The English word “chronology” comes from the Greek khro·no·lo·giʹa (from khroʹnos, time, and leʹgo, say or tell), that is, “the computation of time.” Chronology makes possible the placing of events in their orderly sequence or association and the assigning of proper dates to particular events.
Jehovah is “the Ancient of Days” and the God of Eternity. (Da 7:9; Ps 90:2; 93:2) That he is an accurate Timekeeper is evident not only from the superb precision manifest in the movements of the stellar bodies but also from the divine record of his acts. In fulfillment of his promises or prophecies, he caused events to occur at the exact time foretold, whether the intervening time was of only a day (Ex 9:5, 6), a year (Ge 17:21; 18:14; 21:1, 2; 2Ki 4:16, 17), decades (Nu 14:34; 2Ch 36:20-23; Da 9:2), centuries (Ge 12:4, 7; 15:13-16; Ex 12:40, 41; Ga 3:17), or millenniums (Lu 21:24; see APPOINTED TIMES OF THE NATIONS). We are assured that his purposes for the future are certain of execution at the predetermined time, right down to the day and hour designated.—Hab 2:3; Mt 24:36.
God purposed that man, made in his Creator’s image and likeness (Ge 1:26), should measure the flow of time. The Bible early states that the “luminaries in the expanse of the heavens” were to serve in making “a division between the day and the night; and . . . as signs and for seasons and for days and years.” (Ge 1:14, 15; Ps 104:19) (A discussion of the way in which these divisions have been observed since the beginning of man’s history may be found in the articles CALENDAR; DAY; MOON; WEEK; YEAR.) Human reckoning and recording of time periods has continued from Adam’s day till the present hour.—Ge 5:1, 3-5.
Eras. Accurate chronology requires that some point in the stream of time be set as the marker from which to count either forward or backward in time units (such as hours, days, months, years). That starting point could be simply the sunrise (for measuring the hours of a day), or a new moon (for measuring the days of a month), or the start of the spring season (for measuring the span of a year). For counting longer periods, men have resorted to the establishing of a particular “era,” using some outstanding event as their starting point from which to measure periods of many years. Thus, in nations of Christendom, when a person says that ‘today is October 1, 1987 C.E. (Common Era),’ he means that ‘today is the first day of the tenth month of the one thousand nine hundred and eighty-seventh year counting from what was believed by some to be the time of the birth of Jesus.’
Such use of an era in secular history is of rather late inception. The Greek era, supposedly the earliest secular case of such chronological reckoning, apparently was not put into practice until about the fourth century B.C.E. (Before the Common Era). The Greeks figured time by means of four-year periods called Olympiads, starting from the first Olympiad, calculated as beginning in 776 B.C.E. Additionally, they often identified specific years by referring to the term of office of some particular official. The Romans eventually established an era, reckoning the years from the traditional date of the founding of the city of Rome (753 B.C.E.). They also designated specific years by reference to the names of two consuls holding office in that year. It was not until the sixth century C.E. that a monk named Dionysius Exiguus calculated what is now popularly known as the Christian Era, or, more correctly, the Common Era. Among the Muhammadan (Islamic) peoples the years are dated from the Hegira (Muhammad’s flight from Mecca in 622 C.E.). The early Egyptians, Assyrians, and Babylonians, however, give no evidence of having used such an era system consistently over any considerable period of time.
As to the Biblical record, no one era arrangement is expressly set forth as the starting point by which all events are thereafter dated. This of itself does not mean that a timetable did not exist for assigning to past events their specific and correct location in the stream of time. The fact that the Bible writers, when relating particular events, could cite precise figures involving periods of several centuries demonstrates that chronological interest was not lacking among the people of Israel or their ancestors. Thus, Moses could write that “it came about at the end of the four hundred and thirty years [counting here from the time when Abraham crossed the Euphrates on his way to the land of Canaan, at which time, evidently, God validated the covenant with Abraham], it even came about on this very day that all the armies of Jehovah went out of the land of Egypt.” (Ex 12:41; see EXODUS; compare Ga 3:16, 17.) Again, at 1 Kings 6:1, the record states that it was “in the four hundred and eightieth year after the sons of Israel came out from the land of Egypt” that King Solomon began to construct the temple at Jerusalem. Still, neither the validating of the Abrahamic covenant nor the Exodus came to be commonly used as the start of an era in recording other events.
Chronological factors in the Bible, therefore, should not be expected to conform exactly to modern systems whereby all events are mathematically dated in relation to one fixed point in the past, such as the start of the Common Era. More often, events were located in the stream of time in much the same way as people do naturally in everyday life. Just as today one might fix an event by saying it took place “the year after the drought,” or “five years after World War II,” so the Bible writers related the events they recorded to relatively current time markers.
A definite conclusion cannot be reached for some chronological points, since we do not always know precisely the starting point or time marker used by the Bible writer. Then, too, a writer might use more than one such starting point to date events during the course of treating a certain historical period. This variation in starting points does not imply vagueness or confusion on the part of the writer; we cannot properly judge his methods simply on the basis of our own opinion as to the proper way of recording events based on present-day procedures. And while copyists’ errors could be involved in some of the more difficult points, it is not wise to assume these where no sound evidence exists in the form of variant readings in ancient manuscript copies of the Scriptures. The available evidence convincingly demonstrates the remarkable accuracy and care that distinguished the copying of the Bible books, resulting in the preservation of their internal integrity.—See MANUSCRIPTS OF THE BIBLE; SCRIBE.
Bible Chronology and Secular History. Concern is often expressed over the need to try to “harmonize” or “reconcile” the Biblical account with the chronology found in ancient secular records. Since truth is that which conforms to fact or reality, such coordinating would indeed be vital—if the ancient secular records could be demonstrated to be unequivocally exact and consistently reliable, hence a standard of accuracy by which to judge. Since the Biblical chronology has so often been represented by critics as inferior to that of the pagan nations, it is worth while to examine some of the ancient records of nations and peoples whose activities and life touch on and connect with the people and events recorded in the Bible.
The Bible is a historical book, preeminently so among ancient writings. The histories of the ancient Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Medes, Persians, and others are, in the main, fragmentary; their earlier periods are either obscure or, as presented by them, obviously mythical. Thus, the ancient document known as The Sumerian King List begins: “When kingship was lowered from heaven, kingship was (first) in Eridu. (In) Eridu, A-lulim (became) king and ruled 28,800 years. Alalgar ruled 36,000 years. Two kings (thus) ruled it for 64,800 years. . . . (In) Bad-tibira, En-men-lu-Anna ruled 43,200 years; En-men-gal-Anna ruled 28,800 years; the god Dumu-zi, a shepherd, ruled 36,000 years. Three kings (thus) ruled it for 108,000 years.”—Ancient Near Eastern Texts, edited by J. B. Pritchard, 1974, p. 265.
What is known from secular sources of these ancient nations has been laboriously pieced together from bits of information obtained from monuments and tablets or from the later writings of the so-called classical historiographers of the Greek and Roman period. While archaeologists have recovered tens of thousands of clay tablets bearing Assyro-Babylonian cuneiform inscriptions, as well as large numbers of papyrus scrolls from Egypt, the vast majority of these are religious texts or business documents consisting of contracts, bills of sale, deeds, and similar matter. The considerably smaller number of historical writings of the pagan nations, preserved either in the form of tablets, cylinders, steles, or monumental inscriptions, consist chiefly of material glorifying their emperors and recounting their military campaigns in grandiose terms.
The Bible, by contrast, gives an unusually coherent and detailed history stretching through some 4,000 years, for not only does it record events with remarkable continuity from man’s beginning down to the time of Nehemiah’s governorship in the fifth century B.C.E. but also it may be considered as providing a basic coverage of the period between Nehemiah and the time of Jesus and his apostles by means of Daniel’s prophecy (history written in advance) at Daniel chapter 11. The Bible presents a graphic and true-to-life account of the nation of Israel from its birth onward, portraying with candor its strength and its weaknesses, its successes and its failures, its right worship and its false worship, its blessings and its adverse judgments and calamities. While this honesty alone does not ensure accurate chronology, it does give sound basis for confidence in the integrity of the Biblical writers and their sincere concern for recording truth.
Detailed records were manifestly available to Bible chroniclers, such as the writers of First and Second Kings and of First and Second Chronicles. This is seen by the lengthy genealogies they were able to compile, amounting to many hundreds of names; also the connected and factual presentation of the reigns of each of the kings of Judah and Israel, including their relations with other nations and with one another. Modern historians still express uncertainty as to the correct positioning of certain Assyrian and Babylonian kings, even some in the later dynasties. But there is no such uncertainty regarding the sequence of the kings of Judah and Israel.
There are references to “the book of the Wars of Jehovah” (Nu 21:14, 15), “the book of the affairs of the days of the kings of Israel” (1Ki 14:19; 2Ki 15:31), “the book of the affairs of the days of the kings of Judah” (1Ki 15:23; 2Ki 24:5), “the book of the affairs of Solomon” (1Ki 11:41), as well as the numerous references to similar annals or official records cited by Ezra and Nehemiah. These show that the information set down was not based upon mere remembrance or oral tradition but was carefully researched and fully documented. Governmental records of other nations are also cited by the Biblical historians, even as some portions of the Bible were written in lands outside of Israel, including Egypt, Babylon, and Persia.—See BOOK; ESTHER, BOOK OF; EZRA, BOOK OF.
A factor that doubtless contributed toward an accurate count of the passage of years, at least to the extent that the Israelites faithfully kept the Mosaic Law, was their observance of sabbatical years and Jubilee years, thereby dividing the time up into 7-year and 50-year periods.—Le 25:2-5, 8-16, 25-31.
Particularly distinguishing the Biblical record from the contemporaneous writings of the pagan nations is the sense of time, not only of the past and the present but also of the future, that runs through its pages. (Da 2:28; 7:22; 8:18, 19; Mr 1:15; Re 22:10) The unique prophetic element made chronological accuracy a matter of far greater importance to the Israelites than to any of the pagan nations because the prophecies often involved specific time periods. As God’s Book, the Bible stresses his punctuality in carrying out his word (Eze 12:27, 28; Ga 4:4) and shows that accurate prophecies were proof of his Godship.—Isa 41:21-26; 48:3-7.
