Do Ancient Chronologies Challenge the Bible?
Part 1: The Date of 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. Biblical artifacts like the Dendora 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.
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 Mysteries - The Secrets Of the Hieroglyphs 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, particularly the Great Pyramid at Giza (below).
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:
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:
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 - 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:
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 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." 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:
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. So the bigger question is how do we know the date Solomon began his reign?
Dating the Start of Solomon's Reign
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.
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). 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, 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..."
which would place the death of Solomon at 931/30 BC, and thus his
accession at about 971/70 BC 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.
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:
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:
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.
We can now plug in the numbers from the
above equation to determine the date of the Exodus:
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:
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.
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:
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:
While the mechanism might not be a later addition, old Testament Bible scholar Walter C. Kaiser Jr. essentially suggests the same solution - an anachronism - though he identifies a different city for the original name.  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 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. 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 (Is 27.1 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
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
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 highly 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
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:
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
17. Further support of the "early" date
of the Exodus can be found here:
18. David Rohl, ref. from Patterns of
Evidence, Documentary, Directed by Tim Mahoney, Narrated by Kevin
Sorbo, Documentary 2014