A Historical Timeline of the Bible

The Time of the Judges

Working out a chronology for the time of the judges has been a source of great debate and confusion. I searched many web sites on the internet seeking out information to clarify this situation. I ran across an article entitled Puzzling Out the Era of the Judges by James B. Jordan. He lets the Bible interpret itself on this issue. With some slight modifications to his presentation I had little difficulty in producing Table 3 Time of the Judges and Early Kings of Israel. Our basic differences are 26 years in the dating of the exodus and Acts 13:18-21 as noted. Here is his article unedited in its entirety which can be found here.


Vol. 10, No 7

© James B. Jordan , 1998

July, 1998


by James B. Jordan

As we have seen, there is a chronological break each time a new covenant is made, which enables the new covenant to begin with a new "year zero" in a sense. The end of the period of Judges leads to a chronological break, because even though Judges gives a lot of chronological information, there is no way to link the chronology of Judges with that of Samuel directly. The book of Samuel provides chronological details concerning Eli, Samuel, Saul, and David, but does not link these with any of the people in Judges.

The statement that carries us over the break is in 1 Kings 6:1, "Now it came about in the 480th year after the sons of Israel came out of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon's reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, which is the second month, that he began to built the house of Yahweh." The foundations of the Temple were laid 480 years after the Tabernacle was built.

During this era there were three phases: the wilderness wanderings and conquest, the era of the Judges, and the reigns of Saul, David, and Solomon (4 years).


If we add up the years of judgeships and oppressions in the book of Judges, we come up with far too many years. The simple solution to this problem is to recognize that the judges were somewhat local, and that their periods of office overlap. Judges 10:7, for instance, indicates rather clearly that the Philistine oppression in the south and the Ammonite oppression in the east commenced at the same time. In the east there were 18 years of oppression, followed by Jephthah (6 years), Ibzan (7 years), Elon (10 years), and Abdon (8 years), for a total of 49 years. In the south there were 20 years of oppression, followed by Samson (20 years), for a total of 40 years.

The Philistine oppression lasted 40 years (Judges 13:1). Samson was born about this time. Samson judged for 20 years, and in his death he killed all five Philistine kings as well as a large number of the Philistine nobility and priesthood (Judges 15:20 ; 16:27). It is unlikely, if not impossible, in the light of Numbers 1:3, that Samson began judging before he was 20. Thus, his 40 years seem to be the same as those of the Philistine oppression.

Meanwhile, Samuel was growing up. Samuel had become a young prophet by the Israelites tried to throw off the Philistine yoke (1 Samuel 4), at which time the Ark was captured and the Philistine oppression worsened. 1 Samuel 7:2-3 says that this oppression lasted 20 years, at the end of which Samuel led the people in an overthrow of the Philistines at Mizpah (1 Samuel 7:13).

Now we have a coherent picture. Samson began his guerilla campaign against the Philistines right after the Ark was taken captive, and thus kept the Philistines at bay after Israel 's defeat at Aphek. Immediately after Samson destroyed the Philistine leadership, while the Philistines were in confusion, Samuel led Israel in victory over them, and the Philistine yoke was broken.

All of this shows us that Jephthah, Samson, and Samuel were contemporaries, though Jephthah was older, since he had a marriageable daughter 18 years after the joint Philistine and Ammonite oppression began, at which time Samson was 18 years old.

Sadly, a number of good chronological studies are marred by another approach to the problem. This approach says that the 480 years are "spiritual" years, years when Israel ruled the land. The gist of the approach is to add up all the years of all the judges and oppressions consecutively, and then subtract all the "carnal" years of oppressions, in such a way as to come out with 480 years. The actual length of the period, according to this approach, can be as high as 614 years. In fact, however, in order to make the years come out properly, those who follow this approach do some judicious juggling, and Anstey, for instance, comes up with 594 years.

