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Bible Dictionaries

Holman Bible Dictionary

Chronology of the Biblical Period

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When speaking of chronology, one must differentiate between relative and absolute chronology. Absolute chronology is tied to fixed dates—events which are known to have occurred on a specific date (i.e. John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22,1963). Relative chronology places events in their chronological order but without a fixed date (i.e., Jesus was baptized, then tempted, then began His public ministry). Most of the biblical events are dated relatively rather than absolutely. For this reason many chronological charts have differences in specific dates B.C. or A.D., but generally agree on the relative order of most events.

The Old Testament Period The Patriarchal period is usually dated in the Middle Bronze Age between about 1800,1600 B.C. Recent finds at Ebla have indicated a high degree of civilization in Syria-Palestine at least 500 years earlier. It is generally assumed that the Hebrews migrated to Egypt during the Hyksos period about (1700 to 1500 B.C.) when Semitic people ruled Egypt. The Exodus is usually associated with the reign of Ramsees II shortly after 1290 B.C. Following the wilderness-wandering period of forty years, the conquest of Canaan began about 1250 B.C. Pharaoh Merneptah (1224-1214 B.C.) mounted a campaign against Canaan in the fifth year of his reign (about 1220). In his record of that campaign, he records that, among others, Israel was utterly destroyed. Thus by that date, the people Israel were a recognized group in Canaan.

The period of the Judges lasted from shortly after the conquest until ca. 1025 B.C., when Saul was made king. The length of his reign is uncertain, 1 Samuel 13:1 reads, “Son of a year was Saul in his ruling, and two years he ruled over Israel.” Acts 13:21 says he ruled 40 years. Compare several translations. It is often put at about 20 years. The forty-year reigns of David and Solomon would then have lasted to about 924 B.C. One major event during the reign of Solomon was the building of the Temple in Jerusalem, beginning in the fourth year in his reign ( 1 Kings 6:1 ) and completed in the eleventh year of his reign (1 Kings 6:38 ). The divided monarchy of Israel and Judah began with the ascension of Rehoboam following Solomon's death, and lasted until the fall of Samaria in 722 B.C. The destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. ended Judah's existence as a monarchy. This period of the monarchy is also the period of the pre-exilic prophets (such as Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah). 1,2Kings gives many synchronisms between the kings of Judah and Israel, following this pattern; “In the _____ year of _____, son of _____, king of Judah, _____ began to reign over Israel in Samaria.” (See 1 Kings 22:51 ; 2 Kings 3:1 .) Even with these synchronisms, some difficulty remains in establishing dates and precise parallels because the kings of Judah, and Israel figured their reigns differently during a portion of this time. The kings of Judah figured their reign from their first full year as king. A part of a year would be designated as the former king's last year of rule. In Israel, a part year was designated as the previous king's last year and the new king's first year. Therefore, the length of reign for a king of Israel was counted as one year longer than a similar reign for a king of Judah.

The last days of the kingdom of Judah involve the kings of Babylon, thus giving an outside source to date Judah's history. These external synchronisms can be used to fix the date of the fall of Jerusalem at ca. 586 B.C.

The period of Exile began with the capture of Jerusalem, the destruction of the Temple, and the second deportation of leading citizens in 586 B.C. (An earlier deportation in 597 B.C. had taken King Jehoiachin and his family and many top officials to Babylon.) Ezekiel is a leading prophet among the exiles during this time. Exile ended in 538 B.C. after the capture of Babylon by the Persians under Cyrus in 539 B.C. and Cyrus' edict permitting displaced persons to return to their homelands. The rebuilding of the Temple is dated between 520,515 B.C. according to dates from Haggai 1:1 ; Zechariah 1:1 ; and Ezra 4:24 , Ezra 6:15 .

Much more difficult is the date of Ezra and Nehemiah. Ezra returned from Exile in the seventh year of Artaxerxes (Ezra 7:1 ,Ezra 7:1,7:6-7 ). Nehemiah returned to Judah in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes (Nehemiah 1:1 ). What is difficult is whether these two came during the reign of Artaxerxes I (464-423 B.C.) or Artaxerxes II (404-358 B.C.), or even if both returned during the reign of the same king.

