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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Bible Chronology From Exodus to Exile

Like all other ancient time records, those of the Bible present problems. In the first place, the records are often incomplete. In the second, we cannot always be sure that we know the method by which the ancients reckoned; for example, whether they reckoned the year as beginning in the spring or the autumn, or whether inclusive reckoning was used in such a phrase as “three years.” Again, it is not always possible to synchronize Biblical with secular chronology.

For these and other reasons that might be given, it is not possible to prepare a complete and exact scheme of Bible chronology. However, it is possible to construct a tentative chronological outline, particularly for the reigns of the Hebrew kings, that can be of great help to the Bible student.

The purpose of this article is to set forth reasons for the choice of the dates given in that outline. The following information surveys the source data, discusses the principles and methods used by scholars in constructing ancient chronology, and explains the application of these principles to chronological problems of this period of Bible history. It should be added that learned men have differed in their conclusions on Bible chronology, and that this article does not set forth in full any chronological scheme yet published.

I. The Conquest of Canaan

The Territory East of the Jordan.—When the hosts of Israel turned finally from Kadesh toward the Promised Land they came to Mt. Hor, where Aaron died and where they mourned for him 30 days (Numbers 20:22-29). The date of his death was the 1st day of the 5th month, in the 40th year of the Exodus (Numbers 33:38). Thus, presumably, they did not leave Mt. Hor until the beginning of the 6th month. After several stops they reached the territory of Sihon, king of the Amorites, east of the Jordan and the Dead Sea. Being refused passage, they conquered Sihon’s land from the Arnon to the Jabbok. They also took the territory north of the Jabbok, that is, Gilead and Bashan (Numbers 21:21-35), and then returned to camp east of the Jordan opposite Jericho. This must have been a short campaign, because after this occurred the incident of Balaam, the idolatry and punishment of the Israelites, and the numbering of the people, all before the 1st day of the 11th month of the 40th year, when Moses began his final discourses, recounting to Israel their past experiences and admonishing them as to their future course (Deuteronomy 1:3-5). Then Moses died, probably about the beginning of the 12th month, for after mourning for him 30 days (Deuteronomy 34:5-8) the Israelites proceeded on their way, in the first days of the first month, and crossed the Jordan on the 10th of the month (Joshua 4:19). This entry into Canaan on the 10th, and the observance of the Passover on the 14th, were obviously in the 41st year of the Exodus. Thus the period of the wanderings was one of 40 full years, extending from the midnight deliverance from Egypt on the 15th of the 1st month in the 1st year of the period, to the first Passover in the land of Canaan, following the crossing of the Jordan in the 41st year. But the conquest of Amorite territory before crossing the river occurred in the second half of the 40th year.

This last date is important because it establishes, in relation to the Exodus, the date of the entry into Canaan, and pegs down a landmark from which a period is reckoned in the time of the judges—Jephthah’s 300 years from the occupation of Sihon’s city of Heshbon and its surrounding territory.

The Conquest of Canaan Proper.—In the 41st year, then, according to this Exodus reckoning, Joshua led the armies of Israel in several campaigns to subdue the land west of the river. His forces included a contingent from the tribes that were to settle in the Transjordan territory recently won from the Amorites. The land was not completely conquered during this war, for the Israelites could not drive out the inhabitants of many of the strongly fortified cities, and many of those conquered in the first campaigns were not held permanently. Yet the country was subdued sufficiently to halt opposition to the settlement of the Israelites. Even after “Joshua took the whole land,” and “the land rested from war” (Joshua 11:23), he told the Israelites that “there remaineth yet very much land to be possessed” (chapter 13:1). Ending the armed opposition and allotting the land to the tribes was not the same thing as actually possessing the whole land; this was not accomplished fully until the time of David. But the first stage was completed in the matter of a few years.

The Assemblies at Gilgal and Shiloh.—After the division of most of the land had been completed, the Israelites assembled at Gilgal, where the Passover had first been observed and the tabernacle had been set up. On this occasion the aged Caleb asked for the region of Hebron as his allotment of territory (Joshua 14:6-15). He stated that he was 40 years old when he went with the spies from Kadesh-barnea (in the second year of the Exodus), and that now he was 85 years old. This occasion was therefore in the 46th or 47th year from the Exodus. Since the first campaigns east of the Jordan began in the 40th year, this would make the wars of Canaan last six or seven years. Further distribution of the land by lot (chapters 15-17) was followed by the setting up of the tabernacle at Shiloh (chapter 18:1). If this took place immediately after the assembly at Gilgal mentioned in chapter 14:6, it was soon after the seven-year war.

This commentary uses a dating of the Hebrew kings that puts the spring of Solomon’s year 4 in 966 B.C., in the 480th year from the Exodus. Then the Exodus, in the 1st year of that period, 479 years earlier, was in 1445 B.C., and thus the conquest of Heshbon and the other Amorite territory late in 1406, the crossing of the Jordan in the spring of 1405, and the gathering at Gilgal after the war in Canaan, in 1400 or 1399.

The uncertainty in this last date stems from the question of whether Caleb, in speaking of his age as 85, counted the years from the spring or the fall; he did not specifically refer to the years of the Exodus, but was reckoning his own age. (See note below) The Exodus reckoning, as an era, was used by Moses, but it does not seem to have survived as a means of dating, except in the case of Solomon’s 4th year (1 Kings 6:1). Although the months were always numbered from Abib (later called Nisan), in the spring, the years were generally reckoned from the fall. The gathering at Gilgal, presumably at a regular feast, could have been at the Feast of Tabernacles in 1400 B.C., the Passover in 1399, or the Feast of Tabernacles in 1399.

NOTE: If Caleb was calculating the 45 years since he was 40 in terms of a chronological period based on Moses’ Exodus era, he probably was thinking of 45 years after the second year in which the spies went out. This would have been, by the practice so common in ancient times, 45 years inclusive, thus ending in the 46th, not the 47th, year of the period (or 1400 B.C., if we reckon the Exodus in 1445). But if he did this, he would have been 85 years old in the 46th year from the Exodus only if he counted his own age by the fall-to-fall year, and was speaking in the latter part of the 46th year, after an autumn new year had begun his own 85th year. But if, as seems more likely, Caleb was merely making a quick, oral computation based on his age, and was reckoning the 45 years only as years of his life, without regard to an era, he probably merely subtracted 40, his age when he spied out the land, from his present age of 85, and arrived at 45 years as the interval. Of course, this would be 45 years elapsed, not 45 inclusive. If he reckoned his age by years beginning in the spring, coinciding with the years of the Exodus, his 85th year would have coincided with the 47th year of the Exodus reckoning (or 1399/98 B.C.); if by fall-to-fall years, it would include half of the 46th and half of the 47th; therefore this occasion could have come in either 1400 or 1399.

Following this meeting at Gilgal, the tabernacle was moved to Shiloh (Joshua 18:1), where the final allotment of territory was made to the remaining tribes. There is no indication of the interval between the meeting at Gilgal and the one at Shiloh. The tabernacle was moved not earlier than 1400, and presumably not much later than 1399.

