Learn Basic Bible Timeline
By Pam Dewey
- What Does AD and BC Mean?
- Relative Sequence of Important Biblical Events
- Bible History Based on Important Figures
- The Life of Abraham
- The Life of Moses
- The Life of David
- The Life of Daniel
- Old Testament History Summary
- The Life of Jesus
A common difficulty that many new Bible students have is trying to place Bible characters and events in a proper time frame. Who came first, Bathsheba or Belshazzar? Which came first, Noah's Ark or the Ark of the Covenant? Even people who have attended church services for many years may have difficulty clearly visualizing the flow of time covered in the Bible stories.
It may be possible to tackle understanding Bible chronology from an approach of just mindlessly memorizing a long list of dates connected with names and incidents. But very few people find themselves consistently dedicated enough to such a project to be successful in both memorizing and then retaining in their memory from then on all those little details.
This series of nine short, easy to read lessons approaches the problem from a different perspective. It is based on the concept that it may well be more helpful, in understanding the story flow of the Bible, to focus on the relative order of people and events than on committing to memory isolated dates.
If you have found understanding and remembering Bible chronology a difficult chore in the past, maybe it's about time you tried this new method.
What Does A.D. and B.C. Mean?
If you were a frustrated student in your High School history classes, overwhelmed by dates to remember of world events, inventions and even obscure battles by long-dead heroes, you are not alone. Few folks actually enjoy memorizing such facts. And, in fact, most folks forget most dates they committed to memory shortly after the history tests they were memorizing them for have been graded by the teacher!
And most folks never have to deal much with historical dates any more after their school years are over, as most do not have interests, jobs, or hobbies that require much information about such things. But once a person embarks on a serious study of the Bible, it quickly becomes obvious that some knowledge about the history of Bible times is absolutely necessary in order to comprehend fully the panorama of events one reads about in the Bible. The question is only how much detail about dates is necessary.
If you are one of those students who is fascinated by dates, loves to memorize them, and prefers knowing "all the details", then you may be perfectly content to go to a Bible/Book Store and purchase one of the many scholarly works on Biblical History. In fact, you may want to acquire your own library of such books. But if that doesn't describe you, then keep reading—this lesson series will provide you with a simplified procedure of understanding and remembering the sequence of events in the Bible. Many people who will be reading these lessons may have only begun reading the Bible recently. Many will have never read through the whole Bible to get the complete story. As they continue their studies, it will not be necessary to know, for instance, exactly what year King David was born. But they will quickly become confused on many things they are reading in the scriptures if they do not realize David lived almost a thousand years before Jesus!
One reason for possible confusion will be that the books of the Bible, as presented in most English translations, are not in strict chronological order, either according to the time they were written, or according to the events they describe. The Bible is not "one" book, written by one man, or even a group of men, as a single, unified narrative. It is a collection of 66 smaller books, combined under one cover. These books were written by a wide variety of authors, over a period of over 1000 years. Some events are described by more than one author. Some authors cover a much longer time period than others. Thus it would be impossible, even if one wanted to, to somehow put the whole collection in a hard-and-fast chronological order.
Because these lessons are reaching out to a varied audience, it is hoped that all will understand the need to sometimes start with very basic principles and build the more complex concepts on those. If you have been a Bible student, or world history student, for some time, you may be able to quickly read over these foundational materials. However, even those quite familiar with the material may find it helpful to consider some of the simple principles a little more carefully if they plan to share the concepts with newer students. Sometimes when we move on to more complex information in our own studies, we forget how to communicate the simpler topics to others. If one of the jobs of disciples of Jesus is to reach out and make more disciples for Him, then we all need to learn to be "teachers of the basics"!
What does "AD" and "BC" mean?
One such basic historical concept that needs to be emphasized before moving on is the very simple distinction between dates "AD" and "BC"—and what these abbreviations stand for. Although this method of describing time is almost universal now, throughout much of history each civilization had its own unique method of calculating and referring to historical time. In many places one described the "date" something happened as a certain number of years before or after some significant event such as a great earthquake, or reign of a significant king, in one's society.
