Science Helps Establish Bible Chronology

Determining Bible chronology and ancient Egypt chronology through technology

How do we know that Pharaoh Tutankhamun reigned from exactly 1333 to 1324 B.C. or that Ramesses II’s rule lasted precisely from 1279 to 1213 B.C.? Our current calendar was instituted by Julius Caesar in 45 B.C. and slightly modified by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, so how do we apply meaningful dates to ancient Egypt chronology, as well as Bible chronology, that predate our own system by hundreds and thousands of years?

Science Helps Establish Bible Chronology

Science (radiocarbon dating in particular) has helped researchers confirm Egyptian chronology.

Establishing Bible chronology has long been the Holy Grail of Biblical archaeology and scholarship—and like the legendary vessel, it has proven just as elusive. Scholars often rely on the records of neighboring cultures, such as the Egyptian chronology of Israel’s neighbor ancient Egypt, to try and draw parallels to events described the Bible, thereby establishing a universally accepted Bible chronology.

Reaching scholarly consensus with regard to a fixed Bible chronology has proven elusive—in large part due to a dearth of archaeological evidence. Many argue that ancient Egypt chronology is not without its own points of contention, and that in any case Egyptian chronology is only one piece of the broader puzzle that is Bible chronology. Until now, scholars used ancient Egyptian, Assyrian and Babylonian king lists—documents that meticulously record the succession of kings and the lengths of their reigns over hundreds of years. But these ancient sources weren’t fixed to a precise date, so although they might tell us that Ramesses II ruled for 66 years, between the reigns of Seti I and Merneptah in ancient Egyptian chronology, they didn’t tell us the actual Egyptian chronology according to our modern dating system.

To anchor these floating relative chronologies, scholars noted ancient references to astronomical events such as solar eclipses or the rising of certain stars. Modern scientists were able to date these ancient astronomical occurrences, which allowed scholars to assign precise years to the ancient records. This system was the basis for scholars’ dating of events and archaeological remains throughout the world, including ancient Egypt chronology and, by association, at least a portion of Bible chronology.

According to a new study published in Science by an international team of experts, radiocarbon dating confirms the validity of chronologies—including ancient Egypt chronology—that were determined by astronomical methods. The team then used radiocarbon dating data of more than 200 samples of short-lived plant material to establish dates for the remains. The results “showed conclusively that scholarly dating of the Egyptian historical sequence has in fact been correct … with minor adjustments.” Team member Dr. Ezra Marcus of the University of Haifa noted, “Here in Israel and in neighboring countries, archaeology of the Bronze and Iron Ages relies heavily on Egyptian finds for providing … a chronology for what we discover.” The study’s results “offer an important baseline” for this process, and have greatly contributed to what we know about ancient Egypt chronology and at least some of the established Bible chronology.

Read more about Egyptian Chronology:

Depuydt, Leo. “How to Date a Pharaoh.” Archaeology Odyssey, Jul/Aug 2005, 27-33.

Based on “Radiocarbon Dating Confirms Egyptian/Israelite Chronology.” Biblical Archaeology Review, Sep/Oct 2010, 16–17.

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