BIBLICAL CHRONOLOGY

  
Vol. 10, No. 10 James B. Jordan, 1998 October, 1998

 

To the reader:

We continue this month with chapter 1 of a book tentatively entitled *The Date of Creation.* The footnotes in this chapter will not translate into internet text, but if you desire a printed copy of the chapter, send $5.00 to Biblical Horizons, Box 1096, Niceville, FL 32588, and request a copy.

James B. Jordan


* * * * *


Chapter 1: CONCLUSION


SOTHIC DATING

But what about the "proof" that comes from Sothic dating? As we saw above, testimony from 12th and 18th dynasty establish dates of about 1870 and 1540 BC respectively. How reliable is this?

James explains the Sothic dating by citing from I. E. S. Edwards:

"The 12 months were divided into 3 seasons bearing names which are generally rendered Inundation, Winter, and Summer, each season consisting of four months. The year began in the season of Inundation, and in the ideal year the first day of the first month of the season of Inundation coincided with the first day on which the dog-star Sirius [Sothis] should be seen on the eastern horizon just before the rising of the sun (i.e., roughly about 19 or 20 July in the Julian calendar). Since the dynastic Egyptians never introduced a leap year into their civil calendar, New Year's Day advanced by one whole day in relation to the nature year in every period of four years. As a result of this displacement New Year's Day and the day on which Sirius role heliacally actually coincided for no more than four [consecutive] years in every period of approximately 1460 years (i.e., 365 x 4), the so-called Sothic cycle.

"Thus," continues James, "according to the theory, the heliacal rising of Sirius (Sothis), together with the seasons, gradually revolved around the civil calendar. After 730 years they would have completely reversed with respect to the solar year, returning to their original position only after a period of some 1460 years:

"Dates in Egyptian records were generally set out according to a fixed formula: ... If in addition to this formula, a document tells us that Sirius rose heliacally on that day it is only necessary to count the number of days which had elapsed since the first day of the year given in the formula and multiply the total by four to obtain the number of years since the beginning of the particular Sothic cycle."

Now the fact is that we only have two such Sothic dates, and one of them is no good. The first is provided by papyrus fragments "found at el-Lahun, dated to year 7 of an unnamed pharaoh, but reasonably attributed to Senusret III on paleographic grounds. This document does not give the beginning of a Sothic cycle, but a calendar date for the rising of Sirius, which can be retrocalculated as 1872 BC if the sighting of Sirius was made in the Memphis-Lahun region. If, however, the sighting was made at the lower latitude of Elephantine, as Rolf Krauss has recently advocated, the date would be reduced to 1830 BC."

The only other Sothic date comes from the Ebers Papyrus for year 9 of Amenhotep I. There is a problem with this one, though, since while the "emergence of Sothis" is referred to in the text, no calendar day is specified. Thus, no calculation of a New Year's Day starting point can be made, and this Sothic date is of no use.

So we have one date: year 7 of (probably) Senusret III, from which we can calculate back to either 1872 or 1830 BC, and then forward again to the BC date of Senusret III year 7. But how reliable is even this?

James points out that "there are good reasons for rejecting the whole concept of Sothic dating as it was applied by the earlier Egyptologists, simply on the grounds that it did not make allowance for any calendrical adjustments. It is assumed that the Egyptians allowed the civil calendar and the seasonal cycle, to which the lunar-religious calendar was tied, to progress further and further out of alignment." There is no evidence to support this. In fact, we know from "the much better documented (calendrically speaking) Hellenistic and Roman periods [of Egyptian history] that several major reforms were put into effect within the space of only three centuries." If the Egyptians were willing to revise the calendar during this period, who is to say that they did not revise it at other periods as well?

James puts the conclusion in italics: "If a single calendrical adjustment was made in the period before the Ptolemies, it would completely invalidate the Sothic calculations for any prior period."


CARBON-14 DATING

Creationists are accustomed to criticisms of Carbon-14 dating, but it is interesting to read such criticisms in a secularwork. Carbon-14 is an unstable radioactive isotope and it constantly changes back into nitrogen by the emission of an electron. Half the Carbon-14 in a block of carbon will revert to nitrogen in about 5730 years. By measuring this, scientists can determine when the carbon was produced, supposedly. Since, however, this method is not very accurate, Carbon-14 dates are always quoted with a Standard Deviation, which represents the degree of accuracy.

The first problem James points to is that "in practice the vast majority of results have a Standard Deviation greater than fifty years." This means that there is less than a 68% chance that the date assigned to the carbon piece is within 50 years of being accurate on either side. It may be as much as 200 years off on either side.

