In Galatians 4:4 the Apostle Paul made a remarkable statement about Jesus, “…when the fullness of time was come, God sent forth His Son.” There are several Greek words for time Paul could have used. One word that he uses elsewhere (1 Cor. 4:5) is the Greek word, kairos. Kairos is a word which can indicate an ideal time, or even eschatological time. In an interesting twist, Paul doesn’t use that word in Gal. 4. He uses the word Chronos, which indicates calendar time, or linear time.
The history of events recorded in the Bible span thousands of years and stretches across multiple cultures, lands, and peoples of the Ancient Mediterranean. It was in this world – the world of the Ancient Near East – that all of the major stories in the Old & New Testaments took place, and the two accounts must correlate. This is important for at least two reasons: (1) First, for Historical reasons. IF the stories in the Bible are true and correspond to reality then we should expect to find historical and archaeological evidence of some sort for those events. And (2), perhaps one of the most important principles for understanding the Biblical text itself, is their Linguistic and Cultural context. Knowing and understanding WHEN a certain event happened in the ancient world will help us better understand the context of the text, or at least bring it into sharper focus.
One of the main reasons that many liberal ANE (Ancient Near Eastern) archaeologists & scholars today don’t see evidence of the historical reliability of the Bible is that they place much of it in the wrong chronological time.
In the 1981 movie Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indy and his sidekick Sallah have located where they believe the famous Ark of the Covenant is buried. The Nazis are also looking for the Ark, but Sallah (Indy’s partner) lowers him into the “Well of Souls” and they discover the Nazis are digging in the wrong place. This is the case of many archaeologists today. They are searching for Biblical events in the wrong chronological time frame. These issues highlight a vital topic in archaeology known as “Biblical Chronology.”
Archaeologist, Jack Finegan explains:
…in Christian faith and in biblical study we are directed to the long sweep of time in which God has been working out his purpose, to time as chronos, and accordingly to the measure of time, which is chronometry, the writing about and recording of time, which is chronography, and the science and doctrine of time, which is chronology .
Chronology is vitally important in aligning purported events to their corresponding date in time in history. This is no easy task for any ancient historian! One of the goals of the biblical archaeologist is to research and discover how biblical history correlates, and synchronizes with the history of the nations it came in contact with. One of the difficulties in reconstructing an accurate chronology of events of the Bible, is that cultures in the past had different ways of reckoning time. Or to put it different way, when an archaeologist digs up a pottery fragment there is no date stamped on it.
Dr. Edwin R. Thiele was one of the first scholars in the twentieth-century to recognize the importance of chronology for the Old Testament. In 1951 he published a ground-breaking book titled, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings. Here, he set out to accurately reconcile the reigns of the Hebrew kings mentioned in the Old Testament to neighboring Near Eastern cultures. In chapter one Dr. Thiele’s opening words are worth pondering. He writes:
Chronology is the backbone of history. Absolute chronology is the fixed central core around which the events of the nation must be correctly grouped before they may assume their exact positions in history and before their mutual relationships may be properly understood. Without exact chronology there can be no exact history. Until a correct chronology of a nation has been established, the events of that nation cannot be correctly integrated into the events of neighboring states. If history is to be a true and exact science, then it is of fundamental importance to construct a sound chronological framework about which may be fitted the events of states and the international world.
Because of the huge influence of the Documentary Hypothesis by the German scholar Julius Welhausen in the 19th Century, most Old Testament scholars now date the composition of the Pentateuch to around the time of the Babylonian exile (circa 586 B.C.).
If this is how the Pentateuch (Gen-Deut.) is dated, then all of the events recorded in it would vanish or become mere metaphors or allegories. It was in this climate that the discipline of Biblical Archaeology was born. Biblical archaeology was, and is by its very nature, unapologetically, apologetic. This is one reason why many archaeologists today working in the Ancient Near East dislike the term. One of the earliest defenders of the historical trustworthiness of the Bible was Edward Robinson. Robinson was a professor of Old Testament at Andover Theological Seminary in Massachusetts; later called Union Theological Seminary in New York.