It is not my purpose here to refute this approach, since we have already discussed it in previous essays. It is a specious and gratuitous approach to the text, devoid of Biblical foundation. Anstey and Mauro both use this method, however, and since theirs are the most readily available detailed chronological studies (and the best by far), we need to be aware of their failure at this point.

There are some other problems and questions concerning the chronology of the period of the Judges, however.

[In the following two sections I do not agree with the
author concerning Acts 13:18-20 and Acts 13:18-21.
For a full explanation click here
The Period of the Judges ]


In the Authorized Version (King James Version) we read, "And about the time of 40 years suffered He their manners in the wilderness. And when He had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan , He divided their land to them by lot. And after that He gave judges about the space of 450 years, until Samuel the prophet" (Acts 13:18 -20).

Paul is speaking here, and as it reads we have him saying that the period from the conquest to Samuel was 450 years. If we add 47 years for wilderness and conquest, we are already at 497 years, and we have not yet added in an unknown number of years for Samuel, 40 for Saul (Acts 13:21), 40 for David, and 4 for Solomon!

Solutions: Well, maybe Paul was wrong, and Luke simply records his sermon, warts and all. This is very unlikely, an interpretation of last resort!

The proper resolution takes notice of the fact that there is more than one reading for these texts. We have from the early centuries of the Church many manuscripts of the New Testament, and sadly they do not all agree with each other on every point. The necessitates a task called "lower criticism," which is the study of these various texts to try and determine which reading is correct, or most likely, at a given point of conflict. Happily there are not very many such places, and no doctrine of the faith is in question.

My own opinion regarding this task of lower criticism is that we should use as our base and starting point the text of the New Testament that God has preserved in the life of the Church and given to us, but be open to new evidence from the unearthing of other ancient copies of the text. The Received Text, from which the Authorized Version was made, is clearly corrupt in some places (a whole section of Revelation is missing, for instance, and has to be supplied from the Latin Vulgate), and so we are forced to pay attention to the other texts.

The New American Standard Bible uses a different text (Alexandrian) at this point: "And for about a period of 40 years He put up with them in the wilderness. And when He had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan , He distributed their land as an inheritance about 450 years. And after these things [after the 450 years] He gave judges until Samuel the prophet." According to this reading, the 450 years comes before the era of the judges. It is very easy to interpret the verse read this way, to wit:

AM 2113 Weaning of Isaac, beginning of 400 years of Gen. 15:13.
AM 2513 Exodus
AM 2553 End of 40 years in wilderness
AM 2560 End of Conquest (Josh. 14:7, 10; Num. 10:11 -12; 13:17 -20)

This is a total of 447 years, or "about 450 years."

Now, which reading is correct? Bruce M. Metzger's Textual Commentary on the New Testament, indicates that on the basis of sheer textual evidence we can go either way. On the basis of grammar, and also on the basis of comparing this verse to the clear statement of 1 Kings 6:1 (which Paul certainly knew!), there can be little doubt but that the Alexandrian-type reading is correct: that the 450 years extends from Isaac to Joshua.

One evidence of this is the fact that the two times "40 years" are mentioned in this passage are both in the accusative case, indicating duration of time (Acts 13:18, 21), while the expression "450 years" is not in the accusative case. A. T. Robertson, in his Grammar of the Greek New Testament, provides two ways of looking at the "450 years." The first is that the phrase is in the locative case, indicating a block of time considered as a whole. The second is that the phrase is in the "instrumental dative" case, indicating "the time by the lapse of which anything is brought about" (pp. 523, 527). Both the Received-type and the Alexandrian-type texts have the phrase "450 years" in the locative or dative case.

Let me provide a paraphrase of Acts 13:17-20 that brings out the full sense of the numbers involved: "The God of this people Israel chose our fathers, and He made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with an uplifted arm He led them out from it, and for about a period of 40 years duration He put up with them in the wilderness, and when He had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, He distributed their land as an inheritance. It took about 450 years to bring this about. [Or: This is a period of 450 years.] And after these things [everything in the preceding sentence] He gave them judges until Samuel the prophet."

