The video below is a 45 minute narrated PowerPoint which provides an overview of the timeline including some graphics that are not posted elsewhere. If you want the basics and the major milestones, this is the place.
If, on the other hand, you just want the basics quickly, then read on
1If we want to understand the overall timeline of the Old Testament, then we need to start with the time of Christ and work backwards. We don’t need to know the details of the life of Christ, rather we will just work backwards from zero to the people and events recorded in the Old Testament (there is no “year zero”. The zero point is the end of 1 BC and beginning of 1 AD).
The first major milestone that we encounter is the fall of Jerusalem which can be reliably dated to 586 BC based on dates for Babylon and the kingdoms that followed it. This first segment covers what is known as the intertestamental period and is covered by some of the books found in the Apocrypha.
The image above shows this period and is color coded to indicate who the major power was in Palestine at any point in time. The history for this period is quite solid and there is a high degree of confidence and agreement on the dates. However as we move further back into the 7th century BC the dates become less certain. A New Chronology has been proposed for the Third Intermediate Period (TIP) in Egypt which alters the dates for that kingdom before 664 BC. It does not however affect the dates for Israel
The image above shows where there is agreement (green) between old and new chronologies and the significant differences. Notably in the New Chronology, Rameses II is equated with the biblical Shishak (based on his nickname Shyshy) and Sheshonq I moves to the early 9th century and becomes a contemporary of Joram and Jehu. The start of the TIP moves a total of 320 years later in the New Chronology
2Our next stop is the laying of the foundation of the first temple in the 4th year of King Solomon. The date for this is 966 BC working backward from the fall of Jerusalem in 586 and using the various synchronisms (interactions) with the kings of Assyria as worked out by Edwin Thiele
At the beginning of this period, Egypt was the major power in Palestine, but as time passed, Assyria came to dominate. There was a brief Egyptian resurgence following the fall of Assyria’s capital Nineveh before the Egyptians were driven out by Babylon and this is where we find Josiah’s encounter with Pharaoh Necho
3The kings were proceeded by the Judges. Unfortunately there is not enough detail in scripture to precisely establish the chronology of the Judges. Shown below is my solution, but there are many others and the only dates we know with relative certainty are the end of the conquest of Canaan which begins the period in 1399 BC and the beginning of David’s reign in about 1010 BC. Even Saul is a bit dicey with different lengths of his reign proposed (40, 20, or 2 years – 40 is found in Acts, 20 in Josephus, 2 is the highest year mentioned in I Samuel). Egypt is the major power in Canaan for all of this period.
However, we do not need to work out the precise chronology for the Judges because I Kings 6:1 tells us that from the Exodus to the foundation of the temple was 480 years. So 966 + 480 places the Exodus in 1446 BC. Thus the arrival in Canaan would have been 40 years later in 1406 and the seven year conquest completed in 1399 BC.
4The next big question that faces us is how long was Israel in Egypt? The Masoretic text which is the basis for most Christian Bibles gives us 430 years from Jacob’s arrival in Egypt to the Exodus. But the Septuagint, Josephus, and Paul count 430 years from Abraham’s arrival in Canaan leaving only 215 years from Jacob’s arrival in Egypt to the Exodus.
A close reading of the story of Joseph in Genesis indicates that the events in the story must have taken place in a strong, united Egypt. We can find just such a time using the Old (or orthodox) Chronology and adding 430 years to get to Jacob’s arrival (following the Masoretic text), OR by using the New Chronology and adding 215 years for Jacob’s arrival. Both approaches get us to the late 12th Dynasty and the period of Pharaohs Senusret II, Senusret III, and Amenhemat III
There is, I believe, irrefutable archaeological evidence placing Joseph in the reign of Senusret III and Amenhemat III (see David Rohl’s book, Exodus, Myth or History, or watch the film Patterns of Evidence, Exodus). The question then is when was that? In the Old Chronology, Jacob arrives in Egypt in 1876 BC and in the New in 1661 BC.
5Having established when Joseph was in Egypt (or at least narrowed it down to two dates), we can now work back to dates for Abraham, the Flood, and Creation. Here again we have two choices: We can follow the Masoretic text or the Septuagint. As shown below, these two versions of the biblical text have a significant difference in the years from the Flood to Abraham based on the information recorded in Genesis 11.
Similar differences also exist in Genesis 5 (Adam to Noah) as indicated in the graph below
The area circled in red indicates a discontinuity (sudden drop) in the progressive shortening of lifespans found in the Masoretic text. The decline shown in the Septuagint on the other hand is relatively smooth from Shem right through to Jacob and Joseph.
Comparing these two texts, we find the number of years from Adam to the flood is 1656 in the Masoretic and 2242 in the Septuagint. These differences give us some options for the dates of the Flood and for Creation depending on which text we follow. The options that I consider reasonable (See note 1) are:
One of these options aligns closing with the chronology proposed by Bishop Ussher in 1650 and this provides the latest date for Creation. All of the other options have Creation between 200 and 1500 years earlier. (Ussher dated the beginning of Solomon’s reign 45 years earlier than the solution provided by Thiele – the current consensus date. Another eight years are added through small differences elsewhere in Ussher’s timeline)
Interestingly enough, the dates provided by the New Chronology for Egypt and the kingdoms of Mesopotamia align well with a flood date of circa 3,000 BC. As a final parting thought, here is a view of the period from the Flood to the Exodus based on the New Chronology with key people highlighted
(1) If one chooses to use the Masoretic for the period from creation to the flood one should use the same text for the period from the flood to Abraham. Similarly for the Septuagint. Thus I have not included options where the use of the various texts is mixed. I have also excluded combinations that do not place Joseph in the late 12th Dynasty of Egypt as I believe that the textual and archaeological evidence for that placement are very strong.
For a deeper discussion of the differences between the timelines in the Masoretic and Septuagint, see: Primeval Chronology of the Septuagint