True, some of the non-Biblical documents are several centuries older than the oldest manuscript copies of the Bible thus far discovered. Engraved in stone or inscribed in clay, some ancient pagan documents may seem very impressive, but this does not ensure their correctness and their freedom from falsehood. Not the material written on, but the writer, his purpose, his respect for truth, his devotion to righteous principles—these are the important factors that give sound basis for confidence, in chronological as well as other matters. The great age of the secular documents is certainly outweighed by the vastly inferior quality of their contents when compared with the Bible. Because the Bible records were evidently made on perishable materials, such as papyrus and vellum, their continued use and the deteriorating effect of weather conditions in much of Israel (different from the extraordinarily dry climate of Egypt) may well explain the absence of extant original copies today. Yet, because it is Jehovah’s inspired Book, the Bible has been carefully copied and preserved in full form until today. (1Pe 1:24, 25) Divine inspiration, by which the Bible historians were able to set down their records, assures the reliability of Bible chronology.—2Pe 1:19-21.
Well illustrating why secular histories do not qualify as the standard of accuracy by which to judge Bible chronology is this statement by archaeological writer C. W. Ceram, commenting on the modern science of historical dating: “Anyone approaching the study of ancient history for the first time must be impressed by the positive way modern historians date events which took place thousands of years ago. In the course of further study this wonder will, if anything, increase. For as we examine the sources of ancient history we see how scanty, inaccurate, or downright false, the records were even at the time they were first written. And poor as they originally were, they are poorer still as they have come down to us: half destroyed by the tooth of time or by the carelessness and rough usage of men.” He further describes the framework of chronological history as “a purely hypothetical structure, and one which threatens to come apart at every joint.”—The Secret of the Hittites, 1956, pp. 133, 134.
This evaluation may seem extreme, but as regards the secular records, it is not without basis. The information that follows will make clear why there is no reason to feel doubt about the accuracy of the Biblical chronology simply because certain secular records are at variance with it. On the contrary, it is only when the secular chronology harmonizes with the Biblical record that a person may rightly feel a measure of confidence in such ancient secular dating. When considering the records of these pagan nations that had relations with the nation of Israel, it should be kept in mind that some of the apparent discrepancies in their records may simply be due to the inability of modern historians to interpret correctly the methods anciently used, similar to their inability to interpret correctly the methods used by the Biblical historians. There is, however, considerable evidence of definite carelessness and inaccuracy or even of deliberate falsification on the part of the pagan historians and chronologers.
Egyptian Chronology. Egyptian history meshes with that of Israel at various points. In this publication we show the date 1728 B.C.E. for Israel’s entry into Egypt, and for the Exodus, 215 years later, 1513 B.C.E. Pharaoh Shishak’s attack on Jerusalem came during Rehoboam’s fifth year in 993 B.C.E.; King So of Egypt was contemporary with Hoshea’s reign (c. 758-740 B.C.E.); and Pharaoh Necho’s battle resulting in Josiah’s death likely came in 629 B.C.E. (1Ki 14:25; 2Ki 17:4; 2Ch 35:20-24) The difference between the above dates and those generally assigned by modern historians amounts to as much as a century or more for the Exodus and then narrows down to about 20 years by Pharaoh Necho’s time. The following information shows why we prefer to hold to the chronology based on the Biblical reckoning.
Modern historians rely principally on certain documents in the form of Egyptian king lists or annals. Among these are: the fragmentary Palermo Stone, presenting what are considered to be the first five “dynasties” of Egyptian history; the Turin Papyrus, very fragmentary and giving a list of kings and their reigns from the “Old Kingdom” into the “New Kingdom”; and additional inscriptions in stone, likewise fragmentary. These separate lists and other independent inscriptions have been coordinated in chronological order by means of the writings of Manetho, an Egyptian priest of the third century B.C.E. His works, dealing with Egyptian history and religion, arrange the reigns of the Egyptian monarchs into 30 dynasties, an arrangement still used by modern Egyptologists. These sources, together with astronomical calculations, based on Egyptian texts dealing with lunar phases and the rising of the Dog Star (Sothis), have been used to produce a chronological table.
Problems of Egyptian chronology. Uncertainties are multiple. The works of Manetho, used to give order to the fragmentary lists and other inscriptions, are preserved only in the writings of later historians, such as Josephus (first century C.E.), Sextus Julius Africanus (third century C.E., hence over 500 years from Manetho’s time), Eusebius (fourth century C.E.), and Syncellus (late eighth or early ninth century C.E.). As stated by W. G. Waddell, their quotations of Manetho’s writings are fragmentary and often distorted and hence “it is extremely difficult to reach certainty in regard to what is authentic Manetho and what is spurious or corrupt.” After showing that Manetho’s source material included some unhistorical traditions and legends that “introduced kings as their heroes, without regard to chronological order,” he says: “There were many errors in Manetho’s work from the very beginning: all are not due to the perversions of scribes and revisers. Many of the lengths of reigns have been found impossible: in some cases the names and the sequence of kings as given by Manetho have proved untenable in the light of monumental evidence.”—Manetho, introduction, pp. vii, xvii, xx, xxi, xxv.
The probability that concurrent reigns rather than successive reigns are responsible for many of Manetho’s excessively long periods is shown in the book Studies in Egyptian Chronology, by T. Nicklin (Blackburn, Eng., 1928, p. 39): “The Manethonian Dynasties . . . are not lists of rulers over all Egypt, but lists partly of more or less independent princes, partly . . . of princely lines from which later sprang rulers over all Egypt.” Professor Waddell (pp. 1-9) observes that “perhaps several Egyptian kings ruled at one and the same time; . . . thus it was not a succession of kings occupying the throne one after the other, but several kings reigning at the same time in different regions. Hence arose the great total number of years.”
Since the Bible points to the year 2370 B.C.E. as the date of the global Flood, Egyptian history must have begun after that date. The problems in Egyptian chronology shown above are doubtless responsible for the figures advanced by modern historians who would run Egyptian history all the way back to the year 3000 B.C.E.
Greater confidence is placed by Egyptologists in the ancient inscriptions themselves. Yet, the carefulness, truthfulness, and moral integrity of the Egyptian scribes are by no means above suspicion. As Professor J. A. Wilson states: “A warning should be issued about the precise historical value of Egyptian inscriptions. That was a world of . . . divine myths and miracles.” Then after suggesting that the scribes were not above juggling the chronology of events to add praise to the particular monarch in power, he says: “The historian will accept his data at face value, unless there is a clear reason for distrust; but he must be ready to modify his acceptance as soon as new materials put the previous interpretation in a new light.”—The World History of the Jewish People, 1964, Vol. 1, pp. 280, 281.
Absence of information concerning Israel. This is not surprising, since the Egyptians not only refused to record matters uncomplimentary to themselves but also were not above effacing records of a previous monarch if the information in such records proved distasteful to the then reigning pharaoh. Thus, after the death of Queen Hatshepsut, Thutmose III had her name and representations chiseled out of the monumental reliefs. This practice doubtless explains why there is no known Egyptian record of the 215 years of Israelite residence in Egypt or of their Exodus.
The pharaoh ruling at the time of the Exodus is not named in the Bible; hence, efforts to identify him are based on conjecture. This partly explains why modern historians’ calculations of the date of the Exodus vary from 1441 to 1225 B.C.E., a difference of over 200 years.
Assyrian Chronology. From the time of Shalmaneser III (early part of first millennium B.C.E.), Assyrian inscriptions mention contacts with the Israelites, at times naming certain kings of Judah and of Israel. The Assyrian inscriptions include display inscriptions, such as are found on the walls of palaces; royal annals; king lists, such as that from Khorsabad; and the limmu, or eponym, lists.
Assyrian display inscriptions and annals. Albert Olmstead, in his Assyrian Historiography (1916, pp. 5, 6), described the Assyrian display inscriptions as follows: “We may . . . use the Display inscription to fill gaps in the Annals [royal chronicles listing events annually], but it has not the slightest authority when it disagrees with its original.” After showing that the main purpose of these display inscriptions was not the giving of a connected history of the reign, he adds: “Equally serious is it that they rarely have a chronological order. . . . That they are to be used with caution is obvious.”
Of the annals, he says: “We have here a regular chronology, and if errors, intentional or otherwise, can sometimes be found, the relative chronology at least is generally correct. . . . But it would be a great mistake to assume that the annals are always trustworthy. Earlier historians have too generally accepted their statements unless they had definite proof of inaccuracy. In the last few years, there has been discovered a mass of new material which we may use for the criticism of the Sargonide documents. . . . Add to this the references in foreign sources such as Hebrew or Babylonian, and we hardly need internal study to convince us that the annals are far from reliable.”
To this may be added the testimony of D. D. Luckenbill: “One soon discovers that the accurate portrayal of events as they took place, year by year during the king’s reign, was not the guiding motive of the royal scribes. At times the different campaigns seem to have been shifted about without any apparent reason, but more often it is clear that royal vanity demanded playing fast and loose with historical accuracy.”—Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia, 1926, Vol. I, p. 7.
The royal annals usually went through a series of editions as the king’s reign progressed. Later editions presented new events, but they also seem to have juggled the facts and figures of the previous years to suit the king’s fancy. Professor Olmstead makes reference to the “cool taking by [Ashurbanipal] of bit after bit of the last two Egyptian campaigns of his father until in the final edition there is nothing that he has not claimed for himself.”—Assyrian Historiography, p. 7.
Examples of such evident unreliability, deliberate or otherwise, could be multiplied many times over. The compilers of tribute lists were not above listing a vassal king as paying tribute even though other records showed him to be dead at the time. George Smith, after citing an instance where the same tribute list of Esar-haddon is credited to his son Ashurbanipal 13 years later, says that this later list is “most probably a literal copy of the earlier document, without any attempt to ascertain if these kings were still reigning, and if they really paid tribute.”—The Assyrian Eponym Canon, London, 1875, p. 179.
