Bible Chronology Timeline

Chronologies of the Mysteries of God

Genesis 5:1
“This is the book of the generations of
Adam. In the day that God created man,
in the likeness of God made he him”
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I. Introduction

The harmony of the time statements in the Scripture strengthens our confidence in the accuracy of the inspired Word, but chronology is not essential to salvation. That is evidently why God did not see fit to fill in all the details of chronology. There are some points left open for personal opinion as to the exact dating, and different writers among us have at various times used differing dates. This is not to say that historical dates do not help us sometimes in our search for deeper spiritual truth, or that those few connected with exact prophetic periods are unimportant; but prophetic landmarks are well established, and other historical dates are rarely questions of theological importance.

To dogmatize on chronology or to attempt to fix every date once for all would be not only presumptuous but impossible. This article, and the similar ones in succeeding volumes, will endeavor to provide a general outline and to explain certain basic principles. Many supposed difficulties have been cleared up by increasing knowledge of ancient chronology. Although we cannot expect all authorities to agree in their interpretation of the incomplete facts of ancient times, we can confidently expect future research to strengthen the Bible record. Wherever this record can be adequately tested, it stands revealed as trustworthy history. Its time statements are not haphazard or fanciful, but harmonious and reasonable.

II. Time Measured by Heavenly Bodies

When God set this globe spinning on its axis and sent it on its yearly course around the sun, accompanied by its smaller attendant, the moon, He decreed that these heavenly bodies should govern the earth’s day and night, and, further, that they should be “for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years” (Genesis 1:14). Thus time is measured for the earth by these motions. The ancients watched the skies for signs and seasons, for the time of day, and for the beginning of the month. Today the astronomers in the great observatories train their telescopes on the stars to regulate the time signals that set our clocks.

The Day Measured by the Earth’s Rotation.—As this planet turns on its own axis, floodlighted by the sun, half the globe is in the light and the other half in the shadow. That is, there is day on one side and night on the other. For “God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night” (Genesis 1:5). As we, on any given spot on this spinning globe, are carried eastward, out of the sunlight and into the shadow, we say that the sun is setting in the west. Then, following our all-night swing around the dark portion, we come again to the light. We see the sun once more at the dividing line that we call sunrise. As our local spot approaches the point directly opposite the sun, that fiery orb appears to rise higher in our sky until it is on our meridian at noon. Then it appears to decline as we move farther around the sunlit side, and we complete one circuit as we again reach the sunset line—the edge of the shadow. The ancients needed no clocks to tell them when they passed the boundary line between day and night—sunrise began the day and sunset ushered in the night.

“Are there not twelve hours in the day?” asked Jesus (John 11:9). And so it was, for in His time an hour meant one twelfth of the interval—varying with the seasons—between sunrise and sunset. But “day” has another meaning also. A period marked off by five days, or any number of days, cannot disregard the intervening nights. Therefore a day in the calendar is measured by one complete rotation of the earth on its axis, including a day and a night. For the Hebrews the starting point was sunset. Each full day ran evening-morning, dark-light, night-day (Leviticus 23:32; 22:6, 7; Mark 1:21, 32). Also certain other ancient peoples, like the Babylonians, began their day at sunset, although the Egyptians counted from sunrise. Our modern midnight-to-midnight reckoning came from the Romans.

The Month Governed by the Moon.—Just as one complete rotation of the globe on its axis, from sunset on to sunset again, marks off one day on this earth, so the time required for the moon to go once around the earth—that is, to pass through its visible phases, as from crescent to full moon and to crescent again—constituted the original month. The ancient lunar month did not begin at the astronomical new moon, when that body stands between the earth and the sun—with its unlighted side toward us, and hence invisible—but one or more days later, with the appearance of the new crescent. Now, however, most of the world uses artificial calendar months that disregard the moon.

The Year Measured by the Sun.—As our spinning earth, circled continuously by the moon, traverses its vast course around the sun, it makes the circuit of the four seasonal landmarks—the summer and winter solstices and the spring and autumnal equinoxes—to complete what we call a year. These points do not mark off the year as visibly as the moon does the lunar month, yet even relatively primitive peoples can recognize them by repeated observation of the shadows cast by the sun at rising, setting, and noon throughout the year. At the summer and winter solstices occur the days of longest and shortest sunlight, when the sun is seen farthest north and farthest south in the sky; at the spring and fall equinoxes, when day and night over the whole globe are equal, the sun rises directly in the east and sets directly in the west. And despite the difficulty in determining the precise length of the year, the veriest savage can tell its passage by the cycle of the seasons, marked by unmistakable signs.

The Week Not Marked by Nature.—Only the week, measured by divine command, has no natural landmark. The three independent celestial motions—the daily rotation of our globe on its axis, the monthly circuit of the earth by the moon, and the yearly revolution of earth and moon about the sun—mark off our time, but there is no astronomical cycle connected with the seven-day week. Yet the Sabbath, given in the beginning by the God of nature, definitely marked off by the manna, even before the law at Sinai, is identified in the New Testament (Genesis 2:1-3; Exodus 16:4, 5, 22-26; 20:8-11; Luke 23:54 to 24:1); since then we can count the weeks back into the past with certainty from known dates.

III. Calendars Reconcile the Three Motions

The three natural motions that measure our time are incommensurable, that is, do not “come out even.” While the earth is making one revolution around the sun, the moon revolves around the earth 12 times and about a third of a circuit over, and the earth turns on its own axis 365 times plus a little less than a fourth of a turn. Therefore calendars have had to be devised in order to count years by a whole number of days or lunar months.

Lunar Calendar Based on the Moon.—A lunar calendar year of 12 moon months is 10 or 11 days shorter than the true solar year, which governs the seasons. Hence in an uncorrected lunar calendar, like that of the Moslems to this day, a summer month moves gradually earlier until it comes in the spring, and so on. But the Babylonians, Assyrians, Jews, Greeks, and early Romans kept their lunar years in step with the seasons by adding to the year periodically. The Jews, like the Babylonians, inserted an extra lunar month 7 times in each 19 years.

Solar Calendar Measures Sun’s Year.—Our modern world today uses a solar calendar, that is, one based on the sun’s year and disregarding the moon entirely. We do not need to add extra months, since our ordinary 365-day year is only about a fourth of a day shorter than the true period of the earth’s journey around the sun, but we correct it every four years (with certain exceptions) by adding one day to February. Our New Year’s Day now comes about ten days after the winter solstice; but if we should drop the leap-year system, the New Year would move one day earlier every four years. Eventually the alignment of the months with the seasons would be noticeably different from what it is now.

This was what happened to the ancient Egyptian year, from which our modern year was derived. This Egyptian calendar year of exactly 365 days was divided into twelve 30-day months plus 5 extra days at the end. The leap-year correction was never made until the country was conquered by the Romans less than half a century before Christ. This was soon after Julius Caesar had adapted the Roman months to the 365-day year, which he introduced from Egypt, with the addition of a day every four years. Our present calendar is essentially Caesar’s “Julian” calendar, months and all, with a further slight adjustment.

NOTE: Astronomers came to realize that the insertion of an extra day in every fourth February was a little more than was needed to keep the calendar year from slipping constantly earlier in the seasons. Since too many leap-year days had been added, the calendar year was beginning noticeably later than it should. So in 1582 a correction was made in order to move the calendar year back ten days to put the spring equinox on March 21, its supposed date in A.D. 325, when the present Easter rule was adopted. Pope Gregory XIII decreed that ten days should be dropped out of the calendar, so that the day following Thursday, October 4, was called Friday, October 15, instead of Friday, October 5. Further, in order to avoid a similar error in the future, the century years not divisible by 400 (as 1700, 1800, 1900, 2100, etc.) were not to be leap years. The Catholic countries accepted the “Gregorian” calendar immediately, but other countries followed much later—England and her colonies in 1752, and eastern Europe only in the present century. In no case was the sequence of the days of the week disturbed, and no time was “lost,” for the days dropped out had already been counted erroneously in the excess leap years through the preceding centuries.

Space has been given here to the explanation of the Julian calendar because modern historians date all past events (up to the A.D. (Anno domini) 1582 revision) in Julian years.

The Starting Points of Years.—A year is a circle; the end of one is the beginning of the next, and there is nothing in nature to indicate any one starting point. Sometimes the year is thought of as opening with the beginning of the agricultural cycle of sowing and reaping, which itself varies in different parts of the world. But a calendar year must have a definite point of departure. Four landmarks of the solar year have been mentioned—the solstices and equinoxes. Ancient calendar years were often begun at or near one of these easily observable points. Our own year begins on January 1, near the winter solstice, because that was approximately where Julius Caesar placed the Roman New Year’s Day in his calendar, which we have inherited.

