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BC Volume 2 (1996)


Volume 2, Number 1January/February 1996

The Route of the Exodus

Scholars have puzzled over the route of the Exodus for quite a few centuries. Today one can find a selection of theories regarding it in most standard Bible encyclopedias.[1] Scholars' inability to determine the true route of the Exodus was understandable a generation ago—it is inexcusable today.

A generation ago, scholars had only the Biblical text and the geography of the Sinai peninsula to go on. This was simply too little information to uniquely determine the actual route the Israelites took from Egypt to Palestine. In the last several decades, however, the situation has changed entirely. The Biblical and geographical data has now been strongly supplemented with data from the field of Biblical archaeology. In particular, extensive surface surveys have been carried out in the Sinai peninsula. The nature of the resultant archaeological data is such that the encampments made by the Israelites at the time of the Exodus cannot help but be exposed by them.

Unfortunately, modern conservative scholars have largely eschewed the Biblical archaeological data bearing on this question. This approach to the problem has been dictated by necessity, however, not preference. It has been a necessity because the Biblical chronological framework which these scholars have assumed misdates the Exodus by a full millennium. This gross chronological error prohibits any meaningful alignment of any of the Biblical narrative prior to the time of Eli and Samuel with any significant Biblical archaeology datum. As a result scholars have been unable to make any sense of the archaeological data, and they have generally opted simply to ignore them.

Since the problem which gave rise to this erroneous Biblical chronology has been discovered and mended, it is no longer necessary to labor under this handicap.[2] It is now possible, for the first time, to bring the data of archaeology to bear on this problem. The present article introduces a number of the exciting discoveries which result when this is done.

This article is not everywhere as easy to follow as I would have liked. I have been forced by space constraints to abridge the discussion at a number of points. You can compensate for this to a large extent by taking the time to read through the Bible references provided in the article, and by thoroughly digesting its two figures. The extreme importance of the present discoveries cannot be overstated; I think you will find whatever effort you expend to thoroughly understand this matter to be well worth your while.

Introduction

In the previous issue[3] I introduced a paper by Eliezer Oren and Yuval Yekutieli[4] describing sites located by Oren through surface surveys conducted in the Sinai peninsula between 1972 and 1982. I showed that the pottery from these sites completely satisfies our expectations, based on the new Biblical chronology, of the Israelite encampments at the time of the Exodus. I suggested, on this basis alone, that these sites should, in fact, be recognized as the modern-day remains of those ancient encampments.

In the present article I resume this discussion of the Oren and Yekutieli sites, bringing additional evidence forward to show that what Oren and Yekutieli have found, in fact, are the first three encampments which the Israelites made after leaving Egypt. I begin with a brief look at more of the archaeology of these sites, and then turn to a detailed discussion of their placement on a map of the Sinai peninsula relative to the Biblical information regarding the early route of the Exodus.

Further Archaeological Evidence

What were the early encampments of the Israelites like? Did everybody pitch their tents in neat "city block" fashion, as is sometimes depicted in Sunday school illustrations?

In point of fact, the Biblical record suggests the Israelite camps prior to Mount Sinai were unstructured. While the Israelites were at Mount Sinai, God specified a unique arrangement of the camps which, we must suppose, was only subsequently adhered to.[5] Thus it seems most probable that the initial Exodus encampments were unstructured.

Imagine that first day's journey from Rameses to Succoth. Picture two million people hurrying along an ancient road away from Egypt, carrying what earthly possessions they are able and accompanied by their flocks. Obviously, such a large group would be spread out over a considerable distance along the road. (I calculate that two million people walking 50 abreast with 1 yard between rows of 50 would form a column nearly 23 miles long.) After walking from probably before sunrise until probably after sunset they stop at last and set up camp. Their camp must also have stretched for a number of miles along the road.

In fact, the present-day remains which Oren and Yekutieli found suggest just such a picture. Their research does not show singular, enormous, individual campsites; rather it reveals discrete clusters of many sites of various sizes along an ancient roadway. These clusters are not arranged in "city block" fashion. Rather, they reveal an unstructured arrangement.

I do not mean to suggest that these clusters are devoid of all organization, by any means. In fact, they exhibit just the kind of natural organization one would expect of the tribally oriented, pastoral Israelites. Oren and Yekutieli describe what they found as "clusters of sites with large settlement units at their center and smaller settlements at their margins".[6] Their description suggests that the large sites were the central hub of activity for one or more of the Israelite tribes. Around the large sites were medium size sites which, they suggest, represent the living quarters of families. Around the periphery of these were small sites which they identify as the campsites of shepherds—those who watched the flocks.

The size of these clusters is certainly suitable to the number of people involved in the Exodus. The archaeological data suggest that discrete encampments of the whole population were spread out along the road for a distance of roughly twenty miles, and that they covered an area in excess of four square miles.


I always find it exciting when archaeologists unwittingly use words to describe what they have found which are identical to those which the Bible writer used of the same site or event thousands of years before. In the present case Oren and Yekutieli observe "it looks as if the inhabitants lived in booths, tents or lean-tos."[7] Compare this with the Biblical description of the structures which the Israelites lived in along the route of the Exodus. This description is given in Leviticus 23:33–43 in connection with the Feast of Booths celebration. Verses 42 and 43 say:

You shall live in booths for seven days; all the native-born in Israel shall live in booths, so that your generations may know that I had the sons of Israel live in booths when I brought them out from the land of Egypt.

Bear in mind that Oren and Yekutieli were totally unaware that these sites might correspond in any way to the Biblical Exodus event. Indeed, they proffer the idea that pastoral tribesmen lived at these sites for a period of time, and suggest that these tribesmen penetrated into Egypt at the end of the Old Kingdom, helping to bring about its collapse by the burdensome addition of their numbers to a supposedly already "overpopulated and drought stricken" delta region. They did not connect these sites with the Exodus at all.[8]

While Oren and Yekutieli's historical reconstruction may be faulty, one cannot help but be impressed by their ability when it comes to the archaeological reconstruction of these sites after four and a half thousand years.[9] And one cannot help but be impressed by how readily their archaeological data harmonize with what the Bible records of the Exodus encampments.

The Cartographic Evidence

I will now turn to a discussion of the information which the Bible provides regarding how the early route of the Exodus should appear when drawn on a map. I call this information the cartographic evidence.

The cartographic evidence is gleaned entirely from the Biblical text, mainly from the book of Exodus. The principal passages are Exodus 12:33–39, Exodus 13:17–14:31, and Exodus 15:22. Here is a list of important cartographic evidences from these passages:

  1. The Exodus was staged from an Egyptian city called Rameses (Ex. 12:37; Num. 33:5).

  2. The first encampment was at Succoth, which was located outside the borders of Egypt (Ex. 12:37–39; Num. 33:5).

  3. The second encampment was at Etham, which was located on the edge of a wilderness (Ex. 13:20; Num. 33:6).

  4. The route of the Exodus doubled back from Etham (Ex. 14:1–2).

  5. The third encampment was at Pi-hahiroth, which was located on the shore of a sea (Ex. 14:2; Num. 33:7).

  6. The sea at Pi-hahiroth was capable of being wind-dried[10] and crossed by two million people in a single night (Ex. 14:21–22).

  7. Pi-hahiroth was adjacent to the wilderness of Shur (Ex. 15:22; Num. 33:8).

  8. The wilderness of Shur was, apparently, the same wilderness that Etham was on the edge of since it is called "the wilderness of Etham" in Numbers 33:8.

I need to emphasize the role of these cartographic evidences in the present discussion before proceeding. While they can be used to eliminate innumerable imaginable routes for the Exodus (for example, all routes which do not have one point adjacent to a sea are immediately eliminated by them), they are incapable of narrowing to a single possible route, as the many routes which have been postulated up to the present time clearly show. (The Sinai peninsula is surrounded by seas, for example, probably all of which have been suggested as candidates for the "Red Sea" crossing at one time or another.)

One must start with the archaeological evidence, interpreted within a sound Biblical chronological framework as we have done, to locate whatever suitable encampment sites there may be, and then apply these cartographic evidences to the archaeologically identified sites. If the archaeologically identified encampment sites do not satisfy the cartographic evidences, then we know that something is still amiss and the search for the route of the Exodus must somehow continue along different lines. If, however, the archaeologically revealed sites do naturally and automatically satisfy these evidences, then we have considerable grounds, beyond just the local archaeology of the individual sites, for believing we have solved the problem of the early portion of the route of the Exodus correctly.

The archaeological sites which we will now apply these cartographic evidences to are those revealed by Oren and Yekutieli's survey data. Three discrete clusters of sites along the ancient road connecting Egypt and Canaan are revealed by these data, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Distribution of sites by quantity of pottery shards found and distance from Suez, and my identification of these data with the Israelite encampments at Succoth, Etham, and Pi-hahiroth. The arrows mark only the approximate centroids of the three clusters of sites; each individual encampment would consist of the entire cluster of sites located around the centroid in the graph. (The pottery shard data is from Oren and Yekutieli's Figure 2.)

