The chronology for the period of the Hebrew judges is at best a puzzle and at worst a tangled mess. Scripture provides plenty of names and durations, but as we will see, reaching a conclusion as to who was active when is far from simple. Unlike the later period of the Kings, the information provided in Judges lacks both internal and external reference points to allow us to find dates. While Egypt was the primary foreign power for much of this period, no interaction with Egypt is recorded. Much of this is simply because, “In those days there was no king in Israel” (Judges 21:25), and consequently no central government to fight wars, build monuments, keep records, or (perhaps most important to the Egyptians) levy taxes and pay tribute. To get some idea of how the judges fit into the period between the Exodus and the coronation of Saul we will need to look at the whole of scripture and what scant archaeological evidence we have and try to find a solution that makes sense in the larger context.
While the specifics of the period of the judges are fuzzy, scripture does provide clear and easily datable boundaries for this period. More specifically, I Kings 6:1 provides us with the overall span of time between the Exodus and the reign of Solomon:
And it came to pass in the four hundred and eightieth year after the children of Israel had come out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, which is the second month, that he began to build the house of the LORD.
This scripture is the primary basis for what is know as an early exodus, and the early date is the basis for the timeline proposed here. To those proponents of a later exodus in the reign of Ramses II I would suggest that the book of Judges cannot be reconciled with a later date as can be deduced from the discussion to follow. Consequently, the Judges account supports an early date for the exodus.
The information given in I Kings 6:1 allows us to construct a set of bookends if you will for the period of the judges: A beginning and ending date inside of which to attempt to build a chronology. The current accepted date for the reign of Solomon is 970-930 BC following Thiele. Subtracting 480 years from the fourth year of Solomon’s reign (966 BC) gives us a date of 1,446 BC for the exodus. Adding back the forty year period between the exodus and the entry into Canaan (Deuteronomy 1:3, Joshua 4:19) gives us a starting date of 1,406 BC and the bookend on the left. On the right side we can subtract from the fourth year of the reign of Solomon the four years of his reign, forty years for the reign of David (II Samuel 5:4-5), and the years of the reign of Saul. The Old Testament does not provide any information on the length of Saul’s reign. The only reference that we have is found in Acts 13 in a speech by Paul to the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch:
“After that he gave them judges for about four hundred and fifty years, until Samuel the prophet. And afterward they asked for a king, so God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin for forty years.” (Acts 13:20-21)
In this passage, Paul both solves the problem of the length of Saul’s reign and hands us another problem with his statement about the duration of the period of the judges. Given that this was a speech in a synagogue we must expect that both facts were generally accepted and taught in the Jewish community of the time. Sticking to Saul for the moment, by subtracting the reigns of Saul, David, and Solomon (40+40+4 = 84) we get a date of 1,050 BC (966 + 84) for the beginning of Saul’s reign. Given overlapping partial years, this is adjusted to 1,049 BC as shown in Figure 1.
A Quick Note on Saul: In this article I have used the traditional 40 year reign of Saul. However, I believe that Saul’s actual reign was much shorter. The 40 year period assigned to Saul is at best a conflation of the time of Samuel’s judgeship and Saul’s kingship, with a significant overlap. In a separate article on Saul, I assign him a reign of only 12 years with a ten year overlap with Samuel. Some versions of Josephus would give him a reign of 20 years with an 18 year overlap with Samuel. Other scholarly research also supports a shorter reign. Any reduction in Saul’s reign would add years to the time between the “bookends” and likely reduce the amount of overlap in the later Judges period.
Based on the available scriptures we then have a period of 357 years available to us into which to squeeze the events of Judges, but also all of the book of Joshua and I Samuel 1-12. How is it then that Paul ascribes 450 years to the period of the judges? Paul may be simply summing up the periods of the judges and the intervening periods of peace as shown in Table 1. Note that in this reckoning, Eli is included as the final judge. No duration is given directly for Samuel’s judgeship, but I Samuel 4:18 gives a period of forty years for Eli.
|Peace||Joshua and Elders||Joshua 24:31||Unknown|
|Servitude||Cushan Rishathaim||Judges 3:8-9||8|
|Servitude||Eglon King of Moab||Judges 3:14||18|
|Peace||Ehud + Shamgar||Judges 3:30||80|
|Servitude||Jabin King of Canaan||Judges 4:3||20|
|Peace||Deborah + Barak||Judges 5:31||40|
|Servitude||Philistines + Ammon||Judges 10:7-9||18|
|Eli||I Samuel 4:18||40|
|Samuel||I Samuel 8:1-4||Unknown|
As the table shows, the total of the years given in Judges, plus Eli, totals to 450. This interpretation requires us to lay each period end to end much like the kings lists of the period. However, this is not necessarily the correct solution. As we have already seen, the available time is only 357 years and we still need to account for the life of Joshua and the period between the death of Eli and the coronation of Saul. Furthermore, the text gives us indication that there is at least some amount of overlap. For example, Judges 15:20 states that Samson, “judged Israel twenty years in the days of the Philistines”, indicating that Samson’s twenty years is included in the forty years of servitude to the Philistines. Eli and Samuel were also active during a period of Philistine supremacy so we should look for additional overlaps in this period and at least consider the potential for others.
