Do Ancient Chronologies Challenge the Bible? Part 1: The Date of the Exodus

Moses parting the Red Sea so the children of Israel could cross during the Exodus

Editor’s note: This article began as a demonstration of errors in Egyptian chronology, but to get there it was necessary to  first lay down foundational information concerning the exodus. Which pushed back the Egyptian info to part 2. What follows is the foundational info on the exodus. 

A common way to try to discount Biblical truth is to to challenge the event based upon the age. The challenge comes either because 1. Scientist think the Biblical account is too young (e.g. age of the earth/universe) 2. Scientist can’t find evidence of the event at the time period they think it happened (e.g. The Exodus) or 3. Scientists believe they have found evidence that disproves the Biblical time line (e.g. ancient artifacts like the Dendera Zodiak or the below Egyptian pyramids.) 

This is ironic because out of all the things science can do, one thing it cannot do is measure age directly.  Age – the amount of time passed – is not something you can measure with instruments after the fact.   Yet it is one thing scientists tend to get the most adamant about. But when scientists claim to be measuring the age, what they’re really doing is measuring a property of something that usually varies regularly with time, such as the number of half lives of a radioactive element, or the number or rings in a tree trunk. But strictly speaking, they are not measuring age. And more importantly – the assumptions they make when attempting to determine the age are often wrong, throwing the estimated age off.[1]

I was recently reminded of this common and pernicious attack made against the Bible as I watched a docudrama  recently on Egyptian Hieroglyphs called Egypt’s Greatest MysteriesThe Secrets Of the Hieroglyphs[2] about the work of Jean-François Champollion to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphs. The writers invoked challenge 3 from above, claiming Egyptian artifacts had been found that challenged the Biblical timeline. Artifacts mentioned are the Dendera Zodiak, now on display at the Louvre, and of  course the quintessential icons of Egypt – the pyramids, particulary the Great Pyramid at Giza (below).  

Pyramids at Giza, Egypt

The Challenge to the Bible

And to make sure you understood that the Biblical timeline was being challenged, they spelled it out clearly for you:

“Although in the 1820’s, Europe was under the spell of ancient Egypt, Champollion was deeply frustrated by the lack of material that there was to decipher. Then the Dendera zodiak arrived in Paris. This carved relief had been taken from the ceiling of the Dendera Temple near the ancient city of Thebes. It was potentially an extremely threatening object for the church because of its likely age. Some believed it was so old, it challenged the version of history recorded in the Bible.

As far as the Church was concerned at the time, the Bible was a historically accurate document. Using it, Scholars had dated Noah’s great flood to the year 2349 BC. They believed all civilizations before that were wiped out. Any evidence to the contrary would directly challenge the authority of the church.”
[3]

Did you catch the other sly attack? By saying the church “at the time” the writers suggest that in contrast “the Church” today (that would be all Christians) no longer believes the Bible to be a “historically accurate document.”  That’s a blatantly false charge, as is the suggestion that the artifacts challenge the Biblical time line. We’ll get to the artifacts shortly. First, here’s a news flash for the writers: Bible believing Christians like myself still maintain that the Bible is a “historically accurate document.” Furthermore we maintain it is true and correct in all it affirms. That would include the history of the world and the sequence of major events.

 Second, as to the ages they assign these artifacts: for the Zodiak, they merely suggest it could be older than the flood. For the pyramids, they specifically state:

“What the Hieroglyphs reveal is that the Great pyramid was a tomb for the Egyptian Pharaoh Khofu. It was built around the year 2560 BC. It’s believed to have taken over 20 years to construct.”[4]

Once again they have tried to slip in a fake fact hoping you won’t notice. Notice they imply that written in the hieroglyphs, are dates of origin for the pyramids, and the only question regarding dates is how long it took to build the pyramids. That’s very misleading. These days that would be called fake news. Any “dates” in the hieroglyphs cannot be based on the dating system we currently use, since current dates are given using the advent of Christ as a datum line – rendering dates using this system as before or after his coming. Obviously Egyptians living thousands of years before his coming could not have known of such a system. Thus the only dates they can possibly give us are dates relative to some other reference point that they are aware of – such as the reign of other Egyptian Kings[5] – dates that today are ambiguous and highly disputed.

