The chronology of ancient Egypt is the least settled of all the chronologies of the great powers of the ancient Near East.
Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, most historians studying ancient Egypt professed no difficulty accepting king lists and other records and artifact dates to construct a chronology extending backward in time far in advance of the Great Flood. By so doing, these historians traditionally have asserted that the Egyptian state has existed longer than the amount of time that the Bible suggests has passed since the Flood. These same historians have also asserted that various characters from the Old Testament, namely Abraham, Joseph, and Moses, could not have had any reliable synchrony with the history of ancient Egypt, if they existed at all.
Yet the evidence supporting such a great age for the Egyptian state was highly dubious at best. Moreover, an increasing body of evidence now suggests that the history of ancient Egypt is shorter, by several millennia, than most scholars have previously supposed.
More recent research now strongly supports the original conclusion that James Ussher reached from his study of ancient sources, including the Bible: that the history of Egypt does not extend further back than the Great Flood, and that definite synchronies with Old Testament history do exist. The evidence does not support the original synchronies that Ussher made, but instead suggests new ones.
- 1 Ancient sources
- 2 Assumptions for conventional chronology
- 3 Earlier attempts at Biblical synchrony
- 4 A new Biblical synchrony
- 5 A Wider View
- 6 Conclusions
- 7 Related References
- 8 See also
The best primary sources, for what they are worth, are original hieroglyphic inscriptions on various monuments, temples (including mortuary temples), tombs, and other artifacts—a class of documents called monumental evidence. Sadly, these inscriptions suffer from three major shortcomings:
- Kings, or pharaohs, who dictated those inscriptions tended to "spin" history to suit their memory.
- Many Pharaohs deliberately defaced or otherwise destroyed the inscriptions of some of their predecessors, a process known as memorywashing. One of the most prominent examples of memorywashing is the near-obliteration from the historical record of Hatshepsut or Hatchepsut, the first woman ever to rule a major power in her own right. Hatshepsut was not the only target of this practice, nor even the first. One of the greatest challenges to Egyptologists today is trying to defeat such memorywashing by finding records that the successors were not able to alter, especially those (such as tomb inscriptions) that they could not find or reach.
- Tomb inscriptions in particular suffered from the repeated plunder of royal tombs for the often very valuable goods, gemstones, and precious metals stored therein.
Nevertheless, monumental evidence still has value—so long as one can date it reliably.
The most prominent source for Egyptian chronology would be Manetho's Aegyptiaca, or literally, "The History of Egypt." Manetho was an Egyptian priest who, as best as any modern historian can tell, lived during the reigns of Ptolemy I Soter, builder of the Great Library of Alexandria, and Ptolemy II Philadelphos, his immediate successor. Manetho set out to chronicle the entire history of ancient Egypt from its founding to its conquest by Alexander the Great.
Sadly, all of Manetho's original work is now lost, and indeed no definite independent evidence remains to attest to his birth, flourishing, and death. All that remains of his work are fragments that various other historians have translated. The most prominent of these include Flavius Josephus, Sextus Julius Africanus, Eusebius, and Syncellus. In addition, we have another secondary source: Herodotus, whose Inquiries are considered the first-ever work of history as we know it. Unhappily, no two of these sources are in perfect agreement with one another.
With the translation of James Ussher's Annals of the World, we now know that Ussher relied heavily on Josephus, Eusebius, Diodorus Siculus, and other ancient historians to attempt his synchrony of Biblical chronology with the history of Egypt. But Ussher did this in a way that no historian since has cared to copy: he arbitrarily rejected as unreliable all of the reported history of Egypt further back in time than the Eighteenth Dynasty, and specifically the reign of Pharaoh Ahmose.
The first modern European leader to undertake a serious study of ancient Egypt was Napoleon Bonaparte, otherwise known as Napoleon I, Emperor of France. Excavations have continued sporadically since then, the only interruptions being due to occasional political unrest, including the occasional wars in which Egypt has been involved since Napoleon's time.
Assumptions for conventional chronology
The conventional chronology of Egypt relies chiefly on the following:
- Lists of pharaohs, with further information on lengths of reign; coregencies, viceroyalties, and the like; and rarely, interregna.
