar year one in ancient Egypt: the Epistological problem", Journal of Near Eastern studies, 62 (2003), pp. 17-26.]

Thirdly: The SEC relies extensively on Manetho's writings. There is good reason to doubt Manetho's accuracy because he was writing in the third century BC, thousands of years after the concerned events took place.

Fourthly: The SEC implies that the Hittite Empire was destroyed in about 1200 BC. But as late as the eighth century BC, the Hittite Empire was comparable in strength to the Egyptian Empire. We know this from 2 Kings 7:6 and from the records of Assyrian kings such as Shalmaneser III and Sennacherib (Pritchard, J.B. (Ed.), The Ancient Near East, Vol. 1, Princeton University Press, NJ, p. 189, 199; 1965.). [Both Biblical and secular chronology place Shalmaneser and Sennacherib in the 9th and 8th centuries BC respectively]. Advocates of the SEC suggest that the Hittites of the 8th century BC were just an afterglow of the earlier Hittites. But the pottery styles of the "later" and "earlier" Hittites are the same - even the names are. The same Hittite emperor Supiluliumas who corresponded with the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten is mentioned by Shalmaneser III. By the SEC, Akhenaten lived in about 1400 BC, and therefore, so did Supiluliumas. But Shalmaneser lived in 850 BC! To account for this, SEC advocates insist that there were two Hittite emperors by the name of Supiluliumas separated by six centuries, in a similar culture. But this anomaly is not confined to Supiluliumas! It occurs even for other Hittite kings (see Peter James, Centuries of Darkness, p39). The more natural option is to regard them as single individuals rather than duplicates separated by six centuries. Pharaoh Akhenaten therefore lived in about 850 BC, not 1400 BC, and the 18th dynasty section of the SEC should be shifted forward by about five centuries.

What are the common events in Egyptian chronology and the Bible?

The following table shows events that are expected to have taken place in Egypt in chronological order according to the Biblical narrative, along with their Biblical dates. It also shows the corresponding events in Egyptian history (the dynasty numbers are in brackets) with their dates according to the SEC and the difference in dates between the SEC and the Bible (in all cases, the SEC date is older than the Biblical date).

 NoEgyptian Event
SEC Date (BC)
Biblical Event
Biblical Date (BC)
Difference
 1Menes, the first king of Egypt (1)
3000Mizraim,the founder of Egypt
(Genesis 10)
2500
500
 2 Khufu builds Giza Pyramid (4)
2531
Abraham visits Egypt
(Genesis 12)
2051
480
 3 Senuswret I and Mentuhotep (12)
1950Joseph becomes vizier (Genesis 41)1825
125
 4 Senuswret III (12)1850
Israel being oppressed (Exodus 1)1700150
 5 Neferhotep I (13)
1690The Exodus (Exodus 12)
1541
139
 6 The Hyksos Expelled (18)
1550
Saul defeats Amalekites
(1 Samuel 15)
1020
530
 7 Nefrubity (18) 1500Solomon's Egyptian wife
(1 Kings 11:1)
970
530
 8 Hatshepsut (18)1480The queen of Sheba (1 Kings 10:1)950
530
 9 Thutmosis III invades Israel (18)
1470Shishak invades Israel (1 Kings 14:25)
 927543
10 Amenhotep 2 attempts Israel invasion (18)
1420Asa defeats Zerah (2 Chronicles 14:9)
 897
523
11 Akhenaten's Amarna Letters (18)
1400 Ahab rules (1 Kings 16)
 875525
12 Merneptah's Israel Stele (19)
1210 Israel destroyed (2 Kings 17)
 722 onwards488 or more
13 Taharqa (25)
 690 Tirhakah (2 Kings 19:9) 712  22
14 Necho II heads for Carchemish (26)
 605 Necho II heads for Carchemish
(2 Chronicles 35:20)
 605   0
15 Hophrah (Apries) (26)
 580 Jeremiah mentions Hophra (Jeremiah 44:30)
 580   0

Notice that the same events are recorded in the same sequence, but the dates differ. Details of these events

What are the explanations for the discrepancies above?

The explanations lie in defects in the SEC. The SEC includes certain periods that need to be drastically shortened. When this is done, Egyptian chronology matches the Bible.

There are three reasons to shift the 18th and 19th dynasties forward by about 5 centuries:-

  1. The third intermediate period (dynasties 21 to 23, about 250 years) is suspect. Instead of a separate period in Egyptian history, it likely consists of local rulers contemporary with other dynasties.
  2. The SEC assigns only about 100 years for the Hyksos. According to Manetho, the Hyksos were in Egypt for 511 years. This correlates well with my identification of the Hyksos as the Amalekites. According to information in the Bible, the Amalekites would have invaded Egypt shortly after the Exodus, and been expelled during the reign of Saul. The difference in the Biblical dates is about five centuries. 
  3. The Hittite-Egyptian-Assyrian correlation mentioned above.

With this shift, discrepancies 5 to 9 disappear.

The Hyksos period also provides room to shift the 12th dynasty forward by about 150 years, removing discrepancies 2 to 4. Finally, dynasties 7 to 11 are also suspect. We know a good deal about the dynasties before and after them, but we know very little about them. So they are likely not a separate period in Egyptian history, but contemporaneous with other periods. This would shift the Old Kingdom forward by a few centuries and remove discrepancy 1.

To summarize: Egyptian history and the Bible record the same events in the same sequence but at different times. The SEC and Biblical chronology thus disagree. But there are flaws in the SEC - and when these flaws are corrected, there is a remarkable correlation between secular Egyptian history and the Biblical historical narratives. Thus, Egyptian archaeology provides remarkable evidence of the authenticity of the Bible.