The New Egyptian Chronology
A revised Egyptian chronology results in startling new archeological discoveries which authenticate Old Testament histories.
A spectacular new book which was published in England two years ago and which was made into a highly acclaimed British television series is stirring up international controversy because it provides the first evidence of the validity of the stories contained in the Hebrew Scriptures concerning the birth of the nation of Israel.
A Special Book
The book is entitled A Test of Time: The Bible From Myth to History (Century Publishers, London, 1995). It was written by an Egyptologist by the name of David Rohl who is currently completing his doctoral thesis at University College in London. The book was converted by the BBC into a highly acclaimed television series called, “Pharaohs and Kings.”
The book has not yet been published in the United States, but it is scheduled for publication in July by Random House under the title, Pharaohs and Kings.
The Biblical Problem
The book deals with a serious challenge to the Bible that most Bible-believing people are not even aware of. The problem is the fact that there is no archeological evidence to substantiate the patriarchal stories about Abraham and Moses. In fact, archeological evidence relating to Saul, David and Solomon is almost non-existent.
It is true that archeology has corroborated much in the Bible. For example, by 1800 Bible skeptics were pointing to the New Testament references to the towns of Capernaum, Chorazin, and Bethsaida as proof positive that the Bible is full of myth, legend and superstition. “No such towns ever existed,” they claimed. Today, thanks to archeology, you can visit these places.
Likewise, the skeptics pointed to the Old Testament references to Assyria and its capital, Ninevah. Again, they claimed such places never existed. Assyria was written off as a “mythical empire.” The reason for this conclusion was that no secular references to Assyria and Ninevah had ever been found. Then, in 1840 a British explorer by the name of Henry Layard had the temerity to discover evidence of the existence of Assyria, and soon after, another Englishman proceeded to dig up the city of Nineveh.
The skeptics then turned their attention to the Hittites, a nation the Bible mentions 40 times. They were classified an “imaginary” people who existed only in the pages of the Old Testament. But then, in 1905 archeologists uncovered the city of Boghas-Keui in central Turkey which proved to be the former capital city of this “bogus” empire.
The Archeological Challenge
Archeology has substantiated a lot of the Bible, particularly the New Testament, but it has failed to find evidence to verify the stories in the Old Testament. Over and over again archeologists have asked, “How could several million Jews reside in Egypt, then migrate across the Sinai to Canaan, and proceed to conquer the land without leaving a trace of evidence? It’s like a giant walking across the landscape and leaving no footprints!” The conclusion of the vast majority of archeologists is that the Exodus just didn’t happen.
In a similar manner they have written off the stories of Saul, David and Solomon as “tribal legends.” After all, what evidence outside the Bible has ever been found to attest to the reality of these men? The only extra-Biblical reference to David that has been found was discovered only recently at Tel Dan in northern Israel where a stela fragment was found written in Aramaic which mentions “the House of David.” But, as scholars have pointed out, this could still be nothing more than a reference to a legend.
If men like Saul, David and Solomon really existed, why don’t we have letters by them or official documents from their courts? Of course, such letters and documents exist in Scripture, but the skeptics demand extra-biblical evidence. After all, such evidence exists for Egyptian Pharaohs who reigned long before these Hebrew kings.
A good example of the archeological challenge to the Bible is presented by Kathleen Kenyon’s famous excavation of Jericho which began in 1952. She concluded that there simply was no city existing at the time the Israelites entered the land! The mound of Jericho had already been a desolate ruin for several centuries by the time the Israelite tribes crossed the Jordan. Based on her research, many scholars concluded that the biblical story of Joshua’s conquest of Jericho is a myth.
These smug dismissals of the biblical record have now been thrown into disarray by David Rohl’s revolutionary new book. Without any religious axe to grind, Mr. Rohl has launched an all-out assault on the authenticity of accepted Egyptian chronologies, and a vitally important by-product of that as sault has been the discovery of new archeological evidence that substantiates the Old Testament narratives about the birth of Israel.