- Synchrony with Assyrian chronology and Babylonian chronology
- Astronomical dating, especially the so-called "Sothic cycle." Secular chronologers understand "Sothos" to refer to Sirius, the brightest star in the sky.
- Radiometric dating, specifically with carbon-14 (14C).
All of these techniques in turn rely on assumptions that might or might not be safe. King lists often do not account for rival dynasties in different regions of Egypt—say, one in Upper Egypt (toward the source of the Nile) and another in Lower Egypt (toward the mouth of the Nile). Assyrian chronology is woefully unsettled by itself, even in the Neo-Assyrian period. Most of the astronomical-reference assumptions have fallen into disrepute even among secular researchers. Radiometric dating has problems of its own, though it can establish a rough rank order of events or artifact ages.
Furthermore, most scholars since Ussher have not attempted to synchronize the Bible with Egyptian chronology. True, the Bible does not name any Pharaohs sooner than Shishak that had any dealings with the Hebrew nation, and that makes synchrony difficult (except toward the end of the New Kingdom and the periods of Achaemenid and immediately pre-Ptolemaic rule). Secular scholars have declared that Shishak is the same ruler as Shoshenq I, allegedly the first Libyan ruler of Egypt. Their primary basis for this synchrony is the Sothic cycle and the corollary assumptions that proceed from it.
In addition, many modern Egyptologists have tried to use Egyptian history to refute the Bible completely. Their most salient claim is that no Pharaoh of Egypt is identifiable as the Pharaoh who received Abraham and his wife, or the Pharaoh of the Exodus of Israel, or the Pharaoh who gave his daughter in marriage to Solomon.
For a hundred years, scholars "accepted" a chronology that varied little, and yet it still varied. Many secular researchers knew all along that the evidence for Egyptian chronology varied from the sparse to the specious. One professor (Heinrich Otten) openly called the accepted system a "rubber chronology." An examination of a synoptic table in the Wikipedia of two chronologies of Egypt, published about a hundred years apart, is telling. The two chronologies are by J. H. Breasted (who made some of the most extensive use of Meyer's Sothic cycle calculations in constructing his chronology) and Ian Shaw. While the article text asserts that "the outlines and dates have not fluctuated very much in the last 100 years," the table clearly shows a variation of more than three hundred years in the Manetho Dynasties up to the 9th and 10th—at which time, Ian Shaw's chronology compresses those two dynasties from a 285-year to a 135-year time span. (And even if they did not vary, that simply means that they both relied heavily on the Sothic cycle, which in fact was controversial shortly after its introduction and has now come under renewed attack.)
Today the accepted chronology has come under attack from multiple authors, from varying perspectives, proposing major revisions to the Dynastic dates. Most of these authors openly advocate a reduction, or compression, of the time line of ancient Egyptian history. They include David Rohl and Peter James. The latter author has suggested that one primary flaw in the Sothic dating system is that it projects centuries of "dark ages" for which little or no historical warrant exists. For these and other reasons, James rejects the Sothic cycle out-of-hand.
More to the point, two eminent Near East archaeologists, David Down and John Ashton, have proposed that the entire Egyptian chronological system requires compression that they can support from the archaeological record, to the point at which they can harmonize ancient Egyptian history to a number of key Biblical events.
Earlier attempts at Biblical synchrony
Attempts to synchronize the Bible with Egyptian chronology are at least as old as Ussher and probably go back to Flavius Josephus. The earliest theory, based entirely on surviving translations of Manetho, was that Joseph flourished under an 18th Dynasty Pharaoh (probably Amenhotep IV or Akhenaton), and Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt during the reign of a "Ramesses Miamun," said to have ruled for sixty-six years—exactly the same time span as that given for the historical Ramesses II but not identified with that person. Centuries later, a well-known motion picture showman would popularize the theory that Seti I and Ramesses II, both of the 19th Dynasty, were the Pharaohs of the Oppression and the Exodus of Israel, respectively. This last theory would also occasion an attempt to date the Exodus at about 1290 BC, to fit with Sothic-cycle chronology. Still other scholars suggested that Ramesses II and his successor Merneptah were the Pharaohs of the Oppression and Exodus. At least one television producer would later propound a theory identifying Moses as Akhenaton and suggesting that the Red Sea crossing was actually a battle in which Akhenaton/Moses killed Ramesses' son in single combat.
