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Book review: From Abraham to Paul: A Biblical Chronology, by Andrew E. Steinmann. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2011. Hardback, 421 + xxxviii pages. Part II. 

From Abraham to Paul: A Biblical Chronology (henceforth FATP) distills the wisdom of over 2000 years of investigation of biblical chronology into a system that is faithful to the biblical texts. It is also faithful to a reasonable interpretation of the archaeological data bearing on those texts. The background research is thorough, as reflected in the 30 pages of bibliographic references that can be investigated for further insights.

Dr. Steinmann’s approach is to present that portion of past research that provides the best understanding of the biblical texts and the associated material from extra-biblical sources. A tedious overview of all previous scholarship on a given topic, such as would be found in a PhD thesis, is avoided, so that the reader therefore can focus on determining if the conclusion reached in FATP makes sense. As an example, the writings of Josephus are an important resource for the historian, but his chronology of the kingdom period is next to worthless and so is not brought up for discussion. But one part of Josephus that is of great value for this period is his citation of Phoenician records for the chronology of the kings of Tyre, records that Josephus said existed in the archives of Tyre when he wrote. The reader of FATP is introduced to the scholarship of researchers such as J. Liver, F. M. Cross Jr., and William Barnes who have established the authenticity of this Tyrian material, based in part on an archaeological finding that was published in 1951. These scholars were by no means committed to establishing the Bible’s accuracy in historical matters, but their studies nevertheless verify, independently of the biblical account, that construction began on Solomon’s Temple in the spring of 967 B.C. (see Chapter 3 of FATP for the details). With this example as elsewhere in the book, Dr. Steinmann’s goal is to evaluate the multitude of sources, select those that can be judged as historically reliable, and then present that information in a logical form that shows the history and chronological progression of the events described. At the end of each section, the chronology for the period is summarized into tables that the reader will find useful for future reference.

In all this the first task is exegesis. What does the text say? But beyond that is another question: what does the text mean? It is clear that the text says that Jotham of Judah reigned sixteen years, but does this mean 16 years from the start of his sole reign or 16 years from the time he took over the responsibilities of kingship when his father, King Uzziah, was struck with leprosy? It is therefore appropriate that after a short first chapter devoted to the importance of time and chronology throughout the Bible, Chapter 2 discusses the meaning of time expressions in ancient Israel and neighboring cultures, including the various ways a king’s reign could be measured.

After this background, Chapter 3 establishes two benchmarks for Old Testament chronology: the dates for Solomon’s reign and the time of the Exodus. Much of the material in this chapter has not appeared before in book form. As already mentioned, the Tyrian data found in Menander/Josephus have been used by several scholars to date the beginning of Temple construction, and hence the spring of Solomon’s fourth year (1 Kings 6:1), to 967 B.C. This date that can also be calculated from the biblical texts, which in turn are tied to Assyrian and astronomical data. Chapter 3 correlates the reign of Shoshenq I, first pharaoh of the 22nd Dynasty (the biblical Shishak, 1 Kings 14:25 and 2 Chronicles 12:2) with Solomon’s successor Rehoboam, and, with less precision, the reign of Siamun, next-to-last pharaoh of Egypt’s 21st Dynasty, with Solomon’s early years. By using Egyptian data, the times of these two monarchs can only be determined within a few decades. Egyptologists, however, give precise dates to the two pharaohs based on Shoshenq’s invasion of Judah in Rehoboam’s fifth year, i.e. in 925 B.C. according to Thiele’s chronology but in 926 B.C. according to the chronology adopted in FATP. The important lesson here is that Egyptologists have had such confidence in the biblical dates for the division of the kingdom and Rehoboam’s reign that they use these dates to set the anchor-point for determining the reign of all pharaohs of the 21st and 22nd Dynasties.

Having established the dates of Solomon and the division of the kingdom upon his death, Chapter 3 then uses 1 Kings 6:1 to date the Exodus to Nisan 14, 1446 B.C. Recognizing that the date of the Exodus is a controversial issue, a full treatment is given for the various arguments in favor of this date versus a date in the 13th century that is advocated by some evangelicals century that is advocated by some evangelicals. Topics covered are the archaeology of Hazor, Ai, and Jericho, the length of time required for the events of the Book of Judges, and the claim that the 480 years of 1 Kings 6:1 cannot be trusted because it is an imaginary figure for twelve 40-year generations.

Some new material here is the discussion of radiocarbon dating for the destruction of Jericho City IV. Radiocarbon dates of grain samples from this level are often cited as verification of Kathleen Kenyon’s (mis)dating of the city’s destruction to between 1580 and 1550 B.C., which is about 150 to 170 years before the destruction described in the book of Joshua (1406 B.C.).