There’s one more insidious attack worth mentioning. That’s the implication that since these artifacts still exist, the flood never happened.  But the evidence for the Global flood is much stronger than the evidence for the dating of the Egyptian relics. Bryan Osbourne of Answers in Genesis speaks of one of the most compelling evidences of the flood by pointing out what we would expect to find if there were, in fact, a global flood as described in the Bible. If that were the case:

“…we would expect to find billions of dead things, buried in rock layers, laid down by water, all over the earth. And guess what we find? Billions of dead things, buried in rock layers, laid down by water, all over the earth.”[6]

The fact that we find evidence of dead things “all over the earth” supports, the flood, and not just a local flood, but a global flood which left deposits all over the earth.  That’s a significant clue that the conventional dates given for  the Egyptian chronologies are obvious dating errors.

The Biblical Time Line

Clearly the dates are in error, but hypothetically speaking if the dates suggested by conventional (secular) sources were correct, then they have correctly assessed that such evidences would challenge not just the Biblical flood, but the entire history of the Old Testament, and thus would bring the history of the entire Bible into question. But since the Bible is the true and accurate history of the world, its obvious the dates assumed by conventional secular sources for these artifacts are wrong. This can be demonstrated not only by the Bible, but evidences – events accepted by scholars of every persuasion – regardless of whether they believe the Bible is true or not.

This article will walk through some of the evidences that demonstrate that dates used in secular/conventional chronologies for these artifacts and the traditional chronology for Egyptian events are simply wrong.  We’ll do so by starting with a date that is accepted by all and then build a Chronology of key events that we can match up with Egyptian events, and see how the dates compare.

Time Line Orientation

Before we get started a brief orientation is in order.  First up, a very general overview of the Biblical timeline that includes key events of interest. Notice two key dates: the date of the flood: 2359 BC[7] as correctly quoted in the docudrama, and the Biblical date  of the Exodus: 1446.

 

The date of the Exodus is a key date, and it’s also a highly disputed date so we’ll need to lay down a solid framework of evidence to support that date – which we will in a moment.  But to complete the orientation the second thing I want to clarify is what is meant by “earlier” when speaking of dates in the era before Christ (B.C.). Notice since we have a datum line that allows dates on both sides of the demarcation, as you go back in time in the B.C. era, the numbers increase. Thus “earlier” B.C. dates are indicated by numbers that are greater than “later” dates.

Case in point: regarding the disputed dates of the exodus: “There are two possible dates, 144o B.C. and 1290 B.C. The biblical chronologies, taken at face value, appear to support the earlier.”[8]  writes my seminary Hebrew professor, John Sailhammer. The “earlier” date he is referring to is the 1440 date. Thus those who believe in the “late” date of the Exodus believe in the 1290 date. Some may be wondering why Sailhammer lists 1440 instead of 1446. Two reasons: First, the biblical date most Bible believers rely on to date the exodus to the “early” date is based primarily on 1 Kings 6:1:

“In the four hundred and eightieth year after the Israelites had come out of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, the second month, he began to build the temple of the LORD.”
1 Kings 6:1

Providentially, the date Solomon began his reign is a well known, and undisputed date within a 10 year time frame – a miniscule variance when you’re trying to narrow down an event between the 13th and 15th century B.C., but we’ll come back to that. The second reason is evident in the verse. The date of the Exodus is declared to be 480 years from the fourth, not the first year of Solomon’s reign.  Thus the math to find date of the exodus is this:

   (Date Solomon began his reign – 4 ) + 480  = Date of the Exodus

I suspect Dr. Sailhammer is simply simplifying matters by disregarding the 4 years into Solomon’s reign to arrive at a nice round date for the Exodus, since he is no doubt aware of the 1446 date accepted by most evangelical scholars.[9]  So the bigger question is how do we know the date Solomon began his reign?

Dating the Start of Solomon’s Reign

There are a number of sources that point to the date of Solomon’s reign, but they all vary slightly. How close can we come? Let’s start with Biblical sources.