Eventually, hundreds of years after the time Jesus lived on the earth, some scholars decided to attempt to use the year of His birth as the "focal" point of history. All dates before his birth would be a certain number of years "BC"—Before Christ. All dates after His birth would be "AD"—which is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase Anno Domini. The word "Anno" refers to the concept of "year"… and thus shows up as a source for such English words as "annual" and "anniversary." The word "Domini" refers to the concept of "Lord" and shows up as a source for such English words as "dominate" ("lord it over") and "dominion" (lands ruled by a lord). Thus Anno Domini means "The Year of Our Lord", referring to the Lordship of Jesus. Throughout the next several hundred years, this way of referring to dates was eventually accepted by the whole world in international commerce—even by those nations who did not profess any belief in Jesus. Some, such as Israel, still use their own dating system within their own society. But the common system is used when dealing between nations.
But there is a problem: At the time hundreds of years ago that a number of scholars agreed to accept this system, there were no detailed, totally reliable records on hand of the actual number of years in the past that the birth of Jesus had taken place. The scholars were forced to make some assumptions and go by various historical clues. In recent years, new historical evidence has come to light which convinces most modern historians that the original calculations were off by more than a year, and perhaps even up to six years. Thus, by our current calendars, it looks as if we are in the 2000th year after the birth of Christ, 2000 AD. But the most common date suggested by scholars for the birth of Jesus is now 4 BC ! If that is true, we would actually already be in the year 2004 AD. However, since the current system has been in place for so many hundreds of years, no one has ever seriously suggested that the whole world go back and "adjust" all their calendars, nor change the dating of future events.
What is "BCE"?
There is one other set of abbreviations used in dating you need to know about. You may sometimes see them in writings on Biblical History, particularly in Jewish sources. There are, in recent years, many groups which have reacted unfavorably to the notion that they should use what is, after all, a "Christian" definition of time. This would include those of other "world religions" such as Judaism and Islam, and those who are committed atheists. Realizing that they cannot possibly get the whole world to accept some totally new method of dating at this point in history, they have dealt with the issue by a symbolic change of the abbreviations used. Thus you may frequently see dates now that use the terms "BCE" and "CE." The CE stands for "Common Era", meaning the "commonly used system" of dating. And the BCE stands for "Before the Common Era".
The first basic concept on Bible chronology which is helpful to know is this:
All of the historical events chronicled in the Bible occurred either before the birth of Jesus or within 100 years after His birth.
Keeping that fact in mind, the next basic concept which is helpful to know is this:
The further back in history one goes before the birth of Jesus, the more disagreement historians have on specific dates for events.
The Bible itself does not have an accurate "internal dating system", in which all events are described in relation to years before or after some key event. Thus, in order to construct a chronology of Biblical events, historians must rely on external historical records from such things as ancient monuments, records kept by writers in other civilizations, and astronomical facts such as the dates of known eclipses, and compare those factors to clues in the Bible. This is another reason why it is not necessary to remember exact dates of Bible events—the dates of many of them are in considerable dispute among Biblical historians themselves! What is not in dispute in most cases is the sequence of events.
Because there is such considerable dispute, it will be useful for this lesson series to pick a standard reference source for dates in Bible history. There is no real need to "hash over" for readers every variation and debate about specific details of the dating of events in Biblical history. Since these lessons emphasize the sequence of events, rather than debatable details, any of a number of reference works would be suitable. The standard reference work titled Halley's Bible Handbook, written by Henry Halley, has been chosen for this purpose. This book is available in both paperback and hardbound editions, usually at a very reasonable price, through most Bible/Book stores. This choice is not meant to imply it is the most comprehensive such reference work, nor superior to many others. But it has been widely accepted as a basic source of Biblical information for many years by teachers and students from many different religious backgrounds.
The basic premise of the "time line" we will be constructing in future lessons is this:
By memorizing the general dates related to the lives of only five significant Biblical characters, each of whom is approximately 500 years apart, you can establish a frame of reference within which to order the general sequence of the lives of all other Biblical characters, and all Biblical events.
The next lesson in this series will begin the discussion of those five characters:
Relative Sequence of Important Biblical Events
Try this simple quiz of how well you know American history. Give the date for the following events:
- The first successful flight of an airplane by the Wright Brothers.
- The Battle of Gettysburg.
- The dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
- D-Day, World War II
- The "midnight ride of Paul Revere."
How did you do? Most folks, even college-educated, would likely be hard-put to give the exact date for more than one or two of these events. In fact, most would likely have trouble even giving the year of the events.