Rohl’s basic point is that scholars have been looking for the archeological evidence of the Israelites in the wrong place, because they have been relying on flawed Egyptian chronologies.
Before proceeding to consider Rohl’s astounding discoveries, let’s pause for a moment to consider how ancient peoples dated events. The system they used is what scholars call “regnal dating.” That means they dated events to the regnal years (the reigning years) of a monarch. Thus, Egyptian inscriptions tell us that the Battle of Kadesh took place in “year 5 of Ramesses II.” This same dating system is used throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. For example, in 1 Kings 14:25-26 we are told that the Egyptians looted the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem in “the fifth year of King Rehoboam.”
Now, how do scholars end up assigning a date of 1275 BC to the Battle of Kadesh or 925 BC to the plunder of Solomon’s Temple? They arrive at these dates by counting the sequence of regnal years backwards from the birth of Jesus. But, this is not as simple as it sounds. The task is complicated by incomplete records, co-regencies (a father and son reigning together), parallel dynasties (two or more competing kings reigning at once), and interregna (periods when there is no monarch at all).
The biblical records present all these problems. Let me give you an example. If you were to go through the Hebrew Scriptures and add up all the years each monarch of the northern kingdom of Israel reigned, you would come out with a total of 245 years. But we know that the northern kingdom lasted only 209 years, from 931 to 722 AD. Why the difference? Because of co-regencies and parallel dynasties.
The Egyptian Records
The traditionally accepted Egyptian chronology is full of these problems. Look for a moment at the chart to the right. Note the three “Intermediate Periods.” These are time periods when there was no central controlling dynasty in Egypt. Instead, there were several dynasties reigning at the same time, all claiming sovereignty over the whole land, but in fact ruling only portions of the territory, like regional war lords.
The Egyptian chronologies are especially plagued by incomplete data. There are inscriptions that give long lists of pharaohs, but the lengths of their reigns are either omitted or else the numbers have been obliterated over time. The result is that guesses have to be made as to how long they reigned and whether each one’s reigning period was solitary or shared.
Rohl’s contention is that many bad guesses have been made, and he presents a mountain of evidence much of it rather recently discovered to make his point. In the process, he resorts to incredible (and often very tedious) detective work to prove that major errors have been made in compiling the Egyptian chronologies.
Egyptian Chronological Adjustments
Rohl concludes that the Third Intermediate Period is “artificially over extended.” He argues that it should be shortened by 141 years because of parallel dynasties. He then presents a convincing case for lengthening the Second Intermediate Period by 219 years.
These and other adjustments result in a shift of 345 years for the beginning of the 19th Dynasty, from 1295 BC in the traditional chronology to 950 BC in the New Chronology. (See the “Close-up Chart” below.) This is a very significant shift because the third pharaoh of the 19th Dynasty was Ramesses II. This means Ramesses ceases to be the pharaoh of the Exodus and becomes, instead, the pharaoh who sacked the Jerusalem Temple in 925 BC.
But how can this be when the Bible specifically states that the pharaoh who plundered the Temple was named Shishak (1 Kings 14:25-26 and 2 Chronicles 12:2-9)? Traditionally, this name has been identified with Pharaoh Shoshenk I, the founder of the 22nd Dynasty. But in one of the most fascinating chapters of the book, Rohl shows that pharaoh’s had both reginal names and nicknames (called hypocoristicons). The royal name of Ramesses II was Usermaatre-Setepenre Ramessu-Meryamnn. But his hypocoristicon was Sisah, which transliterated into Hebrew, becomes Shishak. Further, Rohl proves that Shoshenk’s military campaign into Israel never touched Jerusalem whereas the records of Ramesses’ campaign specifically states that he plundered Shalem the ancient name of Jerusalem.
Rohl makes two adjustments in the traditional biblical chronology. The first is one that Evangelicals will have to wrestle with. He shortens the sojourn in Egypt from 430 years to 215 years, which results in the date of the Exodus shifting from 1250 BC to 1447 BC. (See the “Close-up” chart).
