Evidence for Inerrancy from an Unexpected Source: OT Chronology

Share/recommend this article:

Excerpt Theories of an errant Scripture cannot explain the accuracy of the OT chronologies. The authenticity of approximately 124 exact statistics in six major books of the Bible, covering more than 400 years of history, is exactly what would be expected if the doctrine of inerrancy is true and all doctrines of limited inspiration that assume errors in the historical statements of Scripture are false... Continue reading

Explore
Related Articles
Support
Like this artice?

Our Ministry relies on the generosity of people like you. Every small donation helps us develop and publish great articles.

Please support ABR!

Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover & PayPal

This article was first published in the Spring 2008 issue of Bible and Spade.

  
The Problem

From the beginning of the Davidic dynasty to the release of Jehoiachin from prison, mentioned at the end of 2 Kings, represents a period of about four and one-half centuries. For this time period, the books of Kings, Chronicles, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel provide over 120 dates, lengths of reign, and synchronisms that form the raw material for constructing a chronology for these times. For anyone who tries to assemble these data into a chronological scheme, it soon becomes clear that is a formidable task. Some older interpreters handled the apparent discrepancies in the numbers by introducing interregna, that it is, periods of time during which no king was assumed to be on the throne. This is like using scissors to fashion fill-in pieces as needed for a jigsaw puzzle that otherwise doesn’t seem to fit together. To the credit of these interpreters, they genuinely regarded the Bible as the Word of God, and their aim in writing was to explain the text and to strengthen the faith of God’s people by attempting to produce a harmonious chronology from the received text.

However, there later arose interpreters who did not share this goal of building up others in the faith. Their goal was to discredit any supernatural explanation of the origin of the Scriptures and the miracles recorded therein, replacing these matters of “faith” with what they were quick to label as a “scientific” approach to religion. But the science of these writers was not the science that brought about the scientific revolution of modern times, because the method of true science starts with observation, whereas these writers started with a theory and then used that theory to reconstruct history. They either trampled on or ignored such observations as were beginning to come from archaeological findings in the ancient Near East. Thus Wilhelm De Wette had no archaeological findings or any other historical facts to support his theory that the book of Deuteronomy was invented during the days of Josiah (1805); the theory merely supplied an explanation to replace the supernatural alternative, namely that it was a revelation to Moses during Israel’s wandering in the desert. Neither did Julius Wellhausen build his theory of the development of Israel’s religion on a study of ancient Near Eastern inscriptions; instead an imposition of Charles Darwin’s evolutionary ideas and Georg Hegel’s dialectic was used to construct an imaginative scheme for the history of Israel and the formation of the OT canon (1878).2

Deductive Methodology as Applied to the Problem

Wellhausen’s Documentary Hypothesis and its later offshoots (the socio-economic approaches,3 Martin Noth’s deuteronomistic history [1981], etc.) are examples of the deductive method. Deduction is “inference in which the conclusion about particulars follows necessarily from general or universal premises” (Webster’s Ninth 1989). One universal premise of these approaches is that the Scriptures did not come in any supernatural God-with-man encounter or revelation, at least in the sense of God speaking to and through Moses as stated in the Pentateuch. Divine revelation was replaced by various explanations of how writers from a later time fabricated stories about miracles and revelations that they ascribed to dimly-remembered heroes from their nation’s past. With this view of the origin of Scripture, it would necessarily follow that the various authors who compiled the books of Kings and Chronicles could not possibly have handled correctly all the historical details from the time of the Hebrew monarchs. Thus, with regard to the chronological data in the books of Kings, scholars who followed the fashionable ideas of higher criticism reached the following conclusions:

• Rudolf Kittel: “Wellhausen has shown, by convincing reasons, that the synchronisms within the Book of Kings cannot possibly rest on ancient tradition, but are on the contrary simply the products of artifi cial reckoning.”

• Theodore Robinson: “Wellhausen is surely right in believing that the synchronisms in Kings are worthless, being merely a late compilation from the actual figures given.”

• Samuel and Godfrey Driver: “Since, however, it is clear on various grounds that these synchronisms are not original, any attempt to base a chronological scheme on them may be disregarded.”

• Karl Marti: “Almost along the whole line, the discrepancy between synchronisms and years of reign is incurable.”

• Cyrus Gordon: “The numerical errors in the Books of Kings have defied every attempt to ungarble them. Those errors are largely the creation of the editors…the editors did not execute the synchronisms skillfully.” 4

Julius Wellhausen (1844–1918) was a German theologian who held teaching positions at various institutions throughout his career. He was one of the most significant figures in destroying faith in the integrity of the Scriptures. The eminent Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen has the following to say about the “higher critical” approach of Wellhausen and his deductive method that were used to accomplish this: “Not only did Wellhausen (like his peers) work in a cultural vacuum—that is how he wanted it to be, undisturbed by inconvenient facts from the (ancient) outside world. He resented being pointed toward high antiquity data from Egypt and Mesopotamia…How he hated Egyptologists!...In due course he also lashes out at the Assyriologists…Clearly, he resented any outside impact that might threaten his beloved theses on the supposed development of Israelite religion and history. And that attitude, one can detect in his equally resistant disciples today” (2003: 494).

Such conclusions about the unreliability of the chronological data of the kingdom period follow logically once the presuppositions of these scholars are granted and their deductive method pursued. The advantage of the deductive approach is that it is readily adaptable to whatever is currently fashionable in intellectual circles. At present that seems to be the socioeconomic approach to historical interpretation, or perhaps the “deuteronomistic history” theorizing of Noth. The disadvantage of the deductive approach is that nothing is ever settled for certain; the results obtained are as diverse as the presuppositions of the scholars, since diverse presuppositions produce diverse results. This is readily seen from the discordant opinions regarding the origin of the text given by scholars who follow the traditio-historic, socio-economic, and other literary-critical methods that force a priori assumptions on the Biblical data.

The Inductive Method

There were, however, some scholars who followed an inductive approach in Biblical and chronological studies. Induction is “inference of a generalized conclusion from particular instances—compare DEDUCTION” (Webster’s Ninth 1989). Broadly speaking, deduction starts with principles, whereas induction starts with observation, that is, with evidence. When studying the chronology of the Hebrew monarchies, the following areas of evidence should be considered if an inductive course is to be pursued:

1. There is evidence from Jewish writings that the New Year might be reckoned from the spring month of Nisan, and other evidence that it might be measured from the fall month of Tishri.5 An unbiased approach would consider both these options.

2. There is evidence from the field of Egyptology that sovereigns, during their lifetime, occasionally invested their son with the royal office, thus forming a coregency.6 The years of the son’s reign might be counted from the year he became coregent instead of from the first year of sole reign. Some coregencies in the Scripture are plainly stated, as in 1 Kings 1:34, 2 Kings 15:5, and 1 Chronicles 23:1. An inductive approach should consider the possibility of coregencies, as well as the possibility that the years of a king could be measured either from the beginning of a coregency or from the beginning of a sole reign.

3. There is also evidence from the field of Egyptology for the existence of rival reigns—reigns for which the years of the pharaohs cannot be added together because two pharaohs were ruling simultaneously from different capitals.7 Such a phenomenon is reported in the Bible for the reigns of Tibni and Omri (1 Kgs 16:21–22).

4. There is evidence that there were two ways of reckoning the first year of a king’s reign—whether that year was reckoned as year one of his reign, or as his “accession” or “zero” year. The two possibilities are called the non-accession and accession methods, respectively. Since there is evidence for both usages in the ancient Near East,8 a proper methodology that starts from observations should not rule out either possibility for the kings of Judah and Israel.

5. The final source of evidence for the inductive method would be the texts of Kings, Chronicles, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel that give chronological data for the kingdom period. These texts (in the Hebrew original9) should be accepted as raw data (observations) unless they can be shown to be selfcontradictory or contradictory to established external dates.

From this list of observations, it is clear that the inductive approach faces a great difficulty. That difficulty is how to handle the various possibilities inherent in a proper treatment of all the observations just listed and their multiple combinations. The easy way to handle this complexity is to make simplifying assumptions. Thus the Seder Olam and the Talmud assume that all reign lengths are measured from the start of the king’s sole reign. Just the opposite assumption was made by Gershon Galil; he assumed that all regnal years when a coregency is involved were measured from the start of the coregency (1996: 10).

An even greater simplification was postulated by Wellhausen, who ruled out coregencies altogether, even the plainly-stated coregency of David with Solomon.10 The consequences of this kind of procedure are obvious: the scholars who make such simplifying assumptions will not agree with scholars who make other, contradictory assumptions. The simplifications will also produce chronologies that contradict Scriptural texts at some point or another; the scholars will then, unjustifiably, claim that the Scripture is in error because it does not fit their scheme. 
 