Joshua’s Death and the Ensuing Apostasy.—The next chronological item, an uncertain one, is the death of Joshua at the age of 110 (Joshua 24:29). It was “many days” after the end of the war that Joshua called the people together, and told them, “Behold, I have divided unto you … an inheritance for your tribes” (Joshua 23:4), and bade them farewell with, “Behold, this day I am going the way of all the earth” (verse 14). If this was soon after the division of the land at Gilgal and Shiloh, then Joshua was nearing 110 years of age at the time Caleb was 85, was about 65 when he acted as one of the 12 spies, and was a centenarian when he led the Israelites into Canaan. If, however, he was about Caleb’s age, his death took place 25 years after the end of the war. Thus the interval between the entry into Canaan and the first judge has a wide margin of uncertainty. In either case, we must allow a considerable period after Joshua’s death before the first judges, for it was after the apostasy of the generation that succeeded Joshua that the oppressions began, and the judges were raised up to deliver the Israelites. Apostasy was appallingly rapid (see on Judges 18:30 for the conditions in the lifetime of a possible grandson of Moses), but it must have taken at least several decades for the younger contemporaries of Joshua to die out. It was after “all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel,” that “the children of Israel did evil” and forsook the God of their fathers, so that the Lord delivered them into the hands of their enemies, and then raised up judges who repeatedly delivered them and sought to bring them back to the worship of God (see chapter 2:10-16).

II. The Period of the Judges

The chronology of the period of the judges presents problems if we attempt to place all the events in consecutive order. There is no need to doubt the figures, but the problem of harmonizing them with the events described in the end of the book of Joshua and the beginning of 1 Samuel has given rise to varying opinions and solutions. The account is so abbreviated that we do not have all the facts concerning the relationship between the various judges and the intervening periods of oppression. The fact that the story of one judge is told without a hint that there was any other judge in another part of the land at the same time does not rule out the possibility of contemporary judges.

The Data of the Book of Judges.—The writer of Judges did not set out to give all the details of the history of his period; his purpose was to show how the Israelites repeatedly forsook God and fell a prey to their enemies, were in turn rescued and given another opportunity. Whether these events happened successively or contemporaneously in different sections of the country had no bearing on the lesson of the book, and so the writer did not supply all the details of the timing, although he preserved carefully the number of years of each judge and of the periods of oppression. They are given as follows:

Joshua and the elders that outlived him





Oppression under Cushan–rishathaim 8 3:8
Deliverance by Othniel; the land rests 40 3:11
Oppression by Eglon of Moab 18 3:14
Deliverance by Ehud; the land rests 80 3:30
Oppression by Jabin and the Canaanites 20 4:3
Deliverance by Deborah; the land rests 40 5:31
Oppression by the Midianites 7 6:1
Deliverance by Gideon; the land rests 40 8:28
Abimelech reigns over Israel 3 9:22
Tola judges Israel 23 10:2
Jair judges Israel 22 10:3
Oppression by the Ammonites (and Philistines) 18 10:7, 8
Deliverance by Jephthah 6 12:7
Ibzan judges Israel 7 12:9
Elon judges Israel 10 12:11
Abdon judges Israel 8 12:14
Oppression by the Philistines 40 13:1
Samson judges Israel 20 15:20
410 plus x

The x years represent the unknown period, probably several decades, during which the Israelites “served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that outlived Joshua” (Judges 2:7), and then apostatized. Even leaving out the x years preceding the first oppression, we have a total of 319 years to the end of the 18 years of Ammonite invasion, which Jephthah spoke of as 300 years. This 319 plus x may well be 350 or more; and the total of 410 plus x for the whole sum of the years of the judges and the intervening periods of oppression is probably more than 450. Evidently not all these periods were successive.

Some Periods Overlap.—The record clearly indicates an overlapping of some of these judgeships and servitudes. The 20 years of Samson fell within the 40 years of Philistine oppression, for “he judged Israel in the days of the Philistines twenty years” (Judges 15:20). Further, in connection with the statement that the Philistines oppressed Israel 40 years (chapter 13:1), it was foretold that Samson would only “begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines” (verse 5). If, then, Samson’s 20 years are part of the 40, the total is reduced from 410 plus x to 390 plus x.

But the 40 years of the Philistines oppression seem to have been partly contemporaneous with the 18 years of servitude to the Ammonites, for it is said that “the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel, and he sold them into the hands of the Philistines, and into the hands of the children of Ammon” (chapter 10:7). Then follows the description of the Ammonite oppression and the deliverance by Jephthah (chapters 10:8 to 12:7), and after this an enumeration of the three judges who succeeded him, evidently unimportant characters of whom little more is recorded than the duration of their judgeships, totaling 25 years (chapter 12:8-15); then chapter 13 returns to the 40-year Philistine oppression to recount the life of Samson, and how he “began” to deliver Israel from the Philistines. Thus the Scripture indicates that the Philistine oppression and the Ammonite oppression were contemporaneous. The Ammonites, inhabiting the Transjordan plateau toward the edge of the desert, swept over the eastern tribes of Israel (for Gad, Reuben, and half the tribe of Manasseh lived east of the Jordan), and continued their pillaging for 18 years. Finally they invaded the territory of Judah, Benjamin, and Ephraim west of the Jordan (chapter 10:8, 9). The Israelites, thus harassed from the east, had no opportunity to employ their united strength to defend the west, where the Philistines on the southern portion of the seacoast raided Judah and Dan and threatened the western tribes.

Other Periods Probably Contemporaneous.—It is obvious that if some of these periods in the book of Judges were contemporaneous, as the record seems to indicate, it is likely that some of the others also were simultaneous, occurring in different parts of the land, even though we cannot tell which periods overlap and for how long. This seems all the more likely when we notice that these judges were widely scattered geographically: Othniel was from Judah, Deborah from Ephraim, Barak from Naphtali, Ehud from Benjamin, Gideon from Manasseh, Tola from Issachar, Jair and Jephthah from Gilead, east of the Jordan, Ibzan and Elon from Zebulum, Abdon from Ephraim, and Samson from Dan. During this period the tribes were living in widely scattered territories largely in mountainous terrain separated by areas held by Canaanites, whom they had never succeeded in driving completely from the land, and whose fortresses held the main routes of communication in the lowlands. It is doubtful that any of these judges ruled over any large portion of the Israelites. The record reveals that even in a time of crisis, when a deliverer was fighting to repel the oppressors, not all the tribes rallied to drive out the invaders. The reason may be that not all the tribes were oppressed at any one time, and that consequently the deliverers were more or less local.

Jephthah’s 300 Years.—Further, if Jephthah’s 300-year estimate of the time of the Hebrew occupation of the towns of the Amorites is anywhere near exact, there was necessarily an overlapping of the periods up to his time, for the total, excluding the time of Joshua and the surviving elders is 319 years.

It is not necessary to assume that Jephthah’s 300-year statement was exact, since he was at the time contending with the Ammonite invaders, and in the heat of controversy he doubtless did not stop to look up any records or consult a tribal “rememberer” to get the exact figure, but used a round number. This number was likely rounded off to the hundred above the actual total rather than to less than the exact interval. But it is also possible that the elapsed time was exactly 300 years when Jephthah spoke. If it was, we have the exact date, in relation to the Exodus, since the towns of Heshbon were taken from Sihon, king of the Amorites, in the 40th year of the Exodus (1406/05 B.C., according to the dating of the Exodus utilized for this commentary). Then 300 years, inclusive, from the acquisition of that territory would be 1107/06 B.C.