The length of the Hebrew sojourn in Egypt has traditionally been set at 430 years because of Exodus 12:40 which reads as follows: “Now the time that the sons of Israel lived in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years.”
From this passage, the length of the Egyptian sojourn seems to be indisputable. But, Rohl points out that our modern translations of this passage are based on the Masoretic text which dates from the 4th Century AD. Rohl shows that there are three more ancient versions of this text and that all three state that the 430 years was from the time the Hebrews entered the land of Canaan, not Egypt.
The three older sources are The Septuagint (the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek in about 280 BC), the writings of Josephus (who quotes the verse in his First Century AD writings, stating that he is quoting from Temple documents), and The Samaritan Version of the Torah (which dates from the 2nd Century AD). The Septuagint version reads as follows: “And the sojourning of the children of Israel, that is which they sojourned in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, was four hundred and thirty years.”
Josephus, in his Antiquities of the Jews (Chapter XV:2) puts it this way: “They [the Israelites] left Egypt in the month of Xanthiens, on the fifteenth day of the lunar month; four hundred and thirty years after our forefather Abraham came into Canaan, but two hundred and fifteen years only after Jacob removed into Egypt.”
It appears that in the compilation of the Masoretic text, the phrase “and in the land of Canaan” was dropped either because of a scribal error or because of an exercise in interpretation.
There are other passages in the Hebrew Scriptures which provide clues that substantiate the revised Exodus date of 1447 BC. These are noted on the “Close-up” chart.
The second adjustment Rohl makes in the biblical chronology is to lengthen the time of the wilderness wanderings, the conquest of Canaan, and the period of the Judges from 220 years to 417 years. This adjustment does not raise any biblical problems since it corresponds to dating clues in the biblical narrative (see 1 Kings 6:1 and Judges 11: 26).
The Amazing Discoveries
Now, with these adjustments having been made (see the “Close-up” chart), archeologists who believe in this New Chronology have suddenly started making some astounding discoveries all because they are looking in the right places for the first time.
For example, according to the New Chronology, the pharaoh of the Exodus becomes Dudimose at the end of the 13th Dynasty. The history of Egypt written by the High Priest Manetho in the Third Century BC contains this remarkable observation: “In his reign [Dudimose], for what cause I know not, a blast of God smote us…”
Could this be a reference to the plagues of Moses? Excavations dated to the revised time of Dudimose (mid-1400’s BC) reveal “plague pits” where hundreds of bodies were thrown one on top of the other.
Recent excavations of Tel ed-Daba, located in the Nile delta area and referred to in the Bible as the land of Goshen (Genesis 45:10 and 47:27), have revealed it to be the ancient city of Avaris. An examination of the tombs in this area has produced the startling discovery that the people who populated the area were from Palestine and Syria. Rohl believes these were the children of Israel. Another interesting discovery is that the area has a much higher percentage of infant burials than what has been found at other ancient archeological sites. Rohl believes this is due to the Egyptian slaughter of the Israelite infant males at the time of the birth of Moses.
As further evidence of a significant Jewish presence in Egypt, Rohl points to a tattered papyrus scroll in the Brooklyn Museum (scroll #35.1446). It has been dated to the reign of Pharaoh Sobekhotep III who held power a generation before the birth of Moses, according to the New Chronology. The scroll fragment contains a copy of a royal decree which authorizes the transfer of ownership of a group of slaves. Over half the names of the slaves listed in the document are Semitic, including such common Hebrew names as Menahem, Issachar, and Asher. The bible tells us that prior to the birth of Moses, the Israelite population was subjugated into slavery by a pharaoh “who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8).
Perhaps the most amazing revelation to be found in Rohl’s book relates to Joseph. The excavations at Tel ed-Daba (Avaris in Bible times) have revealed a large Egyptian-style palace dating from the early 13th Dynasty (see the “Close-up” chart). Rohl concludes that this must have been the retirement palace of Joseph, built in the midst of his people.