Dan and Gibeah
Before diving into the chronology of the specific judges, we should address the portion of Judges that falls outside of the period listed in Table 1. Judges 1:1 – 2:10 provides a summary of the last portion of the book of Joshua with some additional details and a summary of what remained unconquered at the death of Joshua. Judges 2:11-23 then provides the introduction and overview to the book. Judges 3-16 is the portion of primary interest to us for the construction of a timeline, but what of the last four chapters, Judges 17-21? The last four chapters recount two stories, specifically that of Michah’s idol and the capture of Laish and that of the Levite’s concubine at Gibeah and the near destruction of Benjamin.
The story recounted in Judges 17-18 parallels that found in Joshua 19:40-48 except that in Joshua the name of the captured city that is renamed “Dan” is given as Leshem instead of Laish. I believe that these are two versions of the same story, with the Judges version providing more color. Based on the details in this story and the parallelism with Joshua 19, I believe that these events took place very early in the period of the judges; either during the life of Joshua or shortly thereafter. Probably no later than the judgeship of Othniel.
The story of the Levite’s concubine and the near destruction of Benjamin does not have a parallel in Joshua. However, the behavior displayed by the children of Israel is similar to that found in Joshua 22:10-34. Considering that Benjamin appears to have recovered by the time of Saul and the type of military action described here is consistent with that in Joshua and inconsistent with the later period of the judges I have to believe that these events also took place early in the period covered by Judges.
Jephthah, the Anchor Point
In all of scripture, there is only one reference that allows us to fix a date for any of the events found in Judges relative to any other point in history. That reference is found in Judges 11:26 and quotes a letter sent by Jephthah to the king of Ammon:
While Israel dwelt in Heshbon and its villages, in Aroer and its villages, and in all the cities along the banks of the Arnon, for three hundred years, why did you not recover them within that time?
This tells us that in Jephthah’s time, Israel had occupied the area east of the Jordan river for 300 years. This area was conquered in the last year of the wilderness period, just months before the entry into the land. We thus date the conquest of this area to late 1,407 BC and consequently Jephthah’s letter to 1,107 BC. From this date we can locate the period of oppression by the combined Philistines and Ammonites as beginning in 1,125 BC followed by Jephthah’s intervention in 1,107 and the end of his judgeship in 1,101, a scant 52 years before the coronation of Saul! This can be seen in Figure 2:
As I have given thought to Jephthah’s 300 year statement it has certainly occurred to me that this could be a round number, and more specifically that the actual number could be slightly larger, perhaps by a few years. For the time being though let us use it as a precise date and see where that leads us.
At the beginning of the period described in Joshua and Judges, Egypt was the ruling power in Canaan with the cities of Canaan vassals of the Egyptian Pharaoh. Egyptian power probably reached a peak under Ramses II (1279-1212 BC) and was in decline after that. Ramses VI (c1145-1137 BC) is the last Pharaoh for whom monuments have been found in Canaan. In the last hundred or so years of the judges and into the reign of David, the Philistines were the dominant power. The key archaeological finds from this period as they relate to Judges are:
- The Amarna Letters, particularly letter EA286. The Amarna letters are a collection of correspondence between Egypt and foreign powers, primarily from the reign of Pharaoh Akenaten. Several of these letters are from the ruler of Jerusalem, a vassal of the Pharaoh, requesting aid against the “Habiru” which some have associated with the Hebrews though this remains hotly debated in secular circles.
- The Merneptah or Israel Stele. A stone slab found at Thebes records a military campaign by Merneptah. Most of the inscription concerns a war with Libya but the last three lines describe a campaign in Canaan:
Hatti [Hittites] is pacified;
The Canaan has been plundered into every sort of woe:
Ashkelon [Philistines] has been overcome;
Gezer [Canaan] has been captured;
Yano'am [unknown] is made non-existent.
Israel is laid waste and his seed is not;
This is the first mention of Israel’s presence in Canaan in recorded history, and the only one from the period of the judges. It has been dated to c1208 BC.
- Excavations. Archaeological digs have been conducted at many biblical sites in ancient Canaan. Of particular relevance here are those conducted at Hazor which confirm that it was ruled by an Ibin (etymologically similar to Jabin) and was destroyed by fire approximately 1200 BC.
A Proposed Timeline
Jephthah provides us with an anchor point from which to build a chronology. Recognizing that we need to compress a total of 450 years of combined rule and periods of peace down to less than 350, working from a 1,107 BC date for Jephthah provides an indication of where that compression needs to occur.
The total time listed in Judges before Jephthah is introduced in Judges 11 is 319 years. However, the available time for these events is only 299 years (from the entry into Canaan) and we still need to add a period for the conquest of Canaan and the remaining life of Joshua and the elders that outlived him (Joshua 24:31). The early portion of Judges follows a predictable pattern: the Lord allows a foreign power to oppress is Israel for a period of time due to their disobedience, a judge is raised up to break the power of the foreign oppressor, and a period of peace ensues, sometimes corresponding with the rule of a judge. This predictable cycle of servitude and peace can be seen in Table 1. This cycle seems to end with a period of peace under Gideon. There are two more periods of servitude mentioned, but no more periods of peace. Following Gideon we have the short reign of his son Abimelech as king and two judges, neither of whom is credited with actions. If we continue the pattern of servitude and peace, then the period of peace under Gideon would be followed by the 18 year period of servitude to the Philistines and Ammorites immediately preceding Jephthah. Using this as a starting point and following scripture to work backwards, provides the solution shown in Figure 3.