But consider those events again, and try this quiz:Put the events in chronological order from earliest to most recent.
NOW how did you do? Most adults, even with just a high school education, would likely be able to set all those events in order.
Although it is possible to be so enthusiastic about the study of American history that one commits all sorts of exact dates to memory, it certainly isn't necessary to have such details in mind to understand the most important aspects of our country's history. It is much more important to have at least a general sense of the relative sequence of important historical events.
The same is true for studying the events of the Bible! Many folks set out to try to "memorize" all sorts of dates and events in the Bible, but quickly get discouraged. The history of the United States of America, from the Declaration of Independence to the present, covers less than three hundred years. But the recorded history in the Bible covers a period of over 4,000 years! Thus the project can seem overwhelming, and too many folks thus just "give up."
But, just as in American history, you really don't need to know "exact" dates in order to understand the basic important facts of Bible history. It is far more important to get in mind the relative sequence of events. In fact, the Bible seldom includes exact dates for the many events covered in its pages. We must often go to external historical records to try to determine, for instance, the years of David's reign over Israel. But we can determine from the Biblical record the order of events.
In order to clearly understand much of what you read in the scriptures, you really do need to know that Abraham lived long before Daniel! And you really do need to know that Jesus' ministry was over 1,000 years after the events of the Exodus. If you misunderstand the sequence of events, and the general time frame of the lives of various Bible characters, you can make all sorts of erroneous assumptions about the things you read in the Bible.
In this series of studies, you will be given simple tips on how to "set in order" in your mind the events and the lives of people in the Bible. You will thus be equipped to understand better the "cause and effect" of the interaction of those people and events in the Plan of God.
The next study will assist readers to begin to construct a simple time line of Biblical history that they may use in their own independent Bible Study.
Bible History Based on Important Figures
For every human, life is an unending series of events, and full of an unending parade of people. In order to make sense of our lives, we divide our memory of our past into a number of segments, each usually defined by the most memorable events. For a ten year old, this may mean categorizing his short life as periods before and after he started school, or further into periods before and after a significant family move to another city. A twenty year old may add those periods before and after she got her driver's license, before and after high school graduation, before and after a first real job. A forty year old will likely add such memorable events as a wedding, the birth of a first child, the purchase of a first home, or a significant career change. We also remember significant people in our lives in connection to these events: a high school buddy, a neighbor next to a specific home we lived in for a time, a boss from a certain job.
Without such segmenting of our lives, our memories would likely just blend everything together into one great blur of activities and faces! Most folks also use a similar method of remembering certain facts of history inside and outside their own lifetime. Even for just the limited amount of information in a high school American History book, it is nearly impossible to commit to memory every date mentioned. So we divide our knowledge of history into "eras". Most folks likely don't remember the dates for every president, for instance. But most can remember the general time frame for Washington, Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, and Dwight Eisenhower. Since one of the most memorable dates in American history is July 4, 1776 - the signing of the Declaration of Independence - it is easy to connect Washington with that general time period. Lincoln is connected to the Civil War in the 1860's, Wilson to World War 1-about 1915-and Eisenhower was the first president most "Baby Boomers" remember, during the "Happy Days" of the 1950's.
When we think of other people and events in American History, we can "group" them before, after, or around those four men and their lifetimes. Ben Franklin? Around the time of Washington. Teddy Roosevelt? Before WWI. The Korean War? Around Eisenhower's presidency.
But for some reason, when people start studying the Bible, and come upon numerous people and events, they seldom think to try to put all of these in a pattern. Characters and their adventures come and go - Noah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Paul - throughout the Old and New Testaments, and to the average church-goer, they really are just a blur of faces and events. It seems to many Bible students that there are just "too many" of them to be able to "memorize"... so they just leave their stories as isolated, unconnected events.
But there are many factors in understanding what we read in the Bible that make little sense if we do not know when events happened in relation to other Bible events and circumstances. As mentioned in an earlier lesson, it isn't so vital that we know "exact dates" of Bible events-in fact, Bible scholars are not sure of many such dates. But it is valuable for the serious Bible student to know the relative timing of events and people in the scriptures. Did Ezekiel live before or after Abraham? Did David live before or after the Exodus? If you do not know these simple relational facts, you may become easily bewildered by many things you read in the scriptures.
