A Historical Timeline of the Bible

Dating Old Testament Events


Part 1 - Absolute Dates for the Old Testament

In order to determine the dates of the first three kings of Israel (i.e. the kings of the United Monarchy), it is necessary to work backward from the absolute date that is used as the fixed date for all of Old Testament Chronology. As we work backward from the fixed date, we will consider several kings who followed the United Monarchy in order to determine the dates of the United Monarchy.

The matter of an absolute or fixed date for Old Testament Chronology can be determined based off the historical records of the Assyrians. The Assyrians based their history on the data of astronomy. We can check the Assyrian data against the movement of the stars, which our present knowledge enables us to plot accurately. Then we can use that information to pinpoint the dates mentioned in those lists, which show up in the Old Testament.

One important source of information are the Assyrian Eponym lists. The term eponym means "nickname" or "honorific title." The Assyrians named each year to honor a certain individual within the government. Clay tablets from Nineveh and other Assyrian cities list the names of these individuals, along with consecutive years of Assyrian history.

These years give us a history from 892 B.C. to 648 B.C. During that time, several Assyrian leaders made contact with Hebrew Kings. At one place, the Assyrian lists mention Bur-Sagale, governor of a region called Guzana. The record says that an eclipse of the sun occurred during his term. Astronomers date that eclipse on June 15, 763 B.C. Therefore, Bur-Sagale governed in 763 B.C., and using that figure it is possible to date the other Assyrian leaders from the eponym lists very exactly.

One of the Assyrian tablets states that Daian-Assur governed during the sixth year of Shalmaneser III. In that same year, the Assyrians fought an important battle at Qarqar, near the Mediterranean seacoast, and the tablet lists King Ahab of Israel among the combatants. [The Old Testament does not mention this battle. Although Ahab may have participated in this battle he didn't die in that battle as the scriptures say he died in the battle of Ramoth-Gilead against the Syrians. See I Kings 22:29-40; II Chronicles 18:28-34.]

Another eponym list states that a certain King " Ia-a-u " of Israel began paying tribute to Shalmaneser III in the 18th year of Shamaneser's reign. This was almost certainly King Jehu of Israel . This event can be dated to occur about 841 B.C.

Thus, the eponym lists have supplied us with two "fixed dates" in Old Testament history:

  • 853 B.C. the year of the death of King Ahab of Israel.
  • 841 B.C. the year Jehu took the throne of Israel.


Part 2 - Dating systems used in the Old Testament

There are three specific matters that must be recognized with regard to the dating systems used in the Old Testament.

  • 1) The matter of divergent systems of figuring dates.

After the division of the kingdom at the death of Solomon, the chroniclers in the southern kingdom of Judah evidently used a method of figuring the dates of kings, which was different from that used in the northern kingdom of Israel . The conclusion is that the method used in Judah was to figure the dates based off the beginning of the civil year, while the method used in Israel was to figure dates based off the religious year.

Note: There is no Scriptural passage, which clearly indicates that Israel used the religious year to figure dates. However, Edwin Thiele insists that if we assume the above divergence of method, "the perplexing discrepancies with the reigns of the kings of the divided monarchy" disappear and a harmonious chronological pattern results.

  • 2) The matter of divergent systems of figuring elapsed time.

The issue at hand is the method employed in reckoning the regnal years (years of a kings reign) for the kings in Israel and Judah . There are two distinct systems of counting the years of a king's reign: 1) the "non-accession year" system and 2) the "accession year" system.

  1. The "non-accession year" system : If a king termed the year in which he ascended the throne his first official year, that is called "non-accession year dating or antedating. If a king assumed the throne in mid-year then that portion of the year is considered to be the first year of the king's reign.
  2. The "accession year" system : If a king termed the year commencing with the new year's day after his accession to the throne, the first official year of his reign and the portion of the year in which he came to the throne his accession year, then he used "accession year" dating or postdating.

Two Divergent Dating Systems for Regnal Years:

Nonaccession-year system

1st year

2nd year

3rd year

Accession-year system

accession year

1st year

2nd year

Evidently, a king would decide for himself, which system would be used by his chroniclers. Generally, the non-accession year system was used in Israel, while the accession year system was used in Judah.

The following chart will highlight the differences between the two types of reckoning that Israel and Judah seemed to follow:

Northern Kingdom of Israel
Non-Accession Year Reckoning  

Begins with New Year Nisan 1
(in spring)

Southern Kingdom of Judah
Accession Year Reckoning


Begins with New Year Tishri 1
(in fall)

1st year


accession year

2nd year


1st year

3rd year


2nd year

4th year


3rd year

5th year


4th year

 

The possibility of the non-accession year system being used in the northern kingdom of Israel can be noted with the reigns of the two kings between Ahab and Jehu. According to the eponym lists, Jehu paid tribute to Shalmaneser III in 841 B.C., which was 12 years after King Ahab fought in the battle of Qarqar. The Old Testament places two kings between Ahab and Jehu. According to I Kings 22:51, Ahaziah ruled 2 years, while according to II Kings 3:1, Joram ruled 12 years. Together they would total 14 years; a figure that does not match the separation of 12 years between Ahab and Jehu from the eponym lists. However, assuming the non-accession year system, one year should be deducted from each reign, bringing the total to 12 years, which is what the eponym lists indicate.