The Later Judges.—If the 40 years of Philistine oppression ended with the battle of Ebenezer (1 Samuel 7:5-14), the most likely event to terminate this period, then the judgeships following Jephthah must have overlapped also, probably more extensively than those before him. Samson would be a contemporary of Jephthah; and Eli, who died after 40 years as judge (see chapter 4:4, 11, 18), 20 years before the battle of Ebenezer (see chapters 6:1; 7:1, 2, 11-14), must have been older than either Jephthah or Samson. If the ark was in Shiloh some 300 years, reckoned from a point 6 or 7 years later than the beginning of Jephthah’s 300 years, and was taken from Shiloh to the battle in which it was captured by the Philistines, then the death of Eli following this battle took place about the time of Jephthah. The ark, returned by the Philistines, was placed at Kirjath-jearim, where it had been 20 years at the time the Israelites won their decisive victory over the Philistines at Ebenezer.

It was at that time that Samuel was made judge (chapter 7:6, 15-17). We are not told how long Samuel’s judgeship lasted, but we do know that it closed the whole period of the judges. Some take it as ending with the coronation of Saul, when the monarchy replaced the theocratic government of the judges, but some extend it to Samuel’s death, since he continued to function as a judge (chapter 7:15) although the judge was no longer the chief magistrate after the monarchy was set up. Nothing is recorded of Samuel’s age, except that he was born when Eli was no longer young; that he received his first message from God while he was still a boy; that he was old enough to be known as a prophet before Eli’s death (chapter 3), though he was apparently young enough to be passed by as judge until 20 years later (chapter 7). A fragmentary manuscript from a Dead Sea cave, containing parts of 1 Samuel 1 and 2, gives Eli’s age as 90, not at his death (as in LXX), but at some time after Samuel was placed in his care (see on chapter 2:22). If Samuel was about 3 when brought to Eli (see 1 Samuel 1:24), he was at least 11 when Eli died at 98. This fragment may preserve an original figure, later lost, but we cannot build on this assumption. Samuel was judge long enough to be an old man who had already relinquished at least part of his work to his sons before the Israelites demanded a king (chapter 8:1-5). If he lived through the greater part of Saul’s reign, as the record indicates, he must have been very old when he died. Samuel is the link between the period of the judges and that of the monarchy. Thus it would seem that the first part of the book of 1 Samuel covers a period contemporary with the last part of the book of Judges, presumably chapters 10-16.

The Judges and the 480 Years.—With such overlaps as are here indicated, it is entirely possible that the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, the conquest of Canaan, the period of the elders that outlived Joshua, the subsequent apostasy, the various judgeships, some of them contemporaneous, including the judgeship of Samuel, and the reigns of Saul and David could have occurred within the space of 480 years, as indicated in 1 Kings 6:1. There is no way of computing exactly the length of the period of the judges, or the specific overlaps, but a tentative outline of the period that fits this chronology has been included in the article on history. This outline is intended only as an approximation of what may have happened, but it demonstrates that the figures in the book of Judges can be reasonably interpreted by means of overlaps that agree with the historical situation and with the interpretation of the 480 years as the exact length of the period from the Exodus to and including the 4th year of Solomon.

Those who follow the longer chronology of the judges, and make all the periods consecutive throughout, interpret the 480 years as the sum of the actual judgeships, excluding the periods of oppression or usurpation, and take the total period as being more than 500 years. This results in an earlier date for the Exodus. One system of dating formerly employed by some “fundamentalist” writers, with the successive periods of the book of Judges, arrives at a total of 594 years from the Exodus to the 4th year of Solomon by interpreting the 480 years as the total number of the “years of the Theocracy” during which Israel was really under God-appointed government, not counting the six periods of servitude and the three years of the usurpation of Abimelech. By overlapping Eli with the Philistine servitude and Samuel with Eli, it arrives at the x years of Joshua’s successors as 13 years by subtraction. This scheme, which requires assumptions concerning which there is no evidence, to say the least, has never gained standing in the world of Biblical scholarship.

The marginal dates that have appeared in many editions of the KJV since 1701, derived from the chronology of Archbishop Ussher, first published in 1650, place the Exodus in 1491 B.C.; the first judge, Othniel, in 1406; and the beginning of Saul’s reign in 1095. This dating is arrived at by placing the 4th year of Solomon, as the 480th from the Exodus, in 1012 B.C. This B.C. date is based on interregna between the kings, also on Ussher’s conjecture that the completion of the Temple (1004) was 1,000 years before the birth of Christ.

Many scholars regard the 480 years as merely meaning 12 generations, estimated at 40 years each. This would be equivalent to throwing out the number 480 entirely, for an estimate of 12 generations cannot be a basis for a specific time statement of an exact “480th year.”

If “in the 480th year” is not meant to refer to a specific year, but to a general approximation, how are we to know that “in the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat,” or “in the seventh year of Artaxerxes,” or “in the eleventh year of Zedekiah” is anything but an estimate? When the Bible gives exact statements of time, and on these statements can be built a detailed chronology without alteration, there seems to be no adequate reason for assuming that they are not based on exact data. It is admitted that Bible writers may use round numbers at times, especially in the case of the number 40, but such a possibility should not weigh against actual figures that harmonize with other figures to make exact synchronisms as they stand, nor is there any reason to doubt that when a writer puts an event in a certain specific year he means that very year.

It is true that many writers who do not accept the Bible as accurate history revise the figures wherever they please, to suit their own theories. Some of them reduce the time of the judges to even shorter periods by regarding 1 Kings 6:1 as an error; those who place the Exodus in the 12th or 13th century must of necessity do this. But this is not constructing a chronology based on the Bible data; it is a revision of the Bible records according to each individual’s theory. Since this commentary is intended to explain the Bible, not to revise it, any chronology incorporated into it must be based on the Biblical figures; if they cannot be explained consistently, it must be admitted that we do not have a complete Biblical chronology. Therefore the 480 years are to be included in the picture.

This commentary employs the simpler interpretation of the so-called 480 years, inclusive (the phrase is not “480 years,” but “the 480th year”), as literal and exact, ending with the 4th year of Solomon as the 480th year. The overlapping of the judges, which this reckoning requires, is accepted as a reasonable interpretation of the data, but no attempt is made to be dogmatic on the details of the judgeships. The outline in the history article shows what may have happened, but no one knows what actually did happen, nor does that fact diminish the value of the narrative for its readers.

III. The United Hebrew Monarchy

Reference has been made to the indefiniteness of our information on the relation of the beginning of the monarchy to the time of Samuel and the earlier judges. The Old Testament contains no clear statement as to the length of Saul’s reign, but any difference of opinion on this period would affect only the date of its beginning, for its end is fixed in relation to the reigns of David and the later line of kings.

The Reign of Saul Variously Interpreted.—The only information given in the Bible as to the length of Saul’s rule (unless 1 Samuel 13:1 is so regarded) is the remark of the apostle Paul, made in an impromptu sermon at Antioch: “And afterward they desired a king: and God gave unto them Saul the son of Cis, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, by the space of forty years” (Acts 13:21).

Paul had just referred to two other time periods: (1) God’s deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt, when “about the time of forty years suffered he their manners in the wilderness,” and (2) another period of “about the space of four hundred and fifty years” (verses 18, 20; italics supplied).