Other scholars, including most notably the members of the Committee on Bible Translation that produced the New International Version and its successors, suggested that Joseph flourished under a Hyksos ruler, that the first "king who knew not Joseph" (see below) was Ahmose, founder of the 18th Dynasty; and that the "Pharaoh's Daughter" who rescued Moses from the Nile was Hatshepsut. Different versions of this theory name two pairs of Pharaohs to be those of the Oppression and the Exodus: Thutmose III and Amenhotep II, or Thutmose I and Thutmose III.
A new Biblical synchrony
Connections to Noah, Mizraim, and Peleg
Ussher (and Larry Pierce, who translated him from Latin into English) quoted Constantinus Manasses as stating that the Egyptian state lasted for 1,663 years before Cambyses II conquered Egypt for Persia. This took place in 526 BC. A backward extrapolation yields 2188 BC for the first year of Egypt.
Ussher also calculated a chronology for the descendants of Adam through Noah, Abraham, and ultimately to Jacob, by examining each man's age at the birth of his first named son. He then assumed a short Sojourn in Egypt, a late birth of Abraham, and a strict accounting of the dates of accession of the Hebrew kings of the Divided Kingdoms Northern and Southern. Subject to continuing controversy among Bible scholars as to the timing of the birth of Abraham and the length of the Sojourn, this chronology provides an anchor for Egyptian-Hebrew synchronies.
Conventional chronology calls for a "pre-Dynastic period" lasting for 2000 years or beginning at 4240 BC (the first "rising of Sothis") before Pharaoh Menes is said to have brought unity to Egypt in 3100 BC. However, more modern research has called this length of time, and even the very concept of "pre-Dynastic Egypt," into serious question. Indeed, archaeologist Bruce Williams is reported to have said that the monumental evidence previously assigned to "pre-dynastic Egypt" actually dates no further back in time than the Pyramids.
By Ussher's chronology, the Great Flood (1656 AM) would still predate the founding of Egypt by at least 55 years, and by as long as 415 years, if one assumes a "long Sojourn" and an "early birthdate" for Abraham. In fact, the Great Flood must predate the founding of Egypt by at least 101 years and probably longer, because the Babel Incident, which predates Egypt, took place during the life of Peleg, a Patriarch born 101 years after the Flood.
The founder of the Egyptian state would be Mizraim, son of Ham and grandson of Noah. Remarkably, the Arabic name for Egypt is Misr, an obvious evocation of this name. For this Mizraim to be the first Pharaoh would not be inconsistent with the Ussher chronology, even as Ussher originally set it forth. Mizraim's cousin Arpachshad is known to have lived a total of 438 years from his birth two years after the Great Flood. So even if we assume a birth year of 2561 BC (the year of the birth of Arpachshad) and a comparable life span for Mizraim, he would have died in 2123 BC, well after the 2188 BC date for the founding of Egypt and possibly after a reign of sixty-five years. Such longevity and great length-of-reign would easily have given rise to the legend of Pharaoh being close to immortal.
Of course, if Abraham were born early rather than late, then we would date Mizraim's birth at 2501 BC, sixty years later. He then would have had 125 years to reign as the first Pharaoh of Egypt, and sired at least one son who would have set up a competing kingdom in line with Down's proposal to telescope the First and Second Dynasties into the period of the Old Kingdom.
The life span of Peleg is 248 years. The Babel Incident must have taken place during this lifetime, but the founding of Egypt need only have taken place after this Incident and thus might have taken place after Peleg was dead. In this regard, a "Short Sojourn" combined with an "early date" for the birth of Abraham becomes insurmountably problematic, because according to those assumptions, Peleg's birth date was 2187 by the Ussher model. Thus the Egyptian state would have been founded earlier than the Babel Incident, which is discordant with the nature of that Incident and of human civilization prior to it. (The Thiele model dates his birth at 2147 BC, which is even worse.) But either a Long Sojourn or a late birth of Abraham would resolve the issue with time to spare. (For details, see here and check the table rows for Peleg and Abraham.)