Eponym (limmu) lists. Despite the above evidence, modern chronologers generally hold that the eponym, or limmu, lists somehow escaped any such corruption so as to be virtually impeccable in their freedom from error. These eponym lists are simply lists of officials’ names and ranks or lists of such names accompanied by some brief mention of a warring campaign or other noteworthy event. For example, one section of the eponym list reads:
(governor) of Guzana
took his seat on the throne
(governor) of Amedi
in the land
(governor) of Nineveh
(governor) of [Kakzi]
king of Assyria
From this it can be seen that no actual dates are given, but it is considered that each name represents a year, thereby apparently allowing for a year-by-year count. Modern historians endeavor to synchronize Assyrian and Biblical history by means of these eponym lists, particularly for the period from 911 to 649 B.C.E., to which they assign the names or eponyms on the lists. For a pivotal point, they rely on the reference to an eclipse of the sun mentioned in an entry opposite the name of a certain Bur-Sagale, governor of Guzana. The eclipse was in the month of Sivan (May-June) and historians generally fix it as taking place on June 15, 763 B.C.E. The reliability of this date, and the synchronization of Assyrian history with that of Judah and Israel that they based on it, will be discussed later under the heading “Astronomical Calculations.”
Because of the extremely reduced amount of information involved in the eponym lists (as compared with the annals and other inscriptions), it is obvious that the means for discovering error is considerably diminished. When apparent contradictions are found between the eponym lists and the annals, such as the placing of a certain campaign in a different year of a king’s reign or during a different eponymy, the modern historians usually charge the error to the annals rather than to the eponym lists. Yet, even with regard to the so-called Assyrian synchronistic history, a famous tablet containing a terse account of the relations between Assyria and Babylonia during a period of centuries, no such claim for positive accuracy is made. A. T. Olmstead, after presenting evidence to show that this document is only a copy of an earlier display inscription, says: “So we can consider our document not even a history in the true sense of the word, merely an inscription erected to the glory of Ashur [Assyria’s chief god] and of his people . . . When we take this view, we are no longer troubled by the numerous mistakes, even to the order of the kings, which so greatly reduce the value of the document where its testimony is most needed.”—Assyrian Historiography, p. 32.
It should be clear that such variable arrangement as is apparent in the eponym lists would make it extremely difficult for modern scholars to arrive at an exact chronology, especially when the compilation of data covering several centuries was done by scribes to whom care and historical accuracy apparently meant so little. It is also evident that the modern historians feel justified in adjusting or overruling the count of the Assyrian eponym lists when other factors or evidence make such action advisable.
The information above points to the conclusion that Assyrian historiography either is not correctly understood by modern historians or is of very low caliber. In either case, we do not feel compelled to attempt to coordinate the Biblical chronology with history as presented in the Assyrian records. Therefore, we show only the more definite synchronisms between Assyria and Israel and Judah as indicated in the Bible account.
Babylonian Chronology. Babylon enters the Biblical picture principally from the time of Nebuchadnezzar II onward. The reign of Nebuchadnezzar’s father Nabopolassar marked the start of what is called the Neo-Babylonian Empire; it ended with the reigns of Nabonidus and his son Belshazzar and the overthrow of Babylon by Cyrus the Persian. This period is of great interest to Bible scholars since it embraces the time of the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem and the greater part of the 70-year period of Jewish exile.
Jeremiah 52:28 says that in the seventh year of Nebuchadnezzar (or Nebuchadrezzar) the first group of Jewish exiles was taken to Babylon. In harmony with this, a cuneiform inscription of the Babylonian Chronicle (British Museum 21946) states: “The seventh year: In the month Kislev the king of Akkad mustered his army and marched to Hattu. He encamped against the city of Judah and on the second day of the month Adar he captured the city (and) seized (its) king [Jehoiachin]. A king of his own choice [Zedekiah] he appointed in the city (and) taking the vast tribute he brought it into Babylon.” (Assyrian and Babylonian Chronicles, by A. K. Grayson, 1975, p. 102; compare 2Ki 24:1-17; 2Ch 36:5-10.) (PICTURE, Vol. 2, p. 326) For the final 32 years of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, there are no historical records of the chronicle type except a fragmentary inscription of a campaign against Egypt in Nebuchadnezzar’s 37th year.
For Awil-Marduk (Evil-merodach, 2Ki 25:27, 28), tablets dated up to his second year of rule have been found. For Neriglissar, considered to be the successor of Awil-Marduk, contract tablets are known dated to his fourth year.
A Babylonian clay tablet is helpful for connecting Babylonian chronology with Biblical chronology. This tablet contains the following astronomical information for the seventh year of Cambyses II son of Cyrus II: “Year 7, Tammuz, night of the 14th, 1 2⁄3 double hours [three hours and twenty minutes] after night came, a lunar eclipse; visible in its full course; it reached over the northern half disc [of the moon]. Tebet, night of the 14th, two and a half double hours [five hours] at night before morning [in the latter part of the night], the disc of the moon was eclipsed; the whole course visible; over the southern and northern part the eclipse reached.” (Inschriften von Cambyses, König von Babylon, by J. N. Strassmaier, Leipzig, 1890, No. 400, lines 45-48; Sternkunde und Sterndienst in Babel, by F. X. Kugler, Münster, 1907, Vol. I, pp. 70, 71) These two lunar eclipses can evidently be identified with the lunar eclipses that were visible at Babylon on July 16, 523 B.C.E., and on January 10, 522 B.C.E. (Oppolzer’s Canon of Eclipses, translated by O. Gingerich, 1962, p. 335) Thus, this tablet points to the spring of 523 B.C.E. as the beginning of the seventh year of Cambyses II.
Since the seventh year of Cambyses II began in spring of 523 B.C.E., his first year of rule was 529 B.C.E. and his accession year, and the last year of Cyrus II as king of Babylon, was 530 B.C.E. The latest tablet dated in the reign of Cyrus II is from the 5th month, 23rd day of his 9th year. (Babylonian Chronology, 626 B.C.–A.D. 75, by R. Parker and W. Dubberstein, 1971, p. 14) As the ninth year of Cyrus II as king of Babylon was 530 B.C.E., his first year according to that reckoning was 538 B.C.E. and his accession year was 539 B.C.E.
Berossus. In the third century B.C.E. Berossus, a Babylonian priest, wrote a history of Babylon in the Greek language, evidently based on cuneiform records. Of his writings, Professor Olmstead said: “Only the merest fragments, abstracts, or traces, have come down to us. And the most important of these fragments have come down through a tradition almost without parallel. Today we must consult a modern Latin translation of an Armenian translation of the lost Greek original of the Chronicle of Eusebius, who borrowed in part from Alexander Polyhistor who borrowed from Berossus direct, in part from Abydenus who apparently borrowed from Juba who borrowed from Alexander Polyhistor and so from Berossus. To make a worse confusion, Eusebius has in some cases not recognized the fact that Abydenus is only a feeble echo of Polyhistor, and has quoted the accounts of each side by side! And this is not the worst. Although his Polyhistor account is in general to be preferred, Eusebius seems to have used a poor manuscript of that author.” (Assyrian Historiography, pp. 62, 63) Josephus, Jewish historian of the first century C.E., also claims that he quotes from Berossus. But it seems evident that chronological data supposedly from Berossus could hardly be considered conclusive.
Other factors allowing for differences. Casual students of ancient history often labor under the misconception that the cuneiform tablets (such as may have been used by Berossus) were always written at the same time or shortly after the events recorded on them. But, aside from the many cuneiform business documents that were truly contemporary, the Babylonian historical texts and even many astronomical texts often give evidence of being of a much later period. Thus, according to Assyriologist D. J. Wiseman, one portion of the so-called Babylonian Chronicle, covering the period from the rule of Nabu-nasir to Shamash-shum-u-kin (a period dated by secular historians as from 747-648 B.C.E.), is “a copy made in the twenty-second year of Darius [footnote says: I.e. 500/499 B.C. if Darius I] from an older and damaged text.” (Chronicles of Chaldaean Kings, London, 1956, p. 1) So, not only was this writing separated from the events recorded on it by anywhere from 150 to 250 years but it was also a copy of a defective earlier document, perhaps an original, perhaps not. Of the Neo-Babylonian Chronicle texts, covering the period from Nabopolassar to Nabonidus, the same author states: “The Neo-Babylonian Chronicle texts are written in a small script of a type which does not of itself allow any precise dating but which can mean that they were written from any time almost contemporary with the events themselves to the end of the Achaemenid rule.” This allows for the possibility that they were written as late as the close of the Persian Empire, which occurred in 331 B.C.E. some 200 years after the fall of Babylon. We have already seen that data, including numbers, can easily suffer change and even perversion at the hands of pagan scribes in the course of a few centuries. In view of all these factors it is certainly not wise to insist that the traditional figures for the reigns of the Neo-Babylonian kings be received as definite.
Both the lack of contemporary historical records and the ease with which data could be altered definitely allow for the possibility that one or more of the Neo-Babylonian rulers had a longer reign than the traditional figures show. The fact that no tablets have been discovered that would cover the later years of such reign cannot consistently be used as a strong argument against this possibility. There are cases of kings whose reigns come much farther along in the stream of time and for whom no such confirming tablets have been found. For example, for both Artaxerxes III (Ochus) (who, historians say, ruled for 21 years [358 to 338 B.C.E.]) and Arses (credited with a 2-year rule [337 to 336 B.C.E.]) there is no known contemporary cuneiform evidence to help establish the length of their reigns.
In reality, historians do not know where to place certain Babylonian kings for whom records do exist. Professor A. W. Ahl (Outline of Persian History, 1922, p. 84) states: “On the Contract Tablets, found in Borsippa, appear the names of Babylonian kings which do not occur elsewhere. In all probability they belong to the last days of Darius I, extending into the first days of Xerxes I, as Ungnad conjectures.” Still, this remains only conjecture.
Persian Chronology. A number of important Biblical events took place during the Persian period: the fall of Babylon, followed by Cyrus’ release of the Jews and the end of the 70-year desolation of Judah; the reconstruction of the temple at Jerusalem, completed “in the sixth year of the reign of Darius [I, Persian]”; and the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls by Nehemiah, according to the decree given in the 20th year of Artaxerxes Longimanus.—2Ch 36:20-23; Ezr 3:8-10; 4:23, 24; 6:14, 15; Ne 2:1, 7, 8.