I suggest that these three clusters correspond to the first three encampments of the Israelites. The one in the middle corresponds to the first encampment at Succoth, the one on the right to the second encampment at Etham, and the one on the left to the third encampment at Pi-hahiroth.

The locations of the apparent hubs of these three sites, together with the route of the Exodus which they imply, are shown in Figure 2. I will discuss this figure below in relation to the eight cartographic evidences listed previously. Before I do, however, I need to deal with an apparent problem which many may be wondering about at this stage.

Figure 2: Map of the north Sinai peninsula showing the location of the apparent hubs of the archaeological site clusters and the route of the Exodus which they imply. Open circles mark the location of archaeological sites; solid circles mark modern towns.

The Way of the Land of the Philistines

The sites which Oren and Yekutieli found are located on the coastal plain of north Sinai, as shown in Figure 2. These sites, and the route of the Exodus which I have drawn, lie along the ancient road which connected Egypt and Canaan. Doesn't this conflict with Exodus 13:17–18? These verses say:

Now it came about when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God did not lead them by the way of the land of the Philistines, even though it was near; for God said, "Lest the people change their minds when they see war, and they return to Egypt." Hence God led the people around by the way of the wilderness to the Red Sea;…

Most scholars interpret these verses to mean that the Israelites did not use the north Sinai road at all during the Exodus. (Some even go so far as to say that God "forbade" the Israelites to use this road, though the text certainly says no such thing.) I suggest these verses should be understood in a different way.

The common approach to these verses equates "the way of the land of the Philistines" with the ancient road in question. I have attempted to determine what evidence this equation is based on, but have little to show for my effort. As best I can determine "the way of the land of the Philistines" is only ever mentioned in the Bible in this one verse, and I have been unable to find any ancient extra-Biblical mention of "the way of the land of the Philistines" at all. Thus, if I have not overlooked anything, it appears the assignment of this Biblical phrase to the north Sinai road is based entirely upon this one Biblical reference.

This Biblical reference provides no explicit description of where this road was located, of course. It only tells us that "the way of the land of the Philistines" "was near." Near what? Apparently, near the people when Pharaoh had let them go. Where would this be? This question is not easy to answer definitively. It could obviously be Rameses, in Egypt. If so, then the equation of "the way of the land of the Philistines" with the north Sinai road would seem to be demanded. But it could also apply to one of the later stops along the route. In particular, I suggest, it could apply to Etham. This possibility seems probable along several lines of reasoning.

First, it seems unnatural to call the north Sinai road "the way of the land of the Philistines" since north Sinai was not part of the land of the Philistines. From a reference frame located in Egypt, it would seem more appropriate to call this road through the north Sinai desert "the way of the wilderness to the land of the Philistines." This, in fact, is the way in which the other route mentioned in the Biblical reference in question is named. It is called "the way of the wilderness to the Red Sea". Even the abbreviated form, "the way to the land of the Philistines", might be appropriate for this north Sinai road, but the text says of, not to.

Second, please note that the reason given for not taking "the way of the land of the Philistines" is that the people were not yet ready for war. There would be no threat of war along this ancient road through the uninhabited desert of north Sinai. The threat of war would only arise if Israel passed beyond the desert into the fertile, inhabited region of Canaan. In fact, according to the route shown in Figure 2 they only went as far as Etham "on the edge of the wilderness".

These considerations seem to converge on the single idea that "the way of the land of the Philistines" should be properly located in Philistia, not the north Sinai desert. I suggest that in actual ancient usage "the way of the land of the Philistines" referred only to that portion of the road beyond Etham—the portion of the road which actually ran through Philistia, and not its extension across the north Sinai desert.

I suggest the purpose of these verses is not to inform the reader that the Israelites stayed off the north Sinai road. Rather, their purpose is to explain why the Conquest of Canaan was not launched from Etham.

Such an explanation is surely necessary when we realize (as any ancient reader of these verses would have) that, having achieved Etham, the Israelites were on the very threshold of Canaan. Why did they not immediately begin the Conquest from that point? Why did they turn back? For that matter, why didn't they come back to Etham and initiate the Conquest from there after the drowning of the Pharaoh and his army at Pi-hahiroth? Why did they leave the road at Pi-hahiroth and launch out through the wilderness of Shur instead (see Figure 2)? The intent of Exodus 13:17–18 is not to make us believe that the Israelites never set foot on the ancient road linking Egypt and Canaan across the north Sinai desert at the time of the Exodus; rather, its intent is to provide answers to these questions—questions which would surely be obvious to anybody who was familiar with the location of the Biblical Etham.

One might, I suppose, ask why God would lead the Israelites along the route I have drawn, to the archaeological site I have identified as the Biblical Etham (see Figure 2), on the very threshold of Canaan, if it was not His purpose for them to enter Canaan that way. Wouldn't God have led them directly "by the way of the wilderness to the Red Sea" right from the start, since that was the route by which He intended they should enter Canaan?

The Biblical narrative provides the answer to this question. It shows that God was not too concerned about getting Israel to Canaan as quickly and efficiently as possible at this point in their journey. Indeed, it was the Egyptians, not the Israelites, who were the focus of God's plan during this portion of the narrative.

Exodus 14:1–4 is where we read that God told Moses to turn back from Etham. There we are told that this instruction was given specifically to cause Pharaoh to conclude that the Israelites were aimlessly wandering about so he would come out after them and try to drive them back to slavery in Egypt. Exodus 14:4 informs us that God's purpose in this plan was to teach the Egyptians that He, and not Pharaoh or any of their idols, was God.

It would be entirely wrong to suppose that God's plan to teach the Egyptians this lesson was a last minute scheme hatched as an afterthought along the way to Canaan. God has no last minute schemes. Rather, we must conclude that this purpose was fixed before the Exodus ever began, and that the entire early route of the Exodus was designed by God with this singular purpose in mind.

God did not lead the Israelites into Canaan "by the way of the land of the Philistines", but He did cause them to take the ancient road across the north Sinai desert when they left Egypt nonetheless, that the Egyptians might know that He was the Lord.

Rameses

I have tentatively identified the extensive ancient ruins called Pelusium with the Biblical Rameses in Figure 2. I have done this on the basis of a single consideration. I have assumed that the individual encampments were separated by a distance which could be traversed in a single day, unless the text explicitly states otherwise (as in Numbers 33:8, for example, where a three day journey is specified between two encampments). The distance between Pelusium and the point I have shown as Succoth is about sixty miles. This is already a very long distance for a single day's walk (though not impossibly so), yet Pelusium is the closest site to Succoth which seems a reasonable candidate for the Biblical Rameses.

As the assumption of a single day's journey between encampment sites is not mandated by the Biblical text, the identification of Pelusium with Rameses is not certain. I put it forward only as what seems at this time to be a likely possibility.

I have been unable to locate any report of archaeological work at Pelusium which might confirm or deny this identification. The earliest levels appear to be below the present-day water table at this site, which possibly explains the lack of pertinent archaeological information.[11]

Succoth

The location of Succoth shown in Figure 2 is well outside the boundaries of ancient Egypt, in keeping with the second cartographic evidence listed above.

The name Succoth means booths. The implication is that this name was given to the first encampment—which was characterized by booths, as we have already seen—by the Israelites themselves. This has as a further implication the possibility that the site was otherwise unnamed.

In fact, the placement of Succoth shown in Figure 2 appears to be well removed from any other permanent feature (such as a town or village) of this period.

Etham

The third cartographic evidence listed above is that Etham was located on the edge of a wilderness. After discussing the near inability of the desert of north Sinai to support any permanent settlement, Oren and Yekutieli show that the location of their rightmost cluster of sites, which I have identified as Etham, is suitably situated on the edge of the modern-day desert as follows:[12]

Next to these unattractive conditions, there exist in the northeastern Sinai, between Rafah and El Arish, better ecological conditions that are conducive to permanent settlement and to a combination of a pastoral mode of life with rural agriculture.
Thus, the third cartographic evidence is satisfied.

The fourth cartographic evidence is that the route of the Exodus doubled back from Etham. Figure 2 shows immediately that this requirement is met.

Pi-hahiroth

The fifth cartographic evidence is that Pi-hahiroth must be located on the shore of a sea. Here again Figure 2 shows immediately that this requirement is met. This site is Oren and Yekutieli's site BEA34, which they describe as "one of the largest sites" they discovered.

Numbers 33:7 says Pi-hahiroth "faces Baal-zephon". As with nearly all of these early sites, scholars are uncertain of the location of Baal-zephon. However, one very strong candidate which has been suggested in the past is located on a hill on the narrow natural earth dam which separates Lake Bardawil from the Mediterranean Sea, a little west of its most northerly point. This proximity lends additional support to the identification of site BEA34 with Pi-hahiroth.

The "Red Sea" Crossing

The sixth cartographic evidence is that the sea which Pi-hahiroth is located next to must be capable of being wind-dried and crossed by two million people in a single night. This sea is called the "Red Sea" in Exodus 15:22.