Second, James points out that "in certain circumstances old carbon can be absorbed by living organisms and produce radiocarbon dates that are too old." This is especially true in volcanic areas.

A third problem arises from the dating of timber used in construction. Suppose a three-hundred year old tree is felled and beams are cut from it. Over the centuries, the outer part of the beam rots or is burned. What remains from the inner core of the tree may be a century or two older than the house it was used to construct. A Carbon-14 reading of such a timber would, thus, be off by a century or more.

A fourth problem is that one of the original assumptions behind Carbon-14 dating has proven unsound. It was originally held that the proportion of Carbon-14 to Carbon-12 was nearly constant through time. This has proved not to be the case. The amount of C-14 in the atmosphere has fluctuated greatly in the past, falling and rising sometimes within a single century. For instance, because of these fluctuations, anything from the years 400 to 800 BC will give a C-14 date of (around) 500 BC. Thus, Carbon-14 dating is completely useless for that entire period. It is becoming highly questionable for any period.


THE DATE OF THE FALL OF TROY

Once we eliminate the Greek "dark age," the fall of Troy is set around the year 800 BC. A problem with this date is that the ancient writers put it much earlier. Herodotus puts it at around 1250 BC, and similar dates are provided by Timaeus, Cleitarchus, the Parian Marble, Sosibius, Ephorus, Phaenias of Eresus, and Callimachus. The date 1184 BC, provided by Eratosthenes, became the standard date. There are good reasons to question all of this, because the ancient writers used very questionable methods to arrive at it.

James writes that "the most widely used system of dating in classical antiquity was that of the Olympic Games, which were regularly held in Greece every four years up until their abolition in AD 393 by the Emperor Theodosius. The period from one celebration to the next was known as an `Olympiad', the first of which was traditionally reckoned as beginning in the year 776 BC."

There are many questions about this system. For one, the first actual use of numbered Olympiads as a basis for dating is found in Eratosthenes around 200 BC. Someone must have drawn up a list of previous Olympic Games for him to use. Plutarch (c. AD 50-120) says that Hippias of Elis, in the late 5th century BC, drew up a list of victors of the races. But "what kind and how extensive was the documentation available to Hippias? Did he really manage to assemble scattered evidence for victors of the same athletic competition from over ninety Olympiads, enabling him to create a complete list up to his own time? How critical by modern standards were his methods?"

A second question is this: Were the games held every four years from the beginning? What evidence is there for believing that they were?

James concludes: "In fact we simply do not know when the Olympic Games began, and the accepted date of 776 BC, upon which so many synchronisms have rested since antiquity, can hardly be used as a fixed chronological point."

Another chronological system available to Greek historians was the list of archons, the rulers of Athens. The official list ran back to 1068 BC, but James shows that anything before the 400s BC must be regarded with suspicion, because it seems to have been invented at that time.

Genealogies were another chronological system that ancient Greek historians could use to calculate the date of the Trojan war, but here again their methods are suspect. Herodotus supposes three generations in a century, which is clearly too few. Data from the ancient world suggests four generations per century would be more reliable.

Moreover, "as Sir Isaac Newton pointed out long ago, continuous father-to-son successions for the two Spartan royal lines over twenty-one generations is highly improbable on biological grounds. He suggested that the genealogies recorded by Herodotus and others must in fact have been a king list."

James summarizes: "One way in which such errors inevitably crept into the calculations for events such as the Trojan War was through overestimating the length of a generation. Dynastic lines may also have been misinterpreted as genealogies, in line with the general tendency to exaggerate the length and purity of one's pedigree found throughout the ancient world."

James concludes his discussion with the following example: "A flagrant example of the way the chronology could be extended to match prevailing notions comes from the Romans. Some of their earliest traditions put the Fall of Troy close in time to the founding of Rome — in one version Romulus (originally Rhomus) was the grandson of Aeneas the Trojan refugee. A problem arose when this scheme was compared to the canonical Greek system:

"Greek researchers into chronology, notably Timaeus and the Eratosthenes of Cyrene ... made the Romans aware that their myths were still much too thin upon the ground. For, once it was established that the Trojan War had taken place — that Aeneas and Ascanius had lived — at a date not far from 1100 BC, and that Rome had not been founded until three hundred years later, there remained a subsequent yawning gap to be filled. And so the mythographers duly filled it — with a list of the kings of Alba Longa. A few traditions on this subject dated back to earlier times. But the king-list, as we have it, is made up by historians of the third, second, and first centuries BC: or more particularly Cato, whose interests in such towns prompted him to attempt a circumstantial account. "How far sheer invention played a part in the development of other detailed chronological schemes for Greek history is difficult to tell. But the Roman example clearly illustrates how the ancient system, once in existence, acquired its own momentum and could gather more `evidence' to support it as time went on."

