[This baffling and complicated
subject has attracted the attention of nearly every serious student of
the Old Testament.
It will suffice to mention the names of Wellhausen ('Die Zeitrechnung des Buches der Konige', Jahrbucher fur deutsche Theologie, Jahrg., 1875, xx. 607-40); Krey, Z. fur wissenschaftliche Theologie, 1875, xx, pp.404 ff.; Ruhl, Deutsche Zeitschrift fur Geschichtswissenschaft, Jahrg., 1894-5 (Bd. xx), pp. 44?76 and Nachtrag, p. 171; Mahler, Handbuch derjudischen Chronologic, 1916; Thilo, Die Chronologic des Alien Testaments, 1917; Kugler, Van Moses bis Paulus, 1922, ch. iii; Lewy, Die Chronologic der Konige van Israel und Juda, 1927; and Begrich, Die Chronologic der Konige van Israel und Juda, 1929.
The last is the fullest, most thorough, and most acute of all the discussions which have yet appeared, and cannot be overlooked.
Begrich finds in the synchronisms in Kings, in the actual figures given for each reign, in the figures given in the LXX and in Josephus, no less than five different complete schemes of chronology, and from these, which he works out carefully in detail, comparing them with the definite dates ascertained from Mesopotamian documents, he develops what seems to him a satisfactory scheme.
On two important points it
seems to the present writer that Begrich's work is open to criticism.
In the first place, Wellhausen is surely right in believing that the synchronisms in Kings are worthless, being merely a late compilation from the actual figures given.
The parallel of such documents as the Mesopotamian synchronistic lists does not seem to apply, for they were the result of a single government over the two peoples concerned.
In the second place, it is hardly justifiable to take the evidence of the subordinate versions and writers as giving anything like independent schemes.
They must all go back to the same source as the MT., and each figure can be used only as evidence for the original text of the passage in which it occurs.
The truth is that we are largely
dependent on conjecture.
The grounds on which various conclusions are accepted are usually subjective, and a study of the opinions of different writers will show how hopeless it is to try to obtain uniformity, still less certainty.
The attempt has been made in the following pages to reconstruct a scheme which has no claim whatever to authority, but shows one way, at least, in which the relevant data may be satisfied.]
the main difficulties, which confront the student of Israel's history, is
that of securing any degree of accuracy in the dating of events.
It is, obviously, impossible to get more than a rough approximation to the date of such occurrences as the Exodus and the Conquest, nor can we expect any exact date before the foundation of the monarchy.
With the kings, however, the number of their regnal years is always stated, and there is an ingenious scheme of synchronisms as between the kings of Israel and the kings of Judah.
The compiler, however, takes this, from the figures he found already in his sources, and is not to be regarded as independent evidence.
But, in any case, our Biblical data would hardly
be enough to give us any certainty, and we are compelled to rely to some
extent on the dates that we find in other literatures, especially when they
refer to Israel.
We have two main sources, those that we derive from Egypt, and those that come to us from Assyria.
The latter are usually the more reliable and accurate when we can obtain them, because the Assyrians kept a careful record of the years, following a system not unlike that which prevailed later at Athens.
Every year was known by the name of an official whose title was limmu
[Winckler (KAT.3, pp.222 f.) and J. A. Montgomery (JBL., 1930, xlix, iv, pp.21 ff.) have suggested that similar lists existed in Hebrew, and that fragments survive in the OT.
Unfortunately we cannot use them, if they existed, because they are so fragmentary.
The difficulties in OT chronology are due, not so much to errors of the authors, as to inaccuracies in the transmission of the text.],
and we have limmu-lists practically complete from the end of the twelfth century.
From 860 BC onwards a note is attached to each year indicating the most important event by which it was marked, and in the year of a certain Bur (Ishdi)-Sagale it is stated than an eclipse of the sun took place in the month Simanu [Luckenbill, ARA. ii, p.435, p 1198.].