The name "Red Sea" is a study in itself; scholars are unsure of the proper translation of the Hebrew yam-suph and altogether uncertain of the location of the body of water referred to in this verse. The Bible seems to use yam-suph of several different bodies of water, and it seems best to regard it as a somewhat generic designation, parallel perhaps to our use of the word ocean. One thing which all scholars I have read agree upon is that it is a mistake to naively equate the "Red Sea" of Exodus 15:22 with the modern-day Red Sea or either of its extensions—the Gulf of Suez or the Gulf of Aqaba—which one will find on any modern map of the Sinai peninsula.

Modern scholars seem generally to prefer to translate the yam-suph of Exodus 15:22 as "Sea of Reeds". The New American Standard Bible, which I personally prefer because of its high standard of scholarship, translates yam-suph as "Red Sea" in the verse under discussion, but provides the marginal note, "Literally, Sea of Reeds".

The conservative scholar Kenneth A. Kitchen says:[13]

The yam-suph would not be the Red Sea of today; this is no problem, as the Hebrew term corresponds to Egyptian tjuf, "papyrus," and should here be rendered "sea of reeds." The Sea of Reeds would appear to be water bordered by reed-swamps in which papyrus might grow…

The lagoon of Lake Bardawil north of Pi-hahiroth appears to be a marshy saltwater lake. It suits Kitchen's expectation of yam-suph, given in the previous quote, very well.

In the Rand McNally Bible Atlas, Emil G. Kraeling says regarding Lake Bardawil:[14]

On certain portions of this lake there are big areas of rushes, so that the name "Sea of Reeds" would be an appropriate designation.

So much for the name; now let us turn to the question of whether this body of water is capable of being wind-dried. Here is what Kraeling goes on to say about Lake Bardawil:

The lake is forty-five miles long and thirteen miles wide. Major C. S. Jarvis, one-time governor of Sinai, describes it as an enormous clay pan about six to ten feet below the level of the Mediterranean Sea, and separated from the sea by a very narrow strip of sand, one to three hundred yards in width. The normal condition of the lake, he says, is that of a vast salt-encrusted pan. … According to Jarvis a strong east wind causes a heavy sea on the coast of Sinai—a much bigger one than a northerly gale. This causes the waves to break through the narrow spit of sand at a half-dozen places and in a short time floods the whole salt-pan of Lake Bardawil to a depth of five or six feet.

Thus, it appears that there is no problem with the lagoon north of Pi-hahiroth in Figure 2 being wind-dried. Indeed, it appears from Jarvis' description that the lake is dry more often than it is flooded today. This is contrary to the Biblical text which records the normal state of the lake as flooded at the time of the Exodus (Exodus 14:27). This is not a problem, however, as such differences in the behavior of the lake can very reasonably be accounted for by factors which can easily change in four and a half thousand years. For example, a single violent storm could easily have altered the narrow spit of sand which separates the lake from the Mediterranean, closing off channels which might previously have linked Lake Bardawil with the Mediterranean.

The crossing of the lagoon in a single night is also not a problem. The lagoon is presently just over three miles across. This distance can easily be covered in forty-five minutes by a person who is walking briskly. The real question, however, is whether two million people could funnel through the wind-dried path through the lagoon in time. The answer to this question depends upon how wide the path through the lagoon was, which we are not told.

However, one does not require a very wide path to do the job. If we assume, to get a feel for this, that the Israelites had ten hours to get across, that they walked at the rate of four miles per hour, and that each person took up an area of six square feet while walking across, then I calculate that the path through the lagoon would only need to be about twenty yards wide. As the lagoon itself is some three miles wide, this would leave plenty of room for the waters to be "like a wall to them on their right hand and on their left" (Exodus 14:29).

Thus, the sixth cartographic evidence is completely satisfied.

Before proceeding to the final two cartographic evidences, there is one other point in connection with this lagoon which seems worth mentioning. I have no data on the depth of this specific lagoon, but presume it is not much different from the rest of the lake. The Rand McNally quote given above suggests the bottom of the lake is six to ten feet below the level of the Mediterranean. This implies that the lake could be naturally filled with water to this depth—the actual depth at any given time being dependent, of course, upon the tides and wind. Thus, it appears that this lagoon could be filled with a sufficient depth of water to drown Pharaoh and his army, as the Biblical narrative demands.

Wilderness of Shur

The final two cartographic evidences are that Pi-hahiroth must be located adjacent to the wilderness of Shur, and this wilderness must also be the one which Etham was on the edge of. Other references to Shur in the Bible seem to place it consistently to the east of Egypt (Genesis 25:18; 1 Samuel 15:7; 1 Samuel 27:8). If we regard it simply as the desert which stretches between Egypt and Palestine, in agreement with most scholars, then the seventh and the eighth cartographic evidences are immediately and naturally satisfied.

Conclusion

How confident can we be that the early route of the Exodus shown in Figure 2 is basically correct?

A person's degree of confidence should, of course, be based on evidence, not wishful thinking, traditional belief, or majority opinion.

In the present case we have some pretty impressive evidence.

To begin with, we have detailed archaeological evidence within a highly specified chronological framework. The chronological framework was specified without any awareness of what the archaeological data from the Sinai peninsula would reveal. Said simply, the new Biblical chronology—the one which restores 1000 years to 1 Kings 6:1— predicted a very narrow period of time in which the Israelite encampments would be found, and encampments which look remarkably like what one would expect the Israelites to have made have been found exactly within that narrow time period. Furthermore, no encampment sites even remotely resembling something the Israelites might have made at the time of the Exodus have ever been found anywhere in the entire Sinai at any time outside this narrow time window, despite considerable effort by many competent individuals to do so.

This is a serious problem for the conventional dates of the Exodus. How can their total failure to find archaeological evidence of even a single Israelite encampment anywhere in the entire Sinai peninsula be explained? It is no good saying that one cannot expect such evidence to be preserved after three and a half thousand years, for the new Biblical chronology finds its expected evidence has been preserved quite well after four and a half thousand years.

When the Biblical cartographic evidence is added to these chronological and archaeological considerations there seems little remaining impetus for doubt. The archaeologists found exactly three clusters of sites along the ancient road connecting Egypt and Canaan; the Biblical narrative informs us that exactly three Israelite encampments preceded the trek into the wilderness of Shur. The Bible tells us that one of these encampments was on the edge of the wilderness of Shur, and one on the shore of a sea which could be wind-dried and crossed by the Israelites in a single night. The sites discovered by the archaeologists match these requirements exactly. The Bible tells us that Succoth was located outside the borders of Egypt; the sites found by the archaeologists are so located. The Bible tells us that the encampment on the shore of the sea at Pi-hahiroth must have been closer to Egypt than the encampment on the edge of the wilderness at Etham, for the Israelites turned back from Etham to arrive at Pi-hahiroth. The sites discovered by the archaeologists exhibit this relationship as well.


I judge the evidence to be overwhelmingly conclusive—the early portion of the route of the Exodus has been found. ◇

Biblical Chronology 101

The cover of the December 18, 1995 issue of Time magazine featured the question, "Is the Bible Fact or Fiction?" That the magazine would certainly not answer this question with an unequivocal yes was foreshadowed by the cover's byline which read, "Archaeologists in the Holy Land are shedding new light on what did—and didn't—occur in the greatest stories ever told".

Inside the magazine, on pages 62 through 69, was an article by Michael D. Lemonick bearing the title, "Are the Bible's Stories True?" I would like us to take a critical look at this article in this class session. It exposes much of the nature of the times in which we live, the urgency of the present hour in the defense of true Christianity, and the pivotal role of Biblical chronology in it all.

Lemonick's message can be summarized in four statements:

  1. Reasonable people don't mind if much of the Bible is false, so long as it is a little bit true.

  2. Most scholars do not believe pre-monarchical Biblical history is true.

  3. Most scholars agree Biblical history after the reign of Solomon is true.

  4. The final answers from archaeology aren't in yet; a single discovery could totally change the entire picture.

The first of these four statements was the overall, implicit message of the article. It was found most explicitly on page 65:

Jewish and Christian ultraconservatives don't like hearing that parts of the Bible could be fictional. Atheists can't wait to prove the whole thing is a fairy tale. And even for the moderate majority, the Bible underlies so much of Western culture that it matters a great deal whether its narratives are grounded in truth.
and at the end of the article, particularly the closing quote by Cross:
"To suggest that many things in the Bible are not historical is not too serious. But to lose biblical history altogether is to lose our tradition."

While I felt that most of Lemonick's article was an honest attempt at fair-mindedness, a distinct bias comes through with this implicit message. The bias is against those who find the complete historicity of the Scriptures a matter of vital importance. These are separated out as "ultraconservatives" by Lemonick; set apart from the "moderate majority".

Contrary to Lemonick's intimations, however, you do not automatically become a religious extremist by being concerned about the historical accuracy of the entire Bible. All Christians from all ages (not just Lemonick's "ultraconservatives") who have known why they believe what they believe have been concerned about this vital issue. And there is a great deal more at stake here than mere cultural propriety. As we have previously seen, all of Christian apologetics hinges on this issue. (Recall: "if the Bible can be convicted of any falsehood in regard to history, then there is no basis for the claim that Christianity is true.")[15]

The historicity of the Bible is the issue which distinguishes liberal and conservative Christians. Those who reject the historical accuracy of the Biblical historical narratives are liberals; those who accept it are conservatives. The article clearly espouses a liberal view of Scripture. Please do not be taken in by the propaganda that this is the normative view of reasonable people; it simply isn't.