Edwin R. Thiele (1895–1986). After a missionary career in China between the World Wars, Thiele pursued studies in archaeology at the University of Chicago, receiving his PhD degree in 1943. His doctoral dissertation on the chronology of the Hebrew kings was based on his extensive knowledge of the history and languages of the ancient Near East. Thiele’s approach was to endeavor, first of all, to understand the historical methods and conventions of the ancient authors whose texts provide the raw data used to reconstruct the history of the time. He also believed that the relevant Biblical texts should be considered trustworthy until proven otherwise. This inductive method, coupled with the successes of the resultant chronology, have established Thiele’s book, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, as the definitive work on the chronology of the kingdom period. Subsequent scholars who have followed these sound principles have needed to modify Thiele’s chronology in only a few places, with the best-known correction being for the reigns of the kings of Judah in the latter half of the eighth century BC.

Successes of the Inductive Method

In contrast, scholars who have used the inductive approach attempt to make no such a priori assumptions. Instead, they employ Scriptural texts to determine the method used by the ancient authors, taking into account the different archaeological and historical evidences listed above, and not ruling out any possibility until there are valid reasons for so doing. In the 1920s Professor V. Coucke in Belgium determined from a careful analysis of the data in Kings and Chronicles that Judah began its regnal years in Tishri, whereas Israel began its regnal years in Nisan (1928). He also determined that the reign lengths of the first kings of Judah and Israel were in harmony with each other if these first kings in Judah used accession reckoning while their counterparts in Israel were using non-accession reckoning to measure their years of reign.

Some years later an American scholar, Edwin Thiele, discovered these same principles, although when he began publishing his findings he was not aware of Coucke’s earlier work. Thiele was able to determine the chronology of the kings of Israel and Judah in a more satisfactory way than Coucke, and his principal work, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings (1983), went through three editions. The chronology of the northern kingdom, Israel, remained virtually the same through these three editions, and Leslie McFall and other conservative writers only have offered minor modifications such as narrowing the date for the fall of Samaria and the end of Hoshea’s reign to the first half of the year beginning in Nisan of 723 BC, rather than allowing for the full year as did Thiele. Thiele’s chronology of the northern kingdom has stood the test of time, and in particular his date for the beginning of the divided monarchies is widely accepted by conservative and non-conservative scholars alike.11

However, for the southern kingdom, Judah, Thiele failed to recognize that the synchronisms of Hezekiah of Judah and Hoshea of Israel in 2 Kings 18 imply that Hezekiah at this time was coregent with his father Ahaz. This was a blind spot on Thiele’s part, because he recognized that Hezekiah’s father, grandfather, and great-grandfather had coregencies with their fathers, and Hezekiah had a coregency with his son; why then rule out a coregency of Hezekiah with Ahaz? But even though many scholars pointed out this explanation for the synchronisms in 2 Kings 18, Thiele refused to accept this solution and did not even discuss it in the final two editions of his book.

It remained then for others to complete the application of principles that Thiele used elsewhere, thereby providing a chronology for the eighth-century kings of Judah that is in complete harmony with the reign lengths and synchronisms given in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles. The most thorough work in this regard was McFall’s 1991 article in Bibliotheca Sacra (1991). McFall made his way through the reign lengths and synchronisms of Kings and Chronicles, and using an exact notation that indicated whether the years were being measured according to Judah’s Tishri years or Israel’s Nisan years, he was able to produce a chronology for the divided monarchies that was consistent with all the Scriptural texts chosen. This was the logical outgrowth of Thiele’s work, and it attained a kind of holy grail that had been sought for 22 centuries, namely a rational explanation of the chronological data of the Hebrew monarchies that was consistent with the Scriptural texts that were used to construct that chronology, and also consistent with several fixed dates from Assyrian and Babylonian history. These fixed dates are the following:

1. The Battle of Qarqar in 853 BC, at which Shalmaneser III of Assyria listed Ahab of Israel as one of his foes (see the further discussion below).

2. The tribute of Jehu of Israel to Shalmaneser in 841 BC.

3. The invasion of Sennacherib in Hezekiah’s 14th year, 701 BC.

4. The death of King Josiah when he fought against Pharaoh Necho, who was on his way to take Carchemish from the Babylonians, in 609 BC.

5. Nebuchadnezzar’s initial capture of Jerusalem in 605 BC, at which time Daniel and other Judeans were taken to Babylon.

6. The second capture of Jerusalem and its king Jehoiachin by Nebuchadnezzar—the exact date of which is given in the Babylonian Chronicle as 2 Adar, i.e. March 16, 597 BC.

Kurkh Stela depicting Shalmaneser III, king of Assyria. Found in 1861 at Kurkh on the Tigris River in southeastern Turkey, the inscription on the stela records the principal events of the king’s fi rst six military campaigns. The campaign of year six, 853 BC, mentions Ahab, king of Israel, as being part of an anti-Assyrian coalition that confronted the Assyrians at Qarqar on the Orontes River in western Syria. The section referring to Ahab reads, “I approached the city of Qarqar. I razed, destroyed and burned the city of Qarqar, his [Irhulēni, the Hamathite’s] royal city. 1,200 chariots, 1,200 cavalry, (and) 20,000 troops of Hadad-ezer (Adad-idri) of Damascus; 700 chariots, 700 cavalry, (and) 10,000 troops of Irhulēni the Hamathite; 2,000 chariots, (and) 10,000 troops of Ahab, the Israelite” (Younger 2000: 263). When Edwin Thiele constructed his chronology, the date for the battle of Qarqar accepted by most Assyriologists was 854 BC. This was one year too early for agreement with the Biblical texts, but further investigations showed that the Assyrian data had not been interpreted correctly, so that 853 BC is now the generally accepted date. The stela is currently housed in the “Assyrian Sculpture” room in the British Museum.

Significance of the Successes of the Inductive Method

The significance of Thiele’s work and its logical extension in McFall’s article can hardly be overestimated. Consider just how improbable such an accomplishment was when starting from the premises of the critics who were cited earlier in this article. They, and many others who could be quoted, believed that it was impossible to construct a coherent and rational chronology from the data given in the received text. The primary reason for this belief (or unbelief) must have been because they saw little reason to pursue all the hard work that Coucke and Thiele had to struggle with before they determined the methods of the Biblical authors; why spend time trying to determine if there was a reasonable explanation of the texts when they were sure that late-date writers, such as they supposed were the authors of Scripture, could not have produced an accurate chronology for long-past events?

In this conclusion they were correct, if their starting assumption is granted. If late-date authors and editors who lived long after the events they were describing put together the Scriptures, then such authors and editors could not have produced the complex chronological data found in Kings, Chronicles, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel that are consistent with each other and also consistent with several dates in Assyrian and Babylonian history. The anti-supernaturalist critics have declared implicitly or explicitly that these presumed writers could never give us a consistent chronology for the kingdom period. However, such a chronology has been produced, and so the critics have established by their own statements that their initial assumption about the late-date origin of the textual sources used in Kings and Chronicles was false.

Their error can be demonstrated as follows. Imagine someone cutting a series of arbitrary shapes out of cardboard—in the present case, more than 120 such shapes—and then hoping that somehow these shapes would fit together in a jigsaw puzzle. Better than the analogy of a jigsaw puzzle is that of a logic puzzle. Figure 1 shows a logic puzzle. The example given deals with trying to match five professors with their classes and their eccentric ideas. The clues, given in sentences one through seven, provide sufficient information to solve the puzzle. An instructive exercise would be to try to make up clues for this puzzle before determining the answer to the puzzle. If this is attempted, it will soon be concluded that late-date editors cannot just invent clues and have them all fit together; the answer must be known before clues can be provided that will fit together into a solution. Furthermore a sufficient number of clues must be given so that someone else can solve the puzzle.

This illustration is relevant to the Bible’s chronological texts related to the divided monarchies. These texts form, in every respect, a logic puzzle. They provide approximately 124 clues to help determine a chronology of the time, compared to the nine clues in the seven sentences of the logic puzzle of Figure 1. Since a little experimentation will show that we cannot produce arbitrary clues that will give any good chance of success for a simple logic puzzle of nine clues unless we know the answer beforehand, then how could someone produce 124 clues that make up the Scriptural logic puzzle, and have all these clues consistent with each other, unless he or she already knew the answer and then was very careful to give a sufficient number of clues to lead to the answer?

How do you solve a logic puzzle like that of Figure 1? One way is to try various combinations to see if they fit the clues given. But even a fairly simple logic puzzle like this offers so many ways to combine things that our patience gives out. In frustration, then, we take a bold step: make assumptions! Surely no professor of philosophy would believe that gravity is a hoax, and any professor of biology would know that dinosaurs evolved from frogs and after that they evolved into birds and flew away. After a few more such bold assumptions, it will be possible to work out a solution. When that solution conflicts with some of the clues originally given (and it almost inevitably will), we can declare that the original clues are mistakes introduced by an incompetent editor who did not know the facts of the case. This is similar to the authors cited earlier who could not solve the chronological puzzle and who then declared that the Scriptural texts contained numerous errors.