Other ancient calendars began the year in the spring or in the fall. In Palestine it was natural to think of the year as beginning in the fall, when the early rains brought new life to the country after the dry season, without rain for several months, and when winter wheat and barley were sown; the harvests came in the spring and summer, ending with grape gathering in the autumn. The Hebrews had two year reckonings. One (instituted at the Exodus) was begun in the spring, for numbering the months and reckoning the beginning of the series of sacred festivals; the other, the old civil year, started with the seventh month, in the fall. These were lunar years, reckoned from the new moon, not from the equinox.

IV. Dating Ancient Events by Years

Ancient Year Systems.—Various methods of counting a series of years were in use in ancient times. In an earlier period a year was designated by the name of a principal event, or sometimes by the name of an annual official. In Assyria this was an honorary official, called a limmu; in Athens and in the Roman world the names were those of genuine annual magistrates—in Athens an archon and in Rome the two consuls. In the Near East, calendar years were numbered in series during each king’s reign, and thus called regnal years. In the Bible (though not in the first five books) we find regnal-year dates, such as “in the seventh year of Artaxerxes”

If men had begun at creation and counted year 1, year 2, and on continuously, and if the Bible records had been dated by such a system, it would be a simple matter to know exactly how long ago any event happened. But no such information exists. Not until relatively late in ancient times, long after the period covered in this volume, did anyone use an era for dating, that is, a continuous series of years numbered consecutively from one starting point. For example, the Seleucid Era was a continuation of the reign of Seleucus I, one of the successors of Alexander the Great. The year 1 of this era began, according to the Macedonian calendar, in the fall of the year that we now call 312 B.C. The Seleucid Era was used in Syria and Mesopotamia for many centuries. The Greeks long employed a series of four-year periods called Olympiads, marked off by the quadrennial Olympic games, and the Romans used a system of numbering years consecutively from the supposed founding of Rome. Both these series, unlike the Seleucid Era, were devised centuries after the quite uncertain traditional dates of the events from which they were supposed to be reckoned. They were not used in everyday dating formulas—only for referring to historical events.

Our System of B.C. Dating.—Today the greater part of the world uses, or is familiar with, the dating of the Christian Era, by which all years are numbered from approximately the time of the birth of Christ. The present volume of this commentary is being prepared in the year known as A.D. (for anno Domini) 1953. This means “in the year of (our) Lord 1953,” that is, the 1,953d year from the birth of Christ. To be more exact, it is the 1,953d from the point assigned to the nativity by Dionysius Exiguus, the 6th-century originator of this method of reckoning. The fact that the traditional starting point is now known to have been several years away from the actual date of Christ’s birth does not affect the usefulness of this scale of years for dating purposes.

When it became the custom to date events by the number of years from the supposed time of the birth of Christ, it became convenient to date earlier events as so many years “before Christ” (abbreviated B.C.). Thus for historical purposes the Julian calendar years, in which dates had been reckoned in the Roman world since Julius Caesar’s day, were extended backward, as if they had existed in all past time. When we say, for example, that the first year of Ptolemy’s “Era of Nabonassar” began February 26, 747 B.C., we mean that it began on the day that would have been called February 26 if the Julian calendar had been in use at that time, and in the 747th year before the year that was later to be numbered the first of the Christian Era.

It is to be remembered that historians and chronologists have given the year preceding A.D. 1 the designation of 1 B.C., and the year preceding that 2 B.C., and so on.

NOTE: One point must be borne in mind: In reckoning an interval between a B.C. and an A.D. date, computation is hindered by the fact that in the chronological scale there is no year numbered zero between 1 B.C. and A.D. 1. Therefore, for convenience in calculation, astronomers use a slightly different system. Instead of B.C. and A.D. they use negative and positive numbers, with the year preceding year 1 numbered as zero. The positive numbers are the same as the A.D. numbers, but 0 corresponds to 1 B.C., -1 corresponds to 2 B.C., -2 to 3 B.C. etc., as the following diagram shows:

Astronomical: -4 -3 -2 -1 0 1 2 3 4
Chronological: 5 B.C. 4 B.C. 3 B.C. 2 B.C. 1 B.C. A.D. 1 A.D. 2 A.D. 3 A.D. 4
leap year leap year leap year

Thus when an astronomer speaks of an eclipse that took place in the year -567, he means the year that historians and chronologists call 568 B.C. (Note that the minus number is always one less than the corresponding B.C. date. Note also that the leap years, from A.D. 4 on the present, come in years whose numbers are divisible by 4, but that before Christ the leap years run 0, -4, -8, etc., that is, 1 B.C., 5 B.C., 9 B.C., etc.) The astronomical numbering is rarely found outside of technical astronomical works. Histories and reference books use the B.C.–A.D. scale, which has no zero year—a deficiency that must be kept in mind in calculating intervals between B.C. and A.D. dates.

Just as years B.C. run “backward,” that is, 1900 B.C. is followed by 1899, 1898, 1897, etc., so do the centuries—the 16th century B.C. runs from 1600 through 1599 and down through 1501; the 5th century B.C. runs from 500 through 401 B.C.

The B.C. Dating of Old Testament Events.—It is possible to date Old Testament events in the B.C. scale only where there is a time statement that can be equated with a known historical date. Astronomical calculation can be used to fix a date for which we have ancient eclipse records or observations of the heavenly bodies, and sometimes a date that is given in two calendars (see chronology articles in Vols. II and III). Thus we have synchronisms between the years of the last kings of Judah and certain years of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar. Since the years of Nebuchadnezzar are known from astronomical data found by archeologists in Babylonia, also from observations recorded in Ptolemy’s astronomical work known as the Almagest, and from his canon of the kings, the years of these kings of Judah can be aligned with the B.C. dating. Also we have an indirect contact with the Assyrian limmu lists by means of a reference to Ahab in the Battle of Qarqar (mentioned, however, only in non-Biblical documents). But for the early Biblical dates we are dependent on tracing back the line of Bible time-statements from these later more certain dates, and there is room for difference of opinion in this process. Specific information is scarce, and systems of reckoning vary; hence our knowledge of ancient chronology has accumulated gradually and is still far from complete.

NOTE: The principles of chronology as established by modern research have been outlined here. For a basic discussion, with footnotes to sources, see the earlier chapters of Siegfried H. Horn and Lynn H. Wood, The Chronology of Ezra 7 (2d ed., rev., Washington: Review and Herald, 1970; 192 pp.)

A.M. Dating From Creation.—Genesis furnishes no era dating, but older chronologists counted years from Creation as anno mundi (“in the year of the world,” abbreviated a.m.) 1, 2, etc., based on the patriarchal genealogies. These genealogies, if complete and if correctly interpreted, would give exact intervals from Adam to Abraham. But an a.m. scale requires a fixed starting point. Each writer’s B.C. date for a.m. 1 (1) varies with his choice of the Masoretic or the LXX figures (nearly 1,500 years’ difference), and (2) his interpretation of these and all other OT chronological data. For this reason an a.m. date has no basis other than the writer’s theory.

Marginal Dates in Printed Bibles.—a.m. dates taken from Archbishop James Ussher’s Annals (published 1650-58) were the first to appear in the margin of the KJV. The KJV carried no dates originally, and was not the first Bible to present those of Ussher, which had been printed in the margin of a French Catholic Latin Bible in 1662. Ussher’s dates (a.m. only) appeared in an Oxford Bible in 1679, with the figures revised in spots by Bishop William Lloyd; his a.m. and B.C. dates were incorporated (probably by Lloyd also) into a London edition of 1701. Thenceforth these dates, generally credited to Ussher but partly revised, and inserted without any official authorization, continued to be printed until they were almost viewed as a part of the Bible by generations of readers.

In the latter part of the 19th century many Bibles included new chronological tables based on later knowledge, while retaining the old “Ussher” dates in the margin or omitting them entirely. In the 1950’s a modernized set of marginal dates came out in a new KJV edition. Similar ones appeared as late as 1974 in a Collins edition of the KJV (although most Bibles by then had no marginal dates): Events before David are dated only by centuries, and later dates differ from Ussher’s, though not consistently. In Ezra 7 there appears a curious shift; Ezra’s journey to Jerusalem is dated 428 B.C., long after Nehemiah’s arrival. This is based on a theory that, contradicting the Bible account, puts that event in the 37th, not the 7th, year of Artaxerxes.


In view of all the differing ancient systems of chronology and of the numerous theories of later interpreters of the Bible, it becomes necessary to consider the methods to be used in assigning B.C. dates to the Old Testament events, particularly down through the Exodus to the end of the 40 years’ wandering. This dating hinges on two points: (1) the text in which the source information is found, and (2) the problem of the meaning of the time statements in that text.