Bryant Wood has challenged Kenyon’s dates based on the pottery found in City IV. For the radiocarbon dating, Steinmann gives an impressive list of publications from the excavation team in Egypt’s Delta region, led by Manfred Bietak, that claim that radiocarbon dates for Egyptian pharaohs of the 15th century B.C. are approximately 170 years too early, and these radiocarbon dates should be adjusted downward by that amount to correspond to reality. If this is so, then it is reasonable to expect that radiocarbon dates from 15th-century Jericho would also read about 170 years too high. Applying the same corrections that Egyptologists say are necessary for 15th-century radiocarbon dates in Egypt’s Delta region would make the adjusted radiocarbon dates of Jericho City IV agree with the biblical date. This controversy over radiocarbon dating in the second millennium B.C. has by no means been resolved. While I was writing this review (late June, 2012), I learned of a new Web page established by the principal physicist associated with Dr. Bietak that again asserted that radiocarbon dates for grain samples and other short-lived material from 15th-century Egypt are almost two centuries too high.

Chapter 3 also presents the Jubilee cycles as a confirmation of both anchor dates: the date of start of Temple construction and the date of entrance into Canaan, 40 years after the Exodus, at which time counting for the Jubilee and Sabbatical cycles started (Leviticus 25:1-12). This material will be new to most readers, although not to readers of Bible and Spade, since there was an article about the Jubilee and Sabbatical cycles and their use in dating the Exodus and Conquest in the Fall 2008 issue. Chapter 3 of FATP summarizes these converging lines of research into a convincing apologetic for 1) the accuracy of the Bible in chronological matters, 2) the 1446 date of the Exodus, and 3) the fact that the Book of Leviticus must have been written before 1406 B.C., since evidence from the Bible and Israel’s history shows that counting for the Jubilee and Sabbatical cycles started in that year, and the only credible charter for their observance is found in Leviticus 25-27.

Chapter 4 is devoted to the chronology of the patriarchs. The crucial text here is Exodus 12:40, 41, where 430 years are given for the sojourning of the people of Israel who dwelt in Egypt of Israel who dwelt in Egypt (the Samaritan and some copies of the LXX add “and their fathers”; Samaritan and LXX both add the sojourning in the time in Canaan). By the most straightforward reading of the Masoretic text, the 430 years would start when Jacob, at the age of 130 years, entered Egypt (Genesis 47:9). This would mean that Jacob was born in 2006 B.C., Isaac in 2066, and Abraham in 2166. FATP accepts this so-called “Long Sojourn” interpretation, which seems to be the majority opinion of conservative scholarship.

Archbishop Ussher and various other writers have interpreted the Exodus passage in light of Paul’s statement in Galatians 3:17, where the apostle says that the Law was given 430 years after the covenant with Abraham (or after the covenant was ratified; either interpretation is possible). This would seem to start the 430 years with God’s promise to Abraham when the patriarch was 75 years old (Genesis 12:4, 7; compare Galatians 3:16), just as clearly as the Masoretic text of Exodus 12:40, 41 would seem to place it 215 years later. Interpreters holding this opinion therefore advocate a “Short Sojourn” in Egypt of 215 years. In response to the argument from Galatians, Steinmann (p. 69) argues that “Paul probably considered Jacob’s entry into Egypt as the ratification of the covenant.” But this apparently contradicts Hebrews 6:13-17, which states that God’s oath to Abraham was the confirmation. On p. 69, the statement is made that if the Short Sojourn is assumed, it would “hardly be possible” for Israel to increase from 70 individuals when Jacob entered Egypt to the multitude that left in the Exodus 215 years later. Taking the number of non-Levite men 20 years of age and older given in Numbers 1:46 and adding one-third this number as an estimate of the non-Levite boys 19 and younger gives a total of 804,733 non-Levite men and boys at the Exodus. Adding an equal number of non-Levite women and girls, plus 22,000 Levite men and boys and an assumed equal number of Levite women and girls gives roughly 1,653,466 individuals. To increase to this number in 215 years from a starting population of 70 requires a compound continuous annual growth rate of 4.7 percent. This is not an unreasonable figure, since it is exceeded in some countries at the present day. In short, the discussion in Chapter 4, although advocating the Long Sojourn, is not likely to change the opinion of many who hold to the Short Sojourn.