The other way to solve the puzzle is to use the inductive method. That is, start with the clues given and see if they can be combined to give a reasonable solution, without trampling on the clues or throwing out some of them, as in the deductive method. This will be the more difficult way to proceed. But when it comes up with a solution, one that is consistent with all the clues given, who can doubt that it is the right method? And who can doubt that the Thiele/McFall chronology of the divided kingdom that made sense of all the date-formulas chosen in Kings and Chronicles is to be preferred over the chronologies of those writers who followed the deductive method and introduced several assumptions in order to justify their schemes? These were assumptions that Thiele and McFall did not need to make, since they were basically constrained to only the observations that were necessary for the inductive method. Would not all calm and rational minds conclude that a solution that is consistent with the data and which makes the fewest assumptions is preferable to solutions that are not consistent with the data and that make several unjustified assumptions?

Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III, king of Assyria 859–824 BC, discovered by Englishman Henry Layard at Nimrud (Biblical Calah), Iraq, in 1846. Each of the four sides is carved with five registers depicting people in different types of clothing representing various countries controlled by the Assyrians. They are bringing costly articles of tribute and exotic animals as offerings to the king. Above and below the scenes are lines of text detailing events in Shalmaneser III’s reign down to his 31st year. The second register from the top shows Jehu, king of Israel, bringing tribute to Shalmaneser III, an event not recorded in the Bible. Jehu’s tribute was in Shalmaneser’s 18th year, whereas the Battle of Qarqar, at which Ahab was present, was in Shalmaneser’s sixth year. The 12 years between these two events were just enough to fit in the two kings of Israel who reigned between Ahab and Jehu. These synchronisms allowed Thiele to give absolute BC dates for the last year of Ahab (853 BC) and the first year of Jehu (841 BC), thus enabling him to construct the chronology of the northern kingdom backward from Ahab to Jeroboam I and forward from Jehu to the fall of Samaria. The obelisk is in the “Assyrian Sculpture” room of the British Museum.

Here then is a great mystery: the Author of the chronological puzzle in Kings and Chronicles knew the answer, and He was careful to provide enough clues so that the answer could be found after suitable mental exercise. The chronological texts of the kingdom period are revealed as an example of something quite awesome: purposeful design. In other words, Intelligent Design. There is no other explanation for how all these texts can fit together, and how a sufficient number have been given so that the chronology can be solved without having to resort to the arbitrary assumptions of the deductive method. But just as opponents of Intelligent Design overlook the truth due to blind faith in their own presuppositions, so practitioners of the deductive method will never see the design inherent in the chronological texts of the kingdom period unless they are willing to give up their wrong approach and their wrong presuppositions regarding the origin of the text.

Close-up of Jehu before Shalmaneser III on the Black Obelisk. Jehu is seen bowing in humility before the Assyrian king, followed by his attendants bearing tribute. The accompanying inscription says , “I received the tribute of Jehu (Ia-ú-a) (the man) of Bît-Humrî [House of Omri]: silver, gold, a golden bowl, a golden goblet, golden cups, golden buckets, tin, a staff of the king’s hand, (and) javelins(?)” (Younger 2000: 270). Jehu was not literally Omri’s son; many times the Assyrians referred to countries by the name of the founder of the ruling dynasty at the time of their first acquaintance with it, regardless of which dynasty was currently in power (Younger 2000: 267 n. 5). In reality, Jehu usurped the throne of Israel by assassinating Joram, grandson of Omri (2 Kgs 9:14–26). He ruled 841–814 BC and paid tribute to Shalmaneser in the fi rst year of his reign. Beyond its historical significance, the Black Obelisk provides the only depiction we have of an Israelite king, or any other Israelite named in the Bible.

Some Refinements to the Thiele/McFall System

In speaking of the Thiele/McFall chronological system, it was stated above that it was consistent with all the texts that McFall used to build his chronology. However, McFall did not use some texts out of the approximately 124 of an exact nature that are the clues for this period. My own efforts were directed toward examining all these additional texts and making it the first priority to determine the methods of the authors of Scripture. In order to manage all the data and their possible combinations without making a priori assumptions, it was necessary to introduce the method of Decision Tables that I had made use of in my work as a systems analyst. Decision Tables had proved invaluable in handling the complexities of the last major system that I designed at IBM. Fresh from this experience, I saw that Decision Tables could be used to explore all the combinations of the chronological parameters that were presented earlier in this article. Decision Tables allow the exploring of all possibilities that are consistent with the investigator’s basic assumptions, and they show which combinations of those assumptions are not compatible with the data. The “data,” in this case, are the texts being studied and fixed dates from Assyrian and Babylonian history. The method of Decision Tables is entirely logical, and, if used properly, entirely impartial; it provides the final step that is needed in the inductive methodology for examining these chronological texts.

Iran Stela depicting Tiglath-Pileser III. Broken into pieces sometime in the past, the three pieces seen here were acquired on the antiquities market in western Iran. Superimposed on the approximately life-size figure of the king is a record of events through his ninth year, 737 BC. Fragment 1, Column IIIA, lists “Menahem of Samaria” as having paid tribute to Tiglath-Pileser. The publication of the stela in 1994 demonstrated that the 738 date accepted by most Assyriologists for Menahem’s tribute was in conflict with this new information. Thiele’s date for the tribute (743 or 742 BC), as derived from the Biblical texts, was shown to be entirely consistent with the Iran Stela.

The first contribution that was made by the use of Decision Tables was a resolution of some discrepancies in Thiele’s figures for the regnal years of Jehoshaphat, Ahaziah, and Athaliah (Young 2003: 598–99; Young 2004b: 578–79). The second contribution dealt with the end of the monarchic period, utilizing texts in Ezekiel that were not used by McFall in building his chronology. Ezekiel’s texts show that non-accession years are to be used for Zedekiah, contrary to the assumption of Thiele and McFall that Zedekiah’s years are given by accession counting. A continuation of this analysis showed that all the Scriptures in Jeremiah, Ezekiel, 2 Kings, and 2 Chronicles are in harmony for Zedekiah’s reign, and all show that it ended at the fall of Jerusalem in the summer of 587 BC (Young 2004a12). Decision Tables provided the only convenient way to handle all these texts in a consistent manner. When this method is used, all 124 items of exact chronological data for the period of the Hebrew kingdoms combine to produce a consistent and harmonious chronology for a period of over 400 years.13

Skeptics may assert that the harmony of these Scriptures is all an artifact of the method of Thiele and those who followed him, even though that harmony was achieved without making the various a priori assumptions that characterize the deductive method. Arguing that the method of Thiele and McFall was an artificial approach would be like maintaining that a logic puzzle of 124 clues could be put together in an artificial and arbitrary way that did not agree with the original design. Anyone who doubts this should try to make up clues for the simple puzzle in Figure 1 without knowing the answer. The clues will generally fail to fit together unless the person giving the clues knows the answer and is very careful to make all clues consistent with that answer. Similarly, the chronological puzzle could never have been put together by Thiele and those who followed him if the original data were not authentic, that is, true to history. Errors in the original data, such as would be predicted by any theory of limited inspiration, would have meant that neither McFall nor anyone else could have combined all 124 exact statistics into a coherent and rational chronology. But this is exactly what has been accomplished by the scholarly and logical application of the inductive method.

Why Is the Problem So Complex?

But why is the problem so complicated? Why has it taken over two millennia until the work of Coucke, Thiele, McFall and others has given us a solution for the chronological texts in Kings, Chronicles, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel? And why must a proper methodology to handle all these data include the use of Decision Tables in order to eliminate wrong assumptions and to show all the possibilities that must be explored before the best solution can be determined?

The same questions regarding methodology could be asked of any non-trivial logic puzzle. It would be very difficult to solve the logic puzzle of Figure 1 without first learning how to use the grid that is included below the puzzle. All puzzle-solvers learn to use these grids. They are really Decision Tables. In the same way, Decision Tables, so invaluable for solving logic puzzles, must be used for the vastly more important analysis of the complicated chronological data of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Kings, and Chronicles.

This does not answer the question of why the data are so complex that it is necessary to be very careful to use a logical methodology that includes Decision Tables in order to handle them and to show which combinations are feasible and which produce contradictions. One might as well ask why it is necessary to master the methods of calculus to gain even a preliminary understanding of the motions of the planets, and beyond that to master both Special and General Relativity if more exact refinements in planetary and satellite motion are to be handled. Does anyone say that these laws are not valid, just because it takes effort and discipline to understand them? Perhaps we would have liked the Scriptures, in matters of chronology, to be easier to understand, so that there would not have been so many interpreters declaring that the Scripture is in error simply because these interpreters were incompetent in determining the methods of the authors of Scripture. In matters essential to our salvation the Scriptures are plain enough that a wayfaring man, though a fool, need not err therein. But in other areas such as the one presently under discussion, God’s ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. It was not in the Holy Spirit’s design to make all portions of Scripture easy to understand. It was in His design to make all Scripture so it is without error.