I. Time Statements in Genesis

The Hebrew, Samaritan, and Septuagint Texts.—The original text of our Old Testament, except a few chapters, was written in Hebrew. The translations in use today are made almost entirely from the Masoretic text, which has been handed down by the Jews through the centuries, copied from one manuscript to another with scrupulous care. In Genesis the years of the patriarchs in the Hebrew text differ from those in the Samaritan Pentateuch, a variant form of the Hebrew text preserved by the half-Jewish, half-pagan Samaritans. Different from both of these are the figures in the Septuagint, a Greek translation begun in the 3d century B.C. in Alexandria. It gives higher figures for several patriarchs, inserts a second Cainan after Arphaxad, and shows other differences.

The totals from creation to the Flood are: Hebrew, 1,656 years; Samaritan, 1,307; Septuagint, 2,242 (or 2,262; manuscripts vary); from the Flood to Abraham: Hebrew, 352 years; Samaritan, 942; Septuagint, 1,232 (or 1,132).

Since the oldest known Masoretic manuscripts of the Pentateuch are late copies, more than 1,000 years away from the originals, some scholars have thought that the figures’ for the patriarchs had become changed since the time when the Septuagint translation was made. But the age of a manuscript is not the sole deciding factor. The later of any two copies may preserve the wording of a text much nearer to the unknown original than a much older manuscript copied carelessly or from an old but already corrupted text. Thus the work of the “lower” or textual critic involves determining, from various kinds of evidence, which form of the text has most likely been changed from the original.

For the ages of the patriarchs the Samaritan text is less trustworthy than the Hebrew, because we find in other places revisions of the wording to agree with their views. And the Septuagint translators, who elsewhere (as in Daniel) injected their own ideas, are thus more likely than the meticulous Hebrew copyists to present a revised form of the genealogy.

Reasons for Preferring the Hebrew Lists.—Some Septuagint manuscripts, having Methuselah 167 at his son’s birth, thus make him survive the Flood 14 years; other manuscripts, making him 187, avoid this difficulty. Also there are other reasons why the translators of the Septuagint version were more likely to have changed the figures than the later Masoretes, who handed down the Hebrew text to us. The Greek-speaking Jews who translated the Septuagint in Alexandria wished to win for it the respect of the learned Greek world. It is known that they were much less strict about preserving the letter of the original than were the Palestinian Jews. Their version was made for Greek-speaking readers. If they wished to make the chronology of the earliest ages compare favorably with the beliefs of the current Alexandrian philosophy and seem more reasonable to the Greek mind, they would naturally lengthen the periods as much as possible, and smooth down the sudden drop, after the Flood, in the life span and the interval from father to son; and that is exactly what their figures do, repeatedly running 100 years higher.

Some scholars have contended that the Septuagint was translated from the correct text, but that the Masoretes, working this side of the time of Christ, made or perpetuated changes to discredit the Septuagint because it was the version largely used by the Christians. But if this were so, why would the Jews alter such minor points as the ages of the patriarchs and leave unchanged the 70 weeks and other prophecies used by Christians to prove the Messiahship of Jesus? If the Masoretes copied their texts so conscientiously as to retain, word for word, so many evidences against themselves, their text should be preferred to that of the Alexandrian translators, who took liberties with the text to advance their own ideas. This question cannot be settled with certainty. Though the Dead Sea scrolls sometimes support a variant Septuagint wording, they have also confirmed the trustworthiness of the Masoretic Hebrew text, on which have been based the most noteworthy and widely accepted translations, both Catholic and Protestant. This commentary will follow that time-honored practice and base the discussion of the patriarchs on the Hebrew text.

II. Some Principles of Bible Chronology

In converting the time statements of the Bible into chronological computation, we must consider certain general principles of the Hebrew language and mode of reckoning that apply to the Pentateuch and to other scriptures as well. It should be kept in mind that the meaning of a sentence is not necessarily what the words mean to us now, even after they are translated, but what the ancient writer meant when he used those words. In the Bible, “son” may mean a grandson (Genesis 31:55, cf. v.43); “brother” may mean a nephew or an uncle (Genesis 14:12, 16; 29:10-12). Even so simple a statement as the fact that Noah was 600 years old at the time of the Flood can be, and generally is, misunderstood.

The Method of Expressing Age.—Noah was “six hundred years old”—literally, “a son of 600 years”—when the Flood came (Genesis 7:6). What this phrase means is made clear in the same chapter by the first complete dating formula given in the Bible: “In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up” (verse 11). Therefore “a son of 600 years” does not mean that Noah was 600 years old as we understand it, but that he was in his 600th year, still unexpired. In our modern reckoning we say that a child is so many months old in his first year. He reaches his first birthday at the end of his first years, and he is not considered one year old until that first birthday. But when he reaches that day his second year begins. So he will one day be 21 years old, after he has completed his 21st year; he will be 21 all through his 22nd year until upon its completion he is said to reach the age of 22. We would count Noah 600 years of age only at the end of his 600th year, but the Hebrews counted him “a son of 600 years” in his 600th year (see on Genesis 5:32).

Consecutive Ages of the Patriarchs.—Just as Noah was “600 years old” in his 600th year, so Adam must have been 130 years old in his 130th year when Seth was born (Genesis 5:3), and not what we call 130 years old. On this principle Seth was born in the 130th year of the world (anno mundi or a.m. 130); thus the sum of the ages of the patriarchs at the birth of each oldest son will furnish a continuous series of years from the creation only.

NOTE: One point must be decided in numbering these years of the patriarchs. Is Adam’s 130th year, or a.m. 130, also counted as Seth’s first year? Or does Seth’s count begin the following year, in a.m. 131? The first method, by counting one year twice in each generation, will give an incorrect total of the years elapsed, for there will be an overlap of one year for each name in the list. By the second method the sum will give the equivalent of continuous reckoning by an era. The first cannot be correct in this case because it would make Methuselah survive the Flood; by the second method the last year of his life is the year of the Flood. The second, then, must be the basis of the Genesis list. Therefore Seth’s age at the birth of Enos is to be added to Adam’s 130 years.

We have no way of knowing just how the patriarchs themselves counted their ages at the time. Presumably the years were not reckoned by birthdays, but by beginning each year of age at the beginning of the calendar year, for Noah’s 601st year seems to begin at the 1st day of the 1st month (Genesis 8:13). It has been the immemorial custom in the Far East to consider a child a year old in his first calendar year, and to count him two years old on the next New Year’s Day, even a few days after his birth. Either the patriarchs began the first year after the next New Year’s Day (see NOTE), or else the numbers were adjusted later, when the list was made up, in order to avoid the overlap.

Inclusive Reckoning.—But apparently the common usage in counting intervals of time was the inclusive reckoning, that is, counting the incomplete days, years, etc., at the beginning and end of a period as if they were whole units. The classic example is, of course, the three-day period of Christ in the tomb, from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning (see “the third day,” “in three days,” and “after three days” all used as equivalent expressions for the same period by the same writer: Matthew 17:23; 27:40, 63). The clearest Old Testament example is in 2 Kings 18:9, 10, where “at the end of three years” is what we would reckon as a two-year interval, but the usage occurs also in the books of Moses. Joseph put his brothers “into ward three days,” but not three full days, for on “the third day” he bound Simeon and sent the others home (Genesis 42:17-19); and “the second year after” the Exodus (Numbers 9:1) really means the year immediately following it, the first year being the year in which the period began.

It is clear from source documents that not only the Jews but also other ancient peoples used inclusive reckoning, by counting the beginning and end of a period. We find the Greeks calling the 4-year Olympiad between Olympic Games a pentaeteris, or “5-year period,” and the Romans referring to the winter solstice (then December 25) as “the eighth day before” January 1—the 8th counting both the 25th and the 1st. Even in later times we find the looser reckoning in common speech, although in mathematical computation the time elapsed would be calculated exactly.

Parts and Wholes.—The Bible writers sometimes use another characteristically Oriental type of expression—they name the whole period for the part, meaning actually the latter part of a period that has already begun. For example, at Kadesh the Israelites were condemned to wander 40 years in the wilderness (Numbers 14:33), that is, the remainder of that period, counted from the departure from Egypt. Actually this was already in the 2d year and only 38 years were left from Kadesh to the final stage of the journey (Deuteronomy 2:14). The 430-year sojourning of “the children of Israel” (Exodus 12:40)—including the time from Abraham, long before there were any Israelites—can be explained as an example of such reckoning. Also explained below are two cases of three sons listed for one birth year; yet they were not triplets, and neither first-named son was the eldest.

The Oriental, generally less concerned with exact time than the Westerner, is more likely to use approximate time statements and round numbers, and the reader of the Bible needs to keep this in mind. But the Old Testament is far more specific in its time statements than any other ancient literary document.