The date of 539 B.C.E. for the fall of Babylon can be arrived at not only by Ptolemy’s canon but by other sources as well. The historian Diodorus, as well as Africanus and Eusebius, shows that Cyrus’ first year as king of Persia corresponded to Olympiad 55, year 1 (560/559 B.C.E.), while Cyrus’ last year is placed at Olympiad 62, year 2 (531/530 B.C.E.). Cuneiform tablets give Cyrus a rule of nine years over Babylon, which would therefore substantiate the year 539 as the date of his conquest of Babylon.—Handbook of Biblical Chronology, by Jack Finegan, 1964, pp. 112, 168-170; Babylonian Chronology, 626 B.C.–A.D. 75, p. 14; see comments above under “Babylonian Chronology,” also PERSIA, PERSIANS.
Several inscriptions of Persian kings have come down to us, yet they are not useful for establishing the length of the reigns of Persian kings. For example, a number of dated tablets were found at Persepolis, but the names of the kings are not included.
Astronomical Calculations. The claim is made that “astronomical confirmations can convert a relative chronology [one that merely establishes the sequence of events] into an absolute chronology, specifically, a system of dates related to our calendar.” (The Old Testament World, by Martin Noth, 1966, p. 272) While the celestial bodies are the means provided by man’s Creator for human measurement of time, nevertheless the correlation of astronomical data with human events in the past is subject to various factors and human interpretation allowing for error.
Many of the so-called synchronizations of astronomical data with events or dates of ancient history are based on solar or lunar eclipses. However, any “particular town or city would on the average experience about 40 lunar eclipses and 20 partial solar eclipses in 50 years, [although] only one total solar eclipse in 400 years.” (Encyclopædia Britannica, 1971, Vol. 7, p. 907) So, only in the case of a definitely stated total solar eclipse visible in a specific area would there be little reason for doubt in the fixing of a particular historical date by such means. In many cases the material from the ancient cuneiform texts (or other sources) concerning eclipses does not provide such specific information.
An example is the solar eclipse relied upon by historians to correlate Assyrian chronology with Biblical chronology. It is mentioned in the Assyrian eponym lists as taking place in the third month (counting from the spring) during the eponymy of Bur-Sagale. Modern chronologists calculate it to be the eclipse occurring on June 15, 763 B.C.E. Counting back 90 years (or 90 names on the eponym lists) from this date, they arrive at 853 B.C.E. as the date for the battle of Karkar in Shalmaneser III’s sixth year. They claim that Shalmaneser lists King Ahab of Israel as in the enemy coalition facing Assyria in that battle, and that 12 years afterward (Shalmaneser’s 18th year) the Assyrian king refers to King Jehu of Israel as paying tribute. They then deduce that the year 853 B.C.E. marked the date of Ahab’s last year and 841 B.C.E. the start of Jehu’s reign. How sound are these calculations?
First, though it is assumed that the solar eclipse was total, the eponym list does not state this. And, whereas most historians today would apply this reference to the eclipse of 763 B.C.E., not all scholars have done so, some preferring the year 809 B.C.E., during which year an eclipse occurred that would have been at least partially visible in Assyria (as was also the case in 857 and 817 B.C.E., etc.). (Oppolzer’s Canon of Eclipses, charts 17, 19, 21) Though modern historians object to any change from the solar eclipse of 763 B.C.E. on the grounds that it would ‘introduce confusion into Assyrian history,’ we have already seen that the Assyrians themselves introduced considerable confusion into their own history.
Moreover, the presence of King Ahab at the battle of Karkar is very unlikely. Thus, even if the reigns of Ahaziah and Jehoram (which intervened between Ahab and Jehu) could be reduced to just 12 years (compare 1Ki 22:40, 51; 2Ki 1:2, 17; 3:1), the evidence is against any precise synchronization of the battle of Karkar with Ahab. Shalmaneser’s mention of Jehu, therefore, may very well not relate to Jehu’s first year of rule. The accusation that the Assyrians juggled the years of their campaigns and credited kings with receiving tribute from persons no longer living might reduce even more the supposed value of the synchronization. The chart “Outstanding Dates During the Period of the Kings of Judah and of Israel,” accompanying this article, shows Ahab’s death as occurring about 920 B.C.E. with Jehu’s kingship counting from about 904 B.C.E.
Ptolemy’s canon. Claudius Ptolemy was a Greek astronomer who lived in the second century C.E., or over 600 years after the close of the Neo-Babylonian period. His canon, or list of kings, was connected with a work on astronomy that he produced. Most modern historians accept Ptolemy’s information about the Neo-Babylonian kings and the length of their reigns.
Evidently Ptolemy based his historical information on sources dating from the Seleucid period, which began more than 250 years after Cyrus captured Babylon. It thus is not surprising that Ptolemy’s figures agree with those of Berossus, a Babylonian priest of the Seleucid period.
Lunar eclipses. These have been used to try to substantiate the dates given for particular years of the Neo-Babylonian kings on the basis of Ptolemy’s canon and data in the cuneiform records. But even though Ptolemy may have calculated accurately or recorded the dates of certain eclipses in the past (a modern astronomer found three fifths of Ptolemy’s dates correct), this does not prove that his transmission of historical data is correct, that is, that his correlation of eclipses with the reigns of certain kings is consistently based on true historical fact.
The date of Herod the Great’s death provides an illustration of problems that can be encountered in dating by lunar eclipses. Josephus’ writings (Jewish Antiquities, XVII, 167 [vi, 4]; XVII, 188-214 [viii, 1–ix, 3]) show Herod’s death occurring shortly after a lunar eclipse and not long before the start of the Passover season. Many scholars date Herod’s death as in 4 B.C.E. and cite as proof the lunar eclipse of March 11 (March 13, Julian calendar) in that year. Because of this reckoning, many modern chronologers place the birth of Jesus as early as 5 B.C.E.
However, that eclipse in 4 B.C.E. was of only 36-percent magnitude and would have attracted the attention of very few people at the early morning hour that it occurred. Two other eclipses took place in 1 B.C.E., either one of which might fit the requirement of an eclipse not long before the Passover. The partial lunar eclipse of December 27 (December 29, Julian calendar) that year was perhaps observable in Jerusalem but probably not as a conspicuous event. According to calculations based on Oppolzer’s Canon of Eclipses (p. 343), the moon was passing out of the earth’s shadow as twilight fell in Jerusalem, and by the time it was dark the moon was again shining full. On the other hand, it is not included in the comprehensive listing by Manfred Kudlek and Erich Mickler. Thus the extent to which that eclipse was visible in Jerusalem or whether it was visible at all is uncertain at this point in history. More striking than either of the above was the late-night lunar eclipse that occurred in the early hours of January 8, 1 B.C.E. (January 10, Julian calendar). This was a total eclipse in which the moon was blacked out for 1 hour 41 minutes. It would have been noticed by anyone who was awake, even if the sky was overcast. So during the years here discussed, more than one eclipse occurred shortly before a Passover. Viewed from the standpoint of information available now, it seems that the one most likely to have been noted was that on January 8, 1 B.C.E.—Solar and Lunar Eclipses of the Ancient Near East From 3000 B.C. to 0 With Maps, by M. Kudlek and E. H. Mickler; Neukirchen-Vluyn, Germany; 1971, Vol. I, p. 156.
Not all the texts historians use to date events and periods of ancient history are based on eclipses, however. Astronomical diaries have been found that give the position (in relation to certain stars or constellations) of the moon at its first and last visibility on a specific day in Babylon (for example, “the moon was one cubit in front of the rear foot of the lion”), along with the positions of certain of the planets at these same times. Modern chronologers point out that such a combination of astronomical positions would not be duplicated again in thousands of years. These astronomical diaries contain references to the reigns of certain kings and appear to coincide with the figures given in Ptolemy’s canon. While to some this might seem like incontrovertible evidence, there are factors greatly reducing its strength.
The first is that the observations made in Babylon may have contained errors. The Babylonian astronomers showed greatest concern for celestial events or phenomena occurring close to the horizon, at the rising or setting of the moon or of the sun. However, the horizon as viewed from Babylon is frequently obscured by sandstorms. Commenting on these factors, Professor O. Neugebauer states that Ptolemy complained about “the lack of reliable planetary observations [from ancient Babylon]. He [Ptolemy] remarks that the old observations were made with little competence, because they were concerned with appearances and disappearances and with stationary points, phenomena which by their very nature are very difficult to observe.”—The Exact Sciences in Antiquity, 1957, p. 98.
Second, the fact is that the great majority of the astronomical diaries found were written, not in the time of the Neo-Babylonian or Persian empires, but in the Seleucid period (312-65 B.C.E.), although they contain data relating to those earlier periods. Historians assume that they are copies of earlier documents. Actually contemporaneous astronomical texts are lacking by which to establish the full chronology of the Neo-Babylonian and Persian periods (late seventh to late fourth centuries).
Finally, as in the case of Ptolemy, even though the astronomical information (as now interpreted and understood) on the texts discovered is basically accurate, this does not prove that the historical information accompanying it is accurate. Even as Ptolemy used the reigns of ancient kings (as he understood them) simply as a framework in which to place his astronomical data, so too, the writers (or copyists) of the astronomical texts of the Seleucid period may have simply inserted in their astronomical texts what was then the accepted, or “popular,” chronology of that time. That accepted, or popular, chronology may well have contained errors at the critical points dealt with earlier in this article. To illustrate, an ancient astronomer (or a scribe) might state that a certain celestial event took place in the year that, according to our calendar, would be 465 B.C.E., and his statement may prove correct when accurate computations are made to verify it. But he may also state that the year in which the celestial event took place (465 B.C.E.) was the 21st year of King Xerxes and be entirely wrong. Simply stated, accuracy in astronomy does not prove accuracy in history.
Archaeological Dating. Problems involved in setting dates based on artifacts found in excavations are discussed under the heading ARCHAEOLOGY. Briefly, it may be said that, in the absence of actually dated inscriptions, dating by artifacts such as pottery shards can never be more than comparative. That is, the archaeologist can only say that ‘this particular stratum and its contents in this mound evidently belong to the same general period as a certain stratum in that mound (or before it or after it).’ Thus a general chronological sequence is built up, but always subject to correction and change, the changes sometimes amounting to hundreds of years. For example, in 1937 archaeologist Barton assigned “Early Bronze Age” pottery to the period 2500-2000 B.C.E., whereas in the following year W. F. Albright listed the same period as 3200-2200 B.C.E.