Babylonian Chronicle for 605–595 BC, obverse. Lines 1–11 of the front of the Babylonian Chronicle tell of Nebuchadnezzar’s defeat of Egypt at Carchemish in 605 BC while he was still crown prince. The same battle is alluded to in Jeremiah 46:2. As the Egyptian army under Pharaoh Neco II was moving north to engage the Babylonians, Josiah “marched out to meet him in battle” at Megiddo and was killed (2 Kgs 23:29–30; 2 Chr 35:20–27). By August, Nebuchadnezzar had advanced far enough into southern Palestine to claim treasures and hostages in Jerusalem, Daniel and his friends being the most noteworthy (2 Kgs 24:1; 2 Chr 36:6–7; Dn 1:1–6). Nebuchadnezzar was then informed of his father Nabopolassar’s death on the eighth of Ab (August 15/16, 605 BC) and immediately returned to Babylon where he was crowned king on the first of Elul (September 6/7, 605 BC). The translation and publication of this Babylonian text showed that the dates accepted by William Albright and other scholars for the Battle of Carchemish were two or more years too late and that Thiele’s date, as derived from the Biblical data, was correct.

Successes of the Inductive Method with Respect to External Dates

The Scriptural chronological puzzle cannot stand in isolation. For any solution to be credible, it must match several fixed dates from the histories of the surrounding nations. Therefore it is important to determine which of these dates are truly “fixed,” and which are open to question because of possible misinterpretations of the relevant data.

After exerting considerable effort to determine the principles of the ancient Hebrew court recorders whose records are cited in Kings and Chronicles, Thiele produced a relative chronology for the kings of Judah and Israel that was not tied to external dates and which therefore was not expressed in terms of BC years. He then made this into an “absolute” calendar by choosing two dates in which Shalmaneser III, king of Assyria, had contact with the kings of Israel. In his sixth year, Shalmaneser III listed Ahab of Israel as one of his foes at the Battle of Qarqar. Twelve years later in Shalmaneser III’s 18th year, the famous Black Obelisk shows tribute being received from Jehu, king of Israel, with what is apparently the figure of Jehu himself bowing at the feet of the Assyrian monarch. The advantage of these two references in Shalmaneser’s annals was that the 12 years between the mention of Ahab and the mention of Jehu gave just enough time for the two kings who ruled between Ahab and Jehu, assuming non-accession reckoning for Israelite kings. This means that Shalmaneser’s sixth year was Ahab’s last year and his 18th year was Jehu’s first year.

When Thiele began his studies, most Assyriologists dated Shalmaneser’s sixth year to 854 BC and his 18th year, the year of Jehu’s tribute, to 842 BC. However, when Thiele used these dates as the anchor points with which to assign BC years to his chronology, he found that the 14th year of Hezekiah, in which Sennacherib threatened Jerusalem (2 Kgs 18:13; Is 36:1), came out as one year earlier than the 701 BC date that seemed well established for the Assyrian incursion. The Biblical data could not be made compatible with this date without extensive emendation of the pertinent texts. Which was wrong, the Biblical data or the dates given by the majority of Assyriologists for Shalmaneser’s reign? On further investigation, Thiele found a minority opinion, held by some European scholars, which placed the regnal years of Shalmaneser one year later, an adjustment that brought agreement between Thiele’s Biblical chronology and the Assyrian records. Thiele developed further the correction of these European scholars, resulting in a revision of the Assyrian Eponym Canon that he published as an appendix in all three editions of Mysterious Numbers. Thiele’s revised Canon is now generally accepted by Assyriologists. This was the first of a string of successes in which the Biblical data, as interpreted by Thiele, were able to bring clarity and resolution to disputed areas in the chronology of Assyria and Babylonia.

As illustrated above, scholars who do not have a high opinion of the historical credibility of Scripture invent fanciful reconstructions of the origin of the Biblical text based on antisupernaturalistic presuppositions. This is in contrast with the proper scientific approach that was described by Gary Byers in a previous issue of Bible and Spade (1999: 9), an approach that starts with observation, continues with the construction of a hypothesis, and then devises means to test that hypothesis. In the scientific method, the final step in testing a theory is to determine whether it can predict new phenomena that were not part of the observations used in formulating the theory. An example of this was Einstein’s prediction, based on his Theory of General Relativity, that light passing by a massive object such as a star would deviate slightly from a straight-line path. This phenomenon had not been noticed previously but it was observed when an appropriate experiment was performed, thereby validating the theory.

In historical studies, experiments like this cannot be performed to verify a theory as in the physical sciences. Something closely analogous to it occurs, however, when a historical theory is shown to be consistent with new data that were not available when the theory was formulated. This happened when Thiele found that his chronology disagreed with the conventional Assyrian chronology for the reign of Shalmaneser III, but further study showed that the conventional chronology was wrong and Thiele’s chronology was correct.

There have been other instances where new data, unknown when Thiele first published his ideas, have verified the chronology derived from the Biblical data while demonstrating that interpretations which contradicted the Biblical data were mistaken. An example is Thiele’s conclusion that Samaria fell to Shalmaneser V in 723 BC and not to Sargon II in 722 or later, as was accepted by the majority of Assyriologists when Thiele first published his results. Thiele’s date was verified in 1958 when Tadmor published a study of Sargon’s records showing that Sargon had no campaigns in the west in 722 or 721 (1958: 38).

Another vindication came when Donald Wiseman published the Babylonian Chronicle (1956: 66–75), showing that Nebuchadnezzar’s first attack on Jerusalem came in 605 BC, in agreement with Thiele’s date for that event but contrary to William Albright and other scholars who placed the event in 603 BC or later. Finally, Thiele had predicted that when the full text of the extant portions of the “Iran Stele” of Tiglath-Pileser III was published, it would show that the date that most Assyriologists gave for Menahem’s tribute to Tiglath-Pileser, 738 BC, was based on an improper interpretation of the previously-deciphered text dealing with the tribute. Thiele’s expectation was verified when Hayim Tadmor published the full text of the Iran Stele in 1994, eight years after Thiele’s death (1994: 260–64).14

An Argument for Inerrancy

All this demonstrates that a method that starts with the Scriptural texts and assumes they are correct until proven otherwise is the correct method to use in historical research, whereas the deductive method that is usually followed by rationalist critics of the Bible is ineffective for determining an accurate interpretation of historical events. More than that, their methodology is basically unscientific and irrational.

Another important point should not be overlooked. It is that the inductive approach to the chronological data of Scripture could never have succeeded unless the data it was examining—the texts dealing with reign lengths and synchronisms in Kings, Chronicles, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel—were authentic. It was mentioned previously that there are approximately 124 such exact statistics in these six major books of the Bible. The rationalist critics cited earlier were sure that these statistics could not all be correct. For scholars who were predisposed toward a low view of inspiration, the abundant and complex chronological data of the Hebrew monarchies was the one place where they were sure that not just one, but numerous errors of fact could be found. But thorough and sound scholarship, based on an inductive approach, has shown that all these data are authentic. Theories of an errant Scripture cannot explain this accuracy. The authenticity of approximately 124 exact statistics in six major books of the Bible, covering more than 400 years of history, is exactly what would be expected if the doctrine of inerrancy is true and all doctrines of limited inspiration that assume errors in the historical statements of Scripture are false.

This of course does not prove that the Scripture is inerrant. A “proof” of inerrancy would have to establish all facts external to the Bible and then show that all Biblical texts touching on these issues are true. This is impossible. The doctrine of inerrancy will never be established by showing that certain Biblical statements, previously disputed, have been shown by further scholarship to be correct, even though, historically, this has happened in numerous interesting instances. Instead, those of us who hold to the doctrine of inerrancy do so because it is a major theological truth stated in the Scripture itself (Dt 8:3, Pss 12:6, 93:5, 111:7, 8, 119:89, 140, 160, 2 Tm 3:16, Ti 1:2), because it is clearly the position of our Savior, who knows all things (Mt 5:18, Lk 16:17, 24:25, Jn 10:35, 17:17), and because God promises blessing to those who believe His Word (Gn 15:6, 2 Chr 20:20, Rom 4:3, Jas 2:23).

Philosophically, we would expect that if God exists, then He would find some way to communicate to His creatures a revelation (such as the Bible) that was completely trustworthy. And yet we are thinking creatures, so that we look for a way to test the validity of any such purported revelation. The chronological details of the Scripture offer such an opportunity for investigation. The fact that all these texts fit into a rational and believable chronology amounts to a mathematical demonstration that, with a high degree of probability, the Scripture’s complex and abundant data dealing with the chronology of the kingdom period are correct.

