Bible Timeline



The Bible’s internal chronology is not always clear, but can be determined with a reasonable degree of certainty. However, this does come with five major caveats.

First, the ages of some of the patriarchs differs in alternate text traditions (e.g. the Masoretic and Samaritan versions say Adam was 130 when his son Seth was born, while the LXX says 230). A likely vorlage can be reconstructed by comparing where these differences occur, and recognizing the method each tradition used when making their changes. However, reconstructing this vorlage results in the absurdity of Methushelah and Lamech both surviving the flood (a hint that the flood narrative is probably one of the last parts added to this section of Genesis).

Second, the inclusion of approximate dates for ancient kingdoms does not follow the Bible’s chronology, but external evidence. This results in a similar contradiction as above, that the Egyptian kingdom existed before the flood.

Third, the declaration in Genesis that Abraham’s descendants will be enslaved for four centuries is irreconcilable with the lifespans given for the patriarchs. There are only two generations between Levi and Moses (the enslavement happened in the first generation after Levi), and even if we strain and allow each man to wait until his final year of life to father his son, the amount of time that passes still comes up short by several decades. Scribes recognized this problem and tried to fix it by modifying the declaration of the four hundred year enslavement so that it included the years of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob living in Canaan. (The modifications they made differ in the alternate text traditions.) The timeline below does not follow this, despite the genealogical incoherence.

Fourth, Solomon is stated to have begun building the temple in his fourth year as king, which was four hundred eighty years after the exodus took place (1 Kings 6.1). When he is supposed to have ruled can be dated with good accuracy, but the result is this means the Hebrews escaped their enslavement about a century and a half before the city of Pi-Rameses was constructed, which the Hebrews supposedly built while they were enslaved (Exo 1.11). This is another irreconcilable contradiction, with one biblical tradition placing the exodus in the mid fifteenth century, and another in the late thirteenth century.

Fifth, the rules of the kings of Judah and Israel is fairly easy to reconstruct, with a few exceptions where educated guessed had to be made. Some historical events and foreign rulers mentioned in biblical and extrabiblical sources have been dated, and act as anchor points. In the time when both the Israelite and Judean kingdoms existed, the beginning of one kingdom’s regency was dated to a certain year of the other kingdom’s regent (e.g. Jehoram became king of Israel in the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat king of Judah). This detail shows that Judah, and sometimes Israel, practiced co-regencies, in which the king’s successor (typically his son) would begin his rule while his father was still alive. The overlap is several years in some cases. Another small difficulty is how each kingdom calculated the ‘first’ year of a king, either counting the entire year when he began his rule even if it happened very late on the calendar, or waiting to count the following year as their first.


Open full-size