The elusive biblical timeline

1 Kings 6:1 puts the coming out of Egypt of the “children of Israel” 480 years before the beginning of Solomon’s temple. If the “children of Israel” is a metaphor for the people Moses led out of Egypt (literally, the children of Israel would be the tribal patriarchs who were the children of the man, Israel/Jacob) then the claim is that the Exodus happened in about -1446 when Thutmose III was pharaoh.

The problem with that is that we know that from the time of that pharaoh until after -1200, Egypt considered Canaan its territory, which it controlled and largely depopulated. Egypt repeatedly sent troops into Canaan in those centuries, sometimes every year. They claimed to have carried a huge number of captives back to Egypt. The hill country in what became Israel experienced a sharp decline in population (see here where there are good graphs to show what happened). So, if the Exodus was in -1446, where in the Bible do we see Egypt intervening in Canaan during the period of the Conquest and the Judges?

Often people supporting this early date for the Exodus use the ‘apiru mentioned in the Amarna correspondence. Their theory is that although the Bible does not mention Egypt’s presence during this period, the Canaanites were complaining to Egypt precisely about a Hebrew invasion.

I have argued several times that the ‘apiru were not the Hebrews. But even if they were, I do not understand the timeline.

The reason for the -1446 date is a precise adherence to the 480 years of 1 Kings 6:1. However, the Bible also puts the beginning of the Conquest forty years after the Exodus. Thus, the Amarna era should have begun before -1400. But that is not when it was. Most articles about Akhenaten put his reign in the mid 14th century, starting in about -1353.

But correlation with recently translated Hittite documents is causing a lot of scholars to shorten the reign of Horemheb from 29 to only 14 years. Assuming the -1279 installation of Rameses II, this moves the Amarna period and everything else in the 18th dynasty forward. So the Amarna era probably did not start until the -1340s. Either way, it was many decades too late to fit the ‘apiru theory.

The advocates of the early date have a reasonable case that 1 Kings 6 means 480 years, not just 12 generations. But numbers in the Bible are tricky. Sometimes they have meanings connected with the worship and legal calendar of Israel–festivals, sabbatical years and jubilees. One suspects there might have been some esoteric priestly calculations regarding the foundation of the Temple that have a more ritual than historical meaning.

But also there may have been several exodus-like events in which some Israelites came out of Egypt that preceded the Exodus of Moses. If you adjust for the shortening of Horemheb’s time, -1446 falls just about when the aunt of Thutmose III, Queen Hatsheput, died and Thutmose III came fully to power. Hatsheput said that she expelled some Semitic peoples (see my documentation of this here). So there may have been an exodus-like event somewhere around that time.

There is one biblical event (Genesis 50) where the literal children of Jacob came out of Egypt to bury their father.

So maybe something of historical significance did happen in or near -1446.

About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
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