In 1837 he and Eli Smith, a Protestant missionary in Beirut, set out to explore the Holy Land. Robinson and Smith hoped to find evidence supporting the Bible’s historicity. From Cairo (in Egypt) they followed (what they presumed was) the route of the Exodus through the Sinai to Palestine. When he arrived in Jerusalem Robinson noticed some oddly projecting stones in the lower portion of the retaining wall around the Haram esh-Sherif, the Muslim sanctuary on the site of the ancient Israelite temple. He recognized these as the base of an arch that supported a monumental entrance to the temple built by King Herod the Great in the First Century A.D.. These remains are now known today as “Robinson’s Arch.”
More importantly, however, were the discoveries made by Robinson and Smith as they criss-crossed the countryside on their way to Beirut. On his journey with Smith, Robinson was able to recognize the locations and Arabic names of small towns or abandoned mounds of the original places described in the Bible.
For example: ‘Bir es-Seba’ was Beersheba; ‘Beitin’ was Bethel; ‘El-Jib’ was biblical Gibeon; and so forth. By looking at the Arabic names Robinson was able to identify many biblical sites located throughout the Holy Land. In addition, Robinson along with Sir Charles Warren and Charles Wilson conducted research in and around Jerusalem identifying Hezekiah’s tunnel which was hewn under the city 2700 years ago during the reign of the Biblical king Hezekiah. In the 8th Cent. B.C. Jerusalem was under siege by the Assyrians.
Robinson’s identifications of sites, and cities became the starting point, and laid the groundwork for all later work in biblical geography and archaeology.
The mid-twentieth century saw the high watermark of Biblical Archaeology in the work of the American archaeologist William Foxwell Albright. Albright, along with his colleague George Ernest Wright and others attempted to synthesize the general chronology of the Old Testament narrative with linguistics and the archaeological & cultural background of the Ancient Near East.
The importance of these men for archaeology and the Bible cannot be overstated! They re-discovered real places, actual cities, and sites that were mentioned in the Bible, but had been lost to history for millennia. The Bible proved to be a solid primary source for ancient history in a small corridor of the Near East.
BIBLICAL CHRONOLOGY: DATING METHODS & RESOURCES
This is only a brief introduction to the vast and often complex subject of biblical chronology. One of the main reasons for this article, is merely to highlight the vital importance of chronology for biblical archaeology, and give a very basic overview of some of the dating methods used in archaeology.
There are essentially four basic dating methods when it comes to archaeology and I will also mention one additional one:
- Historical Synchronisms,
- Ceramic Typology (Dating by Pottery),
- C-14 (Carbon-14)
- Numismatics (Dating by coins – which only first came into use during the Persian period, around 550 B.C.).
It must be noted, that some of these methods of dating give us absolute dates, whereas others give us approximate dates. Although it would be great if all discoveries that archaeologists make could be dated accurately and precisely, most archaeological dates are approximate.
One other very interesting archaeological dating method is Archaeo-Astronomy (or, the use of astronomical events for dating). Ever since Johannes Kepler published his Laws of Planetary Motion (1609-1619), and with the advent of modern astronomy software programs, archaeologists can now look back in time and get very precise dates for historical events. Genesis 1:14 states, “And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years.” The only limitation of this method, is that a significant astronomical event (such as a comet, eclipse, lunar event, etc..) must have been be recorded in the historical and/or archaeological record, in order for this method to be tested or used.
Here, we’ll briefly review two important dating methods for archaeology: (1) Historical Synchronisms – synchronisms provide a degree of certainty because they are based on comparative archaeology. We’ll look at how this is important for establishing dating points in establishing an accurate chronology of the Bible. And (2) Ceramic Typology – the dating of archaeological sites by identifying the type of pottery that is discovered.