Hence, as G. Ernest Wright stated: “In this area we can seldom work with certainties. Instead, it is necessary to construct hypotheses which always possess greater or lesser degrees of probability. The truth in them rests upon their [the archaeologists’] ability to interpret and hold together a variety of disparate data, but new information at any moment may make it necessary to change a given hypothesis, or cause a scholar to express it somewhat differently.”—Shechem, The Biography of a Biblical City, 1965, foreword p. xvi.
Further illustrating this is a statement in Chronologies in Old World Archaeology, edited by Robert Ehrich, printed in 1965 to supersede an earlier work of 1954, and containing a compendium of views on “the floating network of relative chronologies” as expressed by prominent archaeologists. The foreword (p. vii) says: “The purpose of this book is to present, in series, the chronologies of various contiguous areas as they appear in 1964 to the eyes of regional specialists. Despite the new information, the over-all situation is still fluid, and forthcoming data will render some conclusions obsolete, possibly even before this volume appears in print.” This may be kept in mind when evaluating the dates archaeologists give for the age of certain cities, such as Jericho, or the period to which they assign the conquest of Palestine by Israel.
Historians of the Classical Period. The term “classical” here applies to the period and culture of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Besides being a source of Greek and Roman history, the writings of certain classical historians are relied on by modern historians to fill in gaps or to confirm certain data in the record of ancient Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Syria, and Palestine. Included among ancient Greek historians are: Herodotus (c. 484-425 B.C.E.); Thucydides (c. 471-401 B.C.E.); Xenophon (c. 431-352 B.C.E.); Ctesias (fifth-fourth century B.C.E.); and later, Strabo, Diodorus Siculus, and Alexander Polyhistor of the first century B.C.E.; and Plutarch of the first and second centuries C.E. Roman historians include Titus Livius or Livy (59 B.C.E.–17 C.E.); Gnaeus Pompeius Trogus, a contemporary of Livy; Pliny the Elder (23-79 C.E.); and Sextus Julius Africanus (third century C.E.), probably born in Libya. Aside from these, major sources of information are Manetho and Berossus (already discussed); Josephus, a Jewish historian whose writings (though at times contradictory in their present form) are quite helpful for the first century C.E.; and Eusebius, ecclesiastical historian and bishop of Caesarea (c. 260-340 C.E.).
All of these lived after the Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian period and only the first four mentioned lived during the period of the Persian Empire. For the Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian periods, then, none of these writers present information based on personal knowledge, but they record, rather, the traditional views they heard or, in some cases, may have read and copied. The accuracy of their data obviously depends on the accuracy of the sources used.
Not only this, but what we know of their writings is today dependent upon copies of copies, the oldest copy often dating no farther back than the medieval period of the Common Era. We have already seen how the chronologies of Manetho and Berossus were mutilated by copyists. As to the qualifications and reliability of the other ancient historians of the classical period, the following is noteworthy:
Herodotus’ approach to history—asking a question, looking for relevant information, and then drawing a conclusion—is spoken of highly. But it is also said that at times “his data were unsatisfactory” and that “he offers a rational explanation side by side with the irrational.” It has also been said that he belongs “distinctly to the romantic school” and so was as much a storyteller as a historian. (The New Encyclopædia Britannica, 1985 edition, Vol. 5, pp. 881, 882; 1910 edition, Vol. XIII, p. 383) As to Xenophon, it is said that “objectivity, thoroughness, and research were not for him” and that he adorned his narratives with “fictitious speeches.” (The New Encyclopædia Britannica, 1987, Vol. 12, p. 796) George Rawlinson accuses Ctesias of deliberately extending the period of the Median monarchy “by the conscious use of a system of duplication.” He further states: “Each king, or period, in Herodotus occurs in the list of Ctesias twice—a transparent device, clumsily cloaked by the cheap expedient of a liberal invention of names.”—The Seven Great Monarchies of the Ancient Eastern World, 1885, Vol. II, p. 85.
Concerning Roman history of the kingly period (preceding the establishment of the Republic), we read that it “stretches back into the regions of pure mythology. It is little more than a collection of fables told with scarcely any attempt at criticism, and with no more regard to chronological sequence than was necessary to make the tale run smoothly or to fill up such gaps as that between the flight of Aeneas from Troy and the supposed year of the foundation of Rome.” Even in the period after the establishment of the Republic (c. 509 B.C.E.), historians were still ready to set down popular tradition alongside historical fact without particularly distinguishing between them. “Pedigrees were invented, imaginary consulships [Roman dating was often done by consulships] and fictitious triumphs inserted, and family traditions . . . were formally incorporated with the history of the state.” Of the Roman annalists, we are told: “What they found written they copied; the gaps they supplied, where personal experience failed, by imagination.”—The Encyclopædia Britannica, 1911, Vol. XVI, pp. 820, 821.
Thucydides. Thucydides is widely regarded as an exception to the general rule of inaccuracy and carelessness with which the classical historians are so often charged. Thucydides is noted for his meticulous research. Of him, The New Encyclopædia Britannica (1987, Vol. 11, p. 741) says: “His authority is hardly equalled by that of any other historian. He kept to a strict chronological scheme, and, where it can be accurately tested by the eclipses that he mentions, it fits closely.”
The classical historians must be resorted to at times for necessary information, particularly for the Persian period (as dealt with in the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther) and on down to apostolic times. Their writings also are an aid in determining the time and events in fulfillment of parts of Daniel’s prophetic visions (chaps 7-9, 11), which extend even beyond the apostolic period. However, the information presented earlier shows there is no reason for placing their histories and chronologies on a par with the Bible itself. Where differences appear, one can confidently rely on the Biblical record, set down either by eyewitnesses or by those who, like Luke, “traced all things from the start with accuracy.” (Lu 1:1-4) The accurate chronological information in the accounts of Luke and others makes possible the fixing of the dates for principal events of Jesus’ life and of the apostolic period.—Mt 2:1, 19-22; Lu 3:1-3, 21-23; and many others.
The Biblical Count of Time. The ancient secular records obviously must all be used with due caution. They are known to have inaccuracies in many matters, and it is most unlikely that their chronologies should somehow have escaped such inaccuracies. By contrast, the Bible has proved true in all fields dealt with, giving by far the most accurate picture of the ancient times it treats. Its chronology is also reliable.—See BIBLE (Authenticity).
When measuring Biblical periods in harmony with modern dating methods, it should be remembered that cardinal and ordinal numbers differ. Cardinal numbers, such as 1, 2, 3, 10, 100, and so forth, have full value. But with ordinal numbers, such as 3rd, 5th, and 22nd, it is necessary to subtract one to obtain the full number. Thus, in the reference to the “eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar,” the term “eighteenth” is an ordinal number and represents 17 full years plus some days, weeks, or months (whatever time had elapsed from the end of the 17th year).—Jer 52:29.
When counting a number of years from a calendar date in the “B.C.E.” period to one in the “C.E.” period, it should be kept in mind that from a date such as October 1 of the year 1 B.C.E. to October 1 of the year 1 C.E. is only one year, not two, as can be seen in this diagram:
This is because the year dates are ordinal numbers. Thus, from about October 1 of the year 2 B.C.E. (the approximate time of Jesus’ birth) to October 1 of 29 C.E. (the approximate date of Jesus’ baptism) is a total of 30 years, that is, one full year plus 3 months in the B.C.E. period and 28 full years plus 9 months in the C.E. period.—Lu 3:21-23.
From Human Creation to the Present. Modern historians are unable to determine any certain date for the beginning of the “historical period” of mankind. Whether they turn to the history of Assyria, Babylon, or Egypt, the chronology becomes increasingly uncertain and unstable as they work their way back through the second millennium B.C.E., and in the third millennium B.C.E. they are faced with confusion and obscurity. By contrast, the Bible provides a connected history that allows for a methodical count back to the beginning of human history, a count that is facilitated by Biblical references to certain large periods of time, such as the 479 full-year period from the Exodus to the start of the temple construction during Solomon’s reign.—1Ki 6:1.
To make the count in terms of modern calendar dating, we must use some fixed point or pivotal date with which to commence, that is, a date in history that has sound basis for acceptance and that corresponds with a particular event recorded in the Bible. From this date as a pivotal point we can figure backward or forward and assign calendar dates to many of the events referred to in the Bible.
One such date, harmonizing with both Biblical and secular history, is the year 29 C.E., the early months of which were in the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar, who was named emperor by the Roman Senate on September 15, 14 C.E. (Gregorian calendar). It was in the year 29 C.E. that John the Baptizer began his preaching and also when, perhaps about six months later, he baptized Jesus.—Lu 3:1-3, 21, 23; 1:36.
Another date that can be used as a pivotal point is the year 539 B.C.E., supported by various historical sources as the year for the overthrow of Babylon by Cyrus the Persian. (Secular sources for Cyrus’ reign include Diodorus, Africanus, Eusebius, and Ptolemy, as well as the Babylonian tablets.) During Cyrus’ first year his decree releasing the Jews from exile was given. And, as considered in the article on CYRUS, it is very probable that the decree was made by the winter of 538 B.C.E. or toward the spring of 537 B.C.E. This would permit the Jews time to make necessary preparations, effect the four-month journey to Jerusalem, and still arrive there by the seventh month (Tishri, or about October 1) of 537 B.C.E.—Ezr 1:1-11; 2:64-70; 3:1.
Using such pivotal dates, we can then relate a very large number of the Bible events to specific calendar dates. The basic framework into which such chronology fits is as follows:
Time Period Between Events
From the creation of Adam
To the start of the Flood
To the validating of the Abrahamic covenant
To the Exodus from Egypt
To the start of the temple construction
To the division of the kingdom
To the desolation of Judah
To the return of the Jews from exile
To the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls
To the baptism of Jesus
To the present
Total time period from Adam’s creation to 1987 C.E.
What, then, is the Biblical basis and, in some cases, the secular history supporting such chronology? We here give further details showing how each of the time periods listed is determined.
From Adam’s creation to the Flood. The 1,656 years of this period are set out in Genesis 5:1-29; 7:6, and they may be outlined as shown in the chart at the lower right.
From Adam’s creation to the birth of Seth
Then to the birth of Enosh
To the birth of Kenan
To the birth of Mahalalel
To the birth of Jared
To the birth of Enoch
To the birth of Methuselah
To the birth of Lamech
To the birth of Noah
To the Flood
The figures shown for the pre-Flood period are those found in the Masoretic text, on which modern translations of the Hebrew Scriptures are based. These figures differ from those found in the Greek Septuagint, but the evidence for accuracy clearly favors the Masoretic text.