Dating Solomon’s Reign Biblically

Using Ussher’s Chronology which is based on the ages of the patriarchs and other key events listed in the Bible, we arrive at a date at the end of the 11th century BC.[10] While the Bible gives accurate dates and information, at times there are ambiguities, like whether the recorder of a king’s rise to the throne uses a system that begins counting from the same year he takes the throne (a non-accession year accounting) or the first month of the following year (an accession year or post dating account).[11] Such differences need to be accounted for when piecing together Biblical dates. For further precision, synchronize events from extra Biblical sources with the reigns of the kings  and you arrive at a date for the beginning of Solomon’s reign as 961/960[12], the date Sailhammer used. Make a further correction for an error regarding  the beginning of the dynasty of Shishak, “and his invasion of Palestine, preserved in relief on a wall at Karnak…”[13] which would place the death of Solomon at 931/30 BC, and thus his accession at about 971/70 BC[14] since he reigned for 40 years (1 Ki 11.42).  So after correcting for known errors, we arrive at a date of 971 or 970 for Solomon’s accession to the thrown, with 970 being the more commonly accepted date.

So already we have strong, independent evidences for a 970 (10th century BC) date for the rise of Solomon to the throne, and we haven’t even looked at the archeological date yet. Let’s do that next.

Dating Solomon’s Reign Archeologically

Archeological data will not be as precise to give the exact year we’re looking for, but it can narrow it down to the correct century, and thus confirm what the Bible has already told us.

The Bible records that Solomon was not only the wisest man, but the richest king of his day, because when God told Solomon “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” (1 Ki 3.5) Solomon asked for wisdom, not riches or other things, and in response, God said:

10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this.
11 So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice,
12 I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.
13 Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for–both riches and honor–so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings.
1 Ki 3.10-13

His wealth and wisdom were known far and wide attracting foreign dignitaries including the famed Queen of Sheba (1 Ki 10.1). Such wealth must have come from somewhere reason modern day archeologists, so they have gone in search of the source of Solomon’s wealth – and have found it – in the copper mines of Khirbat en-Nahas and the massively fortified city of Khirbet Qeiyafa. The information gleaned from those sites forced the following realization among archeologists:

“One thing is certain: the finds at Khirbat en-Nahas and [Khirbet] Qeiyafa have transformed our image of the mysterious 10th century B.C. – Solomon’s century.”[15]

Though there is much of interest in these finds, our focus here is the date. Notice when these archeologist – whose interest is not in dating the exodus – but excavating the above mentioned sites – place the reign of Solomon: the 10th century BC – precisely when the Bible indicates he reigned.

The Date of the Exodus

We can now plug in the numbers from the above equation to determine the date of the Exodus:

(Date Solomon began his reign – 4  ) + 480 = Date of the Exodus
       (970 – 4) + 480 = 1446

Thus, based on the strong identification of  Solomon’s reign above  we arrive at the Exodus happening in 1446 B.C. which is considered the “early” date because it is earlier than the 1290-1270 B.C. period – the “late” date.

We have another line of evidence for the 1446 date of the Exodus that has nothing to do with the reigns of the kings or the 1 Ki 6.1 passage. Egyptologist and biblical scholar Doug Petrovich points out:

“A compelling argument for choosing 1446 BC is that the Jubilee cycles agree with this date exactly, yet are completely independent of the 479+ years of 1 Kings 6:1. The Jubilee dates are precise only if the priests began counting years when they entered the land in 1406 BC (cf. Lev. 25:2–10).”[16]

Note that the 1406 date mentioned would be 1446 – 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, a judgment imposed by God on the adults of the Exodus for their disobedience in not going into the promised land when God directed. (Num 14.33-34;  Num 32.13)

Further corroboration of the 1446 date comes  during the time of the judges, who ruled Israel from 1406 to 1050. In Judges 11.26, Jephthah, who ruled as a judge, speaking through messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites,  said that Israel had already been in the land for 300 hundred years. With a 1446 that statement would have made the year he spoke it within the time period of 1146 to 1106: well within the time of the judges. With 1270 as the date of the exodus, the statement must have been around 970. But we know that Solomon was ruling at that time, and  before him David ruled for 40 years. (2 Sam 5.4)  That leaves insufficient time for the rule of judges – and makes that an  incorrect statement from Jephthah.

