This period covering the Exodus, the Judges and the reigns of Saul, David and Solomon has been one of the most difficult and debated areas of biblical chronology. Many have given up trying to reconcile the various scriptural statements concerning its chronology and dismissed them as unreliable or symbolic. What follows is the only solution I know that harmonizes all scriptural statements.
The date of the Exodus
Starting from the key date of 931/30 BC (see Chapter 2) when the Kingdom of Israel split into the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah, we can establish that Solomon commenced his reign in 971/70 BC (1Kgs 11:42). His fourth year marked the 480th year (Septuagint: 440th year) from the Exodus (1Kgs 6:1), giving a date of 1446 BC to the Exodus. This date is consistent with Jephthah’s statement (Jdg 11:26) that he lived 300 years after Israel took control of the land. Furthermore, what we know of the Egyptian Pharaohs of this time provides further evidence that this date is correct (see Chapter 6).
Some would place the Exodus at the time of Rameses II (c. 1290 BC) largely because of the reference to the city of Rameses in Exodus 1:11. However, the name Rameses was used much earlier than the 13th century BC and there is no evidence that this city may be identified with the famous capital of the empire of Rameses II. Furthermore, the clear statement in 1 Kings giving 480 years from the Exodus to Solomon must be explained. There is no evidence that it has been corrupted in the manuscripts or that it is ‘symbolic’.
Archaeologists have tended to favour the later date although the evidence uncovered is not as one-sided as many suggest. There are a number of archaeologists who think that the available evidence supports the biblical date in the 15th century BC. Perhaps the most famous archaeological site which should provide an answer to the problem is Jericho. However, while there is clear evidence for a major destruction of the city including its walls collapsing, the date of this destruction is disputed.
Some problem passages
The periods of 400 years and 430 years given in Genesis 15:13 and Exodus 12:41 have provided two of the most difficult chronological problems in the whole of scripture. The 450 years of Acts 13:20 provides an additional difficulty in the chronology of this period.
- 400 years
Genesis 15:13 says that Abram’s descendants “will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and ill-treated 400 years.” Stephen repeats this in Acts 7:6. However, the rest of biblical chronology and the genealogies do not allow for Israel being in Egypt for anything like 400 years. According to Bullinger, the phrase “and they will be enslaved and ill-treated” may be placed in parentheses. (This suggestion dates back to at least the time of the GEneva BIble in 1599.) In this case, the 400 years is referring to the time that Abram’s descendants would be in a foreign country. That is, 400 years from the time of Isaac’s birth to the Exodus.
- 430 years
The 430 year period also concludes with the Exodus (Exo 12:41). According to the Masoretic text of Exodus 12:40, this period was the time Israel lived in Egypt, while the Septuagint and Samaritan Pentateuch say it was the time Israel lived in Egypt and Canaan. From the above considerations, it would seem that the Masoretic text is incorrect. But there is no need to leave it at that. In Galatians 3:17, Paul gives the starting point of the 430 year period: “the law, introduced 430 years after [the promise] did not set aside the covenant.” Clearly this is the same 430 year period. The question is ‘what promise?’ The promise was first made when Abram was in Ur of the Chaldees (Gen 12:1-2; Acts 7:2-3). Thus, the 430 years are from the time Abram left Ur until the Exodus.
- 450 years
According to the King James Version of Acts 13:20, “he gave unto them judges about the space of 450 years.” This is at odds with the rest of the chronology. Solomon was made king 476 years after the Exodus (1Kgs 6:1) and Saul and David each reigned for 40 years (Acts 13:21; 1Kgs 2:11) leaving less than 400 years for the judges. Another possible reading of the text, supported by the NIV and NRSV, assigns the 450 years to the events of the preceding verses. The NIV reads “All this took about 450 years. After this, God gave them judges . . .” This seems the most likely solution and gives 450 years from the time “God chose our fathers” to the conquest. i.e. 400 (Gen 15:13) + 40 (wilderness) + 10 (conquest).
The times of Abraham and Isaac
Using the above information we can calculate the dates of Abraham and Isaac. Isaac was born 400 years before the Exodus in 1846 BC and Abraham’s birth was 100 years earlier (Gen 21:5). Abraham was 75 (Gen 12:4) when he left Haran making the year 1871 BC. Since he left Ur 430 years before the Exodus (i.e. in 1876 BC), he was in Haran for only five years. The other dates in the lives of Abraham and Isaac can now easily be calculated from their ages.
The times of Jacob and Joseph
Some mental gymnastics are necessary to establish the dates and ages of Jacob and Joseph. We need to work backwards from the time Joseph was in Egypt.
Joseph entered the service of Pharaoh at the age of 30 (Gen 41:46). He remained there for seven years of plenty and two years of famine before revealing himself to his brothers (Gen 41:48; 45:6). So Joseph was 39 when his family moved to Egypt. Jacob was 130 (Gen 47:9). This means Jacob was 91 at Joseph’s birth. Now Joseph was six when Jacob took his family to Canaan (Gen 30:25; 31:41), making Jacob’s age 97. Since Jacob had worked for Laban for 20 years (Gen 31:41), he was 77 when he left home.
See Chapter 6 for contemporary Egyptian history during the time of Joseph.
The times from Samuel to Solomon
To establish dates for this period, it is necessary to work backwards from the split of the Kingdom of Israel and Judah in 931/30 BC.
Solomon reigned for 40 years (1Kgs 11:42) and so became king in 971/70 BC. Still working backwards, it can be established that David began to reign in 1011/10 BC and was born in 1041/40 BC (2Sam 5:4-5). The other events of David’s life are difficult to date exactly; there are insufficient data and it seems that the scriptural record is not always in strict chronological sequence. (For example, the events of 2Sam 8:1-14 probably occurred before 2Sam 7:1.)
It is even more difficult to form a chronology of Saul’s life. Paul gives the length of his reign as 40 years (Acts 13:21) and this is followed in the accompanying charts. However, 1 Samuel 13:1 gives the figure as “. . . two years” the first figure has dropped out of the manuscripts. Possibly this was originally “forty-two years” and Paul uses a round number.
1 Samuel 13 apparently should also include Saul’s age when he began to reign. This too has dropped out. A few late manuscripts of the Septuagint give the figure as 30 years old. If correct, this would date Saul’s birth about 1080 BC.
The dates and ages of Samuel are no clearer! We are not told when he was born or when he died. The only hint is that he was an old man when the elders of Israel asked him to appoint a king (1Sam 8:1,5).
Archaeological references to Israel
The first apparent reference to the children of Israel in secular history occurs in The Armana Letters (1400 BC), discovered in 1887 by an Egyptian peasant woman. They contain a request from the governor of Jerusalem to the Pharaoh of Egypt to help supply military aid against the Habiru people. Many scholars think that this is a reference to the Hebrew invasion of Canaan.
The only other known reference to Israel before the time of the kings is in the Stele of Merneptah (1220 BC). There, Merneptah, Pharaoh of Egypt (1236-1223 BC), mentions that “Israel is laid waste, his seed is not;” apparently referring to an Egyptian victory over Israel during the time of the Judges.