This particular solution provides a good fit, not only with scripture but also with the archaeological evidence as follows:
Joshua and the Elders
Scripture does not give us the period between the entry into Canaan and the first period of servitude under Cushan-Rishathaim. It only states that Israel continued to serve the Lord all the days of Joshua and the elders that outlived Joshua (Joshua 24:31). Joshua’s age at his death is given as 110 years (Joshua 24:29) but we are not provided with any information to determine his age at any of the important events in this period. The best we can do is estimate from the life of Caleb who can be assumed to be of similar age. In Joshua 14:10, Caleb states that he is now 85 years old and it has been 45 years since he went to spy out the land. This tells us that the conquest of Canaan is now in its seventh year at the point where the children of Israel are receiving their inheritance. If we assume that Joshua is of the same age, then he would live an additional 25 years to reach the age of 110. Interestingly, the solution shown in Figure 3 allows exactly 25 years following the conquest of Canaan for the remaining life of Joshua and the elders that outlived him. Conceptually I would like to see a somewhat longer period here, but this works. Others who have tried to provide a solution for this period of time have estimated it between ten and seventy-one years, with an average of 32.6 years, so it seems reasonable.
The Amarna Letters
The period of the Amarna letters corresponds to a period of peace under Othniel in this timeline. In those letters, Abdi-Hiba, king of Jerusalem, complains to Pharaoh of a people he calls “Hibaru” that are overrunning the land. He requests help from Pharaoh, but Pharaoh does not send any. The word Hibaru is cognate with Hebrew those association remains hotly debated. Assuming that it is the children of Israel that are being referred to here, it fits the biblical narrative. At this point in time the children of Israel would have been continuing to expand and claim their inheritance and the lack of Egyptian intervention allowed them to do this.
Jabin, Hazor and the Israel Stele
Egypt was still the primary foreign power in Canaan in the late 13th century BC and the Canaanite cities of that time were vassals paying tribute. I find it very interesting that in this solution to the Judges chronology, the defeat of Jabin king of Canaan and his general Sisera by Deborah and Barak falls just before the events described on the Israel Stele of Merneptah and the archaeological evidence for the destruction of Hazor. Jabin was clearly the principal power in Canaan at this point in time and would have had other Canaanite cities and probably the Philistines under his sway as well as the children of Israel. However, he would have still been under the dominion of Egypt. The defeat of Jabin’s army by Deborah and Barak would have created a power vacuum and an opportunity for not only the children of Israel to escape his rule but also for the other cities of Canaan. With Jabin unable to retain control, Merneptah was forced to intervene and put these rebellious cities back under Egyptian control. Thus, the stele records a campaign against Gezer, Ashkelon, an unknown city, and the children of Israel. Scripture records in Judges 4:24 that, “the hand of the children of Israel grew stronger and stronger against Jabin king of Canaan, until they destroyed Jabin king of Canaan”, indicating that some time passed between the victory of Deborah and Barak and the ultimate destruction of Jabin and his capital, Hazor. This is consistent with the archaeological evidence which shows that Hazor was destroyed c1200 BC or about ten years after the initial victory of Deborah and Barak.
Abimelech, Tola, and Jair
Linking the beginning of the 18 years of servitude under the combined Philistines and Ammonites to the end of the 40 years of peace under Gideon creates some parallelism in the account. Abimelech’s rise to power as king in Shechem then corresponds with the rise of the Philistines as a power in western Canaan. From my perspective the desire for leadership is increased in times of crisis and this could explain the desire to have a king.
Nothing is recorded about the actions of Tola or Jair, only that they judged Israel for a period of time. As we will see shortly there seems to have been a number of parallel judges in the period after Jephthah.
It is now time to turn our attention to the period following Jephthah’s victory over the Ammonites. Joshua lists three judges that follow Jephthah during a period of 25 years. There is no reason to not simply add these names to the chronology following Jephthah as shown in Figure 4. The key questions for this period are the duration of time that Samuel judged Israel before Saul’s coronation as king, when the 40 year oppression by the Philistines began, and where to put Samson.
Samuel and Eli
Scripture does not provide us with the length of time that Samuel judged Israel, how long he lived, or other direct indicator of how long we should assign to his judgeship. We do however have one clue that we can work with. Following the capture and return of the ark of the covenant by the Philistines, we see in I Samuel 7:2 that the ark was at Kirjath Jearim for 20 years. This corresponds with the beginning of Samuel’s judgeship. The next (and final time in I Samuel) that the ark is mentioned is I Samuel 14:18 where Saul asks Ahijah the priest to bring the ark to him at Gibeah following Jonathan’s victory. Based on I Samuel 13:1, this appears to be in the second year of his reign or shortly afterward. Thus, I have assigned Samuel a period of (20-2 = 18) years prior to the reign of Saul. Samuel would of course continue to be a presence until approximately 30 years into Saul’s reign when he anoints David to be king.