Lange’s Commentary on the Holy Scriptures (Genesis, p. 272, ftn) says: “The internal evidence is shown to be decidedly in favor of the Hebrew from its proportional consistency. The numbers in the LXX evidently follow a plan to which they have been conformed. This does not appear in the Hebrew, and it is greatly in favor of its being an authentic genealogical record. . . . On physiological grounds, too, the Hebrew is to be preferred; since the length of the life does not at all require so late a manhood as those numbers [in the Septuagint] would seem to intimate. . . . the added 100 years, in each case, by the Septuagint, shows a design to bring them to some nearer proportional standard, grounded on some supposed physiological notion. . . . To all this must be added the fact that the Hebrew has the best claim to be regarded as the original text, from the well-known scrupulous, and even superstitious, care with which it has been textually preserved.”—Translated and edited by P. Schaff, 1976.
While modern historians would extend the period of human habitation on the earth much farther back than 4026 B.C.E., the facts are decidedly against the position they maintain. The thousands of years of “prehistory” they argue for are dependent on speculation, as can be seen from this statement by prominent scientist P. E. Klopsteg, who stated: “Come, now, if you will, on a speculative excursion into prehistory. Assume the era in which the species sapiens emerged from the genus Homo . . . hasten across the millenniums for which present information depends for the most part on conjecture and interpretation to the era of the first inscribed records, from which some facts may be gleaned.” (Italics ours.)—Science, December 30, 1960, p. 1914.
The period of the post-Flood era begins with the year 2369 B.C.E. Whereas some would assign certain pictographic writings to the period 3300 to 2800 B.C.E. (New Discoveries in Babylonia About Genesis, by P. J. Wiseman, 1949, p. 36), these are not actually dated documents and their supposed age is based only on archaeological conjecture.
While appeal is sometimes made to datings based on the radiocarbon (C-14) technique, this method of dating has definite limitations. Science magazine of December 11, 1959, p. 1630, reported: “What bids to become a classical example of ‘C14 irresponsibility’ is the 6000-year spread of 11 determinations for Jarmo . . . , a prehistoric village in northeastern Iraq, which, on the basis of all archeological evidence, was not occupied for more than 500 consecutive years.” There is thus no solid or provable evidence to favor an earlier date than 2369 B.C.E. for the start of the post-Flood human society.
From 2370 B.C.E. to covenant with Abraham. The chronological structure of this period may be summed up as follows:
From the beginning of the Flood to Arpachshad’s birth
Then to the birth of Shelah
To the birth of Eber
To the birth of Peleg
To the birth of Reu
To the birth of Serug
To the birth of Nahor
To the birth of Terah
To the death of Terah, when Abraham was 75 years old
The basis for these figures is Genesis 11:10 to 12:4. The expression “after the deluge” (Ge 11:10) used in connection with Arpachshad’s birth would logically refer to the actual falling of the waters that marked the start of the Flood (2370 B.C.E.), rather than simply to the continuance of the waters upon the earth for a period of time thereafter. The Hebrew term for “deluge” also indicates this.—Compare Ge 6:17; 7:4-6, 10-12, 17; 9:11.
The date of the attempt at building the Tower of Babel is not stated in the record. Genesis 10:25 indicates that the division resulting from the confusion of the languages there occurred sometime during ‘the days of Peleg.’ It does not necessarily follow that this event occurred at Peleg’s birth. The expression “in his days” would in fact indicate that the division took place, not at or immediately subsequent to Peleg’s birth, but sometime during his life span, which extended from 2269 to 2030 B.C.E. If each post-Flood male parent at the age of 30 were to begin fathering children at the rate of one child every three years, with an average of one male child every six years, and continued this until the age of 90, then in a period of about 180 years from the end of the Flood (that is, by 2189 B.C.E.) the population could have grown to a total of over 4,000 adult males. This conservative number would be ample to fit the circumstances relating to the tower construction and the dispersal of the peoples.
Evidently at the time of Abraham’s crossing the Euphrates on his way to the land of Canaan, Jehovah validated with him what has come to be known as the Abrahamic covenant. As Abraham’s departure from Haran and his entry into Canaan followed the death of his father Terah, the date of the validating of this covenant is set at 1943 B.C.E.—Ge 11:32; 12:1-5.
From 1943 B.C.E. to the Exodus. Exodus 12:40, 41 states that “the dwelling of the sons of Israel, who had dwelt in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years. And it came about at the end of the four hundred and thirty years, it even came about on this very day that all the armies of Jehovah went out of the land of Egypt.” Whereas most translations render verse 40 in such a way as to make the 430 years apply entirely to the dwelling in Egypt, the original Hebrew allows for the above translation. Also, at Galatians 3:16, 17, Paul associates that 430-year period with the time between the validating of the Abrahamic covenant and the making of the Law covenant. Evidently when Abraham acted on God’s promise, crossing the Euphrates in 1943 B.C.E. on his way to Canaan and actually moving into “the country” to which God directed him, the Abrahamic covenant was validated. (Ge 12:1; 15:18-21) Exactly 430 years after this event, his descendants were delivered from Egypt, in 1513 B.C.E., and in that same year the Law covenant was made with them. Evidence that from early times the period mentioned at Exodus 12:40, 41 was understood to begin counting from the time when the ancestors of the nation made the move to go to Canaan is indicated by the Greek Septuagint rendering: “But the dwelling of the sons of Israel which they dwelt in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan [was] four hundred and thirty years long.”
The period from Abraham’s move to Canaan until Jacob’s going down into Egypt was 215 years. This figure is derived from the following facts: Twenty-five years passed from Abraham’s departure from Haran to the birth of Isaac (Ge 12:4; 21:5); from then to the birth of Jacob was 60 years (Ge 25:26); and Jacob was 130 at the time of his entry into Egypt (Ge 47:9); thus giving a total of 215 years (from 1943 to 1728 B.C.E.). This means that an equal period of 215 years was thereafter spent by the Israelites in Egypt (from 1728 to 1513 B.C.E.). That the Israelites could have multiplied sufficiently in 215 years to have a population including 600,000 “able-bodied men” is demonstrated under the heading EXODUS.—Ex 12:37.
Jehovah told Abram (Abraham): “You may know for sure that your seed will become an alien resident in a land not theirs, and they will have to serve them, and these will certainly afflict them for four hundred years.” (Ge 15:13; see also Ac 7:6, 7.) This was stated prior to the birth of the promised heir or “seed,” Isaac. In 1932 B.C.E. Ishmael was born to Abram by the Egyptian servant girl Hagar, and in 1918 B.C.E. Isaac was born. (Ge 16:16; 21:5) Counting back 400 years from the Exodus, which marked the end of the ‘afflicting’ (Ge 15:14), would bring us to 1913 B.C.E., and at that time Isaac was about five years old. It appears that Isaac was weaned then and, already “an alien resident” in a land not his, he now experienced the start of the foretold affliction in the form of Ishmael’s “poking fun,” Ishmael being about 19. (Ge 21:8, 9) Although in modern times Ishmael’s mocking of Abraham’s heir might be viewed as inconsequential, such was not the case in patriarchal times. This is evidenced by Sarah’s reaction and God’s approval of her insistence that Hagar and her son Ishmael be sent away. (Ge 21:10-13) The very fact that this incident was recorded in detail in the divine record also points to its marking the commencement of the prophesied 400-year period of affliction that would not end until the Exodus.—Ga 4:29.
From 1513 B.C.E. to division of kingdom. It was in the “four hundred and eightieth year after the sons of Israel came out from the land of Egypt,” in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign, that construction began on the temple at Jerusalem. (1Ki 6:1) “Four hundred and eightieth” is an ordinal number representing 479 full years plus some additional time, in this case one month. Counting 479 years from the Exodus (Nisan 1513 B.C.E.) brings us to 1034 B.C.E., with the temple construction beginning in the second month, Ziv (corresponding to part of April and part of May). Since this was the fourth year (another ordinal number) of Solomon’s rule, his reign began three full years earlier in 1037 B.C.E. His 40-year rule evidently ran from Nisan 1037 to Nisan 997 B.C.E., with the division of the kingdom taking place in the latter year. The chronological structure for this period would therefore be as shown at the right.
Time Period Between Events
From the Exodus
to the entry of Israel into Canaan
to the close of the period of the Judges and the beginning of Saul’s reign
to the beginning of David’s reign
to the beginning of Solomon’s reign
to the division of the kingdom
Total years from the Exodus to the division of the kingdom (1513 to 997 B.C.E.)
These figures find their basis in texts such as Deuteronomy 2:7; 29:5; Acts 13:21; 2 Samuel 5:4; 1 Kings 11:42, 43; 12:1-20. Some critics call attention to the four periods of 40 years each, occurring in this period, claiming that this is evidence of a ‘mere seeking after symmetry’ on the part of the Bible writers rather than an accurate chronology. To the contrary, whereas the period of Israelite wandering before their entry into Canaan was almost exactly 40 years in fulfillment of the divine judgment recorded at Numbers 14:33, 34 (compare Ex 12:2, 3, 6, 17; De 1:31; 8:2-4; Jos 4:19), the other three periods all may have included fractional figures. Thus, David’s reign is shown to have actually lasted for 40 1⁄2 years, according to 2 Samuel 5:5. If, as seems to have been the practice, regnal years of these kings were counted on a Nisan-to-Nisan basis, this could mean that King Saul’s reign lasted only 39 1⁄2 years, but with the months remaining until the following Nisan being credited to Saul’s reign and hence not officially included in David’s 40 regnal years. Such, at least, was the known practice among Semitic rulers in Mesopotamia, the months intervening between the death of a king and the following Nisan being termed the “accession period” of the succeeding king, but his official first year of rule not beginning to count until the arrival of the month of Nisan.
The length of the period from the entry into Canaan till the end of the period of the Judges is not directly stated, being arrived at only by deduction. That is, by subtracting the 123 years of the known periods (of the wilderness wandering, of Saul and David, and the first three years of Solomon’s reign) from the 479 years intervening between the Exodus and Solomon’s fourth year, 356 years remain.