Bible History based on important figures
Starting with this lesson we will be suggesting a way to generally divide much of the history of the Bible up into simple segments around the lifetimes of five important Biblical figures: Abraham, Moses, David, Daniel and Jesus. Once you commit to memory the general time frame of the lives of each of these men, you can begin to view other time information you read in the Bible in relation to the lives of these men.
It is not necessary to find out or remember the "exact" birth date or death date of each of these men. In fact, that specific information for most of them is shrouded in the mists of ancient history. But it is possible to pinpoint a more general focal date in each of their lives that will be very helpful for our purposes. For each of them lived along a timeline which can be conveniently divided up into five hundred year segments. We do not intend to suggest that the dates below are an exact mid-point in each of the men's lives. We merely suggest that by focusing on these dates which did occur in their lifetime, you can more easily memorize the sequence of events in the scripture.
Here are the general, simplified Biblical dates connected with these five:
Abraham 2000 BC
Moses 1500 BC
David 1000 BC
Daniel 500 BC
Note: In our common calendar system, there is no such year as "0" either B.C. or A.D. The year 1 B.C. is immediately followed by 1 A.D.
If you will make it a project to memorize just these five dates and the men connected with them, you will find that the effort was well worth it! Each one of us has a "memorization" technique that may work for us, so we do not suggest there is any one best way to do the memorizing part. But here is one possible method: Rather than memorize the facts given here in "pairs"... that is, "Abraham + 2000 B.C."... you may find it helpful to memorize the names as a unit first - "Abraham, Moses, David, Daniel, Jesus". This kind of list is usually easy to memorize, as it almost sounds like a little poem when stated out loud rhythmically! You can "divide" it up into two sections, perhaps... "Abraham, Moses.... David, Daniel, Jesus.
Then clarify in your mind that the first date in the series is 2000, followed by intervals of 500 years. You can then write down the names in order in a column, just as given above, and "tack onto" them the appropriate dates.
As soon as you have these five names and their associated dates memorized, it is also very helpful to visually lay them out on a "time line" such as the one above. Then as you find other names, events and dates in the scriptures, you can place them on that line in their relative positions.
It may seem silly to actually make your own time-line on a piece of paper since you can just "look at" the one below. But it is a valid educational principle that the more "senses" you use when memorizing facts, the more solid your memory will be. By actually picking up a pen and paper and creating your own time line, you will impress upon your subconscious the facts you are writing down. And by writing down the list of the five names-perhaps several days in a row until you have them solidly in mind-you will reinforce your memory.
In the next lesson we will consider this simple time-line more carefully and explore ways to use it in your personal Bible Study.
The Life of Abraham
Simplified Bible Timeline
Because the first chapter of Genesis goes right back to "the beginning" of recorded history, people sometimes get the erroneous impression that the Bible attempts to offer "the history of the Earth." If that were so, it fails miserably! In the chapters of Genesis, whole periods of hundreds of years are passed over in a few sentences--and at times, totally ignored. And yet later in the same book, whole chapters are devoted to the events of just one day. Some Old Testament individuals are mentioned only once, and even then, only in passing. Yet others are named over and over again--not only in the Old Testament, but numerous times in the New Testament also.
This is because the Bible isn't intended to be a comprehensive history of the existence of Mankind on the earth. It is rather in particular a chronicle of the relationship of one man's family with the Creator of the Universe. And it is the record of that Creator's intention to bless all of Mankind through the descendants of that man. People are introduced in the early chapters of Genesis not primarily for the details of their own history, but as preludes to the history of the family of that one man--his ancestors, and the ancestors of those who would inter-react some day with his descendants.
That one man is Abraham. The early chapters in Genesis establish his lineage from Adam. After Abraham himself is introduced, the later chapters in Genesis follow his children, his grandchildren, and their descendants for a period of about 500 years, leading up to the time of Moses.
The nation of Israel, which is the main focus of the rest of the Old Testament, is made up of direct descendants of Abraham through his grandson Jacob (whose name was changed by God later in his life to the name "Israel"). Many blessings and promises were made to the people of that nation, not because of their own standing before God, but because they inherited a promise that God made to their forefather Abraham. Later, the "Jews" are introduced, who are the descendants of Judah, one of the sons of Israel. Jesus Himself was born a Jew, and thus was a descendant of Abraham.