I found Lemonick's grasp of the present situation in the field of Biblical archaeology to be impressive and largely correct. The second and third statements listed above are quite accurate. You should know by now that this phenomenon is due entirely to the millennium which is missing in traditional Biblical chronology just prior to the monarchical period in Israel. (If you don't, please read my book[16] and the back issues of this newsletter.)

Those who rejoice to employ archaeology in tearing down Biblical historicity (but generally insist that it is an abuse of objective scholarship and sound scientific procedure to bring archaeology to the defense of Scripture) feel that they have routed the enemy from the fields of Genesis through Judges. They have now launched an all-out campaign against the historical accuracy of Samuel and Kings. They do not understand that their easy "victory" over Genesis through Judges was entirely hollow—that all they have really done is help emphasize that a number was accidentally dropped from the text of Scripture a very long time ago. We must do what we can to try to make this clear to those impressed by their apparent success. (For my part, I have written a letter to the editor of Time.) In the meantime we can predict that the attackers are in for a rude shock in their battle for Samuel and Kings, for the traditional chronology of these books is basically sound.


Lemonick's final point—that a single discovery could change everything—could be considered as after-the-fact prophetic, even though he intended an archaeological rather than chronological discovery. And it was a little remarkable to find Lemonick saying, "it is perplexing that no evidence of the Israelites' passage [across the Sinai peninsula at the time of the Exodus] has been found" (page 68) while I was in the process of writing up the clear archaeological evidence of that passage which I had recently been led, by the new Biblical chronology, to find. (See the lead articles of this and the previous issue of The Biblical Chronologist.) ◇

The Biblical Chronologist is a bimonthly subscription newsletter about Biblical chronology. It is written and edited by Gerald E. Aardsma, a Ph.D. scientist (nuclear physics) with special background in radioisotopic dating methods such as radiocarbon. The Biblical Chronologist has a threefold purpose:

  1. to encourage, enrich, and strengthen the faith of conservative Christians through instruction in Biblical chronology,

  2. to foster informed, up-to-date, scholarly research in this vital field within the conservative Christian community, and

  3. to communicate current developments and discoveries in Biblical chronology in an easily understood manner.

An introductory packet containing three sample issues and a subscription order form is available for $9.95 US regardless of destination address. Send check or money order in US funds and request the "Intro Pack."

The Biblical Chronologist (ISSN 1081-762X) is published six times a year by Aardsma Research & Publishing, 412 N Mulberry, Loda, IL 60948-9651.

Copyright © 1996 by Aardsma Research & Publishing. Photocopying or reproduction strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher.

Footnotes

  1. ^  See Figure 1 of the previous issue for a visual representation of some of these theories.

  2. ^  Gerald E. Aardsma, A New Approach to the Chronology of Biblical History from Abraham to Samuel, 2nd ed. (Loda IL: Aardsma Research and Publishing, 1993).

  3. ^  Gerald E. Aardsma, "Yeroham—The True Mt. Sinai?," The Biblical Chronologist 1.6 (November/December 1995): 1–8.

  4. ^  E. D. Oren and Y. Yekutieli, "North Sinai During the MB I Period—Pastoral Nomadism and Sedentary Settlement," Eretz-Israel 21 (1990): 6–22.

  5. ^  Numbers 2.

  6. ^  E. D. Oren and Y. Yekutieli, "North Sinai During the MB I Period—Pastoral Nomadism and Sedentary Settlement," Eretz-Israel 21 (1990): 7–8. (English translation provided by Marganit Weinberger-Rotman.)

  7. ^  E. D. Oren and Y. Yekutieli, "North Sinai During the MB I Period—Pastoral Nomadism and Sedentary Settlement," Eretz-Israel 21 (1990): 8. (English translation provided by Marganit Weinberger-Rotman.)

  8. ^  Notice that Oren and Yekutieli's interpretation of these sites is, in effect, an Exodus in reverse. This is not surprising. It is impossible for Oren and Yekutieli to tell which came first, the campsites or the collapse of the Old Kingdom. The two are simply too close in time to be resolved by any physical dating method.

    It is as if Oren and Yekutieli's archaeology has provided them with disconnected frames, or slides, from a motion picture of the past. These slides can be used to tell many different stories about the past, depending upon the order in which one chooses to project them onto the screen. (See my previous discussion of this point. [Gerald E. Aardsma, "Biblical Chronology 101," The Biblical Chronologist 1.3 (May/June 1995): 5.]) Oren and Yekutieli have projected them in one of the many possible wrong sequences. To learn the proper chronological sequencing of these slides, one must turn to the Bible.

  9. ^  This is a pattern which I have seen repeatedly. Archaeologists are extremely good at reconstructing what was there—their data are real and of large significance. Their interpretation of their data is often faulty, however, and needs to be treated more lightly.

  10. ^  I do not mean to downplay the obviously miraculous nature of this entire crossing episode by the requirement that this body of water should be capable of being wind-dried. I am trying only to be faithful to Exodus 14:21 which seems to say that this is the means God employed to produce the path through the sea.

  11. ^  Eliezer D. Oren, "Northern Sinai," The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, vol. 4, ed. Ephraim Stern (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993), 1394.

  12. ^  E. D. Oren and Y. Yekutieli, "North Sinai During the MB I Period—Pastoral Nomadism and Sedentary Settlement," Eretz-Israel 21 (1990): 6. (English translation provided by Marganit Weinberger-Rotman.)

  13. ^  K. A. Kitchen, "The Exodus," The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 2, ed. Merrill C. Tenney (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975), 430.

  14. ^  Emil G. Kraeling, Rand McNally Bible Atlas, (New York: Rand McNally, 1961), 106.

  15. ^  Gerald E. Aardsma, "Biblical Chronology 101," The Biblical Chronologist 1.2 (March/April 1995): 5.

  16. ^  Gerald E. Aardsma, A New Approach to the Chronology of Biblical History from Abraham to Samuel, 2nd ed. (Loda IL: Aardsma Research and Publishing, 1993).


Volume 2, Number 2March/April 1996

The Chronology of Egypt
in Relation to the Bible:
3000–1000 B.C.
[1]

The following article synchronizes two independent chronologies: one derived from the Bible, the other derived from the secular history of Egypt. This synchronization lays a scientifically sound chronological foundation for all studies—Biblical, historical, archaeological, geophysical, climatological, etc.—dealing with Egypt in the second and third millennia B.C.

The span of time covered here—two millennia—is comparable in length to that which extends from our present experience back to before the time of Christ. The synchronization of these two ancient chronologies over such a long span of time is a major milestone in the field of chronology building.

The proper synchronization of these two chronologies has only become possible in the last decade. Prior to that time both chronologies were sufficiently in error to preclude any meaningful alignment. The most serious problem was with traditional Biblical chronology. The major breakthrough came in 1990 with the realization that traditional Biblical chronology was missing a full millennium just prior to 1000 B.C.[2]

The historical chronology of Egypt was also found to be missing a chunk of time. In 1987 Haas et al. reported that radiocarbon dates on samples taken from Old Kingdom monuments were some three centuries older than the historically derived chronology of Egypt predicted.[3] This immediately implied that some 300 years had been left out of the chronology of Egypt by the Egyptologists somewhere during the First Intermediate Period. Such an error during this period is not too surprising. The First Intermediate Period is not only very remote, it is also a time of turmoil in the history of Egypt, and little by way of chronological record has survived from it.

With such large errors present in both traditional Biblical chronology and the modern historical chronology of Egypt, synchronization of the two was impossible. Indeed, they seemed to be telling entirely different, contradictory stories about history. But when the chronological errors were mended, the contradictions disappeared, and a beautiful harmony emerged.


Background to the Chronology of Egypt

The chronology of Egypt has traditionally been divided into a number of periods. From oldest to youngest these are (see Figure 1): Early Dynastic, Old Kingdom, First Intermediate, Middle Kingdom, Second Intermediate, New Kingdom, and Third Intermediate. The "Kingdom" periods are times of Egyptian political strength and generally involve expansion of its borders and its commercial interests throughout the Near East. The "Intermediate" periods generally correspond to times of internal political turmoil and declining international stature and influence.

Figure 1: Chronology of Egypt synchronized with the Biblical time periods and selected Biblical events in the 2nd and 3rd millennia B.C.

These major periods are traditionally subdivided by dynasties, which are further subdivided into the reigns of individual kings and queens. Unfortunately, the names of these periods and the definitions of their beginning and ending points are not always uniform, so one needs to be careful when comparing the works of different scholars.

The names of individual rulers can also be confusing. In particular, spellings and pronunciation vary widely, though one can usually easily determine which ruler is intended from the dates and other context.