Eli is said to have judged Israel for 40 years, ending with the capture of the ark (I Samuel 4:18). The ark was in the land of the Philistines for seven months (I Samuel 6:1) before being returned to Israel with Samuel’s judgeship starting almost immediately thereafter. Thus, the period between Eli and Samuel was probably less than a year and Figure 4 shows Eli immediately preceding Samuel. While Eli was identified as a judge of Israel, his primary role was that of High Priest and it should be no surprise that there were other parallel judges.
Judges 13:1 identifies a 40 year period of Philistine oppression. The end of this period came at the battle of Mizpah in the beginning of Samuel’s judgeship. Following the battle I Samuel 7:13 states that, “the Philistines were subdued and did not come any more into the territory of Israel”, thus ending the period of their oppression. Adding 18 years for Samuel and 40 years for the Philistines gets us to (1049 + 18 + 40 = 1107 BC) or subtracting two half years, 1108 BC, only one year after Jephthah’s victory over the Ammonites. This makes perfect sense as only Ammon was defeated. The Philistines were not subdued and therefore Israel moved almost directly from a period of oppression by the combined forces of the Philistines and Ammonites to, with Jephthah’s victory, oppression by the Philistines alone.
Samson was not to be Israel’s ultimate deliverance from the Philistines. The prophecy given by the Angel of the Lord prior to his birth states only that, “he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines” (Judges 13:5). The final deliverance was only accomplished by Samuel. The entire Samson story is set in the 40 year period of Philistine oppression. During this period he was born, grew to manhood, and judged Israel for 20 years (Judges 15:20), beginning their deliverance. Based on this information I have placed Samson late in the 40 year Philistine period and perhaps his last act in destroying the temple of Dagon may belong at the very end of that period but there is no way to know for sure. As he was grinding grain in a Philistine prison, he is absent from the events of I Samuel 4-6, if he was indeed still living.
The complete proposed timeline then is given in Figure 5.
There have been many both ancient and modern attempts to solve the puzzle of the Judges chronology. Too many to give space to here. What I will do though is provide some insight on what is perhaps the most well known of these, that being the chronology of Bishop Ussher. This chronology is discussed at length by Dr. Floyd Nolen Jones. Ussher used dates of 1491 BC for the Exodus and 1011 BC for the fourth year of Solomon’s reign and Nolen Jones sticks with these dates. Figure 6 shows a composite of the Ussher chronology and that of Nolen Jones, but adjusted for an Exodus in 1446 and 966 as the fourth year of Solomon’s reign which is the modern consensus following Thiele.
Ussher’s approach to solving the problem of the extra years was to collapse the periods of bondage and peace so that the period of bondage was included in the period of peace as shown above. Ussher however seems to have ignored Jephthah’s letter fixing the defeat of the Ammonites 300 years after the conquest of Gilead (299 years after the beginning of the conquest of Canaan). Consequently, Ussher has Jephthah following immediately after Jair and the continuation of his chronology is shown in grey. Meanwhile, Nolen Jones, recognizing the hard date provided by Jephthah has a different arrangement for Jephthah and the three judges that follow him while agreeing with Ussher on Samson and nearly so on Eli.
In addition to ignoring Jephthah’s 300 year anchor point, Ussher also has a short period of only nine years allotted to Gideon’s judgeship which doesn’t seem to fit with the account in Judges 8:28-32 as it doesn’t allow for him to have seventy sons or die, “at a good old age”. Nolen Jones’ approach would allow for a full 40 years under Gideon while still allowing a short gap between Jair and Jephthah.
As a final note, I feel the approach provided in Figure 5 is superior to that of Ussher in that the archaeological evidence aligns with a later date for Deborah and Barak as noted in the discussion of the Merneptah stele and Hazor destruction layer. It also allows for a more direct reading of scripture in the early part of the chronology.
I just published an updated timeline today that you might want to have a look at. It replaces the previous…
I appreciate your supply of the Judges timeline–integrating both internal and external evidences and then graduating the analysis of those…
Greetings from Glen You write- “The sojourn of the ark in Kirjath Jearim, between its capture by the Philistines and…
Greetings from Glen, Australia This is a most interesting site. Encouraged by the new chronology based on a radical down…
Thanks Todd for doing this! You showed me this first project in 2005 in Singapore. I am keen to see…
4 thoughts on “The Judges”
This is the most accurate timeline i have seen online. Very few have made the connection between the end of the 40 years of oppression of the Philistines and 1 Samuel 7:13, after all, every time one of the oppressors is defeated in Judges, a phrase like: “Thus [insert oppressor name here] was subdued”, with the exception of Cushan and Abimelech (Although Cushan was from a distant land and Abimelech was from within Israel themselves, he was one of their brothers, not a neighboring enemy so the phrases at Judges 3:10 and Judges 9:56 and 57 are different for the above reasons). The only time this phrase is entirely absent is when Samson kills 3,000 Philistines with his dying act, so yes it would seem the 40 years ended in 1 Samuel 7:13. Even though 3,000 is a large number, its worth noting the Philistines killed more than 34,000 Israelites in 1 Samuel 4. So it would seem that what happened was as follows: The Philistines capture Samson, Israels savior and he is incarcerated for a few months. With no Savior to resist, the oppression of the Philistines increases, prompting the people to return to God, so Samuel commands them to gather at Mizpah. Meanwhile, Samson kills the 3,000 when he collapses the House of Dagon (compare Judges 16:30 with Judges 16:24). The Philistines would be understandably angry and want to strike out in retaliation, so after appointing new leadership and hearing that all Israel has gathered at Mizpah (1 Samuel 7:7), this would be their chance to strike a crushing blow against Israel, who would need no rounding up, for they had already been rounded up.