The manner in which these 356 years (from Israel’s entry into Canaan in 1473 B.C.E. until the start of Saul’s reign in 1117 B.C.E.) are to be apportioned is not stated in the Scriptures. Evidently, however, there is considerable overlapping of time periods. Why? Counted in succession, the various periods of oppression, of judgeships, and of peace as listed in the book of Judges would total 410 years. For these periods to fit into the 356-year time period mentioned earlier, some periods must have been concurrent rather than successive, and this is the view of most commentators. The circumstances described in the Bible accounts lend themselves to this explanation. The oppressions involved different areas of the land and affected different tribes. (MAP, Vol. 1, p. 743) Thus the expression “the land had no further disturbance,” used after recounting the Israelites’ victories over their oppressors, may not in every case embrace the entire area occupied by all 12 tribes but may apply to the portion that the particular oppression primarily affected.—Jg 3:11, 30; 5:31; 8:28; compare Jos 14:13-15.
At Acts chapter 13 the apostle Paul reviewed God’s dealings with Israel from the ‘choosing of the forefathers’ on through the period in Egypt, the Exodus, the wilderness wandering, the conquest of Canaan, and the distribution of the land, and then stated: “All that during about four hundred and fifty years. And after these things he gave them judges until Samuel the prophet.” (Ac 13:20) Considerable misunderstanding has resulted from the King James rendering of this text, which reads: “And after that he gave unto them judges about the space of four hundred and fifty years, until Samuel the prophet.” However, the most ancient manuscripts (including the Sinaitic, Vatican Manuscript No. 1209, and the Alexandrine), as well as most modern translations (such as JB, Kx, and others; vss 19, 20, AS, RS, AT), all favor the previous translation, which shows the period of the Judges coming after the 450 years. Since the period of “about four hundred and fifty years” had its start with God’s ‘choosing the forefathers’ of Israel, it would seem to have begun in the year 1918 B.C.E. with the birth of Isaac, the original “seed” promised to Abraham. It would therefore end about 1467 B.C.E., when the initial conquest of Canaan reached its conclusion, allowing for the distribution to proceed. Inasmuch as the figure is stated to be approximate, a difference of a year or so would not be of consequence.
From 997 B.C.E. to desolation of Jerusalem. A helpful guide to the overall length of this period of the kings is found at Ezekiel 4:1-7 in the mimic siege of Jerusalem that the prophet Ezekiel carried out at God’s direction. Ezekiel was to lie on his left side for 390 days to “carry the error of the house of Israel,” and on his right side for 40 days to “carry the error of the house of Judah,” and each day was shown to stand for a year. The two periods (of 390 years and of 40 years) thus symbolized evidently stood for the length of Jehovah’s forbearance with the two kingdoms in their idolatrous course. The Jewish understanding of this prophecy, as presented in the Soncino Books of the Bible (commentary on Ezekiel, pp. 20, 21) is: “The guilt of the Northern Kingdom extended over a period of 390 years ([according to the] Seder Olam [the earliest postexilic chronicle preserved in the Hebrew language], [and Rabbis] Rashi and Ibn Ezra). Abarbanel, quoted by Malbim, reckons the period of Samaria’s guilt from the time when the schism took place under Rehoboam . . . until the fall of Jerusalem. . . . The right [side, on which Ezekiel lay] indicates the south, i.e. the Kingdom of Judah which lay to the south or right. . . . Judah’s corruption lasted forty years beginning soon after Samaria’s fall. According to Malbim, the time is reckoned from the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah . . . when Jeremiah began his ministry. (Jer. i. 2).”—Edited by A. Cohen, London, 1950.
From the division of the kingdom in 997 B.C.E. to the fall of Jerusalem in 607 B.C.E. was 390 years. While it is true that Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom, had already fallen to Assyria in 740 B.C.E., in Hezekiah’s sixth year (2Ki 18:9, 10), it is probable that some of the population fled into the southern kingdom before the Assyrians’ advance. (Note also the situation in Judah following the division of the kingdom as described at 2Ch 10:16, 17.) But, more important, the fact that Jehovah God continued to keep the Israelites of the exiled northern kingdom in view, the messages of his prophets continuing to include them long beyond the fall of Samaria, shows that their interests were still represented in the capital city of Jerusalem and that its fall in 607 B.C.E. was an expression of Jehovah’s judgment against not Judah alone but the nation of Israel as a whole. (Jer 3:11-22; 11:10-12, 17; Eze 9:9, 10) When the city fell, the hopes of the nation as a whole (with the exception of the few who maintained true faith) suffered collapse.—Eze 37:11-14, 21, 22.
In the chart that follows, this 390-year period is adhered to as a sound chronological guide. A summation of the years listed for all the reigns of the kings of Judah from Rehoboam to Zedekiah gives a total of 393 years. Whereas some Biblical chronologers endeavor to synchronize the data concerning the kings by means of numerous coregencies and “interregnums” on the Judean side, it appears necessary to show only one coregency. This is in the case of Jehoram, who is stated (at least in the Masoretic text and some of the oldest manuscripts of the Bible) to have become king “while Jehoshaphat was king of Judah,” thus giving some basis for assuming a coregency. (2Ki 8:16) In this manner the overall period comes within the 390-year limit.
The chart is not intended to be viewed as an absolute chronology but, rather, as a suggested presentation of the reigns of the two kingdoms. The ancient inspired writers were dealing with facts and figures well known to them and to the Jewish people then, and the different chronological viewpoints adopted by the writers at certain points presented no problem. Such is not the case today, and hence we may be satisfied with simply setting out an arrangement that harmonizes reasonably with the Biblical record.
From 607 B.C.E. to return from exile. The length of this period is fixed by God’s own decree concerning Judah, that “all this land must become a devastated place, an object of astonishment, and these nations will have to serve the king of Babylon seventy years.”—Jer 25:8-11.
The Bible prophecy does not allow for the application of the 70-year period to any time other than that between the desolation of Judah, accompanying Jerusalem’s destruction, and the return of the Jewish exiles to their homeland as a result of Cyrus’ decree. It clearly specifies that the 70 years would be years of devastation of the land of Judah. The prophet Daniel so understood the prophecy, for he states: “I myself, Daniel, discerned by the books the number of the years concerning which the word of Jehovah had occurred to Jeremiah the prophet, for fulfilling the devastations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years.” (Da 9:2) After describing the conquest of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, 2 Chronicles 36:20, 21 states: “Furthermore, he carried off those remaining from the sword captive to Babylon, and they came to be servants to him and his sons until the royalty of Persia began to reign; to fulfill Jehovah’s word by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had paid off its sabbaths. All the days of lying desolated it kept sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.”
Jerusalem came under final siege in Zedekiah’s 9th year (609 B.C.E.), and the city fell in his 11th year (607 B.C.E.), corresponding to Nebuchadnezzar’s 19th year of actual rule (counting from his accession year in 625 B.C.E.). (2Ki 25:1-8) In the fifth month of that year (the month of Ab, corresponding to parts of July and August) the city was set afire, the walls were pulled down, and the majority of the people were led off into exile. However, “some of the lowly people of the land” were allowed to remain, and these did so until the assassination of Gedaliah, Nebuchadnezzar’s appointee, whereupon they fled into Egypt, finally leaving Judah completely desolate. (2Ki 25:9-12, 22-26) This was in the seventh month, Ethanim (or Tishri, corresponding to parts of September and October). Hence the count of the 70 years of desolation must have begun about October 1, 607 B.C.E., ending in 537 B.C.E. By the seventh month of this latter year the first repatriated Jews arrived back in Judah, 70 years from the start of the full desolation of the land.—2Ch 36:21-23; Ezr 3:1.
From 537 B.C.E. to conversion of Cornelius. In the second year of the return from exile (536 B.C.E.), the foundation of the temple was relaid in Jerusalem, but the rebuilt temple was not completed until the sixth year of the reign of Darius I (Persian). (Ezr 3:8-10; 6:14, 15) Since Darius did not establish himself in Babylon until defeating the rebel Nebuchadnezzar III in December of 522 and shortly afterward capturing and killing him in Babylon, the year 522 B.C.E. may be viewed as the accession year of King Darius I. His first regnal year, then, began in the spring of 521 B.C.E. (Babylonian Chronology, 626 B.C.–A.D. 75, p. 30) Darius’ sixth year therefore began April 12, 516 B.C.E., and continued until the end of March of 515 B.C.E. On this basis, Zerubbabel’s rebuilding of Jehovah’s temple was completed on March 6 of 515 B.C.E.
The next date of major importance is the 20th year of Artaxerxes (Longimanus), the year Nehemiah received permission to go and rebuild Jerusalem. (Ne 2:1, 5-8) The reasons for favoring the date of 455 B.C.E. for this year as against the popular date of 445 B.C.E. are considered in the article PERSIA, PERSIANS. The events of this year that involve the rebuilding of Jerusalem and its walls mark the starting point of the prophecy concerning the “seventy weeks” at Daniel 9:24-27. The weeks there are clearly “weeks of years” (Da 9:24, RS, AT, Mo), totaling 490 years. As demonstrated under the heading SEVENTY WEEKS, the prophecy pointed to Jesus’ appearance as the Messiah in the year 29 C.E.; his death at “the half of the week” or in the middle of the last week of years, that is, in 33 C.E.; and the end of the period of God’s special favor to the Jews in 36 C.E. Thus, the 70 weeks of years closed with the conversion of Cornelius, 490 years from the year 455 B.C.E.—Ac 10:30-33, 44-48; 11:1.
Jesus’ appearance as the Messiah came in the precise year foretold, perhaps about six months after John the Baptizer began his preaching in “the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar.” (Lu 1:36; 3:1, 2, 21-23) Since the Roman Senate named Tiberius emperor on September 15 of 14 C.E., his 15th year ran from the latter part of 28 C.E. well into 29 C.E. (See TIBERIUS.) The evidence, then, is that Jesus’ baptism and anointing took place in the fall of the year 29 C.E.
Since Jesus was “about thirty years old” at the time of his baptism in 29 C.E. (Lu 3:23), his birth took place 30 years earlier, or about the fall of the year 2 B.C.E. He was born during the reign of Caesar Augustus and the Syrian governorship of Quirinius. (Lu 2:1, 2) Augustus’ rule ran from 27 B.C.E. to 14 C.E. The Roman senator P. Sulpicius Quirinius was governor of Syria twice, the first time evidently coming after P. Quintilius Varus, whose term as legate of Syria ended in 4 B.C.E. Some scholars place Quirinius’ first governorship in 3-2 B.C.E. (See REGISTRATION.) Herod the Great was then king of Judea, and we have seen that there is evidence pointing to the year 1 B.C.E. as the likely time of his death. Thus, all the available evidence, and particularly the Scriptural references, indicate the fall of 2 B.C.E. for the human birth of God’s Son.