One problem that is not addressed in Chapter 4 is the statement in Genesis 28:6-9 that says that Esau, after Jacob left for Paddan Aram, went to Ishmael and took a wife from among Ishmael’s daughters. According to the chronology presented in Table 13 of FATP, Jacob left for Paddan Aram in 1930 B.C., while in Table 12, Ishmael died 13 years earlier, in 1943 B.C. Therefore Esau could not have visited Ishmael after Jacob fled. This problem would be the same for the either the Long or the Short Sojourn theories. It would be resolved if Jacob spent 40 years in Paddan Aram instead of 20, so that the 20 years of Genesis 31:38 would be added to the 20 years of verse 41 to make a total of 40 years. This was the solution of Kennicott and Smith, as summarized in Adam Clarke’s Commentary. Dr. Steinmann rightly says of this interpretation: “It is difficult—if not impossible—to interpret Gen 31:38 and 31:41 in this manner” (p. 77, note 137). Although this issue must be judged as unresolved, it does not affect the overall chronology of the patriarchs. The dates of birth and death of Jacob would remain the same whether he spent 20 years or 40 years in Paddan Aram.

Chapter 6 deals with the period of Joshua and the judges. The chronology of the kingdom period after the time of Saul is like a jigsaw puzzle where all the pieces fit together with hardly any latitude for adjustments. In contrast, at our present state of knowledge the chronology of Joshua and Judges is more like a room of furniture where certain combinations of furniture must always go together, but these combinations and other pieces can be moved around a bit within the constraints of the “walls.” The walls are the dates of the Conquest at one end and the start of the monarchy at the other. Most interpreters place the 20-year judgeship of Samson somewhere in the 40-year Philistine oppression, but opinions are divided on whether they should be at the beginning or end of this time. With other interpreters, Steinmann starts the 18-year oppression of the Philistines and Ammonites in trans-Jordan at the same time as the 40-year oppression of the Philistines west of the Jordan. Unique, however, is his placing Jephthah’s six-year judgeship at the start of the 18-year oppression in the east, rather than following those 18 years. This possibility is allowed by a well thought-out analysis of the Hebrew of Judges 10:8. Less plausible is the interpretation that the 18-year oppression and the judgeship of Jephthah overlapped because Jephthah did not totally defeat the Ammonites, but merely “brought them low” (the verb at the end of Judges 11:33 has this primary meaning). Furthermore, most interpreters will think it strained to suppose that Jephthah did not count the 300-year possession of the trans-Jordan region by the Reubenites and Gadites as starting from when the region was conquered in 1408 or 1407 B.C., but from when their warriors were dismissed from further warfare by Joshua in about 1400 B.C. At least Jephthah’s 300-year figure is taken seriously instead of being dismissed as a mistake, as must be done by advocates of a 13th-century Exodus. While Chapter 6 of FATP has many good principles for the interpretation of this period, the furniture will continue to be moved around.

Chapter 7 is devoted to the reigns of Saul, David, and Solomon. The reigns of Saul and David can be determined fairly accurately by measuring back from Solomon’s dates. The discussion of Chapter 3 mentioned how dates for Solomon are in agreement when calculated by three independent methods: the biblical data as tied to Assyrian and astronomical dates, the Tyrian King List, and the Jubilee cycles. Chapter 8 deals with the divided kingdom. The kingdom period ended with the capture of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587 B.C., a date that is in agreement with all Scriptural sources for the period and also with Babylonian records for the years preceding and following the capture. Four tables at the end of the chapter show the consistency of biblical dates between Solomon and this date. Chapter 9 gives the chronology of the Babylonian Exile and the Persian period. A good argument is made that the first return from exile should not be dated to the same year as Cyrus’s decree, 538 B.C., because it would take more than a year for 50,000 individuals to arrange all their affairs and organize the return. Dr. Steinmann determines when counting for the Sabbatical cycles was resumed and uses this to calculate that the return was in 533 B.C. For the later Persian period, the traditional dates of 458 B.C. for Ezra’s coming to Jerusalem, and 445 for Nehemiah’s, are defended against a host of scholars who thought otherwise. Chapter 10 consists of four pages devoted to the intertestamental period.

Chapter 11, on the birth of Christ, is one of the most interesting sections of the book. It establishes the foundation for New Testament chronology, in the same way that Chapter 3 served this function for the chronology of the First Covenant. Like Chapter 3, Chapter 11 introduces some new material. Topics covered are the chronology of the reign of Herod the Great, the timing of Christ’s birth and the visit of the Magi, and the exegetical and historical issues related to the census associated with Quirinius.

