CHRONOLOGY OF THE BIBLE for Angela 2005-12-26
CHRONOLOGY OF THE BIBLE* (Old testament) Branch of biblical studies that attempts to assign dates and sequences to OT events. Chronology is a science. It deals with evidence, theories, assumptions, and the balance of probabilities. Often it boils down to a matter of choosing among theories that are equally unable to solve all the problems raised by other points of view. OT chronology is an accredited branch of biblical studies primarily because it is essential for understanding the proper historical background of the biblical texts. In general, the chronology of the OT is understood well enough to vindicate the basic accuracy and sequential order of Scripture.
Both biblical and nonbiblical materials are utilized by students of OT chronology. Biblical data include (1) genealogies showing personal and tribal affiliations among various peoples; (2) specific numbers given by biblical authors to indicate a person’s longevity, a king’s reign, or the duration of a specific event; (3) synchronizing statements that date an event in a specific year of a king’s reign or relate it to a natural phenomenon assumed to be common knowledge at the time of writing (e.g., Am 1:1; Zec 14:5).
From the abundance of such chronological passages in the OT, one might conclude that establishment of OT dates and sequences would be a simple procedure. Each of the three kinds of biblical materials, however, exhibits special problems that must be solved first.
Nonbiblical materials that shed light on OT chronology are quite numerous, and more are discovered year by year. They include (1) official records of important affairs such as military campaigns from countries like Egypt or Babylonia; (2) official inscriptions that are dedicatory or commemorate a great victory; (3) annals listing major accomplishments of a ruler year by year; (4) ostraca (inscribed pieces of pottery) containing letters, tax transactions and economic records, military dispatches between field leaders and command headquarters, or other information. Ostraca may be dated archaeologically and are often used to supplement the biblical record.
The chronologist tries to examine the pertinent biblical and nonbiblical information, notes areas of correlation among all the data, and finally establishes a working system into which the most facts can be fitted. New evidence uncovered at any time may necessitate shifts in the present working system. Although the basic structure of biblical chronology seems reasonably firm, many details will no doubt be subject to change as new evidence is discovered.
As a general rule, the earlier the period, the less certain one can be of one’s dating. In the second millennium bc, for example, many dates can be assigned within a range of about 100 years. By the time of David and Solomon (c. 1000 bc), the margin of error over which scholars debate is a decade or less. The range narrows as one comes toward the present, so that, with the exception of one or two problem eras, dates accurate to within one or two years are possible by roughly the middle of the ninth century bc. Such limitations must be kept in mind in any examination of the major periods of OT history.
•From Abraham to Moses
•Conquest and Consolidation
•Judah after the Fall of Israel
•Beyond 586 bc
Biblical Evidence In the first 11 chapters of Genesis are found accounts of the Creation (chs 1–2), the fall (ch 3), Cain and Abel (ch 4), the Flood (chs 6–9), and the Tower of Babel (ch 11). Those events are set within a certain chronological framework.
According to Genesis 5, a period of 10 generations elapsed between the Creation and the Flood. Although the individuals listed enjoyed a total life span of a hefty 847 years plus, the total time elapsing between Adam and the Flood was only 1,656 years.
According to Genesis 11, another 10 generations elapsed from the time of the Flood until the time of Abraham (at least in the Septuagint, the third-century bc Greek translation of the OT; the Hebrew Masoretic text has 9). In that period the average age attained by individuals in the list is 346 years (using a figure of 460 for Arphaxad’s son Cainan, who is included in v 13 of the LXX; cf. Lk 3:36); the total elapsed time from the Flood to Abraham is only 520 years. Taken literally, that would mean that all of Abraham’s ancestors as far back as Noah’s son Shem were still alive at Abraham’s birth, and that a total of only 2,176 years elapsed from the time of Creation to Abraham.
Interpretation of the Biblical Data A literalistic or slavishly mathematical interpretation of the figures, as has appeared in the margin of many kjv Bibles, requires a number of assumptions: that no names are omitted from the genealogies, that all the numbers given are consecutive, and especially that numbers used in an ancient biblical source carry the same meaning as that associated with them in the modern Western mind. Each assumption needs serious examination in the light of other established facts.
A cursory reading of other biblical genealogies, for example, reveals that not all the names of a given family were always included. Even Matthew recorded a total of 28 generations (two sets of 14 each) between David and Jesus, and comparison with OT genealogies reveals that Matthew omitted several names. Luke listed a total of 42 generations for the same interval. Omissions are also obvious when one compares the genealogical lists given in 1 Chronicles 1–8 with those recorded earlier in Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings.
Further, ancient peoples thought of numbers in a schematic or stylized way. Use of numbers among the ancient Near Eastern nations differed sharply from current Western practice. Examples of that practice are known from both biblical and nonbiblical sources. For example, a list of eight Sumerian kings who ruled in the city of Shurruppak before the “great flood” of the Jemdet Nar era (c. 3000 bc) assigns each man an average reign of more than 30,000 years. Berossus, a Babylonian priest of Marduk living in the third century bc, added two names to the eight found in that earlier list of kings and assigned an average of 43,200 years to each king. Such extraordinarily high numbers provide a perspective for considering the numbers of Genesis.
Therefore, although one can assume that the numbers assigned to the ages of the patriarchs preceding Abraham in Genesis had real meaning for those responsible for their preservation, they should not be employed in a purely literal sense to compute the length of the various generations mentioned in the text. Further, the numbers given in the Septuagint and in the Samaritan Pentateuch, another early version of the Pentateuch, diverge in many details from those of the Hebrew Masoretic Text. That means, among other things, that the Genesis numbers caused problems for even the earliest scholars of Scripture.
Nonbiblical Evidence Archaeology provides no evidence that may be used to date either the Creation or any other account preserved in Genesis 1–11. The Flood is an example that illustrates some of the difficulties. Many claims have been made by persons from a wide variety of backgrounds (scientists, explorers, theologians, and others) to the effect that archaeology has proven the Genesis Flood narrative to be true. Yet no city so far excavated in Palestine and Syria (including some of the oldest towns in the world) shows archaeological evidence of the Flood.
|significant old testament events and dates|
|Event||Reference Point||Biblical Basis||Date|
|Nehemiah’s wall||20th yr. of Artaxerses I of Persia||Neh 2:1||444 bc|
|Return decreed||1st yr. of Cyrus II of Persia over Babylon||Ezr 1:1||538|
|Fall of Jerusalem|| 19th yr. of Nebuchadnezzar II|
|2 Kgs 25:8||586|
|Fall of Samaria||Last yr. of Shalmaneser V of Assyria||2 Kgs 17:3||722|
|Division of Kingdom|| 77 yrs. before 6th yr.|
of Shalmaneser III
|1 Kgs 11:29–43||930|
|Temple founded||4th yr. of Solomon||1 Kgs 6:1||966|
|Exodus from Egypt||480 yrs. before temple’s founding||1 Kgs 6:1||1446|
|Descent into Egypt|| Inaugurating a 430 yr. sojourn there (but 397|
there, plus 33 in Canaan, for “the sons of
Israel,” according to Greek).
|Jacob born||130 yrs. before||Gn 47:9|| Gk/Heb Text|
|Isaac born||60 yrs. before||Gn 25:26||2033 (2066)|
|Abraham born||100 yrs. before||Gn 26:5||2133 (2166)|
Although several cities in Mesopotamia do exhibit evidence of a flood, three factors make it difficult to link that evidence with Genesis 6–9. Each of the flood levels so far discovered dates from a different period. Further, since nearby sites show no evidence of flooding, all of the Mesopotamian flood evidence points to relatively small local floods. Finally, the evidence indicates no great cultural discontinuities of the sort that would result from destruction of an entire population. Thus, it seems that the ancient Mesopotamian floods discovered through archaeological research are of the same kind as the floods that still occur in the Euphrates River valley.
Clearly, certain questions one might ask of the Genesis narratives simply cannot be answered. Many who regard the Bible as the Word of God have concluded that the dating of events found in Genesis 1–11 must be less important than the theological truths of salvation, faith, and obedience that these accounts present.
From Abraham to Moses
The Patriarchal Age The date of Abraham is still a lively topic among biblical scholars who agree that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were indeed historical persons. Opinions range from an early-date view that estimates that the patriarchal age extended from 2086 to 1871 bc, to a late-date view placing Abraham at around 1400 bc. Since each position claims to fit the biblical data, a closer look at the two points of view is in order.
Many OT passages seem to support the view that puts Abraham at a comparatively early date. First Kings 6:1 computes 480 years back from the founding of the temple in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign (961 bc, according to the early-date view) to the exodus from Egypt, which would then be dated 1441 bc. Counting 430 years as the period of the Israelite sojourn in Egypt (see Gn 15:13; Ex 12:40) takes the date back to 1871 bc. To that date are added the 215 years demanded by the total of (1) Abraham’s age upon entering Canaan (75 years according to Gn 12:4); (2) 25 additional years before the birth of Isaac (Gn 21:5); (3) 60 more years to the birth of Jacob (Gn 25:26); and (4) the appearance of Jacob before the pharaoh at age 130 (Gn 47:9). Those 215 years added to the previous total give a date of 2086 bc for the entrance of Abraham into Canaan and a date of 2161 bc for his birth.
Such a calculation does not use all of the chronological evidence presented in the OT; consequently, the date for Abraham is open to challenge. For example, the 480 years between the exodus and Solomon’s fourth regnal year represent a period of time into which the wilderness wanderings, the career of Joshua and his immediate successors, the period of the judges, Samuel, Saul, and David must all be placed. Although the OT does not specifically say how long were the careers of Joshua, Samuel, or Saul, even a modest reckoning pushes the total years required by all the biblical data together to approximately 600.
In addition, the length of time to be assigned to the Egyptian sojourn is problematic. The Samaritan Pentateuch and the Septuagint both view the number 430 (in Ex 12:40) as applicable not only to the years in Egypt but to the years of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in Canaan as well. Evidently Paul followed the Septuagint tradition when he dated the giving of the law 430 years later than the time of God’s promise to Abraham (see Gal 3:15–18). That means the Septuagint figure cannot be dismissed lightly.
The late dating of Abraham (c. 1400 bc) is based on two propositions: (1) The picture of patriarchal society portrayed in Genesis most closely parallels that reflected in the cuneiform tablets recovered from Nuzi, a town in northeastern Mesopotamia about 175 miles (282 kilometers) north of Baghdad. (2) Because those tablets must be dated in the 15th and 14th centuries bc, the parallel patriarchal age must have fallen within the same general time period.
Those who hold the late-date view are aware that their date for Abraham cannot be equated with the set of numbers on which the early-date view depends. They point to other data, also from the OT. Joseph, who was already a highly placed Egyptian official when Jacob moved to Egypt, lived to be 110 years old (Gn 50:26). Moses was a great-grandson of Levi, Joseph’s older brother. Since Joseph lived to see his own greatgrandchildren born (who would probably be younger than Moses since their great-grandfather was younger than his), the late-date view concludes that Joseph could have been alive when Moses was born. The fourgeneration genealogy of Moses (Levi-Kohath-Amram-Moses, in Ex 6:16–20; Nm 3:17–19; 26:58–59; 1 Chr 6:1–3) was evidently thought to be complete according to Genesis 15:16, which predicted that Abraham’s descendants would be freed from Egyptian bondage “in the fourth generation.”
However, a date of around 1400 bc for Abraham cannot be aligned with certain other biblical data, including the long Egyptian sojourn demanded by Genesis 15:13 and Exodus 12:40 and a 40-year (or “one-generation”) wilderness existence. Some normally moderate scholars are forced to reduce the wilderness time to two years in order to maintain their late date for Abraham.
In short, the late-date theory is consistent with part of the biblical evidence (the genealogies of Moses), but the early-date theory conforms to another part (the actual year figures listed in scattered verses from Genesis and Exodus). The late-date theory holds that the genealogies represent more reliable information in Semitic societies generally, whereas the early-date theory computes years given in the biblical account literally throughout its scheme.
Because of problems attached to both positions, a large group of scholars take a middle ground in dating the patriarchal age. Archaeologically, they say, Abraham and his life and times fit perfectly within the early second millennium, but imperfectly within any later period. By placing Abraham roughly between 1800 and 1600 bc, they provide enough latitude for a merging of all the available evidence, biblical and nonbiblical, into a workable chronological scheme. Archaeology provides four major bits of evidence for an early second-millennium patriarchal era.
1. Though the Nuzi tablets furnish a clear parallel to patriarchal social life, other tablets from other towns and an earlier era reflect many of the same customs common to Nuzi and Genesis. Since the Nuzians were Hurrians who came to northeastern Mesopotamia from elsewhere (perhaps Armenia), their social customs originated no doubt much earlier than the time of their tablets now in our possession. Accordingly, the 15th-century bc date of the Nuzi tablets does not preclude an earlier date for Abraham.
2. The names of several of Abraham’s ancestors listed in Genesis 11 can now be identified with towns in the northern area of Mesopotamia around Haran, the city from which Abraham migrated to Canaan (Gn 11:31–12:3). Significantly, Haran flourished in the 19th and 18th centuries bc.
3. Shortly after 2000 bc Semitic nomads from the desert invaded the civilized communities of the Fertile Crescent. Those invaders, called Amorites in the OT, established themselves in several cities in northern Syria and Mesopotamia. One of the Amorite cities was Babylon, ruled by Hammurabi sometime around the beginning of the 18th century bc. Although the King Amraphel of Genesis 14:1 is not linguistically identifiable with the Babylonian king Hammurabi, as earlier scholars believed, the picture of the times following the Amorite invasion still accords well with the Genesis narratives generally.
4. Mari, another Amorite town, is now well known because of more than 20,000 tablets recovered from its royal palace and archives. Geographically, Mari is located in the general area of Haran. Chronologically, the tablets recovered come from the 18th century bc. One 18th-century king of Mari, Zimri Lim, carried on extensive correspondence with Hammurabi of Babylon. The tablets from Mari also furnish valuable information about tribal and ethnic groups and their movements in the general region. Of basic importance for dating the Genesis materials are certain documents from Mari that include personal names very similar to Abraham (Abi-ram), Jacob, Laban, and several other West Semitic names.
Archaeological evidence neither proves nor disproves the actual existence of Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob. That is admitted on all sides. What archaeology has done is to provide a framework of probabilities within which the biblical patriarchal narratives appear more and more to be at home.
Date of the Exodus The problem of dating the patriarchal age is closely related to the problem of assigning a date to the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. Since the evidence does not permit a precise date for Abraham, a precise date for the entry of Joseph or Jacob into Egypt is likewise unobtainable. Further, the biblical evidence does not yield an exact figure for the length of the Israelite sojourn in Egypt.
For many years biblical scholars viewed 1 Kings 6:1 as a foundation upon which to build an unshakable date for the exodus. Because Solomon’s fourth year could be unquestionably fixed to within at least a 10-year span (967–958 bc), the exodus too could be dated with the same precision simply by adding 480 years. But other biblical data raise serious questions about that simple procedure. When the Bible deals with all the events between the time of the exodus and the founding of Solomon’s temple, that is, from Numbers to 1 Kings 5:18, the precise numbers given total not 480 but closer to 600 years.
Because the evidence is insufficient to allow a precise date for the exodus, scholarly opinion remains divided between two possibilities. A 15th-century exodus is supported by several pieces of evidence. The chronology in 1 Kings 6:1 appears to be independently corroborated by a passage in Judges 11:26. It claims that Israel had occupied the area around Heshbon for 300 years preceding Jephthah’s own day. If Jephthah is dated at roughly 1100 bc, one is obviously led back to an exodus in the middle of the 15th century. Also, three successive generations of pharaohs who ruled in the 16th and 15th centuries produced no male offspring, making it more likely that Moses would have become the foster son of a royal princess during that time; all of the 19th-dynasty kings (1306–1200 bc) had legitimate male heirs.
In addition, a 15th-century date makes possible a connection between the Habiru invasion of Canaan (1400–1350 bc)—described in the Amarna letters found at Tell el-Amarna, Egypt—and the invasion of Canaan by the Hebrews described in the OT book of Joshua. Related to that is a reference to “Israel” in the Merneptah Stele, a stone pillar inscribed with the deeds of the Egyptian king, Merneptah, of about 1220 BC. It implies that the people referred to, met by Merneptah in the course of a Canaanite military campaign, had been in existence for some time. Finally, an excavator of Jericho, John Garstang, placed the destruction of that city at around 1400 bc.
Other evidence, however, strongly implies not a 15th- but a 13th-century date for the exodus. Many scholars assign a date between 1290 and 1275 bc on the basis of that evidence. First, the 480 years of 1 Kings 6:1 discussed above may be interpreted as schematically representing 12 generations, as indicated by 1 Chronicles 6:3–8. Thus if 12 generations averaged 25 years instead of 40 years, the reduction of 480 schematized years to 300 actual years would point to an exodus date of around 1266 bc. Second, archaeological evidence exists that dates destruction at the assumed sites of several cities conquered by Joshua (Lachish, Debir, Bethel, and Hazor) to the late 13th century. Third, there is no biblical mention of Egyptian military campaigns (such as Merneptah’s 1220 bc incursion); Israelites living in Canaan before the time of the militarily active pharaohs Seti I (1319–1301 bc) and Ramses II (1301–1234 bc) would certainly have been affected by such activity. Fourth, Exodus 1:11 mentions the city of Rameses, the capital built by Ramses II, according to his own inscriptions. A fifth line of argument comes from archaeological conclusions that Transjordan and the Negev Desert were not occupied by sedentary people between 1900 and 1300 bc, whereas the Bible states clearly that the Israelites encountered stiff opposition from groups in that same region. Thus, it is argued, the Israelites must have entered that region after 1300 bc. Sixth, connecting the Habiru with the Israelites of the Conquest lacks weight because many texts besides the Amarna tablets attest to the existence of Habiru groups virtually all over the ancient Near East. “Habiru” seems to be a much broader term, possibly meaning “trespasser,” and is probably unrelated etymologically or semantically to “Hebrew.” Seventh, and finally, Garstang’s work at Jericho has now been revised by archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon, who showed that the fallen walls that Garstang had dated about 1400 bc in reality were destroyed in 1800 bc or earlier.
So far, it has been impossible to decide with precision between the two centuries proposed for the exodus. The majority opinion among OT scholars generally, including a growing number of moderate or conservative scholars, is in favor of the 13th-century option. On the other hand, many other conservative scholars continue to favor the 15th-century date. Dogmatism is unwarranted since problems remain unresolved with either option.
In accordance with the majority opinion, however, a date of about 1290 bc for the exodus will be used in dealing with subsequent problems.
Conquest and Consolidation The chronological task for the period of conquest and consolidation is to fit all the events narrated by the OT, chiefly in Joshua and Judges, between the exodus (c. 1290 bc) and the times of David (c. 1000 bc) and Solomon (d. 930 bc). In other words, one must fit roughly 550 years of biblical events between Moses and David into a 290-year span.
Although assigning an early date for the exodus (c. 1447 bc) would make the task somewhat easier, the mere addition of about 157 years does not by itself solve all the problems. Neither date allows enough time for all the OT events from Joshua to David to take place singly and consecutively. Accordingly, advocates of both dates assume that some of the judges ruled simultaneously rather than consecutively. The difference is one of degree only.
The book of Joshua furnishes most of the OT evidence regarding the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites. Unfortunately, the book of Joshua has no chronological notes that specify the amount of time elapsing during Joshua’s career. Further, there are no biblical references to major contemporary events in other parts of the ancient world, the dates of which could be used to fix the chronology. Rather, in what is obviously a telescoped account, the book of Joshua records the fall of Jericho and Ai, followed closely by a southern and then a northern campaign. After those victories, covering much of the total territory of Canaan, various parcels of land were distributed to the tribal groups of Israel; the tribes were expected to complete the task of destroying whatever Canaanite inhabitants remained in their particular region. One seeks in vain, however, for any statements indicating how long those events took.
In the book of Judges a slightly different circumstance prevails. There the OT furnishes a rather complete list of figures to indicate the duration of periods of foreign oppression, judgeships, and ensuing peace. The total number of years described for that period is 410, but that total does not include any time for the many “minor” judges. It seems obvious, therefore, that most if not all of the judges were simply local chieftains whose activity was simultaneous with that of other judges, at least for part of their reign. Unfortunately, the book of Judges provides no cross-reference system to indicate which judges were contemporaries of which others. Perhaps the best one can do is to assume general guidelines for the chronology of that period between Moses and David.
Two significant facts should be kept in mind. First, archaeological information seems to demand a Conquest date beginning about 1250 bc rather than 200 years earlier. Assuming concurrent careers for the judges allows one to compress the literal OT figures into the general scheme demanded by other evidence.
Second, the ancient scribes evidently related the chronology of the period to a 40-year or generation-based schema, a practice that lasted until the time of the divided kingdom, when a regular dynastic chronology was introduced. In the face of so many careers being assigned exactly 40 years, the fact remains that the literal totals of such numbers cannot be harmonized with either the biblical or the archaeological evidence for the period. Accordingly, most scholars doubt that the number 40 was ever intended to be an exact mathematical calculation. That view permits enough leeway for cautious fitting of biblical and other evidence into a general timetable.
Types of Evidence For the period of the Israelite monarchy, chronological evidence is abundant.
The OT itself strives to provide all the information necessary for the chronology of the period, including (1) a complete list of all the kings in Israel and in Judah both before and after the division of the kingdom; (2) the age of each king (except Saul) at his accession; (3) synchronisms of the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah showing in what year of his contemporary in the other kingdom each king came to the throne; and (4) precise calculations of the length of each king’s reign. In addition some important events are dated by reference to another event; others are coordinated with concurrent events in secular history.
Outside the OT an abundance of material provides evidence for a chronology of the period. By far the most important single source is a collection of Assyrian limmu lists. In Assyria a record of each king’s reign was kept on a particular kind of annal. Each year of reign was named after an individual of high rank in the court; the first year was named after the king himself, the second after the next highest-ranking official (though that name appears to have been selected by lot originally), and so on, down until the death of the king. The word limmu was used to introduce the name of the official after whom the current year was to be named, hence the designation “limmu lists.”
Assyrian limmu lists are tied precisely to the solar year, making the documents highly reliable. Further, in addition to many events in Assyrian history, notable natural phenomena were dated on the basis of the limmu in which they occurred. For example, a solar eclipse dated by the Assyrian scribes in the limmu year of Bur-Sagale has been computed astronomically as June 15, 763 bc. Beginning with the year 763, then, and working both backward and forward, a complete list of Assyrian limmu officials has been obtained for the period between 891 and 648 bc.
With the accuracy of the Assyrian limmu lists corroborated by a number of sources, they can be used with confidence in reconstructing the chronology of the corresponding period of biblical history. That is especially true where a biblical writer related an Israelite or a Judahite event to a particular year in the reign of an Assyrian king whose limmu list indicates the precise years of his reign.
There are also records from Chaldean (Babylonian) king lists and from later Greek historians. Ptolemy, in the second century ad, for example, gave dates for Babylonian kings from 747 bc and continued with dates for Persian, Greek, and Roman rulers down to ad 161. Finally, useful information is found in inscriptions from monuments, stelae, and other artifacts from Assyria and elsewhere.
Monarchical Chronology The limmu list of the Assyrian king Shalmaneser III provides a basis for the first comparison of dates among Assyria, Israel, and Judah. In the limmu of Daian-Assur, Shalmaneser’s sixth year on the throne, Ahab of Israel was listed as one of the kings who fought against the Assyrians in the battle of Qarqar. Thus the date for that battle may be placed confidently in 853 bc.
Assyrian records also indicate that Shalmaneser III came into contact with an Israelite king 12 years later, in 841 bc. That king was Jehu. Thus two fixed points are available for correlating the biblical information. Following the death of Ahab, which is not dated exactly by reference to the Assyrian records, two of his sons came to power. The first, Ahaziah, reigned two years (1 Kgs 22:51); the second, Joram (also called Jehoram), reigned a total of 12 years (2 Kgs 3:1). Recognizing a nonaccession-year reckoning by the Israelites in that era, the apparent total of 14 years may be reduced to an actual total of 12. Thus it seems evident that Ahab not only fought Shalmaneser III in 853 bc but also died in that year. Ahab was then followed by his two sons for a total of 12 years before the accession of Jehu in time to account for his contact with Shalmaneser II in 841 bc. Further, because Jehu murdered both the king of Israel (Jehoram) and the king of Judah (Ahaziah) at the same time (2 Kgs 9:24–27), a fixed synchronism is provided between the two kingdoms for the year 841 bc.