But what of those who are not one of the physical descendants of Abraham? Why should they care about his story and the story of his family? In the New Testament, we are told"If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed [descendants], and heirs according to the promise." (Galatians 3:29)
This applies to those who are not descended by blood from Abraham, but are rather "spiritual" descendants because they believe in Christ.
Thus the story of Abraham is relevant to Christians and Jews alike.
And thus we start the main section of our time-line of Biblical history with the life of Abraham, who lived in approximately 2000 B.C. That is, about 2,000 years before the time of Christ.
Before the time of Abraham, the scriptures are somewhat vague on when certain events happened. Although there is some dispute among scholars, Halley's Bible Handbook gives an approximate date for the creation of Adam of about 4,000 B.C. The Flood of Noah's time may have happened about 1,500 years later, in about 2500 B.C. Thus, the time of Abraham is approximately 500 years after the Flood.
Once you have committed to memory that Abraham's lifetime centers generally around the time period of 2000 B.C., you can pinpoint the general time-frame of a number of Biblical events and characters. Abraham's son by his wife Sarah was Isaac. Isaac's son by his wife Rebekah was Jacob. You can read about the lives of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in chapters 11 through 50 of Genesis. Thus any Bible stories which include these characters can be positioned shortly after 2000 B.C., long before Moses--who is the next person we will be discussing on our time-line, and who lived around the time of 1500 B.C.
The Life of Moses
In our last time-line study, we pinpointed the life of Abraham, who lived in general around the period of 2000 BC, that is, 2,000 years before the time of Jesus. The stories in the Bible of him and his descendants for the next 500 years are covered in chapters 11 through 50 of the book of Genesis and chapter one of Exodus.
Although Abraham's life story starts with him living in a place called "Ur of the Chaldees" (which was located in what is now modern Iraq), he moves early in chapter 12 to the land called "Canaan" which is now modern Israel. And most of the "action" in chapters 12 through 38 of Genesis occur in that land.
In a quick synopsis of key events in these chapters: Abraham becomes the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob. Jacob's name is changed to "Israel". Israel becomes the father of twelve sons. One of those sons, Joseph, becomes an irritant to his brothers, and they schemed to get rid of him, selling him as a slave to merchants who take him to Egypt.
At that point, in Genesis 39, the scene shifts to Egypt, and we learn of Joseph's adventures there. You may read these famous Bible stories in Genesis 39-50. Joseph eventually wins favor with the Pharaoh of the land, and becomes a powerful ruler in his own right. By the end of the book of Genesis, the whole "extended family" of Israel is reunited in Egypt.
The book of Exodus opens with a continuation of the story of that family's sojourn there. But unlike the many details of Genesis 39-50, which covered a time span of only a few years, the first chapter of Exodus covers a period of 430 years. For the point of the story is to get quickly from the fact that Israel's family moved to Egypt when Joseph was in high favor with the government there--to the fact that, after his death, the numerous descendants of the sons of Israel eventually become a "nation" of slaves to the native Egyptians.
All of this brings us, in Exodus chapter 2, to the birth of the next person on our timeline--Moses.
Once again we note that there are no "exact" dates which may be historically determined for either the birth or death of Moses. But most conservative Bible scholars conclude that he lived around the period of 1500 BC.
If you have, as suggested in our previous timeline studies, committed to memory the date of 2000 BC for Abraham, you will find it very helpful now to add the date of 1500 BC for Moses. From now on, when you come across any Bible story which clearly takes place before the time of Moses, but after the birth of Abraham, you will be able to clarify the relative position in Bible history for such a story.
Such stories will include anything having to do with the sons of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob/Israel. Even if you have not thought about this time connection before, you have likely heard a number of these stories, perhaps in childhood "Sunday School" classes. One example would be the famous scene where Abraham is stopped at the last moment by God as he prepares to sacrifice his son Isaac. Another would be the story of "Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors". And still another is the famous story of the destruction of the evil cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, where Abraham's nephew Lot lived.
All of those events happened between the two points on our time-line above labeled "Abraham" and "Moses". In our next installment we will start with one of the most well-known Bible stories, that of the Exodus of the time of Moses, and work our way forward on the time-line to our next key Bible time-line figure, David.