In 1987 the excavators began to uncover a large pyramid-style tomb adjacent to the palace. They discovered that the tomb had been carefully emptied in antiquity. There was no evidence of the ransacking that characterizes the work of grave robbers. Further, they discovered the head of a very large statue of the man who had been buried in the tomb. The head is most unusual in that it displays very un-Egyptian type features like a mushroom shaped coiffure or wig. The figure is also clean shaven. Most remarkably, this person is wrapped in a coat of many colors!
Rohl concludes that this is a statue of Joseph, and in the process, he reminds the reader that before Joseph died, he made the sons of Israel swear that when they returned to Canaan, they would take his bones with them (Genesis 5:4-25). We are told in Exodus 13:19 that when the Exodus began, Moses ordered that the bones of Joseph be taken with them. And in Joshua 24:32, we are told that Joseph was reburied in Shechem, which is located in the hills of central Israel, in the area called Samaria.
Evidence of Saul and David!
I said the discoveries relating to Joseph were “perhaps” the most amazing related to the New Chronology. The reason I qualified that statement is because Rohl points out that a review of ancient documents, using the New Chronology, may have produced letters referring to David as well as letters written to the Egyptian court by King Saul of Israel!
The documents, known as “The Amarna Letters” were discovered in Egypt in 1887. They proved to be the “House of Correspondence” of the Pharaoh Akhenaten. They exist in the form of 380 cuneiform tablets and they mainly consist of letters sent to the pharaoh by foreign kings.
Now, no one has ever searched these tablets for letters from the United Monarchy of Israel (Saul, David and Solomon) because, according to the conventional chronology, Akhenaten (late 18th Dynasty) lived and died long before the United Monarchy of Israel was established. But the New Chronology places Akhenaten at the beginning of the reign of Saul.
So, Rohl went to these documents with the expectation of finding correspondence from the new Hebrew kingdom an expectation no one else had ever had. The first thing he ran across were letters from city-state rulers of Palestine that contained copious references to a group of marauders called the “Habiru.” These references are obviously speaking of Hebrews, and they have always puzzled scholars because the conventional chronology placed these letters a century before the Exodus. But the New Chronology places them during the reign of King Saul when David and his mighty men kept alive by pillaging the countryside. Rohl concludes that these letters relate to David and his soldiers of fortune who hired themselves out as mercenaries.
Rohl’s second discovery was a series of letters written by a King Labayu of the hill country north of Jerusalem. His name means “Great Lion of Yaweh.” Rohl believes this was the true name of King Saul and that Saul was his hypocoristic name (nickname). Rohl reviews the letters in detail to show that they describe events that parallel incidents during the reign of Saul.
These remarkable letters some by Saul and some by his son, Ish-bosheth (2 Samuel 2:8) contain references to Ayab (Joab, commander of David’s forces) and also to Benenima, Dadua, and Yishuya. Rohl concludes from what is said in the letters the Benenima is Baanah, one of Israel’s tribal chieftains who later assassinates Ish-bosheth (2 Samuel 4). He concludes that Dadua is David and that Yishuya is David’s father, Jesse (Yishay in Hebrew). The evidence he presents in behalf of these conclusions is fascinating and convincing.
The Invisible Evidence
So there you have it — the New Chronology producing evidence all over the landscape that substantiates the biblical records concerning the origins of the Jews, their formation as a nation in Egypt, their exodus and wanderings, and their conquest of Canaan. The evidence has been there all along, but it has been invisible because of flawed Egyptian chronologies.
Remember Kathleen Kenyon’s conclusion that Jericho was destroyed at least 200 years before the Israelites entered the land? Well, she was right when relating the destruction to the conventional chronologies. But the New Chronology has the Jews entering the land at least 200 years earlier, precisely at the time that Jericho was destroyed!
I urge you to read Rohl’s book for yourself. You will find it to be a faith building experience.
The Discovery Channel has recently made the BBC television adaptation of the book available to the public that run a total of 150 minutes. It comes in an attractive slip case box and can be ordered by calling 1-800-938-0333.