Dating is the backbone of history, and history is the filter by which we interpret the present and the future. Dating has also been the crow bar that has been used to pry apart Jewish history from archeology and other historical sources for 150 years. As a result, faith has become more mystical and unable to speak with authority in the marketplace. It’s time for a popular uprising that will empower every Christian to speak anywhere with confidence and credibility.
It’s important to note, in passing, that the Jewish historical writings contain a chronology that provides rather precise dates, beginning with six days of creation through the Babylonian captivity, without interruption. This is unique. It was once considered to be authoritative. Non-biblical history has pieced together Egyptian, Assyrian, and Babylonian kings lists, and many other disparate sources, to arrive at the Conventional Chronology that is different from and longer in years than the Jewish chronology. Mistakes made in the 19th century have fueled liberal theology and consequently the fundamentalist reaction. Current research is attempting to repair the damage.
To begin with, it’s important to grasp that not every era of the past can claim the same degree of certainty. As a rule of thumb, I would divide ancient history into three broad periods: the first millennium B.C., the second millennium B.C., and everything before that. The further we go back, the more uncertain historical facts become, for both biblical and secular history.
Most ancient dates are relative to others. Precise dating depends upon events that can be absolutely determined, hopefully down to the year. The first millennium B.C. can be precisely dated by the sacking of Thebes, a city in Egypt, by Ashurbanipal, the king of Assyria. Surrounding dates are established relative to this fall of Thebes in 664 B.C. The end of the first millennium becomes questionable, however, as I shall explain in another post, and this affects the dating of all previous history.
The second millennium includes the history of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, the Judges, Saul, and David. The Egyptian kings list, written by the priest Manetho around 260 B.C., has become the standard for dating this period. All other national histories for this period depend upon Egyptian dating. If Egyptian history is stretched, then so is everything else. Some are claiming that Egyptian history is stretched by as much as two or three centuries, which would explain why archaeology has difficulty corroborating biblical history.
The third millennium B.C., and before, contains the beginning of writing and history. This was the time before Abraham. It is the most interesting time, as far as I’m concerned, but also the most speculative. It was the time of Noah, the Tower of Babel, and Ur. “History Begins at Sumer”, as André Parrot famously entitled his book. Unfortunately, few people know much about the first civilization. Then there are the pottery cultures, such as Halaf, Samarra, and Ubaid. Finally, we have the archaeological sites that are both pre-historic and pre-pottery. One such site is Gobekli Tepe, with 16-foot carved stones weighing 10 tons. Most of this time is shrouded in mystery and should invite us to be open minded and to proceed with great caution.
Understanding ancient history is a work in progress. Thousands of tablets wait to be read, and only a small fraction of sites have been excavated. We have more questions than answers. It seems obvious that biblical chronology has been unjustly deprecated for some time. It will be interesting to see how far we go in correcting this mistake in the future.