III. The Line of the Patriarchs

World Year (AM)

Year of birth or event


0 Heaven and earth and Adam and Eve created Genesis 1:1
130 Seth born, son of Adam with Eve Genesis 5:3
235 Enosh born, son of Seth Genesis 5:6
325 Kenan born, son of Enosh Genesis 5:9
395 Mahalalel born, son of Kenan Genesis 5:12
460 Jared born, son of Mahalalel Genesis 5:15
622 Enoch born, son of Jared Genesis 5:18
687 Methuselah born, son of Enoch Genesis 5:21
874 Lamech born, son of Methusaleh Genesis 5:25
930 Adam died at 930 Genesis 5:5
987 Enoch "walks with God" Genesis 5:23-24
1042 Seth died at 912 Genesis 5:8
1056 Noah born, son of Lamech Genesis 5:28-29
1140 Enosh died at 905 Genesis 5:11
1235 Kenan died at 910 Genesis 5:14
1290 Mahalalel died at 895 Genesis 5:17
1422 Jared died at 962 Genesis 5:20
1557 Shem, Ham and Japheth born, sons of Noah (Noah still 500 years old, nearly 501) Genesis 5:32
1651 Lamech died at 777 Genesis 5:31
1656 Methuselah died at 969 and was the oldest man that ever lived. Genesis 5:27


Year of the FLOOD

1656 On the 17th (Septuagint: 27th) day of the 2nd month, the fountains of the great deep were broken up and the windows of heaven opened. Genesis 7:4-11
1656 On the 17th day of the seventh month, Noah's Ark rested in "mountains of Ararat" Genesis 8:4
1657 Noah and his family left the ark (27th day of the second month) Genesis 8:13-14
1658 Arphaxad born, son of Shem (Shem 100 years old, nearly 101) Genesis 11:10
1658 Arphaxad born, son of Shem Genesis 11:10
1693 Shelah born, son of Arphaxad Genesis 11:12
1723 Eber born, son of Shelah Genesis 11:14
1757 Peleg born, son of Eber Genesis 11:16
1787 Reu born, son of Peleg Genesis 11:18
1819 Serug born, son of Reu Genesis 11:20
1849 Nahor born, son of Serug Genesis 11:22
1878 Terah born, son of Nahor Genesis 11:24
1948 Abram born, son of Terah Genesis 11:26
1958 Sarai born, wife of Abram Genesis 17:17
1996 Peleg died Genesis 11:19
1997 Nahor died Genesis 11:25
2006 Noah died Genesis 9:28
2026 Reu died Genesis 11:21
2034 Ishmael born, son of Abram with Sarai's handmaiden Hagar Genesis 16:16
2047 Abram and Sarai renamed Abraham and Sarah by the LORD and Abraham circumcised Genesis 17:5-15
2047 Sodom and Gomorrah destroyed Genesis 19:24
2048 Isaac born, son of Abraham with Sarah Genesis 21:5
2049 Serug died Genesis 11:23
2083 Terah died Genesis 11:32
2085 Sarah died Genesis 23:1
2096 Arpachshad died Genesis 11:13
2108 Jacob and Esau born, sons of Isaac with Rebekah Genesis 25:26
2123 Abraham died Genesis 25:7
2126 Shelah died Genesis 11:15
2157 Shem died Genesis 11:11
2171 Ishmael died Genesis 25:17
2187 Eber died Genesis 11:17
2199 Joseph born, son of Jacob with Rachel Genesis 41:46
2216 Joseph sold by his brothers Genesis 37:2
2227 Joseph interprets the dreams of the butler and the baker while in prison Genesis 41:1
2228 Isaac died Genesis 35:28
2229 Joseph promoted to Pharaoh's second Genesis 41:46
2238 Jacob moved to Egypt at the age of 130 after 7 years of plenty and 2 years of famine when Joseph was 39 Genesis 47:9; 45:11; 41:46
2255 Jacob died Genesis 47:28
2309 Joseph died Genesis 50:26
2365 Aaron born, son of Amram with Jochebed Exodus 7:7
2368 Moses born, son of Amram with Jochebed Exodus 7:7
2448 The Israelites left in a mass exodus from Egypt Genesis 15:13; 1 Kings 6:1
2487 Aaron and Moses died Deuteronomy 34:7
2488 The Israelites entered Canaan Joshua 4:19
2448–2884 Period of Joshua, Judges and Saul, first King of Israel 1 Kings 6:1; 2 Samuel 5:4
2853 Jesse begat David 2 Samuel 5:4
2883–2923 David reigned as king of Israel 1 Kings 2:11 (40 year reign)
2890 David moves his capitol from Hebron to Jerusalem 1 Kings 2:11
2923–2963 Solomon son of David reigns as king of Israel 1 Kings 11:42
2927 Foundation of Temple laid in the 4th year of Solomon's reign 480th year after the Exodus 1 Kings 6:1

The Patriarchs From Adam to the Flood.—The list of the patriarchs in Genesis 5 begins with Adam, then continues with Seth, born in Adam’s 130th year (or a.m. 130, according to those who construct an a.m. scale of years), followed by Enos, born 105 years later, Cainan, 90 years after that, and so on to Noah. For the age of Noah at the birth of Shem we must look elsewhere, for Genesis 5:32 says only that “Noah was five hundred years old: and Noah begat Shem, Ham, and Japheth.”

NOTE: If 500 seems an unreasonable age for even a patriarch at the birth of his first son, it may be remarked that the record does not state that he was childless that long. He could have had older children who died or who rejected their father’s message, but we cannot speculate on that. In the absence of information to the contrary (as, for example, in the case of Seth), we assume that each son named in the line was the oldest. Some have sought to reconcile the long life spans with later conditions by reckoning months or some unit shorter than a year. The use of months would make the patriarchs fathers at the tender ages of nine, seven, and even five! And what time unit between a month and a year has ever been known?

This might be taken to indicate that the sons were triplets, or at least that Shem was the firstborn; but a comparison of Genesis 7:6 and 11:10 shows that Shem was not the eldest, born when his father was 500; instead, he was 100 years old two years after the Flood (which came when Noah was 600), and hence was born when Noah was 502 years old. Apparently Shem was named first because of his importance, which depended not on his age but on the fact that through him the genealogy was carried on, and possibly because through his line were descended the Israelites.

The B.C. dating of this patriarchal period is not possible to determine. The first links between Biblical and B.C. dating come in the time of the kings of Israel and Judah.

The Chronology of the Flood.—The Deluge lasted one year and ten days, from the 17th of the 2d month in Noah’s 600th year to the 27th of the 2d month in Noah’s 601st year (see on Genesis 8:14).

Since it is not known what sort of calendar Noah used to calculate his month dates, opinions differ as to what kind of year this was. The 150 days of the rising and prevailing waters, ending on the 17th of the 7th month, constitute exactly 5 months. Therefore each month had 30 days. Since this could not happen if the months were regulated by the moon, which alternates 29 and 30 days, some would conclude that the Genesis account is based on a solar calendar of 30-day months, like that of the Egyptians. In that case the duration of the Flood was either 370 days or, if 5 extra days were reckoned at the end of the year, as in Egypt, it was 375 days. Others, however, think that a lunar year was intended, (see NOTE) and that the ten days beyond one full year would indicate the difference between a lunar year of 354 or 355 days and a solar year of 365 days.

NOTE: In that case the five consecutive 30-day months may have resulted from the use of the common method of determining the lengths of the months by observation: If the new crescent was visible at the end of the 29th of the month, the next day was called the 1st of the new month; if not, it was called the 30th and the next evening became the 1st of the month, and any error was corrected at the next visible crescent. This argument is based on the supposition that the moon was obscured much of the time during the stormy 150-day period of the Flood, so that a series of five 30-day months may have accumulated before the reckoning could be adjusted. A different lunar-month scheme, placing certain Flood-year dates on the Sabbath, is unprovable.

The Septuagint apparently means to imply that the original total represented a lunar year plus ten days, for it changes the duration to exactly one calendar year by translating the ending date as the 17th of the 2d month, the same day as the beginning, instead of the 27th. This looks like replacing one lunar year and ten days with one solar year, as more understandable in Egypt. There is insufficient basis, however, for conjecturing an antediluvian calendar from these dates, or for speculating on whether the “second month” was numbered from the spring or fall. Such considerations as the rainy season or the planting season in Bible lands are hardly relevant, since later conditions cannot be compared to the climatic conditions preceding or immediately following the Deluge. The month reckoning would probably be that Moses rather than that of Noah himself, and the spring-beginning year as a new reckoning introduced at the Exodus may or may not have been used by Moses in writing Genesis.

The Patriarchs From the Flood to the Exodus.—The patriarchs after the Flood are listed in Genesis 11. Arphaxad was born two years after the Flood, when Shem was 100 years old, Salah was born 35 years later, and Eber 30 years after that; and so the list goes on to Terah and Abram. However, Abram was not born when Terah was 70; this is a case similar to that of Shem, for Abram, though named first, was not the oldest son. When he was born his father was not 70, but 130 years old; for Abram was 75 when God called him to go to Canaan and made a covenant with him after Terah had died at the age of 205 (Genesis 11:32; 12:1-4). Although the list of the patriarchs with their ages ends with Abram (chapter 11:26), we are told that Isaac was born 100 years after his father (chapter 21:5), and Jacob 60 years after that (chapter 25:26).

