Problem: Too recent dates for Creation, Flood, Exodus
Verses: Various; Status: Serious / "Minor"

Everyone agrees that Jerusalem was sacked in 586 B.C. Using this event as an anchor, it is possible to use the Bible's vast chronological data to determine (roughly) when it places the Creation, the Flood, and the Exodus.

Doing the calculations for myself, I got dates of approximately:

There are a few issues which complicate this (see discussion below). Here's a list of Biblical events, with verses given, so you can check this for yourself if you wish.

Event Verses Date (B.C.)
 
Adam is created Genesis 1:27 4163
 
Adam, aged 130, fathers Seth Genesis 5:3 4033
Seth, aged 105, fathers Enosh Genesis 5:6 3928
Enosh, aged 90, fathers Kenan Genesis 5:9 3838
Kenan, aged 70, fathers Mahalalel Genesis 5:12 3768
Mahalalel, aged 65, fathers Jared Genesis 5:15 3703
Jared, aged 162, fathers Enoch Genesis 5:18 3541
Enoch, aged 65, fathers Methuselah Genesis 5:21 3476
Methuselah, aged 187, fathers Lamech Genesis 5:25 3289
Lamech, aged 182, fathers Noah Genesis 5:28-29 3107
 
The Flood occurs; Noah is aged 600 Genesis 7:6 2507
 
Shem fathers Arphachshad 2 years after the Flood Genesis 11:10 2505
 
Arphachshad, aged 35, fathers Shelah Genesis 11:12 2470
Shelah, aged 30, fathers Eber Genesis 11:14 2440
Eber, aged 34, fathers Peleg Genesis 11:16 2406
Peleg, aged 30, fathers Reu Genesis 11:18 2376
Reu, aged 32, fathers Serug Genesis 11:20 2344
Serug, aged 30, fathers Nahor Genesis 11:22 2314
Nahor, aged 29, fathers Terah Genesis 11:24 2285
Terah, aged 70, fathers Abram (Abraham) Genesis 11:26 2215
Abraham, aged 100, fathers Isaac Genesis 21:5 2115
Isaac, aged 60, fathers Jacob (Israel) Genesis 25:24-26 2055
 
Jacob (Israel) settles in Egypt, aged 130 Genesis 47:28 1925
 
Israel's descendants leave Egypt 430 years later Exodus 12:40-41 1495
 
Solomon's reign begins 476 years after the Israelites leave Egypt 1 Kings 6:1 1019
 
Solomon reigns for 40 years 1 Kings 11:42
... and is succeeded by Rehoboam 1 Kings 11:43 979
Rehoboam reigns for 17 years 1 Kings 14:21
... and is succeeded by Abijam 1 Kings 14:31 962
Abijam reigns for 3 years 1 Kings 15:1-2
... and is succeeded by Asa 1 Kings 15:8 959
Asa reigns for 41 years 1 Kings 15:9-10
... and is succeeded by Jehoshaphat 1 Kings 15:24 918
Jehoshaphat reigns for 25 years 1 Kings 22:42
... and is succeeded by Jehoram (Joram) 1 Kings 22:50 893
Jehoram (Joram) reigns for 8 years 2 Kings 8:16-17
... and is succeeded by Ahaziah 2 Kings 8:24 885
Ahaziah reigns for 1 year 2 Kings 8:26
... and is succeeded by Athaliah 2 Kings 11:1 884
Athaliah reigns for 6 years 2 Kings 11:1-3
... and is succeeded by Jehoash 2 Kings 11:20-21 878
Jehoash reigns for 40 years 2 Kings 12:1
... and is succeeded by Amaziah 2 Kings 12:20-21 838
Amaziah reigns for 29 years 2 Kings 14:1-2
... and is succeeded by Azariah (Uzziah) 2 Kings 14:21 809
Azariah (Uzziah) reigns for 52 years 2 Kings 15:1-2
... and is succeeded by Jotham 2 Kings 15:7 757
Jotham reigns for 16 years 2 Kings 15:32-33
... and is succeeded by Ahaz 2 Kings 15:38 741
Ahaz reigns for 16 years 2 Kings 16:2
... and is succeeded by Hezekiah 2 Kings 16:20 725
Hezekiah reigns for 29 years 2 Kings 18:1-2
... and is succeeded by Manasseh 2 Kings 20:21 696
Manasseh reigns for 55 years 2 Kings 21:1
... and is succeeded by Amon 2 Kings 21:18 641
Amon reigns for 2 years 2 Kings 21:19
... and is succeeded by Josiah 2 Kings 21:25-26 639
Josiah reigns for 31 years 2 Kings 22:1
... and is succeeded by Jehoahaz 2 Kings 23:30 608
Jehoahaz reigns for 3 months 2 Kings 23:31
... and is succeeded by Jehoiakim (Eliakim) 2 Kings 23:34 608
Jehoiakim (Eliakim) reigns for 11 years 2 Kings 23:36
... and is succeeded by Jehoiachin 2 Kings 24:6 597
Jehoiachin reigns for 3 months 2 Kings 24:8
... and is succeeded by Zedekiah (Mattaniah) 2 Kings 24:17 597
Zedekiah (Mattaniah) reigns for 11 years 2 Kings 24:18
 