The first nine kings of Israel ruled an apparent total of 98 years or an actual total (taking into account Israel’s nonaccession-year policy) of 90 years. Zimri, who ruled only seven days (1 Kgs 16:15–18), counts as one of the nine but does not insert an extra year in either the actual or apparent totals. The accession of Jeroboam I thus occurred in 930 bc (adding 90 years to 841 bc), and Rehoboam of Judah began to rule in that same year as well. Allowing Solomon the 40-year reign indicated in 1 Kings 11:42 points to the year 970 bc for his accession. The death of David would also be pinpointed in that period, although allowance must be made for the possibility of a short co-regency of David and Solomon before David’s death. The reign of Saul then falls approximately in the late 11th century bc.
In Judah the period between the death of Solomon in 930 bc and the murder of Ahaziah by Jehu in 841 bc was occupied by the kingships of six men whose time on the throne totals 95 biblical years. Computation of that era in Judah is not as simple as for the Israelite kings for several reasons. Problems include a change from accession- to nonaccession-year reckoning sometime around 850 bc, at least two co-regencies (Jehoshaphat with Asa and then Jehoram with Jehoshaphat), and the calendar differences between the two kingdoms. It is clear that the 95 apparent years must be reduced, on the basis of the differences in computation and calendar, to 90 actual years in order to bring the Judahite figures into line with the established Assyrian and Israelite synchronisms.
After the year 841, the next biblical event to be certified by nonbiblical materials is the fall of Samaria in 722 bc. That date is furnished by the annals of Sargon II of Assyria (722–705 bc), successor to Shalmaneser V (727–722 bc). Although that date comes just 120 years after the fixed point of 841 bc in Israelite history, the chronological materials for that period are quite difficult to interpret accurately. In the past, scholars resorted to assumptions of extensive co-regencies, to presumed confusion on the part of certain scribes over methods to be followed in computations, or to other theories in attempting to understand the period. In spite of the many difficulties, however, all the biblical and Assyrian dates for the period of the divided monarchy have been harmonized—with the exception of four figures related to the closing years of the Israelite kingdom, all connected in some way with the problematic reign of Hoshea.
Judah after the Fall of Israel Following the fall of Samaria in 722 bc, OT chronology is concerned only with the southern kingdom of Judah until its destruction some 135 years later. Two events in the biblical record important for establishing a chronology for that period are the siege of Jerusalem by Sennacherib of Assyria in the late eighth century and the eventual fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in the early sixth century.
Sennacherib’s Invasion of Judah The Assyrian invasion (704–681 bc) is recorded in 2 Kings 18:13–16, where verse 13 dates the event to the 14th year of King Hezekiah. Sennacherib’s own inscriptions include a lengthier version of the affair. From them the date of 701 bc is established, placing the accession of Hezekiah in 715 bc. That much is simple, but problems still arise. For example, 2 Kings 19:9 reports that Sennacherib was in contact with an Ethiopian king, Tirhakah (c. 690–664 bc), during the course of his campaign, which included a siege of Jerusalem. Obviously, contact with a ruler who came to power in 690 bc at the earliest could not refer to events in 701 bc. It is possible, however, that Sennacherib actually made two invasions of Judah, the first in 701 and the second sometime later. The date of that supposed second invasion is not assured, although 2 Kings 19:35–37 may imply that Sennacherib was murdered only shortly after his withdrawal from Jerusalem. Since Sennacherib was succeeded by his son Esarhaddon in the year 681, the presumed second invasion of Judah would have occurred somewhere in the last half of the same decade.
A number of scholars oppose the assumption of a second invasion of Jerusalem by Sennacherib. They suggest the possibility that Tirhakah, though king only from 690 bc, may have led troops against Sennacherib as early as 701, before acceding to the throne. The reference to King Tirhakah in 2 Kings 19:9 would then be understood as use of his eventual title in an effort to identify him to a later generation of readers.
However the question of the number of invasions is decided, it is certain that Sennacherib invaded Judah in 701 bc, the 14th regnal year of Hezekiah. Such a synchronism establishes Hezekiah’s accession year as 715 bc, but that date raises another problem. The fall of Samaria, now established at 722, is dated by 2 Kings 18:10 in the sixth year of Hezekiah’s reign. The most likely solution is that Hezekiah began a co-regency with his father, Ahaz, six years before Samaria fell. The possibility for confusion arises from the fact that one verse (2 Kgs 18:13; repeated in Is 36:1) synchronizes Sennacherib’s 701 bc invasion with the 14th year of Hezekiah’s independent reign; another verse (2 Kgs 18:10) correlates the fall of Samaria with the beginning of Hezekiah’s co-regency. Thus from about 728 to 715 bc Hezekiah was co-regent with Ahaz. From 715 to 697 he reigned alone. From 696 to 686 his son Manasseh was co-ruler with him.
According to the chronological information given by a number of verses in 2 Kings, a total of 128 years and six months elapsed between the time of Hezekiah’s accession in 715 and the capture of King Jehoiachin in 597, a date to be discussed below. Thus another problem is to explain the more than 10-year excess apparently demanded by the biblical totals. The best solution appears to lie in the assumption that Manasseh first came to power in 697 as co-regent with his father, Hezekiah. Manasseh died in 642, following what 2 Kings 21:1 states was a 55-year reign. Hezekiah, who came to the throne in 715, is said to have reigned 29 years (2 Kgs 18:2), which would mean that he was king until 686, roughly 11 years after the time when Manasseh must have come to the throne in order to have completed a 55-year reign by 642.
Fall of Jerusalem Contemporary Babylonian records are available to shed valuable light on the last few years of Judah’s existence. For the years 626–623, 618–595, and 556 bc the Babylonian Chronicle, a formal record of Babylonian affairs of state, has been recovered. From information contained in that chronicle and other cuneiform documents of the period, three dates in Judah’s history may be fixed firmly. The first is the death of Josiah in 609; the second is the battle of Carchemish in 605; the third is the end of the reign of Jehoiachin, which is dated by the Babylonian Chronicle to the second month of Adar in the ninth year of Nebuchadnezzar, or March 16, 597.
After Jehoiachin’s capture, Zedekiah became puppet king of Judah for 11 years (2 Kgs 24:18). On the tenth day of the tenth month during Zedekiah’s ninth regnal year (2 Kgs 25:1), the final siege of Jerusalem was begun by the Babylonian army. That day was January 15, 588. On the ninth day of the fourth month during the 11th regnal year of Zedekiah, after a siege of almost 18 months, the wall of Jerusalem was broken through (2 Kgs 25:3–4). The temple was burned on day seven of the following (fifth) month.
Beyond 586 bc Following the tragedy of 586 bc, several further developments are given chronological notice in the OT. Jeremiah 52:30 records a third deportation of Jews to Babylonia in the 23d year of King Nebuchadnezzar (582 or 581 bc). Both 2 Kings 25:27 and Jeremiah 52:31 give evidence of the release of King Jehoiachin from prison; the Babylonian Chronicle dates that event at 27 Adar, or March 21, 561 bc.
In 539 bc the Babylonians themselves were destined to learn the meaning of defeat. In that year a Persian ruler, Cyrus the Great, launched a successful campaign against Babylon and its king, Nabonidus. Inheriting control over the exiled Jews and many other groups of people conquered earlier by Babylonia, Cyrus moved quickly to initiate a policy of tolerance toward his new subjects. In the first year of his rule Cyrus issued an edict making it possible for Jews to return to their former land (Ezr 1:1). On the first day of the following year, 1 Tishri (Ezr 3:6), an altar was set up in Jerusalem. In Iyyar of the following year (April/May 536) work was begun on the temple itself (Ezr 3:8).
After a period of frustrating work stoppages of varying lengths, the preaching of Haggai and Zechariah spurred on the Jews to complete the temple. Work resumed in 520 (Ezr 4:24; Hg 1:1, 15) and was finally completed on 3 Adar, or March 12, 515 (Ezr 6:15). The final stages of OT chronology pertain to the careers of Ezra and Nehemiah. The traditional view of their era places Ezra in the seventh year of Artaxerxes I (458 bc) and Nehemiah in the 20th (445 bc).
See also “Date” under each OT book; Conquest and Allotment of the Land; Diaspora of the Jews; Exodus, The; Israel, History of; Patriarchs, Period of the; Postexilic Period; Wilderness Wanderings.
CHRONOLOGY OF THE OLD TESTAMENT. The aim of such a chronology is to determine the correct dates of events and persons in the OT as precisely as possible, that we may better understand their significance.
I. Sources and methods of chronology
a. Older method
Until about a, century ago OT dates were calculated almost entirely from the biblical statements (so Ussher). Two difficulties beset this approach. First, the OT does not provide all the details needed for this task, and some sequences of events may be concurrent rather than consecutive. Secondly, the ancient versions, e.g. the lxx, sometimes offer variant figures. Hence schemes of this kind are subject to much uncertainty.
b. Present methods
Modern scholars try to correlate data culled both from the Bible and from archaeological sources, in order to obtain absolute dates for the Hebrews and for their neighbours. From c. 620 bc, a framework is provided by the Canon of Ptolemy and other classical sources (e.g. Manetho, Berossus) which can be completed and corrected in detail from contemporary Babylonian tablets and Egyptian papyri, etc., for the two great riverine states. The margin of error almost never exceeds a year, and in some cases is reduced to a week within a month, or even to nil.
Good dates from c. 1400 bc onwards are available, based on Mesopotamian data. The Assyrians each year appointed an official to be limmu or eponym, his name being given to his year of office. They kept lists of these names and often noted down events under each year, e.g. a king’s accession or a campaign abroad. Thus, if any one year can be dated by our reckoning, the whole series is fixed. An eclipse of the sun in the year of the eponym Bur-Sagale is that of 15 June 763 bc, thus fixing a whole series of years and events from 892 to 648 bc, with material reaching back to 911 bc. Alongside these limmu-lists, king-lists giving names and reigns take Assyrian history back to nearly 2000 bc, with a maximum error of about a century then, which narrows to about a decade from c. 1400 bc until c. 1100 bc. Babylonian king-lists and ‘synchronous histories’ narrating contacts between Assyrian and Babylonian kings help to establish the history of the two kingdoms between c. 1400 bc and c. 800 bc. Finally, the scattered information from contemporary tablets and annals of various reigns provides first-hand evidence for some periods.
Good dates from c. 1200 bc back to c. 2100 bc can be obtained from Egyptian sources. These include king-lists, year-dates on contemporary monuments, cross-checks with Mesopotamia and elsewhere, and a few astronomical phenomena dated exactly in certain reigns. By this means, the 11th and 12th Dynasties can be dated to c. 2134–1786 bc, and the 18th to 20th Dynasties to c. 1552–1070 bc, each within a maximum error of some 10 years; the 13th to 17th Dynasties fit in between these two groups with a maximum error of about 15 or 20 years in their middle. Mesopotamian dates during 2000–1500 bc depend largely on the date assignable to Hammurapi of Babylon: at present it varies within the period 1850–1700 bc, the date 1792–1750 bc (S. Smith) being as good as any.
Between 3000 and 2000 bc all Near Eastern dates are subject to greater uncertainty, of up to two centuries, largely because they are inadequately linked to later dates. Before 3000 bc, all dates are reasoned estimates only, and are subject to several centuries’ margin of error, increasing with distance in time. The ‘Carbon-14’ method of computing the dates of organic matter from antiquity is of most service for the period before 3000 bc, and such dates carry a margin of error of ±250 years. Hence this method is of little use to biblical chronology; the possible sources of error in the method require that ‘Carbon-14’ dates must still be treated with reserve.
Such a framework for Mesopotamia and Egypt helps to fix the dates of Palestinian discoveries and of events and people in the Bible; thus the story of the Heb. kingdoms affords cross-links with Assyria and Babylonia. The successive levels of human occupation discerned by archaeologists in the town-mounds (‘tells’) of ancient Palestine often contain datable objects which link a series of such levels to corresponding dates in Egyptian history down to the 12th century bc. Thereafter, the changes of occupation can sometimes be linked directly with Israelite history, as at *Samaria, *Hazor and *Lachish. Israelite dates can be fixed within a margin of error of about 10 years in Solomon’s day, narrowing to almost nil by the time of the fall of Jerusalem in 587 bc. The margins of error alluded to arise from slight differences in names or figures in parallel king-lists, actual breakage in such lists, reigns of yet unknown duration and the limitations of certain astronomical data. They can be eliminated only by future discovery of more detailed data.
Further complications in chronology stem from the different modes of calendaric reckoning used by the ancients in counting the regnal years of their monarchs. By the accession-year system, that part of a civil year elapsing between a king’s accession and the next New Year’s day was reckoned not as his first year, but as an ‘accession-year’ (that year being credited to the previous ruler), and his first regnal year was counted from the first New Year’s day. But by the non-accession-year system of reckoning, that part of the civil year between a king’s accession and the next New Year’s day was credited to him as his first regnal ‘year’, his second being counted from the first New Year’s day. The type of reckoning used, by whom, of whom, and when, is especially important for right understanding of the chronological data in Kings and Chronicles.
II. Primeval antiquity before Abraham
The creation is sufficiently dated by that immortal phrase, ‘in the beginning …’, so distant is it. The period from Adam to Abraham is spanned by genealogies in the midst of which occurs the Flood. However, attempts to use this information to obtain dates for the period from Adam to Abraham are hindered by lack of certainty over the right interpretation. A literal Western interpretation of the figures as they stand yields too low a date for events recorded, e.g. the Flood. Thus, if, for example, Abraham’s birth is set at about 2000 bc (the earliest likely period), the figures in Gn. 11:10–26 would then yield a date for the Flood just after 2300 bc a date so late that it would fall some centuries after Sir Leonard Woolley’s flood-level at Ur, itself of too late a date to be the flood of either the Heb. or Bab. records. Similar difficulties arise if Adam’s date be further calculated in this way from Gn. 5 on the same basis.
Hence an attempted interpretation must be sought along other lines. Ancient Near Eastern documents must be understood in the first place as their writers and readers understood them. In the case of genealogies, this involves the possibility of abbreviation by omission of some names in a series. The main object of the genealogies in Gn. 5 and 11 is apparently not so much to provide a full chronology as to supply a link from earliest man to the great crisis of the Flood and then from the Flood down through the line of Shem to Abraham, forefather of the Hebrew nation. The abbreviation of a *genealogy by omission does not affect its value ideologically as a link, as could be readily demonstrated from analogous ancient Near Eastern sources. Hence genealogies, including those of Gn. 5 and 11, must always be used with great restraint whenever it appears that they are open to more than one interpretation.
III. Dates before the monarchy
a. The Patriarchs
Three lines of approach can be used for dating the Patriarchs: mention of external events in their time, statements of time elapsed between their day and some later point in history, and the evidence of period discernible in the social conditions in which they lived.
The only two striking external events recorded are the raid of the four kings against five in Gn. 14 (*Amraphel, *Arioch, *Chedorlaomer) and the destruction of the cities of the plain in Gn. 19 (*Plain, Cities of the), both falling in Abraham’s lifetime.
None of the kings in Gn. 14 has yet been safely identified with a particular individual in the 2nd millennium bc, but the names can be identified with known names of that general period, especially 1900 to 1500 bc. Power-alliances formed by rival groups of kings in Mesopotamia and Syria are particularly typical of the period 2000–1700 bc: a famous letter from Mari on the middle Euphrates says of this period, ‘there is no king who of himself is the strongest: ten or fifteen kings follow Hammurapi of Babylon, the same number follow Rim-Sin of Larsa, the same number follow Ibal-pi-El of Eshnunna, the same number follow Amut-pi-El of Qatna, and twenty kings follow Yarim-Lim of Yamkhad.’ In this period also, Elam was one of several prominent kingdoms.
Chronological outline: Old Testament
The purpose of this chart is to set contemporary events alongside each other, not to show the development of nationhood or the progress of conquest.
All dates are best taken as ‘about bc, as the possible variation can run to a century or more in 2000 bc, down to a decade by 1000 bc. Most of the dates for the Hebrew monarchies are quoted in double form, e.g. Asa, 911/10–870/69 bc, because the Hebrew year does not coincide with the January to December of our civil year
For other Near Eastern rulers, space and scope forbid any explanation of the vast amount of documentation and reasoning which underlie the dates given in the tables below, but from c. 900 bc onward, Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian dates are nearly all very closely fixed.
Prophets are indicated by *
|OLD TESTAMENTBefore 2000 ad Events of Gn. 1–11PATRIARCHS? 2000–1825 Abraham? 1900–1720 Isaac? 1800–1700 Jacob? 1750–1640 JosephISRAEL IN EGYPT? 1350–1230 MosesISRAEL IN CANAAN? 1300–1900 Joshua1260 approx. The exodus1220 approx. Crossing of Jordan1220 (or 1200)-1050 (or 1045) Period of the Judges? 1125 Deborah and Barak? 1115–1075 Eli’s judgeship? 1075–1035 Samuel, judge and prophetUNITED MONARCHY1045–1011/10 Saul1011/10–971/70 David971/70–931/30 Solomon||EGYPTMiddle Kingdom2116–1973 11th Dynasty1973–1795 12th DynastyNew Kingdom1638–1540 Hyksos rule1540–1295 (or 1294)18th Dynasty1391–1353 Amenophis III1353–1337 Amenophis IV/Akhenaten1295–1186 19th Dynasty1295–1294 Rameses I1294–1279 Sethos I1279–1213 Rameses II1213–1203 Merenptah1209 ‘Israel stele’1186–1070 20th Dynastyi.e. Setnakht and Rameses III-XILate Period1070–945 21st Dynasty||MESOPOTAMIA?1894–1595: 1st dynasty of Babylon? 1702–1792 HammurapiKassite Dynasty1500 Burnaburiash I1350 Kurigalzu I1345–1329 Kurigalzu IIASSYRIA1274–1245 Shalmaneser I1244–1208 Tukulti-Ninurta I1224–1219 Adad-Shuma-iddina1124–1103 Nebuchadnezzar I (Babylonia)1115–1077 Tiglath-pileser I|
|DIVIDEDISRAEL931/30–910/09 Jeroboam I910/09–909/08 Nadab909/08–836/85 Baasha886/85–885/84 Elah885/84 Zimri885/84 Tibni885/84–874/72 Omri874/73–853 Ahab Elijah*853–852 Ahaziah852–841 Joram841–814/13 JehuElisha*814/13–798 Jehoahaz798–782/81 Jehoash782/81–753 Jeoboam II (co-regent from 793/92)c. 760 Amos*c. 760 Jonah*c, 755–722 Hosea*753–752 Zecariah752 Shallum752–742/41 Menahem742/41–749/39 Pekahiah740/39–732/31 Pekah732/31–723/22 Hoshea722 Fall of Samaria||MONARCHYJUDAH931/30–913 Rehoboam925 Sheshonq invadesPalestine913–911/10 Abijam911/10–870/69 Asa870/69–848 Jehoshaphat (co-regent from 873/72)848–841 Jehoram848–841 Jehoram (co-regent from 853)841 Ahaziah841–835 Athaziah835–796 Joash c. 810–750 Joel*796–767 Amaziah767–740/39 Azariah (Uzziah) (co-regent from 791/90)C. 742–687 Micah*C. 740–700 Isaiah*740/39–732/31 Jotham (co-regent from 750)732/31–716/16 Ahaz (co-regent from 744/43; senior partner from 735)716/15–687/86 Hezekiah||EGYPTPsuennes IAmenenopeSiamunPsuennes II945–715 22nd Dynasty945–924 Shehonq I (Shishak)924–889 Osorkon I889–874 Takeloth I874–850 Osorkon II767–730 Sheshonq V739–715 Osorkon IV||MESOPOTAMIA933 Ashur-dan II883–859 Ashurnasirpal II859–824 Shalmaneser III853 Battle of QarqarASSYRIA745–727 Tiglath-Pilser III732 Fall of Damascus727–722 Shalmaneser V722–705 Sargon II|
|JUDAH687/86–642/41 Manasseh (co-regent from 696/95)c. 664–612 Nahum*c. 640 Zephaniah*642/41–640/39 Amon640/39–609 Josiah c. 621–580 Jeremiah*609 Jehoahaz609–597 Jehoiakim605 Battle of Carchemish(Daniel and his friends are taken to Babylon) c. 605 Habakkuk*597 Jehoiachin597 2 Adar (15/16 March) Jerusalem taken by Nebuchadnezzar II. Many Jews exiled including Jehoiachin and Ezekiel597–587 Zedekiah c. Obadiah*587 Fall of Jerusalem. More Jews into exileTHE RETURNED EXILES538 Zerubbabel, Sheshbazzar and others return to Jerusalem537 Rebuilding of the temple begunc. 520 Haggai*c. 520 Zechariah*520 Temple-building resumned516 Temple completed 3 Adar (10 March)c. 460 Malachi*458 Ezra goes to Jerusalem445–433 Nehemiah at JerusalemPersian rule until 332Alexander the Great 332–323Egyptian rule 320–198Syrian rule 198–63||EGYPT716–664 25th Dynasty716–702 Shabako (‘Shabaka’)702–690 Shebitka (‘Shabataka’)690–664 Taharqa (‘Tirhakah’)664–525 26th Dynasty664–656 Tanwetamani (‘Tanutamen)664–610 Psammeticus I610–595 Neco II595–589 Psammetichus II589–570 Apries (Hophra)570–526 Amasis (Ahmose II)526–525 Psammetichus IIIHELLENISTIC PERIOD323/05–282 Ptolemy I Soter320 Judea annexed by Ptolemy I285/82–245 PtolemyII Philadelphus246–222 Ptolemy III Euergetes322–205 Ptolemy IV Philopator204–180 Ptomely V Epiphanes||ASSYRIA705–681 Sennacherib681–669 Esarhaddon669–627 Ashurbanipal612 Fall of Nineveh609–08 End of AssyriaBABYLON626–605 Nabopolassar605–562 Nebuchadnezzar II c. 604–535 Daniel*595–570 Ration-tablets of Jehoiachin at Babylon, 10th-35th years of Nebuchadnezzar IIc.593–570 Ezekiel*562–560 Amēl-Marduk (Evil-merodach)562 Captive Jehoiachin favoured by Amēl-Marduk560–556 Neriglissar556 Labashi-Marduk556–539 Nabonidus (Belshazzar usually acting in Babylon)539 Fall of BabylonPERSIAN EMPIRE539–530 Cyrus530–522 Cambyses522–486 Darius I486–465/64 Xerxes I (Ahasuerus)464–423 Artaxerses I423–404 Darius II Nothus404–359 Artaxerxes II Mnemon359/58–338/37 Artaxerxes III Ochus338/37–336/35 Arses336/35–331 Darius III Codomanus331–323 Alexander of MacedonSYRIA312–281 Seleucus I Nicator281–261 Antiochus I Soter261–246 Antiochus II Theos246–226/25 Seleucus II226/25 223 Seleucus III Soter223–187 Antiochus III the Great187–175 Seleucus IV|
|JUDEA167 Mattahias inspires revolt at Modin167–40 Macabees/Hasmonaeans in Judea166–161 Judas Maccabaeus160–143 Jonathan Maccabaeus150 bc-ad 70 General period of the Dead Sea Scrolls143–135 Simon Maccabaeus135–104 John Hyrcanus I104/03 Arirtobulus I103–76 Alexander Jannaeus76–67 Queen Salome Alexandra and Hyrcanus II67–40 Hyrcanus II and Aristoblus II63 Pompey establishes Roman prortectorate||SYRIA175–163 Antiochus IVEpiphanes163–162 Antiochus V162–150 Demetrius I139/8–129 Antiochus VII Sidetes|
Glueck has endeavoured to date the campaign of Gn. 14 from its supposed archaeological results: he claims that the line of city-settlements along the later ‘King’s Highway’ was clearly occupied at the start of the 2nd millennium (until the 19th century bc, on modern dating), but that soon thereafter the area suddenly ceased to be occupied, except for roving nomads, until about 1300 bc, when the Iron Age kingdoms of Edom, Moab and Ammon were effectually founded.