The Genesis data on the patriarchs’ ages extend to Jacob’s entry into Egypt (chapter 47:9) at the age of 130. From this it can be computed that he was 91 when Joseph was born (see on chapter 27:1), but Joseph’s birth year offers no help in carrying the line farther; here the age data stop.

The interval from Jacob’s migration to the Exodus must be derived from the 430 years of Exodus 12:40, 41 (to be explained in the next section). Even with that, only if one can assume that no generation is left out in the lists of the patriarchs is any continuous count possible from creation to the Exodus.

The Four Hundred and the Four Hundred Thirty Years.—Abraham’s “seed” would be “a stranger in a land that is not their’s,” would serve a foreign nation, and be afflicted; and the period was to last 400 years (Genesis 15:13). That the whole duration of the sojourning, servitude, and affliction was encompassed in the 400 years is not clear in the English, but it is indicated by the inverted parallelism of the Hebrew sentence (see on Genesis 15:13). Isaac, the appointed seed of Abraham whose descendants would see the complete fulfillment of this prophecy, was a sojourner, and began early in life to be “afflicted” by his rival, Ishmael (Genesis 21:8-12; see on Genesis 15:13 for the 400 years). Ending also at the Exodus is a period of 430 years covering the “sojourning” (Exodus 12:40), not merely the phases of servitude and affliction. This is explained by a New Testament reference to the 430 years between the covenant with Abraham and the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai, soon after the Exodus (see on Exodus 12:40 and Gal. 3:17).

Both these periods can be harmonized if the 430 years are counted from the call of Abraham, when he was 75 years old, and if the 400 years are reckoned from 30 years later, that is about the time when Isaac, as a small child, began to be persecuted by Ishmael after he was confirmed as the “seed” (Genesis 21:8-12). The Hebrew people called themselves both the “seed of Abraham” and the “children of Israel,” and Paul evidently interpreted the second phrase, used in Exodus 12:40, as meaning the first.

Two Hundred Fifteen Years in Egypt.—Popular and scholarly misunderstanding of these periods covering the sojourning and affliction of the descendants of Abraham has caused chronological confusion as to the time spent by Israel in Egypt. The interval between the call of Abram, at age 75, and the Exodus was 430 years, of which 215 had passed when Jacob went into Egypt (25 years to Isaac’s birth in Abraham’s century year, plus 60, Isaac’s age at Jacob’s birth, plus 130, Jacob’s age at his migration, a total of 215 years). Therefore the remainder of the 430 years, the Egyptian sojourn, was 215 years. If this seems a rather short time in Egypt, it should be considered that Moses was the grandson (also great-grandson) of Levi (Numbers 26:57-59), who entered Egypt as an adult. This fact would not fit into an interval of 400 years, but would be quite possible for 215 years, according to Levi’s life span (see on Exodus 6:16, 20).

The Patriarchs


430 years of Genesis

Was it 430 full years from Abraham’s call to the Exodus, or 429 full years—430 inclusive, by the reckoning most commonly used in Bible times? The latter would seem more likely if it were not for the specific wording of the text: “At the end of the four hundred and thirty years, even the selfsame day” (Exodus 12:41). This would seem to indicate 430 elapsed years, ending on the day of the Exodus. Thus the reckoning is considered exact rather than inclusive.

A.M. Dating Not Conclusive.—Because the 430-year interval between Abraham’s years and the Exodus appears to attach the latter to the patriarchal genealogies, some have concluded that a continuous a.m. reckoning from creation can be linked with the B.C. dating. An a.m. Exodus date based on the patriarchs is entirely inconclusive. It must be remembered that these genealogies do not necessarily represent a complete year scale. Reasons have been given for preferring the ages of the patriarchs as given in the Hebrew text rather than in the Septuagint version. However, in using either reckoning we cannot exclude the possibility that some generations may not have been included. We remember that Luke lists the second Cainan (Luke 3:36). The correctness of the ages of the individuals does not imply the completeness of the list, for no total is given.

The Bible does not claim to be a complete record of all past history, and Bible genealogies do not always include every link in the chain; the Hebrew often uses the word “son” to mean grandson or descendant. This is evident in Ezra’s genealogy, which omits several links (Ezra 7:1-5; cf.1 Chronicles 6:7-9; Ezra 3:2); Matthew lists 14 generations from David to Christ, thus leaving out 4, for what reason he does not tell us (Matthew 1:8, 11; cf.1 Chronicles 3:10-12, 15, 16). The fact that sometimes one Bible writer omits what another includes does not invalidate the authority of either, but it should warn us against dogmatism on the date of creation, the Flood, or the Exodus, or on any chronology based on genealogical tables alone. Exact chronology is better reserved for the later centuries, where the Bible gives many exact time statements and synchronisms that enable us to locate the B.C. dating of key events with certainty. If we accept Luke’s second Cainan as indicating a link not mentioned in the Genesis list, we must lengthen the period from creation to the Exodus by at least one life span—how much more we cannot know since Luke gives no data for Cainan, and one omission implies the possibility of others. It is not necessary to suppose that gaps of that kind would be either extensive or important, but we should refrain from dogmatizing on the exact number of years between the creation and the Exodus, and from setting up any creation date based thereon. (The date of creation cannot be derived from the Biblical data.)

With caution, then, as to attempting any a.m. dating, we may proceed to the Biblical reckoning of the years of the wilderness wandering before taking up the theories by which various B.C. dates are assigned to the Exodus.

The Reckoning of the Years From the Exodus.—We find evidence of what approaches a reckoning by an era during the time of the 40 years’ wandering. Shortly before the children of Israel left Egypt, the Lord instructed Moses that “this month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you” (Exodus 12:2), and then proceeded with directions for holding the Passover on the 14th. The Israelites left Egypt immediately after the Passover, on the 15th (Numbers 33:3) of the spring month then called Abib (Exodus 23:15; 34:18; Deuteronomy 16:1), but later named Nisan (Esther 3:7), and still so called by the Jews.

Other dates are mentioned in this year, which was evidently counted as the first of the series, for the next year is called the second. The list of dated events shows this in tabulation:




Passover observed (Exodus 12:2, 6)...................... 1 13 [ 1st]
Departure from Egypt (Numbers 33:3)................. 1 15
Manna given in Wilderness of Sin (Exodus 16:1)... 2 15
Arrival at Sinai (Exodus 19:1)............................... 3 ---- [ 1st]
(Moses’ two 40–day periods on the mountain—Exodus 24:18; 34:28).......................................
(Making of tabernacle and equipment)
Tabernacle erected (Exodus 40:1, 2, 17)............... 1 1 2d
Passover enjoined (Numbers 9:1, 2)..................... 1 ---- 2d
Passover observed (Numbers 9:5), evidently first time since Exodus (cf. vs. 6-14)................. 1 14 ----
Numbering of men directed (Numbers 1:1)........... 2 1 2d
Departure from Sinai (Numbers 10:11), nearly a year after arrival (PP 301, 302).................................. 2 20 2d
(Spies sent out in time of first ripe grapes, i.e. late summer—Numbers 13:17-20)
(Return of spies to Kadesh 40 days later; Israel sentenced to 40 years’ wandering—Numbers 13:25, 26; 14:33, 34)
From Kadesh to crossing of Zared, 38 years (Deuteronomy 2:14)
Death of Aaron on Mt. Hor (Numbers 33:38)...... 5 1 40th
Israel at Zared (Numbers 21:12) after Aaron’s death (cf.Numbers 20:27-29; 21:4-11)........................... [6? ---- 40th]
(Moses’ death; 30–day mourning—Deuteronomy 34:7,8)..................................................... [12? ---- 40th]
Crossing of Jordan and encampment before Jericho (Joshua 4:19)............................................ 1 10 [41st]
Passover kept in Promised Land (Joshua 5:10) ---- 14 [41st]
Manna ceases (Joshua 5:11, 12), on 40th anniversary of the Exodus............................................... ---- [15] [41st]

Note that the “second year,” on the first day of which the tabernacle was erected, had already begun before the first anniversary of the Exodus, for the Israelites did not leave Egypt until the 15th of the 1st month, after half the month was past. This day of the erection of the sanctuary was the 1st of the divinely appointed 1st month, for it is the month of the Passover. It is evidently the first Abib since the departure from Egypt (see on Exodus 40:2 and Numbers 9:1, 2), for no one would argue for a stay of nearly two years at Sinai (see on Numbers 10:11). So “the second year after they were come out of the land of Egypt” (Numbers 9:1) meant the year immediately following the one in which the Exodus took place (actually beginning 111/2 months after the date of departure, but the second year counted inclusively). It has been pointed out that in the commonly used inclusive reckoning, expressions translated “after” often mean “within.” Indeed, the preposition used in this phrase “after they were come out”—literally “for them to come out,” or “of their coming out”—is elsewhere rendered “within” a given time, as in Ezra 10:8.