The Life of David
In the previous lesson, we considered the approximate central date for the life-time of Moses, 1500 BC. Knowing that date, we can pinpoint the relative time for many incidents in the scriptures, and the general lifetime of many Bible characters. Any of the events of the Exodus such as the parting of the Red Sea and the giving of the Ten Commandments, the wandering in the wilderness for forty years of the people of Israel, and the conquering of the Promised Land will be shortly after 1500 BC. All of the events in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy and Joshua are in this time frame. The lifetimes of individuals such as Aaron, Moses, Miriam, Joshua will also be included.
After the Israelites entered the Promised Land, and for the next 400 or so years, they had no king over them. This was the period of the "judges", described in the book of Judges and Ruth. Thus any stories about these individuals will also be in the time period between 1500 BC and the next reference point on our time line, 1000 BC. Included in these stories would be the lives of Samson, Deborah, Ruth, and Gideon.
At the end of the period of the judges came the rise of the monarchy in Israel. The people of the land were uncomfortable not having a king over them as all the nations around them had. They wanted to have a regular champion who would represent them. Shortly before 1000 BC, the prophet Samuel spoke to the nation on behalf of God. It was to Samuel that the people brought their demand for a king. You can read of their complaint and Samuel's answer in I Samuel 8:1-22 :1 When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as judges for Israel.
2 The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba.
3 But his sons did not walk in his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.
4 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah.
5 They said to him, "You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have."
6 But when they said, "Give us a king to lead us," this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD.
7 And the LORD told him: "Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.
8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you.
9 Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do."
10 Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king.
11 He said, "This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots.
12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots.
13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers.
14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants.
15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants.
16 Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use.
17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves.
18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the LORD will not answer you in that day."
19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. "No!" they said. "We want a king over us.
20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles."
21 When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the LORD.
22 The LORD answered, "Listen to them and give them a king." Then Samuel said to the men of Israel, "Everyone go back to his town." (New International Version (NIV))
The first king chosen by God to rule in Israel was Saul. When Saul became corrupt, God cut off the monarchy from his family, and gave it to David and his descendants. It is the Davidic line which leads directly to Jesus of Nazareth, who will someday return as King of Kings. Because of the prophetic importance of David throughout the Bible, we have chosen to mark the next point on our time-line with his name. His lifetime was in the general area of 1000 BC.
Once you commit this date to memory, you will be able to pinpoint the relative time of many other events and Bible characters. The stories of David's life, including the battle with Goliath and the incident with Bathsheba will be around this time. Any events involving later kings of Israel will be after 1000 BC. Most of the events of the books of 1st & 2nd Samuel, 1st and 2nd Kings, and 1st and 2nd Chronicles will be spread out between 1000 BC and the next point on our time-line, 500 BC.
The Life of Daniel
In our previous installment, we considered the approximate central date for the life-time of David, 1000 BC. Knowing that date, we can pinpoint the relative time for many incidents in the scripture, and the general lifetime of many Bible characters. In the Biblical accounts, the first king of Israel, Saul, is soon replaced by David, and then David's son Solomon. The period of their inclusive reigns is the only time that all of the tribes of Israel are united under one king. Almost immediately after Solomon's death, there is a struggle over who will reign in his place, and the kingdom becomes divided.
The tribes of Judah and Benjamin comprise what becomes known as the "House of Judah", and the rest of the tribes become known as the "House of Israel."
The land of Palestine is divided politically north from south. The "Southern Kingdom" of the House of Judah has as its capital Jerusalem. The "Northern Kingdom" of the House of Israel has as its capital Samaria.
A rivalry between the two kingdoms, sometimes violent, sometimes with an uneasy peace, continues for the next few hundred years. Thus all of the stories in the Bible that occur during the reigns of Saul, David and Solomon are included in the general time period between 1000 BC and our next time-line reference point, 500 BC. Such stories would include David's exploits, trials and foibles... David and Goliath, David and Bathsheba, David and the betrayal and death of his son Absalom. The description of the building and dedication of the magnificent temple in Jerusalem is included in this period, as well as the famous visit between Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. And any stories about any of the kings of either Judah or Israel would also be in this time period after 1000 BC and before 500 BC.
The book of Psalms (written in large part by David), and the book of Proverbs (written in large part by Solomon) belong primarily to the early part of this period.