The bottom line is that the traditional dates provided by Greek historians for the fall of Troy are not reliable. The Greeks were themselves relying on very dubious historical methods, and on information that was almost certainly false.


CALCULATING ECLIPSES

Another foundation of the CCC is eclipse data from the ancient world. Since we know the rotation of the earth and the revolution of the moon around the earth, we can figure out exactly when and where eclipses of the moon and sun took place in the ancient world. Or can we?

The fact is that the earth undergoes slight shifts in motion called "accelerations." These accelerations take place both in the earth's rotation and in her revolution around the sun, and they take place in the moon's motions also. In other words, every now and then the earth or the moon will slow down or speed up for a second or so, and then return to normal. This is caused by tidal forces and by the magmatic fluxes under the earth, as well as by other factors as well. Moreover, James and his associates tell us that "studies by British astronomers Victor Clube and Bill Napier of the orbits of meteor streams and asteroids have shown that there were sizeable cometary bodies in the Solar System during the Bronze Age times which have since disintegrated." The movement of such asteroid swarms through the Solar System may well have slowed or altered the orbit of the moon. If such were the case, the calculation of past eclipses would be problematic indeed.

On this, see the various studies by astronomer Robert R. Newton of Johns Hopkins University, such as Ancient Astronomical Observations and the Accelerations of the Earth and Moon (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1970) and The Moon's Acceleration and its Physical Origins (Johns Hopkins, 1979). Newton was forced to do these studies in order to provide accurate data on the solar system to NASA, so that our satellites and space probes would not miss their targets. The studies are highly technical, but very important for the study of ancient chronology.

A very detailed analysis of eclipse data by archaeo-astronomer Wayne A. Mitchell, "Ancient Astronomical Observations and Near Eastern Chronology," in Journal of the Ancient Chronology Forum 3(1989/90):7-26. Building on the work of Newton and many other astronomers, Mitchell points out that investigation of a securely dated eclipse over Babylon in 136 BC "indicates a displacement of the eclipse path of totality at Babylon of 70 degrees; this is equal to a loss of five hours relative to an ideal clock." This fact, together with the overall phenomenon of "accelerations," makes identification of eclipses before 750 BC especially problematic. Mitchell's detailed examination of ancient eclipses and eclipse records led him to conclude that James and Rohl are correct in shortening the CCC by 300-350 years.

James and his associates are not completely persuaded that ancient eclipse data need a complete overhaul. One ancient source of information about eclipses is the "Canon of Ptolemy." James summarizes the work of Ptolemy: "Claudius Ptolemy, the famous Greek mathematician and geographer, recorded for posterity the names and reign-lengths of the kings of Babylon from Alexander the Great, who died there in 323 BC, back to Nabonassar, who ascended the throne in 747 BC. How Ptolemy came across documents containing such information is uncertain, but his interest in them lay mainly in their astronomical content. The sources available to him, now lost, provided detailed records of lunar eclipses observed by the ancient Babylonians, which Ptolemy dated according to an era beginning with the accession of King Nabonassar."

In 1978, astronomer Robert Newton published a study entitled The Crime of Claudius Ptolemy (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1977), in which he claimed that Ptolemy had faked his astronomical data; that is, Ptolemy had calculated when these lunar and solar eclipses should have taken place, and had put them into his chronology. This is not a new criticism. Carl Olof Jonsson summarizes: "As early as 1008 C.E. [AD], ibn Yunis concluded that they [Ptolemy's observations] contained serious errors, and by about 1800, astronomers had recognized that almost all of Ptolemy's observations were in error. In 1817, Delambre asked: `Did Ptolemy do any observing? Are not the observations that he claims to have made merely computations from his tables, and examples to help in explaining his theories?' Two years later Delambre also concluded that Ptolemy fabricated some of his solar observations and demonstrated how the fabrication was made."

The question raised by Newton is this: If Ptolemy fudged his astronomical data regarding eclipses, it is possible that the King List that he provides is also inaccurate, perhaps because Ptolemy was using inaccurate records? Both Mitchell and James argue that Ptolemy's King List — a backbone of later ancient world chronology — is correct because an eclipse noted by the Assyrian King List, assumed to have been visible at Nineveh (the capital), happened in 763 BC during the reign of the king Ptolemy says ruled at that time. At the same time, Mitchell only examines possible eclipses between 813 and 713 BC, and if the revision tentatively proposed in this book is correct, we should have to look for an eclipse around 683 BC, eighty years later. (See discussion below.)