There are many areas of Scripture where the nature of the material will not allow such a mathematical demonstration. The statements showing that the patriarchs lived longer than is now the norm provide one such topic; currently there is no way to either prove or disprove the Bible’s testimony in this regard. Yet when we find that the Bible is trustworthy in the areas that can be checked by careful scholarship using a logical (inductive) methodology, then we can be confident that in those areas where we cannot do such checking, or where difficulties appear that are not yet fully explained, when the full truth is known it will vindicate the truthfulness of the eternal and inerrant Word of God. It was completely unexpected by the critics cited at the beginning of this article that one day the chronological texts that they thought contained multiple errors, thereby proving a defective Scripture, have instead become a testimony both to the inerrancy of God’s Word and to the folly of the critics.

Rodger C. Young received a BA degree in physics from Reed College, Portland OR, and BA and MA degrees in mathematics from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. In addition, he has done graduate work in theology and Biblical languages at Nazarene Theological Seminary, Kansas City MO. Mr. Young has worked as a computer application developer and systems analyst at Monsanto and IBM. Following his retirement in 2003 he has devoted himself to the study of Biblical chronology and has authored a number of articles on that subject. Mr. Young’s articles can be accessed at: http://home.swbell.net/ rcyoung8/papers.html.

Recommended Resources for Further Study

     
Bible and Spade
CD-ROM

100 Reasons to
Trust OT History

Archaeology and the
Old Tesament
Footnotes

1. This article is a modified version of my “Inductive and Deductive Methods” paper (Inductive and Deductive Methods as Applied to OT Chronology, The Master’s Seminary Journal [TMSJ ] 18.1 [Spring 2007] 99–116), and is presented here with the kind approval of the editors of TMSJ. The TMSJ paper was adapted from a presentation at the annual  conference of the Evangelical Theological Society, Valley Forge PA, November 2005. The present article differs from the TMSJ version in the last section. In the TMSJ version, this was devoted to a discussion of the date of Menahem’s tribute to Tiglath-Pileser III. The present version replaces this with a discussion of the relevance of the successes of the inductive method to the question of the integrity of Scripture.

2. See also the influence of the would-be anthropologist Edward Tylor on Wellhausen, as documented in Richardson 1981: 141–42. Richardson’s entire chapter entitled “Scholars with Strange Theories” shows the tremendous harm that theological and sociological theorizing that was not based on observation had in the ideologies and wars of the 20th century.

3. An example of this approach is found in Fager 1993. Fager followed the teaching of Karl Marx that social position determined one’s political and philosophical outlook, and he used this idea to reconstruct how Israel’s priests fabricated the Jubilee and Sabbatical-year legislation in order to promote their own interests. His approach led him to divide the Jubilee legislation (Lev 25:8–55) into four strata from different time periods, which he displays by printing the text in four different type formats. See the criticism of Fager’s work in Lefebvre 2003: 8, 17. Lefebvre starts with an examination of the text as it is, instead of imposing an anti-supernaturalistic theory on it, and he finds that the Jubilee and Sabbatical-year legislation is a coherent and unified whole.

4. All quotes are from Thiele 1963: 124–25.

5. Rosh HaShanah 1a; Josephus, Ant. I.iii.3; Seder Olam 4.

6. See, for example, Redford 1965: 116; Der Manuelian 1987: 24; Ball 1977:272–79.

7. Modern Egyptologists believe that whole dynasties of pharaohs were ruling simultaneously, such as the 9th and 10th Dynasties with the 11th, or the 16th and 17th with the 15th, even though the overlap is not stated in Manetho’s king-lists or in the Turin Canon of Kings (Kitchen 1986: xxxi).

8. The Seder Olam, chaps. 4, 11, and 12, assumes that all years for Israel’s kings and judges were given by non-accession reckoning. This method is generally assumed in the Talmud. Babylonia and Assyria usually used accession reckoning. Tiglath-Pileser III, however, used non-accession reckoning, contrary to the customary practice in Assyria. This example serves as a warning that the choice of whether to use accession or non-accession reckoning was arbitrary, and the choice was probably made by the king himself. Applying this to Judah and Israel would suggest that whether a king used accession or non-accession years must be addressed anew for each king; it is not sufficient to assume that because a certain king used one method, then his successor must have used the same method. To assume uniformity in this matter would be consistent with the deductive method of making arbitrary assumptions, but a careful study of the Scriptural data shows that it is an improper assumption.

9. The translators of the LXX (Greek translation of the Old Testament) attempted to harmonize various readings of the Hebrew text that seemed to be contradictory, and in doing so they produced various readings that cannot be assembled into a coherent chronology without postulating multiple arbitrary emendations. For a demonstration of the failure of attempts to produce a coherent chronology from LXX variations from the Hebrew text, see Young 2007b.

10. Wellhausen was followed in this presupposition by two of the more recent authors of chronological studies of the OT: Hughes 1990: 99, 103, and Tetley 2005: 117. After such rejection of well-established practices from the ancient Near East in order to make things simpler, these scholars find it necessary to make a plethora of secondary assumptions in order to explain the disagreements of their systems with the data.

11. Among the many scholars who have accepted Thiele’s date for the beginning of the divided monarchies are Mitchell 1991b: 445–46; Walvoord and Zuck 1983: 632; McFall 1991: 12; MacArthur 1997: 468; Galil 1996: 14; Finegan 1998: 246, 249; and Kitchen 2003: 83.

12. This article on the date of the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians is useful in showing the technique used to determine the chronological methods of the various Biblical authors who dealt with the closing years of the Judean monarchy, and then showing, once these methods are determined, that all Scriptures dealing with dates for this period are in agreement.

13. These 124 exact statistics are summarized in four tables at the end of Young 2005: 245–48. The purpose of the tables is to show that all synchronisms and reign lengths in the six relevant Biblical books are precise, without need of alteration from the numbers given in the Hebrew text, and without any need of special pleading for the reasonableness of the resultant chronology. Writers whose schemes do not fit the Biblical data often contend that the reason for the lack of fit in their scheme is that the Biblical numbers are only approximate. This contention flies in the face of what we know about the official court records of the ancient Near East, particularly those from Assyria and Babylonia, and the great concern that the priests of these nations had in keeping an accurate calendar.

14. Despite the evidence of the Iran Stele showing that Menahem’s name was in a “summary list” of tribute, and thus could not be used to date the tribute to a specific year, Tadmor did not abandon his earlier position that the tribute was in 738 BC. This contradicts Thiele’s date for the death of Menahem in the six-month period before Nisan of 741 BC. In order to maintain the 738 date, Tadmor gives an unsupportable translation of the relevant text in the Assyrian Eponym Canon (1994: 268). For the details, which are somewhat technical, see my original version of this article (2007: 113–15). A less extensive critique of the 738 BC date for the tribute was presented in Mitchell 1991a: 326. Although Mitchell wrote before the full translation of the Iran Stele was published, he nevertheless recognized that the argument placing the tribute in 738 BC was weak, and he preferred instead 743 or 742.

Bibliography

Ball, E.
1977 The Co-Regency of David and Solomon (I Kings 1). Vetus Testamentum 27: 268–79.

Byers, Gary A.
1999 ABR’s Search for the Lost Cities of the Bible: ABR and the Search for Ai. Bible and Spade 12: 5–10.

Coucke, V.
1928 Chronique biblique. In Supplément au Dictionnaire de la Bible 1, ed. Louis Pirot. Cited in Thiele 1983: 59 n. 17.

de Wette, Wilhelm M. L.
1805 Dissertatio critico-exegetica, qua Deuteronomium a prioribus Pentateuchi libris diversum, alius cuiusdam recentioris auctoris opus esse monstratur. Jena, Germany: Leteris Etzdorfii. Reprinted in Opuscula Theologica (Berlin: Georg Reimer, 1830).

Der Manuelian, Peter
1987 Studies in the Reign of Amenophis II. Hildesheim, Germany: Gerstenberg.

Fager, Jeffrey
1993 Land Tenure and the Biblical Jubilee. Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic.

Finegan, Jack
1998 Handbook of Biblical Chronology. Rev. ed. Peabody MA: Hendrickson.

Galil, Gershon
1996 The Chronology of the Kings of Israel and Judah. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

Hughes, Jeremy
1990 Secrets of the Times: Myth and History in Biblical Chronology. Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic.

Kitchen, Kenneth E.
1986 The Third Intermediate Period in Egypt (1100–650 B.C.). Warminster, England: Aris & Phillips.
2003 On the Reliability of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans.

Lefebvre, Jean-François
2003 Le Jubilé Biblique: Lv 25 — Exégèse et Théologie. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

MacArthur, John
1997 The MacArthur Study Bible. Nashville: Word.

McFall, Leslie
1991 A Translation Guide to the Chronological Data in Kings and Chronicles. Bibliotheca Sacra 148: 3–45.

Mitchell, T. C.
1991a Israel and Judah from the Coming of Assyrian Domination until the Fall of Samaria, and the Struggle for Independence in Judah (c. 750–700 B.C.). Pp. 322–70 in Cambridge Ancient History 3, Part 2, ed. John Boardman et al. Cambridge, England: Cambridge Univ.
1991b Israel and Judah until the Revolt of Jehu (931–841 B.C.). Pp. 442–87 in Cambridge Ancient History 3, Part 1, ed. John Boardman et al. Cambridge, England: Cambridge Univ.