SIGNIFICANT DATES IN OLD TESTAMENT BIBLE HISTORY

Periods of History

Critical

Traditional

Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob)

1700-1500

2000

Exodus

1290

1450

Conquest

1250

1400

Judges

1200-1025

1360-1025

Kings

Kings of United Israel

Critical

Traditional

Saul

1025-1005

1020-1004

David

1005-965

1004-965

Solomon

965-925

965-931

Kings of the Divided Kingdom

Judah

Israel

Critical

Traditional

Rehoboam

924-907

931-913

Jeroboam

924-903

926-909

Abijam (Abijah)

907-906

913-910

Asa

905-874

910-869

Nadab

903-902

909-908

Baasha

902-886

908-886

Elah

886-885

886-885

Zimri

885

885

(Tibni, 1 Kings 16:21 )

885-881

885-880

Omri

885-873

885-874

Jehoshaphat

874-850

873-848

Ahab

873-851

874-853

Ahaziah

851-849

853-852

Jehoram (Joram)

850-843

853-841

Jehoram

849-843

852-841

Ahaziah

843

841

Athaliah

843-837

841-835

Jehu

843-816

841-814

Joash (Jehoash)

837-796

835-796

Jehoahaz

816-800

814-798

Amaziah

798-767

796-767

Joash (Jehoash)

800-785

798-782

Uzziah (Azariah)

791-740

792-740

Jeroboam II

785-745

793-753

Jotham

750-742

750-732

Zechariah

745

753-752

Shallum

745

752

Menahem

745-736

752-742

Jehoahaz I (Ahaz)

742-727

735-715

Pekahiah

736-735

742-740

Pekah

735-732

752-732

Hoshea

732-723

732-723

Hezekiah

727-698

715-686

Fall of Samaria

722

723/722

Manasseh

697-642

696-642

Amon

642-640

642-640

Josiah

639-606

640-609

Jehoahaz II

609

609

Jehoiakim

608-598

609-597

Jehoiachin

598-597

597

Zedekiah

597-586

597-586

Fall of Jerusalem

586

586

BABYLONIAN EXILE AND RESTORATION UNDER PERSIAN RULE

Jehoiachin and leaders exiled to Babylon including Ezekiel

597

Jerusalem destroyed, remaining leaders exiled to Babylon

586

Gedaliah set over Judea

58

Gedaliah assassinated

581 (?)

Jeremiah taken with other Judeans to Egypt

581 (?)

Judeans deported to Babylon

581

Cyrus, king of Persia

559-530

Babylon captured

539

Edict allowing Jews to return to Jerusalem under Zerubbabel

538

Temple restoration begun but quickly halted

538

Cambysses, king of Persia

530-522

Darius, king of Persia

522-486

Haggai and Zechariah lead rebuilding of Temple

520-515

Temple completed and rededicated

515

Xerxes, king of Persia

486-465

Artaxerxes I, king of Persia

465-424

Ezra returns to Jerusalem and teaches the law

458

Nehemiah returns to Jerusalem and rebuilds the walls

445

NOTE: Overlapping dates of kings such as between Uzziah and Jotham result from coregencies, that is, a father installing his son as king during the father's lifetime and allowing the son to exercise royal power. Critical dates are adapted from a system proposed by J. Maxwell Miller and John H. Hayes. Traditional dates are adapted from a system proposed by E. R. Thiele.

The Intertestamental Period During the Intertestamental Period, Palestine was first under the control of the Persians. Persian rule ended with the conquest of Palestine by Alexander the Great in 333-332 B.C. After the death of Alexander, Palestine fell first under Ptolemaic rule (323-198 B.C.) and then under Seleucid rule (198-164 B.C.). During the period of Ptolemaic rule the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) was made in Egypt. Seleucid rule brought a strong move to bring Hellenistic culture to Palestine, ending with the desecration of the Temple in Jerusalem and the persecution of Jews by Antiochus IV (Epiphanes) in 167 B.C. The following Jewish revolt led by Judas Maccabeus resulted in the defeat of the Seleucids and the Second Jewish Commonwealth (164 B.C.-63 B.C.). The Temple was reconsecrated in 164 B.C. These events are recorded in the Apocrypha in 1 Maccabees 1-4 . The successors to the Maccabees are usually called the Hasmonean rulers. Hasmonean ruled ended in 63 B.C. when Pompey occupied Jerusalem and Judea was again under foreign domination.