Scholars differ relatively little in their chronologies of Egypt today. To get a feel for this consider Dynasty 11 once again. Its beginning is variously dated to 2160 B.C.[4], 2122 or 2080 B.C.[5], 2180 B.C.[6], and 2133 B.C.[7] in four different, modern, scholarly sources. Notice that these representative dates display a maximum divergence of 100 years. Such differences increase as one moves back to earlier times, and shrink as one moves forward to more recent times.

Chronological Details

I have used The Cambridge Ancient History[8] (CAH) chronology as the basis for my chronology of Egypt prior to Dynasty 11. According to the radiocarbon results of Haas et al. mentioned above, this chronology needs to be lengthened by about 300 years during the First Intermediate Period. Radiocarbon can only suggest an approximate correction (i.e., about three centuries), but this can be refined by making use of our knowledge of Biblical and secular Egyptian history. Specifically, the history of Egypt and Biblical history intersect at the Exodus, providing a precise alignment of these two chronologies at this one point.

If what the Bible records about the Exodus is taken seriously one cannot escape the conclusion that the Exodus must have devastated the nation of Egypt. The expected devastation is found in the catastrophic collapse of the nation which terminated the Old Kingdom and ushered in the First Intermediate Period.[9] The Biblical Exodus is, therefore, synchronous with the beginning of the First Intermediate Period.

The Biblical date for the Exodus is 2447±12 B.C.[10] The CAH date for the beginning of the First Intermediate Period is 2181 B.C. Thus, we need to lengthen the CAH chronology by (2447-2181=) 266 years at all times prior to the First Intermediate Period. This 266 year correction obviously satisfies radiocarbon's requirements of a roughly 300 year correction.

The beginning of the Old Kingdom as well as dynasties 3 through 7 can now be calculated by adding 266 years to their CAH B.C. dates. This yields 2952 B.C. for the start of the Old Kingdom and Dynasty 3, 2879 B.C. for Dynasty 4, 2760 B.C. for Dynasty 5, 2611 B.C. for Dynasty 6, and 2447 B.C. for Dynasty 7.

The uncertainty in the length of the Old Kingdom is difficult to quantify. Based upon the CAH data for individual reigns I feel we must allow a minimum of ±50 years (3σ). When combined with the ±12 years uncertainty in the Biblical date of the Exodus, one obtains a total dating uncertainty for the beginning of the Old Kingdom of ±51 years.

For the remainder of the chronology of Egypt (Dynasties 11 through 21) I have used the dates computed by the conservative scholar Kenneth A. Kitchen.[11] Kitchen presents "low" and "high" chronology options for the earlier half of this time span. These differ by less than 50 years everywhere. I have chosen the "high" chronology dates because they seem more strongly supported by available data at present and they minimize the stretching of the First Intermediate Period which results from the 266 year correction to Old Kingdom dates discussed above.

I define the start of the Middle Kingdom coincident with the reunification of Upper and Lower Egypt under Mentuhotpe II. Grimal places this event in the twenty-first year of Mentuhotpe II. I have used this definition in conjunction with Kitchen's dates to compute the date of the beginning of the Middle Kingdom as 2028 B.C. I have assigned an uncertainty of ±50 years based on known uncertainties and a comparison of Kitchen's results with those of other modern scholars.

Grimal starts the Second Intermediate Period thirty years following the beginning of Iy's reign. I have adopted this figure and used Kitchen's chronology to compute an absolute date for the beginning of this period of 1676±40 B.C.

The beginning of the New Kingdom is defined coincident with the start of Dynasty 18, which Kitchen's "high" chronology dates to 1550 B.C. I estimate a total uncertainty of ±15 years at this point.

The beginning of the Third Intermediate Period is defined as coincident with the end of Dynasty 20, which Kitchen dates to 1070/69 B.C. I estimate a total uncertainty of ±15 years here also.

Panoramic Historical Overview

Early Dynastic

The patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob lived during the Early Dynastic Period. Chronological considerations imply that Abraham interacted with one of the pharaohs of Dynasty 2 in the incident involving his wife, Sarah (Genesis 12:10-20). It is impossible to determine precisely which pharaoh this was because of the large chronological uncertainties at this early time.

Old Kingdom

The pyramids which today symbolize ancient Egypt in the minds of many people were built during the Old Kingdom. The Old Kingdom appears to have been a period of stability and great prosperity for Egypt.

Joseph was sold as a slave in Egypt (Genesis 39:1) during the early years of the Old Kingdom, probably during Dynasty 3. His promotion to vizier (Genesis 41:38-45) raises the possibility of identifying him in the secular Egyptian sources. However, all attempts to do so at the present time must be regarded as uncertain and speculative because of the limited secular data bearing on the problem. To illustrate the limitations of our knowledge of this early period consider a few of Grimal's observations:[12]

The Thinite [Early Dynastic; Dynasties 1 and 2] period is a poorly known phase, essentially because of a lack of surviving texts. …

Ironically, the Third Dynasty is less well known than the two earlier dynasties, and there is still no agreement on its origins…

The end of the Third Dynasty was hardly any clearer than its beginning has been, and it has proved difficult to reconcile the documentary information provided by king-lists with the evidence supplied by archaeologists. …

It is not yet possible to give a satisfactory account of the Third Dynasty, but archaeological research may yet provide the data for more sense to be made of it.

I have previously suggested—with suitable caveats—the possibility that the vizier Imhotep may be the Egyptian equivalent of Joseph, and Djoser the pharaoh whom he served.[13] Djoser ruled early in Dynasty 3, whereas Figure 1 shows the end of Dynasty 3 coincident with Joseph's rise to prominence in Egypt. This seems to imply either that Imhotep is not Joseph or that the chronology of the Old Kingdom should be shortened by about 50 years to bring its beginning closer to 2900 B.C. An unequivocal identification of Joseph with a known Egyptian vizier would resolve this question and provide another synchronism between the chronologies of Egypt and the Bible, further reducing the uncertainty in the chronology of Egypt at this early time.

The devastating seven year famine which caused Jacob's entire family to relocate to Egypt (Genesis 41–47) finds ready support geophysically, archaeologically, and historically.[14] An interesting possibility is that the building of the great pyramids was a consequence of the enormous wealth which accrued to the reigning Pharaoh and his heirs as a result of Joseph's administration of this famine (Genesis 47:13–26).

After some passage of time, but still within the Old Kingdom period, the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt. It is not clear from the Biblical account just how long after the death of Joseph this occurred. However, a considerable length of time seems to have transpired because, according to the enslaving pharaoh "the people of the sons of Israel are more and mightier than we" (Exodus 1:9). Even allowing for political hyperbole it is clear that the Israelite population had grown far beyond the hundred or so (Genesis 46:26,27) of Joseph's day. It is possible that archaeology may eventually provide an answer to this chronological question.

Between the death of Joseph and the birth of Moses there is a Biblical historical gap of roughly 300 years. Following this gap, however, the first fifteen chapters of the book of Exodus are rich with historical details surrounding the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. Here it is possible to unambiguously identify the Biblical pharaohs who were involved.

Grimal lists Pepy II, Merenre II, and Nitocris as the final three rulers of the Old Kingdom, in that order.[15] The secular records show that Pepy II enjoyed an exceptionally long reign, a fact which harmonizes immediately with the Biblical record. Simple chronological considerations reveal that he is the pharaoh from whom Moses fled[16] and that the Israelites served as slaves throughout the tenure of his reign.

Secular records further show that Merenre II, the son and successor of Pepy II, ruled but a year, also in immediate harmony with the Biblical account. Merenre II is the pharaoh of the Exodus whom Moses and Aaron confronted in the name of the Lord, and who ultimately lost his life in the "Red" Sea.

Queen Nitocris, the wife of Merenre II, was the final ruler of the Old Kingdom. She ruled two years according to the secular sources. It evidently fell to her unhappy lot to try to hold the pieces of the shattered post-Exodus kingdom together. The First Intermediate Period, which her reign introduces—a period which, according to the meager historical evidence, was replete with anarchy and famine—is testimony to the fact that she did not succeed.

First Intermediate Period

The First Intermediate Period—the aftermath of the Exodus—now appears to have lasted more than four centuries. This was a period of internal turmoil for Egypt. Rulers came and went in rapid succession. Manetho, the 3rd century B.C. historian of Egypt, describes Dynasty 7, for example, as "seventy kings in seventy days".

Due to the scarcity of secular records the timing and sequence of Dynasties 7 through 10 has always been very uncertain. The correction of 266 years discussed above means that the modern, conventional thinking regarding this portion of the chronology is in considerable error. Because of the large uncertainties involved at present I have chosen not to attempt a placement of Dynasties 8, 9 and 10 in Figure 1.

During the early portion of the First Intermediate Period the Israelites were involved in the Wilderness Wanderings and the Conquest. They then settled into the Promised Land, and the hundreds of years of the era of the judges, detailed in the book of Judges, transpired.

Significantly, there is no mention of Egypt in the Bible anywhere during these years. As a consequence of the trauma of the events surrounding the Exodus, Egypt had dropped entirely from the international scene. The secular historical record shows that Egypt made frequent forays into Palestine during all of its Kingdom periods, but it made none during this time. God had judged the nation of Egypt severely, and it did not recover overnight.

