Dating events in the Old Testament

Dating historical events that occurred in the Old Testament is notoriously difficult. Historical dates cannot be verified reliably until King Ahab of Israel and King Adad-idri (Ben-Hadad) of Aram are recorded as taking part in a coalition venture against King Shalmaneser III of Assyria at the Battle of Karkar in 853BC. After this, the kings of Israel and Judah are recorded independently in the ninth century BC annals of Assyria.

Prior to this, events are difficult to date accurately. The dating of events in ancient Israel and other Middle Eastern civilisations is dependent on the traditional Egyptian chronology based on surviving lists of Egyptian pharaohs. However, most Egyptian archaeologists today readily admit that these lists (and the resultant chronology) are inaccurate. In particular, it appears that the Egyptian Third Intermediate Period (traditionally dated between 1069BC and 664BC) was nowhere near as long as originally thought. The 21st and 22nd Egyptian dynasties, for example, while traditionally dated as following on from each other, are now thought to have existed at the same time. This would suggest that the traditional Egyptian chronology has been artificially elongated, and traditional dates as a result have often placed Old Testament events alongside Egyptian pharaohs who actually ruled hundreds of years later. Pharaoh Ramesses II, for example, is often thought to be the pharaoh of the Exodus, but it is much more likely that he was actually an ally of King Solomon.


Cartouche of Ramesses II at Temple of Luxor

Cartouche of Pharaoh Ramesses II on a column at Karnak Temple


Unfortunately, there is no wide consensus on how to correct these inaccuracies and how to replace the traditional chronology. Traditional dates are still widely used and accepted by many scholars, while others such as Peter James and David Rohl have more recently put forward alternative dates. The dates adopted in The Bible Journey are the ‘New Chronology’ dates proposed by David Rohl. They should not be regarded as totally 'accurate', but they are much more accurate than the traditional dating system established over a hundred years ago. All dates are given as a guide to help in lining up Old Testament narratives with contemporary events elsewhere, especially those in contemporary Sumerian and Egyptian civilisations.

For a detailed account of difficulties with traditional dating see Peter James, Centuries of Darkness: A challenge to the conventional chronology of Old World archaeology, Jonathan Cape, 1991.

For a full explanation of the ‘New Chronology’ see David Rohl, A Test of Time: The Bible – from Myth to History, Random House, 1995.

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