OTB5 – Old Testament chronology

Jeff Stacey | Last updated: 11 May 2020

Based on the results of research by OT experts, Figure OTB5 summarises the likely chronology of the OT. 

Figure OTB5

OT Timeline Screen Shot

Table OTB5 shows the probable or possible dates of occurrence of events as recorded in each book.  It also shows the known or estimated times when the contents of each book were written, compiled and collected.  Most of the dating after 1050BC is now fairly precise for the relevant biblical books and events.1

TABLE OTB5

LOCATING THE OLD TESTAMENT BOOKS HISTORICALLY

BOOKLOCATIONSPROBABLE ORPOSSIBLE DATES (BC)
 Where the recorded events happenedWhen (BC) the recorded events occurred    When (BC) the Book was produced in its final form
Genesis 1-11Mesopotamia?c.4000??c.1300-1200?  (c.950?)
Genesis 12-50Canaan, Egyptc.2000-1700?”         ”            “
ExodusEgypt, Sinaic.1400-1200?”         ”            “
LeviticusSinai”        “”         ”            “
NumbersSinai, Plains of Moab”        “”         ”            “
DeuteronomyPlains of Moab”        “”         ”            “
JoshuaCanaan”        “”         ”            “
JudgesCanaan/Israelc.1380-1050?c.1050-850?
RuthIsrael, Moabc.1150?”        “
1 SamuelIsrael1100-1010c.950-900
2 Samuel1010-970”      “
1 KingsIsrael, Judah970-850c.570-550
2 Kings”         “850-586”      “
1 ChroniclesMostly Israel and Judah(Adam)-970c.440-340
2 Chronicles”     ”     “970-538”      “
EzraJerusalem538-440c.440
Nehemiah440-430c.430
EstherSusa, Persiac.470 c.450?370?
Job“land of Uz”c.2000-1700?c.900?-600?
PsalmsVariousc.1000-300c.900-250?
ProverbsNot relevantc.970-650?c.950-650?
EcclesiastesJerusalemc.930c.930 (450-350?)
Song of Solomonc.970c.970  (   ”     ”   )
IsaiahJudah770-720c.770-720
JeremiahJudah640-580c.580
LamentationsJerusalem590-580
EzekielBabylon590-565c.560
Daniel590-530c.520
HoseaJudah770-720c.720
Joelunknownunknown
AmosIsrael770-750c.740
ObadiahJudahc.840?c.570?
JonahIsraelc.740c.730?
MicahJudahc.750-686c.700-650
Nahumc.663-612just prior to 612
Habakkukc.605c.605
Zephaniahc.640-627c.640-627
HaggaiJerusalem520520
Zechariahc.520-480+c.520-480+
Malachi433-430c.433-430

Figure OTB5 and Table OTB5 show that the OT books were obviously not arranged in chronological order.2  Many were also written or compiled much later than the events they record.3

These issues are highly significant when exploring the development of OT theology over time.  In particular, the later OT books contain an increasing amount of interpretation and applications of theology derived from the earlier OT books.  So each book has to be seen from the perspective of when it was finally written, to the extent that this can be known, when considering the theology it contains.

I have treated most of the OT books as unified chronological and theological units rather than arbitrarily breaking them up into segments belonging to different eras.4  Yet information apparently inserted by later writers of the historical accounts is taken into consideration.

Continue to OTB6

FOOTNOTES

1.  Other OT dating is still being sorted out.  The extensive chronological data in the OT itself has been compared with discoveries of the records of other nations (eg lists of kings and officials, battles, solar eclipses, etc).  The Hebrews, Egyptians, Babylonians and Persians used differing time-reckoning systems, based either on the solar year or lunar months.

They also reckoned dates by the year of reign of each king.  But these did not of course begin at the start of a calendar year and sometimes there was a gap or an overlap between kings.  There are in fact some apparent chronological contradictions in the OT (eg  the king-years totals for Kings vs. Chronicles are different). (Return to reading).

2.   The order of the books in the Hebrew Scriptures was based more on theological than chronological concerns. (Return to reading).

3.  For example, the narrative in 2Kings ends (2Kings 25:27-30) at about 550BC, which is over 400 years later than the events recorded early in 1Kings.  The “time-lapse” is even longer in Chronicles, which begins with genealogies from Adam and concludes at the end of the Babylonian Exile in 538BC (2Chronicles 36:22-23). (Return to reading).

4.  This does not apply to collections such as Psalms and Proverbs, or long time-span historical books such as Kings and Chronicles. (Return to reading).

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