Some have concluded that, since Paul was thinking in round numbers, as indicated by the qualifying word “about” with these two numerals, he merely omitted to repeat the modifier with the third numeral; that he would naturally use round numbers in an oral summary, for he was not writing a history, or even consulting records for these figures. Even his phrase, “about the time of forty years” in the wilderness is an example of 40 used as a round number, since the duration of the Israelites’ wandering in the wilderness, after rebelling against God at Kadesh and being turned back, was actually only 38 years.

On the other hand, the fact that the third number, unlike the first two, is not qualified by “about” leads some to think that it was meant to be an exact number in contrast with the others. If so, what period did Paul intend it to cover? Some think that it extends to the beginning of David’s rule over both Judah and Israel, more than 7 years after the death of Saul, and hence that the personal reign of Saul, in distinction from that of his house, was less than 40 years. The question as to whether Paul meant to indicate that Saul occupied the throne exactly 40 years cannot be settled, and it does not affect the historical accuracy of the account.

The Ages of Saul, David, and Jonathan.—The only reason for concern with the exact length of Saul’s reign is that a total of 40 years involves apparent difficulties as to the comparative ages of Saul, David, and Jonathan, difficulties that would be avoided if 40 were a round number for a considerably shorter period. If 40 is exact, then David was born a decade after Saul came to the throne, for at the age of 30 he succeeded Saul (2 Samuel 5:4). Then, if he slew Goliath when he was as young as 18—and he could hardly have been much younger—this event took place after Saul had reigned nearly 30 years. If the battle of Michmash, in which Jonathan took a prominent part (1 Samuel 13, 14), occurred in the second year of Saul’s reign (see on 1 Samuel 13:1), as the KJV has been taken to imply (although it does not actually so state), Jonathan was presumably 18 or 20 years old about a decade before David was born. This makes the close and brotherly friendship between an 18-year-old David and a 46-year-old Jonathan seem entirely out of harmony with the narrative. Also, on this basis, Jonathan’s only son, Mephibosheth (or Merib-baal; 1 Chronicles 8:34; 9:40), who was 5 years old at the time of the battle in which Saul and his sons were killed (2 Samuel 4:4; cf. 1 Samuel 29:1, 11; 31:1, 2), would have been born when Jonathan was 53. This would be rather late for Saul’s heir apparent to be providing for the succession of his line. And if Jonathan was a grown man so soon after his father’s accession, Saul must have been between 75 and 80, at the very least, when he was killed in battle. None of this is impossible, but it would seem to be so unusual as to lend weight to one of two views: (1) that the figure 40 does not refer to the exact length of the personal reign of Saul, or (2) that he was quite young at the time of his accession and that the battle of Michmash must have come considerably later than the second year of his reign. Either of these two explanations would allow Saul and Jonathan to be much younger, thus eliminating the apparent difficulties in their ages.

Various Explanations of Saul’s Reign.—If Saul’s reign was less than 40 years, the question arises as to what evidence there may be for its length. Extending the 40 years to cover the time up to the coronation of David over all twelve tribes would subtract 7 1/2 years at the most. This is possible, but of course unproved.

In one instance Josephus attributes to Saul a reign of only 20 years (Antiquities x. 8. 4). In another instance he has Saul reign 18 years during Samuel’s lifetime and 22 years after the death of the prophet (Antiquities vi. 14. 9). This latter statement shows variants in the manuscripts, two of the Latin texts reading 2 for 22, thus making this statement conform to the other. It has been suggested that the number 22 represents an emendation by a Christian copyist to make it conform to Paul’s statement, but this is of course merely a conjecture. There seems to be no textual question about the statement from Antiquities x. 8. 4.

Now, if Saul reigned only 20 years, then David, who was 30 when he came to the throne (2 Samuel 5:4), would have been 10 years old at Saul’s accession. There is general agreement that David was only about 18 when he slew Goliath; he was young enough to be left at home with the sheep instead of being in the army (1 Samuel 17:13, 14, 28, 33, 42), yet old enough to fight wild beasts (verses 34-37), and is referred to as a valiant man of war (chapter 16:18). Consequently there would be only about eight years between the beginning of Saul’s reign and the battle with Goliath. In that case Samuel could have died about 18 years after Saul’s accession. Some regard eight years as a rather short period for the events related before the Goliath incident, and similarly object to only two years between the death of Samuel and that of Saul, since David spent a year and four months of that time among the Philistines. But the interval after Samuel’s death could hardly have been much more than two years, unless 1 Samuel 25 and 26 have omitted many events. The only incidents recorded between Samuel’s death and David’s flight to Philistia are his journey to Paran, his encounter with Nabal, and his second encounter with Saul. These incidents would not seem to require more than eight months.

If, as some think, 1 Samuel 13:1 gives the incomplete remnant of a statement of the length of Saul’s reign, and the original numeral ended in two (“… and two years he reigned”; see on 1 Samuel 13:1), it could have been 22, although 32 would seem more likely as an equivalent of the round number 40. In view of the aforementioned observations, what is to be done with Paul’s statement assigning 40 years to the reign of Saul? Either this is a round number or it is not. If it is, the relative ages of David, Saul, and Jonathan can be made to appear more reasonable, but any attempt to arrive at an exact figure for the reign will be only speculation. If it is not a round number, the period is 40 years, and the unnatural disparity of ages must be accepted if we are to construct this chronology on the Bible data.

Later Chronology Not Affected.—In either case, any difference of opinion on the duration of Saul’s reign has no effect on the date of the end of that reign or on the dates of the reigns of David and the later kings. Regardless of which scheme of chronology is preferred for the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, the B.C. dating pivots on synchronisms in the latter part of the period; consequently shortening Saul’s reign would merely move his accession later, and allow that much more time for the judges.

The Reign of David.—There is no question about the length of David’s reign. Here 40 is obviously not a round number, for it is the sum of 7 and 33, and there is actual mention of an event in the 40th year of David (1 Chronicles 26:31). The extra six months (2 Samuel 5:4, 5) offer no problem. It could be possible that David’s entire reign, from the time that he became king in Hebron until he died, was exactly 40 years and 6 months; it is not necessary, however, to suppose this, since the reigns of ancient kings were customarily counted by calendar years; and if one died at any time in his 40th calendar year, he was said to have reigned 40 years, as will be explained later. It is more likely that the six months were his “beginning of reign,” or “accession year”—the interval between his coming to the throne and the next New Year’s Day, from which his “year 1” would begin. If the Philistines went up against Saul in the plain of Jezreel at the usual season when “kings go out to battle” (1 Chronicles 20:1), Saul’s death, followed by David’s accession in Hebron, would have occurred in the spring, and David’s first full year of reign would have begun about six months later, at the beginning of the year in the autumn.

Solomon Made King by David.—At the end of David’s reign, “when David was old and full of days, he made Solomon his son king over Israel” (1 Chronicles 23:1). At this time he appointed officers for the Temple service and for the affairs of Israel “in all the business of the Lord, and in the service of the king” (chapter 26:30). This seems to have taken place “in the fortieth year of the reign of David” (verse 31). In the last chapter of the book the reign is summarized as 7 years in Hebron and 33 in Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 29:27). This would imply that Solomon’s joint reign with his father continued for part of the 40th year, for if it had extended into the 41st, David would have been reckoned as reigning 41 years. This 40th year must have been counted also as Solomon’s “accession year,” or “year of the beginning of the reign.”