Abraham visits Egypt
The earliest date for the birth of Abraham would have been 2211 BC, if one assumes a "long Sojourn." (Abraham's year of birth does not affect the chronology at this point in time.) This is still consistent with Abraham having visited Egypt in the seventy-eighth year of his life, as the Bible says. The reason: the earliest that Abraham could have visited Egypt was 2138 BC. The Edwin R. Thiele chronology places Abraham's visit even later, at 1875 BC, assuming a "short Sojourn."
Jaroncyk suggests that Pharaoh Cheops, or Khufu, might have been the Pharaoh who received Abraham—mainly because Cheops was the first to build a pyramid that was as exactly oriented to the traditional compass directions as are the later pyramids. Cheops is associated with the 4th Dynasty. Jaroncyk (and, presumably, his sources) assume that Abraham brought to Egypt the advanced mathematical learning of the Chaldean civilization of his birth. But Abraham might still have visited Egypt at an earlier time in its history, while still visiting it after it became a functioning nation-state. Scripture provides no warrant for Abraham having brought to Egypt any particular technological advances—but neither does Scripture preclude such an interaction.
Joseph in Egypt
Joseph is one of the two characters in the Bible that made the greatest impact on the history of Egypt; the other was, of course, Moses. Jaroncyk suggests identifying Joseph with Mentuhotep, the known Grand Vizier of Sesostris I, possibly the grandest builder of the 12th Dynasty. He cites two inscriptions, at least one of which is from a non-royal tomb (thus likely to escape the notice of any memory-washers), as attesting to a famine during Sesostris' reign, and the ability of the Egyptian state to survive it. (The owner of the tomb attempts to take credit for that survival, credit that should properly belong to Joseph if this synchrony is accurate.)
Mentuhotep is the name of at least four kings of the 11th Dynasty. Obviously none of these is in view to identify with Joseph. If Joseph is that Mentuhotep who was Sesostris I's vizier, or viceroy, then one would not expect his mortal remains to be found in Egypt, because Joseph's bones were removed from Egypt, as per his express wishes, in the Exodus of Israel.
The OppressionThe Bible says that
Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph. And he said unto his people, Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we: Come on, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land. Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses. Exodus 1:8-11 (KJV)
The chief candidates for the Pharaoh of the Oppression are Sesostris III and his successor Amenemhet III, both of the 12th Dynasty. Amenemhet III had two daughters, Neferu-Ptah and Sobekneferu. The latter is the best candidate to be that "Pharaoh's Daughter" who rescued Moses. Secular historians say that Amenemhet's son Amenemhet IV served as his co-regent—but a number of scholars, including Ashton, Down, and Donovan Courville, suggest that Amenemhet IV is none other than Moses himself. Sobekneferu is known to have succeeded Amenemhet III after his death following a forty-five-year reign. This would be consistent with a statement that Pharaoh died "in the fullness of time," and also consistent with Moses having fled Egypt at the age of forty, as the Bible says. Amenemhet IV is said to have had a relatively short "reign" of nine to ten years.
However, a few words of caution are in order. Amenemhet IV cannot be Moses if his tomb has been found. Moreover, once Moses' origins and rash deed (i.e., the slaying of an Egyptian taskmaster) became known, the then-regnant Pharaoh, whoever he was, would certainly have "memorywashed" him at once. This also illustrates a very important point when dealing with the chronology of Egypt or any of the great powers of the ancient Near East: the absence of evidence does not constitute evidence of absence.
The Exodus of Israel occurred either in 1491 BC (Ussher) or 1446 BC (Thiele). The most likely candidate for the Pharaoh of the Exodus is Neferhotep I of the 13th Dynasty (which is the last Dynasty before the Hyksos invasion). Remarkably, Neferhotep I reigned for 11 years, and his successor was not his son, but his brother, Sobekhotep IV. This is consistent with the Biblical account, which states that Pharaoh's first-born son died in the Tenth Plague. Furthermore, no secular authority claims to have found Neferhotep's mortal remains. If he perished in the Red Sea, that would explain this lack.