Noth, Martin
1981 The Deuteronomistic History. Sheffield, England: JSOT.

Redford, Donald B.
1965 The Coregency of Tuthmosis III and Amenophis II. Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 51: 107–22.

Richardson, Don
1981 Eternity in Their Hearts, rev. ed. Ventura CA: Regal.

Tadmor, Hayim
1958 The Campaigns of Sargon II of Assur: A Chronological-Historical Study. Journal of Cuneiform Studies 12: 22–42.
1994 The Inscriptions of Tiglath-Pileser III, King of Assyria. Jerusalem: Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities.

Tetley, M. Christine
2005 The Reconstructed Chronology of the Divided Kingdom. Winona Lake IN: Eisenbrauns.

Thiele, Edwin R.
1963 Synchronisms of the Hebrew Kings. Andrews University Seminary Studies 1: 121–38.
1983 The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, 3rd ed. Grand Rapids MI: Zondervan/Kregel.

Walvoord, John H., and Zuck, Roy B., eds.
1983 The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Old Testament. Wheaton IL: Victor.

Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary
1989 Springfield MA: Merriam-Webster.

Wellhausen, Julius
1878 Prolegomena zur geschichte Israels. Berlin: G. Reimer. Reprinted in English, New York: World, 1961.

Wiseman, Donald J.
1956 Chronicles of Chaldaean Kings (626–556 B.C.) in the British Museum. London: Trustees of the British Museum.

Young, Rodger C.
2003 When Did Solomon Die? Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 46: 589–603.
2004a When Did Jerusalem Fall? Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 47: 21–38.
2004b When Was Samaria Captured? The Need for Precision in Biblical Chronologies. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 47:577–95.
2005 Tables of Reign Lengths from the Hebrew Court Recorders. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 48: 225–48.
2007a Inductive and Deductive Methods as Applied to OT Chronology. The Master’s Seminary Journal 18: 99–116.
2007b Review of The Reconstructed Chronology of the Divided Kingdom by M. Christine Tetley. Andrews University Seminary Studies 45:278–83.

Younger, K. Lawson, Jr.
2000 Neo-Assyrian Inscriptions: Shalmaneser III (2.113). Pp. 261–70 in The Context of Scripture II: Monumental Inscriptions from the Biblical World, ed. William W. Hallo. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.
 

Comments Comment RSS

8/23/2008 1:44 AM #

Praise God for this exhaustive, yet mind-blowing read.

Volopt - 8/23/2008 1:44:22 AM

8/23/2008 6:27 PM #

I have just read your most recent article in JETS on the date of the Exodus, plus your earlier article on the death of Solomon, both of which get into the question of the dates of the sabbatical years and jubilees during the period before the Babylonian captivity.  

I am not a chronologist myself, but some years ago, I had occasion to look into the location of the sabbatical years in connection with a study on Daniel's Seventy Weeks (see my article in JETS 16 [1973]:229-234).  Shortly thereafter I found an article on the sabbatical years during the 2nd temple and early rabbinic period (Ben Zion Wacholder, "The Calendar of Sabbatical Cycles During the Second Temple and Early Rabbinic Period." Hebrew Union College Annual 44 [1973]: 153-196 .  I believe he gets the same results for the location of the sabbatical cycles as you do, though naturally shifted forward by many years.  If you've not seen this article, you may find it interesting.  I updated my discussion of the basis of Wacholder's work. and the result is a nice fulfillment of Daniel's prophecy in Jesus.  See my paper and PowerPoint at www.ibri.org.

Dr Robert C Newman
Emeritus Professor of NT and Christian Evidences
Biblical Theological Seminary

Robert C Newman - 8/23/2008 6:27:22 PM

8/24/2008 4:33 PM #

Thanks, Volopt and Dr. Newman, for your comments. I'm aware of the work of Ben Zion Wacholder. I cite it in Part 1 of my JBQ article, "Seder Olam and the Sabbaticals . . ." that is available on my Web site. This article presents evidence from the Seder Olam that Wacholder's chronology of post-exilic Sabbatical years is the correct one, vs. the on-year-earlier calendar of Zuckermann. If Wacholder had looked more closely at the Hebrew of the Seder Olam, he would have seen that it supports his position, but instead he (and Jack Finegan and some others) used English (mis)translations that support Zuckermann.

Post-exilic Sabbatical years must be treated separately from pre-exilic Sabbaticals, because the exile interrupted the counting. Apparently you have just read the article that Bryant Wood and I authored in the current (June 2008) issue of JETS. This shows that a complete calendar of pre-exilic Jubilee and Sabbatical years can be constructed, and Scriptural references are given alluding to these events.

The fact that the calendar of Jubilee and Sabbatical cycles was known all the time that Israel was in its land has some important ramifications that will be explained in an article in the Fall 2008 issue of Bible and Spade. Readers who have found the above article interesting will find this article will go into the same level of detail, and again there are conclusions that show the wisdom of God's word and "the folly of the critics" who deny the supernatural origin of this legislation. Although the Webmaster was nice enough to put this first article of mine on the Web page just a few days after its issue of Bible and Spade came out, we can't assume that he'll do the same for the second article. So if you're interested, make sure you have an up-to-date subscription!

Rodger C. Young
St. Louis

Rodger C. Young - 8/24/2008 4:33:34 PM

9/19/2008 2:13 PM #

Thank you for writing this important and illuminating paper on such a complex issue.  Great contribution!

Matthew - 9/19/2008 2:13:56 PM

11/17/2008 9:37 PM #

Dear Mr. Young,

You wrote: The translators of the LXX (Greek translation of the Old Testament) attempted to harmonize various readings of the Hebrew text that seemed to be contradictory ...

You state this as a matter of fact. But is only an assumption. And I believe it to be an incorrect one.

You wrote: and in doing so they produced various readings that cannot be assembled into a coherent chronology without postulating multiple arbitrary emendations.

Again I disagree. I think Bible chronologists have long made a very big mistake by viewing the chronological data contained in many "variant" OT manuscripts as contradicting that which is contained in the Masoretic Text. I have found that only when we view all of the "variant" data as complimentary to that contained in the MT, rather than contradictory, can a completely coherent chronology of the divided kingdom be assembled.

By the way, had you paid attention to "variant" data you may now disagree with Thiele's date for the division of the kingdom by more than just a few months. For the "variant" data, together with all that we find in the MT, show that the kingdom was split several years earlier than the date you and Thiele have assigned to the schism, 931/930 BCE.

Partly due to your rejection of "variant" data, you have managed to overlook coregencies which took place during the reigns of both Abijah and Asa.

However, even ignoring all of the "variant" data, I don't see how a careful Bible reader could miss the fact that Asa must have begun his rule as a coregent, evidently as a young child ruling his kingdom to begin with the oversight of his grandmother Maacah. For the Bible tells us that Asa's days as king began with "ten years of peace." (2 Chron. 14:1,6) This must refer to his years as sole king following five years as coregent. For the Bible also tells us that the first war during Asa's reign was in his "15th year." (2 Chron. 14:9 - 15:10)

Thiele tells us, and I agree, that the words of 2 Chron. 15:19, "There was no war until the 35th year of Asa's reign," [not "no more war" as in some translations] should be understood as saying, "There was no war until the 35th year (since the division of the kingdom) in Asa's reign." We know this because 1 Kings 15:16 speaks of a war between Asa and Baasha "in the 36th year of Asa's reign," but Baasha's rule ended long before Asa's 36th year. (1 Kings 16:6,8) That being the case, 2 Chron. 15:19 and 1 Kings 15:16 must be referring to the number of years which had then passed from the division of the kingdom. And since Rehoboam, Judah's first king, ruled 17 years and was followed by Abijah who ruled 3 years we see that Asa began to rule about 20 years after the schism. And since his first 10 years were years of peace, war must have first broken out between Asa and Baasha some 30 years after the kingdom was divided, not 35 years, unless the "10 years of peace" being referred to were the first 10 years of Asa's sole rule, following a 5 year coregency.

I believe had Thiele followed this line of thinking, which he had somewhat begun by discussing these verses, he would have reached the same conclusion I have, that the division of the kingdom must have occurred, not in 931/930 BC, but about four years earlier in 935 BC.

Rather than viewing "variant" sacred texts as containing corrupted data, I advise you to try viewing such texts as containing additional complimentary data. That is what I have done. While doing so I have consistantly found the data contained in "variant" texts to be of great help in reconstructing the chronological history of ancient Israel's royal rulers.