This can only be the eclipse of June 763 BC, and we are thus enabled to date the whole series with perfect accuracy.
We are on far less
certain ground when we are dealing with Egyptian dates,
and we have to rely on a kind of 'dead reckoning', based on the regnal years of successive kings,
a method that always leaves room for some error, owing to the accumulation of odd months that are not specified.
In the whole range of Israelite history there seems to be but one date that can be certified on astronomical grounds from Egypt,
and that is the death of Shabaka in the year 700 BC.
Even the eclipse of 763 BC was only partial so far south as Egypt, and is not mentioned.
The approximate dates of the kings mentioned in Israelite records are:
|Apries||588-569||[Breasted, HE., pp.600 f.]|
Osorkon and Shabaka are, of course, only doubtfully
identified with Zerah king of the Cushites (2 Chron.xiv.9 ff.) and with So
Our Assyrian records enable us to identify with certainty the dates of the following events:
|853||Battle of Karkar; Ahab the king of Israel.|
|841||Jehu pays tribute to Shalmaneser III.|
|738||Menahem pays tribute to Tiglath-pileser III.|
|734||Assyrian expedition against Philistia (probably that in which Pekah lost his throne).|
|733||Assyrian expedition against Damascus.|
|732||Assyrian expedition against Damascus.|
|721||Capture of Samaria, and organization of the Assyrian province of Samaria, by Sargon. (711 Capture of Ashdod by Sargon.)|
|701||Expedition against Judah by Sennacherib.|
|To these we may add:|
|679||Manasseh does homage to Esarhaddon at Nineveh.1|
1[There is some uncertainty as to the exact year, though the event clearly belongs to the early part of the king's reign. But it is not dated in the inscriptions, cp. p.432.]
We may also
regard as certain the date of the battle of Carchemish,
which took place in 605 BC, and Nebuchadrezzar's accession in that same year.
There does remain, however, a margin of error in dating the fall of Jerusalem.
That is dated in 2 Kgs.xxv.8 as taking place in the nineteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar, and verse 3 more exactly dates it on the ninth day of the fourth month.
[The Hebrew text of Kings omits the number of the month, but most editors would restore it from the parallels in Jer.xxxix.2, lii.6.]
We may assume that it is the Babylonian calendar on which the figures are based,
and this made the year begin with Nisan - March to April.
The date of the capture of Jerusalem, then, will be early in July.
But we cannot be absolutely certain as to the
The Babylonian chronology dated the regnal years of a king, not from the day of his accession, but from the next Nisan.
If Nebuchadrezzar came to the throne in January, February, or March,
then the first counted year of his reign began in the spring of 605 BC.
If, however, it was after the beginning of Nisan in 605 that Nabopolassar died,
then Nebuchadrezzar's first year would begin in the spring of 604 BC.
In the former case the fall of Jerusalem is to be dated 587, in the latter 586 BC.
We do not know in what month Nebuchadrezzar ascended the throne, though June-July seems probable,
but it will be seen at once that the probabilities are three to one in favour of his reign being dated 604,
making the fall of Jerusalem 586 BC.
[It should be pointed out that in the figures of the captives given in Jer.lii.28-30,
each date is a year earlier, and the fall of Jerusalem is assigned to Nebuchadrezzar's eighteenth year.
But this seems at present to be a less probable date, and may be treated as a slip.]
We know that Nebuchadrezzar did not become king till after the battle of Carchemish,
and Necho's expeditions to Mesopotamia did not usually take place until the year was well advanced,
which also points to the late summer as the probable time of Nebuchadrezzar's accession.
When we find, as we do, that this date fits our general chronological scheme better than 587 BC,
then we are justified in assuming it to be correct, unless and until we have contradictory evidence from Babylonian records.
We turn now to
the figures supplied in the book of Kings.
The two lists for the north and the south run side by side,
and it is convenient to divide the period of the monarchy into four sections,
because of certain obvious synchronisms.
