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The Three Bible Timelines: Why and How They Differ

The three most widely used Bible Timelines are:

Ussher’s Chronology: included in the margins of the Authorized King James Bible is based on the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Old Testament. The Masoretic text had an unbroken history of careful transcription for centuries.

Thiele: a modern Biblical chronologist whose work is accepted by secular Egyptologists as well as biblical scholars – often used by modern Evangelicals.

The Septuagint: on which the Catholic Bible is based, is the Koine Greek version of the Hebrew Bible translated between 300 BC and 1 BC.

Most people who try to compute a Bible timeline are faced with the same dilemmas. The Rvd. Professor James Barr, a Scottish Old Testament scholar, has identified three distinct periods that Ussher, and all biblical chronologists had to tackle:

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Early times (Creation to Solomon). Anyone who starts out reading the Bible with Genesis, as many people do, can easily compute the years from Adam to Solomon. The key male players are all linked with genealogies and ages. It’s later that the problems start. Although also it’s here that the Catholic and Protestant (King James) Bible timelines differ. The Masoretic text and the Septuagint both link all the key male players, but the Septuagint gives longer time frames for many of them. There’s a 1500 year difference between the two timelines.

Early Age of Kings (Solomon to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the Babylonian captivity). Now we have gaps in the record. Times have to be calculated using cross-links between various people mentioned in the Bible and some inferences made.

Late Age of Kings (Ezra and Nehemiah to the birth of Jesus). Here events are just mentioned with no possible way to link or calculate time frames. Historians use well known secular kings or events mentioned in the Bible (i.e., Nebuchadnezzar) to calculate the Bible dates. Thiele is particularly interesting. He recalculated the dates of the Northern Kingdoms based on a new understanding of how reigns of kings were computed in ancient times. His calculation of the date of 931 BC for the division of the Israelite kingdom has been used by secular Egyptologists to give dates to Egypt’s 22nd Dynasty. The Bible timelines differ because they are based on different original texts (the Masoretic or the Septuagint), because some of the dates are based on dating of secular events that have been recalculated by modern historians and also by a re-reading of the Bible in light of new knowledge.

Related article: What is the date of the Exodus?

 Learn more about the Amazing Bible World History Timeline