Solomon’s Years From Autumn to Autumn.— The reign of Solomon furnishes an important clue to the reckoning of the regnal years, that is, the years of the king’s reign, as beginning in the autumn, in his day at least. It is explained in the article on the Hebrew calendar that there were two beginnings of the year: The religious year began with the 1st of Abib (Nisan), in the spring, and the civil year with the 1st of Ethanim (Tishri), (See note) in the autumn. Since the months were always numbered from the spring, the civil fall-to-fall year began with the 7th month, with the numbers running 7–12 followed by 1–6. Thus the first month came after the middle of the civil year.

NOTE: Rather than confuse the reader with alternate names, the months will be referred to hereafter by the more familiar (and still used) postexilic names—Nisan for the 1st month, Tishri the 7th, etc., even though it is recognized that these were not used until after the period of the kings ended.

The Temple was begun in the 2nd month of the 4th year of Solomon, and was completed in the 8th month of the 11th year (1 Kings 6:1, 37, 38). In view of the well-attested fact that the ancients were in the habit of reckoning inclusively, it seems surprising that an interval from the 4th to the 11th year should not be expressed here as 8 years. But since the beginning and ending dates are given, it is to be presumed that the reckoning was not by complete regnal years, but by anniversary years, that is, years reckoned from the date of the event that marks the beginning, the 2nd day of the 2nd month. If the 7 years are reckoned inclusively from the 2nd month of the 4th year of the reign, the completion of the Temple falls in the 11th year of the reign if the regnal years begin in the fall, but not if they begin in the spring. This has been understood as evidence that Solomon’s regnal years were reckoned from the autumn, presumably Tishri 1.

Solomon’s Fourth Year Used as Basis for Exodus Date.—This date of the beginning of the building of the Temple on “the second day of the second month, in the fourth year of his reign” (2 Chronicles 3:2) is important in relation to the time of the Exodus. According to the chronology of the kings employed in this commentary, the 40th and last year of Solomon’s reign was 931/30 B.C., counted from autumn to autumn; therefore the 4th year of the reign, 36 years earlier, was 967/66 B.C., also beginning presumably with the autumn New Year’s Day, the first of Tishri, the 7th month. Since the Hebrews always numbered their months from the spring, even though the civil year began in the fall, the 2nd month, Zif, came in the spring of 966 B.C.

But this event in the month of Zif is also dated “in the four hundred and eightieth year after the children of Israel were come out of the land of Egypt” (1 Kings 6:1). Thus we have a synchronism between two dating scales—the regnal years of Solomon and the years of the Exodus era. Since the deliverance from Egypt took place in the middle of the 1st month in the 1st year of the Exodus reckoning, that departure can be placed 479 years earlier than the 1st month of the 480th year, that is, in the spring of 1445 B.C. Thus Solomon’s reign, as dated from the later reigns of the divided kingdom, gives us in turn a date for the Exodus if we accept the 480th year as an exact figure. This is the basis for the Exodus date used in Volume I of this commentary.

IV. Methods and Principles of Reckoning

Before considering the period of the divided kingdom, which followed the death of Solomon, it may be well to pause for an explanation of the methods used in reckoning ancient reigns, and of certain terms and principles that will be used in the later discussion of the reigns of Israel and Judah.

Chronology Built Upon Synchronisms.—The chronological data in the books of Kings are given mostly in two types of time statements aligning the reigns of the two neighboring kingdoms of Judah and Israel, that is, (1) accession synchronisms, or statements dating the accession of one king in a certain regnal year of the contemporary ruler in the other nation; and (2) the lengths of the reigns. A typical example is seen in the record of the accession of Amaziah of Judah during the reign of Jehoash (Joash) of Israel: “In the second year of Joash … king of Israel reigned Amaziah … king of Judah. He was twenty and five years old when he began to reign, and reigned twenty and nine years in Jerusalem” (2 Kings 14:1, 2).

We are told later that Amaziah outlived Jehoash 15 years (verse 17); and then comes the next accession synchronism, the statement of the accession of the next king of Israel, Jeroboam II, during Amaziah’s reign: “In the fifteenth year of Amaziah … king of Judah Jeroboam … king of Israel began to reign in Samaria, and reigned forty and one years” (verse 23).

Similar synchronisms are given for the other kings. Since the accession of each is synchronized with a regnal year of his contemporary neighbor, and the length of each reign is given, it is possible to construct an outline of the chronology of the two kingdoms based on these interlocking synchronisms. A graphic method of constructing such chronologies is to start with two parallel scales of years in diagrammatic form, and to lay out on them the two series of reigns of Israel and Judah so that (1) the accession of each king is synchronized with the corresponding year of the contemporary ruler of the other kingdom, and (2) the recorded length of each reign is allowed for. If the pattern is correct, the end of each reign and the beginning of the next will come in the prescribed year of the reign of the other kingdom as recorded in the Bible.

Sometimes the figures in Kings can be interpreted in only one way; then the alignment is easy to determine. But in other instances more than one interpretation may be made, and various possibilities must be tried out. To begin with, this is largely a trial-and-error procedure. Where the lengths of the reigns do not fit the scheme, many have concluded that the text was erroneous. But it must be considered that there is more than one method of reckoning involved, that Israel and Judah did not necessarily use the same systems. In order to work intelligently it is necessary first to understand the methods and principles of reckoning that may have been used by the writer of Kings or in his sources. To illustrate from the time statements just quoted, relating to Amaziah and his contemporaries, the following questions must be answered—and they are not so simple as they may seem at first glance.

How did the writer count the 15 years that Amaziah lived after the death of Joash? (See next section.)

If Amaziah reigned 29 years, in what year of his reign did he die?

What is meant by his 15th year?

When does a king’s “first year” begin?

Did the 15th year of Amaziah in Judah exactly coincide with the Israelite year in which Jeroboam II came to the throne?

The task of finding the answers to such questions is complicated by the fact that Judah and Israel did not employ identical systems of reckoning. The general principles of ancient reckoning that explain these questions will be found in the following paragraphs.

Years Counted by Inclusive Reckoning.—As already pointed out, the common mode of counting employed in the Bible seems to have been inclusive reckoning, that is, counting both the first and the last unit of time in calculating an interval. This method was also used generally by other ancient nations, as is shown unmistakably by source documents. An Egyptian inscription recording the death of a priestess on the 4th day of the 12th month relates that her successor arrived on the 15th, “when 12 days had elapsed.” Today, we would say that when 12 days had elapsed after the 4th, the date would be the 16th. The Greeks followed the same inclusive method. They called the Olympiad, or the four-year period between the Olympic Games, a pentaeteris (five-year period), and used other similar numerical terms. The Romans also, in common usage, reckoned inclusively; they had nundinae (from nonus, ninth), or market days, every ninth day, inclusive, actually every eight days, as indicated on ancient calendars by the letters, A through H.

Of course mathematicians and astronomers were aware that the reckoning was mathematically inexact, but it persisted in common parlance, as it has even down to the present day in the Orient. Modern vestiges in the West are the phrase “eight days,” meaning a week in some European languages; the Catholic term “octave” of a festival, meaning the day coming one week after the holy day; the musical intervals, such as octave, third, fifth, etc.; and even the medical term “tertian fever,” meaning a fever recurring every other day.