Similar reasoning has been applied to the date of the fall of the cities of the plain, although their actual remains appear now to be beyond recovery (probably being under the Dead Sea).
This picture of an occupational gap between the 19th and 13th centuries bc has been criticized by Lankester Harding in the light of certain recent finds in Transjordan, including Middle Bronze tombs and an important Middle and Late Bronze temple. However, the views of neither Glueck nor Harding need be pressed to extremes; in all probability the view of a reduced density of population between the 19th and 13th centuries is true in general and of the Highway cities in particular, while at certain isolated points occupation may have been continuous.
Two main statements link the day of the Patriarchs with later times. In Gn. 15:13–16 Abraham is forewarned that his descendants will dwell in a land not theirs for some four centuries. The ‘fourth generation’ of v. 16 is difficult; if a ‘generation’ be equated with a century (cf. Ex. 6:16–20), this usage would be unusual. A possible but dubious alternative is to see in v. 16 a prophetic allusion to Joseph’s journey to Canaan to bury Jacob (Joseph being in the ‘fourth generation’ if Abraham is the first). The entry of Jacob into Egypt (Gn. 46:6–7) was the starling-point of the general four centuries of Gn. 15:13 as well as of the more specific 430 years of Ex. 12:40. The Hebrew MT form of Ex. 12:40, giving Israel 430 years in Egypt, is to be preferred to the lxx variant, which makes 430 years cover the sojournings in both Canaan and Egypt, because Ex. 12:41 clearly implies that ‘on that very day’, after 430 years, on which Israel went forth from Egypt was the anniversary of that distant day when the Patriarch Israel and his family had entered Egypt. Hence an interval of 430 years from Jacob’s entry till Moses and Israel’s departure seems assured. The genealogy of Ex. 6:16–20, which can hardly cover the 430 years if taken ‘literally’ Westernwise, is open to the same possibility of selectivity as those of Gn. 5 and 11, and so need raise no essential difficulty. Three points are worthy of reflection. First, although Moses is apparently in the fourth generation from the Patriarch Jacob through Levi, Kohath and Amram (Ex. 6:20; 1 Ch. 6:1–3), yet Moses’ contemporary Bezalel is in the seventh generation from Jacob through Judah, Perez, Hezron, Caleb, Hur and Uri (1 Ch. 2:18–20), and his younger contemporary Joshua is in the twelfth generation from Jacob through Joseph, Ephraim, Beriah, Rephah, Resheph, Telah, Tahan, Laadan, Ammihud, Eli-shama and Nun (1 Ch. 7:23–27). Hence there is a possibility that Moses’ genealogy is abbreviated by comparison with those of Joshua and even Bezalel. Secondly, Moses’ ‘father’ Amram and his brothers gave rise to the elans of Amramites, Izharites, etc., who already numbered 8,600 male members alone within a year of the Exodus (Nu. 3:27–28), an unlikely situation unless Amram and his brothers themselves flourished distinctly earlier than Moses. Thirdly, the wording that by Amram Jochebed ‘bore’ Moses, Aaron and Miriam (Ex. 6:20; Nu. 26:59), like ‘became the father’, av ‘begat’, in Gn. 5 and 11, need not imply immediate parenthood but also simply descent. Compare Gn. 46:18, where the preceding verses show that great-grandsons of Zilpah are included among ‘these she bore to Jacob’. On these three points, see also WDB, p. 153. For the date of the Exodus occurring on independent grounds 430 years after a late-18th-century date for Jacob, see below.
The social conditions reflected in the patriarchal narratives afford no close dating, but fit in with the general date obtainable from Gn. 14 and 19 and from the use of the 430-year figure to the Exodus. Thus the social customs of adoption and inheritance in Gn. 15–16; 21; etc., show close affinity with those observable in cuneiform documents from Ur, etc., ranging in date from the 18th to 15th centuries bc.
The great freedom to travel long distances—witness Abraham’s path including Ur and Egypt—is prominent in this general age: compare envoys from Babylon passing Mari to and from Hazor in Palestine. For power-alliances at this time, see above. In the 20th and 19th centuries bc in particular, the Negeb (‘the South’) of the later Judaea supported seasonal occupation, as illustrated by Abraham’s periodic journeys into ‘the South’. The general results, bearing in mind the traditional figures for the lives, births and deaths of the Patriarchs, is to put Abraham at about 2000–1850, Isaac about 1900–1750, Jacob about 1800–1700 and Joseph about 1750–1650; these dates are deliberately given as round figures to allow for any later adjustment. They suit the limited but suggestive archaeological evidence, as well as a plausible interpretation of the biblical data.
A date for the entry of Jacob and his family into Egypt at roughly 1700 bc would put this event and *Joseph’s ministry in the 13th Dynasty and Hyksos period of Egyptian history, during which rulers of Semitic stock posed as pharaohs of Egypt; the peculiar blend of Egyptian and Semitic elements in Gn. 37:1 would agree with this.
b. The Exodus and Conquest
(For alternative Egyptian dates in this section, see the Chronological Tables.) The next contact between Israel and her neighbours occurs in Ex. 1:11, when the, Hebrews were building the cities Pithom and Ra’amses in Moses’ time. Ra’amses was Egypt’s Delta capital named after, and largely built by, Rameses II (c. 1279–1213 bc) superseding the work of his father Sethos I (c. 1294–1279 bc); this is true of Qantir, the likeliest site for Ra’amses. Rameses I (c. 1295–1294 bc) reigned for just over a year, and so does not come into consideration. Before Sethos I and Rameses II, no pharaoh had built a Delta capital since the Hyksos period (Joseph’s day); the city Ra’amses is thus truly an original work of these two kings, and not merely renamed or appropriated by them from some earlier ruler, as is sometimes suggested. Hence, on this bit of evidence, the Exodus must fall after 1300 bc and preferably after 1279 bc (accession of Rameses II). A lower limit for the date of the Exodus is probably indicated by the so-called Israel Stele, a triumphal inscription of Merenptah dated to his fifth year (C. 1209 bc), which mentions the defeat of various cities and peoples in Palestine, including Israel. Some deny that Merenptah ever invaded Palestine; for Drioton, La Bible et l’Orient, 1955, pp. 43–46, the Palestinian peoples were merely overawed by Merenptah’s great victory in Libya, which his stele principally commemorates; and the mention of Israel would be an allusion to the Hebrews disappearing into the wilderness to, as the Egyptians would think, certain death. See further, C. de Wit, The Date and Route of the Exodus, 1960. The Exodus would then fall in the first five years of Merenptah (c. 1213–1209 bc). However, this view is open to certain objections. An inscription of Merenptah in a temple at Amada in Nubia in strictly parallel clauses names him as ‘Binder of Gezer’ and ‘Seizer of Libya’. ‘Seizer of Libya’ refers beyond all doubt to Merenptah’s great Libyan victory in his 5th year, recounted at length in the Israel Stele. Hence the very specific, strictly parallel, title ‘Binder of Gezer’ must refer to successful intervention by Merenptah in Palestine, even if of limited scope. With this would agree the plain meaning of the Israel Stele’s references to Ascalon, Gezer, Yenoam, Israel and Khuru as ‘conquered’, ‘bound’, ‘annihilated’, ‘her crops are not’ and ‘widowed’ respectively Then, the reference to ‘Israel, her crops (= lit. ‘seed’) are not’ may reflect the Egyptians’ practice of sometimes burning the growing crops of their foes- applicable to Israel beginning to settle in Palestine, but not to Israel going forth into the wilderness. Hence, on the likelier interpretation of the Israel Stele here upheld, Israel must have entered Palestine before 1209 bc, and the Exodus 40 years earlier would therefore fall before 1250 bc. The probable date of the Exodus is thus narrowed down to the period 1279–1250 bc. A good average date for the Exodus and wanderings would thus be roughly the period 1270–1230 bc. For views which postulate more than one Exodus, or that some tribes never entered Egypt, there is not a scrap of objective external evidence, and the biblical traditions are clearly against such suggestions.
The figure of 40 years for the wilderness travels of the Hebrews is often too easily dismissed as a round figure which might mean anything. This particular 40-year period is to be taken seriously as it stands, on the following evidence. Israel took a year and a fraction in going from Ra’amses to Kadesh-barnea (they left Ra’amses on the fifteenth day of the ‘first month’, Nu. 33:3) leaving Mt Sinai on the twentieth day of the second month of the second year, Nu. 10:11. To this period, add at least: 3 days, Nu. 10:33; perhaps a further month, Nu. 11:21; and 7 days, Nu. 12:15; total 1 year and 21/2 months’ travel; then the subsequent 38 years from Kadesh-barnea to crossing the brook Zered (Dt. 2:14 and Nu. 21:12), Moses addressing Israel in the plains of Moab in the eleventh month of the fortieth year (Dt. 1:3). The function of the 40 years in replacing one generation (rebellious) by another is clearly stated in Dt. 2:14.
The statement that Hebron was founded 7 years before Zoan in Egypt (Nu. 13:22) is sometimes linked with the contemporary Era of Pi-Ramesse in Egypt, covering 400 years from approximately 1720/1700 to about 1320/1300 bc. This Era would then run parallel to the 430 years of Hebrew tradition. This idea, however, is interesting rather than convincing.
The Palestinian evidence agrees in general terms with the Egyptian data.
Various Palestinian city-sites show evidence of clear destruction in the second half of the 13th century bc, which would agree with the onset of the Israelites placed at roughly 1240 bc onward. Such sites are Tell Beit Mirsim, Lachish, Bethel and Hazor. Two sites only have given rise to controversy: Jericho and Ai.
At Jericho the broad truth seems to be that Joshua and Israel did their work so well that Jericho’s ruins lay open to the ravages of nature and of man for five centuries until Ahab’s day (cf. 1 Ki. 16:34), so that the Late Bronze Age levels, lying uppermost, were almost entirely denuded, even earlier levels being distinctly affected. Thus on some parts of the mound the uppermost levels that remain date as far back as the Early Bronze Age (3rd millennium bc), but the evidence from other parts and the tombs demonstrates clearly the existence of a large Middle Bronze Age settlement subsequently much denuded by erosion. The exceedingly scanty relics of Late Bronze Age Jericho (i.e. of Joshua’s age) are so few simply because they were exposed to erosion for an even longer period, from Joshua until Ahab’s reign; and any areas not occupied by the Iron Age settlement of Ahab’s time and after have been subject to erosion right down to the present day. Hence the nearly total loss of Late Bronze Jericho of the 14th century bc and the likelihood of the total loss of any settlement of the 13th century bc.
The walls attributed to the Late Bronze Age by Garstang prove, on fuller examination, to belong to the Early Bronze Age, c. 2300 bc, and so cease to be relevant to Joshua’s victory. The apparent cessation of Egyptian kings’ scarabs at Jericho with those of Amenophis III (died c. 1353 bc) does not of itself prove that Jericho fell then, but merely witnesses to the temporary eclipse of direct Egyptian influence in Palestine in the time of that king and his immediate successors, known also from other sources. Of Mycenaean pottery (commonly imported into Syria-Palestine in the 14th and 13th centuries bc), a paucity at Jericho likewise does not prove that Jericho fell earlier in the 14th century rather than well on in the 13th. The fact has been overlooked hitherto that these imported vessels are sometimes very rare on inland Syro-Palestinian sites at the same time as they are common in other settlements at, or readily accessible from, the coast. Thus the equally inland town of Hama in Syria is known to have been occupied during the 13th century bc, but it yielded only two late Mycenaean potsherds-which is less than even the few from Jericho; for Hama, see G. Hanfmann, review of P. J. Riis, ‘Hama II’, pt. 3, in JNES 12, 1953, pp. 206–207. The net result of all this is that a 13th-century Israelite conquest of *Jericho cannot be formally proven on the present archaeological evidence, but neither is it precluded thereby.
*Ai presents a problem demanding further field-research; the parts of the mound of Et-Tell so far excavated ceased to be occupied about 2300 bc. The answer may be that a Late Bronze settlement is still to be located in the neighbourhood, but certainty is at present unattainable.
At Hazor the destruction of city XIII probably reflects the attack under Joshua, but the date 1230 bc is too high (based on wrong Egyp, dates), and should read ‘within 1220–1200 bc’. The proposed 1275 bc (P. Beck, M. Kochavi, Tel Aviv 12, 1985, pp. 33, 38), also fails for the same reason. At Lachish (Tell ed-Duweir), the partial burning in stratum VII might be Israelite, not stratum VI, too late (cf. D. Ussishkin, in J. N. Tubb, ed., Palestine in the Bronze and Iron Ages, 1985, p. 224). It is usually impossible to tell arehaeologically who destroyed any particular settlement: The Habiru/ Apiru of the Amarna Tablets (c. 1350 bc) are sometimes identified with the invading Israelites under Joshua. But the details in each case disagree; and the very equation of Habiru/Apiru with ‘Hebrew’ is now often discounted. For a defence of a 15th-century date of the Exodus and Entry, see J. J. Bimson, Redating the Exodus and Conquest, 1978; but new data (e.g. on history of Covenant) is not in favour.
c. From Joshua until David’s accession
This period presents a problem in detail which cannot be finally solved without more information. If the 40 years of the Exodus journeyings, the 40 years of David’s reign and the first 3 of Solomon’s be subtracted from the total of 480 years from the Exodus to Solomon’s 4th year (1 Ki. 6:1) a figure of about 397 years is obtained for Joshua, the elders, the judges and Saul. The archaeological evidence indicates roughly 1220 bc for the start of the conquest (see above), giving only some 210 years to 1010 bc, the probable date of David’s accession. However, the actual total of recorded periods in Joshua, Judges and Samuel amounts neither to 397 nor to 210 years, but to 470 + .v + y + z years, where x stands for the time of Joshua and the elders, y for the number of years beyond 20 that Samuel was judge and z for the reign of Saul, all unknown figures. But the main outline of the problem need not be difficult to handle in principle, if viewed against the background of normal ancient oriental modes of reckoning, which alone are relevant. It is nowhere explicitly stated that either the 397 years obtained from using 1 Ki. 6:1 or the 470 plus unknown years of Joshua-Samuel must all be reckoned consecutively, nor need this be assumed. Certain groups of judges and oppressions are clearly stated to be successive (‘and after him …’), but this is not said of all: at least three main groups can be partly contemporary. So between the evidently consecutive 210 years obtained arehaeologically and the possibly partly-concurrent 470-plus-unknown years recorded, the difference of some 230-plus-unknown years can readily be absorbed. The 397 years in turn would then be simply a selection on some principle not yet clear (such as omission of oppressions or something similar) from the greater number of the 470-plus-unknown total years available.
In Near Eastern works involving chronology, it is important to realize that ancient scribes did not draw up synchronistic lists as is done today. They simply listed each series of rulers and reigns separately, in succession on the papyrus or tablet. Synchronisms were to be derived from special historiographical works, not the king-lists or narratives serving other purposes. An excellent example of this is the Turin Papyrus of Kings from Egypt. It lists at great length all five Dynasties 13 to 17 in successive groups, totalling originally over 150 rulers and their reigns accounting for at least 450 years. However, it is known from other sources that all five Dynasties, the 150-odd rulers and 450-odd regnal years alike, must all fit inside the 234 years from c. 1786 to c. 1552 bc: rarely less than two series, and sometimes three series, of rulers are known to have reigned contemporaneously. The lack of cross-references between contemporaries (e.g. among the judges) is paralleled by similar lack of such references for most of the period of Egyptian history just cited.
A similar situation can be discerned in the king-lists and history of the Sumerian and Old Babylonian city-states of Mesopotamia. Hence, there is no reason why such methods should not apply in a work like the book of Judges. It must be stressed that in no case, biblical or extra-biblical, is it a question of inaccuracy, but of the methods current in antiquity. All the figures may be correct in themselves-it is their interpretation which needs care. Selective use of data by omission, as suggested above for the origin of the 397 (of 480) years, is known from both Egyptian lists and Mesopotamian annals, as well as elsewhere. The biblical figures and archaeological data together begin to make sense when the relevant ancient practices are borne in mind; any final solution in detail requires much fuller information.
IV. The Hebrew monarchies
a. The United Monarchy
That David’s reign actually lasted 40 years is shown by its being a compound figure: 7 years at Hebron, 33 at Jerusalem (1 Ki. 2:11). Solomon’s reign of 40 years began with a brief co-regency with his father of perhaps only a few months; cf. 1 Ki. 1:37–2:11; 1 Ch. 28:5; 29:20–23, 26–28. As Solomon’s reign appears to have ended c. 931/30 bc, he acceded c. 971/70 bc, and David at c. 1011/10 bc.
The reign of Saul can only be estimated, as something has happened in the Hebrew text of 1 Sa. 13:1; but the 40 years of Acts 13:21 must be about right, because Saul’s fourth son, Ishbosheth, was not less than 35 years old at Saul’s death (dying at 42, not more than 7 years later, 2 Sa. 2:10). Hence if Jonathan the eldest was about 40 at death, Saul could not be much less than 60 at death. If he became king shortly after being anointed as a ‘young man’ (1 Sa. 9:2; 10:1, 17ff.), he probably would not be younger than 20 or much older than 30, so practically guaranteeing him a reign of 30 or 40 years. Thus if taken at a middle figure of about 25 years old at accession with a reign of at least 35 years, the biological data suit, and likewise Acts 13:21 as a figure either round or exact. Saul’s accession is thus perhaps not far removed from about 1045 or 1050 bc.
b. The Divided Monarchy
(i) To the fall of Samaria. From comparison of the Assyrian limmu or eponym lists, king-lists and historical texts, the date 853 bc can be fixed for the battle of Qarqar, the death of Ahab and accession of Ahaziah in Israel; and likewise Jehu’s accession at Joram’s death in 841 bc. The intervening reigns of Ahaziah and Joram exactly fill this interval if reckoned according to the customary methods of regnal counting. Similar careful reckoning by ancient methods gives complete harmony of figures for the reigns of both kingdoms back to the accessions of Rehoboam in Judah and Jeroboam in Israel in the year 931/930 bc. Hence the dates given above for the United Monarchy.
Likewise the dates of both sets of kings can be worked out down to the fall of Samaria not later than 720 bc. This has been clearly shown by E. R. Thiele, Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings3, 1965. It is possible to demonstrate, as he has done, co-regencies between Asa and Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat and Jehoram, Amaziah and Azariah (Uzziah), Azariah and Jotham, and Jotham and Ahaz. However, Thiele’s objections to the synchronisms of 2 Ki. 17:1 (12th year of Ahaz equated with accession of Hoshea in Israel), 2 Ki. 18:1 (3rd year of Hoshea with accession of Hezekiah of Judah) and 2 Ki. 18:9–10 (equating Hezekiah’s 4th and 6th years with Hoshea’s 7th and 9th) are invalid. Thiele took these for years of sole reign, 12/13 years in error. However, the truth appears to be that in fact these four references simply continue the system of co-regencies: Ahaz was co-regent with Jotham 12 years, and Hezekiah with Ahaz. This practice of co-regencies in Judah must have contributed notably to the stability of that kingdom; David and Solomon had thus set a valuable precedent.
(ii) Judah to the fall of Jerusalem. From Hezekiah’s reign until that of Jehoiachin, dates can still be worked out to the year, culminating in that of the Babylonian capture of Jerusalem in 597 bc, precisely dated to 15/16 March (2nd of Adar) 597 by the Babylonian Chronicle tablets covering this period. But from this point to the final fall of Jerusalem, some uncertainty reigns over the precise mode of reckoning of the Hebrew civil year and of the various regnal years of Zedekiah and Nebuchadrezzar in 2 Kings and Jeremiah. Consequently two different dates are current for the fall of Jerusalem: 587 and 586 bc. The date 587 is here preferred, with Wiseman and Albright (against Thiele for 586).
V. The Exile and after
Most of the dates in the reigns of Babylonian and Persian kings mentioned in biblical passages dealing with this period can be determined accurately. For over half a century, opinions have been divided over the relative order of Ezra and Nehemiah at Jerusalem. The biblical order of events which makes *Ezra reach Jerusalem in 458 bc and *Nehemiah arrive there in 445 is perfectly consistent under close scrutiny (cf. J. S. Wright).
The intertestamental period is reasonably clear; for the main dates, see the chronological table.
Bibliography. Near Eastern chronology: W C. Hayes, M. B. Rowton, F. Stubbings, CAH3 1970, ch. VI: Chronology; T. Jacobsen, The Sumerian King List, 1939—deals with the early Mesopotamian rulers; R. A. Parker and W. H. Dubberstein, Babylonian Chronology 626 bc-ad 75, 1956—full dates for Babylonian, Persian and later kings for 626 bc-ad 75, with tables; K. A. Kitchen, in .P. Astrom (ed.), High, Middle or Low?. Acts of an International Colloquium on Absolute Chronology 1–3, 1987–9; E. R. Thiele, Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, 1965. A. Jepsen and A. Hanhart, Untersuchungen zur Israelitisch-Jiidischen Chronologic, 1964; J. Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology, 1964; V. Pavlovsky, E. Vogt, Bib. 45, 1964, pp. 321–347, 348–354. A. Ungnad, 6, in E. Ebeling and B. Meissner, Reallexikon der Assyriologie, 2, 1938, pp. 412–457-full statement and texts of the Assyrian eponym-lists.
Egypt: Sir A. H. Gardiner, in JEA 31, 1945, pp. 11–28—Egyptian regnal and civil years; R. A. Parker, The Calendars of Ancient Egypt, 1950— standard work; W. G. Waddell, Manelho, 1948—standard work; K. A. Kitchen, in Acta Archaeo-logica 67, 1996, I; idem. World Archaeology 23/2, 1991, pp. 201–208; W. A. Ward, BASOR 288, 1992, pp.53–66.
Palestine: W F. Albright, Archaeology of Palestine, 1956—a very convenient outline of its subject; N. Glueck, Rivers in the Desert, 1959—a popular summary of his work on 20th century bc seasonal occupation of the Negeb, continuing his reports in BASOR, Nos. 131, 137, 138, 142, 145, 149, 150, 152 and 155; N. Glueck, The Other Side of the Jordan, 1940, ‘1970—on the question of Middle Bronze and Iron Age settlements in Transjordan, concerning the dates of Abraham and the Exodus; G. L. Harding in PEQ 90, 1958, pp. 10–12—against Glueck on Transjordanian settlement; H. H. Rowley, ‘The Chronological Order of Ezra and Nehemiah’, in The Servant of the Lord and Other Essays on the Old Testament, 1952, pp. 129ff.; J. S. Wright, The Building of the Second Temple, 1958—for the post-exilic dates; idem. The Date of Ezra’s Coming to Jerusalem2, 1958.
The fall of Judah: D. J. Wiseman, Chronicles of Chaldaean Kings (626–556 bc), 1956—fundamental for its period; compare the following: W F. Albright in BASOR 143, 1956, pp. 28–33; E. R. Thiele, ibid., pp. 22–27; H. Tadmor, in JNES 15, 1956, pp. 226–230; D. J. A. Clines, ‘Regnal Year Reckoning in the Last Years of the Kingdom of Judah, AJBA 2, 1972, pp. 9–34. k.a.k
CHRONOLOGY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT. An attempt to establish a firm chronology of the NT is difficult because the early Christians were more interested in the sayings and events of important personages than in the time when these occurred. This is not to say they were not interested in history but they did not live in a world where chronological precision was as possible as it is at present. Hence, in attempting to put events into a chronological framework, one must gather information from incidental time references.
I. Chronology of the life of Jesus
a. Birth of Jesus
The birth of Jesus occurred before the death of Herod the Great (Mt. 2:1; Lk. 1:5), hence before March/April 4 bc (Ant. 17.167, 191; 14.487–490).