The books of 1&2 Samuel, 1&2 Kings, and 1&2 Chronicles cover this period. Biblical prophets active during this period include Isaiah, Elijah, and Jonah, among many others.
Around the latter part of the 700s BC, the northern kingdom of Israel was subjugated in war by the Assyrian empire, most of its population was taken captive and dispersed from the land of Israel, and it ceased to exist as a political entity from then on in history. Almost 100 years later, the southern kingdom of Judah was likewise subjugated in war by the Babylonian empire. Many of its citizens were taken captive to the land of Babylon, and it also ceased for a time to exist as a viable "nation". The Jerusalem temple was destroyed, much of the city itself left in ruins.
However, after several decades the Babylonians themselves were subjugated by another world empire, the Persians. And at that point some of the captives were allowed to return to the land of Israel and rebuild the city of Jerusalem and the temple. Although never again allowed full autonomy and political power in the way they had existed in the "Golden Age" of David and Solomon, they did once again have a national identity.
It is during that period of captivity in Babylon that the next individual on our time-line, the prophet Daniel, rises to prominence. Actually, Daniel himself was taken captive as a young man from Jerusalem to Babylon in about the year 600 BC (some historical sources pinpoint the year as 606 BC). Thus the events of his life lead up to the year 500BC on our time-line. As we noted in the beginning of these lessons, we do not intend the time-line dates to be exact, just general reference points which clarify the relative positions in time of the people and events of scripture. Thus the lifetime of David spanned both before and after 1000 BC, the lifetime of Daniel is just slightly before 500 BC.
Several very famous Bible stories are related to the life of Daniel. These would include Daniel and the lion's den; Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace, and the incident of the "Handwriting on the wall". Thus all those events would be clustered near the current focal point on our timeline, 500 BC.
In our next lesson, we will summarize briefly those events we have previously covered in Old Testament times, before moving on the our final reference figure for our time-line... Jesus Christ.
Old Testament History Summary
This series of time line lessons has now brought us up to the end of the Old Testament period. We have considered the relative position in time of four of the most significant Old Testament characters, placing each of them on our basic time line around a general date for their life span. Thus we could see that, from one to the next, there was a time span of approximately 500 years.
Abraham 2000 BC
Moses 1500 BC
David 1000 BC
Daniel 500 BC
In the next lesson, we will move forward 500 more years, into the New Testament period, and will note on our time-line the most significant point in all of historic time, the lifetime of Jesus Christ.
In this lesson we will briefly review the events and people which may be "clustered" around the men mentioned above. This is the specific reason for developing this time line so that you may commit to memory the approximate, relative point in time for these activities and individuals.
Particularly memorable Bible stories leading up to the lifetime of Abraham include:
- The Creation account
- The story of Cain murdering Abel
- The Flood
- The building of the Tower of Babel
Thus you can commit to memory that all of these events would have occurred prior to 2000 BC. Some significant Bible characters whose lifetime would have occurred during this period would include:
- Adam and Eve
- Cain and Abel
- Methuselah (the oldest man recorded in the Bible)
- Noah (and his sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth)
- Nimrod, the founder of ancient Babylon
Significant Biblical stories around the lifetime of Abraham, and leading up to the time of Moses (2000 - 1500 BC) would include:
- Abraham's calling by God to leave his home and go to Palestine
- The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah
Significant Bible characters of this time period include:
- Abraham and Sarah
- Isaac and Rebekah
- Jacob and Esau
- Jacobs wives, Rachel and Leah
- The sons of Jacob, from whom the tribes of Israel were named: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Joseph, Benjamin
- The sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh
Significant Biblical stories around the lifetime of Moses, and leading up to the time of David (1500 - 1000 BC) would include:
- The Exodus
- The crossing of the Red Sea
- The giving of the Ten Commandments
- The wandering of Israel in the Wilderness
- The conquest of the Promised Land by Israel
- The Battle of Jericho
- The stories of the "Judges"
Significant Bible characters of this time period include:
- Moses, Aaron and Miriam
- Joshua and Caleb
- Samson and Delilah
Significant Biblical stories around the lifetime of David, and leading up to the time of Daniel (1000 - 500 BC) would include:
- David and Goliath
- David and Bathsheba
- ALL stories of Kings of Israel or Judah
Significant Bible characters of this time period include:
- The little boy--and later prophet--Samuel
- King Saul and his son Jonathan
- The Prophets Elijah and Elisha
- The Prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah
Significant Biblical stories around the lifetime of Daniel, and leading up to the time of Jesus (500BC - 1 A.D.) would include:
- Daniel in the Lions Den
- The fiery furnace
- The handwriting on the wall
- The story of the Book of Esther
Significant Bible characters of this time period include:
- Daniel's companions, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (Hebrew names, Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah)
- King Cyrus
If you are able to commit even these few names and events to memory, in their relative time periods, you will find that you have quite a good start on really understanding Old Testament history!