Historical Synchronism is a fixed date that we can attach to an biblical event, where there is a direct archaeological link to that event via an artifact or an inscription. For example, archaeologist Scott Stripling states that, “…the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in 586 B.C.; therefore it would not be hard to date an Iron Age IIC destruction level in Jerusalem or Tel Lachish to 585 B.C.”. Additionally, we have many artifacts, and inscriptions outside the Bible which confirm these events, such as the Babylonian Chronicle, the Lachish Letters (ostraca), as well as Jehoiachin’s Ration Tablets, which were discovered near the Ishtar gate in the ancient city of Babylon.
The construction of Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem is another date upon which Ancient Near Eastern archaeologists are pretty much unanimous, and that date is 966/7 B.C.. This date is also an important dating point for the Exodus. 1 Kings 6:1 states, “In the four hundred and eightieth year after the people of Israel came out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, which is the second month, he began to build the house of the Lord.” Hence, if we add 480 years to 966 B.C., it places the Exodus date as 1446 B.C. – during the 18th Dynasty of Egypt. If the Biblical data is correct in 1 Kings 6:1, then we can be certain that the Exodus must have occurred sometime in 1446 B.C..
One other historical synchronism that I will mention here, is the date of 825 B.C.. This is a fixed date that comes from the discovery of a large stone, called the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III. The Obelisk shows King Jehu of Israel (mentioned in multiple places in the OT: (2 Kings 10, 2 Chron. 21:17, etc…) bowing down and paying tribute to the powerful Assyrian King, Shalmaneser III.
CERAMIC TYPOLOGY (DATING BY POTTERY)
Another vitally important method for archaeological dating is called Ceramic Typology (or dating by pottery) The use of this method was pioneered by such notable archaeologists as Sir William Matthews Flinders Petrie at Tell el-Hesi in 1890, and later by the advancements of William Foxwell Albright and G.E. Wright. Petrie, the father of ceramic typology claimed, “Once settle the pottery of a country and the key is in our hands for all future explorations” . One prime example of the importance of using pottery for dating centers around interpreting the archaeological remains of ancient Jericho or, Tel-es Sultan. Of course many people know Jericho as the famous city that Joshua and the Israelites marched around from the story in the Bible (in Joshua 6). The Bible says that after the Joshua and the Israelites marched around the city seven times, the city would be theirs. Joshua 6:20 states that this is precisely what happened [literally from the Hebrew, “the wall fell beneath itself”]. Over three thousand years later the ruins of Jericho were positively identified, and archaeologists began to study it, peering back through time, stratum by stratum.
THE DESTRUCTION OF JERICHO AND CERAMIC TYPOLOGY
From 1930-1936 Jericho was excavated by British archaeologist, John Garstang and the University of Chicago. In his excavations Garstang discovered a stratum at Jericho he labeled City IV. In this level Garstang identified a fortified city (with double walls – an inner and outer wall) that had been destroyed and burned, just as it is described in the Bible. He dated the destruction of Jericho (City IV) to around 1400 B.C.. This date actually comports with internal biblical chronology of the Conquest by Joshua. Garstang’s analysis and interpretation of Jericho, of course included his correct identification and dating of pottery found there.
Around twenty years later, archaeologist, Dame Kathleen Kenyon returned to Jericho to utilize updated methods of stratigraphic analysis based on methods developed by British archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler. Kenyon’s analysis of the same stratum (City IV) was much different than Garstang. In fact, Kenyon re-dated the destruction of City IV to circa 1550 B.C. and attributed the destruction to the Hyksos or the Egyptians. In essence, this re-dating of City IV in Jericho erased the Israelite conquest from the archaeological record and also from reality.
However, not everyone was in agreement with Kenyon’s analysis of Jericho and re-dating of City IV. Recently, archaeologist, Dr. Bryant G. Wood has challenged Kenyon’s re-dating of City IV. At the center of the debate is pottery and the interpretation (or the correct interpretation) of the ceramics discovered at the site.