Mike

Michael Satterlee - 11/17/2008 9:37:38 PM

11/19/2008 5:42 AM #

Greetings Michael,

Thank you for your concern about giving a fair consideration of variant chronological readings, especially from the Septuagint. As you know from reading my first "Evidence for Inerrancy" article, I believe that we have to be very careful about having a presupposition-based approach when treating historical matters as they relate to Biblical interpretation. Therefore I appreciate your concern that maybe that was what I was doing when I stated that the chronological texts should be consulted in the original Hebrew (that is, the MT or Masoretic Text). Also, in a footnote (footnote 9) I explained that "The translators of the LXX . . . attempted to harmonize various readings of the Hebrew text that seemed to be contradictory, and in doing so they produced various readings that cannot be assembled into a coherent chronology without postulating multiple arbitrary emendations."

This was not an a priori statement. Although a person undertaking a study of the chronological texts related to the Hebrew monarchy might start with a working assumption to use the Masoretic text, the fact that that assumption has led to a coherent chronology—one that is entirely consistent with the 124 precise texts mentioned in my article—is evidence that the assumption was a correct one. Furthermore, no one has been able to produce a coherent chronology for this period based on preferring any of the variant LXX texts. They have failed to do this even when resorting to selecting one text from the "Old Greek" readings, and another from the "Lucianic" readings, etc., and mixing and matching these various LXX manuscripts that do not agree among themselves.

I have dealt with the issue of LXX variants at length in the book review cited in footnote 9 of the "Unexpected" article. I recommend you read this to see if you think I have treated the issue fairly there. The review is of Christine Tetley's book "The Reconstructed Chronology of the Divided Kingdom." Tetley pulled out all the stops in trying to construct a chronology based on preferring readings from the various LXX traditions. My review points out the following statistics for the 33 monarchs of the divided kingdom when taking Tetley's approach of giving priority to LXX manuscripts: "The reign lengths given for these monarchs in Tetley's chronology differ from any text, MT or Greek, in eight cases . . . For seven of the eight cases, all Greek MSS agree with the MT, contra Tetley's figures. For synchronisms between Israel and Judah that can be constructed from Tetley's charts, twelve of them find no support in any textual tradition, MT or Greek . . . The Reconstructed Chronology, therefore, is in poor agreement with the extant Greek data or with any combination of Greek and Hebrew data."

Further on the same page of the review (p. 280): "The Thiele/McFall chronology has no cases in which the reign lengths and synchronisms do not have textual backing, compared to the twenty cases in which Tetley's chronology has no textual support." P. 282: "McFall's chronology is based on the MT, and in no case did McFall or Thiele find a superior reading in the LXX. This presents a challenge to all those who would favor the LXX: produce a chronology that is based on any reading that is presumed to be superior in the LXX, and then demonstrate that the chronology has the same internal and external harmony as the Thiele/McFall system. Shenkel, who preferred "Old Greek" readings in the books of Kings, was not able to do this; he did not even try. Tetley, with her preference for the Lucianic text c2 and with various mixing and matching, is a long way from being able to do it, as was demonstrated above. So far it is only the MT that allows the building of a consistent chronology for the period of the divided monarchies. Until some scholar is able to produce a similar success with LXX variant readings, it must be said that the preference for the MT readings in all these matters is no longer just a hypothesis or a presupposition; it is a conclusion."

Today I put a link to this review of Tetley's approach on my Web page, and you can read it there.

So I welcome you to try where Shenkel, Tetley, and all others have failed. Construct such a chronology based on any variant LXX reading, and demonstrate that it doesn't contradict at some point one or more Scriptures or fixed dates in Assyrian or Babylonian history. No one has been able to do this, and that, along with the fact that it has been done for a MT-based chronology that takes into account all 124 precise statistics in Kings, Chronicles, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, is the reason I state that the superiority of the MT in Kings and Chronicles is not just a presupposition, but a mathematically demonstrated conclusion.

Further support of 931 BC for the beginning of the divided monarchy is found in my article "Three Verifications" in the same issue of the Andrews University Seminary Studies. Although a summary of this is given on my Web site, no link to the actual text will be given until two years after publication. I will e-mail you separately so you can return your mailing address if you would like me to mail to you a copy of the article. The "Three Verifications" article is significant, I think, because it points out that there are three independent methods that establish Thiele's date of 931 BC for the division of the kingdom: the consistency of all the Biblical data that Thiele used in deriving this date, the evidence of the Tyrian king lists (which uses classical authors, and not the Bible, in dating the years of Hiram of Tyre and the year he sent help for the start of the construction of Solomon's Temple), and the Jubilee/Sabbatical cycles that show, when used in conjunction with 1 Kings 6:1, that Solomon died sometime between the fall of 932 and the fall of 931 BC. My second article on inerrancy (current, Fall 2008 issue of Bible and Spade) also mentions how the Jubilee and Sabbatical cycles establish this date. In short, I think that the date of 931 BC for the beginning of the divided monarchy is one of the most secure dates in all of ancient history. I know of no other date before about 600 BC that has three independent lines of evidence like this that agree with such precision. But read the "Three Verifications" article and don't just go by my short synopsis here.

A smaller matter: you wrote "For the Bible tells us that Asa's days as king began with "ten years of peace." (2 Chron. 14:1,6) This must refer to his years as sole king following five years as coregent. For the Bible also tells us that the first war during Asa's reign was in his "15th year." (2 Chron. 14:9 - 15:10)"

We should always be careful not to read things into the Biblical text that are not there. The two conditions that you give as requiring a coregency of five years are not in the text. These texts do not say that the 10 years of peace started with Asa's first year. They say that "in his days the country was at peace for ten years" (2 Chron 14:2). Neither does the Scripture say that the conflict with Zerah the Cushite was Asa's first war. The ten years of peace could have started at any time from Asa's first year to his fifth year, since the invasion of the Cushites that we might assume ended the 10 years of peace occurred at some time before the convocation in Jerusalem in the third month of his fifteenth year (2 Chron 15:10). The Cushite conflict could have occurred at any time from Asa's tenth year to a few months before the Jerusalem convocation. 2 Chron 15:8,9 imply the passing of some time between the defeat of the Cushites and the convocation. If the Cushite conflict occurred in Asa's 10th year, then the 10 years of peace would have started when his reign started. If the Cushite conflict was in one of the years 11 thru 14, then the ten years of peace would have been preceded by conflict between Asa and Baasha.

Yours,
Rodger C. Young
http://home.swbell.net/rcyoung8

Rodger C. Young - 11/19/2008 5:42:39 AM

11/19/2008 6:04 PM #

Hello Rodger,

Thanks for your reply. I just also replied to your e-mail covering some of the same ground.

You wrote: Furthermore, no one has been able to produce a coherent chronology for this period based on preferring any of the variant LXX texts. They have failed to do this even when resorting to selecting one text from the "Old Greek" readings, and another from the "Lucianic" readings, etc., and mixing and matching these various LXX manuscripts that do not agree among themselves.

As I have said before, I believe the right approach is to view all “variant” sacred texts as very likely containing valuable chronological information, additional to that which is contained in the MT. This I have done and in so doing I have been able to reconstruct the chronological history of ancient Israel’s royal rulers in a way that fully harmonizes all Biblical and secular data, as well as nearly all so-called “variant” sacred data.

You wrote: Today I put a link to this review of Tetley's approach on my Web page, and you can read it there.

As I mentioned in my e-mail, I have had trouble opening that article, unlike others there posted.

You refer to: the superiority of the MT in Kings and Chronicles …

I agree that the MT in this matter has shown itself to be without error. But I have also found that scores of so-called “variant” texts contain very few errors. In fact I have found only three in all “variant“ sacred texts including all those cited by Josephus. And two of these three amount to what can only be called very minor mistakes. Zimri is said to have reigned “7 years” rather than “7 days,” an easily understood scribal error. And Jehoram is said to have ruled “40 years” rather than his Biblical “8,” an obvious reference to his age at the end of his reign rather than to the number of years that he ruled, since 2 Kings 8:17 tells us that he was 32 years old at the time he became king and ruled 8 years. That means among all the so-called “variant” texts I have only found one that appears to contain a serious error. And even that one is easily understood. Maybe we can discuss it later.

Earlier I wrote: For the Bible tells us that Asa's days as king began with "ten years of peace." (2 Chron. 14:1,6) This must refer to his years as sole king following five years as coregent. For the Bible also tells us that the first war during Asa's reign was in his "15th year." (2 Chron. 14:9 - 15:10)

You responded: We should always be careful not to read things into the Biblical text that are not there. The two conditions that you give as requiring a coregency of five years are not in the text. These texts do not say that the 10 years of peace started with Asa's first year [as sole king after serving five years as a coregent].