For the regnal years of Herod and the time of his death, FATP presents the scholarship of Filmer, Hoehner, and others that shows that, although Josephus missed by one year the Roman consuls who were in office when Herod was appointed as governor of Judea and when he captured Jerusalem three years later, several other lines of evidence in Josephus firmly date his appointment as governor by the Romans to 39 B.C., his capture of Jerusalem to 36 B.C., and his death at some time between the total lunar eclipse of January 10, 1 B.C., and the Passover that occurred 90 days later (the 89 days given in FATP overlooks that 1 B.C. was a leap year according to the Julian calendar that astronomers use to fix these dates). The error that placed Herod’s death in 4 B.C. is not due to Josephus, but to the confusion that arose because Herod gave administrative authority to his three sons in 4 B.C. and they all antedated their reigns to that date, rather than to Herod’s death in 1 B.C. It is then shown that, in agreement with the time given by the majority of early church writers, the Messiah was born at some time in mid- to late 3 B.C., or possibly in early 2 B.C.

By using a clue given in Luke’s gospel, the time and place of the Magis’ visit (Matthew 2:1-12) is specified in a more precise and sure manner than has been found in any previous writer, at least as far as this reviewer is aware.

The material on the Quirinius census should change forever the way this topic is dealt with by scholars. The problem is well known: Luke presumably made a mistake when he stated that Quirinius (Cyrenius) was governor of Judea when a census was taken that brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem. However, it is “known” from Josephus that Quirinius did not come to Judea until A.D. 6. The approach of FATP is once again to start by examining the text. Luke does not strictly say that Quirinius was governor; the verb used means that he had governmental authority, not necessarily that he was the official governor of the province. After establishing the proper understanding of the text, Roman records are cited that are consistent with an empire-wide census taking place in 3 B.C. More significantly, Josephus gives contradictory information regarding Quirinius. He dates the coming of Quirinius to Judea just after the exile of Archelaus (A.D. 6) in Antiquities 18.1,2 (18.1.1) and 18.26 (18.2.1), but these passages also say that one of the acts after his coming was to depose the high priest Joazar from office. Joazar was installed by Herod the Great a few weeks before his (Herod’s) death in response to the golden eagle crisis, because Joazar cooperated with authorities in the matter of a census, and with Herod regarding his handling of the golden eagle incident. This made Joazar extremely unpopular with the people, and after the death of Herod they demanded that Joazar be removed from the high priesthood. This was done within a few months of Herod’s death, which means that Joazar, Quirinius, and the census are all associated together in the time shortly before the death of Herod and the time immediately thereafter, contradicting the A.D. 6 date for the coming of Quirinius to Judea. The internal contradictions of Josephus in these matters were pointed out years ago by Zahn, Lodder and other scholars, but new insights that help in unraveling the contradictory accounts of Josephus have been given by Dr. Steinmann’s colleague John Rhoads. FATP devotes 11 pages to sorting out the correct order of events and explaining why Josephus made the mistakes that he did in dating Quirinius and the census. These pages may require several readings to understand all the issues, but once this is done it is clear that the preponderance of evidence favors the enrollment associated with Quirinius to have been in 3 B.C., and perhaps continuing into early 2 B.C.

Chapter 13 and 14 present the general outline of Jesus’ ministry, starting with His baptism in A.D. 29 and culminating with the Crucifixion on Friday, April 3, A.D. 33 and the resurrection on Sunday April 5. Part of the evidence substantiating these dates is astronomical: the Crucifixion had to occur in a year when Nisan 14 fell on a Friday. Because this happened in both A.D. 33 and 30, some have placed the Crucifixion and Resurrection in A.D. 30, but this faces several difficulties, one of which is that it requires an interpretation of the 15th year of Tiberius (Luke 3:1) that finds no support in Roman literature or inscriptions.

Astronomy presents another insight related to the Crucifixion. Just as the sun was setting on April 3 of A.D. 33, there was an eclipse of the moon. The eclipsed moon arose above the horizon at 6:20 P.M., about three and one-half hours after Christ died. The first part of the moon to be seen was shadowed by the umbra, or full shadow of the earth; this, combined with the moon’s position low on the horizon means that the moon would have appeared to have a dark red color, with the portion that arose later (in the penumbra) a lighter shade of red. It should be remembered that in biblical times, any eclipse of the sun or moon was regarded as a portent. When there was a total eclipse of the moon the night after Herod put to death a leader in the golden eagle incident, it was regarded by the people as a divine judgment against Herod. The eclipse after the death of Christ had an added ominous aspect because of the unusual color of the moon not seen in most eclipses: a dark or bloody red, such as happens only when an eclipse occurs at sunset or sunrise.