One question i have with the timeline however is why has Abimelech’s 3 years been smushed in to be concurrent with the 18 year joint oppression? I don’t really see a solid reason within the text to do so. I feel like if he was joint oppressing, the bible would have told us so like it did by mentioning the Philistines alongside the Ammonites (even though the Philistines have nothing to do with Jephthah’s story). If it made a point to let us know these were joint then it would have done so with Abimelech. I would also expect that Judges 8:33-35 share the same features as Judges 10:6, namely them appointing Baʹal-beʹrith as their god. or Judges 8 would include reference to serving the Gods of Aram, Moab, Sidon, Ammonite and Philstine. But other than that, the timeline looks spot on.
Jair, Tola, Abdon, Ibzan and Elon as well as Jepthah’s 6 years following Ammonite defeat being the “Overlap” data has support within the book of Judges. Compare Judges 3:36 with Judges 10:1-5 and Judges 12:7-15. The way the information is presented is consistent across these, each Judge has a short paragraph summarizing them, except the only difference is, Shamgar has no numerical value assigned to him. But in actuality, we don’t know how long any Judgeships were prior to Abimelech. We are only told the length of Peace that resulted from the Judges actions. For example, Gideons actions resulted in 40 years of peace (Judges 8:28), but then Judges 8:29-35 mentions the events that occurred within the 40 years (including the “in time” of Judges 9:1) and then records the events that broke the peace in chapter 9, namely the slaughter of the 70. After which Abimelech ruled Israel for 3 years. So within the 40 years of peace, Gideon had 70 Children, died, the people turned bad and ended when Abimelech slaughtering the 70. Similarly, Othniel died within his 40 years of peace, the people turned bad until God eventually handed them over to Eglon. Barak judged and died within his 40 years and the people turned bad. And within the 80 years of Peace Ehud died (so they were not judges for the whole 40 or 80 years, they died within that time frame), so basically before Abimelech, we know no Judgeship lengths. How long did Shamgar judge for? Less than a year as Josephus claimed? Unlikely, as Judges 5:6 describes the conditions under King Jabin (abandoned roads), which occured “In The Days of Shamgar”. So Shamgar started his Judgeship at some point after Ehud during the 80 years, and it ended sometime during the 20 years of Jabin. So in other words, Shamgar is an overlap Judge, his Judgeship length has no impact on the progression of the Chronology. Had he been alive in Jair or Tola’s time, we would have had a length of Judgeship listed, and we probably would have another 20 years worth of data to confuse us with. But he was included as a footnote, (or a “Fun Fact”) to Ehud’s account, to help us understand the chronology. Given that Judges 4:1 ignores Shamgar and links us with Ehud’s death, its clear Shamgar’s inclusion has no impact on furthering the timeline (although it provides us a nice link back to Judges 2:17). So Like Shamgar, Jair and Tola are “footnotes” or “fun-facts” at the end of Abimelech’s account, and Elon, Abdon and Ibzan and Jepthah’s 6 year reference are footnotes to Jephthah’s account; none of them progress the timeline. Like Shamgar, this is all overlap data. The only other reference to a Judgeship length is Samson, who’s also was overlap data. So no Judgeship length anywhere in Judges has an impact on the timeline pushing forward.
This raises the question, why do we suddenly get Judgeship lengths after Abimelech and not before? The answer is simple. Samuel wrote Judges. These are the Judges that were alive when he was alive, so the data was available firsthand to him. All the data including and before Abimelech would have come from other sources (perhaps Eli, or some records stored at the tabernacle that recorded periods of oppression and peace). Interestingly, with the slight 3 year adjustment of the data, Eli becomes high priest a few months after Abimelech begins ruling, and Eli was the first high priest from the line of Ithamar, whereas all priests prior were from the line of Eleazar. Who knows if Abimelech had a hand in the change of the family line.