The kings of Judah seem certainly to have used the accession year system, except when that kingdom came under the close influence of Israel, as in the days of Jehoram, who married Athaliah, princess of Israel, and "walked in the way of the kings of Israel " (II Kings 8:18; II Chronicles 21:6).

  • 3) The matter of co-regencies in determining the dates of the kings.

In order to assure that his chosen son would succeed him as king, a monarch would often appoint that son as his co-regent late in his life. So the son's first years of reign would be the same as his father's last years of reign. Co-regencies are not explicitly chronicled, but they are often indicated, and they make it possible to reconcile seemingly divergent data.

Given the absolute dates fixed above (reigns of Ahab and Jehu), along with taking into account the three matters relating to the dating systems and the reckoning of time, we can begin with those established dates and figure backward to the kings of the united monarchy.

The following chart attempts to use the above criteria and work backwards from the fixed dates to the united monarchy. This covers the first 90 years of the divided kingdom.

The Kings of Israel

The Kings of Judah

Jehu

  • anchor date: began his reign in 841 B.C.

Ahaziah

  • II Kings 8:25-26, became king in 12th year of Joram (11th), because Judah using non-accession year system; ruled 1 year
  • 841 B.C. took the throne
  • both Joram of Israel and Ahaziah died in 841 B.C.

Joram (or Jehoram)

  • died in 841 B.C.
  • II Kings 3:1 ruled 12 years [11 years]
  • 841 + 11 = 852 B.C. took the throne

 

Ahaziah

  • died in 852 B.C.
  • I Kings 22:51 reigned 2 years [1 year]
  • 852 + 1 = 853 B.C. took the throne

Jehoram

  • died in 841 B.C.
  • II Kings 8:17, reigned 8 years (7 years)
  • Co-reign with father for 5 years (II Kings 8:16; cp. II Kings 3:1; 1:17)
  • 841 + 7 = 848 B.C. took the throne

Ahab

  • died in 853 B.C.
  • I Kings 16:29 ruled 22 years [21 years]
  • 853 + 21 = 874 B.C. took the throne

 

Omri

  • died in 874 B.C.
  • I Kings 16:23 ruled 12 years [11 years]
  • 874 + 11 = 885 B.C. took the throne

Jehoshaphat

  • died in 848 B.C.
  • I Kings 22:41-42, ruled 25 years
  • 848 + 25 = 873 B.C. took the throne
  • Co-reigned with his father for 3 years; sole reign began in 870 B.C.

Zimri

  • reigned for 7 days in 885 B.C. (I Kings 16:15)

 

Elah

  • died in 885 B.C.
  • I Kings 16:8 ruled 2 years [1 year]
  • 885 + 1 = 886 B.C. took the throne

Asa

  • died in 870 B.C.
  • First Kings 15:10, ruled 41 years
  • 870 + 41 = 911 B.C. took the throne

Tibni

  • I Kings 16:21-24 He was a rival during the days of Omri for about 6 years; does not advance the chronology of the period.

 

Baasha

  • died in 886 B.C.
  • I Kings 15:33 ruled 24 years [23 years]
  • 886 + 23 = 909 B.C. took the throne

 

Nadab

  • died in 909 B.C.
  • I Kings 15:25-31 ruled 2 years [1 year]
  • 909 + 1 = 910 B.C. took the throne

Abijam

  • died in 911 B.C.
  • I Kings 15:2, ruled 3 years
  • 911 + 3 = 914 B.C. took the throne

Jeroboam

  • died in 910 B.C.
  • I Kings 14:20 ruled 22 years [21 years]
  • 910 + 21 = 931 B.C. took the throne

Rehoboam

  • died in 914 B.C.
  • I Kings 14:21, ruled 17 years
  • 914 + 17 = 931 B.C. took the throne

Solomon's death and the division of the Kingdom in 931 B.C.


Part 3 - The Three Rulers of the United Monarchy

After working our way backward through the divided monarchy to the division of the kingdom after Solomon's death, it becomes quite easy to deal with the three kings of the United Monarchy.

Solomon

  • Solomon's death: Solomon would have died in 931 B.C. just prior to the division of the kingdom and the reigns of Rehoboam in Judah and Jeroboam in Israel.
  • Solomon's reign: According to I Kings 11:42, Solomon's reign was 40 years.

"Thus the time that Solomon reigned in Jerusalem over all Israel was forty years."