The years as reckoned from the Exodus, then, were spring-beginning years, and the first of the series was the one in which the Hebrews left Egypt. If this series of years from the Exodus had been continued as an era for dating subsequent events, it would have greatly simplified the problem of Old Testament chronology. Unfortunately it was not so used, although the record of the sequence must have been kept, for we seem to find one more reference to it, in connection with the date of Solomon’s Temple.

IV. The B.C. Date of the Exodus

The Problems in Dating the Exodus.—It has been made clear why any a.m. dating, reckoned forward from creation and based on the assumption that the genealogies are complete, is only conjectural. We are in a better position to reckon backward to the patriarchs from later and better known periods, though not with complete certainty. The 430-year span from the Exodus back to Abraham locates that patriarch in the B.C. scale with the same degree of certainty as can be assigned to the year of the Exodus, depending on which of several methods one uses to arrive at a B.C. date for that event. From the Exodus the forty years of wandering are numbered continuously, as in an era; then in the conquest of Canaan and the time of the judges there are various periods, some of which obviously overlap. If the information were complete and precise down through the kingdoms of Judah and Israel, to the time when the line of Bible dating joins the fixed dates of ancient history, the B.C. date of the Exodus and many other events would be unquestioned.

But even among those who accept the Bible data as correct, there are differences of opinion as to the period of the judges, for example, and the rather complicated interrelations of the reigns of the two kingdoms. This commentary, incorporating what seems a reasonably workable chronology built on Bible time statements, does not set forth a dogmatic statement of the case. The last word has not been said on this subject, because future discoveries may add to our exact knowledge of those ancient times. But if any dates at all are to be included for the reader’s convenience, one system must be followed consistently.

The B.C. date of the Exodus presented in this volume has been chosen out of many advocated by different scholars because it seems, at present, to be the best explanation of the Bible data in relation to the available information, and it harmonizes with the chronology adopted for Volume II, covering the period of Israel and Judah. In order to evaluate this Exodus dating, a brief outline of the historical background of Egypt must be sketched here introductory to a survey of the principal theories of the Exodus, with a summary of the difficulties of each and the reasons why the 15th-century date is chosen.

The Historical Background in Egypt.—The Middle Kingdom in Egypt began during the Eleventh Dynasty. The first 150 years of the Twelfth Dynasty, which began in 1991 B.C., were the peak years, the classical period of Egyptian culture. At its end Egyptian power declined. The Thirteenth Dynasty was restricted largely to southern Egypt, and the contemporary Fourteenth Dynasty in the north was weak. After a period of preliminary infiltration, the country was overrun in the latter half of the 18th century by the Hyksos, whose rulers, the “Shepherd Kings”—a title more properly translated as “rulers of foreign countries”—formed the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Dynasties. These conquerors, predominantly Semites from the eastern Mediterranean lands, probably included also non-Semitic Hurrians. Little is known of the Hyksos from the few records they left. They were not barbarous, for they probably introduced the horse and chariot, which the Egyptians afterward used to advantage in building their Asiatic empire. The Hyksos became Egyptianized, adopting Egyptian titles. They ruled as Pharaohs from a capital, called Avaris, in the Delta.

During the first half of the 16th century the first king of the Eighteenth Dynasty drove the hated Hyksos—at least the ruling class—into Palestine. Egypt, again powerful, extended her sway over Palestine and Syria to the Euphrates. Great wealth went into vast building operations. A notable ruler of this dynasty was Queen Hatshepsut, who was associated on the throne with her husband Thutmose II (C. 1508-1504 B.C.), and her nephew Thutmose III. She was herself the real ruler from about 1500 until she finally disappeared from history about 1482, probably disposed of by her co-ruler, Thutmose III, whom she had kept so long in the background. After her death her name was obliterated from many of her monuments and inscriptions. Thutmose III (C. 1482-1450) expanded the empire of Egypt to an extent never exceeded. The empire prospered through the reigns of Amenhotep II (C. 1450-1425), and Thutmose IV (C. 1425-1412) and well into the reign of Amenhotep III (C. 1412-1375). But in the latter’s declining years the expanding Hittite empire menace Egypt’s northern holdings in Asia, the Habiru or the sa-gaz plagued parts of Syria and Palestine, and many of the Egyptian-held cities fought among themselves.

Then came Amenhotep IV (C. 1387-1366), a visionary, unfit or unwilling to wield the strong scepter that was needed to stave off decline. Taking the name Ikhnaton, he turned all his energies to religious reform; abandoning Thebes for a new capital dedicated to Aton (Aten), the sun disk, he suppressed all other cults. Meanwhile his Asiatic empire melted away. He ignored the frantic appeals for help from his loyal vassals in Palestine and Syria who were struggling against treachery and defection in the face of the menace of the sa-gaz or the Habiru. Many of these letters were unearthed among the royal archives in the ruins of Ikhnaton’s capital (archeologists refer to them as the Amarna Letters, from Tell el ‛Amarna, the modern place name of the ruins).

After Ikhnaton, whose religious reform died soon after him, the dynasty ended with several minor Pharaohs. One of these was the boy-king Tutankhamen, who has achieved latter-day fame through the mere accident that his last resting place—probably modest in comparison with those of the great rulers—escaped the depredations of tomb robbers.

Early in the Nineteenth Dynasty, under Seti I (1318-1299), Egypt began to regain a measure of control in Palestine. The long and energetic reign of Ramses II (1299-1232) left a great impression on his age. From the fifth year of his son Merneptah we have an inscription on a commemorative pillar, or stele, indicating that the Israelites were then already in Palestine—the first mention of the name Israel outside the Bible, and the only one so far found in Egyptian records.

The Various Theories of the Exodus.—The numerous Exodus theories differ in the placement of the narrative in relation to the Egyptian dynasties as well as in respect to the reckoning of the 400 and the 430 years (whether including the time from Abraham or only the sojourn in Egypt). Aside from theories held by few or now no longer considered seriously in scholarly circles, there are three principal classes of these interpretations of the Exodus. These date the event respectively in:

(1)  the 15th century B.C., under the Eighteenth Dynasty;

(2)  the 13th century, during the Nineteenth Dynasty;

(3)  two migrations, under the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Dynasties.

There are plausible arguments both for and against all these datings. The last, however, which puts Joshua two centuries before Moses, does such violence to the Biblical record that it is out of the question for anyone who is seeking to build a chronology consistent with the Biblical data as we have them.

Outmoded and Minority Views.—The wide range of Exodus dating is illustrated by several theories placing it as early as the 17th century and as late as the 12th. One theory dated the Exodus in 1612, during the Hyksos rule in Egypt. This was based on a long reckoning of the period of the judges, assuming that the alternating judgeships and intervals of oppression were successive, totaling nearly 600 years; it fitted that into the 480-year period between the Exodus and Solomon by counting only the judgeships, not the interludes. Since Solomon cannot be shifted far, the longer the preceding period of the judges the earlier the Exodus must be dated. Another early-Exodus theory had the Hebrews leaving Egypt as part of, or along with, the defeated Hyksos in the 16th century (reminiscent of Josephus’ identification of the Hebrews as the Hyksos). This required not 40 but 200 years of desert wandering in order to equate the Hebrews with the Habiru. It cannot be made to harmonize with either the Bible or the historical background, neither can the dating at the other extreme, a theory of a late 12th-century Exodus, in the Twentieth Dynasty.

These three types of Exodus datings will suffice as examples of the range of variation; they need not be examined since they receive little or no notice today. The three principal theories will be discussed next.

The Nineteenth-Dynasty Exodus.—The “traditional” theory, long commonly accepted, was that Israel was oppressed by Rameses II and left in his reign or that of his son Merneptah. This theory is still held by many writers, both in its original form and as the second phase of a double Exodus. The choice of Rameses as the Pharaoh of the oppression is based on the names of the cities of Pithom and Rameses, built by Hebrew slaves; on Rameses’ capital being at Tanis, near Goshen; on the destruction of many Palestinian cities dated by archeologists in the 13th century; on a 430-year stay in Egypt; and on various elements of the archeological theories concerning that time, such as the late arrival of the Philistines, the absence of earlier pottery in certain regions, and conclusions drawn from certain Egyptian military campaigns. The unanswerable objection to this dating—if the Bible chronology is not to be ignored—is Merneptah’s stele of the fifth year of his reign, referring to the Israelites as a people along with Palestinian places conquered. The Israelites could hardly have been already in Palestine in the fifth year of the Pharaoh of the Exodus even if they had migrated directly to Canaan. A desert wandering of 40 years (even if the vague meaning of “many years” is allowed) puts it completely out of the picture, to say nothing of other objections to the theory, such as the genealogical impossibility of 400 years from Joseph to Moses.