We may regard the reigns of Rehoboam and Jeroboam I as beginning at the same time,
and also those of Jehu and Athaliah,
while the fall of Samaria is dated in the sixth year of Hezekiah (2 Kgs.xviii.10),
though, as we shall see, the date is open to some suspicion.
The period during which the kingdom of Judah survived that of Israel, however, makes a convenient section for study.
The figures given for the four periods are as follows:
[A figure has obviously dropped out in I Sam.i.1; Saul clearly reigned more than two years.]
|Jeroboam I||22||Rehoboam 17||17|
|Nadab||2||Abijam||3 (LXX 6)|
|Totals||98 2||95 (LXX98)|
[The seven days' reign of Zimri has not been included
in the above, as it is obviously of no importance for the chronology.
But it should be remarked that the historian's synchronisms place the accession of Zimri in Asa's twenty-seventh year (i Kgs.xvi.15) and that of Omri in Asa's thirty-first year (i Kgs.xvi.23), thus assuming an interregnum of four years.
We can, however, hardly take these synchronisms seriously, and we may suspect that the compiler has simply assumed that Omri's reign is to be dated, not from the death of Zimri, but from that of Tibni, and has allowed four years for the struggle.
The LXX has no synchronism at all in i Kgs.xvi.15, suggesting that in the MT. it is a later addition.]
If we can accept the figure given by the LXX for the reign of Abijam, we thus have identically the same period for the two kingdoms.
|Pekahiah||2||Hezekiah||6 (down to fall of Samaria)|
one month assigned to Shallum is omitted as it obviously has no bearing
on the chronology.]
|D.||Kingdom of Judah alone.||Years|
|Hezekiah||23 (after fall of Samaria)|
Since the dates nearer to the compiler's own time are less likely to have suffered
from textual corruption,
we may consider the last period first.
The fixed date is the battle of Carchemish, in Jehoiakim's fourth year,
[Jer.xlvi.2, further attested by the fact that Jeremiah's outlook underwent a definite change in that year, cp. xxv.1, xxxvi.1.]
which places his accession in 608 and his death in 597.
Allowing for a margin of error due to uncounted months,
we thus get the following dates for the kings of Judah after the fall of Samaria:
|Fall of Jerusalem||586|
|(According to 2 Kgs.xxv.8 the nineteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar.)|
We are, however,
in difficulties when we come to deal with the reign of Hezekiah.
He is credited with a reign of twenty-nine years, and Samaria is said to have fallen in his sixth year, which would make the latter date 719 or 720 BC at the earliest.
But we cannot put the fall of Samaria later than 721 BC, as it occurred in Sargon's first year.
On the other hand it is stated in 2 Kgs.xviii.13 that Sennacherib's invasion of Judah took place in Hezekiah's fourteenth year, which would imply that he did not become king till 715 BC.
[Some scholars accept this date as correct. Box, The Book of lsaiah, pp.9, 168, places the accession of Hezekiah in 720 BC?another way of meeting the difficulty.]
But this figure stands alone in the record, and, knowing what we do of the transmission of figures in ancient documents, it is not difficult to conjecture that the original figure was twenty-four.
[Reading ועשרם for עשרה.
Others would regard the number as a conjecture, based on the statement in xx.6, that Hezekiah was to live fifteen years after his sickness, and the theory that this sickness coincided with the invasion of Sennacherib.
But the Babylonian embassy must be before 701 BC, and the sickness earlier still.
See Skinner, i and ii Kings, p.388; Benzinger, Die Bucher der Konige, p.179.]
This would make the date of the accession of Hezekiah 725 BC, which is by no means out of the question.
We are still left, however, with the statement in 2 Kgs.xviii.9 that it was in Hezekiah's fourth year that Shalmaneser attacked Samaria, and that it was in his sixth year that the city succumbed.