Summarizing, biblically we have two passages (1 Ki 6.1 and Judg 11.26) that support the early exodus date. We have the evidence of the dates of the year of Jubilee (Lev 25.10) which confirms the early date. We also have archaeological evidence confirming the century Solomon reigned in. There is also other external evidence that corroborates the early date of the exodus.
[17]  Thus we have multiple independent sources corroborating the fact that the exodus occurred in the 15th century B.C. c. 1446,  Solomon reigned 480 years later in the 10th Century B.C., succeeding his father David on the throne on or near the year 970 B.C.

How then, did the “late” date become popular?  Hollywood has no doubt played a part regarding the popular opinion since Rameses is typically depicted as the Pharaoh of the exodus in films For example the classic – Cecil B. DeMille’s Ten Commandments (1956), The Prince of Egypt (1998),  The Ten Commandments (2006 Mini-Series) and the Recent Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014). More importantly  the popularity of Rameses as the pharaoh of the Exodus is based on the mention of his name in the Bible:

So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh.”
Exo 1:11

Those who hold to the “late” date of the Exodus assume the Exodus occurred during the reign of the Rameses mentioned in that verse, who is typically  identified as Ramses II who reigned over Egypt in the 13th century BC.  Author and Egyptologist David Rohl, an agnostic who nevertheless holds to the early date of the exodus explains why identifying Rameses as the pharaoh of the exodus is a mistake:

“I’m saying that this particular mention of the city of Rameses, the building of Rameses is what we call an anachronism, it’s something that’s been added into the text later by an editor. So what the editor is basically saying is, this is the place where the Israelites built the store city, and we know it today as Rameses. Well in ancient times it was called Avarice.”[18]

While the mechanism might not be a later addition, old Testament Bible scholar Walter C. Kaiser Jr. essentially suggests the same solutionan anachronism –though he identifies a different city for the original name. [19] Changes in the names of lands and land marks are fairly common, so one can easily see how this could happen. Consider the following scenario:  When the Willis tower in Chicago was initially built in the 1970s it was named the Sears Tower. In 2009 it was renamed the Willis Tower, which is the name you’ll see on the building today:

But many who were in the area at that time (including myself) still call it by its original name: the Sears Tower. Barring any further name changes, suppose 2,000 years from now all Chicagoans are gone and people who know nothing of the history of the tower or the area find a document where I claim “I work close to what was once the world’s tallest building – the Sears Tower.” Archeologists of the future explore the area thoroughly and find nothing named  “Sears Tower.” Not finding anything remotely like the name “Sears Tower” they conclude I’m mistaken, or merely story telling. Until they explore Toronto, and make their way inside the CN Tower there and find a mural of the “Great Towers of the World” which, for various reasons, remains in its original state – not updated.  And there they clearly see  depicted not the Willis, but the Sears Tower.[20] And it has the same shape and dimensions as the “Willis Tower”  – which they did find in Chicago.

Someone would no doubt put together that the “Sears” tower I referred to is actually the “Willis” tower and I spoke of it with an anachronism – using an old name for a building that was also currently known by another name.

Getting back to the Exodus text, as Rohl and Kaiser suggest it is apparent that something similar happened (whether an anachronism or some other factor) that allowed the city named “Rameses” to  appear, masking the name of the city we currently believe had the ancient name of “Avarice.” (We have a similar dynamic happening with the word “dinosaur.”  “Dinosaurs” aren’t mentioned in the Bible – the word didn’t exist at the time, but the Bible does mention dragons (Dt 32.33, Is 27.1 et.al. KJV)  – what they were known as at the time.)  If the current name (Avarice) were mentioned instead of Rameses – the primary evidence for the late date would disappear.

Now that we’ve firmly identified the date of the exodus and laid to rest the claims to the late date we can move on to our original target: calibrating how far off the standard Egyptian chronology is from the actual date. We’ll pick that up in part 2 of this article where I’ll identify the pharaoh of the exodus. (It’s probably not who you think it is.) Then in part 3 we’ll look at an incorrect timeline concerning the Tower of Babel.