According to Lk. 2:1–5 the census of Quirinius was taken just before Jesus’ birth but the date of this census is difficult to pinpoint because no Roman historian mentions it. While Quirinius was governor of Syria in ad 6/7, he was responsible for liquidating Archelaus of Judaea’s estate and conducting a census to assess the amount of tribute the new province was to pay the imperial treasury. However, this census is not the same as the one mentioned in Lk. 2 unless Luke is mistaken, as some critics suppose—because it occurred after the deposition of Herod’s son Archelaus, whereas the context of the birth narrative of Jesus in Lk. 2 was in the days of Herod the Great. In order to resolve the problem, some suggest that Quirinius was governor of Syria not only in ad 6/7 but also in 11/10 to 8/7 bc. Others suggest that this census was ‘before’ Quirinius was governor in ad 6/7. And some think that Quirinius had been proconsul of Syria and Cilicia during the last years of Herod the Great under the legates Saturninus and Varus. Of the various suggestions, it is not improbable that Quirinius conducted a census in the last years of Herod. Toward the end of his reign Herod fell out of favour with Rome (c. 8/7 bc). This was followed by an intense struggle by his sons for the throne at a time when Herod was extremely ill. This would allow the Roman government to take a census in Herod’s land in order to assess the situation before his death. Although it is difficult to pinpoint the exact year of the census, it was probably sometime between 6 and 4 bc.
There has been much discussion regarding the historicity and identity of the star of Bethlehem. A triple conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter in the constellation Pisces in 7 bc, which occurs every 900 years, and the massing of Mars, Saturn and Jupiter in Pisces in 6 bc, which occurs every 800 years (much less frequently in Pisces), may have alerted the Magi of the birth of Israel’s Messiah. Finally, in 5 bc a comet appeared in the E in the constellation of Capricornus that could well have caused the Magi to go to Bethlehem (Mt. 2:2) where it hovered (Mt. 2:9–10). Hence, Jesus may have been born sometime in the spring or summer of 5 bc. The account of Herod’s murder of all the children under 2 years of age in Bethlehem may be because he thought that Jesus was born when the Magi had seen the first constellation in 7 bc, or perhaps simply because Herod wanted to be completely certain he had killed Jesus. This would not be unusual considering his paranoia in regard to a successor.
b. Commencement of Jesus’ ministry
Except for the mention of Jesus’ visit to the temple when he was 12 years old (Lk. 2:41–51), there are no chronological data until the beginning of his ministry. The first concrete clue for the commencement of Jesus’ ministry is in Lk. 3:1–3, which states that John the Baptist’s ministry began in the fifteenth year of Tiberius. Although there is debate, it is most likely that the fifteenth year of Tiberius is reckoned either on the basis of the Julian calendar, namely, 1 January to 31 December ad 29 or on the basis of Tiberius’s reign, the normal Roman method, namely, 19 August ad 28 to 18 August ad 29. Combining these calendars, the fifteenth year of Tiberius would have occurred sometime between 19 August ad 28 and 31 December ad 29. Hence, John the Baptist’s ministry began sometime during this period.
The impression given in the gospels is that shortly after the commencement of John the Baptist’s ministry, Jesus was baptized and began his ministry. Luke indicates that when Jesus began his ministry, he was ‘about thirty years of age’ (Lk. 3:23). If Jesus was born in the spring or summer of 5 bc and was baptized in the summer or autumn of ad 29, he would have been around 33 years of age.
After his baptism, the first recorded visit of Jesus to Jerusalem is found in Jn. 2:13–3:21 where he celebrated the first Passover of his ministry, cleansing the temple. The Synoptic Gospels do not mention such a visit at the start of his ministry, and indeed they record the so-called ‘cleansing’ of the temple in the context of Jesus’ visit to Jerusalem at the end of his ministry. This divergence has been variously explained: some scholars argued that there were two cleansings, one at the start and one at the end of his ministry; others concluded that John’s gospel is theologically not chronologically arranged; and others argued that the synoptics have simplified the picture by having Jesus go to Jerusalem only once in his ministry and that John’s account has great historical plausibility (see further below).
According to John, it was during Jesus’ first Passover that the Jews mentioned that the Hero-dian temple had been constructed 46 years ago (Jn. 2:20). According to Josephus, the temple construction began in Herod’s eighteenth year (Ant. 15.380) which coincided with Augustus’ arrival in Syria (Ant. 15.354) and this occurred in the spring or summer of 20 bc (Dio Cassius 54. 7. 4–6). Herod’s eighteenth year would have been from 1 Nisan 20 to 1 Nisan 19 bc. There were two parts in building the temple: the first was the inner sanctuary called the naos located within the priests’ court which was completed by the priests in 18 months (Ant. 15.421), and the second included the whole temple area including the three courts and was called the hieron which was completed in ad 63. This distinction is consistently maintained by Josephus and the NT. In discussing the temple with Jesus, the Jews were referring to the naos as having stood for 46 years. If the construction of the naos began in 20/19 bc and was completed in 18 months, i.e. in 18/17 bc, then 46 years later would bring the date to the year ad 29/30. This means, then, that Jesus’ first Passover was the spring of ad 30. In conclusion, the commencement of Jesus’ ministry was sometime in the summer or autumn of ad 29.
c. Duration of Jesus’ministry
Valentinus, an early Gnostic commentator (born C. ad 100), as well as many of the ante-Nicene period, suggested a 1-year ministry of Jesus based on the Lk. 4:19 quotation of Is. 61:2: ‘To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.’ However, Valentinus’s contemporary, Irenaeus, refuted this view by indicating the three Passovers mentioned in John (2:13; 6:4; 11:55). Several present-century commentators suggest a 1-year ministry beginning with Jesus’ disciples plucking the grain on the Sabbath in Mk. 2:23 (ripe grain at Passover time) and ending with the Passover (only one mentioned in the Synoptic Gospels) in Mk. 14:1. To propose a 1-year ministry on the basis of the Isaianic passage is dubious. Again, the mention of three Passovers in the Gospel of John makes shipwreck of a 1-year ministry. Furthermore, to compress 1 year between Mk. 2:23 and 14:1 is unlikely, for after the plucking of grain in 2:23, there is the mention of ‘green grass’ in the feeding of the 5,000 (6:39). This indicates that another year had elapsed and another year is required between this last incident and the passion Passover of 14:1.
A 2-year ministry based on the three Passovers mentioned in John was suggested by 4th-century bishops Apollinaris of Laodicea and Epiphanius of Salamis in Cyprus, and is held by a few scholars in the 20th century.
A 3-year ministry seems to be more viable. As mentioned above, the Gospel of John refers to three Passovers (2:13; 6:4; 11:55). Moreover, it seems that an additional year is needed between the Passovers of 2:13 and 6:4. The Passover of 6:4 is around the time Jesus fed the 5,000, the only miracle mentioned in all four gospels. Previous to this feeding, the Synoptic Gospels mention the disciples plucking grain in Galilee (Mt. 12:1; Mk. 2:23; Lk. 6:1) and this must have been after the Passover of John 2:13. The reason for this is that the Passover of John 2:13 occurred shortly after his baptism and he was ministering in Judaea, whereas the plucking of the grain occurred a considerable time after Jesus’ baptism and the locale of his ministry was in Galilee. Therefore, the plucking of the grain would fit well with a Passover between the Passovers of John 2:13 and 6:4. John provides two additional chronological indicators which would support an additional year between these Passovers. First, after the Passover of Jn. 2:13, Jesus ministered in Judaea and then went to Samaria where he mentioned there were 4 months until harvest (Jn. 4:35), which would mean the following January/February. Although some consider it a proverbial statement, it seems best to take this as a literal chronological reference. The second chronological indicator is in Jn. 5:1 where there is mention of another unspecified feast. Some interpreters think it refers to another Passover, although it more likely refers to the Feast of Tabernacles. Thus, these two chronological notes would substantiate that there was another Passover between the Passovers of Jn. 2:13 and 6:4. This would make a total of four Passovers during Jesus’ public ministry, and hence his ministry would have been 31/2 to 31/4 years in length.
d. Death of Jesus
There is a need to discuss both the day of the week and the day of the month as well as the year of Jesus’ death.
First, the day of the week on which Jesus died has been traditionally thought of as Friday of passion week. However because Jesus states in Mt. 12:40: ‘For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth’, some interpreters think that Jesus could not have died on Friday. They suggest that Jesus died either on Wednesday or Thursday, allowing for 3 days and 3 nights. But when one understands that the Jews reckoned a part of a day as a whole day, then Jesus’ death on Friday does not present a serious problem. Furthermore, the NT repeatedly refers to Jesus’ resurrection as having occurred on the third day (not on the fourth day, e.g. Mt. 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; Lk. 9:22; 18:33; 24:7, 46; Acts 10:40; 1 Cor. 15:4). Moreover, the gospels specifically mention the day before the Sabbath (Friday) as the day of his death (Mt. 27:62; Mk. 15:42; Lk. 23:54; Jn. 19:14, 31, 42). Therefore, both scripturally and traditionally, it seems best to accept Friday as the day of Jesus’ death.
Second, there is a need to discuss the day of the Jewish month on which Jesus died. All the gospels state that Jesus ate the Last Supper the day before his crucifixion (Mt. 26:20; Mk. 14:17; Lk. 22:14; Jn. 13:2; cf. also 1 Cor. 11:23). On the one hand, the Synoptic Gospels (Mt. 26:17; Mk. 14:12; Lk. 22:7–8) portray that the Last Supper was the Passover meal celebrated on Thursday evening, 14 Nisan, and that Jesus was crucified the following day, Friday, 15 Nisan. On the other hand, John states that the Jews who took Jesus to the Praeto-rium did not enter it ‘in order that they might not be defiled but might eat the Passover’ (Jn. 18:28) and that Jesus’ trial was on the ‘day of preparation for the Passover’ and not after the eating of the Passover (Jn. 19:14). This implies that Jesus’ Last Supper (which occurred on Thursday night, 13 Nisan) was not a Passover and that Jesus was tried and crucified on Friday, 14 Nisan, just before the Jews ate their Passover.
In the attempt to reconcile the Synoptics and John, several theories have been proposed. Some suggest that the Last Supper was not a Passover meal but a meal the night before the Passover (Jn. 13:1, 29). However, the Synoptics explicitly state that the Last Supper was a Passover (Mt. 26:2, 17–19; Mk. 14:1, 12, 14, 16; Lk. 22:1, 7–8, 13, 15). Others suggest that the ‘Passover’ referred to in Jn 18:28 and 19:14 was not the Passover meal itself, but one of the other festal meals held in Passover week. All sorts of other harmonizations have been offered. Some have proposed that Jesus and his disciples had a private Passover. However, the Passover lamb had to be slaughtered within the temple precincts and the priests would not have allowed the slaughter of the Paschal lamb for a private Passover. Some think it was celebrated on two consecutive days, because it would have been impossible to slay all the Passover lambs on one day. Others think that different religious calendars were in operation in Palestine. So it has been suggested that Jesus and his followers followed the solar calendar used at Qumran, thus celebrating the Passover earlier in the week than the authorities who followed a lunar calendar. A different calendrical solution proposes that, on the one hand the Synoptic Gospels followed the method of the Galileans and the Pharisees in reckoning a day to be from sunrise to sunrise and thus Jesus and his disciples slaughtered the Paschal Iamb in the late afternoon of Thursday, 14 Nisan, and later that evening they ate the Passover with the unleavened bread. On the other hand, John’s Gospel followed the method of the Judaeans in reckoning a day to be from sunset to sunset and thus the Judaean Jews slaughtered the Paschal lamb in the late afternoon on Friday, 14 Nisan, and ate the Passover with the unleavened bread that night which had become 15 Nisan. Thus, Jesus had eaten the Passover meal when his enemies, who had not as yet had the Passover meal, arrested him.
Finally, the year of Jesus’ death can be narrowed by several considerations. First, the three officials involved in the trial were Caiaphas the high priest (Mt. 26:3, 57; Jn. 11:49–53; 18:13–14, 24, 28) who began his office in ad 18 and was deposed at the Passover of ad 37 (Ant. 18.35; 90–95); Pilate, prefect of Judaea (Mt. 27:2–26; Mk. 15:1–15; Lk. 23:1–25; Jn. 18:28–19:16; Acts 3:13; 4:27; 13:28; 1 Tim. 6:13) from ad 26 to 36 (Ant. 18. 89); and Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea (Lk. 23:6–12; Acts 4:27) from 4 bc until ad 39 (Ant. 18.240–56; 19.351). Thus Jesus’ trial must have occurred between ad 26 and 36.
Second, evidence from astronomy helps us to identify which Passover took place on Thursdays/ Fridays, and so to narrow the date of Jesus’ crucifixion. Granted that Jesus’ death occurred on Friday, 14 Nisan, and sometime between ad 26 and 36, only the years ad 27, 30, 33, and 36 qualify astronomically. Of these dates, ad 27 is the least likely astronomically and 36 is too late. Of the remaining dates, 30 has been debated as to whether or not 14 Nisan fell on a Friday, while the ad 33 date has the least problem astronomically. Those who maintain an ad 30 date need to begin John the Baptist’s ministry 3 years earlier. They attempt it by reckoning the first year of Tiberius’s reign when he became co-regent with Augustus. But this method must be rejected for there is no evidence, either from historical documents or coins, for its employment.
Third, history confirms the ad 33 date. Pilate is portrayed by his contemporary Philo (Embassy to Gaius 301–302) and later by Josephus (Ant. 18.55–59; BJ 1.167–77) as one who was greedy, inflexible and cruel, and who resorted to robbery and oppression, a portrait not out of keeping with Lk. 13:1. Yet, during Jesus’ trial, Pilate is seen as one who was readily submissive to the pressures of the religious leaders who were demanding that Jesus be handed over to them.
How can such a change be explained? It must be understood that Pilate was probably appointed by Sejanus, a trusted friend of Tiberius, as well as the prefect of the Praetorian Guard, a dedicated anti-Semite who wanted to exterminate the Jewish race (Philo In Flaccum, 1; Embassy to Gains, 159–161). When Pilate made trouble for the Jews in Palestine, Sejanus accepted this behaviour and did not report it to Tiberius. However, when Sejanus was deposed and executed by Tiberius on 18 October, ad 31, Pilate no longer had protection in Rome. In fact, it is most likely that Herod Antipas reported that he had caused a riot, probably at the Feast of Tabernacles in ad 32 (Philo Embassy to Gaius 299–305). Since Herod Antipas ‘had one’ on Pilate, it is understandable that in the midst of the trial, when there was the mention that Jesus stirred up trouble in Judaea and Galilee (Lk. 23:5), Pilate was eager to allow Herod Antipas to try Jesus (Lk. 23:6–12). In this context, the ad 33 date for the trial makes good sense for three reasons:
1. Pilate, on hearing that Jesus had caused trouble in Galilee, handed Jesus over to Herod Antipas. This was not required by Roman law but he did not want to make another wrong move that Herod could relate to the emperor;
2. the lack of progress in the trial in Lk. 23:6–12 makes sense because Herod Antipas did not want to make a bad judgment which would cause Pilate to take advantage of him;
3. Lk. 23:12 states that Pilate and Herod Antipas were friends from that day onward. This would be inaccurate if the crucifixion were in ad 30 because they were extremely at odds with each other in ad 32. Hence, the ad 33 date best fits the historical evidence.
|Jesus’ birth||summer 5 bc|
|Herod the Great’s death||March/April, 4 bc|
|Jesus at the temple aged 12||Passover, 29 April ad 9|
|Commencement of John the Baptists ministry||ad 29|
|Commencement of Jesus’ ministry||summer/autumn ad 29|
|Jesus’ first Passover (Jn. 2:13)||7 April, ad 30|
|Jesus’ second Passover||25 April, ad 31|
|Jesus’ at the Feast of Tabernacles (Jn. 5:1)||21–28 October, ad 31|
|Jesus’ third Passover (Jn. 6:4)||13/14 April, ad 32|
|Jesus’ at the Feast of Tabernacles (Jn. 7:2, 10)||10–17 September, ad 32|
|Jesus’ at the Feast of Dedication (Jn. 10:22–39)||18 December, ad 32|
|Jesus’ death||Friday, 3 April, ad 33|
|Jesus’ resurrection||Sunday, 5 April, ad 33|
|Jesus’ ascension (Acts 1)||Thursday, 14 May, ad 33|
|Day of Pentecost (Acts 2)||Sunday, 24 May, ad 33|
II. Chronology of the apostolic age
a. Paul’s ministry
The key figure in the apostolic age was the apostle Paul. Reconstructing the chronology of his life and ministry is complicated by scholarly questions (a) about the reliability of the Acts of the Apostles, being our most explicit source of information about Pauline chronology, and (b) about the authenticity of various of the Pauline letters, notably the Pastoral epistles. Some scholars have offered alternative Pauline chronologies to that suggested by Acts, basing their ideas primarily on selected Pauline letters. However, the evidence of Acts stands up remarkably well in the face of these challenges.
The date of Paul’s conversion hinges primarily on two passages of Scripture. First, Gal. 1:17–18 states that he went from Damascus to Jerusalem 3 years after his conversion (cf. Acts 9:25–26). When he escaped from Damascus, the Nabataean Aretas IV was in power (cf. 2 Cor. 11:32) and since he reigned from ad 37–39, Paul’s conversion must have been sometime between ad 34 and 36. Second, Gal. 2:1 indicates that Paul again went up to Jerusalem 14 years later. This probably refers to the famine visit he made with Barnabas, described in Acts 11 and 12, which can be dated around ad 47 to 49. It is likely that the 14 years are to be reckoned from his conversion rather than after the time of his first visit to Jerusalem, and thus his conversion would be sometime between ad 33 and 35. The overlap from these two primary passages would be ad 34 to 35 and probably the best time for his conversion would be in the summer of ad 35. Paul returned to Jerusalem in the summer of ad 37—parts of years are equivalent to a whole year-(Acts 9:26–29; Gal. 1:18–20). Paul went to Tarsus and Syria-Cilicia around the autumn of ad 37 (Acts 9:30; Gal. 1:21) and then to Antioch around ad 41 (Acts 11:19–24). Paul visited Jerusalem during the time of famine, probably in the autumn of ad 47 (Acts 11:30; Gal. 2:1–10), and returned to Antioch from the autumn of ad 47 to the spring of 48 (Acts 12:25–13:1).
Paul, thereafter, embarked on his three missionary journeys. The first missionary journey (Acts 13–14) would have been from the spring of ad 48 to the autumn of 49. Probably, in the spring of ad 48 Paul and Barnabas sailed to Salamis in Cyprus and crossing the island to Paphos, met Sergius Paulus, the proconsul. In later summer/early autumn the missionaries crossed the sea to Perga of Pamphylia and in late summer arrived in Pisidian Antioch. They ministered in the cities of Iconium, Lystra and Derbe from approximately the autumn of ad 48 to the summer/autumn of 49 and then returned to Antioch of Syria around the autumn of 49.
Upon his return to Antioch, Paul may have written the book of Galatians, and then he and Barnabas went to the council meeting in Jerusalem in the autumn of ad 49 (Acts 15:1–29). A real chronological debate revolves around the identification of the conference in Gal. 2:1–10. Some interpreters think it is to be identified with Paul’s attendance at the Jerusalem council of Acts 15 (his third visit to Jerusalem) because it would support the 14 years (Gal. 2:1) from the time of his conversion to the time of the Jerusalem council. However, it seems more likely that the conference in Gal. 2:1–10 refers to the famine relief visit of Acts 11:27–30; 12:25 (his second visit to Jerusalem) because to have suppressed the famine relief visit would have been fatal to his argument in Galatians that he was independent of human authority in his reception and proclamation of the gospel. Thus the 14 years covers the time of his conversion to the time of the famine relief visit (reckoning inclusively). This also means that Galatians was written before the Jerusalem council and the Galatians are those people in the area of Iconium, Lystra and Derbe of the first missionary journey.
After wintering in Antioch (Acts 15:33–35), Paul started on his second missionary journey (Acts 15:36–18:22) which would have been from the spring of ad 50 to the autumn of 52. On this missionary journey he retraced his steps by visiting Phrygia and Galatia (Iconium, Lystra and Derbe; Acts 16:6) and with the leading of the Spirit he entered Europe, stayed in Corinth for 18 months (Acts 18:11), and was tried before the proconsul Gallic (Acts 18:12–17) who ruled in Achaia probably from the summer of ad 51 to the summer of 52. Also, in Corinth Paul met Priscilla and Aquila, Jewish Christians who were forced out of Rome under the edict of Claudius, probably in ad 49 or 50 (Acts 18:2; Suetonius, Claudius 5. 25.4; Orosius, History 7. 6). In the summer of ad 51, while in Corinth, Paul wrote 1 and 2 Thes. On his return to Antioch, Paul brought along Priscilla and Aquila and left them at Ephesus.
The third missionary journey (Acts 18:23–21:16) was from the spring of ad 53 to the spring of 57. Paul returned to Phrygia and Galatia and proceeded to Ephesus, where he remained for nearly 3 years (Acts 19:8, 10; 20:31), from the summer of ad 53 until May of 56 and in the spring of 56 he wrote 1 Cor. Paul is often thought to have paid a short ‘painful’ visit to Corinth during this Ephesian period (2 Cor. 2:1), and some scholars have speculated that he spent some time in prison in Ephesus, writing some or all of his ‘Prison epistles’ here (but see below).
When he finally left Ephesus, he went to Macedonia and Greece for three months (Acts 20:3). While in Macedonia he wrote 2 Cor. (which we take to be a unity, despite some critics’ questions). In Corinth (Rom. 16:23) he wrote Rom. in the winter of ad 56/57. From Corinth Paul retraced his steps through Europe and then took ship from Troas, returning to Jerusalem by the Pentecost of ad 57 (Acts 20:16).
While in Jerusalem he was arrested and taken to Caesarea for a trial before Felix, who was probably procurator from the latter part of ad 52 to the summer of 59 (Acts 23:24; Ant. 20.137; BJ 2.247; Ant. 12.54). Felix heard Paul (Acts 24) and Paul remained in the Caesarean prison for 2 years, at the end of which time Felix was succeeded by Festus (Acts 24:27; Ant. 20.182; BJ 2.271). Both Festus and Herod Agrippa II heard Paul in Caesarea (Acts 25:7–12; 26:1–32) in the late summer of ad 59. Paul was in prison in Caesarea from June of 57 until August of 59. He left Caesarea in August of 59 and arrived in Rome in February of 60 (Acts 27:1–28:29) and remained in prison for 2 years (Acts 28:30), from February 60 to March of 62. While in prison, he wrote the Prison epistles: Eph. in the autumn of 60, Col. and Ph. in the autumn of 61, and Phil. in the spring of 62. (Some scholars have speculated that some or all of the epistles were written earlier, either from Ephesus or from Caesarea.)
After the Roman imprisonment there are no recorded travels of Paul in Acts. From Paul’s intentions, his travel notes in the Pastoral epistles, and from early church history, one can only attempt to reconstruct his itinerary after his release from the Roman prison in the spring of ad 62. It seems probable that he travelled E, possibly first in Ephesus and Colossae (spring-autumn 62), later in Macedonia (autumn 62-winter 62/63) from where he wrote 1 Tim. (1:3), and afterwards returned to Asia Minor (spring 63-spring 64). After Asia Minor Paul may well have gone to Spain (spring 64-spring 66) (Rom. 15:24, 28). After Spain it is possible that Paul, with Titus, returned to the E by going to Crete (early summer 66) and leaving Titus. Paul then returned to Asia Minor (summer-autumn 66) (2 Tim. 4:13–14) from where he wrote Tit. (Tit. 1:5). He went to Nicopolis for the winter of 66/67 (Tit. 3:12). It seems that Paul went to Macedonia and Greece (spring-autumn 67) (2 Tim. 4:20) and was possibly arrested when Nero was in Greece in the autumn of 67. It is probable that Paul was again imprisoned in Rome (2 Tim. 1:8; 2:9) from where he wrote 2 Tim. (autumn of 67). Paul’s death may have come in the spring of 68.
b. Apostolic history
In the early part of Acts, Peter played a prominent role. Since it was concluded that Jesus died in ad 33 and that Paul’s conversion was in the summer of 35, the ministry of Peter and the other apostles mentioned in the first 8 chapters of Acts would have taken place in the 2 years between ad 33 and 35. Peter plays a prominent part in the Jerusalem council in ad 49 (Acts 15). It is most likely that Peter did go to Rome towards the end of his life. Since Peter is neither mentioned by Paul when he wrote to the Romans in the winter of ad 56/57, when he wrote the Prison epistles in his first imprisonment in Rome in ad 60–62, nor when he wrote his second letter to Tim. in his second imprisonment in Rome in ad 67, nor by Luke when he narrates Paul’s imprisonment in Acts 28:14–30, it seems that Peter was not in Rome before ad 62 or after 66. It is probable that Peter was in Rome when Paul was not there and thus he may well have come to Rome around ad 62 and been martyred in the Neronian persecution following the fire in the summer of 64.