Middle Kingdom

In time, Egypt, which had split up politically at the beginning of the First Intermediate Period, was reunified under Mentuhotpe II, thus ushering in the Middle Kingdom.

One of the first things the pharaohs of the Middle Kingdom did was erect a string of fortresses along the borders of the eastern Delta region to protect the area and prevent any influx of peoples through the northern Sinai peninsula.[17]

The Middle Kingdom period is of particular interest to the student of the Bible for it is during the early part of this period that the book of Judges closes and the Biblical historical record enters eight centuries of silence. One naturally longs for some insight into the nature of the times and the plight of the Israelites during these silent centuries.

The secular sources reveal that the re-establishment of political unity in Egypt permitted the resumption of forays into Palestine. These do not appear to have been numerous in Dynasty 11, but there is evidence that they were frequent during Dynasties 12 and 13. These were not campaigns to secure more territory, but merely to strip the land of anything and everything considered of value to the pharaoh, including gems, metals, livestock, and people to serve as slaves.[18]

No longer can scholars contend that the Middle Kingdom had no interest in Asia: it is now abundantly clear that, in imitation of their Old Kingdom forebears, the Pharaohs of the 12th and 13th Dynasties viewed hither Asia and the Levant as theirs to exploit to the full.
We must picture the Promised Land and its people as subject to repeated scourgings at the hands of the pharaohs of the Middle Kingdom, replete with the return of captured Israelites to a slavery their forebears had known in Egypt centuries before.

But we must not suppose Egypt was the only oppressor at this time. The archaeological evidence seems clear that the old Canaanite urban society which the Israelites had overthrown at the end of the Early Bronze Age III in Palestine and replaced with their own transhumant, nonurban mode of life, began to take new root again, evidently repropagated from the Lebanese coast. This resurgence is abundantly evident in present-day archaeological remains throughout the land of Palestine.

I have previously suggested that these archaeologically revealed, newly revived Canaanite elements may be equivalent to the Biblical Philistines whom Samson battled.[19] This possibility seems, with further study, ever more likely to me.

Thus, the overall picture which emerges for the Middle Kingdom is one of Canaanite resurgence within the land, with a superimposed external Egyptian dominance. During the early years of the Middle Kingdom the Egyptians were occupied at home and Samson had been raised up to check the advance of the Canaanites/Philistines in Israel. With the death of Samson this check was removed, and at roughly the same time Egyptian oppression began to be felt.

This sequence of events marks a turning point for the people of Israel. Their sovereignty over the land—which had lasted four centuries—came to a fairly abrupt termination and was not regained until early in the Monarchy, some nine centuries later.

Second Intermediate

The Second Intermediate period is defined by the presence of the Hyksos rulers in Egypt. According to Redford, the Hyksos appear from archaeological work in Egypt to be ethnically indistinguishable from the Canaanite culture which had revived in the Promised Land.[20] This suggests the possible identification of the Hyksos with the descendants of the Biblical Philistines of Samson's day.

If this is correct, then the picture which emerges from Biblical and extra-Biblical sources taken together is one of increasing Canaanite/Philistine domination of Israel for several centuries following the death of Samson. With time these Canaanite/Philistines were able to extend their influence into the eastern Nile Delta region of Egypt and eventually gain control of that country. This causes us to see the Second Intermediate period in Egypt as the height of Canaanite/Philistine power.

New Kingdom

Hyksos domination came to an end with the rise of the powerful 18th Dynasty under Ahmose. Israel, however, was unable to regain control of the Promised Land and continued to be oppressed. She was trampled down at will—her lands, her produce, and her people were all up for grabs. Egypt ultimately, brutally, cemented direct control over the entire region, absorbing the Promised Land into its New Kingdom empire.

The Egyptian empire was maintained in the Promised Land until the coming of the so-called "Sea Peoples" around 1200 B.C. The "Sea Peoples" were simply a coalition of people groups from the northwest Mediterranean region who left their homelands in a massive migration by land and sea. It is not clear what factors set them in motion. They swept away the ancient power of the Hittite kingdom in the north and pressed on through Palestine toward Egypt. Their advance was finally halted by Ramesses III of Egypt in a great battle which took place ca. 1176 B.C.

The "Sea Peoples" remained in Palestine, initiating the Iron Age I period there. They appear archaeologically to be the Biblical Philistines whom we encounter in 1 Samuel during the days of Eli, Samuel, Saul and David.

This raises the question of why the Bible uses the same designation, "Philistines" for these obviously new immigrant Sea Peoples at the time of Eli and Samuel as it had used for the Canaanite people nine centuries earlier at the time of Samson. The following points are revealed by Biblical research of this question.

People designated as Philistines were found in Canaan from the time of Abraham (over a thousand years before the time of Samson) onward.[21] The Bible informs us repeatedly that the Philistines were immigrants to Canaan whose original homeland was Caphtor.[22]

Caphtor is generally believed by scholars to correspond to the island of Crete and/or possibly other islands in the Aegean. This, in fact, is the region from which the Sea Peoples came. Thus, the most simple answer to the Philistine question appears to be that the Sea Peoples migration was just the latest episode in a long history of colonization of the coast of Palestine by the sea-going occupants of Caphtor.

Third Intermediate

While Egypt was able to survive the onslaught of the Sea Peoples, it had lost its grip on Palestine within a century of their arrival. Following the reign of Ramesses III, Egypt seems to have entered a period of declining power and influence culminating in the Third Intermediate period, which would last some three and a half centuries. It is during this period of reversed Egyptian fortunes that the Biblical historical narrative resumes and monarchical Israel is born.

During this period and at the close of the span of history of interest to this study, Biblical and secular histories intersect once more with the invasion of Palestine by the Egyptian pharaoh Shoshenq I (1 Kings 14:25–26) ca. 925 B.C.

The Silent Years

The picture which emerges from archaeology and secular history for the 800 years of Biblical silence from the death of Samson to the birth of Samuel is not a very happy one for the Israelites. Immediately prior to this extended period of silence the book of Judges records numerous cycles of national waywardness, oppression, repentance, and deliverance. The strong impression gained from extra-Biblical data is that a period of sustained oppression followed on the heels of the last recorded Judges cycle. The Promised Land was overrun by outsiders for eight centuries, while the Israelites were trampled down.

We must not suppose the Israelites took this sitting down, of course. Indeed, it is just here that secular Egyptian records report the activities of "lawless" bands of Apiru/Hapiru/Habiru/Hebrew, who are found to be conducting what gives every impression of being guerrilla warfare throughout the country. Indeed, one is reminded by their exploits of David and his band of outlaws before David's ascendency to the throne, and such a Biblical historical analogy probably best captures the intent and mode of operation of these Apiru.

According to Redford the Apiru were even able to establish an independent state, called Amurru by the Egyptians, in the no-man's-land between the extended borders of Egypt and the powerful Hittite kingdom to the north, beginning around 1400 B.C.[23] But these desperado efforts all, ultimately, came to nothing. The Apiru are often seen in the secular records as captives, or dispersed as slaves throughout the contemporary nations. Even Amurru, perhaps the Israelite nationalists' hope of its day, was ultimately swept away, its towns and cities laid waste by the tidal wave of Sea Peoples.[24]

It seems to me that we must now begin to see this period of Biblical silence as the primary fulfillment of the prophecies which are found at the close of the book of Deuteronomy, specifically Deuteronomy 28:15–68 and 31:14–32:47. These passages predict that Israel will fall away from the Lord after the death of Moses, and they detail the horror of the judgment which the Lord will bring upon the Israelites in consequence of their sin. The fulfillment of this section of Scripture has traditionally been assigned to the much later (first millennium B.C.) Exiles, and some of these verses do seem most applicable to that judgment.[25] But there are other elements of these prophecies which lack obvious fulfillment in the Exiles which do find ready fulfillment in this silent period. Compare, for example, Deuteronomy 28:68 which says:

And the Lord will bring you back to Egypt in ships, by the way about which I spoke to you, 'You will never see it again!' And there you shall offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but there will be no buyer.
with the historical record which shows that during this period of Biblical silence[26]
Palestine and the route through Transjordan (the later "King's Highway") were wholly Egyptian possessions. It was here that the policy of deporting to Egypt huge numbers of the autochthonous population [i.e., Israelites], whether hostile or not, was chiefly put into effect, and reached its apogee under Amenophis II [ ca. 1427–1400 B.C.], who carried off over 85,000 men, women, and children of all social strata. In consequence the hill country was virtually depopulated and the country severely weakened.

In addition to such specifics these prophesies seem to involve an element of prolonged (generations-long) oppression of the Israelites while they remain resident in the Promised Land. This element of these prophesies does not seem to find obvious fulfillment in the Exiles, but it does do so in what we learn of these eight centuries of Biblical silence from secular sources. Thus, it seems that we should begin to understand these prophecies as having their primary fulfillment in this period of Biblical silence, the Exiles being a secondary fulfillment.

If this is correct, then a "history" of this period of Biblical silence—at least as it was experienced on a day to day basis by the Israelites—is afforded the student of Scripture in these prophecies. One then begins to appreciate these as not merely exaggerated threats, but the actual, protracted experience of the families and individuals of a nation which had forsaken God. When viewed in this light they are difficult to read without weeping.