No, but they strongly imply that was the case. Especially so when we read these passages with the data from all the “variant” texts in mind. For instance, the MT tells us that Asa became king in the "20th year of Jeroboam." Yet the "variant" texts tell us that he did so in Jeroboam's "24th" year. (I believe these “variant” texts are actually referring to the 24th year of the kingdom founded by Jeroboam, as Jeroboam's actual reign ended in his 22nd year.) The MT tells us Elah became king in Asa's "26th" year. Yet "variant" texts tell us that it was in his "20th" year. The MT tells us Zimri became king in Asa's "27th" year. But "variant" texts tell us that he did so in Asa's "22nd" year. The MT tells us that Omri began to rule in the 31st of Asa. But "variant" texts tell us that he did so in Asa's "22nd" year, a difference that can only be accounted for by recognizing not only a five year rival rule between Omni and Tibni but also a five year coregency between Asa and Maacah. Notice that the "variant" texts are consistant in giving us the same time for the accession of Zimri, who ruled for only seven days before Omri, and Omri himself, the "22nd" of Asa vs. the MT's "27th" of Asa. In my opinion, only a blind man could overlook the five year coregency that took place between Asa and Maacah, a co regency implied by the “war“ and “peace” passages preserved for us in the MT and strongly confirmed several times by comparing several passages in the MT with all of their complimentary “variant” passages.  

Maybe we can talk again.

Your brother in Christ,

Mike


Michael Satterlee - 11/19/2008 6:04:54 PM

11/20/2008 12:54 AM #

Rodger,

As an afterthought on Asa's "ten years of peace" pointing to his five year coregency, you failed to take note of what Thiele acknowledged (pg. 84 TMNOTHK). He tells us that when the Bible tells us that "there was no war until Asa's 35th year" it is referring to Asa's 15th year of rule (which was the 35th year since the schism). So Asa's "ten years of peace" must have come right before his 15th year of rule. And since there was no war until his 15h year, his "years of peace" would have been 15 years not ten, unless those "ten years" were his first ten years of sole rule after a five year coregency.

Mike

Michael Satterlee - 11/20/2008 12:54:52 AM

11/23/2008 6:21 AM #

Greetings Michael,

Regarding 2 Chron 15:19 and 16:1: I agree that Thiele was right in saying that the 35th and 36th year here are to be measured from the division of the kingdom. This opinion is at least as old as the 2nd century AD, where it is found in the Seder Olam (ch. 16). But when it says in 15:19 that there was no war until this 35th year, what was the starting date? It was not at the beginning of the 35 years, since Abijah and Jeroboam had fought after then and before the time of Asa. It would only be our inference to say that the ten years of peace started when Asa began to reign. Asa apparently was at war with Baasha, and possibly also with Jeroboam and Nadab before Baasha, prior to the ten years of peace.

If you have developed an alternative chronology for the kingdom period, then send me the tables showing how it all works out, similar to the tables at the end of my "Tables of Reign Lengths" article. These are also shown on my web site when choosing the "Tables" option. The Bible Archaeology site is not the proper forum for discussing the fine points of your chronology. You have my e-mail address, so we can carry out further discussions privately when you send me those tables. I would also urge you to express your dates with an exact notation, such as is used in McFall's "Translation Guide" or in my various writings.

Yours in Christ,
Rodger C. Young
http://home.swbell.net/rcyoung8/papers.html

Rodger C. Young - 11/23/2008 6:21:06 AM

6/24/2009 4:34 AM #

Mr. Young,

I have very much appreciated reading your efforts with regard to biblical chronology. I am very much out of my league when it comes to numbers of any kind. I am preparing to teach events related to the Divided Kingdom period and I have a couple of questions.

I am curious to know why you agree with Thiele on 1 Chronicles 15:19; 16;1. It seems to me that either way one chooses to go in harmonizing the numbers it requires that there is a textual error or amendment. Thiele chooses to believe that the words "of Asa" are a late insertion. Others have assumed that the numbers (35th and 36th) were miscopied (they should have read 15th & 16th).  Personally, I am inclined toward the latter finding it easier to suspect miscopied numbers rather than the insertion of additional words.

I am also curious to know if you found the suggestion of an Abijah/Asa co-regency worthy of consideration since this string was dropped back in Novemenber.

One final question of clarification: in your article about the date of Solomon's death you said it occurred in the first half of the year that began in Nisan, 931 and in your table 3, rule 2 you say that Rehoboam began his sole reign in 931n/931t. However, in your "magnum opus," table 2 you list Rehoboam's sole reign beginning in 932t. While I understand that 931n/931t designates the last six months of 932t, I am confused as to why your notation for the beginning of Rehoboam's reign is different in the two works. 932t suggests any time from October of 932 B.C. to September of 931 B.C. That is much broader than 931n/931t. Am I confused? Correction: I am confused! Smile

sincerely,

Andy Diestelkamp
Pontiac, IL  

Andy Diestelkamp - 6/24/2009 4:34:48 AM

7/7/2009 2:10 AM #

Thanks, Andy, for your comments. We were on a camping vacation in the Rockies so I wasn't able to get around to answering until today.

I believe that you meant 2 Chronicles 15:29 and 16:1 rather than 1 Chron 15:19 and 16:1, as you wrote above. These verses in 2 Chronicles, as presently found, mention the 35th and 36th years of Asa's reign. As I mentioned earlier, the interpretation that the years are to be measured from the division of the kingdom, and not from the accession of Asa, is at least as old as the Seder Olam (2nd century AD).

I have not had occasion to publish anything regarding these two verses because I was confining my studies to those texts that can give a precise correlation between two events, such as "King X of Judah began to reign in year Z of King Y of Israel". My "Tables of Reign Lengths" paper deals with these precise synchronisms, rather than the many texts which merely state that in a certain year of a king or an epoch, some event happened, but there is no extra information that can determine that event and the synchronism with precision. The two verses mentioned fit into this latter category, which is why I have not used them. As you know, I counted 124 synchronisms of the former (precise) kind, indicating to me that there is an overall purpose in the Scriptures for such an abundance of chronological data for the kingdom period.

There is no question but that the two verses are difficult. An emendation of the type you suggest could be valid. I currently prefer Thiele's emendation, because it would be easy to see that, if the words "of the kingdom of Asa" were not originally included, then a later scribe would think it necessary to add them. The original text would have then read "There was no war until the 35th year. In the 36th year Baasha king of Israel went up . . ."

This would be consistent with the measurement of dates from an era, as found in other places in the Old Testament. Sometimes the era under consideration is not mentioned: examples are Exodus 40:17, Numbers 10:11, and Deuteronomy 1:3, where the era of the Exodus is understood  but not stated. Another example is Ezekiel 1:1, where the era of the 30th year is not explained. I believe it refers to the 30th year of the16th Jubilee period, which began on Rosh HaShanah of 623 BC (footnote 14 of "Tables of Reign Lengths", available on my Web site, http://home.swbell.net/rcyoung8/papers ).

Regarding an Abijah/Asa coregency: there may have been such, although Abijah is given only a short reign of three years and so he may have died before he got around to the wise expedient of establishing his successor as coregent. Whether or not he appointed Asa as coregent, the point is that no synchronisms or reign lengths given in the text are measured from such a coregency. Evidence for this is solid: if the reigns of Asa and Abijah are changed from the figures that I have calculated (and with which Leslie McFall now agrees--see my Web site), then the final year of Solomon would have to be changed from 932t (i.e. 932/931 BC in the less precise notation) to some other figure. But the final year of Solomon are established by three independent lines of evidence, and is therefore, in my opinion, the most solid ancient date we have at any time before 700 BC. This is the subject of my "Three Verifications of Thiele's Date . . . " paper, published in the AUSS in 2007, and which I recommend to anyone interested in this question.

Regarding why I changed the date of Solomon's death from the six-month period 931n/931t to the less precise full year of 932t, see footnote 3 of "Tables of Reign Lengths," available on my Web site.

Yours, Rodger C. Young.

Rodger C. Young - 7/7/2009 2:10:49 AM

7/7/2009 6:29 AM #

Hi Rodger,

Do you have an email address I can contact you at? I'm trying to learn if anyone has written up anything on these Bible verses and how they fit into the latest chronology of the kingdoms of Judah and Israel:

"“Lie also on your left side, and lay the iniquity of the house of Israel upon it. According to the number of the days that you lie on it, you shall bear their iniquity. For I have laid on you the years of their iniquity, according to the number of the days, three hundred and ninety days; so you shall bear the iniquity of the house of Israel. And when you have completed them, lie again on your right side; then you shall bear the iniquity of the house of Judah forty days. I have laid on you a day for each year." Ezekiel 4:4-6 (NKJV)

Thanks!

Regards,

Andrew Jones
photogenius76@yahoo.com

Andrew Jones - 7/7/2009 6:29:11 AM

Research RSS Feed

AddThis Feed Button

Recent Articles

Psalm 119 is an anonymous Psalm which stands alone between two separate groupings of chapters. After...
Dear ABR Friends, Our fiscal year calendar closed on June 30th and we look back with deep appreciation...
For many years, Jericho has been a "problem" in Biblical archaeology since scholars claimed that there...
Because the Shroud of Turin has received much public attention in the news, on television and on the...
Associates for Biblical Research
  • PO Box 144, Akron, PA 17501
  • Phone: +1 717-859-3443 | Fax: +1 717-859-3393
  • Toll Free: 1-800-430-0008
Friend ABR on Facebook.com Join us on Twitter Join us on Twitter