So yeah, this timeline is really good, i would maybe just Move Samson’s Judgeship ahead (His 20 years is probably concurrent with the 20 years of 1 Samuel 7:2). And shifting the timeline back 3 years with Abimelech. Also Eli would need shifting back seen as he ended his run as high priest 20 years+7 months before the events in 1 Samuel 7. I wouldn’t worry about Joshua’s death, he was probably older than Caleb. The “A Young Man” of Exodus 33:11 is rendered as simply “Servant” elsewhere (https://biblehub.com/hebrew/naar_5288.htm), so contextually its more referring his role as Moses minister and attendant rather than his age. Also the context of Numbers 11:28:
“and Joshuaʽ the son of Nun, Moses’s attendant since his young manhood, answered “My lord Moses, stop them.” But Moses said to him: “Are you jealous for me? No, I wish that all of Jehovah’s people were prophets and that Jehovah would put his spirit on them!”
implies that Joshua had been Moses attendant for a long time up to this point, (this was the same year he sent him out to spy). The reason Joshua was jealous was because he had been Moses attendant since he was young, one would hardly go from being young to suddenly not being young in the space of a year, its a gradual thing that would take a long time. So i think its quite possible that Joshua was even Moses attendant during the time Moses was a prince of Egypt. Similarly to how Moses own mother had raised Moses on behalf of Pharoahs daughter, Moses probably had some Hebrew servants during his 40 years as a prince, one of these could well have been Joshua. This long term relationship is why the detail is mentioned when it is in relation to the reason why Joshua was jealous. Moses himself is credited as the one who defeated enemies of God while being 120 years old (Deuteronomy 4:46 and Joshua 12:6), similarly even if Joshua was much older than we previously thought, it would not mean that he would not be credited as the one who defeated the Canaanites, even if he was not as active in the actual battles as say the much younger Israelite’s. He is spoken of as being “Old and Advanced” in days the same year as Caleb is 85 afterall (Joshua 13:1).
As for the elders who outlived Joshua (that also had to have seen all of God’s deeds for Israel Judges 2:7,10), to be alive in the promised land would have to have been less than 20 at the start of the exodus, but old enough to see all the deeds (So lets say 3 or 4 when children’s earliest memories are), this means that at the end of the exodus these would be 43 at the youngest. Now also bear in mind that the youngest who died in the wilderness would have been 20 at the start of the exodus would have only lived to 60 at maximum. If this was the general norm with Caleb being an exception, then these who were younger than 20 at the start of the Exodus might also only live as long as 60, so you would expect the youngest of that generation of elders to be dying off 17 years after entering the promised land (thats if someone who was 43 was made an elder in the time of Joshua), which would be about 9 years before Cushan comes onto the scene. So thats another 9 years to play with even for those who were 43 in that generation, but it may have only been those who were 19 at the start of the exodus that became elders, and if Caleb wasn’t an age exception, then these elders could live on into their mid 80’s before dying and Cushan entering the scene. So It works.
But yeah, i think this is the best timeline i’ve seen online to date
First of all, thanks for the feedback.
With respect to Abimelech I was definitely tempted to put him before the beginning of the joint oppression by the Philistines and Ammonites. The easy solution would be to slide everything prior to the Jephthah account three years to the left, removing three years from the time allotted to Joshua and the elders (reducing that time from 32 to 29 years). Assuming that Joshua was the same age as Caleb (as we have no information in scripture to precisely date Joshua’s birth or death) then he would have lived (110-85=25) 25 years after the completion of the conquest or 32 years after the entry into the land. Considering that apparently at least some of the elders outlived Joshua it didn’t feel right to reduce this period to anything less than 32 years. The alternate solution that I considered relates to Jephthah’s statement that Israel had been in the land for 300 years in his letter to the Ammonite king. I would be perfectly natural for him to make this statement if in fact it had been slightly more than 300 years (as you or I would do). Remember that scripture is quoting Jephthah, not making a definitive statement on its own. So if we postulate that the actual time was 303 years we could move Jephthah and those after him to the right by three years to allow for Abimelech (and also closing the gap between the Philistine + Ammonite and pure Philistine oppressions). Ultimately I left Abimelech as an overlap with the period of Philistine and Ammonite oppression. When Israel demands a king in I Samuel 8 it is in part to, “go out before us and fight our battles” (8:20). Consequently I think that either the presence or the threat of foreign oppression may have been the occasion for the men of Shechem to want a king. The bottom line is that given the short reign of Abimelech which way you go on this issue doesn’t make a big difference to the overall timeline.
With respect to Samson, as the message of his birth was given when the Philistines were already oppressing Israel (though perhaps during the period of joint oppression with the Ammonites) it’s necessary to for him to be at the end of the 40 year period in order to allow time for him to grow to adulthood. I tend to think that he was in the Philistine prison for years as opposed to months but I do think it likely that his death was followed rapidly by the events of I Samuel 7.
And now for Samuel, I have allotted 18 years to him as a judge prior to the coronation of Saul. I Samuel 7:2 states that the ark was in Kirjath Jearim for 20 years. The next time we hear about it being moved is in the second year of Saul’s reign when Saul calls for it to be brought to him at Gibeah in I Samuel 14:18 and this (20-2=18) is where I get my number. Samuel and Saul are a bit problematic:
* Samuel becomes a judge when Eli dies but he needs to be in that position long enough (and be old enough) to make his sons judges (I Samuel 8:1) and for enough time for their corruption to be an issue to the elders leading to their request for a king (8:3-4)
* Saul is ascribed a reign of 40 years by Paul in Acts 13:21 and that’s the number I have used. Josephus however gives him a reign of only 21 years. I think a shorter reign makes sense but absent either hard archaeological evidence or other corroborating sources I’m sticking with 40 years.