Jerusalem falls 2 Kings 25:8-9 586

Caveats

The following issues can change the dates slightly:

  1. Sometimes the reign of two kings overlapped - i.e. the son taking over before his father died. Also, there are some independent reasons for starting Solomon's reign at around 970 B.C. This would reduce the timescale by 49 years.
  2. It may well be necessary to say that Terah was 130 when he fathered Abraham, rather than 70. This would increase the timescale by 60 years.
  3. Based partly on Galatians 3:16-17, some people interpret the Exodus as happening 430 years after Abram entered Egypt, instead of Jacob (Israel). This would reduce the timescale by 215 years!

#1 and #2 mostly cancel out, whereas #3 is very contentious (it is not the view of the NIV Study Bible, for example). If we take #1 and #2 into account, we get:

Archaeology

In any event, these dates are hard to reconcile with what we know of history.

The dramatic events of the Exodus (the ten plagues on Egypt, the destruction of the entire Egyptian army, and the loss of a subjected labour force) ought to have left some evidence in the non-Biblical record, but didn't. On the other hand, records from that time period are flaky anyway, so this doesn't seem conclusive.

More seriously, Egypt was a flourishing civilisation at the supposed time of the Flood, and certainly wasn't wiped out. As far as I know, there's no dispute about this amongst serious archaeologists.

Finally, archaeologists are tending to say that humans first entered the Americas 10,000 years ago, which would be before the Creation. At the time of writing, though, there's some genuine controversy about the dates (though usually because some researchers think the real dates are more distant) so I won't get into that.

No doubt there are a thousand other things in secular archaeology that don't fit into the above timeline; and I have not even mentioned geological, astronomical, and biological evidence for a 4 billion year old Earth.

However, since inerrantists might just deny that archaeologists know what they're doing, this problem is Minor for some people.

Gaps?

The Realms of Faith website takes the view that there are gaps in the Genesis genealogies:

While I believe these lists are faithful records of real, historical men, I find it telling that both Genesis 5 and Genesis 11 list ten men, as well as another ten from Abraham to the Exodus. It seems to me that the ten most important men in each segment of the genealogy have been preserved, without any indication of how wide the gaps are between generations.

Although there's clearly some weight to the argument, these gaps would not affect the timing of the Exodus.

Furthermore, with a few exceptions, the Genesis verses all take the following form (this is Genesis 11:18-19, a typical example):

When Peleg had lived 30 years, he fathered Reu. And Peleg lived after he fathered Reu 209 years and had other sons and daughters. (ESV)

The explicit mention of "other sons and daughters" strongly implies that the whole thing is intended literally. It's difficult to read this as meaning anything other than what it says. In addition, Jude 1:14 is pretty explicit that the Genesis 5 genealogy is complete:

It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, "Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, (ESV)

This verse is often overlooked. On the other side of the argument, Luke's genealogy of Christ appears to add one name to the Genesis 11 list, suggesting that it was not in fact complete. However, that is a very murky issue.

Updated: 2009-03-21

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