The Theory of a Double Exodus.—A Nineteenth-Dynasty Exodus, along with a 15th-century invasion of Canaan, is held today by many scholars who reconstruct the Biblical story completely, or rather separate it into two waves of migration. There are various views as to which tribes went into Egypt and when they left; as to which tribes never left Canaan or who may have remained in Egypt; or by what routes and in what order they invaded Canaan. The mere impossibility of harmonizing such an Exodus with the 40 years or the 480 years is a minor objection indeed compared with the placing of Joshua 2 centuries before Moses, and compared with the uninhibited reinterpretation of the Bible account in regard to the patriarchs, the tribes, the geography, and the religion of the Hebrews.

This is not to belittle the scholarship that has been employed in this attempt to reconcile the Habiru invasion and other evidence pointing to a 15th century Exodus with the building of store cities for Ramses II and the late sacking of certain Palestinian towns. But the complexities of the various double-Exodus theories need not be discussed here, for a conservative commentary is written to throw light on the Bible account, not to revamp the story by conjecture to fit the selected historical setting.

The Eighteenth Dynasty Exodus Adopted in This Commentary.—There remains the theory that places the Exodus in the mid-fifteenth century (1445 B.C. or thereabouts). It has been adopted in this commentary chiefly because of the intervals between this and later Biblical dates. It can be explained in terms of the Bible narrative and the historical and archeological setting.

The date is based on a statement synchronizing the 480th year from the Exodus with the 4th year of Solomon, in which the foundation of the Temple was laid in the month of Zif (1 Kings 6:1). This year was, according to the chronology accepted for this commentary, 967/66 B.C., that is, the Jewish regnal year beginning in the fall of 967 and ending in the fall of 966. Thus the laying of the foundation in the month of Zif (approximately our May) would have occurred in the spring of 966 B.C. Then Zif in the 1st year, in which the Israelites left Egypt, was 479 years earlier than 966, which is 1445 B.C. This can be computed easily by the equation:If Zif in the 480th yr. = 966 B.C., then, going back 479 yrs. (479) Zif in the 1st yr. = 1445 B.C.

And Zif in the 1st year, beginning the 2d month, is the month immediately following Abib (or Nisan), in which the Israelites left Egypt. So the Exodus, derived thus from the dating of Solomon’s 4th year as 967/66 B.C., would have occurred in the spring of 1445 B.C. if the 480th year is meant as an era date, and not as a round number.

NOTE: If it is insisted that the 480 years are not to be counted inclusively, then the date would be 1446 B.C.—and some make it 1447 by counting 480 full years from 967 B.C.—but that would seem to disregard the original reckoning of the years from the Exodus. For the Temple was begun “in the four hundred and eightieth year after the children of Israel were come out of the land of Egypt,” literally, in the 480th year of their coming out of Egypt, and the 1st year reckoned from the Exodus was the one in which the departure from Egypt took place; compare “the second year after” the Exodus (explained on pp. 186-188).

This 15th-century theory of the Exodus can be harmonized with the 400 and 430 years as reckoned from Abraham. A 1445 Exodus would put Abraham’s migration to Canaan in 1875 B.C., and his journey into Egypt soon after, at the very period from which we have an ancient record of a Semitic sheik traveling in Egypt with his family and a large retinue as traders.

Joseph and Jacob, then, would be in Egypt 215 years before the Exodus, in the time of the Hyksos. The high honors bestowed upon Joseph have been regarded as most likely under a regime in which the Asiatic element predominated. Other details also fit into the picture. The statement that “Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian,” bought Joseph (Genesis 39:1) indicates a non-Egyptian dynasty; else why should it be noted particularly that the Pharaoh’s captain of the guard was “an Egyptian”? Furthermore, the mention of horses and chariots (Genesis 41:43; 46:29) is regarded as harmonizing better with the Hyksos period than an earlier one, for it is generally accepted that there is no record of horses in Egypt before that time. Yet they were not imported rarities in Joseph’s day, for the Egyptians sold their livestock, including horses, to the Pharaoh in exchange for food during the famine (Genesis 47:17). For other points see on chapter 39:1.

The story of Moses and the Exodus can be fitted into the historical setting of the reigns of Thutmose I through Amenhotep II. Thutmose I and Thutmose III carried on building operations by means of Asiatic slave labor. Hatshepsut as Moses’ foster mother, Thutmose III as the king from whom Moses fled to Midian, and Amenhotep II as the Pharaoh of the Exodus seem to fit the possibilities of the Bible story. We have even the fact that the successor of Amenhotep II was an unforeseen heir to the throne—a circumstance that would be expected if the eldest son had died in the tenth plague.

If the 40 years’ wandering ended and the invasion of Canaan began about 1400, the inroads of the Hebrews were contemporary with the Amarna Letters. Although controversy has raged over the historical connection between the names, it is not unlikely that the Hebrews were a part of the Habiru mentioned in this correspondence as a menace to Syria and Palestine, for it was in this weak period of Amenhotep III and of Ikhnaton’s indifference in regard to the affairs of the great Egyptian Empire that control of Palestine was slipping out of the hands of the Pharaohs.

Objections to This Dating Considered.—There are also objections against this 15th-century theory. It is pointed out that the date does not fit the total of the periods mentioned in the book of Judges, or the 450 years of Acts 13:19, 20 (KJV), for it is keyed to the 480 years of 1 Kings 6:1.

It is true that if all the year totals in Judges are considered successive periods, the sum is far beyond 480 years, but there is nothing in the book to rule out the conclusion that some of the judgeships were quite possibly contemporary, in different parts of the country. Since the theories of earlier or later Exodus dating must either squeeze the judges period into an impossibly small compass, or reconcile the 480 years with approximately 600 years by eliminating certain portions from the whole period, as has been explained, it seems reasonable to accept as literal the definite statement that Solomon began the building of the Temple in the 480th year from the Exodus, especially since the date thus arrived at can be harmonized with the other data.

A 1445 Exodus admittedly makes it difficult to account for the 300 years mentioned by Jephthah (see Judges 11:26), but it can be done by assuming a rapid disintegration after Jephthah, with short contemporary judgeships.

As for the 450 years of Acts 13:20, there is a disagreement as to the original text of the statement, and there are differing translations of it in various versions. One reading makes the 450 years the period of the judges; the other, from different manuscripts, makes it the period preceding the judges. The second reading, regarded as better by modern scholars, is certainly more ambiguous. A literal 450-year interval between Joshua and Samuel cannot be fitted into the chronological scheme that puts the Exodus in the 15th century, for it is obviously incompatible with an interval of 480 years between the Exodus and Solomon. Those who take the long chronology (with the 480 years exclusive of the periods between the judgeships) use the 450 years similarly as the sum of only the actual administrations of the successive judges. On the other hand, those who hold the view of overlapping judges, with a much shorter total duration, can employ the 450 years, according to the other reading, as the period from the time of the seed—the beginning of the 400 years reckoned from the time when Isaac was 5 years of age. They account for the extra 50 years by the 40 years of wandering plus a hypothetical 10 years more before the judges (see the article on chronology in Vol. II of this commentary). Both theories have difficulties and elements of personal opinion. Therefore it has been considered that the best course is to leave this ambiguous and controversial period out of the discussion as not positive enough to be used either for or against the theory of the 15th-century Exodus.

The Eighteenth Dynasty capital was at Thebes, several hundred miles from the land of Goshen. Yet the Hebrews were living near the royal palace, according to the story of the birth of Moses and to the account of the communication between Moses, the Israelites, and Pharaoh during the extended period of the plagues (possibly as much as a year). However, there was nothing to prevent the use of a second royal residence in or near the Delta at certain times, although there is no evidence for such a capital in the period assigned to Moses.

The 13th-century advocates point out the Nineteenth Dynasty names of the cities of Pithom and Rameses. However, the proponents of an earlier Exodus regard them as later forms substituted by scribes for the earlier names of the same cities (for example, Rameses had previously been called Zoan, Avaris, and Tanis). We might similarly speak of New York as having been founded by the Dutch, deeming it unnecessary to use the old name, New Amsterdam. Indeed, those who take the name “Raamses” (Exodus 1:11) as evidence of the Exodus under Ramses II must also explain away “the land of Rameses” in Joseph’s day (see on Genesis 47:11) by a similar method. Then, if the name of the land need not be derived from the Pharaoh’s name, neither does the name of the city.