Now, if we try to put the locative or instrumental dative sense of the "450 years" into the Received Text (the Authorized Version), we wind up with something that is strange and not very coherent. Compare these three readings and see which makes sense:

"And after these things it took about 450 years to bring this about: He gave them judges until Samuel the prophet" (dative).

"And after these things a block of about 450 years He gave them judges until Samuel the prophet" (locative).

"And after these things for about 450 years' duration He gave them judges until Samuel the prophet" (accusative).

It certainly seems that the accusative is what Paul would have used if he had been talking about the period of the judges. Compare verse 18: "for about a period of 40 years' duration He put up with them in the wilderness." Now verse 21: "And then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish , a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for 40 years' duration." In context, you see, Paul has been using accusatives of duration, and that is what he would have used in verse 20 if the Received Text were correct.

But it is not in the accusative in the Received Text. It is in the locative or dative, which makes much less sense. If we take it in the dative sense, Paul would be saying "after these things it took about 450 years to bring about: He gave them judges until Samuel." This is a strange circumlocution to use, especially since the accusative was available and much clearer.

If we take the locative sense, Paul would be saying "after these things for a block of about 450 years He gave them judges until Samuel." Again this is a strange way to speak. Why not just use the accusative case and say, "after these things for about 450 years He gave them judges until Samuel"?

The conclusion is that the Received Text reading, preserved in the Authorized Version and the New King James Version, is highly ungrammatical. It does not make much sense. As it stands in context it should be an accusative of duration of time. Instead it is a locative of point of time, or an instrumental dative of culmination of time.

On the other hand, in the Alexandrian-type textual tradition, the grammar is perfectly clear. Paul uses a locative or dative at the end of a long sentence (vv. 17-19) to indicate the entire block of time he has been summarizing; or to indicate the culmination of that period of time.

These considerations make it virtually certain that the King James is in error at this point. The 450 years begin with Isaac and end with Joshua. At some point, a scribe miscopied these two phrases ("450 years" and "after these things") and switched them.

For the sake of completeness, let me mention the approach of the older commentators. Before the rise of modern archaeology, and the discovery of the Alexandrian-type texts, exegetes had no choice concerning Acts 13:20. In spite of the strange grammar, they had to find a way to associate the 450 years with the period of the Judges. Commentators like Matthew Poole and Matthew Henry proposed that the 450 years began with the exodus and ended with the first year of David's reign over all Israel, when he drove out the Jebusites (2 Sam. 5:4-7). David reigned 33 years as king over all Israel . We add 4 years of Solomon to the Temple . Subtract this 37 years from the total 480, and we get 443 years, which is "about 450 years."

This interpretation was the best they could do, but it fudges the text. The 40 years in the wilderness (under Judge Moses) have already been taken into account in Acts 13:18, and David's conquest of Jerusalem came several years after Samuel the Prophet (Acts 13:20 ). We can admire the effort of the older interpreters to deal with this problem, but happily a better solution is now available to the Church.


The Exodus took place in 2513. The next year (2514), the spies searched out Canaan and brought back a bad report (Num. 10:11 -12; 13:17 -20). At this time, Caleb was 40 years old (Josh. 14:7). According to Joshua 14:1 & 10, Caleb was 85 when the conquest of the land came to an end. This would be, then, the year AM 2559. This means that the War of Conquest lasted 6 years, and the land was (sabbatically) divided in the 7th year, AM 2560.

There is no direct chronological link between the Conquest and the time of the Judges. We are told that Israel was faithful all the days of Joshua, who died at the age of 110 but in what year we do not know, and that Israel was also faithful all the years of the elders who outlived Joshua (Josh. 24:29-31). The next thing we find is that Israel sinned and came under the yoke of Cushan-Rishathaim for 8 years (Jud. 3:8).

At this point, we have a jig-saw puzzle of data to put together. A clue is found in Acts 13:21, where Paul states that Saul reigned 40 years, saying, "And then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish , a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for 40 years." Our question is: How did Paul know this?

