The Meaning of Biblical Chronology

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by Neil Godfrey

From Genesis through to 2 Kings and the prophet Ezekiel are many nice round numbers tying together the world’s and Israel’s major events. And when they are added up they point to the rededication of the Temple under Judas Maccabeus.

They therefore imply a prophecy that this event, from which the Jewish nation could be said to be reborn, was ordained from the beginning of time. Creation itself could be inferred to have had its fulfilment in this rebirth of Israel.

The figures also mean that the editing (if not composition) of some of the biblical books happened as late as 164 b.c.e.

The following is derived from pages 73-75 of The Mythic Past (also published as The Bible in History) by Thomas L. Thompson

Genesis gives us ten generations from Adam to Noah, and another ten generations to Abraham.

There are 1945 years from Adam to the birth of Abraham to cover those 20 generations.

Abraham was called by God when he was 75 years old (Genesis 12:4)

From the call of Abraham to the entry of Israel into Egypt was 215 years.

From Abraham’s call to the birth of Isaac was 25 years, Isaac was 60 when Jacob was born, and Jacob 130 years old when he entered Egypt (25 + 60 + 130 = 215 years)

From the entry into Egypt to the Exodus and birth of Israel was 430 years (Exodus 12:40).

From the Exodus to the beginning of the building of Solomon’s temple was 480 years (1 Kings 6:1).

So from Abraham’s birth to the foundation of the Temple was 1200 years, or 12 generations of the round 100 years each. (There are several remnants throughout the Bible of the idea of a post-Flood generation being a round 100 years, such as Genesis 15:13-16 where 4 generations are given 400 years.)

From the foundation of the Temple to the destruction of Jerusalem was 430 years (Ezekiel 4:5-6).

From the destruction of the Temple in 588 b.c.e. to the (legendary) edict of Cyrus for the return of Israel in 538 b.c.e. was 50 years. (Jeremiah speaks of a 70 year captivity, but the chronology was constructed at a time when there was no canonical bible and Jeremiah’s book did not figure in the calculation.)

And from the return of Israel to the rededication of the Temple in 164 b.c.e. was 374 years – the odd-number out to complete the “Great Year” of 4000 years.

  • Adam / Year 1
  • Birth of Abraham / Year 1946
  • Call of Abraham / Year 2021
  • Entrance into Egypt / Year 2236
  • Exodus from Egypt / Year 2666
  • Solomon’s temple / Year 3146
  • Exile to Babylon / Year 3576
  • Edict of Cyrus / Year 3626 (538 b.c.e)
  • Rededication of temple / Year 4000 (164 b.c.e)

(The notion of a Great Year was a well understood Hellenistic philosophical idea of a time between grand cosmic cycles or events. “Great years” have varied from the calculations of the precession of the equinoxes, to multiples of significant numbers, and vary from Persian and Indic culture through to the later Stoics. An ancient Babylonian “great year” appears to have been as much as 432,000 years.)

So the 4000 years consists of 20 generations up to Abraham and another 20 generations subsequently, a total of 40 generations.

Abraham is one turning point. The other of major significance is the Exodus, with pivots on the two-thirds point of the 4000 year span.

And the whole framework has been constructed to find its completion in the birth of the New Israel in 164 b.c.e. (1 Maccabees 4:52-56)

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Neil Godfrey

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