At the center of the debate at Jericho stratum City IV is a certain kind of pottery called Cypriot bi-chrome pottery. Archaeologist, Dr. Bryant Wood explains the significance of this type of pottery and it’s importance for dating Jericho and the conquest:
Cypriot bichrome ware – pottery decorated in two colors. Now known as a key indicator of Late Bronze Age occupation, this pottery, excavated by Garstang at Jericho, is just what Kenyon later looked for, unsuccessfully. These sherds were found on the east side of the tell, apparently having slid there when a large structure upslope eroded. In Garstang’s day, the significance of such bi chrome ware was not yet appreciated, and he failed to single it out from the other pottery types he uncovered. As fate would have it, Kenyon, who well knew the link of such ware to the Late Bronze Age, conducted her dig too far north of the eroded runoff to find any bichrome ware. Had she dug further south, or had she been aware of Garstang’s finds, the debate over the date of Jericho’s fall could have taken a very different course: Kenyon might have dated Jericho’s demise to about 1400 B.C.E., (as Garstang did) and not to about 1550 B.C.E., the end of the Middle Bronze Age. Why Kenyon did not study Garstang’s finds more closely remains a mystery 
There is an unspoken saying among archaeologists, that nothing is 100 percent certain. This is certainly true in attempting to establish correct chronologies as well as dating archaeological sites.
Archaeology is an inductive science that is built on cumulative evidence. As we have pointed out in a previous post, “Archaeology doesn’t really SAY anything, archaeologists do. This is not to say, however, that objective meaning and truth doesn’t exist in the archaeological data. But when it comes to constructing meaning – THAT is the provenance, not merely of sciences, but also of philosophy as well.”
There will always be debates and disagreements among archaeologists and biblical scholars, and even though that is true, we CAN be certain of one thing. If the law of non-contradiction applies to reality, then some scholars are right and some are wrong.
Reality is the ultimate arbiter of debates, whether they are about science, philosophy, history, or whatever else. This is true of any good science, whether it is physics, biology, geology or archaeology.
 Jack Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology: Principles of Time Reckoning in the Ancient World and Problems with Chronology in the Bible (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers), xi.
 Edwin R. Thiele,The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1983), p.33.
 The Biblical account maintains that Hezekiah anticipated the Assyrian invasion and made at least two major preparations to resist conquest: construction of Hezekiah’s Tunnel, also known as the Siloam Tunnel, and construction of the Broad Wall. The tunnel is 533 meters long and was dug in order to provide Jerusalem underground access to the waters of the Spring of Gihon/The Siloam Pool, which lay outside the city. This work is described in the Siloam Inscription, which has been dated to his reign on the basis of its script. At the same time a wall was built around the Pool of Siloam, into which the waters from the spring flowed (Isaiah 22:11) which was where all the spring waters were channeled. The wall surrounded the entire city, which bored up to Mount Zion. An impressive vestige of this structure is the broad wall in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. “When Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib had come, intent on making war against Jerusalem, he consulted with his officers and warriors about stopping the flow of the springs outside the city … for otherwise, they thought, the King of Assyria would come and find water in abundance (2 Chronicles 32:2-4)”
 see, William H. Steibing, Jr., Uncovering the Past: A History of Archaeology (Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books, 1993), 87-89.
 Scott Stripling, The Truth and the Trowel: A Guide to Field Archaeology in the Holy Land, 2nd Ed., (Ramona, CA: Vision Publishing, 2017), p.45.
 William Matthews Flinders Petrie, Tel el Hesey (Lachish) (Watt: London, 1891)
Resources for Studying Biblical Chronology
Edwin R. Thiele, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings (Kregel Publishing, 1983)
Jack Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology: Principles of Time Reckoning in the Ancient World and Problems of Chronology in the Bible (Hendrickson Publishers,1998)
Harold W. Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (Zondervan, 1977)
PDF FILES OF OT BIBLICAL CHRONOLOGY
(courtesy of Dr. Douglas Petrovich)
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