Recently a television producer attempted to show that the Hyksos were in fact the Hebrew slaves, and that their "expulsion" coincided with the Exodus. But that production assumes conventional chronology, while also dating the Exodus even earlier than Ussher did, and probably earlier than any rational estimate would support. Furthermore, that project relied too heavily on "natural" explanations for the deadly miracles that the Ten Plagues actually were.
More likely, the Hyksos invaded Egypt after Neferhotep I (if it was he) led his army into the Red Sea after the fleeing Israelites, only to drown in it, with his entire army, with the re-closure of the waters. The Hyksos might indeed have been the children of Amalek. The Israelites ran afoul of the Amalekites during their wanderings in the wilderness—but tellingly, the Israelites do not come into contact with Amalekites again until late in the era of the Judges, and then during the life of Samuel and the period of the civil wars that finally placed King David on his throne. Where were they in the times in between? Perhaps they were occupying Egypt, until Ahmose (18th Dynasty), at the Battle of Avaris, finally expelled them.
The history of the interactions of Egypt with the Divided Kingdoms Northern and Southern provides much better points of synchrony, if only because the Bible names three of the particular Pharaohs involved: Shishak, So, and Necho II. However, the specific identities of Shishak and So are, and have been, extremely problematic. Necho, however, belongs to the Late/Persian period, which does not move in the revised chronology.
A Wider View
- The First and Second Intermediate Periods are concurrent. This is the period of the Hyksos (Amalekites?) and corresponds to the era of Joshua and the Judges. This combined period is also much longer than conventional chronology allows. This period begins with the collapse of the Middle Kingdom (and with the Exodus of Israel) and ends with the resurgence of Egypt as the New Kingdom. (The latter corresponds roughly to the reign of Solomon. Therefore, the Pharaoh who gave his daughter in marriage to Solomon was probably a New Kingdom ruler.)
- The Third Intermediate Period vanishes completely. This is particularly noteworthy because of the mention of at least one of its kings (Shishak) in the Bible. As previously mentioned, most scholars accept this Shishak as Shoshenq I, but that association is no longer tenable. Immanuel Velikovsky identified Shoshenq I as So, the Pharaoh with whom King Hoshea of the Northern Kingdom attempted to form an alliance. He based that on a comparison of victory stela of Thutmose III and Shoshenq I: while each of these kings records a tribute paid him by a Hebrew king, Thutmose boasts of fighting a war to get his tribute, while Shoshenq does not.
- The New Kingdom moves forward into the eras of the United and Divided Kingdoms of Israel. This would mean that a Ramesside or even a Thutmoside Pharaoh might be Shishak. The likeliest candidate now becomes Thutmose III, who is famous for his campaigns in the Eastern Mediterranean region, including a battle fought at Megiddo. The next likeliest candidate becomes Ramesses III, a view already widely held among Bible-oriented critics of conventional Egyptian chronology. Sanders further identifies Ramesses' father Merneptah as the Pharaoh who burned Gezer and handed it over to Solomon for a wedding present. (Archaeologist Clifford Wilson has in fact dated the burning of Gezer to Solomon's reign.)
- Dynasties 1 and 2 telescope into the period of Dynasties 3 through 6 to form a slightly longer Old Kingdom era. This could allow Cheops to be the Pharaoh who received Abraham and, either then or subsequently, acquired the knowledge of mathematics that enabled him to design a pyramid having a square base and exactly facing north, south, east, and west.
No one, even David Down, pretends that even creationists have settled Egyptian chronology. The preceding has been a showing of the likeliest candidates, and the support that one can glean for them from various sources. Obviously, further archaeological research is indicated.
Yet Down's current research, and a critical examination of the Patriarch birth list in light of the known length of the ancient Egyptian state, provide strong support for resolving two key elements of the Biblical chronology dispute as follows:
- Either Abraham was born late in the life of Terah rather than early—specifically, when Terah was 130 years of age, and not 70—or else
- The Sojourn in Egypt lasted for 430 years, as Exodus 12:40-41 seems to state—though the Septuagint version of that verse says that the 430 years applies to the stay of the house of Israel in Egypt and Canaan.