* David was 30 years old when he began to reign (II Samuel 5:4), but he was likely somewhere between 15 and 20 when Samuel anointed him king. Using a 40 year reign for Saul this would be 25-30 years after Saul’s coronation making Samuel at least 65-70 at this time (25 or 30 + 18 years as a judge + 20 years to grow to adulthood + any other time for his sons to become adults) which explains his death shortly afterward. So Saul’s 40 year reign means that Samuel has to be old enough at Saul’s coronation but not too old to live to David’s anointing. If Saul’s reign is only 21 years we could allow a longer time for Samuel as a judge but I don’t think it would necessarily move the events of I Samuel 7.
If you haven’t read it yet, check out the article on the Judges which has some more info and also provides an alternative timeline based on Ussher (who I don’t agree with but feel a need to use as a point of reference).
I too make about 18 Years of Samuel Judging the people, but its worth noting that Samuel doesn’t take up judging the people until Mizpah (1 Samuel 7:6), but Eli dies 20 years (1 Samuel 7:2) and 7 Months (1 Samuel 6:1) before this event. Even though Samuel was confirmed as Gods prophet even before Eli’s death (1 Samuel 3:20,21+ 1 Samuel 4:1), he wasn’t a “judge” until those 20 years and 7 months later, so it’s just shifting Eli back by that much. When Samuel anointed Saul he had “Grown Old” (1 Samuel 8:1), if he was at least 60, this makes him in his mid 40’s during the events at Mizpah, his mid 20’s when Eli dies, and it means he was brought to serve at the tabernacle around the same year as Jephthah breaks the Ammonite oppression
And regarding the 20 years, it’s not 20 years that the ark spent in that place until it was removed, it’s just staying that Israel only began seeking God properly again 20 years after the ark had been placed in Kirjathjearim. So it should be as follows
1) Eli is born 2) at age 58 he becomes high priest 3) serves as high priest judging for 40 years until the ark is captured and he dies aged 98 4) The ark spends 7 months In Philistine territory until it arrives at Kirjathjearim 5) 20 years later the people begin serving God and Samuel begins judging. Also the 40 year oppression of the Philistines end. The same year And then The 18 yearsish until Saul.
Where you have placed the events of Samuel 7 is quite correct, it’s just how Eli’s judgeship and life relate to those events that need shifting. The ark wasn’t removed from Kirjathjearim until the events of 1 Chronicles 13:5,6 which was in David’s first year, so you have Sauls 40 years, plus the 20 years plus the years Samuel was judging alone (which I make 17 years) so the ark was in Kirjathjearim for 77/78 years in total before being moved. Yes Saul used it in 1 Samuel 14, but we are explicitly told that it hadn’t been cared for in Sauls time of ruling (hence why it stayed in Kirjathjearim until David’s day), although even then, the septuagint just mentions an ephod in 1 Samuel 14, not the ark (altho it makes no difference either way). But for a certainly, the 20 years reference in 1 Samuel 7 is mentioning the time from the arks coming to Kirjathjearim until the people returned to God. It’s not a reference as to how long it spent in Kirjathjearim. Even with a quick trip out to Saul, Kirjathjearim was still it’s dwelling place.
And just again with Joshua, he was probably older. Joshua 13:1, 23:1 and 23:2 all refer to Joshua at old and advanced in years. If he was the same age as caleb you would expect too that Caleb would have been referred to as “old and advanced in years”. Yet even though he’s 85 he’s referred to as strong and as having power for war. So I would say Joshua was alot older than Caleb. What’s more, you have the events of Joshua 15:14-19, Joshua 15:63, Joshua 16:10 and Joshua 17:11-13 repeated in Judges Chapter 1, as well as Joshua 19:47 expanded upon in Judges 1:34 and Judges 17 and 18, and these are as Judges 1:1 places these events after Joshuas death. Now I know some people try and explain the phrase “after the death of Joshua” as simply a book title. But the rest of the words in the verse only make sense as a direct result of “after the death of Joshua”. The israelites wouldn’t be asking who would go up to fight the israelites if Joshua was still alive. Even as an old man not doing the physical fighting, Joshua would still be a leader and useful to the people. Moses was able to aid the israelites in battle simply by holding his arms up in the air (Exodus 17:11,12). It makes no sense for Joshua to suddenly become inactive unless he was dead. And as verse 1 of judges shows, it’s the israelites taking the lead in the decisions, not Joshua (as is the case with the final chapters of judges), and when the people are reprimanded in Chapter 2, it is Gods angel and not Joshua who reprimands them. It’s quite clear that Joshua is absent because he’s dead. It’s Occams razor. The way Judges is structured is Judges 1:1-2:5 relays events immediately following Joshuas death, and then Judges 2:6-3:6 pauses the narrative In order the set up the pattern for the book, the cycle that Israel got into, the main context etc (hence why Judges 2:6 jumps back to the time when Joshua sent the people away). Then 3:7 until the end of Judges 16 is the main bulk of the book giving the history of the judges, and then chapters 17-22 serve as an appendix with more accounts giving background to the book.