 


 

  Duane Caldwell | posted January 14, 2018 | printer friendly version
 
 


Notes  

1  For the many ways Radiometric dating can be erroneous, see my article, Radiometric Dating: Science or Guesswork?
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2. “Egypt’s Greatest Mysteries” episode  The Secrets Of the Hieroglyphs,  BBC / TLC Documentary / Docudrama, Discovery Communications 2017
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3. “Egypt’s Greatest Mysteries” episode  The Secrets Of the Hieroglyphs
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4. “Egypt’s Greatest Mysteries” episode  The Secrets Of the Hieroglyphs
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5. One such heavily relied on list is the Turin King List or the Turin Royal List, currently in the Egyptian Museum in Turin, Italy.
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6.  Bryan Osborne, ref. from: Creation in the 21st Century with David Rives episode “From Creation to Babel and Beyond”, TBN, broadcast 11/25/2017
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7.  The date of the flood as well as the date of the original creation of the universe (4004 BC) are from ArchBishop James Usher’s calculations based on the Biblical text. A graphic, originally printed in Creation Magazine is available here: https://creation.com/images/pdfs/other/timeline_of_the_bible.pdf
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8. John H. Sailhammer, “Biblical Archaeology (Zondervan Quick-Reference Library)”, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1998  p.50
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9. The Expositors Bible Commentary Volume 2, General Editor Frank E. Gaebelein contains both Sailhammer’s commentary on Genesis and Walter C. Kaiser Jr’s commentary on the Exodus. Kaiser points out the commonly accepted date (1446 p. 290.) – of which Sailhammer was likely aware. Furthermore both had overlapping tenures as faculty at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and both being scholars involved in Old Testament studies, no doubt Sailhammer was aware of Kaiser’s – and indeed the standard – evangelically accepted date of the Exodus. There may be an obscure reason Sailhammer elected to use the 1440 date, but it seems likely he elected to use the round number of 1440 instead of the more precise 1446. Either way it’s within the aforementioned 10 year period of uncertainty.
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10. See for instance a pictorial of Ussher’s chronology, listed above; or a summary of major biblical events which parallel’s Ussher’s chronology:
Ruth Beechick, “Chronology for Everybody”, 2001  
https://creation.com/images/pdfs/tj/j15_3/j15_3_67-73.pdf
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11. RK Harrison, “Introduction to the Old Testament” (hereafter OTI), Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans’ Publishing Company, 1969, p. 182
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12. Harrision, OTI p.184
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13. Harrison, OTI. p. 184
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14. Harrison, OTI. p. 184
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15. Nova: Quest for Solomon’s Mines, Nova / National Geographic Documentary, 2010
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16. “Amenhotep II and the Historicity of the Exodus Pharaoh”, http://biblearchaeology.org/post/2010/02/04/Amenhotep-II-and-the-Historicity-of-the-Exodus-Pharaoh.aspx#, 26 November 2013
ref. from:
Gary Bates, “Egyptian chronology and the Bible—framing the issues”, Creation.com, 2 Sept. 2014
https://creation.com/egypt-chronology
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17. Further support of the “early” date of the Exodus can be found here:
“Exodus Dates”, Linear Concepts, accessed 1/4/18,
http://www.linearconcepts.com/theology/bible-timelines/exodus-dates
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18. David Rohl, ref. from Patterns of Evidence, Documentary, Directed by Tim Mahoney, Narrated by Kevin Sorbo, Documentary 2014
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19. Dr. Kaiser suggests, “Our manuscripts of Exodus 1.1 simply give the city’s name in the later period – Rameses instead of Qantir, just as Genesis 47:11 knows the area where Jacob’s family settled when they arrived in Egypt as “the district of Rameses” (another retrospective usage or modernization of an older term; cf. “Dan” in Gen 14:14 for the older name “Laish,” which was not changed until the time of the judges [Judg 18:29])”
Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Exodus
in “The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 2”, Grand Rapids Michigan: Regency Reference Library, Zondervan Publishing House, 1990, p.289
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20. The “Great Towers of the World” Mural was on display with the “Sears” tower still listed as the name when we visited in July of 2016.
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Images
All Images used by permission


“Crossing the Red Sea”
 © Davy Cheng | Fotolia, Used by Permission
 “Egyptian pyramids – Egypt Travel” ©  Ahmed | Fotolia, Used by Permission
 “The Willis Tower & Name Stela”
© 2018 Duane Caldwell
“Great Towers of the World – CN Tower Mural” © 2016 Duane Caldwell

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