The later apostolic period. It is possible to fix approximate dates for a number of the events taking place during this period. The prophecy of a great famine spoken by the Christian prophet Agabus, and the subsequent persecution instigated by Herod Agrippa I, resulting in the apostle James’ death and the jailing of Peter, evidently took place in about 44 C.E. (Ac 11:27-30; 12:1-4) Herod Agrippa died that year, and there is evidence that the foretold famine came about the year 46 C.E. This latter date probably marks the time of the relief ministration effected by Paul and Barnabas.—Ac 12:25.
Paul’s first visit to Corinth can be dated through the proconsulship of Gallio. (Ac 18:1, 11-18) As explained in the article on GALLIO, this proconsulship appears to have run from the summer of 51 C.E. to the summer of 52 C.E., though some scholars favor 52/53 C.E. Thus, Paul’s 18-month activity in Corinth likely began in the autumn of 50 C.E., ending in the spring of 52 C.E. This is further confirmed by the fact that two of Paul’s associates in Corinth, Aquila and Priscilla, had recently arrived there from Italy because of Emperor Claudius’ edict requiring all Jews to depart from Rome. (Ac 18:2) Paulus Orosius, historian of the fifth century, states that this order was given in Claudius’ ninth year, that is, in 49 or early 50 C.E.
The two years Paul spent in prison at Caesarea were during the last two years of the governorship of Felix, Paul thereafter being sent on to Rome by Felix’ successor Porcius Festus. (Ac 21:33; 23:23-35; 24:27) The date of the accession of Festus is somewhat uncertain, since historical evidence does not all point to the same conclusion. However, the year 58 C.E. seems to be the most likely. Paul’s subsequent arrival in Rome may be placed between 59 and 61 C.E.
The great fire that ravaged Rome came in July of 64 C.E. and was followed by fierce persecution of Christians, at the instigation of Nero. It is probable that Paul’s second imprisonment and his execution took place shortly thereafter. (2Ti 1:16; 4:6, 7) The exiling of John to the isle of Patmos is generally considered to have taken place during the reign of Emperor Domitian. (Re 1:9) The persecution of Christians reached a peak during his rule (81-96 C.E.), particularly in the last three years. The traditional view is that John was released from exile following Domitian’s death and died in Ephesus about the close of the first century C.E. Thus, by John’s writing his epistles about this time, the Bible canon was completed and the apostolic period came to its close.
[Chart on pages 464-466]
OUTSTANDING DATES During the Period of the Kings of Judah and of Israel
NOTE: This chart is meant to provide a helpful outline of key events in connection with the kings of Judah and of Israel. The Bible record of years that the kings of Judah ruled was allowed to govern when fixing other dates. The dates given for rulership of Judean kings extend from the spring of the stated year to the spring of the following year. Dates for the reigns of kings of the kingdom of Israel were coordinated with those for Judah. There are numerous synchronisms provided in the Bible, and these were taken into account in arriving at these dates.
High priests and prophets that are named in the Bible record in connection with the various kings are listed here. But the list is by no means complete. The Aaronic priesthood officiated first at the tabernacle and then at the temple apparently without a break in the line down till the time of the Babylonian exile. And the Bible indicates that, in addition to the prophets that are named, many more served in this sacred office.—1Ki 18:4; 2Ch 36:15, 16.
THE TWELVE-TRIBE KINGDOM
SAUL began to rule as king over all 12 tribes (40 years)
High priests: Ahijah, Ahimelech
Birth of David
Samuel completed book of Judges
Samuel completed book of Ruth
Book of 1 Samuel was completed
DAVID began to rule as king of Judah at Hebron (40)
Prophets: Nathan, Gad, Zadok
High priest: Abiathar
David became king over all Israel; made Jerusalem his capital
Gad and Nathan completed 2 Samuel
SOLOMON began to rule as king (40)
Prophets: Nathan, Ahijah, Iddo
High priests: Abiathar, Zadok
Construction of Solomon’s temple began
Temple built by Solomon in Jerusalem was completed
Solomon wrote Song of Solomon
Solomon wrote book of Ecclesiastes
KINGDOM OF JUDAH
KINGDOM OF ISRAEL
REHOBOAM began to rule as king (17 years); nation split into two kingdoms
Prophets: Shemaiah, Iddo
JEROBOAM began to rule as king over the northern 10 tribes, apparently first from Shechem, then from Tirzah (22 years)
Shishak of Egypt invaded Judah and took treasures from temple in Jerusalem
ABIJAH (ABIJAM) began to rule as king (3)
ASA evidently began to rule (41), but his first regnal year counted from 977
Prophets: Azariah, Oded, Hanani
NADAB began to rule as king (2)
BAASHA assassinated Nadab and then began to rule as king (24)
Prophet: Jehu (son of Hanani)
Zerah the Ethiopian came against Judah in war
ELAH began to rule as king (2)
ZIMRI, a military chief, assassinated Elah and then ruled as king (7 days)
OMRI, chief of the army, began to rule as king (12)
Tibni became king over part of the people, further dividing the nation
Omri overcame Tibni’s opposition and became sole ruler in Israel
Omri bought the mountain of Samaria and built his capital there
AHAB began to rule as king (22)
Prophets: Elijah, Micaiah
JEHOSHAPHAT evidently began to rule (25), but his first regnal year counted from 936
Prophets: Jehu (son of Hanani), Eliezer, Jahaziel
High priest: Amariah
AHAZIAH, son of Ahab, ‘became king’ (2); evidently his father was still living;
Ahaziah’s years of rulership may count from c. 919
Jehoram the son of Jehoshaphat became associated in some way with his father in the government
JEHORAM, son of Ahab, began to rule as sole king of Israel (12); but in at least one text the brief reign of his brother Ahaziah, who died sonless, also may have been credited to Jehoram
JEHORAM became official coregent with Jehoshaphat, from which time Jehoram’s kingship may be counted (8)
Jehoshaphat died and Jehoram became sole ruler
AHAZIAH, son of Jehoram, began to rule (1), though perhaps anointed to kingship in c. 907
High priest: Jehoiada
ATHALIAH usurped the throne (6)
JEHU, a military chief, assassinated Jehoram and then began to rule (28); but it seems that his years of kingship counted from c. 904
JEHOASH, son of Ahaziah, began to rule as king (40)
High priest: Jehoiada
JEHOAHAZ began to rule as king (17)
Jehoash evidently became associated in the kingship with his father, Jehoahaz
JEHOASH, son of Jehoahaz, began to rule as sole king of Israel (16)
AMAZIAH began to rule as king (29)
Jehoash of Israel captured Amaziah, breached the wall of Jerusalem, and took treasures from temple
JEROBOAM II began to rule as king (41)
Prophets: Jonah, Hosea, Amos
Book of Jonah was written
UZZIAH (AZARIAH) began to rule as king (52)
Prophets: Hosea, Joel (?), Isaiah
High priest: Azariah (II)
Book of Joel was perhaps written
Uzziah ‘became king’ in some special sense, possibly now free from domination of Jeroboam II
Book of Amos was written
ZECHARIAH ‘began to reign’ in some sense, but evidently the kingship was not fully confirmed as his until c. 792 (6 months)
SHALLUM assassinated Zechariah and then ruled as king (1 month)
MENAHEM assassinated Shallum and then began to rule, but it seems that his years of kingship counted from c. 790 (10)
PEKAHIAH began to rule as king (2)
PEKAH assassinated Pekahiah and then began to rule as king (20)
JOTHAM began to rule as king (16)
Prophets: Micah, Hosea, Isaiah
AHAZ evidently began to rule (16), but his first regnal year counted from 761
Prophets: Micah, Hosea, Isaiah
High priest: Urijah (?)
Ahaz evidently became tributary to Tiglath-pileser III of Assyria
HOSHEA assassinated Pekah and then ‘began to reign’ in place of him, but it seems that his control became fully established or possibly he received the backing of the Assyrian monarch Tiglath-pileser III in c. 748 (9 years)
HEZEKIAH evidently began to rule (29), but his first regnal year counted from 745
Prophets: Micah, Hosea, Isaiah
High priest: Azariah (II or III)
Book of Hosea was completed
Assyrian army began siege of Samaria
Assyria conquered Samaria, subjugated Israel; northern kingdom came to its end
Sennacherib invaded Judah
Book of Isaiah was completed
Book of Micah was completed
Compiling of Proverbs was completed
MANASSEH began to rule as king (55)
AMON began to rule as king (2)
JOSIAH began to rule as king (31)
Prophets: Zephaniah, Jeremiah, the prophetess Huldah
High priest: Hilkiah
Book of Zephaniah was written
Book of Nahum was written
JEHOAHAZ ruled as king (3 months)
JEHOIAKIM began to rule as king, tributary to Egypt (11)
Prophets: Habakkuk (?), Jeremiah
Book of Habakkuk was perhaps written
Nebuchadnezzar II makes Jehoiakim tributary to Babylon
JEHOIACHIN began to rule as king (3 months 10 days)
Nebuchadnezzar II took Jewish captives and temple treasures to Babylon
ZEDEKIAH began to rule as king (11)
Prophets: Jeremiah, Ezekiel
High priest: Seraiah
Nebuchadnezzar II invaded Judah again; siege of Jerusalem began
Walls of Jerusalem were breached on 9th day of 4th month
Jerusalem and temple were burned on 10th day of 5th month
Last Jews abandoned Judah about middle of 7th month
Jeremiah wrote book of Lamentations
Book of Obadiah was written
NOTE: After Samaria was captured, the ten tribes of the kingdom of Israel were taken into exile. But the land was not left desolate, as was the case with Judah following the destruction of Jerusalem in 607 B.C.E. The king of Assyria moved people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim into the cities of Israel to dwell there. Their descendants were still there when the Jews returned to Jerusalem in 537 B.C.E. to rebuild the temple.—2Ki 17:6, 24; Ezr 4:1, 2.