The Life of Jesus
Our study of the relative time periods of four Old Testament characters has now brought us to the very beginning of New Testament times and to the lifetime of the most significant individual of all, Jesus of Nazareth.
Brief Historical Summary
First we considered Abraham , who lived about 2000 BC. The story of his descendants for the next 500 years brought us to Moses, who lived around 1500 BC.
The story of the Israelites leaving Egypt, finally entering the Promised Land, and living during a period with no king over the nation covered the next 500 years.
Then, around 1000 BC we arrived at the time of the first king of Israel, Saul, and the central character of this time period, King David, ancestor of Jesus. The period of the kings of Israel and Judah up to the time of the captivity of nations of Israel and Judah covered the next 500 years.
Finally, we considered the prophet Daniel , who lived around 500 BC, and was part of the nation of Judah as it lived in exile in Babylon.
After the time of Daniel, many of the people of Judah who had been in exile were allowed to return to Israel, rebuild the temple in Jerusalem after some resistance by local tribes, and begin life as a nation again in their homeland. The next 500 years leading up to the birth of Jesus continued to be times of turmoil for the Jews. Although allowed to remain in the land, they were subjugated by a series of nations and never again attained the glory of the Kingdom under David and his son Solomon.
A number of prophets were raised up by God to speak to the nation and call to their attention their continued failure to live up to the original calling of Israel to be a light to the world to show the blessings of obedience to the Eternal. The last of these prophets whose words are recorded in the Bible was Malachi, who evidently wrote the book of Malachi somewhere around 400 BC.
From that time until the birth of Jesus, there were no more writings added to the collection of writings agreed by the Jews to be "inspired" by God., the collection now labeled "The Old Testament" in Christian Bibles.
The Birth of Jesus
No one knows the exact time or year of Jesus birth. Almost all biblical scholars agree it was likely not in December, and that it was not in the year 1 AD. There is no documentation that would allow us to pin down either the date or the year. However, many scholars agree He was likely born in about 4 BC.
This of course sounds odd, as the designation "BC" means "Before Christ"! But as we noted in an earlier article in this series, the original calculations for the year of Jesus birth were based on faulty information. Since the date had been accepted for hundreds of years before the error was discovered, and since it was later obvious that there was no way to pin down the exact year, scholars agreed to just leave the calendar "as is".
It is also impossible to pin down, to everyone's satisfaction, the year of Jesus' death. But since He started His ministry at about the age of 30, and it lasted for a little over three years, we can be quite sure that He died some time in the late 20s or early 30s AD.
New Testament Writings
The first book written that is now included in the New Testament was not written until some time in the late 40s or early 50s AD. This was likely one of the letters of the Apostle Paul. Again, we have no historical documentation to know exactly when any of the books of the New Testament were written, but it is generally agreed that all were written before the end of the first century.
The Old Testament addresses, in topics, events that covered a span of over 4000 years, and was written over a span of at least 1000 years. Surprisingly, in comparison, the New Testament covers events that took place during a period less than 100 years, and was written over a span of less than 50 years!
The material covered in the New Testament includes the life, death, resurrection, and teachings of Jesus, and the acts and teachings of His Apostles during a period of about 60 years after His death and resurrection. Thus, when considering the relative time period of Jesus and anyone connected to Him in the New Testament, you need only remember that ALL of these events and characters can be grouped in the 100 year period from just before 1 AD up to 100 AD.
This concludes the nine lesson series on Biblical Chronology MADE EASY! We hope you enjoyed it!
Thank you to Pam Dewey
It's the Blood of Jesus!
Ye Must Be Born Again!