Whoever finished the book of Joshua (likely Phineas) sprinkled details thoughout of things occurring in his day when he finished the book, and you often find the phrase “down to this day” repeated throughout the book (Joshua 4:9- 12, Joshua 5:9, Joshua 6:25, Joshua 7:26, Joshua 8:28,29, Joshua 9:27, Joshua 10:25, Joshua 13:13, Joshua 14:14, Joshua 15:14-19, Joshua 15:63, Joshua 16:10, Joshua 17:11-13, Joshua 19:47). So when the account was finished being wrote some time after Eleazar’s death, whoever finished it put in details about events and people that happened after Joshuas death that was relevant in his day when it was being wrote. It’s even possible that the events of Joshua 22:11-34 could also be set after Joshuas death (Joshua and Eleazar are absent from the account with the israelites taking the lead like Judges 1 and 17-21). So of note is that Joshua 14:14 seems to indicate that Caleb was still alive when the book of Joshua was finished. So if Caleb was the same age as Joshua, then he would be older than 110 at this point, which seems unlikely for the above reasons. What’s more, with the events of Judges 1 taking place after Joshuas death, it seems illogical that the people would be waiting around 15 years for Joshua to die before going to take possession of the land. Further confirmation that they hadn’t taken possession of the land at the time of Joshuas death can be found by comparing Joshua 24:28 with Judges 2:6 (which are describing the same thing), we find that when Joshua sent the people away in Chapter 24, it was to take possession of the land. Then Joshua died at that time (Joshua 23:14). So Joshua only lived long enough after allotting the land to build up Timnath Sereh with his family (Joshua 19:50, Joshua 24:15), but not long enough for the people to go and resume warfare with the Caananites. So this could very well have been the same year as he allotted the land (his age description remains unchanged). It was the seventh year when he was speaking to Caleb in Chapter 14 and distributing the land, which was the first sabbatical year for the land. After six years of conquering it could be that the israelites were all resting in the seventh year (altho this is just speculation), and then the eighth year they resumed their campaign after Joshuas death with Judah taking the lead. Although I am uncertain that they rested from instigating war for any sabbatical reason or that it was just for a year, but as of yet I can’t find any other reason that the israelites should keep dwelling in tents when they could be out conquering their inheritance. But at the very least, Joshua must have been older than Caleb.
Joesphus is good when it comes to the history of his day, but when it comes to other things I take it with a pinch of salt. In his own history he places the events of Ruth at the same time as when Eli is having his 40 years, which is an impossibility given Boaz parents being Salmon and Rahab. Having read his account it just seems like his own (althoigh it looks like he skim read an) interpretation of the information taken directly from the bible. He places Eli’s 40 years starting after Samsons 20 years too, so I’m not really convinced the judges era was his area of expertise.
I have looked at Usshers timeline via Dr Floyd (I hope I found the right documents), while interesting, merging the oppressions into the peace just doesn’t make any sense, for that in itself is a Paradox. The land can’t be having rest if the israelites are being oppressed. 18 years of oppression and 62 years of Peace doesn’t equal 80 years of Peace. 80 years of Peace means 80 years of Peace. There can’t be Peace if there’s oppression. Having Jair, Tola, Abdon, Elon, Ibzan and Jephthahs 6 years as the overlap is consistent with Shamgar being an overlap/ footnote to the main account, and Samson being an overlap too, so there’s double prescedent for this within the text. So that’s solid. So just using the periods of Peace and oppression be the Chronological data and the judgeship lengths be the overlap creates a consistent internal methodology that is backed up by the scriptures (see this is where I disagree with having Abimelech be an overlap because it breaks the consistency of the methodology and reminds me of people shrinking Ehud’s judgeship to 18 years Just for the reason that it works altho nowhere near as drastic a change, and also where I dislike my own assumption regarding Joshua and the 7th year being when all Israel rested from war, because I can’t find any satisfactory Scriptural backing for it as of yet).
With Abimelech and your point about the power vacuum, that is a very valid point. But I will say the Philistines fought against Shamgar, but they didn’t have a period of oppression, it seems like these were nipped in the bud before they became a major issue in this part of History. So just because there are Enemies doesn’t mean they would have had an oppression, and again, I feel seen as the scriptures went out of their way to tell us there was an overlap with the Philistines and the Ammonites, it would likewise have told us if Abimelech was a part of this oppression.
I will just stress again how impressed I am with this timeline though, definitely the best by comparison to the others.
Thanks again for the feedback. I will take all of this into account when it comes time to rework this – and I do plan to rework things over time as I get feedback and find more information.
With respect to Boaz, scripture only gives us four generations between the exodus / conquest and David. Nahshon is listed as the leader of Judah in Numbers 1:7, and he would have perished in the wilderness. Salmon marries Rahab (Matthew 1:5) placing him at the time of the conquest. That leaves only Boaz and Obed between Salmon and Jesse who is living at the time of Saul and of David’s anointing – a period of almost 400 years. Clearly there are missing generations here and where to place Boaz is not clear. Based on the narrative I would place him in a period of peace and probably sometime after the servitude to Moab. Josephus could be right, but that would mean that all of the generations between Salmon and Boaz are lost. I think it more likely that the missing generations are more equally spaced between Salmon and Jesse and have placed Boaz accordingly.