The clearest Biblical demonstration of inclusive counting is in the New Testament (see on Acts 10:30 where a period of 72 hours is reckoned as “four days ago,” not “three”), but an Old Testament example is in 2 Kings 18:9, 10. The siege of Samaria lasted from the fourth to the sixth year of Hezekiah, which is equated with the seventh to the ninth year of Hoshea, and yet the city is said to have been taken “at the end of three years.” In modern usage we would say two years, by straight subtraction. Obviously the Bible writer reckoned inclusively (years four, five, and six totaling three years).

A Hebrew boy was circumcised when “eight days old” (Genesis 17:12), that is, “in the eighth day” (Levites 12:3). Similarly Luke speaks of circumcision “on the eighth day” or “when eight days were accomplished” (Luke 1:59; 2:21). Evidently “when eight days were accomplished” (or “at the end of eight days,” RSV) does not mean eight full days from the date of birth, but eight inclusive.

Jeroboam II of Israel succeeded his father Jehoash in the 15th year of Amaziah of Judah (2 Kings 14:23), and Amaziah “lived after the death of Jehoash … of Israel fifteen years” (2 Kings 14:17). A modern reader would mentally add 15 to 15, reaching Amaziah’s 30th year, yet Amaziah reigned only 29 years (verse 2). Inclusive reckoning is again the most logical explanation, since 15 years, inclusive, from the 15th year is the 29th, in which he evidently died.

There are other examples. When, at the death of Solomon, Rehoboam was petitioned to lighten the tax burden, he told the people to depart “for three days” (1 Kings 12:5) and then return for his decision “after three days” (2 Chronicles 10:5). They came “the third day, as the king had appointed, saying, Come to me again the third day” (1 Kings 12:12; cf. 2 Chronicles 10:12). Esther asked the Jews of Shushan to fast, and by implication, to pray, for her before she went in to the king unbidden, and then she approached the king “on the third day” (Esther 4:16; 5:1). Obviously a period of “three days” ended on the third day, not after the completion of the three days, as we would reckon it.

All this serves to explain the supposed difficulty in the three days between the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. The texts are as follows:

In three days

After three days

The third day

Matthew 26:61; 27:40 27:63 (12:40, & 3 nights) 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; 27:64
Mark 14:58 (within) 8:31 9:31; 10:34
Luke 9:22; 18:33; 24:7, 21, 46
John 2:19-21

It is obvious from these texts that “in three days,” “after three days,” and even “three days and three nights” are all equivalent to “on the third day.” One writer (Matthew) uses all three phrases for the same period. The interval from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning is three days, by inclusive reckoning. Since it is clear that this mode of counting was the common practice in Bible times, and widespread in many countries, it is useless to try to understand this period as three full 24-hour days, according to the modern Western habit of counting. To do so violates both historical usage and Biblical statement, and creates a difficulty that would not exist if the ordinary usage of common speech and of examples in the Bible be taken into account.

The Length of a King’s Reign.—Just as the common mode of expression made Noah 600 years old in his 600th year, or a child 8 days old on his 8th day, and just as a period of 3 days or 3 years ends on the 3rd day or in the 3rd year, although the 3rd day or year is not yet completed, so a reign of 25 years was one that ended in the 25th year.

Asa of Judah was recorded as having ruled 41 years, yet he died in his 41st year (1 Kings 15:9, 10; 2 Chronicles 16:13); note also the end of Zedekiah’s 11-year reign in his 11th year (2 Kings 24:18; 2 Kings 25:2-7). This is also demonstrated by the Judah-Israel synchronisms, and was customary in Babylon and Egypt, as evidenced by documents brought to light by archeologists.

This was somewhat akin to inclusive reckoning, although the total of a reign was not always true inclusive reckoning. There were two methods of counting regnal years, one of which eliminated the inclusive numbering, and so kept the total number of years correct, as will be explained next. But the system of regnal years was not ordinary folk usage; it was a specialized form of calendar reckoning, primarily chronological in purpose.

Regnal Years Are Calendar Years.—When the ancients dated events in a certain year of a king’s reign, they were using a calendar dating formula. They were not concerned with how long that ruler had been on the throne when the event occurred, but they used the regnal-year number as the regular designation for that calendar year. This was the common method of identifying the year, for they had no long-term era like our B.C.-A.D. dating. Accordingly, the regnal year coincided with the civil year, beginning on New Year’s Day. The various nations had different calendars, and different New Year’s Days, but the system of counting reigns by their respective calendar years was followed in Babylonia, Assyria, and Egypt, and evidently by the Hebrews also. It seems to have been taken for granted in the ancient Near East.

Although a king’s regnal years were equated with whole calendar years, the first and last of his kingship would be incomplete unless he happened to come to the throne on New Year’s Day and die on the anniversary of his accession. Hence an adjustment had to be made, and there were two methods of making this adjustment as described in the immediately following paragraphs.

Accession-Year Method of Reckoning Reigns.—If King A died during his 35th year, and was succeeded by King B, all documents written in the first part of the year, up to A’s death, would have been dated in the such and such day and month of the 35th year of King A, but during the rest of that year they would be dated in the name of his successor, King B, and the first New Year’s Day in the new reign would usher in a new regnal year of King B. The difference in the two methods was concerned with the unexpired portion of the year between the accession and the following New Year’s Day.

In Babylonia, for example, this partial year would be called King B’s “year of beginning of reign,” now known as accession year; and the full calendar year beginning on the next New Year’s Day (Nisan 1) was numbered the first year of the reign. Thus in a series of reigns, the year 35 of King A would be followed by the year 1 of King B. This is referred to as the accession-year method of dating, because the interval from the date of accession to the end of the calendar year is called the accession year, and is not numbered. This method is also sometimes called postdating, since the beginning of what was called the first year was postdated, or postponed, until the first day of the next calendar year following the new king’s coming to the throne.

Non-Accession-Year Method of Reckoning Reigns.—By the other method, used at times in Egypt, the new king began dating documents in his “year 1” as soon as he ascended the throne, and the year beginning at the next New Year’s Day (Thoth 1 in Egypt) was called year 2. Thus the same year that began as the 35th of King A would end as year 1 of King B, and A’s year 35 would be followed by B’s year 2, not year 1. This causes an overlap of 1 year in reckoning a series of reigns. It adds an extra year for each reign, for it is the equivalent of inclusive reckoning, numbering both the first and the last year of every reign, when actually each king’s “first year” is only the unexpired part of the last year of his predecessor. Since there is no period called accession year before year 1, this is called the non-accession-year method, or antedating.

Both Systems Used in the Book of Kings.—These two methods are well documented from ancient Egyptian and Babylonian records. The use of regnal-year dating is shown in the Bible by a number of date formulas. For example, Jerusalem was besieged on the 10th of the 10th month in the 9th year of Zedekiah’s reign (2 Kings 25:1); and “in the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month, which is the nineteenth year of king Nebuchadnezzar” (verse 8), Nebuzaradan came and burned the Temple. There is no indication as to whether these time statements involve the accession-year or non-accession-year reckoning. But certain synchronisms in the book of Kings, in equating a year of a king of Judah with a certain year of a king of Israel, seem to point to the conclusion that both Hebrew kingdoms used both these systems at different times. At the division, after Solomon’s death, Judah seems to have been using the accession-year and Israel the non-accession-year method.

In order to survey briefly the differences between these two methods of regnal reckoning, let us return to the hypothetical King A, who dies in his 35th year, and is succeeded by King B. A diagram will illustrate the differing effects of the two methods on the numbering of B’s reign, on the dating of events by regnal-year numbers, and on the totals of B’s and succeeding reigns.

