What do you trust more, the Word of God or the writings of a pagan priest? The question is more relevant than you think, because conventional chronology was and still is based on the writings of an Egyptian priest. The entire concept of prehistoric man comes, not from science, but from Manetho.
After Alexander the Great conquered the Middle Eastern world, Ptolemy I Soter inherited the Egyptian part of the divided empire. Although a Greek, Ptolemy became a pharaoh and founded the Ptolemaic dynasty, which lasted until the death of Cleopatra. In order to Hellenize Egypt, he invented the cult of Serapis during the third century BC. (Note this as an example of a man creating a religion for his personal purposes.)
The cult of Serapis was syncretistic in the sense that its purpose was the bring together the gods and culture of both Egypt and Greece. To promote the Egyptian side of this religion, Ptolemy hired Manetho, a priest of the cult of Serapis, to write Aegyptiaca, the history of Egypt, which divides Egyptian history into thirty dynasties. The facts about Manetho and the texts he is supposed to have authored are highly uncertain. Some place the writing after 30 BC, which gives a margin of error of several centuries. No complete copy has ever been found, only long quotations from later writers such as Josephus and Africanus. National rivalry was strong at this later date, which only makes the accuracy of the transcription more suspect. Everyone agrees that it contains many historical errors.
Nonetheless, the Protestant scholar Joseph Scaliger found a copy of Manetho’s work and used it to calculate the beginning of the first Egyptian dynasty as 5285 BC. Since Scaliger calculated Biblical creation as happening in 3949 BC, and he adopted the veneration for ancient documents of the Humanists of his time, his work led others to conclude that people must have lived before Adam. Is it not ironic that some of the greatest heresy came from believers rather than antagonists? If Scaliger had trusted the Bible and been suspicious of pagan works, this would not have happened.
Scaliger published his conclusions in 1606, which undoubtedly influenced James Ussher to write his Annals of the World in 1650 and 1654, and John Lightfoot to write in 1644. Both men carefully calculated Biblical chronology to stave off the growing interest in Manetho’s high chronology. Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) joined their voices, particularly attacking the credibility of Manetho. Most people don’t realize that Newton wrote more on theology, ancient history, and chronology than he did on science. He understood the repercussions in his day of abandoning a recent creation.
Archaeology placed findings within the short, Biblical chronology until Christian Thomsen devised the “Three-Age System”, which he published in 1834. As a collector, he placed stone tools before bronze tools, which were before iron tools. This became popularized as the Stone Age, Bronze Age, and Iron Age theory. Even before Darwin published in 1857, the Royal Society of England had accepted the idea of great ages and prehistoric man. Then in 1880, William Flinders Petrie, the son of a devout member of the Plymouth Brethren, began his excavations in the Middle East. A highly respected authority, Petrie created a relative sequence of pottery types back to the First Dynasty, then used Manetho to assign absolute dates. These “high dates” became the standard measure, not only for Egypt, but for the entire Middle East and Europe. It is also known as standard chronology or Conventional Chronology, sometimes abbreviated (CC).
A case in point is that Petrie pushed the Mycenaean civilization back two to three hundred years because of synchronisms with the 18th and 19th dynasties of Egypt. This created a problem of centuries of dark ages in Greece for which there was little archaeological evidence. Cecil Torr strongly opposed this move in his book Memphis and Mycenae and in academic journals. Torr argued that Manetho was wrong and the 18th dynasty should begin in 1271 BC rather than 1580 BC. Despite Torr’s very capable objections, popular opinion sided with Petrie, the known expert.
While Scaliger placed Manetho and the Bible on equal footing in the 17th century, the Enlightenment placed Manetho above the Bible in the 19th century. The high dates of Conventional Chronology were used to discredit the historical integrity of the Bible and thus allow the success of the Documentary Hypothesis, which taught that the Bible was fabrication rather than factual. In the decades that followed this change in thinking, universities and seminaries changed their teaching and denominations were ripped apart between liberal and conservative factions.
Certainly hubris is the motivation for choosing great ages. We like to think of ourselves as superior to prehistoric man and at the top of the food chain, but the voice of reason can still be heard. In 1991, Peter James published Centuries of Darkness: A challenge to the conventional chronology of Old World archaeology. In it, he examines the Mediterranean civilizations, masterfully demonstrating that each has a dark age between the Bronze Age and the Iron Age, forced upon it by Manetho’s absolute dating, for which there is little or no archaeological justification. The obvious conclusion is that Manetho’s absolute dating is wrong and the Bible is, after all, historically accurate.
David Rohl, writing between 1995 and 2015, has also built a strong case for collapsing the Third Intermediate Period of Egypt by two to three hundred years. His archaeological research mostly concerns Egypt and reflects upon Joseph, the Exodus, David, Solomon, etc. David Newgrosh‘s Chronology at the Crossroads, published in 2007, describes how Assyrian scribes indicated simultaneous reigns of kings, leading to a shortening of the Assyrian record by about 130 years. In 2014, Tim Mahoney released a film documentary entitled Patterns of Evidence: Exodus in which he invites believers and non-believers to critically reexamine conventional chronology and open a new page in Biblical archaeology, which was largely discontinued with the passing of William Foxwell Albright.
The God of Moses overthrew the gods of Egypt. If the gods of Egypt are now able to rise up and overthrow the writings of Moses, then we should suspect a greater conspiracy than what men could concoct. If the Bible be true, then Ptolemy, Manetho, Scaliger, and Petrie were unknowing pawns being manipulated on a chessboard of epic proportions. Who should we blame? As 2 Corinthians 4:4 says, “the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ”. Manetho had no idea, or did he?