But it is quite clear that in reporting the last days of Samaria, the compiler has misread or miscopied his sources,
for the Assyrian record itself suggests that Hoshea was not in the city when it was captured (Sargon does not mention his name),
while 2 Kgs.xvii.4-5 seems definitely to imply that Hoshea was captured and imprisoned before the siege began.
Only so can the chronology of these years be understood, for on any calculation at least eleven years (which, owing to looseness of reckoning, might be twelve) elapsed between the appointment of Hoshea and the fall of Samaria.
The 'ninth year' of Hoshea mentioned in 2 Kgs.xvii.6 is a natural miscalculation on the part of the compiler, and need not be taken as evidence [Cp. Skinner, i and ii Kings, p.374.].
If we can assume that the original account stated that it was in the fourth year of Hezekiah that Samaria actually fell, we can understand that this might be interpreted as meaning that it was in that year that Hoshea ceased to reign, and the knowledge that the city held out for two or three years after his deposition would introduce the sixth year as the date of the fall of the city.
The compiler himself would - very naturally - be confused as between all these figures, and produce the statement we actually have in his effort to harmonize them.
If, then, we may suppose that Samaria fell in the fourth year of Hezekiah,
and that Sennacherib's invasion took place in the twenty-fourth,
we arrive at the consistent date of 725 BC. fFor the accession of Hezekiah,
which agrees with the twenty-nine years ascribed to him and the dates already reached for his successors on the basis of the Biblical figures.
This carries us back to division C.
Here we are at once met by an obvious discrepancy of at least twenty-one years between the figures given for Israel and those of Judah, the latter being the longer.
By placing the fall of Samaria in the fourth year of Hezekiah instead of the sixth, we reduce this discrepancy to nineteen years, but that is still too long to be ascribed to looseness in reckoning odd months.
One obvious resource is to reduce the reign of Jotham,
and assume that the total figure, sixteen, includes the years during which he was co-regent with his father.
Thus we might obtain a superficial harmony between the two lists by assuming that Jotham's independent reign lasted only seven years and that his father reigned forty-two instead of fifty-two years.
But while we might thus reach a scheme which would produce internal consistency in the Biblical figures,
we should still be far from a final solution, for we should have to take into account the Assyrian evidence,
which is decisive where it can be found.
Since Ahab was still alive in 853 BC, the date of Jehu's tribute to Shalmaneser III, i.e. 841, must be very near the beginning of his reign.
Hoshea was deposed in 723 BCat the latest, possibly in 724, giving, at most, a period of 118 years between the two events, as against the 143 which is the minimum offered by the Biblical figures.
How are we to get rid of these twenty-five years?
Some light is thrown on this problem by a further
Menahem paid tribute to Tiglath-pileser in 738 BC, and Pekah was dethroned in 732 at the latest.
Yet twenty-two years are assigned to the reigns of Pekahiah and Pekah together.
It seems fairly clear that we must reduce the reign of Pekah to two years instead of twenty,
and it is more or less a matter of taste as to where we deduct the other seven or eight.
Perhaps Menahem reigned for two years only,
or perhaps Jehu's figure should be twenty or that of Jehoahaz ten.
Jehu's is, perhaps, the reign in which reduction can most readily be conjectured.
This has the advantage of bringing the accession of Jehoash into the year following the great Assyrian raid on Damascus which apparently so reduced its strength as to facilitate the recovery of Israel which began under Jehoash.
We thus reach the following table:
|Zechariah, Shallum, Menahem||747|
|Deposition of Hoshea||724|
|Fall of Samaria||721|
[The Limmu-lists show that there were expeditions to
Palestine in 734, 733, and 732 BC,
Damascus being expressly mentioned as the objective of the two latter, and Philistia as the aim of the first.
It is, then, quite reasonable to suppose that while Pekah was removed in 734,
Hoshea was not formally appointed till the following year,
while the expedition of 732 resulted in the organization of the Palestinian provinces.]