In the persecution of Herod Agrippa I in ad 44, James, the brother of John, was killed and Peter was imprisoned (Acts 12:2–3). It was in that same year that Agrippa I died (Acts 12:20–23; Ant. 19.343–53).
James, the brother of the Lord, was an important leader in the early church (Acts 15:13; Gal. 1:19–2:9; 1 Cor. 15:7). Josephus speaks of his death as having occurred in the period of anarchy after the death of Festus in the winter of 61/62 and before the arrival of his successor, Albinus, in the summer of 62 (Ant. 20.197–203). Hence, James was killed in the spring of 62.
The fall of Jerusalem was predicted by Christ (Mt. 24:15=Mk. 13:14=Lk. 21:20) and the first phase of the fulfilment was accomplished in ad 70. Many Christians are thought to have fled to Pella, E of the Sea of Galilee (Eusebius EH 3.5. 2–3).
Due to the destruction of Jerusalem, some have surmised that John fled to Asia Minor, possibly to Ephesus. Part of his time was spent on the island of Patmos (Rev. 1:9) and although there is no certainty regarding the time of his death, traditionally it is thought to have occurred in ad 100.
A proposed chronology for the whole apostolic period (with some dates more speculative and approximate than others) can be charted as follows:
|Crucifixion||Friday, 3 April, ad 33|
|Pentecost (Acts 2)||Sunday, 24 May, 33|
|Peter’s second sermon and brought before the Sanhedrin (Acts 3:1–4:31)||summer 33|
|Death of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 4:32–5:11)||33–34|
|Peter brought before Sanhedrin (Acts 5:12–42)||34–35|
|Deacons selected (Acts 6:1–7)||late 34-early 35|
|Stephen martyred (Acts 6:8–7:60)||April 35|
|Paul’s conversion (Acts 9:1–7)||summer 35|
|Paul in Damascus and Arabia (Acts 9:8–25; Gal. 1:16–17)||summer 35-early summer 37|
|Paul in Jerusalem, first visit (Acts 9:26–29||summer 37|
|Paul in Tarsus and Syria-Cilicia area (Acts 9:30; Gal 1:21)||autumn 37|
|Peter ministers to the Gentiles (Acts 10:1–11:18)||40–41|
|Barnabas sent to Antioch (Acts 11:19–24)||41|
|Paul went to Antioch (Acts 11:25–26)||spring 43|
|Agabus predicts a famine (Acts 11:27–28)||spring 44|
|Agrippa’s persecution, James martyred (Acts 12:1–23)||spring 44|
|Relief visit, Paul’s second visit to Jerusalem (Acts 11:30; Gal. 2:1–10)||autumn 47|
|Paul in Antioch (Acts 12:25–13:1)||autumn 47-spring 48|
|First missionary journey (Acts 13–14)||April 48-September 49|
|Departure from Antioch||April 48|
|Pamphylia||beginning-middle of July 48|
|Pisidian Antioch||middle July-middle September 48|
|Iconium||October 48-end February 49|
|Lystra-Derbe||March-middle June 49|
|Return visit to churches||middle June-August 49|
|Return to Antioch of Syria||autumn 49|
|Peter at Antioch (Gal 2:11–16)||autumn 49|
|Galatians written fron Antioch||autumn 49|
|Jerusalem council, Paul’s third visit (Acts 15)||autumn 49|
|Paul in Antioch (Acts 15:33–35)||winter 49/50|
|Second missionary journey (Acts 15:36–18:22)||April 50-September 52|
|Departure from Antioch||April 50|
|Syria and Cilicia||April 50|
|Iconium||end May-middle June 50|
|Pisidian Antioch||middle June-beginning July 50|
|Antioch to Troas||July 50|
|Thessalonica||November 50-January 51|
|Athens||end February-middle March 51|
|Arrival at Corinth||middle March 51|
|Silas and Timothy arrive fron Berea||April/May 51|
|1 Thessalonians written||early summer 51|
|2 Thessalonians written||summer 51|
|Departure fron Corinth||beginning September 52|
|Ephesus||middle September 52|
|Jerusalem, Paul’s fourth visit||end September 52|
|Return to Antioch||beginning/middle November 52|
|Paul’s stay at Antioch||winter 52/53|
|Third missionary journey (Acts 18:23–21:16)||spring 53-May 57|
|Departure from Antioch||spring 53|
|Visiting Galatian churches||spring-summer 53|
|Arrival at Ephesus||September 53|
|1 Corinthians written||early spring 56|
|Departure from Ephesus (riot)||beginning May 56|
|Arrival in Macedonia||beginning June 56|
|2 Corinthians written||September/October 56|
|Departure from Macedonia||middle November 56|
|Arrival in Corinth||end November 56|
|Romans written||winter 56/57|
|Departure from Corinth||end February, 57|
|Philippi||6–14 April, 57|
|Troas||12–25 April, 57|
|Troas to Assos||Monday, 25 April, 57|
|Assos to Mitylene||26 April, 57|
|Mitylene to Chios||27 April, 57|
|Chios to Trogyllium||28 April, 57|
|Trogyllium to Miletus||29 April, 57|
|Ephesian elders see Paul||30 April-2 May, 57|
|Miletus to Patara||2–4 May, 57|
|Patara to Tyre||5–9 May, 57|
|Stay at Tyre||10–16 May, 57|
|Tyre to Caesarea||17–19 May, 57|
|Stay at Caesarea||19–25 May, 57|
|Caesarea to Jerusalem||25–27 May, 57|
|Jerusalem, Paul’s fifth visit||eve of Pentecost, 25 May, 57|
|Meeting with James (Acts 21:13–23)||28 May, 57|
|Paul’s arrest and trial before Felix (Acts 21:26–24:22)||29 May-9 June, 57|
|First day of purification||Sunday, 29 May, 57|
|Second day of purification||30 May, 57|
|Third day of purification||31 May, 57|
|Fourth day of purification||1 June, 57|
|Fifth day of purification, riot, Paul’s speech||2 June, 57|
|Paul before the Sanhedrin||3 June, 57|
|Appearance of the Lord (night)|
|4 June, 57|
|Journey to Antipatris (night)|
Journey to Caesarea (day)
|5 June, 57|
|Waiting in Caesarea for trial||5–9 June, 57|
|Trial before Felix||Thursday, 9 June, 57|
|Paul before Felix and Drusilla (Acts 24:24–26)||June 57|
|Caesarean imprisonment (Acts 24:27)||June 57-August 59|
|Trial before Festus (Acts 25–12)||July 59|
|Trial before Agrippa (Acts 26)||beginning August 59|
|Voyage to Rome (Acts 27:1–28:29)||August 59-February 60|
|Departure from Caesarea||middle August 59|
|Myra||beginning September 59|
|Fair Havens||October 5–10, 59|
|Shipwreck at Malta||end October 59|
|Departure from Malta||beginning February 60|
|Arrival in Rome||end February 60|
|First Roman imprisonment (Acts 28:30)||February 60-March 62|
|Ephesians written||autumn 60|
|Colossians and Philemon written||autumn 61|
|Philippians written||early spring 62|
|James, Lord’s brother, Martyred||spring 62|
|Paul in Ephesus and Colossae||spring-autumn 62|
|Peter goes to Rome||62|
|Paul in Macedonia (1 Tim. 1:3)||late summer 62-winter 62/63|
|1 Timothy written||autumn 62|
|Paul in Asia Minor||spring 63-spring 64|
|Paul in Spain (Rom. 15:24, 28)||spring 64-spring 66|
|Christians persecuted, Peter martyred||summer 64|
|Paul in Crete||early summer 66|
|Paul in Asia Minor (Tit. 1:5)||summer-autumn 66|
|Titus written||summer 66|
|Paul in Nicopolis )Tit. 3:12)||winter 66/67|
|Paul in Macedonia and Greece (2 Tim. 4:13, 20)||spring-autumn 67|
|Paul arrested and brought to Rome (2 Tim. 1:8; 2:9)||autumn 67|
|2 Timothy written||autumn 67|
|Paul’s death||spring 68|
|Destruction of Jerusalem||2 September, 70|
Bibliography. J. van. Bruggen, ‘Na veertien jaren’ De datering van het in Galaten 2 genoemde overleg le Jeruzalem, 1973; G. B. Caird, ‘The Chronology of the NT, in IDE 1, 1962, pp. 599–607; S. Dockx, Chronologies neotestamentaires et Vie l’Eglise primitive: Recherches exegetiques. (rev. edn.), 1984; J. Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology, 1964; J. K. Fotheringham, ‘The Evidence of Astronomy and Technical Chronology for the Date of the Crucifixion, JTS 35, 1934, pp. 146–162; R. T. France, ‘Chronological Aspects of “Gospel Harmony” ’, Vox Evangelica 16, 1986, pp. 33–59; J. J. Gunther, Paul: Messenger and Exile. A Study in the Chronology of His Life and Letters, 1972; H. W. Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ, 1977; C. J. Humphreys, The Star of Bethlehem, a Comet in 5 bc and the Date of Christ’s Birth, TynB 43.1, 1992, pp. 31–56; C. J. Humphreys and W. G. Waddington, ‘The Jewish Calendar, a Lunar Eclipse and the Date of Christ’s Crucifixion, TynB 43.2, 1992, pp. 331–351; N. Hyldahl, Die Paulinische Chronologic. Acta Theologica Danica 19, 1986; A. Jaubert, The Date of the Last Supper, 1965; R. Jewett, A Chronology of Paul’s Life, 1979; ‘Chronology and Methodology: Reflections on the Debate over Chapters in a Life of Paul, in Colloquy on New Testament Studies’. A Time for Reappraisal and Fresh Approaches, 1983, pp. 271–287; J. Knox, Chapters in Life of Paul (rev. ed.), 1987; G. Luedemann, Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles: Studies in Chronology, F. Stanley Jones, 1984; G. Ogg, The Chronology of the Life of Paul, 1968. The Chronology of the Public Ministry of Jesus, 1940; D. Plooij, De Chronologic van he Leven van Paulus, 1918; J. Vardaman and E. M. Yamauchi (eds.), Chronos, Kairos, Christos: Nativity and Chronological Studies Presented to Jack Finegan, 1989. h.w.h.
Job (jōb), book of the Bible. The book is of unknown authorship and date, although many scholars assign it to a time between 600 b.c. and 400 b.c. A lament in narrative form, the subject is the problem of good and evil in the world: “Why do the just suffer and the wicked flourish?” In the prose prologue Satan obtains God’s permission to test the unsuspecting Job, whom God regards as “a perfect and an upright man”; accordingly, all that Job has is destroyed, and he is physically afflicted. The main part of the book is cast in poetic form and consists of speeches by Job and three friends who come to “comfort” him: Job speaks, then each of the three speaks in turn, with Job replying each time; there are three such cycles of discussion, although the third is incomplete. The friends insist alike that Job cannot really be just, as he claims to be, otherwise he would not be suffering as he is. Nevertheless, Job reiterates his innocence of wrong. The sequence changes with the appearance of a fourth speaker, Elihu, who accuses Job of arrogant pride. He in turn is followed by God himself, who speaks out of a storm to convince Job of his ignorance and rebuke him for his questioning. The prose epilogue tells how God rebukes the three friends for their accusations and how happiness is restored to Job. The author did not intend to solve the paradox of the righteous person’s suffering, but rather to criticize a philosophy that located the cause of suffering in some supposed moral failure of the sufferer. The texts are imperfect, and there may be serious losses, misplacements, or even additions to the original. The book contains many eloquent passages; among them are Job’s declaration of faith in the “redeemer,” his speech on wisdom, and God’s discourse on animals. Job is mentioned elsewhere in the Bible. See N. C. Habel, Job (1985); L. G. Perdue and W. C. Gilpin, ed., The Voice from the Whirlwind: Interpreting the Book of Job (1991); R. P. Scheindlin, The Book of Job (1998). See also bibliography under Old Testament.
The canonicity of Job has never been seriously questioned. Its position, however, has fluctuated. In Protestant Bibles it falls after the historical works, which end with Esther, and thus heads the poetical books: Job, Psalms, Proverbs. This tradition is attested by Cyril of Jerusalem and Epiphanius, among others. Jerome preferred this order, and the Council of Trent established it for the Vulgate. In the Hebrew Bible it appears in the third division, the writings or Kethubhim; the order is Psalms, Job, Proverbs. The oldest tradition lists the books thus: Ruth, Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, etc. The Syriac Bible places Job after the Pentateuch in honor of the tradition that Moses was its author.
RUTH (Heb. rûṯ, perhaps contracted from re‘ûṯ, ‘female companion’). Ruth is the heroine of the book which bears her name (see next article). She was a Moabitess who lived in the time of the Judges.
In her own land Ruth had married Mahlon (Ru. 4:10), the elder son of Elimelech and Naomi, Israelites from Bethlehem-judah who came to Moab during a famine. Naomi was widowed and then her two sons died without heirs. She determined to return to her native country, whereupon Ruth announced that she intended to accompany her, adopting both her nation and her God. Only by death would they be separated (Ru. 1:17).
During the barley harvest in Bethlehem Ruth went to glean in the fields of Boaz, a wealthy relative of Elimelech. Boaz noticed her and gave her his protection in acknowledgment of her loyalty to Naomi. She was invited to eat with the reapers, and was favoured throughout the barley harvest and the wheat harvest.
When all was harvested and the threshing had begun, acting on Naomi’s instructions Ruth went to the threshing-floor at night and claimed Boaz’s protection by appealing to his chivalry. He sent her back home as soon as it was light, with a present of six measures of barley, and the undertaking that, if her near kinsman was not prepared to marry her under the levirate marriage law, he would act as her kinsman-redeemer (cf. Lv. 25:25, 47–49).
With ten elders of the city as witnesses, he appealed to Naomi’s kinsman to redeem a plot of land which had belonged to Elimelech, and which was a sacred trust that must not pass out of the family (cf. Lv. 25:23). To this he added the obligation of levirate marriage to Ruth (Ru. 4:5). The kinsman could not afford this and renounced his right in favour of Boaz.
Ruth was married to Boaz, and their first child Obed was given to Naomi to continue the names of Elimelech, Mahlon and Chilion. He was the grandfather of David (1 Ch. 2:12; Mt. 1:5). m.b.
The family of Ruth.
RUTH, BOOK OF. In the Heb. Bible Ruth is one of the five Megilloth or ‘rolls’, included in the ‘Writings’, the third division of the Canon. It is read annually by the Jews at the Feast of Weeks. In the lxx, Vulg., and most modern versions it comes immediately after Judges; Josephus (Contra Apionem 1. 8) apparently reckons it to be an appendix to Judges and does not count it separately in enumerating the total number of books in the Canon.
For the plot of the book, see *Ruth.
I. Outline of contents
a. Naomi, widowed and bereft of her sons, returns from Moab to her native Bethlehem with her Moabite daughter-in-law Ruth (1:1–22).
b. Ruth gleans in the field of Naomi’s wealthy kinsman Boaz (2:1–23).
c. Ruth appeals to Boaz to perform the part of a kinsman-redeemer (3:1–18).
d. Ruth is married to Boaz and gives birth to Obed (4:1–17).
e. Genealogy from Perez to David (4:18–22).
II. Authorship, date and purpose
The book of Ruth is fraught with difficulties for the critic, because, like Job, it contains no clue to its authorship. Tradition alone ascribes this idyllic pastoral to the last of the Judges, the prophet-priest Samuel.
The setting is that of the period of the Judges (Ru. 1:1), but its writing belongs to a later date. This is indicated when the author explains former customs (Ru. 4:1–12). A very wide range of dating is offered for its actual composition, ranging from early pre-exilic times to a late post-exilic date.
The classical style and language do point to an early date, as does the attitude to foreign marriages, for under the Deuteronomic law a Moabite could not enter the congregation (Dt. 23:3). The late dating is based on the antiquarian interest displayed in the book, and on its supposed connection with the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah. One school of thought sees evidence of both early and late work in the book, supposing that the genealogy of David (Ru. 4:18–22) and the explanations of early customs belong to a much later date than the book itself.
Many suggestions as to the purpose of the book have been put forward, among them the following. It was intended to supply a family tree for the greatest of the kings of Hebrew history, David, because this was omitted from the books of Samuel. It was a political pamphlet, an anti-separatist tract, written to counteract the stringency of Ezra and Nehemiah on the subject of mixed marriages. It was a humanitarian plea on behalf of the childless widow so that the next of kin would assume responsibility for her. It was designed to depict an overruling providence. It was to present a case for racial tolerance. Perhaps there was no ulterior motive at all, but it was a tale that had to be told. It certainly presents a most pleasing contrast with the narratives at the end of Judges, which belong to the same general period (Jdg. 17–21).
Bibliography. H. H. Rowley, ‘The Marriage of Ruth’, HTR 40, 1947, pp. 77ff., reprinted in The Servant of the Lord and other Old Testament Essays, 1952, pp. 161ff.; E. Robertson, ‘The Plot of the Book of Ruth’, BJRL 32, 1949–50, pp. 207ff.; A. E. Cundall and L. Morris, Judges and Ruth, TOTC, 1968
I. The Book
D. Number of Psalms
II. Headings and Other Additions
A. General Observations
B. Ancient Versions
C. Technical Terms
III. Authors and Dates
A. Reversal of Opinion
B. General Observations
C. Hebrew leḏāwiḏ
D. Sons of Korah, Asaph, etc.
IV. Psalms and Cultus
A. Psalms in the Life of the People
B. Israel’s Psalmody and the Cultus
C. Are the Psalms Genuine Songs of the Cultus?
V. Types and Structure
A. General Observations
B. Various Types
C. Deliberate Structure of the Psalms
VI. Other Questions of Interpretation
B. Royal Psalms
C. Psalms of Sickness
D. Power of the Word
F. The Collective Use of “I”
VII. Poetic Form of the Psalms
A. Poetry and Function
B. Poetry and Meaning
C. Poetry and Music
A. In General
B. The Righteous and the Wicked
C. The Messiah in the Psalms
D. The Religion of the Psalms
IX. The Psalms and Ugaritic Studies
A. The Near Eastern Context
B. Ugaritic Studies
I. The Book
A. Name The word psalm in the English title of this book is an anglicized version of the Greek word (psalmós), which is used in the LXX to translate Heb mizmôr, meaning either “song” or “instrumental music.” The word mizmôr occurs in the titles of some fifty-seven Psalms and is thus a general description of the contents of the book. In the rabbinic literature the book is called tehillîm, “songs of praise,” though this word is used only once in the Psalm titles (in Ps. 145). Both titles for the book indicate central aspects of its character. The title Psalms is a reminder that the book contains not merely poetry, but also the songs and hymns sung to musical setting in Israel’s worship. The rabbinic title of the book is a reminder that the primary purpose of the book is the praise of God.
B. Origin The exact process by which the book of Psalms came into being is not known; nevertheless, it is possible to detect some stages in the process. First, the individual Psalms were composed. Next, a number of relatively small collections of Psalms came into existence. Some Psalms were incorporated into more than one collection, the evidence of which has survived in duplications in the book of Psalms: compare Pss. 14 and 53, 40:13–17 (MT 14–18) and 70, 57:7–11 (MT 8–12) plus 60:5–12 (MT 7–14) and 108. Further evidence of early collections is to be found in Ps. 72:20, which appears to be a conclusion to a collection of David’s prayers. Other collections can be identified by the use of particular expressions employed in the Psalm titles; thus there was a “Sons of Korah” collection (Pss. 42–49, 84, 85, 87, 88), an “Asaph” collection (Pss. 50, 73–83), and a collection of “Songs of Ascent” (Pss. 120–134).
The next stage in the development of the Psalter involved bringing together the smaller collections to form larger collections; from this stage in the development, only limited evidence has survived. The most clearly discernible collection of collections is the so-called Elohistic Psalter, Pss. 42–83; these Psalms are distinguished from other Psalms by the much more frequent use of ˒Elohim (God) and the rare usage of Yahweh (Lord). (In Pss. 1–41, Yahweh is used 272 times and ˒Elohim 15 times. In the so-called Elohistic Psalter, Yahweh is used 46 times, but ˒Elohim appears 204 times. Then, in Pss. 84–150, Yahweh occurs 362 times, but ˒Elohim only 13 times. The numbers are tentative, given the existence of text-critical problems.) This collection of collections contains a smaller collection of “Korah” Psalms (42–49), a collection of “Asaph” Psalms (50, 73–83), a Davidic collection (51–65 and 68–72), and other miscellaneous Psalms. The existence of this larger collection may also explain the duplications; thus Pss. 14 and 40:13–17, both external to the “Elohistic Psalter,” are duplicated within it (Pss. 53 and 70 respectively).
Finally the book of Psalms came into its present form — a compilation of smaller collections, large collections such as the Elohistic Psalter, and various other Psalms added by the editor(s). The date at which the book of Psalms reached its present form is not known. It used to be held that the book was completed ca 100 b.c. or even later, but such a view is most unlikely. Perhaps the most that can be affirmed is that the book of Psalms assumed its present form after the Exile, which in turn is reflected in certain Psalms (e.g., Pss. 102, 126, 137).
C. Division In its present form, the book of Psalms is subdivided into five “books”: (1) Pss. 1–41, (2) 42–72, (3) 73–89, (4) 90–106, (5) 107–150. This division of the whole is somewhat artificial and is based primarily on the existence of doxologies at the ends of Pss. 41, 72, 89, and 106. Whether these doxologies were inserted to mark the divisions in the Psalter, or simply occurred as integral parts of the Psalms in question but were interpreted as the conclusions of separate “books,” cannot be known with certainty. Ps. 150 certainly serves, by editorial intention, as a doxology to the book of Psalms as a whole. The division of the Psalms into five separate “books” is probably not of great significance; at least with respect to unity of theme, there is nothing of great unifying significance within each of the divisions. It is probable that the whole was divided into five simply on the basis of the analogy with the five books of Moses (the Pentateuch). An old Jewish tradition states: “Moses gave to the Israelites the five books of the Torah, and coordinate therewith David gave them the five books of the Psalms” (Midr Ps. 1:1).
D. Number of Psalms The MT and the versions are in agreement that there are 150 Psalms; they differ, however, with respect to the numbering of various Psalms. Thus Pss. 9–10 in Hebrew are a single Psalm (9) in LXX, and Pss. 114–15 in Hebrew are a single Psalm (113) in LXX; but MT Ps. 116 is divided into two in the LXX (114–15), as is MT Ps. 147 (in LXX, 146–47). Thus the total of 150 would appear to be a round number that the editors sought to achieve. The LXX also has a Ps. 151, though it is explicitly identified in the text as being “outside the number.” A Hebrew version of LXX’s Ps. 151 has been found among the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumrân in Cave 11 (see Sanders). In addition, several Psalms MSS and fragments have been found at Qumrân (esp in Cave 4), establishing to a large extent the reliability of the medieval MSS of the book of Psalms on which modern English translations are based. A number of nonbiblical psalms were also found at Qumrân.