One answer is that Paul was simply wrong, and his speech is here recorded "warts and all." This would be an interpretation born of desperation. Another answer is that Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit to know something nowhere found in the Bible. Yet another answer is that Paul had access to records that, while not inspired, were accurate.

The best answer, however, if we can find it, is that Paul figured out Saul's reign from data found in the Bible itself. Our project is to see if we can recover Paul's reasoning (or the reasoning of whoever first figured this out).

The solution requires a careful consideration of Judges 11:26, where Jephthah states to the king of Ammon: "While Israel dwelt in Heshbon and its villages, and in Aroer and its villages, and in all the cities that are on the banks of the Arnon, 300 years, why did not you recover them within that time?" There are two points to consider here. First, since Ammon had indeed "recovered" this villages 18 years earlier, it seems reasonable that the 300 years ends not at the time of Jephthah's letter, as is often maintained, but at the time Ammon took the villages. Second, while the Trans-Jordanian tribes conquered this area in 2553, they did not settle in them until all the other tribes had been given their lands. Thus, the beginning of the 300 years would be in 2560.

With 300 of the 480 years accounted for already, we need only account for the rest. We add 40 years for the wilderness wanderings and 7 for the conquest and settlement, to reach 347. We add 4 years to the fourth year of Solomon, and 40 for David's reign, to reach 391. Now we add 18 years of Ammonite oppression, 6 years of Jephthah's judgeship, 7 years of Ibzan's judgeship, 10 years of Elon's judgeship, and 8 years of Abdon's judgeship (total 49 years) to reach 440. That leaves 40 years. If we assume Saul became king the year after Abdon's judgeship ended, and that this was the crisis that provoked the demand for a king, we have 40 years for Saul's reign. This, then, is most likely how Paul (or whoever first figured this out) calculated.

[In the previous two sections I do not agree with the
author concerning Acts 13:18-20 and Acts 13:18-21.
For a full explanation click here
The Period of the Judges ]


Now, if we count backwards all the judges preceding Jephthah, we find that it takes us right back to the year 2560. In that year, Israel went home to their settlements. But in that year also, if this scheme is correct, Joshua died, the elders who succeeded him and kept Israel sound also died, Israel fell into sin, and Cushan-Rishathaim conquered Israel and began 8 years of oppression. This is a very unlikely scenario.

The key to interpreting the chronological data in Judges is to recognize that while one sequence of events took place in the North, another took place in central Israel , and another in the South. Sometimes we are told that an oppression followed directly after the death of a particular judge, but sometimes we are not told this. The core history and chronology of Judges tracks the events in the Center, around the tribe of Ephraim. The book of Samuel shifts attention to events in the South, around the tribe of Judah .

We are told that Jabin's oppression (in the North) came after the death of Ehud, and that during this time Shamgar fought Philistines in the south (Jud. 3:31 ; 4:1). Thus, the sequence of Eglon's 18-year oppression, Ehud's 80-year peace, Jabin's 20-year oppression, and Barak's 40-year peace seem to go together (Jud. 3:14 , 30; 4:1; 5:31 ).

But there is a problem with this sequence. Judges 3:30 says that after Ehud defeated Eglon, the land had peace for 80 years. It does not say that Ehud lived this whole period of time. Judges 4:1 says that after Ehud died, Israel sinned and a new oppression began under Jabin. Now, the Jabin oppression was in the North, while Ehud the Benjamite was a man of central Israel . Possibly, then, the central part of the land continued to enjoy peace while the North was being oppressed by Jabin. The end of Ehud's 80-year peace, for the Center, would have to come when the Center was invaded by Midian (Jud. 6:1). Thus, the end of Barak's peace in the North and the end of Ehud's peace in the Center almost certainly came at the same time, in the year 2766. Since the 60 years of Jabin and Barak began with the death of Ehud, this puts the death of Ehud 60 years before the Midianite oppression in 2766, which was AM 2706. This means Ehud judged for 20 years, beginning in 2686.