FATP points out that the circumstances of this eclipse are established by purely astronomical considerations, based on the work of Humphreys and Waddington. If the darkness in the land from the sixth to the ninth hour (noon to 3 P.M.) was due to smoke or a dust storm, the residual dust or smoke would have made the reddening of the moon deeper than can be calculated by astronomical means alone. The apostle Peter took advantage of what the people had seen at the time of the Crucifixion when he said that the various phenomena, including the sun turning to darkness and the moon to blood, were signs of the ushering in of the great day of the Lord, in which anyone who calls on the name of the Lord would be saved. Dr. Steinmann is to be commended for agreeing with Peter that Joel’s prophecy was fulfilled in the events surrounding the Crucifixion and the outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, in contrast to the common opinion that Joel was speaking of events related to the Second Coming.

It has long been maintained that there is a contradiction between John and the Synoptic Gospels on the question of whether the Last Supper was a Passover meal. The Synoptics definitely portray it as such, and the various features of the meal as presented in John’s Gospel are also consistent with the Passover Seder. This question is covered quite extensively (pages 273-280), where it is shown that the only text that really supports the idea that John put the Passover Seder on the day after the Last Supper is John 18:28. In this verse, John relates that the Jews wanted to avoid being defiled by entering Pilate’s palace, thus preventing them from eating the Passover. The usual explanations of this seeming contradiction are that either John or the Synoptic writers were mistaken in their timing of events, or that Jesus and the disciples were observing a different calendar than the official calendar of the high priests (several variations of this last view have been published).

FATP follows the interpretation of John Hamilton (Churchman, 1992), who maintained that the priests and their associates had not yet eaten the Passover because of their activities during the night. The priests were busy into the night hours assisting in the slaying of lambs for the great number of pilgrims present in Jerusalem at Passover time, so that their own participation in the Passover Seder was delayed by some hours.

During this time, Judas unexpectedly came to them. Although organizing the mob to arrest Jesus may not have taken long, the necessary diplomacy to obtain Pilate’s agreement to a trial in the middle of the night would have required the meticulous attention of Annas and Caiaphas and their associates in the Sanhedrin. After Pilate gave his consent, there was the delay caused by the disagreement among the hostile witnesses (Mark 14:55-59) while the rulers were attempting, against all ethical judicial practice, to decide what charge to bring against Jesus. The meeting with Pilate was finally accomplished, but the Roman governor introduced more delays, first by sending Jesus to Herod, then by his argument over the nature of their charges against Jesus. When Pilate finally capitulated, it was the “about the sixth hour” (John 19:14), that is, about sunrise according to the Roman reckoning of hours that John uses throughout his Gospel. Jesus’ accusers had failed to expedite their plans in time to eat the Passover before daybreak, as required by Exodus 12:8-10, and they therefore were to bear their sin and be cut off from the holy nation (Numbers 9:13). This explanation adds additional drama to the tensions in the trial of Jesus. It also offers a better understanding of John 18:28 than is provided by the different-calendar theories.

Chapter 14 gives a thorough coverage of the time from Pentecost to the end of Paul’s ministry, where once again the best of current and past scholarship is summarized to present a consistent chronology for the period. This also characterizes the whole book, so that if only one resource dealing with biblical chronology is acquired, it should be FATP. Although very few readers will agree with every detail, critics who have a difference of opinion in one area should not use that to discredit the general value of this work: it represents the finest synthesis that has been produced in over 2000 years of attempting to understand the chronological texts of the Bible. The book also makes a theological statement, showing that the inductive method that takes the biblical texts at face value has led to a coherent history of the period covered. This has never been achieved by the popular redaction criticism that is the bane of biblical scholarship. As a summary statement it would be hard to improve on the evaluation of Eugene Merrill:

Steinmann lays out here a foundation that doubtless will provide the basis for all subsequent discussions of biblical chronology, an indispensable preliminary to a proper understanding of the biblical narrative.

Rodger C. Young received a BA degree in physics from Reed College, Portland OR, and BA and MA degrees in mathematics from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. In addition, he has done graduate work in theology and Biblical languages at Nazarene Theological Seminary, Kansas City, MO. Mr. Young has worked as a computer application developer and systems analyst at Monsanto and IBM. Following his retirement in 2003 he has devoted himself to the study of Biblical chronology and has authored a number of articles on that subject. His extensive work on Biblical Chronology can be found on his website at: http://www.rcyoung.org/papers.html


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ABRT 28 | 8/1/2019