E. Arrangement The sequence in which the Psalms have been arranged raises a number of difficulties, some of which may be insoluble. On the one hand, it is clear that the Psalms were not arranged haphazardly; on the other hand, the principles according to which they were arranged are not always clear. To some extent the arrangement is determined by the smaller collections within the Psalter as a whole; these collections may have been brought together for various reasons, e.g., common authorship, common usage in particular acts of worship, or perhaps common theme. Both within and outside the collections it is sometimes possible to detect a reason for the placing together of two or more Psalms. Thus Ps. 17 may follow Ps. 16 because the concluding verses of the two Psalms exhibit affinity. Pss. 34 and 35 may occur together because the “angel of the Lord” is mentioned only in these two Psalms in the Psalter. Pss. 1 and 2 were placed together because they form a proper introduction to the Psalter, describing the beauty of the law and the glory of Zion’s king; indeed, in ancient Jewish tradition they were recognized as a single Psalm (TB Berakoth 9b). Again, Ps. 3 would appear to be a morning prayer, Ps. 4 an evening prayer, and Ps. 5 another morning prayer; their arrangement side by side can hardly be accidental. But for all the clues that have survived concerning the sequence of the Psalms in the Psalter, in many cases it is impossible to infer the significance of some Psalms from their immediate literary context.
II. Headings and Other Additions
A. General Observations Most Psalms have either long or short titles, or superscriptions, preceding the body of the Psalm as such. Of the 150 Psalms that constitute the Psalter, only 34 do not have a heading or title verse (the MT includes the heading in its versification, but the English versions do not). The majority of the headings probably do not originate with the author of the Psalm; thus a Psalm entitled “Song of Ascent” (e.g., Ps. 120) was probably given this heading when it was incorporated within the collection of such Psalms (Pss. 120–134). In other cases (e.g., Ps. 18) the heading may be integral to the original Psalm. A clay tablet discovered at ancient Ugarit contained not only the words of an ancient Hurrian psalm, but also information parallel to that contained in the headings to the biblical Psalms. Thus in studying the Psalm headings one must attempt to discern between that information which is original and peculiar to the Psalm, and that which pertains to the editorial process by which the Psalm became incorporated in the Psalter. The headings of the Psalms are important, even if they are not always easy to interpret; their substance is worthy of study, forming an integral part of the Hebrew text of the OT. It is thus regrettable that some modern translations of the Bible (e.g., NEB) do not include the substance of the headings in their translation of the text.
B. Ancient Versions The headings in the MT of the Psalter were included in the earliest translations of the OT (e.g., the LXX, translated during the 3rd and 2nd cents b.c.). In many places the translation in the early versions corresponds to the MT, though it is clear that the translators often had difficulty in knowing how to render some of the words in the headings. This lack of understanding, especially on the part of the translators of the LXX, may point to the antiquity of the Psalm headings, the passage of time having obscured the meaning of some of their words in the later period of the translators. In other cases, it is possible that the technical Hebrew terms in the headings had no equivalent in Greek, and hence apparent discrepancies arose in the versions. (A similar difficulty can be observed in English Bibles, where transliterated words appear in the headings of the Psalms: e.g., Muthlabben in Ps. 9.)
In many cases the headings in the LXX differ quite substantially from those in the Hebrew Psalter. The following are examples of such deviation. (1) The LXX contains the heading “of David” in Pss. 33, 43, 71, 91, 93–99, 104, and 137, even though the expression is not used in the MT. (2) The headings of Pss. 146–48 in the LXX contain the words “of Haggai and Zechariah,” though these words do not appear in the MT. (3) Conversely, where the expression “of David” is used in the MT of Pss. 122 and 124, it is missing in the LXX in these texts. It is not always easy to determine the significance of discrepancies such as these, especially since in the majority of cases the MT and LXX essentially agree. It is probable that the Greek variations reflect different usage of the Psalms in worship, in the context of the Jewish community in Egypt (where the LXX was translated). The headings in the LXX may thus be of more value for studying the history of the Psalms individually, in Jewish worship, than they are in every case a witness to the earliest Hebrew text.
C. Technical Terms The headings of the Psalms contain essentially five categories of information. Within these five categories various words are employed; some are clear and are technical terms, some are names, and some words are of uncertain meaning (they may be technical terms or simply names of tunes or musical arrangements).
(1) Many headings identify the Psalm with a person or groups of persons, either by name (e.g., David, Solomon, Asaph) or by title (e.g., the “choirmaster” [AV “chief musician”]).
(2) Some headings contain what purports to be historical information (e.g., Pss. 18, 34), in which technical terms are rarely employed.
(3) Some headings contain musical information, in which difficult technical terms are employed. Thus Ps. 5 indicates the Psalm was to be sung “to flute music,” as the expression Nehiloth appears to mean. Pss. 6 and 12 contain the expression Sheminith, which probably means “octave” and may refer to the manner in which the Psalm was to be sung. Pss. 8, 81, 84 were to be sung “according to the Gittith,” which may be a reference to some type of musical instrument employed in accompaniment. This musical accompaniment is clearly indicated in Psalms that have the heading “with stringed instruments” (AV Neginah, Neginoth, e.g., Pss. 4, 61). The mysterious word Selah (Heb selâ) should probably also be understood in the context of the musical performance of the Psalms, although its meaning is uncertain: it may refer either to a pause in the singing or to an increase in volume. It is used more than seventy times in the Psalms and occurs also in Hab. 3 (three times). The meaning of many such musical terms in the headings continues to elude biblical scholars; they do serve as a useful reminder, however, that the book of Psalms is not merely a collection of poetry, but contains the hymns and songs employed in Israel’s worship.
(4) The fourth category contains liturgical information, shedding light on the usage of the Psalms in particular parts of Israel’s worship. Thus the expression “to bring to remembrance” (Pss. 38, 70) may indicate that the Psalms to which the heading was attached were employed in a liturgical activity associated with the memorial offering. Ps. 100 has a heading associating it with a liturgy of thank offering. Likewise, Ps. 30 may have been employed in some kind of dedication liturgy.
(5) The final category of information pertains to the literary type of the Psalm. The most common designation of types is the word mizmôr, “psalm” (used more than fifty times in the Psalter).
Numerous other expressions employed in the Psalm headings are difficult to classify simply because their meaning is uncertain; such words include Shiggaion (Ps. 7), Maskil (Pss. 32, 42, 44, etc.), Lilies (Pss. 45, 60, 69, 80; AV Shoshanim), Alamoth (Ps. 46), Do Not Destroy (Pss. 57–59, 75; AV Al-taschith), Dove on Far-off Terebinths Ps. 56; AV Jonath-elem-rechokim), Testimony (Ps. 80; AV Eduth).
III. Authors and Dates
There is considerable variety with respect to the dates at which the individual Psalms were composed. A few may date from the very early period of Israel’s history, many come from the time of the monarchy, and some were composed during and after the Exile. For practical purposes the possibility of dating the Psalms, either generally or specifically, can only be determined in the context of a detailed study of the individual Psalms. Nevertheless, it is possible to make some general observations pertaining to the dating.
A. Reversal of Opinion At the beginning of the 20th cent one of the most commonly held opinions was that the majority of the Psalms were composed in the postexilic period. At the present time, however, that earlier consensus of opinion has changed for the most part; it is commonly recognized now that much of the OT literature, including the major part of the book of Psalms, may have been composed at an earlier date, principally during the time of the monarchy or the Exile. While a few of the Psalms almost certainly come from the postexilic period, the majority reflect earlier periods in the history of Israel’s religion.
There is a variety of reasons for this general reversal in scholarly opinion. In part the change is a consequence of the form-critical study of psalms in the context of Israel’s cult (see IV below). In part it is a consequence of the fruits of archeological discovery; over the last century the poetry and psalmody of the Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians, and other Near Eastern peoples have been rediscovered, thus providing a wider basis for comparison with the Hebrew Psalms. And in part opinions have changed as a result of studying the Psalms in the light of Ugaritic studies (see IX below).
B. General Observations In the attempt to date any particular Psalm one must take some general considerations into account. First, if a connection between a Psalm and the cult can be determined (see IV below), it may have general implications with respect to date. Thus a royal Psalm, e.g., Ps. 20, while it may be difficult to date with precision, can at least be set within the general historical framework of the Hebrew monarchy. Second, grammatical, lexical, and stylistic considerations may have implications with respect to date; thus the distinctive forms and style of Ps. 29 suggest that it comes from the earliest period of Israel’s psalmody. Third, if an argument may be sustained in some cases for Davidic authorship, on the basis of the Psalm title, clearly that information is pertinent to the dating of the Psalm, though it leaves open the possibility of the internal modification of the Psalm for its use in later periods of worship. Sometimes the content may be relevant to the dating; thus Ps. 137, on the basis of content alone, would appear to be exilic or postexilic.
It is clear from these general observations that it is not easy to assign a specific date to the majority of the Psalms. Some may be dated to a general period in Israel’s history; some cannot be dated with any confidence at all. Very few Psalms can be dated with precision, even after a close analysis of language, form, and content. But while recognizing the difficulty of dating the individual Psalms, one must also see the difficulty in perspective; for the most part the interpretation and appreciation of a particular Psalm does not presuppose its accurate dating. The Psalms have a certain timeless quality; their insight and expression of the praise of God are not restricted to, or by, the period of their composition. Thus, while the attempt to date each Psalm is a worthwhile enterprise, the failure to come to a firm conclusion in many cases need not be a setback in the process of interpretation.
C. Hebrew leḏāwiḏ In the attempt both to date and to interpret the Psalms, some attention must be given to the content of the Psalm titles (see further II above). The Hebrew expression leḏâwiḏ (“to/for David”) occurs in the titles of some seventy-three Psalms (Pss. 3–9, 11–32, 34–41, 51–65, 68–70, 86, 101, 103, 108–110, 122, 124, 131, 133, 138–145). In thirteen instances the title provides in addition some information pertaining to an incident in the life of David (Pss. 3, 7, 18, 34, 51, 52, 54, 56, 57, 59, 60, 63, 142; see also Ps. 30). The expression leḏâwiḏ may in some cases be intended to designate David as author; this is especially probable in those titles providing additional information about in incident in David’s life (e.g., Pss. 7 and 18, with which compare Isa. 38:9 and Hab. 3:1). Furthermore, this approach to the interpretation of the titles, with respect to authorship, is very ancient; compare Ps. 110 with Mt. 22:43–45; Ps. 41 with Acts 1:16; Pss. 16 and 110 with Acts 2:25–28; Ps. 32 with Rom. 4:6; Ps. 69 with Rom. 11:9; Ps. 21 with Acts 4:25; and Ps. 95 with He. 4:7. Nevertheless, the interpretation of the phrase leḏâwiḏ is not without difficulty, and simply from the perspective of language and translation various possibilities remain open.
(1) As already stated, the preposition le may indicate authorship, so that the phrase means “by David” (as author). Such a translation and interpretation are probable with respect to several Psalms (see GKC, § 129 a–c). (2) A natural translation of the phrase would be “to David” or “for David,” perhaps implying “dedicated to David.” (3) The phrase could be translated “concerning/about David.” The difficulty in determining the meaning of the phrase leḏâwiḏ does not lie simply in deciding which of the above possibilities is correct; each possibility must be weighed in each instance that the phrase is employed in a Psalm title. Thus, while sometimes it may mean “by David,” in many cases (perhaps the majority) it may mean “for David” (viz, Davidic); that is, the phrase may indicate that the Psalm in question is a royal Psalm, belonging to an early collection of Davidic Psalms. And in a few cases leḏâwiḏ may mean “about David”; the usage of the same preposition in Ugaritic, a language slightly older than Biblical Hebrew and closely related to it, suggests such a nuance. Thus lb˓l in the title of an Ugaritic text means “about/concerning Baal.”
While Davidic authorship cannot always be assumed on the basis of the phrase leḏâwiḏ in the title, it is nevertheless clear that David’s influence was very considerable in the development of the tradition of Israel’s psalmody. In addition to actually composing Psalms, David’s influence is recognized in many parts of the OT. He is described as the “sweet psalmist of Israel” (2 S. 23:1). He was influential in the invention of musical instruments (Am. 6:5) and in the development of Israel’s music and musicians (1 Ch. 15:16–24; 16:7, 31), and various historical writers associate him with particular compositions (e.g., 2 S. 1:19–27; 23:3–7). Thus uncertainty as to David’s role in the composition of specific Psalms should not detract from the recognition of his central importance in the tradition that ultimately produced the book of Psalms.
There are difficulties associated with the interpretation of the NT references to David and the Psalms. Many would argue that a statement such as that contained in Rom. 4:6 is not intended to assert anything with respect to the authorship of the Psalm in question. On the other hand, the reference to Ps. 110 in Mt. 22:43–45 is more difficult to interpret; the argument of Jesus clearly seems to imply that the words of Ps. 110 were either written by David, or at least spoken by David. This observation opens the door to weighty theological issues that cannot be resolved in this context. Some would say that the reference in Mt. 22:43–45 settles the issue of authorship. Others would argue that with reference to His manner of speech, Jesus spoke out of the perspective of the thought world of His contemporaries. The contemporary perspective was reflected in Jesus’ words, for in His time the entire book of Psalms was commonly referred to as “the Psalms of David” (thus including those Psalms with no titles and those with superscriptions indicating other persons, e.g., Ps. 90).
D. Sons of Korah, Asaph, etc The Psalm titles mention other persons and groups of persons in addition to David. They include the following: (1) Solomon (Pss. 72, 127), (2) Moses (Ps. 90), (3) Asaph (twelve times), (4) Heman (Ps. 88), (5) Ethan (Ps. 89), (6) the musical director (more than fifty times; RSV “choirmaster”; AV “chief musician”), and (7) the “Sons of Korah” (eleven times). As with the expression leḏâwiḏ, the references to persons are subject to difficulties of interpretation. In many cases, however, the references are to early collections of Psalms that preceded the compilation of the book of Psalms, e.g., a “Sons of Korah” collection (see I.B above). Authorship is not necessarily implied by all these references to persons and groups in the Psalm titles; some titles refer to more than one person (e.g., Ps. 88).
E. Conclusions It is clear that it is rarely possible to come to firm conclusions with respect to the date and authorship of the individual Psalms. In a few cases it is possible to propose David as the author of a particular Psalm; in the majority of cases it is safest simply to recognize that the Psalms are, for practical purposes, anonymous, though they may be representative of the praise and worship of Israel as a whole. Many of the Psalms can be dated to general periods (e.g., the time of the monarchy, or the Exile), a few can be dated specifically, and others are essentially undatable (within the confines of the OT period). Nevertheless, the attempt to determine date and authorship should be an important part of the process of studying the individual Psalms.
IV. Psalms and Cultus
A. Psalms in the Life of the People In the modern Western world poetry has become essentially a literary phenomenon; for the most part it is not rooted in daily life. But in other societies, and especially in other historical periods, poetry has had a quite different role and significance; it is not simply an artistic form of literature, but is rooted in the daily events that constitute the life of a people. Poetry was spoken and recited in human life-settings; its recording in writing was principally for purposes of preservation. Thus poetry played a role in worship, in events such as marriages and funerals, and simply in entertainment (antedating the modern books and movies). In the 19th cent it was the common practice for biblical scholars to study the Psalms purely as literature; while there was value in this approach, it failed to appreciate the vitality of the Psalms in Israel’s daily life and worship. In the 20th cent a new trend developed in the study of the Psalms, pioneered by Hermann Gunkel; he perceived that a full appreciation of the Psalms would never be gained unless an attempt was made to study them in their original life-settings (or Sitze im Leben). Gunkel’s was a functional approach to the study of the Psalms; recognizing that the Psalms had been used in the life of Israel, he sought to determine not only the social situation in which they were used, but also their function within that setting.
B. Israel’s Psalmody and the Cultus Though a few Psalms might originally have functioned within a general social context (e.g., a wedding, see Ps. 45), the majority of Israel’s Psalms would have been utilized within the cultus or the formal settings of worship within the temple (and later, perhaps, within the synagogue). The following points provide some general perspectives.
(1) From the earliest period of Israel’s history music and song were integral to the activities of worship; in this, the practice of the Israelites was no different from practices known to have existed in such ancient societies as Egypt, Babylon, and Ugarit. Thus long before David’s time music and song formed a central part of the worship in Israel’s cult. What took place during David’s reign, and then later in King Solomon’s time, was simply a renewal and growth of the more ancient Israelite traditions of poetry and music; that renewal was to continue to be the practice in the subsequent history of worship.
(2) Many of the Psalms are characterized by a distinctive style that might be described as a “cultic style”; it is not a specifically literary style, for its characteristics appear to have been determined primarily by the influences of cultic usage. The style is such that the Psalms lack concrete and specific points of reference, but are thereby more easily used in various contexts of worship. Many Psalms and songs which were initially composed for a specific occasion are nevertheless written in such a style that they could continue in use beyond the confines of that original occasion. Thus when one reads such ancient songs as the “Song of the Sea” (Ex. 15:1–18), the “Song of Deborah” (Jgs. 5), or David’s Lament (2 S. 1), one is struck by the stereotyped forms of expression and lack of specificity; this style probably originated within a circle of cultic singers, being suitable for use in varying ceremonies and forms of worship.
(3) Not only the style, but also the structure of many of the Psalms is very distinctive. For example, several Psalms have one or more changes in subject. In Ps. 2 it is clear that the speaker in vv 7–9 is different from the speaker in the rest of the Psalm; probably the congregation declared the words of vv 1–6 and 10–12, while the king may have responded with the words of vv 7–9. A Psalm of this kind may have been recited in an act of worship in the temple, with different persons and groups of persons participating in the spoken part of the worship. In other examples, a change of subject may introduce a speaker who, in prophetic manner, declares the words of God (see esp Ps. 12:5 [MT 6]; 20:6 [MT 7]; 28:5; 31:24 [MT 25]; etal).
(4) It used to be a common practice in the study of the Psalms to conclude that many Psalms were composite works, drawn from two or more ancient sources; such a conclusion would be based upon the observation that different parts of a Psalm were characterized by a totally different mood and atmosphere. Fluctuation of this kind was noticed particularly in many of the Psalms of lament, which begin with mournful melancholy, but end with a jubilant expression of thanksgiving (e.g., Ps. 3:7 [MT 8]; 4:7ff [MT 8ff]; 5:11f [MT 12f]; 6:8–10 [MT 9–11]; 7:10–17 [MT 11–18]; 10:16–18). It is too simple, however, to explain this fluctuation and change as a consequence of antecedent sources. And while it may sometimes be explained psychologically, or in terms of the psalmist’s spiritual progress, such explanations are not always satisfactory. In most instances the fluctuating and changing character of particular Psalms can be understood only in the context of the cultic rituals in which they were employed. Thus a person in trouble might come to the temple to take part in a cultic ritual, either private or public. He would begin by stating his case, the lament, which may have been accompanied by the offering of sacrifices. Then a priest or prophetic servant of the temple would declare a word to the supplicant from God; such divine words are sometimes stated in the Psalms explicitly and sometimes only implied. In response to the divine word the supplicant would then conclude his participation in the ritual (sometimes accompanied by fellow worshipers) with the declaration of praise and thanksgiving. Many Psalms of a very uneven character from a strictly literary perspective have a finely rounded wholeness when perceived from a cultic perspective in the setting of Israel’s acts of worship.
(5) Other items of more isolated data point to the usage of many of the Psalms in Israel’s cultic life. In some cases the psalmist explicitly states that he is present at the sanctuary (e.g., Ps. 5:3, 7 [MT 4, 8]; 9:14 [MT 15]; 22:22–31 [MT 23–32]; 23:5f; 28:2). In other cases the psalmist makes reference to being absent from the sanctuary (e.g., Pss. 3, 42, 43, 61, 63); in these instances the act of worship is distinctive by virtue of not being in the sanctuary, though the Psalms in question were probably utilized later within the formal acts of worship (see Pss. 102 and 120). In summary, while a few Psalms were no doubt straightforward literary compositions and can be studied as such, the majority had a more vital role to play in the living context of Israel’s worship. While one cannot always determine the specific cultic setting of each Psalm, given the lack of sufficient evidence, the attempt to study the Psalms in a cultic setting is an important step toward correct and illuminating interpretation.
C. Are the Psalms Genuine Songs of the Cultus? Gunkel’s pioneering work on the relationship between the Psalms and the cult has found a large degree of acceptance in principle among biblical scholars. His views have been developed in a number of different directions, however, and the extent to which the book of Psalms as a whole can be tied to Israel’s cultic life has been the source of considerable debate.
Two of the most distinguished scholars to develop Gunkel’s initial insights are Sigmund Mowinckel and Artur Weiser. Mowinckel pursued more rigorously than had Gunkel the cult-historical investigation of the Psalms; in particular he closely identified a large number of the Psalms with a proposed Israelite New Year Festival, which he argued was a central act of worship celebrating God’s kingship and creation. Weiser, on the other hand, tended to see the covenant festival as Israel’s central act of worship, and this provided for him the cultic context in which the majority of the Psalms were to be interpreted. For all the splendid insights of these two scholars, they have probably gone too far in their cult-oriented interpretation of the book of Psalms. A more balanced perspective, still in the tradition of Gunkel, is to be found in the major two-volume commentary by H.-J. Kraus.
As the work of these distinguished scholars of the 20th cent is assimilated and evaluated, it is becoming clear that many, indeed perhaps the majority, of the Psalms in the Psalter are the genuine songs of Israel’s cultus, composed and used in the context of Israel’s formal worship. Other Psalms, which may have started as private and literary compositions, came to be used over the passage of time in worship, thus becoming the songs of the cultus at a secondary stage in their development. Still other Psalms, notably the wisdom Psalms (see V below), may have had an initial life-setting in a context quite separate from the cult (e.g., a didactic or educational setting); whether their incorporation in the Psalter implies adaptation for use in worship cannot be known with certainty. And some Psalms may be not only literary compositions, but their survival may also have occurred on literary grounds; thus Ps. 1 appears to be a wisdom Psalm, placed at the head of the Psalter as an appropriate introduction to the literary collection, but probably not utilized in the cult as such. In summary, while it is an important principle in general interpretation to recognize the majority of the Psalms as cultic compositions, sufficient flexibility must be maintained by the interpreter to recognize also the presence of some noncultic material in the Psalter.
V. Types and Structure
One of the significant aspects of the pioneering work of Gunkel was the development of a method of study called Gattungsforschung, or a close study of the forms in which the Psalms were structured (Einl in die Psalmen). By examining the form of a particular Psalm, Gunkel attempted to determine the literary species or genre to which that Psalm belonged. The examination of form and genre was closely related to the study of the life-setting of the Psalm (see IV above); thus the knowledge that the life-setting of a Psalm was in some activity in Israel’s cult or formal worship was of assistance in determining the genre to which a Psalm belonged. A knowledge of the Psalm’s function would help in the determination of form, and vice versa, though inevitably this whole process is in danger of circular reasoning.
A. General Observations While the general value of studying the form of a Psalm and attempting to determine its genre is clear, certain limitations are inherent in this method of study that indicate the necessity of caution. Thus, to use an example from English, if one were to take a church hymnal and study the genre “hymn of praise,” one could determine several common characteristics, but one would also be impressed by the variety and differences of detail within the genre as a whole. The same is true with respect to the Psalter; many Psalms can be classified as belonging to a particular species or genre; many examples of the genre will have a certain commonality of structure, but variety and difference will also be observed. And sometimes a similar form, or a part thereof, may be common to more than one genre. Thus in the final analysis it is not always possible to determine the purpose and meaning of a Psalm only on the basis of an examination of the characteristics of form; the evidence of content is just as significant as form.
A preliminary step in the approach to the examination of a Psalm’s form is to observe the grammatical person and number employed in the Psalm. On this basis a division can be made between communal Psalms (employing, e.g., “we”) and individual Psalms (employing “I”). The communal Psalms may reflect some kind of communal worship. The individual Psalms may reflect various backgrounds, from individual worship or meditation to the words of an (individual) king in a communal context of worship. It should also be noted that several Psalms fluctuate between individual and communal forms of expression, indicating perhaps a liturgical context with alternating speakers (see IV above).