The New Testament Period One might expect that the chronology of the New Testament would be much more certain than that of the Old Testament. In some respects that is the case, but not entirely so. Granted we have Greek and Roman histories and annals, but most of the biblical events still cannot be placed precisely in an absolute chronology. The complicating factors are at least twofold. In the first place, the events of the New Testament were not reported by the Greek and Roman historians, nor were many precise events from Greek and Roman history included in the New Testament. Secondly, the Romans and Jews used different calendars. The Romans had a solar calendar with the year beginning in January, but reckoned most events from the accession date of the emperor. Thus they had internal differences in their own calendar. The Jewish calendar only confused the matter more. Basically, the Jews used a lunar calendar of 354 days. Periodically, they added an additional month to keep their calendar in line with the seasons. Because of several calendar changes, the Jews in their history had two New Year's days, one in the fall and the other in the spring. The spring New Year marked the beginning of the cultic calendar and the beginning of the next year's reign of the Jewish king. The fall New Year marked the beginning of the civil year. The reign of foreign rulers was noted from this fall New Year. With such differences, it is no wonder that absolute chronology for New Testament events is very difficult.

The Life and Ministry of Jesus The births of both Jesus (Matthew 2:1 ) and John the Baptist (Luke 1:5 ) are set in the reign of Herod the Great. From Josephus we learn that Herod died in the thirty-seventh year after the Roman Senate decree naming him king (40 B.C.). This would place his death in 4 B.C. The further evidence Luke gives of a census while Cyrenius was governor of Syria presents some difficulty (Luke 2:2 ). Cyrenius conducted a census while serving as governor in 6-7 A.D., but there is no corroborating historical reference to a census during Herod's reign, nor to Cyrenius serving as governor at that time. This simply means that we cannot verify Luke's statement from presently available evidence. Luke may have referred to the census of 6-7 A.D. in Acts 5:37 . With Herod's death placed in 4 B.C., Jesus' birth should probably be dated about 7 or 6 B.C.

The beginning of John the Baptist's ministry is set in the fifteenth year of Tiberius (Luke 3:1-2 ). This would be A.D. 28 or 29, if Tiberius' reign is set following the death of Augustus. If, however, the years of Tiberius' co-rule with Augustus are included, his fifteenth year would be A.D. 26 or 27. This latter date would fit better with Luke's statement that Jesus was about thirty when He began His ministry (Luke 3:23 ). Jesus' ministry would thus have began about A.D. 27 or 28. The length of Jesus' ministry is also much debated. None of the four Gospels gives enough details to determine the precise length of the ministry. Lengths of one, two, and three years are most often proposed. John's Gospel mentions three Passover feasts (John 2:13 ; John 6:4 ; John 11:55 ). If these are distinct Passovers, then they would seem to indicate at least a ministry extending slightly more than two years.

Even the information concerning the date of Jesus' crucifixion is uncertain. All the Gospel accounts agree that Jesus died on Friday of Passover week. The Synoptics indicate that the Last Supper was a Passover meal (Matthew 26:17-20 ; Mark 14:12 ; Luke 22:7-8 ). Passover was eaten on the evening of Nisan 15. John, on the other hand, indicates that Passover was eaten after Jesus was crucified (Luke 18:28 ; Luke 19:14 ). Then by John's account, Jesus was crucified on Nisan 14. Nisan 14,15 fell on a Friday four times within this time frame: A.D. 27,29, 30, and 33. The most likely date for the crucifixion is Nisan 14 or 15, A.D. 30.

The Apostles Dating the events and activities of the apostles is as vexing as dating the events of Jesus' life. There are very few fixed dates. The death of Herod Agrippa I, mentioned in Acts 12:23 , occurred in A.D. 44 according to Josephus. Likewise, the edict of Claudius expelling Jews from Rome (Acts 18:2 ), is usually dated to A.D. 49, and Gallio's term as deputy (Acts 18:12 ) belongs to A.D. 51-52.

Other events in Acts must be dated relatively, and problems remain. In particular, there is great difficulty in matching the chronology of Acts with the information in the Pauline epistles. However, in general, we can sketch with approximate dates the ministry of Paul as follows:

Conversion A.D. 33
First visit to Jerusalem, A.D. 36
Second visit to Jerusalem, during famine, A.D. 46
First missionary journey, A.D. 47-48
Conference in Jerusalem, A.D. 49
Second and third missionary journeys, A.D. 50-56
Final visit to Jerusalem, A.D. 57
Reaches Rome, A.D. 60

The datable events in the New Testament all occurred before the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70.

Joel F. Drinkard, Jr.


Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Chronology of the Biblical Period'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hbd/c/chronology-of-the-biblical-period.html. 1991.


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