The six paragraphs following the diagram will summarize the results

1.  In the accession-year system (upper), after the end of the year in which one king dies and the next ascends the throne, the first New Year’s Day of the new reign ushers in the year 1 of the new king.

2.  In the non-accession-year system (lower), however, the year of death and accession is followed by year 2 of the new king, and so on.

Therefore it follows, as shown by the diagram, that:

3.  A king’s year 2, for example, will come one year later if he is using the accession-year (or postdating) system than it would if he were using the non-accession-year (or antedating) method.

4.  If two scribes, using the two differing methods, date the same event (see Event on diagram) each in his own system, the scribe who uses the accession-year system will give that year a number lower by one than will the scribe using the non-accession-year system.

5.  The number of years recorded as the length of a reign is lower by one if the accession-year method is used than if the non-accession-year method is used.

6.  In a series of reigns, the sum of the regnal years for the series if counted by the accession-year system will preserve the correct total of the years elapsed; but the non-accession-year reckoning will add an extra year for each reign and thus produce a total larger than the actual number of years elapsed.

Accession-Year and Non-Accession-Year Methods Illustrated

Accession year

The Spring and Fall New Year.—It has been explained that the Hebrews had two year reckonings, that when the numbering of the months from the spring (Nisan) was introduced in connection with the series of religious feasts at the time of the Exodus, the older reckoning of the year from the autumn (Tishri) was retained as the civil year. There is Scriptural evidence that Solomon counted the years of his reign from the autumn, and that Judah continued the practice. The record says nothing of whether the northern kingdom of Israel counted the regnal years of their kings from the spring or the fall, but there are indications, from some of the synchronisms of Kings, that Israel used the spring-beginning year.

Thus when the accession year of a king of Judah, for example, is synchronized with a certain year of a king of Israel (according to Judah’s system of numbering), that means that the last six months of Judah’s year overlaps the first six months of Israel’s corresponding year, or vice versa. This alignment differs in various reigns, according to the date of accession. If the accession occurs in the summer, the regnal year of Judah comes six months earlier than the corresponding year of Israel, because Judah’s autumn New Year’s Day (Tishri 1) arrives first in the new reign, while Israel’s next calendar year begins on Nisan 1 in the following spring. If, however, the king comes to the throne in winter, the next New Year’s Day after his accession is that of Israel, in the spring, and consequently his regnal year as reckoned in Israel begins six months ahead of the Judah fall-to-fall year.

Two Methods of Constructing a Chronology of the Kings.—One who keeps in mind these principles of ancient reckoning in connection with the chronology of this period should be able to apply these principles to the problem of working out a tentative chronology of the kings of Israel and Judah from the Biblical data. But there are differing interpretations of the synchronisms, and many difficulties. Since the accession synchronisms frequently appear to disagree with the data for the lengths of the reigns, many Old Testament scholars have come to the conclusion that these difficulties indicate that the figures in the narrative are late additions to the text, largely erroneous, and of little or no value for chronology. Actually, when their true nature is understood, they are found to be amazingly consistent.

The two lines must be adjusted by assuming either certain coregencies between father and son or certain interregna between reigns, and, in addition, by allowing for different modes of reckoning. If the reigns will not fit together unless Judah is reckoned by the accession-year method and Israel by the non-accession-year method, it can be assumed, as a working hypothesis, that this was the way in which the respective kingdoms were computing their reigns at that time. And if a whole series of reigns can be interpreted in terms of such a system, the probability of the correctness of the pattern is strengthened.

Interregna Versus Coregencies.—The alternate methods of reconciling the difference between the total lengths of the reigns of Israel and Judah have resulted in two types of chronological schemes of the period. If, when the synchronisms require either a co regency in one line or an interregnum in the other, the former is more often used, the result is a shorter chronology of the period; whereas if the latter is more often used, there is a longer chronology. The merits of either method must be determined by the degree to which the scheme fits all known facts, Biblical and non-Biblical. Even between points where a certain series of reigns began together and ended together in both kingdoms (as the period from the death of Solomon, when the kingdoms were first divided, to the assassination of the rulers of both Israel and Judah by Jehu), the recorded totals of the reigns do not agree. Moreover, in the period after Jehu the inequality grows greater until, at the end of the northern kingdom, the sum of the years recorded for the kings of Israel is 20 years less than the sum of the years of Judah for the same period. In the light of this sort of discrepancy, there is no way of reconciling the lengths of the regnal lines of the two kingdoms unless we assume that either the apparently longer line included overlapped reigns, or the shorter line had gaps between reigns.

If the first is true, there must have been occasions when the heir was placed on the throne with his father before the latter’s death, and the total years recorded for the son included the years of his co regency as well as his sole reign. In that case the total lengths of all the reigns would exceed by some years the total time elapsed.

If the second is true, then it becomes obvious that in the shorter line there must have been an occasional interregnum when there was, for one reason or another, a disturbance at the death of a king that prevented the immediate accession of a successor. If such periods without a king were disregarded in the figures given for the successive reigns, the total time elapsed would have been longer than the records show.

We must assume one or the other; either the longer line must be shortened by coregencies, or the shorter line must be lengthened by interregna, or possibly both procedures are to be used.

As has been pointed out, the essential chronological data are given for each king, generally in the account of the beginning of his reign; and the data are of two kinds:

(1)  the accession synchronism that dates the beginning of the reign in a certain year of the ruler of the other Hebrew kingdom (“Ahaziah the son of Ahab began to reign over Israel in Samaria the seventeenth year of Jehoshaphat king of Judah”; 1 Kings 22:51), and

(2)  the length of the reign (“[Ahaziah] reigned two years over Israel”).

It has been noted that there is an apparent difference of one year between the accession-year reckoning (or postdating) and the non-accession-year reckoning (or antedating). Whenever, in addition to this difference, any of these time statements appear to conflict with the pattern of the other reigns, the explanation may be that there was either a co regency or an interregnum not mentioned in the narrative. Unless there is some hint in the text as to the political situation at the time, there is no inherent reason for supposing that one occurred rather than the other. The solution that brings harmony between the synchronisms in the Bible record must be accepted. This sort of adjustment does not discard the Biblical data; it merely explains them by assuming that the record did not give all the details, some of which must be inferred from the figures given. Consequently, opinions differ as to which solution is more likely.

The choice between interregna and coregencies, that is, between intervening gaps and overlapped reigns, results in assigning a longer or a shorter total period to the two Hebrew kingdoms. Since there is virtually no disagreement as to the end of the period in Nebuchadnezzar’s day, the two methods produce an earlier or later B.C. date for the beginning point (the death of Solomon).

Older Chronologies Employ Interregna.—Older chronologists have preferred to employ interregna; by assuming gaps in the shorter regnal line they have lengthened it to match the longer one. The actual occurrence of interregna is within the bounds of possibility, especially in cases where the end of a dynasty might leave a gap without an immediate successor. However, interregna are much less likely to occur than coregencies; for in any disturbance that breaks the hereditary line it is probable that some one strong leader can make himself master of the situation. Even if there were a delay in the transfer of power, the successful contender would likely claim the whole period for his own reign. (See note) On the other hand, coregencies represent an established practice, attested in the history of several ancient nations.

NOTE: The two interregna in Ptolemy’s Canon are irrelevant because they were not true interregna, but belonged to Sennacherib’s reign.