B. Various Types Gunkel specified various major types (viz, types to which a large number of Psalms belonged) and several minor types whose presence could be determined in the Psalter. The following summaries contain brief characterizations of some of the more important types. Although Gunkel’s work remains foundational in the study of the Psalm types, there has been considerable progress and refinement since his time in both the description and classification of the types.
(1) The Psalm of Praise, or Hymn (e.g., Pss. 8, 29, 33, 104, 111, 113). The life-setting in which the hymn was employed was some occasion associated with the worship in the temple. Though the majority of hymns may have been for general usage in worship, a few may have been associated with particular festivals. With respect to structure a hymn would normally contain the following component parts: (a) An introduction, containing an invitation to praise. The invitation may be addressed to the congregation gathered in the sanctuary, to the choirs, or to some other person or group. Its object is to direct the praise of Israel toward the Lord, His word, His virtues, or His mighty acts. (b) A central portion, further elaborating the occasion of the praise. In general this section of the Psalm consists of short sentences expressing praise for the Lord’s character or actions; dominant themes include God’s acts of salvation on behalf of Israel and God’s role in creation. (c) A formal conclusion, though the substance of the conclusions varies enormously.
(2) The Individual Song of Thanksgiving (e.g., Pss. 30, 34[?], 66, 116, 138). The majority of these individual songs of thanksgiving were probably related to some formal act of worship, though a few may be noncultic. When employed in a formal setting the Psalm would be used by a person who received some specific blessing from God and who had come to the sanctuary to offer thanks, probably in the company of relatives or friends. Principal elements in the structure of these Psalms include: (a) an introduction; (b) a narrative description of the background events leading to the offering of thanksgiving; (c) other elements, such as a reference to an offering or sacrifice and an invitation to others present to participate in the thanksgiving.
(3) The Individual Lament (e.g., Pss. 6, 13, 31, 39). In general terms this genre has been said to be the most common in the Psalter; while the observation is generally correct, it should be noted that in the modern study of the Psalms the individual laments are frequently classified into more precise subcategories (e.g., Psalms of sickness, Ps. 6). The elements of form that may be present in the individual lament include: (a) an initial calling upon the Lord; (b) a complaint, specifying the occasion giving rise to the lament; (c) a prayer, requesting the Lord to hear and respond with respect to the source of the lament; (d) the expression of wishes or desires concerning the fate of friends and enemies; (e) the grounds upon which the appeal to God is based; (f) a concluding expression of confidence that the appeal will be heard, and responded to, by God.
(4) The Communal Lament (e.g., Pss. 12, 44, 74, 79). The communal laments were employed within some formal act of worship; they were occasioned normally by some external crisis threatening the health or survival of the nation of Israel. In general the elements of form are similar to those of the individual lament; they differ with respect to the nature of the crisis, in this context threatening the community as a whole, and the plural form of the people’s address to God.
(5) Royal Psalms (e.g., Pss. 2, 18, 20, 35, 40, 45). The genre of royal Psalms is not so much distinctive in literary terms as it is in functional terms. The royal Psalms were employed within a variety of royal contexts, though in precisely literary terms they may overlap with the categories already described (e.g., some royal Psalms are, in effect, individual laments employed by a king). Thus the royal Psalms can be subclassified into various categories, sometimes on the basis of form, but more commonly on the basis of function. To provide some examples, (a) Ps. 2 is a coronation Psalm; (b) Ps. 18 is a royal (individual) Psalm of thanksgiving; (c) Ps. 20 is a royal liturgy (to be used, perhaps, in an act of worship employed prior to the king’s departing for war); (d) Ps. 45 is a royal wedding Psalm. The determination of royal Psalms, given the variety of forms, is a delicate business; they are usually determined on the basis of distinctive terminology and general substance.
(6) Wisdom Psalms (e.g., Pss. 1, 32[?], 37, 49, 119). Of the various smaller categories of Psalms, the wisdom Psalms are of particular importance. They reflect the general characteristics of the biblical wisdom literature and probably served a didactic function in ancient Israel, prior to being drawn into the general resources of Israel’s worship. Many Psalms reflect a mixed character, in which there is the appearance of a more ancient text being developed in the reflective mode of the wise men in ancient Israel. Thus Ps. 19 has many of the characteristics of a hymn (esp vv 1–6), but the Psalm as a whole has the character of a wisdom poem, in which the original hymn celebrating God’s glory in creation has been developed in a meditation on the glory of God’s law (vv 7–14). Ps. 1, serving as an introduction to the Psalter as a whole, is a useful reminder of the importance of the tradition of wisdom, perhaps in the compilation of the book of Psalms and certainly in the substance of many of the individual Psalms.
C. Deliberate Structure of the Psalms The study of the Psalms’ structure requires sensitivity not only to the structure’s literary significance, but also to its religious or functional significance. Two examples will illustrate this point. (1) “A man should always first set forth his praise of the Holy One, blessed be He, and then offer his prayer” (TP Berakoth 32a); this statement of principle from the Talmud of later Judaism is frequently exemplified in the Psalms. For example, Ps. 40 has been interpreted by many scholars as a composite Psalm, having two principal parts: (a) vv 1–10 (individual thanksgiving), and (b) vv 11–17 (individual lament). Such an analysis, however, fails to recognize the coherence of the Psalm as a whole, both with respect to the uniformity of its language and the deliberate nature of its structure. The Psalm deliberately begins by laying a foundation of thanksgiving; only then does it move on to lament and prayer (and the progress within the Psalm may in turn reflect the progress within the formal, liturgical act of worship within which it was employed). (2) A quite different example of deliberate structure may be observed in the collection of alphabetic Acrostic Psalms in the Psalter (Pss. 9–10, 25, 34, 37, 111, 112, 119, 145). In these Psalms the structure is based upon the sequence of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Although various reasons have been proposed for the acrostic structure, a principal reason may have been didactic; a student thus learned a Psalm “from A to Z,” the deliberate structure being an aid to the learning process.
VI. Other Questions of Interpretation
A. Enemies Frequent reference is made in many of the Psalms to the enemies of the psalmist. In earlier scholarship on the Psalms (notably the works of Mowinckel) several attempts were made to elucidate the identity of these enemies. Mowinckel, e.g., noted the frequent association between sickness and enemies, and concluded that the enemies were sorcerers or magicians who had brought about the sickness and thus were prominent in the psalmist’s words. Various scholars made other attempts to elaborate general hypotheses that would enable them to interpret the references to enemies in the Psalter as a whole. Contemporary scholars, however, increasingly recognize the importance of limiting the interpretation of enemies to the context of the particular Psalm under examination. In Psalms of sickness enemies are probably real persons who threaten the psalmist, precisely because they hope to benefit from his weakened physical condition; in other cases, they may be no more than the paranoid projections of the distressed mind of the sick person. In many royal Psalms the enemies are frequently the real enemies of the state (foreign nations) whose actions threaten the welfare and peace of the kingdom. In laments enemies are often unjust persons whose actions or accusations have undermined the stability and peace of mind of the accused person. In each case a knowledge of the function and life-setting of the Psalm will be of considerable assistance in determining the identity of the enemies.
B. Royal Psalms The category of royal Psalms has been recognized since the time of Gunkel; especially since the 1950’s, however, these Psalms have become the focus of detailed scrutiny. J. H. Eaton (Kingship) and other scholars have recognized that there may be considerably more Psalms in this category within the Psalter than was generally supposed in the past. This trend in contemporary scholarship is a very positive one, though it is beset by a number of difficulties. The principal difficulty concerns the definition of precise criteria by which royal Psalms can be identified. It is clear that such Psalms do not necessarily have a distinctive literary structure and may belong to several literary genres (see V above). The use of criteria such as content and language (e.g., formulaic expressions and royal allusions) is helpful, but frequently difficult, given the vagueness and ambiguity of much of the evidence. Thus, although it is becoming evident that a large number of the Psalms were probably royal Psalms with respect to their initial function, the nature of the surviving evidence is such that the precise identity of all royal Psalms may be beyond recovery. And the difficulty is exacerbated by recognition that many royal Psalms probably continued to be used in worship long after the end of the monarchy; they may have been adapted slightly to this subsequent nonroyal usage, thus rendering still more difficult their identification as royal Psalms.
C. Psalms of Sickness In the modern study of the Psalms, especially of the individual laments, the association between many such Psalms and the human experience of sickness has been recognized. As with the royal Psalms, the Psalms of sickness have a functional unity, but do not necessarily belong to a single literary type. Thus Pss. 22 and 41 may be classified as parts of liturgies for sick persons, reflecting the life-setting of an act of worship in the temple. Pss. 6 and 38, on the other hand, may more appropriately be classified as the prayers of sick persons; their usage may have been personal and private, rather than cultic and public. The language of the Psalms of sickness is for the most part general rather than specific; while such Psalms may in the first instance have reflected the particular sickness of an individual, their general language makes them suitable for use by any person who encounters sickness and disease. The detailed study of the Psalms of sickness, though much remains to be done in this area, illuminates one of several aspects of the perpetual relevance of the Psalms.
D. Power of the Word Many of the Psalms contain frequent references to the words and speech of other persons, notably of the psalmist’s enemies. The references to such speech are frequently negative in character; the psalmists refer to evil speech, flattery, false accusations, slander, cursing, and intrigue. It is clear from the many references to speech, especially evil speech, that its power was recognized in a particularly striking fashion in ancient Israel. The lament of Ps. 12 is precipitated by the pervasiveness of evil speech, but hope is to be found in the contrast between human speech in its vanity and the integrity of the divine speech. But while many of the Psalms contain general reflections on speech, care must be taken to note that many references to the speech of enemies may have legal and contractual overtones. Thus the lament in Ps. 7 reflects the experience of false accusation; it is probably not false accusation of a general kind, but an accusation or charge laid against the psalmist in the context of a contractual (or covenantal) relationship. And inasmuch as contractual arrangements between two persons or parties commonly involved the formal invocation of curses on a party of the contract if its stipulations were broken, the Psalms referring to the speech of enemies frequently also contain references to curses. These are not general references to curses, but quite specific references to treaty curses, which in turn threaten to come into effect on the basis of the laying of (false) accusations. Sensitivity to the possibility of a covenantal or contractual background to a Psalm is of considerable assistance in the interpretation of the references to curses in the Psalter as a whole.
E. Democratization A number of scholars have noted that a process of “democratization” has taken place in the history of Israel’s psalmody. It may have taken a variety of forms. For example, a Psalm that began its life as a private and poetic composition could later have been incorporated into Israel’s hymnbook for public and general use. Or a Psalm that was in the first instance a royal Psalm, specifically for the king’s use, could in later times have passed into general and public usage, especially in the period following the demise of Israel’s monarchy. What is difficult to determine is whether this process of change with respect to usage and function took place with, or without, modification to the form and substance of the individual Psalms. It could certainly have taken place without any changes to the Psalms in question; thus many Psalms that can clearly be identified as royal Psalms continued to be used (apparently unchanged) long after there ceased to be a monarchy in Israel. Some scholars (particularly French scholars) have attempted to distinguish relectures (re-readings), i.e., the additions or modifications in the substance of a Psalm that indicate this changing context of usage. This approach to the Psalms is not without positive prospects, though the nature of the evidence is such that inevitably the process tends to be subjective. Sometimes the Psalm titles (in either the MT or the versions) may provide a clue to the process of change. Thus the Greek title of Ps. 29 explicitly associates the Psalm with the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles; with respect to its original usage, however, the Psalm was probably a general hymn of victory employed within the worship of the temple.
F. The Collective Use of “I.” Earlier in the 20th cent one trend of OT scholarship stressed the “corporate” nature of Israel’s thought and downplayed any notions of “individualism.” One of the consequences of this approach to OT studies was to stress that apparently “individualistic” texts, e.g., the individual Psalms (employing “I,” “me,” etc.), were to be interpreted not in terms of an individual person, but rather in terms of a corporate community to which all individuals belonged. Thus it was supposed that the “I” of the Psalms was an expression of the corporate identity of the nation of Israel. But this line of research is no longer pursued in detail. It had a certain value in reminding us that many aspects of the notion of individualism are indeed modern phenomena, and that the psalmists (and those who employed the Psalms) were members of a larger community. It was, nevertheless, a line of research that tended to go too far in virtually denying the genuinely individual aspects of many of the Psalms. (Thus the Psalms of sickness are highly individual, though they are frequently set in a communal context.)
VII. Poetic Form of the Psalms
The Psalms as a whole are written in poetry; for a general discussion, see Poetry, Hebrew. A number of aspects of the poetic form of the Psalms deserve particular attention here.
A. Poetry and Function Though the Psalms are written in the form of Hebrew poetry, notably parallelism, they should not always be viewed as poems. While some Psalms are certainly poems, many reflect liturgy and the formalities of worship (see IV above). Thus, while the lines of a Psalm are poetic in form, the Psalm as a whole may not always be viewed as a literary piece of poetry. The approach to the Psalms in nineteenth-century scholarship was principally in the context of examining them as poetic compositions, and this was one of the greatest weaknesses of that approach. It resulted in very negative assessments of many Psalms (perceiving them, e.g., as composite structures), for it approached them from a wrong perspective. Many Psalms, viewed as a whole, are not fine poems, nor were they ever intended to be; rather, they are the poetic words that accompanied an act of worship in the temple, and only in that context may their wholeness and integrity be perceived. In the study of individual Psalms an attempt must be made to grasp the structure and function of the whole before proceeding to an evaluation of the Psalm as a work of art (poetry in the full sense, e.g., Ps. 19) or as a work of liturgy (e.g., Ps. 40, which is very uneven in literary terms, but perfectly balanced when perceived in its liturgical context).
B. Poetry and Meaning The Psalms as a whole address the relationship between Israel (individually and collectively) and God. And yet by its very nature the relationship with God is not easily expressed within the limitations of human speech. Poetry (rather than prose) is used in the Psalms, for it is a form of human language that seeks to transcend the limitations inherent in prosaic speech and to give expression to that which is ultimately inexpressible. The student of the Psalms should be sensitive to the use of poetic language; it may be studied from a literary and scientific perspective, but ultimately it must be appreciated. And the appreciation of the poetry of the Psalms involves such familiarity with it that one may eventually go beyond the words to grasp the living Reality to which they point.
C. Poetry and Music It is clear from various fragments of evidence, and especially the substance of some of the Psalm titles, that many of the Psalms are not only poetic in form, but were also to be sung or recited to musical accompaniment. Music adds still further to the transcendent nature of language that may be conveyed by poetry, so that both the words and the manner of their articulation seek to break through the restrictions integral to all forms of human speech. Unfortunately, however, while a certain amount is known about the usage of choirs and orchestras in Israel’s worship, nothing is known in detail about the tunes and musical settings to which certain Psalms were sung. It is nevertheless important to bear in mind the musical context of many Psalms in the progress toward interpretation and appreciation.
A. In General Martin Luther’s words are an appropriate introduction to the message of the Psalter: “In the Psalms one looks into the hearts of all the saints” (preface to the German Psalter, 1528). His words capture the essence of the book, for in its pages cogent expression is given to the diversity of the life of faith and of the response to the revelation of God. The Psalms reflect the faith not only of ordinary individuals, but also of the kings and of the nation of Israel as a whole. And the use of the Psalms down through the centuries of Israel’s history was such that in reading their words, we are hearing what became the normative expression of Israel’s faith and piety. And for all the diversity of expression in the book of Psalms, a deep underlying unity permeates the whole.
It may be misleading to view the Psalter as giving expression only to the dimensions of strictly personal faith. While many of the Psalms are profoundly personal and intimate in their expression of the relationship with God, they are concerned nevertheless with the common experiences of human life. What happens to an individual touches the community, frequently the entire nation; in some cases this fact is expressly stated, and in others it is implied by the communal context of worship. Thus even the most individualistic of the psalmists are in a sense the spokesmen of the community as a whole, giving expression in words to the variety of experiences shared by the community.
Some of the Psalms reflect the response of Israel to the revelation and experience of God; others are characterized by a “prophetic” element, in which the Lord’s prophetic word may be heard, declared in the context of Israel’s worship. Thus prophetic declarations, in which a servant of the temple proclaims the divine word, may be observed in such passages as Ps. 2:6–9; 12:5 (MT 6); and 32:8. In some cases the entire Psalm has a prophetic character; Ps. 50 appears to have served as a prophetic liturgy in the context of a ceremony of covenant renewal. This prophetic background to certain Psalms is given fuller expression outside the Psalter; e.g., the activity of the temple singers is described as prophesying (1 Ch. 25:2f; see further 2 Ch. 29:30; 35:15; Ex. 15:20; Lk. 1:67). Conversely, certain passages in the prophetic books appear to have a degree of relationship and similarity to the Psalms (see Isa. 12; Hab. 3; etal).
B. The Righteous and the Wicked On reading the Psalms one quickly gains the impression (beginning with Ps. 1!) that all persons can be classified into two categories, the righteous and the wicked. The psalmists, together with their friends and supporters, are the righteous; all their enemies are the wicked. While the prosperity of the righteous is frequently affirmed, an untimely death and other calamities are anticipated for the wicked. When, on the other hand, the righteous suffer calamities, they search for the cause of their distress in past sins they have committed; their adversity is normally for a short time only, for in humbling themselves before God they seek a return to the state of prosperity. The psalmists give vent to expressions against their enemies that seem to be spiteful and vindictive; they desire their undoing. Such is the general impression that may emerge from a reading of many of the Psalms (especially the so-called imprecatory Psalms); it seems at first sight to be somewhat self-righteous and lacking in charity toward enemies. It is, however, too superficial a view to capture the essential meaning of the Psalms in question.
It is true that the Psalms distinguish people into just these two categories. The categories, however, do not designate primarily moral characteristics, in which clearly there would need to be greater variety of differentiation; rather, they separate persons into two groups with respect to their relationship with God. The righteous are those in relationship to God (who thereby experience God’s mercy and forgiveness), whereas the wicked are those who, by their actions and speech, have separated themselves from the relationship to God. This differentiation can be seen in the activities of Israel’s formal worship, in which the righteous may legitimately participate (see Pss. 15, 24).
The righteousness of which the psalmists speak is thus a religious quality, imputed as a consequence of faith in the Lord. While it undoubtedly has implications with respect to moral behavior, the term righteous does not signify sinless persons. Rather, it points to persons who have experienced mercy and forgiveness and who as a consequence have sought to lead a moral life. The protestations and affirmations of the righteous are thus not the proud exclamations of the self-righteous, but rather the faithful statements of those who have striven to maintain their lives within the merciful context of the covenant relationship with God. The statements concerning righteousness are balanced by the frequent statements in which sin is confessed and mercy and forgiveness are sought.
Nevertheless, while recognizing that the designation “righteous” does not imply self-righteousness and arrogance, the reader may still find many of the psalmists’ statements concerning the wicked to be particularly harsh and vindictive. In part this is so because the Psalms contain the reflections of immediate human response to the experience of suffering and persecution. They are a window on the souls of those who suffer, and thus show not only faith and fear, but also anger and the desire for retribution to fall on those who persecute them. (The problem is treated with particular sensitivity in Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, pp. 9–33). Yet there is more to the harsh language of the psalmists than at first appears on the surface; the background is to be found in the context of covenant or treaty.
Israel was bound to God in a relationship of covenant; the commitment to covenant relationship, on Israel’s part, involved the recognition that obedience would result in blessing, disobedience in cursing (Dt. 27–28). A similar structure is found in international treaties; the persons binding themselves in a treaty invite curses on their own heads if they should break the conditions of the treaty. And similar conditions applied to personal contracts; two persons bound themselves together in a contractual relationship and agreed upon the “divine curses” that should be invoked in the event that one or other party to the treaty should break its stipulations. It is this context of covenant (or personal contract or national treaty) that forms the background to much of the harsh language employed in the Psalms. In royal Psalms the expression of such harsh sentiments against an enemy is in effect the calling down of the curses of the treaty upon the enemy’s head; if the enemy had broken the terms of the treaty, its harsh curses should befall him, for he had agreed to such conditions in the formation of the treaty in the first place. A clear example of the covenant context of the harsh language of the Psalms can be seen in Ps. 7, which has the general characteristics of an individual lament. The psalmist prays for his vindication and asks that wicked persons might die (v 9); yet it is clear that the language of the Psalm as a whole is a reflection of the language of treaty or contract curses. Thus the psalmist invites the same curses to fall on him, if he has been guilty of breaking the terms of the treaty or contract (vv 4f [MT 5f]; cf. J. H. Tigay, JBL, 89 , 178–186). It becomes clear that the apparently vindictive and harsh nature of much of the language of the Psalms should be interpreted in a legal context, rather than being interpreted as an expression of personal hatred. The enemy of the psalmist has broken the stipulations of an agreement, but seeks to bring discredit on the psalmist, as if he were the guilty party. The psalmist, in turn, calls for the curses of the treaty to fall on the head of the enemy, in part to establish his own innocence of the charges laid against him, and in part because the enemy had agreed that he should suffer the curses if he broke the contractual stipulations. This general context of treaty curses provides not only a perspective for understanding harsh language against enemies, but also for interpreting statements concerning the death of enemies’ children. Thus the desire expressed for the destruction of children in Ps. 17:10 must be seen in the context of a national treaty between nations; the Psalm is a royal liturgy, with a treaty background, and its language reflects not personal hatred, but the invocation of treaty curses (agreed to by the enemy) upon all the nation’s foes (cf. F. C. Fensham, ZAW, 77 , 195–202).
Finally, often in the Psalms the condition of the righteous and the wicked appears to be viewed with a degree of naiveté not matched to the realities of human existence. Thus the way of the righteous is thought to lead always to prosperity, while the way of the wicked culminates always in ruin. Such a perspective is particularly evident in many of the wisdom Psalms, e.g., Ps. 1. The difficulty with this perspective is its lack of nuance; e.g., it appears to be more akin to the theology of Job’s friends than to the theology which Job himself eventually espoused.
The principal cause of this difficulty arises as a consequence of viewing the substance of individual Psalms in isolation from a larger context. Thus Ps. 1 sets down certain of the fundamental assumptions of the wisdom tradition with respect to righteous persons and wicked persons; its theology is akin to that of Proverbs, but it cannot encompass within the scope of a few verses the balancing factors (e.g., those of Job and Ecclesiastes), which are essential to a fully rounded wisdom theology. The balance can be achieved, however, by reading a Psalm such as Ps. 1 in the context of other Psalms. Ps. 1, while it may appear naive, is an expression of fundamental faith and confidence; the walk through life may be pursued in two basic ways. Ps. 39, which also has certain characteristics of the wisdom literature, presents a very different perspective; it is a meditation on the transitory nature of human life, marked not by idealism, but by the cold-eyed realism of one who, over a long life, has experienced many of the harsher realities of human existence. The reader of the Psalms should take care not to focus on the substance of a single Psalm in isolation from other Psalms; the Psalms as a whole reflect a fully rounded wisdom on the nature of human life in relation to God, whereas the individual Psalms may contain only a part of the larger picture.
C. The Messiah in the Psalms From the perspective of the NT writers it is clear that many of the Psalms were interpreted within early Christianity as messianic Psalms; their words and verses are quoted with specific reference to Jesus the Messiah (or the Christ). Pss. 2 and 110 are among the most frequently quoted Psalms in the NT; and, not without good reason, Ps. 22 has been called “The Fifth Gospel” (S. Frost, Canadian Journal of Theology, 8 , 102–115). From the perspective of interpretation, however, it is important to ask whether these Psalms are technically messianic Psalms (viz, whether they were considered as such within ancient Israel) or simply came to be considered as messianic Psalms in later Judaism and early Christianity.