We are still left with the task of adjusting the
reigns of the kings of Judah.
We have already seen that one resource is the assumption that Jotham's years as co-regent with his father have been reckoned into the total years of his reign, and that possibly the reign of Uzziah himself is too long.
The only necessary synchronism between the two kingdoms (apart from the beginning of the period) lies in the fact that the reigns of Jehoash of Israel and Amaziah of Judah overlapped.
Of the other reigns those of Jehoash and Uzziah were clearly long, and must not be too greatly reduced;
even on the Biblical figures Jehoash was only forty-six when he was assassinated.
The simplest solution, therefore, is to reduce Amaziah to nine years and Uzziah to forty-two,
assuming that Jotham was co-regent with the latter for twelve or thirteen years. We thus get:
|Jotham (sole rule)||744|
1[The statement in 2 Kgs.xlv.17 that Amaziah survived Jehoash of Israel by fifteen years is obviously a compiler's deduction from the figures of i.10, xiv.2.]
In division B the attractive solution of the discrepancy
be?tween the two lists is to accept the LXX figure for the reign of Abijam
six years instead of three, thus reducing the whole period for both kingdoms to ninety-eight years.
But this will not allow for the adjustment to the Assyrian date of 853 BC. for the battle of Karkar,
which means that some reduction must be made in the reigns of Ahaziah and Jehoram of Israel.
The simplest plan - though this involves a textual emendation which is not so easy as some that have been proposed -
is to cut the three years off the reign of Jehoram, and to keep the figures of the MT. for Judah.
The necessary synchronisms are two; Baasha must overlap Asa, and Jehoshaphat Ahab and one of his sons.
The following table fulfills these conditions:
|Zimri, Tibni, Omri||886||Jehoram||850|
Apart from the simple calculation which places
Solomon's accession in 976BC,
and that of David in 1016,
we can go no further in identifying dates.
[The system of reckoning adopted
by several scholars (e.g. Skinner, i and ii Kings, pp.40 ff.) which
makes the Hebrew chronology include the same year as the last of one king
and the first of his successor, thus reducing every reign by one year,
can hardly be applied here.
It would bring the death of Solomon down to 930 BC.
Now the invasion of Sheshonk took place in the fifth year of Rehoboam's reign, i.e., on this reckoning, in 926 or 925 BC.
But Sheshonk seems to have died in 924 BC at the latest,
and the date suggested would not allow time for the erection of the Karnak inscription which describes the Palestinian campaign.]
We may guess that Saul reigned about twenty years -
it can hardly have been much less,
but before his time all dates are a matter of conjecture,
and, as we have seen in discussing the dates of the Exodus and Conquest,
there are margins of several centuries in extent.
But we may venture to restore tentatively the following general scheme:
[This table must be accepted
as being, at many points, approximate and conjectural?any table of Israelite
dates must be so.
The figures are bound to be affected by various ways of reckoning the regnal years and by the odd months more or less than the full number of years given.
But it may be assumed that these will average against one another, and will not materially affect the general conclusion.
The attempt has been made simply to achieve the best result possible with the maximum probability and the minimum departure from the Biblical figures.]
|931||Invasion of Sheshonk|
|886||Zimri, Tibni, Omri|
|853||Battle of Karkar|
|841||Jehu||Athaliah||Jehu's tribute to Assyria|
|805||Adad-nirari III subdues Damascus|
|747||Zechariah, Shallum, Menahem|
|744||Jotham (sole ruler)|
|738||Menahem pays tribute to Tiglath-pileser III|
|734||Tiglath-pileser III subdues Damascus|
|732||Assyrian provinces organized in Palestine|
|724||Deposition of Hoshea|
|721||Capture of Samaria|
|701||Sennacherib invades Judah|
|586||Fall of Jerusalem|
|581||Nebuchadrezzar's third deportation from Judah|