Now, before Ehud came Othniel, a man of Ephraim and also a man of central Israel . He judged for 40 years after Cushan had oppressed for 8 years. Moreover, it is implied that the oppression of Eglon began after Othniel died ( 3:11 -12). This indicates that Cushan-Othniel-Eglon-Ehud is one chronological sequence.

Thus, my conclusion is that the oppression of Jabin in the North began while the central part of the land was enjoying the last part of the 80-year peace, and while Philistines were fighting Shamgar in the South.

We have good reason, then, to assume that Ehud lived for 20 years after defeating Eglon. When Ehud died, Jabin arose to oppress the north. Now if we add to this (at the beginning) the 8 years of Cushan, the 40 years of Othniel, and the 18 years of Eglon's oppression, we come to AM 2620, which would be 60 years after the division of the land in 2560.

So to sum up, here is my conclusion of the matter:

2513 Exodus from Egypt .
2554 Beginning of Conquest of the land.
2559 End of Conquest, Division of the land. Caleb 85 years old.
2560 Israel goes to its lands.
2620 Beginning of 8-year oppression of Cushan (Jud. 3:8).
2628 Beginning of Othniel's 40-year judgeship (Jud. 3:11 ).
2668 Beginning of Eglon's 18-year oppression (Jud. 3:11 -12)
2686 Beginning of Ehud's 20-year judgeship and his 80-year peace.
2706 Death of Ehud, beginning of Jabin's 20-year
            oppression in the North (Jud. 4:3).
2726 Beginning of Barak's 40-year judgeship and peace
            in the North (Jud. 5:31 ).
2766 End of Barak's Northern peace and Ehud's Central peace,
            beginning of Midianite oppression (Jud. 6:1). The Midianite oppression
            returns us to the Center of the land. From here on, Center and North
            experience one set of problems, while South struggles with
            Philistines (Jud. 3:31 ).
2773 Beginning of Gideon's 40-year judgeship (Jud. 8:28 ).
2811 Hypothetical birth of Boaz (see footnote 6 below).
2813 Beginning of Abimelech's 3-year oppressive reign (Jud. 9:22 ).
2816 Beginning of Tola's 23-year judgeship (Jud. 10:1).
2839 Beginning of Jair's 22-year judgeship (Jud. 10:3).
2841 Beginning of Eli's 40-year judgeship in the South (1 Sam. 4:18 ).
2861 Beginning of Philistine oppression in the South and
            Ammonite oppression in the Center and North (Jud. 10:5-7).
            Births of Samson, Samuel, and Obed (see footnote 6 below).
            The 300 years of Judges 11:26 begin in 2560 and end in 2860.
2878 Beginning of Jephthah's 6-year judgeship in Center and North (Jud. 11:26 ; 12:7).
2881 Death of Eli, beginning of Samuel's judgeship at Tabernacle
            and Samson's judgeship in the South.
2884 Beginning of Ibzan's 7-year judgeship in the Center and North (Jud. 11:9).
2891 Beginning of Elon's 10-year judgeship in Center and North (Jud. 11:11 ).
2901 Death of Samson, battle of Mizpah, deliverance from Philistine oppression.
2901 Death of Elon, beginning of Abdon's 8-year
            judgeship in Center and North (Jud. 11:14 ).
2909 Death of Abdon; Samuel appoints sons, rejected; anointing
            of Saul; accession of Saul.
2910 Saul year 1. Samuel is 49.
2919 Birth of David. Samuel is 58.
2929 Hypothetical anointing of David at age 10. Samuel is 68.
2949 Accession of David.
2950 David year 1.
2989 Accession of Solomon.
2990 Solomon year 1.
2993 Foundation of Temple laid, 480 years after Exodus.
3000 Completion of Temple .


Copyright 1998, James B. Jordan
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Table 3 Time of the Judges and Early Kings of Israel

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