Although the question of the messianic character of the Psalms is the subject of continuing debate, it may be best to take the view that none of the Psalms, in the first instance, was messianic; i.e., with respect to their initial usage and interpretation, they were not viewed within ancient Israel as referring, directly or indirectly, to the Messiah. The Psalms that were later viewed as messianic were, for the most part, royal Psalms in the first instance; they referred to the king, who was the Lord’s “anointed” (or messiah, Ps. 2:2) and the Lord’s “son” (Ps. 2:7). With the end of the monarchy in Israel and Judah (586 b.c.), the Psalms in question continued to be used in the context of worship, but clearly a transformation in their meaning must have begun. A Psalm such as Ps. 2, used initially in the coronation of a Davidic king, could not retain its original meaning in worship in a time when the monarchy no longer existed. The kingdom of Israel, with its human king, had ceased to exist; within Judaism new notions of the kingdom of God began to emerge, sometimes in association with the word messiah, which had originally referred to human kings. In the NT the message of Jesus concerned the “kingdom of God” (Mk. 1:13f), and the faith of the early Church perceived Jesus to be the King (or Messiah) within that kingdom. Thus in the context of this newly emerging faith Christianity perceived a new, yet latent, meaning in the royal Psalms; they had spoken originally of the Davidic king, but their words applied equally to Jesus the Messiah. Thus the so-called messianic Psalms, though originally royal in character, reflect the development of faith from OT times to NT times, and the understanding that Jesus was the Messiah within the newly proclaimed kingdom of God.
Not all Psalms with a messianic character were royal Psalms, however; Psalms that reflected initially simply the dimensions of human experience were reinterpreted in a new and meaningful way with respect to Jesus. Thus Ps. 22, the “Fifth Gospel,” was probably not a royal Psalm; it was rather a liturgy for the dying, reflecting a life-setting in a temple ritual. The frequent quotations from and allusions to Ps. 22, both in the words of Jesus and in the narrative of the Evangelists, transform the sense of the original narrative in a remarkable fashion; the ancient liturgy for the dying becomes the framework within which the passion and dying of Jesus are given expression in the Gospels. In summary, the Psalms are not so much messianic in any anticipatory or predictive sense as they are ancient Psalms that have come to take on new and deeper meaning within the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.
D. The Religion of the Psalms The message of the Psalter can be drawn in part from the religion of the Psalms, or more specifically from the larger religious context within which the Psalms were utilized. This religious context had both a theological perspective and a setting in religious practice (or the actual activities of worship). The religious context of the Psalms was not different from the religion of Israel as a whole; rather, it was one particular aspect of the larger whole, on which the substance of the Psalms sheds particular illumination.
The theological dimension of the religion of the Psalter has its primary focus on the centrality of relationship. The covenant, which provided the basis for all relationships in ancient Israel, indicates clearly that a person’s first relationship is with God, which relationship in turn determines the character of all relationships with other people. While many parts of the OT literature illuminate the various aspects of the Israelite covenant, the Psalms lie close to the heart of the covenant; they are the vehicles through which the members of the covenant community express their relationship to God, and indeed the means by which they communicate with God, whether in public worship or private devotion.
The variety of Psalms, with respect to substance and purpose, illustrates the manifold character of the relationship with God. It may be a relation of joy, expressed in the hymns of praise and thanksgiving; it may be the experience of grief, fear, persecution, or some other trouble, which results in the psalmist’s search for God. What is clear from the Psalter as a whole is that no aspect of life, no area of human experience, is excluded from the relationship with God.
Although some of the Psalms express private and individual devotion, the majority functioned within the context of Israel’s cult; in public worship, special festivals, or in particular rituals (e.g., for the sick or dying), the concerns of the individual became the concerns of the community, and vice versa. And the formal context of most worship provided a check against the growth of too casual an attitude to worship and the relationship with God. Although God could be known personally and intimately, the approach to God must be undertaken with care and introspection, as is reflected so clearly in such Psalms as Pss. 15 and 26.
The setting of the relationship with God which is given expression in the Psalms is this life and this world. Some scholars claim that the psalmists’ theology has an eschatological perspective, that they view the relationship with God as extending beyond the grave. This tendency is particularly evident in the writings of Mitchell Dahood, whose new translations of the Psalms appear to give some support to this view. In general, however, this trend in the study of the theology of the Psalms is probably not soundly based, resting on highly dubious translations of many parts of the Psalter (see IX below). The OT as a whole (with the exception of a few of the latest writings) does not contain a developed eschatology; the theology of the Psalms, for the most part, shares the noneschatological perspective of the remainder of the OT, focusing upon the relationship with God in the present life. It should be added, of course, that it is appropriate to “re-read” the Psalms from the perspective of NT eschatology and see new significance in their words. All that is stressed here is that the Psalms in their original sense are generally not eschatological in character.
The second dimension of the religious context of the Psalms is the cultic context in which they were, for the most part, employed. As has been noted above, we miss much of the significance of the Psalms if they are viewed solely as literature. They were employed in the cultus, in the formal activities of Israel’s religion; they were part of a larger environment characterized by such features as ritual acts, the offering of sacrifices, the coming of pilgrims to the temple during great festivals, and the formal activities of the priests and other servants of the temple. The interpretation of the Psalms should attempt to take into account the ritual setting, for a knowledge of the context contributes to their proper interpretation.
IX. The Psalms and Ugaritic Studies
A. The Near Eastern Context The Hebrew Psalms, viewed as a whole, were not unique in the environment of ancient Near Eastern religions. Most of the known religions of the ancient world employed hymns and prayers of various kinds. The fruits of archeology have included, e.g., the texts of Assyrian, Babylonian, and Egyptian hymns of praise. As might be expected, these ancient hymns have general similarities to the Hebrew hymns, though they differ from them with respect to the details of theology and substance. Scholars who were studying the Psalms at the beginning of the century tended to be too quickly impressed by the similarities between Hebrew and Near Eastern psalms, without taking sufficient account of the considerable dissimilarities. Thus it was noted that there were remarkable parallels between the ancient Egyptian “Hymn to Aten” and Ps. 104. Observations of this kind led to various hypotheses of interrelationship; frequently it was claimed that the Hebrew Psalms had been borrowed or adapted from the resources of ancient Near Eastern psalmody. But as further discoveries were made, greater recognition was given not only to the commonality of Near Eastern psalmody, but also to the distinctive features which separated Hebrew Psalms from Egyptian psalms, Egyptian psalms from Assyrian psalms, and so on. Most of the hypotheses of direct interrelationship between Hebrew and Near Eastern psalms have now been abandoned. Nevertheless, the study of Near Eastern psalmody is of immense value in the study of the Psalter; it provides some of the data needed to reconstruct both the literary and cultic milieu within which the Hebrew Psalms must be studied.
B. Ugaritic Studies Since the discovery of the ancient city of Ugarit (modern Râs Shamrah, Syria) in 1929, much new material has become available for the study of the Psalms. The archeological excavations at Râs Shamrah, still continuing in the 1980’s, resulted in the recovery of many ancient texts from the site; the texts (written on clay tablets) are in the Ugaritic language, a close linguistic relative of Biblical Hebrew, and the majority date from the 14th to the early 12th cents b.c. Many of the Ugaritic texts are poetic in form. These discoveries have had a number of implications for the study of the Psalms.
(1) The discovery of the Ugaritic language has added to the knowledge of Northwest Semitic languages in general. Thus, as a consequence of the study of the Ugaritic texts, more light has been brought to bear on the meaning of certain obscure terms and unusual grammatical forms in the Psalter; there is now greater potential for the accurate translation and interpretation of the Psalms than was available half a century ago.
(2) The study of Ugaritic poetic texts has provided an improved awareness of the nature, forms, and language of Northwest Semitic poetry. The comparison of Hebrew and Ugaritic poetry has thus made possible more informed evaluations of the Psalms, recognizing what is common and what is distinctive in the poetry of particular Psalms. On the other hand, none of the poetry in the Ugaritic language appears actually in the form of a psalm, but is utilized in mythological and literary (narrative) texts; hence, no comparison is possible between the two bodies of poetry with respect to form and function.
(3) The mythological texts, in poetic form, from Ugarit have increased our knowledge of the religious literature available in Northwest Semitic languages. The Ugaritic resources contain extensive mythological texts dealing with gods ˒El and Baal. The examination of these texts reveals how the Hebrew psalmists have utilized mythological imagery, especially that associated with Baal, in giving expression to their own faith in the God of Israel. For example, Ps. 29, while clearly Hebrew in its substance and theology, has drawn heavily on language and imagery which is striking in its similarity to the mythological language employed of the god Baal.
(4) One text, reconstructed from fragments found at Râs Shamrah, contained the words of a Hurrian hymn (Hurrian being one of several languages employed in Ugarit); on the same tablet as the hymn were the notations for the musical score to be utilized in the singing of the hymn. The tablet also contained a colophon, the substance of which was of essentially the same nature as that contained in the titles of the biblical Psalms. In addition to being the oldest known example of words and music on the same text, this Hurrian text may provide a parallel to the nature of some of the biblical Psalms prior to their incorporation within the Psalter. And the musical accompaniment for the hymn, though representing Hurrian culture, may perhaps illustrate the kind of musical setting to which many of the biblical Psalms were sung.
(5) For all the values and benefits of the Ugaritic texts, their information has in some cases been applied too radically and without due caution in the translation and interpretation of the Psalms. Perhaps the most important example of the excessive use of the Ugaritic resources in Psalms study is the three-volume commentary on the Psalms by Mitchell Dahood. His commentary contains many brilliant insights, but it is also characterized by a marked lack of methodological control in the application of Ugaritic data to the study of the Hebrew texts. Gradually a number of scholars are submitting to a critical and cautious evaluation the multitude of Dahood’s Hebrew-Ugaritic proposals. Eventually it may be possible to distinguish between his lasting contributions to the study of the Psalms and the more fragile hypotheses constructed upon uncertain foundations; in the meantime Dahood’s commentary should be employed with caution by those who are not specialists in Ugaritic.
Bibliography.—comms: A. A. Anderson (NCBC, 1972); E. Beaucamp (SB, 1976); C. A. and E. G. Briggs (ICC, 1906); P. C. Craigie (Word Biblical comm, 1983); M. Dahood (AB, 1966–1970); J. I. Durham (Broadman Bible comm, 1972); H. Gunkel (Handkommentar zum AT, 4th ed 1926); D. Kidner (Tyndale OT comms, 1973); H.-J. Kraus (BKAT, 1978); H. Lamparter (Botschaft des AT, 1977); J. W. Rogerson and J. W. McKay (CBC, 1977); A. Weiser (Engtr, OTL, 1962).
Surveys of Scholarship and Bibliography: J. Becker, Wege der Psalmenexegese (1975); B. Childs, intro to the OT (1979), pp. 504–525; D. J. A. Clines, Tyndale Bulletin, 18 (1967), 103–126; 20 (1969), 105–126; J. H. Eaton, “The Psalms and Israelite Worship,” in G. W. Anderson, ed, Tradition and Interpretation (1979), pp. 238–273; E. Gerstenberger, “Psalms,” in J. H. Hayes, ed, OT Form Criticism (1974), pp. 179–223; A. R. Johnson, “Psalms,” in OTMS, pp. 162–209; P. H. A. Neumann, Zur neueren Psalmenforschung (1976); J. Schildenberger, Bibel und Leben, 8 (1967), 220–231.
Other Studies: W. Beyerlin, Die Rettung der Bedrängten in den Feindpsalmen der Einzelnen auf institutionelle Zusammenhänge untersucht (FRLANT, 99, 1970); R. C. Culley, Oral Formulaic Language in the Biblical Psalms (1967); J. H. Eaton, Kingship and the Psalms (1976); H. Gunkel and J. Begrich, Einl in die Psalmen (1933); H. Gunkel, The Psalms: A Form-Critical Introduction (Engtr 1967); A. R. Johnson, Cultic Prophet and Israel’s Psalmody (1979); S. Mowinckel, Psalms in Israel’s Worship (Engtr 1967); N. H. Ridderbos, Die Psalmen (BZAW, 117, 1972); H. Ringgren, Faith of the Psalmists (Engtr 1963); L. Sabourin, Psalms: Their Origin and Meaning (rev ed 1974); J. A. Sanders, Psalms Scroll of Qumran Cave 11 (1965); M. Tsevat, Study of the Language of the Biblical Psalms (1955); C. Westermann, Praise of God in the Psalms (Engtr 1965); G. Widengren, Accadian and Hebrew Psalms of Lamentation as Religious Documents (1937).
General Intros. and Popular Guides: P. R. Ackroyd, Doors of Perception: A Guide to Reading the Psalms (1978); B. W. Anderson, Out of the Depths. The Psalms Speak for Us Today (2nd ed 1974); C. F. Barth, intro to the Psalms (3 vols; Engtr 1966); J. H. Hayes, Understanding the Psalms (1976); C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (1958); E. Routley, Exploring the Psalms (1975); M. H. Shepherd, Psalms in Christian Worship: A Practical Guide (1976); D. W. Vogel, Psalms for Worship (1974).
Kugel, J. L. “Topics in the History of the Spirituality of the Psalms.” In Jewish Spirituality: From the 16th Century Renewal to the Present. Vol. 1. Edited by A. Green. New York: Crossroad, 1987. Pp. 113-144.
Miller, P. D. Interpreting the Psalms. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986.
Westermann, C. Praise and Lament in the Psalms. Translated by K. R. Crim and R. N. Soulen. Atlanta, GA: Knox, 1981. On Wisdom:
Crenshaw, J. L. Old Testament Wisdom: An Introduction. Altanta, GA: Knox, 1981.
Kugel, J. L. The Idea of Biblical Poetry: Parallelism and Its History. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1981. Pp. 1-58.
von Rad, G. Wisdom in Israel. Translated by J. D. Martin. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1972.
EDWIN M. GOOD
The praise the Book of Job has received may put some readers off. After all, who feels equal to comprehending “one of the grandest things ever written” (Carlyle)? But Job is too well worth the effort of understanding for readers to pass it by in favor of the mediocre. And, unlike the mediocre, the excellent requires effort of its readers, a willingness to work mentally, to read a passage again when comprehension does not come immediately, to think hard about what one has read.
It is most useful for modern readers to approach Job as fiction. Job refers only to itself; it does not factually portray anything outside itself. To view the book as fiction may help to keep distractions about it at bay. One does well to think of Job, Eliphaz, and the others as characters in a story, not as actors in history.
The book consists of five parts:
Part One (1:1-2:13): The opening tale
Part Two (3:1-31:40): Dialogue with the friends
Part Three (32:1-37:24): Speeches of Elihu
Part Four (38:1-42:6): Dialogue with Yahweh
Part Five (42:7-17): The closing tale
In the opening tale, the great man Job loses his wealth and children and is subjected to a painful disease after discussions between God and a character I will call the Prosecutor. Expected to curse God because of this experience, Job refuses to do so. Three friends come to comfort him and sit with him in silence for seven days.
Job opens the dialogue by cursing his birthday (chap. 3), and the friends then reply, urging Job to admit his fault and return to good terms with God. Job insists that he has done nothing to deserve the punishment he is receiving. Neither side persuades the other of anything, and Job closes with a long speech (chaps. 29-31) describing his pleasant past life and lamenting its loss. With a series of curses on himself, he calls on God to answer him. Elihu, a previously unmentioned friend, suggests that both Job and the friends were wrong about the suffering (chaps. 32-37).
Now the deity speaks to Job “out of the whirlwind,” asking hard questions about the universe and the habits of various powerful animals, challenging Job to reply (38:1-40:2). Job is noncommittal (40:3-5), at which the deity insists that he answer and invites him to control human evil, a monstrous creature named Behemoth and another named Leviathan (40:6-41:34). Then Job speaks in a conciliative way, saying that he now has firsthand knowledge (42:1-6).
At the end (42:7-17), God criticizes the friends and reinstates them in his favor. Job is comforted for his troubles, receives twice his former wealth and a new family of children, and comes to a satisfactory death.
The opening and closing tale are prose narrative, and the middle three sections, all speeches, are in poetry (save for one-line introductions to the speeches and a brief introduction of Elihu in 32:1-5). The dialogue between Job and the friends falls into a consistent pattern. Job speaks (chap. 3), and Eliphaz replies (chaps. 4-5). A second speech of Job (chaps. 6-7) is followed by a speech of Bildad (chap. 8), and after Job’s third speech (chaps. 9-10) comes one by Zophar (chap. 11). The same pattern occurs in chaps. 12-20, with Job speaking between each of the friends. The third cycle begins like the others, with a speech of Job (chap. 21) and one of Eliphaz (chap. 22), then Job again (chaps. 23-24) followed by a short speech of Bildad (chap. 25). Job then speaks without interruption (chaps. 26-31), and there is no speech by Zophar in this cycle. Thus the speeches create three cycles, the third slightly skewed in structure; Job has both the first word (chap. 3) and the last (the summation speech, chaps. 29-31).
Elihu’s speech is divided into four parts by opening formulas; the dialogue between Job and Yahweh (38:1-42:6) also falls into four parts, two long speeches of Yahweh and two short ones of Job.
Origins of the Book
Job is written in an extremely sophisticated, “learned” Hebrew, with a higher proportion of words unique to itself than any other book of the Hebrew Bible. The issue of language is raised otherwise only by some theories that the book was originally composed in Aramaic or in Arabic. Such proposals cannot be demonstrated. That a work so subtle and complex in style is a translation seems unlikely, and theories that it was not originally Hebrew have found very few supporters.
One Jewish tradition names Moses as the author of Job, but otherwise there was little speculation about it. Reticence about attempting to identify the author is well advised. Some scholars believe there was more than one author, others that one or several editors gave the book its final form. Surely it is the work of more than one mind, if only in the sense that it underwent changes in the process of copying and, perhaps, of editing. But authors or editors left no discernible traces of identity.
Location of Writing.
Because chaps. 40-41 describe animals that some scholars identify as a hippopotamus and a crocodile, they have argued a location in Egypt, where these animals are native. The commentary will show that I do not think Behemoth and Leviathan are those animals. That the language is Hebrew indicates that the book was written in Israel. No regional dialect is identifiable, and no specific part of the territory can be determined. The book is not, however, set in Israel. Its characters come from places in Edom, southeast of Israel (→ Edom). Yet that setting is no more reason for thinking Job was composed in Edom than the setting of Hamlet in Elsinore is reason to think that Shakespeare wrote the play in Denmark. Some passages betray knowledge of desert travel and of various wild and domestic animals, but geographical location plays no part in the book’s meaning.
If we cannot say where Job originated, it is equally difficult to say when. Ezekiel referred to Job as an important person alongside Noah and Daniel (Ezek. 14:14-20). Moreover, tradition put him in the patriarchal period and made the book one of the oldest in the Bible. Modern scholars are skeptical of this claim to antiquity, but dates proposed range from the tenth to the third century b.c. The book itself is completely silent about its time, with no allusions to historical events or topical subjects (some take 12:17-19 as a depiction of the Exile). If we could be certain of the history of the Hebrew language or of the relations between one text and another, we could more confidently assign a date. Some affinities of Job 3 with Jer. 20:7-18, for example, do not allow certainty of which passage came first. Stylistic similarities between Job and Isaiah 40-55 have also been alleged. Those connections suggest a time either before the early sixth century b.c. (if Job is prior) or in the late sixth or early fifth century b.c. (if Job is later). Job 7:17-18 is almost surely a parody of Psalm 8, but no one can be sure when Psalm 8 was written. Job 3:4 is a parodistic allusion to Gen. 1:3, a creation account usually dated after the Exile in the sixth century b.c. Such evidence suggests but does not prove that Job was composed and completed after the Babylonian exile.
Here we ask about the process through which the book achieved its final form. One supposes either that an author “composed” the book over a long or short period or that it is “composite,” brought together from diverse sources. But our modern assumptions about books are inappropriate for ancient ones. The process of copying by hand, the only way ancient books could be circulated, means that we cannot be sure we are reading what an “original” author wrote. The structure of the book outlined above may provide some bases for guesses. Chaps. 1, 2, and 42 are written in a relatively simple prose style that some scholars have compared to folktale. The poetry in the middle of the book is very complex and difficult, full of unusual words and unusual thoughts. Supposing that a single mind tends not to produce such different kinds of writing, scholars propose that one or more poets took an existing folktale (to which Ezekiel referred?) and inserted the poetic dialogues into it. On the other hand, Elihu turns up in chap. 32 without prior mention and disappears at the end of chap. 37 without later mention. Most scholars think that the Elihu speeches were interpolated into the book by another poet; they note the Hebrew style in these speeches differs from that of the rest of the book. Some scholars have argued that the speeches of Yahweh (chaps. 38-41) were added or modified later.
More complications: chap. 28 breaks suddenly into the debate with a puzzling discussion of mining, metallurgy, and wisdom. Arguing that it was inserted later, scholars seldom explain why. In the third cycle of speeches, Bildad’s (chap. 25) is unusually short, and Zophar has no speech at all. Some scholars, noticing what seems self-contradiction in Job’s speeches around Bildad’s, wish to add 26:5-14 to Bildad’s speech and put together a speech for Zophar from such passages, now in Job’s mouth, as 24:18-20, 22-25 and 27:8-23. Such observations lead scholars to postulate several stages in the book’s composition. All such conclusions can be no more than guesses, as we have no copies of Job representing these stages. In my opinion, a poet probably used the existing prose tale as an occasion for the debate, Elihu’s entrance was staged by a later editor, and perhaps chap. 28 was added by someone with great sensitivity to the argument around it. I doubt that the third cycle is garbled, and I think the Yahweh speeches belong. In any case, the book as it now stands is the one we have to read, and omitting later additions gives us no demonstrable access to the minds of earlier authors.
kjv King James Version
lxx Septuagint (Gk. version of OT)
MT Massoretic text
av Authorized Version ( King James’), 1611
WDB Westminster Dictionary of the Bible, 1944
JNES Journal of Near Eastern Studies
CAH Cambridge Ancient History, 12 vols., 1923-39; revised ed. 1970-
JEA Journal Egyptian Archaeology
idem idem (Lat.), the same author
BASOR Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research
PEQ Palestine Exploration Quarterly
AJBA Australian Journal of Biblical Archaeology
k.a.k K. A. Kitchen, B.A., Ph.D., formerly Personal and Brunner Professor of Egyptology, University of Liverpool.
t.c.m T. C. Mitchell, M.A., formerly Keeper, Department of Western Asiatic Antiquities, British Museum.
Ant. Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews
BJ Josephus, Jewish Wars
EH Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History
TynB Tyndale Bulletin (formerly THB)
h.w.h. H. W. Hoehner, Ph.D., Professor of New Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary
Wood, D. R. W., Wood, D. R. W., & Marshall, I. H. 1996, c1982, c1962. New Bible Dictionary. Includes index. (electronic ed. of 3rd ed.) . InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove
cf. confer (Lat.), compare
m.b. Mrs M. Beeching, B.A., B.D., M.Ed., formerly Principal Lecturer and Head of Department of Divinity, Cheshire College of Education, Alsager
lxx Septuagint (Gk. version of OT)
HTR Harvard Theological Review
ff. and the following (verses, etc.)
BJRL Bulletin of the John Rylands Library
TOTC Tyndale Old Testament Commentary
MT Mas(s)oretic Text (See TEXT AND MSS OF THE OT)
ca circa, about
TB Babylonian Talmud
OT Old Testament
NEB New English Bible
cents century, centuries
AV Authorized (King James) Version
cent century, centuries
GKC W. Gesenius, E. Kautzsch, and A. E. Cowley, Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar (2nd ed. 1910)
NT New (Neues, Nouveau) Testament
RSV Revised Standard Version
etal and others
Einl Einleitung (Introduction)
TP Palestinian (Jerusalem) Talmud
v verse(s); versus
JBL Journal of Biblical Literature
ZAW Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft
comms commentary, commentaries
NCBC New Century Bible Commentary
SB H. L. Strack and P. Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrasch (5 vols., 1922–1961)
ICC International Critical Commentary
comm commentary, commentaries
AB Anchor Bible
AT Altes (or Ancien) Testament
ed editor, edition, edited (by), editors, editions
BKAT Biblischer Kommentar, Altes Testament
CBC Cambridge Bible Commentary on the New English Bible
Engtr English translation
OTL Old Testament Library
OTMS H. H. Rowley, ed., The Old Testament and Modern Study (1951)
FRLANT Forschungen zur Religion und Literatur des Alten und Neuen Testaments
BZAW Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft
rev revised (by)