Psalm 78 also seems to provide a glimpse behind the veil of Biblical silence which shrouds these eight centuries. It recites the nation's history from the Exodus to the reign of David. Verses 12–53 deal with the Exodus and Wilderness Wanderings, followed by verses 54 and 55 which deal with the Conquest. Then verses 56–64 recount a period of falling away and judgment, followed by verses 65–72 which culminate in deliverance and the establishment of the Davidic kingdom.

It is possible to squeeze this entire psalm into just the historical events which the Bible records, understood within a traditional chronological framework, as has been done for centuries. But two aspects of the psalm seem to point toward a protracted period of judgment which is missing in such a traditional view. First, the intensity of God's emotion—specifically "When God heard, He was filled with wrath, and greatly abhorred Israel" (v. 59)—seems to imply something unusual. Second, verse 65, which describes the turning point from judgment to deliverance, ("Then the Lord awoke as if from sleep, like a warrior overcome by wine") implies that God had seemed entirely out of the picture for an extended period.

This reconstruction of Israel's history may also provide some insight into the reason for the Bible's silence during this 800 year period. It may simply reflect God's promised response to the Israelites' forsaking of Him. In Deuteronomy 31:17–18 He says: "I will forsake them and hide my face from them, … I will surely hide my face in that day". From a purely technical standpoint, the process of recording contemporary history in Scripture requires Divine inspiration,[27] and such inspiration is made impossible when God has hid His face. ◇

Biblical Chronology 101

In the lead article of the November/December 1995 issue of The Biblical Chronologist I proposed a new location for the Biblical Mount Sinai.[28] While I was preparing that article a subscriber kindly sent me a copy of the book The Mount Sinai Myth[29] and asked for my critique of it. Subsequently another subscriber wrote with a similar request. I am supposing that many other subscribers have seen or heard of this book—it is currently being actively promoted by its author, Larry Williams—and would appreciate a scholarly critique of it.


Larry Williams has proposed that the Biblical Mount Sinai should be identified with Jabal al Laws, a mountain in Saudi Arabia (Figure 2). In an effort to acquire evidence to substantiate this idea he and his "cop turned businessman" buddy, Bob Cornuke, have made several Indiana Jones style forays into Saudi Arabia. The Mount Sinai Myth sets forth their case and recounts their various adventures in Saudi Arabia.

Figure 2: Williams' suggested route of the Exodus (dashed line), suggested location of the "Red" Sea crossing, and proposed identification of Jabal al Lawz with Mount Sinai.

To the casual observer Williams' thesis may seem to gather immediate momentum from Galatians 4:25 which mentions "Mount Sinai in Arabia." But a little study soon shows that Arabia, in New Testament times, included the Sinai Peninsula (where the traditional site of Mount Sinai is located) and the Negev of Israel (where I have suggested Mount Sinai is really located). (You can easily verify this using a Bible atlas or maps of the Mediterranean regions at the time of Paul found in many Bibles.) Significantly, Williams does not attempt to launch his thesis using Galatians 4:25.

I met Larry Williams at a seminar he gave to the staff and faculty of the Institute for Creation Research in San Diego, California back (as I recall) in the late 1980s. Larry is quite open about the fact that he is a businessman, not a scholar. ("We are not scholars, nor are we attempting to make any representation that we are."[30])

I have no doubt that Williams and Cornuke had lofty motivations for the activities they describe in their book. Nonetheless, the Indiana Jones approach to archaeology which they chose to follow cannot be applauded. This approach may make for good adventure stories, but it makes for exceedingly poor archaeological scholarship and raises a number of disturbing ethical issues as well.

I will not dwell on any of this, but it does seem important to point out that amateurs can destroy more evidence of greater value than they are likely to ever find by grubbing about freely in ancient archaeological sites. That is why Williams and Cornuke found the ancient sites at Jabal al Lawz and its environs to be surrounded by high chain link fences topped with barbed wire. Saudi Arabia obviously regards its archaeological sites as a priceless, irreplaceable heirloom, as every modern nation does, and wishes to keep amateurs and the general public from unwittingly destroying the precious information they contain.

But let us move on to the factual evidence bearing on the identification of Jabal al Lawz with Mount Sinai.

The evidence

The photographic and artifactual evidence presented by Williams is most unimpressive, and his identification of various archaeological remains with the Biblical narrative can only be described as extremely far-fetched. Rather than spend any time on these I will focus on the Biblical evidence which led Williams to go looking for archaeological evidence in the first place.

William's argument leading to the conclusion that Mount Sinai must be located in northwestern Saudi Arabia is most clearly presented on pages 16 and 17 of The Mount Sinai Myth. This argument is not always clearly separated from another argument which leads to the conclusion that the traditional site of Mount Sinai (Gebel Musa or its near neighbor, Gebel Katharina), in the southern Sinai peninsula, cannot possibly be correct. (It is this latter argument which gives the book its name.) It is, of course, not true that evidence against the traditional site is evidence for Jabal al Lawz, as Jabal al Lawz is not the only alternative. When the two arguments are kept properly separated they are seen to be structured as follows:

Argument 1

Premise 1 Moses fled to Mount Sinai (Horeb) after he had killed the Egyptian in Egypt.

Premise 2 Moses fled to Midian after he had killed the Egyptian in Egypt.

Conclusion 1 Therefore, Mount Sinai must be in Midian.

Premise 3 Midian is in northwestern Saudi Arabia.

Conclusion 2 [from C 1 and P 3] Therefore, Mount Sinai must be in northwestern Saudi Arabia.

Argument 2

Premise 4 Moses fled Egypt after he had killed the Egyptian.

Premise 5 Egypt included the Sinai peninsula at the time of Moses.

Conclusion 3 Therefore, Moses must have fled beyond the Sinai peninsula.

Conclusion 4 [from C 3 and P 1] Therefore, Mount Sinai must not be located in the Sinai peninsula.

I will begin by showing from Scripture that Conclusion 1 (that Mount Sinai must be in Midian) is, in fact, false.

Observe that Moses' father-in-law, Jethro, lived in Midian. He is called "priest of Midian" in Exodus 3:1, and Midian is where Moses met him after he had fled from Egypt (Exodus 2:15–22; Acts 7:29). Next notice that after the Exodus Jethro came to Moses at Mount Sinai, bringing Moses' wife and two sons to him (Exodus 18:5). Exodus 18:27 informs us that after a brief visit, Jethro "went his way into his own land". Thus, Jethro reentered Midian after leaving Mount Sinai. Therefore, Mount Sinai can not be located in Midian; Conclusion 1 is false.[31]

The fact that Conclusion 1 is false has serious negative consequences for the identification of Jabal al Laws with Mount Sinai. If Premise 3 is true (and I know of no evidence contrary to this premise) then we are led immediately to the conclusion that Jabal al Laws can not be the Biblical Mount Sinai.

To see this, make Conclusion 1 true be rewording it as, "Mount Sinai must not be in Midian". Now add in Premise 3, "Midian is in northwestern Saudi Arabia". The conclusion then is, "Therefore, Mount Sinai must not be in northwestern Saudi Arabia". As Jabal al Laws is located in northwestern Saudi Arabia, it cannot be the Biblical Mount Sinai.


Now I will move on to Williams' second argument.

I am obviously sympathetic to Conclusion 4 (that Mount Sinai must not be located in the Sinai peninsula) since I believe Mount Sinai should be identified with Mount Yeroham in the Negev of Israel. However, Williams' argument leading to Conclusion 4 is not valid.

The first problem is that Conclusion 4 depends (in Williams' argument) on Premise 1, and the falsity of Conclusion 1 implies that Premise 1 is false. The logical argument is as follows. Since Conclusion 1 is false, at least one of the two premises leading to it must also be false. The truth of Premise 2 seems unassailable; Exodus 2:15 explicitly supports it, for example. Thus we are led to conclude that Premise 1 is false.

This is not too surprising. Premise 1 claims Moses fled to Mount Sinai after he had killed the Egyptian, but the Biblical text gives no such indication. Moses is first seen at Mount Sinai during his encounter with God at the burning bush. According to Acts 7:29–30 this encounter did not take place until forty years after he had fled from Egypt.

A second problem is that Premise 5 (that Egypt included the Sinai peninsula at the time of Moses) cannot be accepted. Williams has advanced this premise on the strength of some very old (turn of the century) archaeological work by Petrie. Unfortunately, Petrie's chronology of ancient Egypt has subsequently been shown to be badly in error.

Williams' statement: "All of these archaeological findings indicate that Egyptians were active in this part of the peninsula in the 5500–5000 B.C. period"[32] clearly reveals a serious lack of chronological scholarship on Williams' part. Few modern scholars, if any, would venture to extend the history of dynastic Egypt more than a few centuries beyond 3000 B.C. today. Williams' assertion obviously derives from Petrie's now defunct chronology. Williams' lack of familiarity with the modern literature regarding Egypt and the southern Sinai has caused him to err in regard to Premise 5.