Some argue that the story of Joseph and his family’s migration to Egypt does not portray a Hyksos ruler favoring fellow-Asiatics, but rather an Egyptian rewarding a Semitic benefactor for services rendered, showing consideration to Egyptian prejudices by segregating the Hebrew shepherds in Goshen. The 15th-century advocates reply, in favor of the Hyksos dating of Joseph, that a later Egyptian Pharaoh would be too strongly anti-Semitic to bestow such high favors, and that the motive for the segregation may well have been less to spare Egyptian sensibilities than to protect the Hebrew shepherds from the ill will of their Egyptian neighbors. Similarly, Joseph’s treatment of his brethren, although cited as an objection, illustrates the Egyptianized customs of Joseph himself, paralleling what might be expected from an Egyptianized Asiatic king.

It may seem illogical to portray the nationalistic Egyptians as expelling the hated Asiatic Hyksos, yet leaving in Goshen a community of Semites who had been favorites of the foreign regime. A possible explanation would be that the Hyksos who were expelled were the oppressive ruling class, and that many of their common people may have been left behind, regarded as harmless and possibly as a source of forced labor. We know too little to dogmatize on the subject.

The absence of Biblical allusions to Egyptian overlordship or military activities in Palestine has been considered out of harmony with the Israelite occupation of the land in the 15th century and onward. Actually the Israelites remained mostly nomadic hill dwellers until long after this period. They failed to drive out the town dwellers, and settled down outside many of the fortified cities, the centers of Egyptian control; and in the hills they would hardly have been touched by Egypt’s coastal campaigns. Some of Israel’s neighboring enemies mentioned in the Bible were possibly acting as vassals for Egypt.

The presence of late pottery in the cemetery of Jericho has been explained as belonging to later sporadic settlements while the city lay in ruins.

Another argument of 13th-century advocates against an earlier entry of Israel is the view (based on pottery bits found only on the surface, and not universally accepted) that Edom and Moab were not then settled nations. If the Edomites and Moabites were nomads in the 13th century, the absence of pottery from that period was to be expected.

It is not to be contended that all the Exodus problems (See NOTE) can be solved at the present time, but the hindrances to arriving at a reasonable theory are not insuperable.

NOTE: Modern books that utilize the most reliable technical materials rarely deal with the pre-Exodus chronology because of the lack of adequate data for the early period, and the differing theories of the Exodus date are of limited value to most readers. H. H. Rowley, From Joseph to Joshua (London: Oxford University Press, 1950; 200 pp.), advocates a double Exodus, but is valuable for its many footnotes to sources on various theories.

On the 15-century Exodus and invasion of Canaan, see J. W. Jack, The Date of the Exodus (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1925; 282 pp.), too early for much of the archeological evidence, but useful; Millar Burrows, What Mean These Stones? (New Haven, Conn.: American Schools of Oriental Research, 1941; 306 pp.), includes a brief survey of the 15th-century theory, but prefers the 13th-century dating. John Garstang and J. B. E. Garstang, The Story of Jericho (2d ed., rev.; London: Marshall, Morgan, & Scott, 1948; 200 pp.), offered evidence from their excavations for the fall of a strongly fortified city on that site about 1400 B.C., but that dating has now been revised by the more recent findings of Dr. Kathleen M. Kenyon. According to her preliminary report, Digging Up Jericho (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1957), the walls of that city must be dated much earlier. Because of erosion and destruction of the top levels, nothing seems to be left except a part of one house and pottery from the cemetery, to indicate that Jericho had a population in the 14th century B.C.

The evidences examined seem to leave a 15th-century Exodus as a usable hypothesis for the purposes of this commentary—within the possibilities of the Bible narrative, also of Patriarchs and Prophets, and reasonably workable for the present in the framework of historical and archeological findings.

V. Earlier Chronologies Pivot on Exodus Date

Date of Creation Not Known.—Those who attempt to trace Bible chronology from the creation to the Exodus by the patriarchal lists, the Genesis narratives, and the 430 years extending from the call of Abraham to the Exodus must assume that the patriarchal lists are complete. If the second Cainan (Luke 3:36) is added to the Hebrew list, if the possibility of gaps in the generations is allowed, or if the Septuagint enumeration is used, the patriarchal period must be longer than according to the Hebrew text (and the creation consequently earlier). Any B.C. dating of the patriarchs, by whichever method computed, would depend on the B.C. date of the Exodus.

The Exodus has been placed, in the present volume, on the basis of two premises, both to be discussed in Volume II: (1) the 480-year era from the Exodus to and including the 4th year of Solomon (1 Kings 6:1), and (2) the location of Solomon’s 4th year by computation of the reigns of the Hebrew kings down to the time of Nebuchadnezzar. The result, as has been explained, is an Exodus date of 1445 B.C.

However, this volume assigns no dates to the period before Abraham. Since final conclusions cannot be reached, even by consistent computation from the Bible data, because of the possible undetermined variations, this commentary does not attempt a complete chronology. Uncertainty is better than mere conjecture or the blind acceptance of a theoretical scheme such as Ussher’s. Ussher arbitrarily placed creation, and began his a.m. 1, on the evening before October 23 (the Sunday nearest the autumnal equinox) in 4,004 B.C., that is, 4,000 years before Christ’s birth, which he dated at 4 B.C. This was in harmony with the old 6,000-year theory that puts 4,000 years before Christ and 2,000 years after Christ.

This “6,000-year theory” should be defined to avoid confusion: It is not to be equated with the phrase “6,000 years” that has been used by many religious writers as a rough estimate of the time elapsed since Adam. It is, rather, a prophetic theory: namely, the view that the six days of creation week followed by the Sabbath, taken together with the statement that with God one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as a day (2 Peter 3:8), constitute a prediction that will world will last 6,000 years, with the seventh thousand as the millennial Sabbath of rest. There is no 6,000-year prophetic period in the Bible. It originated in ancient mythology (Persian and Etruscan, for example) and in a Jewish analogy to the days of creation. It was Christianized by the Church Fathers and it persisted long after Ussher.

To say that the six days of creation week give no clue to the duration of this world is not to deny their reality or to allow interpreting them as long ages. Acceptance of a literal creation does not require assigning it to an exact year. The date of creation is not known, for the chronological data in the Bible are not continuous or complete. Nor can it be computed from astronomical cycles.

NOTE: Unfortunately, some apologists seeking confirmation of the Bible have cited supposed astronomical cycles for proof of a precise date for creation and the first Sabbath, overlooking the fact that cycles, like circles, have no beginning or end, and that one can reckon back the regularly recurring intervals indefinitely into the unknown past without arriving at a clue to the actual beginning. One such attempt at astronomical proof, occasionally cited even as late as around 1950, was the system of a supposed astronomer, J. B. Dimbleby (1879), who set “a.m. 0” on Sept. 20, 4,000 B.C., allegedly established by cycles of planetary motions. (Not cited, but also involved in his scheme, was a 6,000-year theory predicting the Advent and the millennium in 19281/4!) It would be unprofitable to enumerate this “astronomer’s” errors of fact and reasoning.

It is true that astronomical cycles enable us to date certain ancient events (including some in the Bible) if those events can be connected with contemporary astronomical records, especially of eclipses.

The first direct, contemporary links between Biblical years and the B.C. scale occur near the end of the kingdom of Judah, about 600 B.C., in the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, whose regnal years are astronomically fixed. Some cite an earlier date, 853 B.C., as the death year of Ahab of Israel, but the astronomical fix is not in that year; the synchronism depends on dead reckoning from an eclipse that occurred nearly a century later. In any case, from the kings of Israel and Judah back to creation the path crosses too many areas where differences of opinion exist.

Approximate Early Dates Sufficient.—Since we have a definite chronology for the later Old Testament times, especially from the time of the great prophetic periods, we should be satisfied with approximate dates for the earlier ages, where there is no fixed chronology that will pinpoint Biblical events. Estimates around the time of the Exodus and on are probably not far wrong. Even the various datings of the Exodus are not more than two centuries off in either direction from the dating adopted for this volume. Earlier than that a leeway of much more would be little enough. We may watch with interest the changes in historical chronology for the more ancient periods, yet there seems little chance so far of harmonizing the early dynasties of Egypt and Babylonia, for example, with the Bible chronology—if we take the Flood into consideration.

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, even though Scripture does not profess to record all history. It is heartening to see how, wherever valid tests can be brought to bear, the Scripture record stands vindicated as accurate history. Chronology, the framework of history, is given to us in the Old Testament in a form that must be translated into our mode of reckoning before we can learn its meaning; the brevity and also sometimes the obscurity of the statements regarding it prevent us from claiming to have complete knowledge, but it is certain enough in the later period—especially by the time of Daniel and Ezra—to assure us that apparent difficulties are due to our lack of understanding.

Research based on archeology has solved many problems of chronology. We may hopefully anticipate the solution of most of the remaining problems as research continues.

Bible Chronology Timeline - Page 2