So Solomon took the throne around 971 B.C. and ruled until 931 B.C. bringing the United Monarchy to a close.

David

  • David's death: David would have died in 971 B.C.
  • David's reign: According to II Samuel 2:11 and I Kings 2:11, David reigned 40 years (7 1/2 years in Hebron over the tribe of Judah only and 33 years in Jerusalem over all 12 tribes).

II Samuel 2:11, "And the time that David was king in Hebron over the house of Judah was seven years and six months."

I Kings 2:11, "And the days that David reigned over Israel {were} forty years: seven years he reigned in Hebron, and thirty-three years he reigned in Jerusalem."

So David's total reign would have been from 1011 B.C. to 971 B.C., while his reign from Hebron would have been from 1011 B.C. to 1004 B.C. and his reign in Jerusalem would have been from 1004 B.C. to 971 B.C.

Saul

  • Saul's death: Saul would have died in 1011 B.C.
  • Saul's reign: Saul's reign lasted 40 years, according to Acts 13:21 (cp. I Samuel 13:1).

"And then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years."

So Saul's reign would have been from his anointing in 1051 B.C. until his death in battle against the Philistines about 1011 B.C.

EXCURSUS: The problem concerning the text of I Samuel 13:1

The problem here is that the Hebrew Masoretic text manuscript appears to omit the number. The verse reads, "Saul was the son of a year when he became king, and he reigned two years over Israel." The construction is identical to II Samuel 5:4 regarding David's reign except that it omits the actual age of Saul when he began to reign. The various renderings are simply attempts by the translators to fill in the missing information based on other biblical texts. This is not an error in the text, but a possible omission, which creates some difficulty in determining an accurate chronology. The following is how the various versions translate the verse:

KJV

Saul reigned one year; and when he had reigned two years over Israel

NKJV

Saul reigned one year; and when he had reigned two years over Israel, [ 1 ]

LIVING BIBLE

By this time Saul had reigned for one year. In the second year of his reign

RSV

Saul was . . . years old when he began to reign; and he reigned . . . and two years over Israel.

NIV

Saul was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned over Israel forty-two years.

NASU

Saul was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty two years over Israel .

NET BIBLE

Saul was [thirty] years old when he began to reign; he ruled over Israel for [forty] years.

NEW LIVING TRANSLATION

Saul was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned for forty-two years.

ASV

Saul was forty years old when he began to reign; and when he had reigned two years over Israel,

NASB

Saul was {forty} years old when he began to reign, and he reigned {thirty} -two years over Israel.

NEW ENGLISH BIBLE

Saul was fifty years old when he became king, and he reined over Israel for twenty-two years.

CONTEMPORARY ENGLISH

Saul was a young man when he became king, and he ruled Israel for two years.

Three questions arise when dealing with this difficulty:

  • How long did Saul reign as king of Israel?

Clearly Acts 13:21 gives us the indication that his reign over Israel was 40 years. According to I Samuel 14:49, Saul had 3 sons when he became king, and Ishbosheth is not mentioned. According to II Samuel 2:10, Ishbosheth succeeded Saul, when Saul died and Ishbosheth was 40 years old at that time. Assuming that Ishbosheth was born soon after Saul became king, then Saul's reign had to be at least 40 years.

  • How old was Saul when he became king over Israel?

It is impossible to say for certain how old Saul was when he became king. Saul is referred to as a "young man" in I Samuel 9:2, but this is a very ambiguous term. Many have guessed him to be about 30, but his son Jonathon was grown and well matured (cf. I Samuel 13:2) shortly after Saul became king, so that perhaps is a bit too young. So the suggestion that he would be around 40 years old would fit the situation better.

  • How much time intervened between Saul's becoming king and the events of chapter 13?

The answer to this question depends first of all upon how the second half of I Samuel 13:1 is understood. Is that sentence defining the length of Saul's reign (i.e. Saul reigned __ years over Israel) or is it establishing how long a time intervened between his coronation and the events of chapter 13 (i.e. After Saul had reigned __ years over Israel )? It is really impossible to determine which of these two alternatives is to be preferred. At any rate, it seems the events of I Samuel 13 occur shortly after Saul becomes king, as he moves to further fortify and solidify the boundaries of his kingdom.

It seems best to rely upon the explicit statement of Acts 13:21 and that the reign of Saul was 40 years. Thus he assumed the throne in 1051 B.C. and reigned until his death in 1011 B.C.

The following chart overviews the chronology of the United Monarchy:

 

The Kings of the United Monarchy

Saul

David

Solomon

Acts 13:21

II Samuel 2:11 & I Kings 2:11

I Kings 11:42

1051 B.C. to 1011 B.C.

1011 B.C. to 1004 B.C. over Hebron

1004 B.C. to 971 B.C. over all Israel

971 B.C. to 931 B.C.

 

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