The typical chronology of the Hebrew kings based on interregna, and thus lengthened by gaps, is the scheme of B.C. dates (derived from Ussher) incorporated into the Bible marginal notes in many editions of the KJV; and there are one or two other dating systems that are somewhat similar to it. Ussher, writing 300 years ago, did not have access to source documents for the chronology of the period. He had Ptolemy’s Canon, but departed from it where he preferred the dates of the Greek historians of the classical period. Aside from his arbitrary placing of the completion of Solomon’s Temple 1,000 years before the birth of Christ (he dates it 1004 B.C.; for his 4004 B.C. date for creation), his chronology of the Hebrew kings was determined largely by dead reckoning. In his day the Assyrian records were unknown.

Those who through the years came to accept his system of Biblical chronology were concerned only with the internal harmony of the data for the two Hebrew kingdoms. Ussher’s scheme of dating came to be known as the “Biblical” chronology, and many a reader of the English Bible regarded the marginal dates as almost a part of the inspired text.

Later Use of Coregencies.—Then came the unearthing and deciphering of the cuneiform sources, a wealth of Babylonian and Assyrian documents furnishing chronological data contemporary with the Hebrew monarchies. It became evident that the new data did not harmonize with the older chronology based on interregna, which would put the Hebrew kings earlier than their Assyrian contemporaries. The discovery of the Assyrian limmu (eponym) lists resulted in a division of opinion. Some earlier authorities held that the Assyrian records, admittedly incomplete for many periods, had gaps in the chronological lists that affected the synchronism of Assyrian with Hebrew rulers; some said that both the Assyrian and the “Biblical” chronology were correct, but that the names in the Assyrian records translated as those of Biblical kings, such as Ahab and Menahem, were mistaken identifications.

NOTE: Jules Oppert (1868) and others postulated the Assyrian gaps; George Smith (1875) divorced the Hebrew kings from the Assyrian annals.

On the other hand, attempts were made to work out a Hebrew chronology by using coregencies instead of interregna, thus shortening the longer line of reigns. This shorter chronology could incorporate the new Assyrian dating, which had become generally accepted as astronomically fixed by an eclipse, and could be fitted in with the beginning of Ptolemy’s Canon in the closing years of the Assyrian Empire. Many Old Testament scholars gave up the task as hopeless and declared the Biblical data erroneous. They despaired of the internal harmony of the accession synchronisms and lengths of the reigns as recorded in the Bible, and also of the external harmony of those data with the cuneiform documents.

Later writers attempted by various methods to construct a consistent Biblical chronology that could be aligned with the accepted dating of the cuneiform documents. Some discarded the Biblical accession synchronisms and tried to keep the figures for the lengths of the reigns; others did the opposite. Since most of them have freely revised the Biblical figures in order to harmonize them, on the assumption that the numbers have been altered considerably in transmission, their results have consequently varied according to their conjectural revisions.

Tentative Chronology Used in This Commentary. For the purpose of dating the Hebrew kings in this commentary, a chronology has been employed that offers the prospect of assigning at least tentative B.C. dates to all the reigns. In the system adopted there is not only an internal harmony of nearly all the Biblical time statements—both accession synchronisms and figures for the lengths of the reigns—but also an external harmony between the Biblical and the Assyrian chronology. However, any discussion of the B.C. dating of these reigns will be deferred until after the explanation of the four working hypotheses on which this dating is based—hypotheses derived from experimental alignment of the reigns of the two kingdoms of Judah and Israel.

Most of the basic chronological principles of regnal reckoning used in these hypotheses have been used for decades and employed in various combinations by different writers. But no one has yet succeeded in combining them in such a manner as to construct a consistent chronological scheme of the kings that will be in complete harmony with all the Biblical figures and the Assyrian data as well. Therefore most writers have revised the accession synchronisms or the lengths of the reigns or both.

The value of the particular combination of these principles in the four fundamental hypotheses enumerated below is that with them as a basis a system of dating the reigns can be constructed that succeeds in harmonizing nearly all of the Biblical texts, a result not achieved by any other scheme of chronology of the kings.

The scheme of regnal dating used herein combines two very similar systems, those of two contributors to this commentary, Edwin R. Thiele and Siegfried H. Horn.

Note: Edwin R. Thiele, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings (1st ed., Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951; 2nd ed., Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1965), an expansion of his article “The Chronology of the Kings of Judah and Israel,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies, III (1944), 137-186, and based on his doctoral dissertation); Siegfried H. Horn, “The Chronology of Hezekiah’s Reign,” Andrews University Seminary Studies II (1964) 40-52.

Horn, whose chronology is published only in part, worked out the greater portion of his scheme independently of Thiele but came to the same conclusions on many points and adopted the latter’ findings on a number of others, though differing in his interpretation of the period of Hezekiah (Horn, op. cit., pp. 45-49; cf. his chart, facing p. 40, with Thiele’s chart in his 2nd ed., p. 149).

It incorporates the basic principles and hypotheses used by both of them and agrees with most of Thiele’s dates, but it follows Horn’s chronology more closely in the one period on which they do not agree, that is, in the proposed solution of the problem of harmonizing certain apparently discrepant synchronisms connected with the reign of Hezekiah.

Since one of these writers finds it necessary to hypothesize a late editorial readjustment of several synchronisms, and the other has to leave one synchronism as a yet-unsolved problem, it can be said that neither has yet constructed an entire system of Hebrew regnal chronology that utilizes every time statement exactly as it appears in the books of Kings. Yet these two men have come nearer to doing so than any other scholar.

Thus for all practical purposes a system of Hebrew regnal dates can be arrived at that is in harmony with the time statements of the books of Kings (the one exception having been noted above), and also with the chronology of the cuneiform sources. This is possible if the Judah-Israel accession synchronisms and the recorded lengths of the reigns are interpreted according to the following four hypotheses (see Thiele’s chapter 2 and Horn’s article, pages 42, 43; see note above):

1.  That in the kingdom of Judah the years of a king’s reign were reckoned as beginning in the autumn (presumably by the civil calendar year beginning with Tishri 1), while at the same time in the kingdom of Israel the regnal years were reckoned by a spring-to-spring calendar (probably beginning with Nisan 1).

2.  That Israel began to use the non-accession-year system at the division of the kingdom, after the death of Solomon, but later changed to the accession-year system; that Judah, on the other hand, began with the accession-year system, changed over to the non-accession-year system, and later returned to its original method.

3.  That the scribes of both kingdoms, recording the accession of their own kings as taking place in certain years of the rulers of the other kingdom, seem to have each numbered the years of the neighboring kings by the system of reckoning (accession-year or non-accession-year) that was used in his own country rather than that used in the neighboring kingdom.

4.  That in both kingdoms coregencies between father and son were rather frequent occurrences, but that no interregna are indicated in the two Hebrew kingdoms.

With the exception of the fall-to-fall regnal year for Judah, for which the direct Biblical evidence will be noted, all these hypotheses have been arrived at experimentally. When a chronology of the period is constructed on this basis, the synchronisms between years of both kingdoms work out almost completely, avoiding difficulties that arise in working them out in other ways. These results do not eliminate the possibility that someone may in the future discover a complete scheme of the reigns with a different pattern, but at present the four hypotheses here listed seem to offer the best working basis for the reconstruction of the ancient reckoning of these reigns.

Bible Chronology Timeline - Page 4b