Down's chronology also provides support for identifying two of the three named Pharaohs of the era of the Kings. Shishak now becomes either Thutmose III or Ramesses III, and So becomes Shoshenq I. The Pharaoh named "Necho" is most likely Necho II, because the Down scheme does not move the Late/Persian period, to which Necho II belongs, in any way—possibly because its synchronies with other chronologies, especially the Babylonian, are great enough to anchor it.
- Jaroncyk, Ron. "Egyptian History and the Biblical Record: A Perfect Match?" Creation Ministries International, January 23, 2007. Retrieved June 25, 2007.
- James Ussher, The Annals of the World, Larry Pierce, ed., Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2003 (ISBN 0890513600), pgh. 52ff.
- Mackey, Damien F. "Fall of the Sothic theory: Egyptian chronology revisited." TJ 17(3):70-73, December 2003. Retrieved June 27, 2007, from Creation Ministries International (US).
- Mackey, Damien F. The Sothic Star Theory of the Egyptian Calendar: A Critical Evaluation, abr. ed. Sydney, New South Wales, Australia: University of Sydney, October, 1995. Retrieved June 27, 2007.
- Bratcher, Dennis. "The Date of the Exodus: The Historical Study of Scripture." CRI Voice Institute. 2006. Retrieved June 28, 2007.
- Tyldesley, Joyce A. Hatchepsut: the Female Pharaoh. New York: Penguin Books, 1998 (ISBN 0140244646).
- Ussher, op. cit., pgh. 100
- Sanders, Michael S. "Sothic Cycle." Mysteries of the Bible, 2007. Retrieved June 27, 2007.
- Champollion, J. Lettres écrites d’Égypte et de Nubie en 1828 et 1829, 2nd ed. Didier, Paris, 1868; p. 80, Septième Lettre. Cited in Mackey, "Fall of the Sothic Theory," op. cit.
- Otten, Heinrich. Festschrift Heinrich Otten. Germany: Harrassowitz, 1973. ISBN 3447015365.
- Authors unknown. "Egyptian chronology." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 22:26 UTC, June 25, 2007
- James, Peter. Centuries of Darkness. Pimlico, London, UK. 1992. Cited in Jaroncyk, op. cit., and Sanders, "Sothic Cycle," op. cit.
- Ashton, John F., PhD, and Down, David. Unwrapping the Pharaohs: How Egyptian Archaeology Confirms the Biblical Timeline. Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2006. ISBN 0890514682. Cited and reviewed by Jaroncyk, op. cit.
- Ussher, op. cit., pgh. 161ff.
- Ussher, op. cit., pgh. 52
- Sumner, William. "Scholarship Individual Research." The Oriental Institute Annual Report 1988–1989, p. 62. University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, 1990. Cited in Jaroncyk, op. cit.
- Tas Walker, Steve Cardno and Jonathan Sarfati. "Timing is Everything: A Talk with Field Archaeologist David Down." Creation 27(3):30-35, June 2005. Retrieved June 28, 2007.
- Pierce, Larry. "In the Days of Peleg." Creation 22(1):46–49 December 1999. Retrieved June 28, 2007.
- Genesis 12:10
- Author unknown. "Entry for Sesostris I." Encyclopedia Britannica, 2007. Retrieved June 23, 2007 from Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
- Kinnaer, Jacques. "Entry on Sesostris I." The Ancient Egypt Site, 2007. Retrieved June 23, 2007.
- Kjellen, Tore. "Entry for Sesostris I." Encyclopedia of the Orient online, 2007. Retrieved June 23, 2007.
- Authors unknown."Entry for Neferhotep I." Digital Egypt for Universities. London, England: University College, 2000. Retrieved June 28, 2007.
- Authors unknown. "The Hyksos." SpecialtyInterests.com. Retrieved June 28, 2007.
- Velikovsky, Immanuel. "Pharaon So." The Assyrian Conquest. Retrieved June 4, 2007.
- Sanders, Michael S. "Shishak not Shoshenq!" Mysteries of the Bible, 2007. Retrieved June 27, 2007.
- Wieland, Carl. "Archaeologist confirms creation and the Bible: Interview with archaeologist Dr Clifford Wilson." Creation 14(4):46-50, September, 1992. Retrieved June 28, 2007.