All of this is to say that eclipse data, though regarded as "absolutely certain" in various encyclopedias and ancient world studies, are in fact very dubious.


PTOLEMY'S KING LIST

Martin Anstey, in his Romance of Bible Chronology (1913; reprinted by Kregel, Grand Rapids, in 1973 as Chronology of the Old Testament), provides a discussion of Ptolemy's Canon or King List. He argues that Ptolemy erred in his list of the Persian kings. Ptolemy's list of Persian rulers and the lengths of their reigns, upon which the Current Consensus Chronology relies, is this:

Cyrus 9 Cambyses 8 Darius I 36 Xerxes 21 Artaxerxes I 41 Darius II 19 Artaxerxes II 46 Ochus 21 Arogus 2 Darius III 4 Alexander of Macedon's Conquest

Now the problem with this is that Ptolemy (AD 70-161) lived well after the facts and in another culture. The records from the cultures actually involved with the Persian empire, some dating from times much closer to the events, provide a shorter list. Let us consider first of all the Persian poet Firdusi (Firdausi, and other spellings), who lived AD 931-1020. He provides a national epic of Persia that is full of legends and stories. Still, he does provide a list of Persian kings of this period, which is as follows:

[Cyrus] [Cambyses] Darius I Artaxerxes Longimanus Queen Homai, mother of: Darius II Darius III, defeated by Alexander

The Talmucid tract Seder Olam, written in the early middle ages in its final form, seems to provide a very short Persian empire:

Cyrus Cambyses Darius

Finally, Josephus, writing in the late first century and the earliest source we have, provides this list:

Cyrus Cambyses Darius Xerxes Artaxerxes Darius II, the last king

Now, none of these lists is particularly reliable either, but they do call into question Ptolemy's. It may be that all the rulers listed by Ptolemy actually did hold the throne, but they may have reigned for shorter times than he alloted them.

The Persian period is due for a revisionist investigation. One revisionist effort, with which I must disagree, is summarized by Brad Aaronson in the Summer, 1991, issue of Jewish Action: "Fixing the History Books: Dr. Chaim S. Heifetz's Revision of Persian History" (pp. 66-70). Heifetz revises Persian history to make it accord with the sequence of kings given in the Seder Olam. Just as the CCC is too long for the Biblical chronology, so the Sedar Olam account of the Persian empire is too short. But Heifetz's labors at least show that revision is possible, given the extreme paucity of accurate information about this period of history. As Aaronson notes, "Modern scholars reject Greek accounts of Mesopotamian history prior to the fall of Babylon almost in their entirety. The large number of Assyrian and Babylonian inscriptions make it clear that the Greeks had no grasp of the actual history of this region. But due to the fact that Alexander the Great destroyed the bulk of Persian records when he conquered Persia, the only records of the Persian period are the Greek stories and the Jewish tradition."

In short, this is a field wide open for revisionist research and development.


CONCLUSION

The labors of Courville, Rohl, James & Co., and others demonstrate that the conventional consensus chronology of the ancient world is considerably in error, and in much need of revision. The closing of the non-existent "dark age," which has been assumed to have occurred not only in Greece but all over the ancient Mediterranean, not only forces the revision of everything before that time, but also calls into question to some extent the consensus chronology after that time as well.

In the course of this book, we shall have occasion to point out other errors, some glaring, in the consensus history and chronology of the ancient world, as it pertains to Israel's history. All the same, it is not the purpose of the present book to offer a revision of the history of the ancient world. For one thing, that is an undertaking that only a community of scholars can hope to undertake (as James and his associates have done), and for another, the present writer lacks the expertise to attempt any part of it. Rather, our purpose is to provide a clear statement of Biblical chronology, which we can hope will be of help to those investigating other aspects of ancient world history.

The 20th century will go down as an era of tremendous error as regards the history and chronology of the ancient world. The consensus chronology, used by secular scholars and Christian scholars alike, is built on fiction, creates huge problems with the history of every culture of the ancient world, and is collapsing today. Believing Christians can rejoice at this development, but students must be aware that many Bible Dictionary articles, Bible Encyclopedia articles, and Old Testament commentaries written in this century are replete with error wherever they discuss links between Bible history and the history of the ancient world.


END



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