More recent archaeological work in the Sinai peninsula has led scholars to conclude that Egypt had no significant presence in the southern Sinai peninsula during the traditional period of the Exodus. Specifically, after an extensive survey of this region, archaeologist Beno Rothenberg concluded:[33]

At this stage of our investigation it appears that the Egyptian kings displayed no interest in Southern Sinai, except for the turquoise mining areas and the copper mine near Bir Nasb [both located about 45 miles northwest of the traditional Mount Sinai site—see Figure 2], since almost no traces of any Egyptian occupation were found outside these areas. The ancient Egyptians did, however, hold on to the traffic routes connecting the mines with the Gulf of Suez, where two Egyptian sites were discovered. All other parts of Southern Sinai appear to have remained under the exclusive control of the Bedouin.
and again:[34]
It appears that during the period of the Exodus, Southern Sinai was controlled by nomads who left no traces of their presence.

Clearly Premise 5 is incorrect. The Sinai peninsula was not part of Egypt during the traditional period of the Exodus.

While Premises 1 and 5 are incorrect, Williams' oft repeated claim that the traditional site of Mount Sinai cannot possibly be correct is still substantiated, though along somewhat different lines than he has argued. The fact that the Israelites did not visit the traditional site of Mount Sinai in the southern Sinai peninsula at the time of the Exodus is clearly revealed by the complete absence of any archaeological remains (including pottery shards) even remotely suitable to the Exodus anywhere in the entire southern Sinai. This is why Rothenberg concludes:[35]

From the Byzantine period onwards, Southern Sinai became a center of pious pilgrimage. Hermits and pilgrims were drawn to the high mountains of South Sinai and established there monasteries, churches and many other places of religious worship. All these places were somehow 'connected' with the history of the children of Israel or with the memory of Christian saints and rulers, but not one of these sites can serve as scientific testimony for the history of the region in ancient times.

This observational fact—that the southern Sinai is devoid of archaeological remains suitable to the Exodus—holds whether one is working in the traditional (incorrect) Biblical chronology which places the Exodus in the second millennium B.C., or the new (correct) Biblical chronology which places it in the third millennium B.C. Thus, the evidence is firmly in agreement with Williams' title; the traditional site of Mount Sinai is indeed a modern Christian myth. Unfortunately, however, this same fact leads implacably to the conclusion that Williams' proposed path of the Exodus and location of the "Red" Sea crossing—both of which would place Israel in the southern Sinai at the time of the Exodus—are also purely fanciful.

The Mount Sinai Myth may provide some entertaining reading about a modern, real-life adventure, but the theories which motivated the adventure must be regarded as simply untenable. ◇

The Biblical Chronologist is a bimonthly subscription newsletter about Biblical chronology. It is written and edited by Gerald E. Aardsma, a Ph.D. scientist (nuclear physics) with special background in radioisotopic dating methods such as radiocarbon. The Biblical Chronologist has a threefold purpose:

  1. to encourage, enrich, and strengthen the faith of conservative Christians through instruction in Biblical chronology,

  2. to foster informed, up-to-date, scholarly research in this vital field within the conservative Christian community, and

  3. to communicate current developments and discoveries in Biblical chronology in an easily understood manner.

An introductory packet containing three sample issues and a subscription order form is available for $9.95 US regardless of destination address. Send check or money order in US funds and request the "Intro Pack."

The Biblical Chronologist (ISSN 1081-762X) is published six times a year by Aardsma Research & Publishing, 412 N Mulberry, Loda, IL 60948-9651.

Copyright © 1996 by Aardsma Research & Publishing. Photocopying or reproduction strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher.

Footnotes

  1. ^  This article is similar in purpose and design to "The Chronology of Palestine in Relation to the Bible: 3000–1000 B.C." which appeared in Volume 1, Number 4 of The Biblical Chronologist. The two articles complement one another and are designed to be used side by side.

  2. ^  Gerald E. Aardsma, A New Approach to the Chronology of Biblical History from Abraham to Samuel, 2nd ed. (Loda IL: Aardsma Research and Publishing, 1993).

  3. ^  Herbert Haas, James Devine, Robert Wenke, Mark Lehner, Willy Wolfli, and Georg Bonani, "Radiocarbon chronology and the historical calendar in Egypt," Chronologies in the Near East: Relative Chronologies and Absolute Chronology 16,000–4,000 B.P., ed. Olivier Aurenche, Jacques Evin, and Francis Hours (B.A.R., 5, Centremead, Osney Mead, Oxford OX2 0DQ, England, 1987), 585–606.

  4. ^  Nicolas Grimal, A History of Ancient Egypt (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1992), 390.

  5. ^  K. A. Kitchen, "The Basics of Egyptian Chronology in Relation to the Bronze Age," High, Middle or Low? Acts of an International Colloquium on Absolute Chronology Held at the University of Gothenburg 20th–22nd August 1987, Part 1, ed. Paul Astrom (Gothenburg: Paul Astroms Forlag, 1987), 49.

  6. ^   The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, vol. 4, ed. Ephraim Stern (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993), 1530.

  7. ^   The Cambridge Ancient History, 3rd edition, vol. 1, part 2, ed. I. E. S. Edwards, C. J. Gadd, and N. G. L. Hammond (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971), 996.

  8. ^   The Cambridge Ancient History, 3rd edition, vol. 1, part 2, ed. I. E. S. Edwards, C. J. Gadd, and N. G. L. Hammond (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971), 994–996.

  9. ^  Gerald E. Aardsma, "The Exodus Happened 2450 B.C.," Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Creationism, ed. Robert E. Walsh (Pittsburgh: Creation Science Fellowship, Inc., 1994), 9–15.

  10. ^  Gerald E. Aardsma, "Chronology of the Bible: 3000 - 1000 B.C.," The Biblical Chronologist 1.3 (May/June 1995): 2.

  11. ^  K. A. Kitchen, "The Basics of Egyptian Chronology in Relation to the Bronze Age," High, Middle or Low? Acts of an International Colloquium on Absolute Chronology Held at the University of Gothenburg 20th–22nd August 1987, Part 1, ed. Paul Astrom (Gothenburg: Paul Astroms Forlag, 1987), 37–55.

  12. ^  Nicolas Grimal, A History of Ancient Egypt (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1992), 49,63,66,67.

  13. ^  Gerald E. Aardsma, A New Approach to the Chronology of Biblical History from Abraham to Samuel, 2nd ed. (Loda IL: Aardsma Research and Publishing, 1993), 80–82. I have received several interesting letters from subscribers regarding this possibility. I hope to share some of their comments in the next issue.

  14. ^  Gerald E. Aardsma, A New Approach to the Chronology of Biblical History from Abraham to Samuel, 2nd ed. (Loda IL: Aardsma Research and Publishing, 1993), 68–72; Gerald E. Aardsma, "Evidence for a Lost Millennium in Biblical Chronology," Radiocarbon 37.2 (1995): 267–273; Nicolas Grimal, A History of Ancient Egypt (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1992), 64.

  15. ^  Nicolas Grimal, A History of Ancient Egypt (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1992), 390.

  16. ^  Exodus 2:15.

  17. ^  It is a little amusing to see conservative scholars trying to route the path of the Exodus around these fortresses, when these fortresses only came into being 500 years after the Exodus! Their confusion, of course, stems from their failure to recognize that a millennium is missing from traditional Biblical chronology in 1 Kings 6:1. You will notice that the Bible doesn't mention any trouble with Egyptian fortresses or any need to avoid them in its account of the Exodus.

  18. ^  Donald B. Redford, Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992), 80.

  19. ^  Gerald E. Aardsma, "The Chronology of Palestine in Relation to the Bible: 3000–1000 B.C.," The Biblical Chronologist 1.4 (July/August 1995): 4.

  20. ^  Donald B. Redford, Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992), 100.

  21. ^  Genesis 21:32,34; 26:1.

  22. ^  Deuteronomy 2:23; Jeremiah 47:4; Amos 9:7. See also Genesis 10:14 which seems to imply an original distinction, albeit close relationship, between the Philistines and the Caphtorim.

  23. ^  Donald B. Redford, Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992), 170–172.

  24. ^  Donald B. Redford, Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992), 251.

  25. ^  For example, Deuteronomy 28:36.

  26. ^  Donald B. Redford, Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992), 169.

  27. ^  2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21.

  28. ^  Gerald E. Aardsma, "Yeroham—The True Mt. Sinai?," The Biblical Chronologist 1.6 (November/December 1995): 1–8.

  29. ^  Larry R. Williams, The Mount Sinai Myth (New York: Wynwood Press, 1990)

  30. ^  Larry R. Williams, The Mount Sinai Myth (New York: Wynwood Press, 1990), 24.

  31. ^  A similar argument can be made from Numbers 10:29–30.

  32. ^  Larry R. Williams, The Mount Sinai Myth (New York: Wynwood Press, 1990), 55.

  33. ^  Beno Rothenberg, "An Archaeological Survey of South Sinai," Palestine Exploration Quarterly 102 (1970): 18.

  34. ^  Beno Rothenberg, "An Archaeological Survey of South Sinai," Palestine Exploration Quarterly 102 (1970): 22.

  35. ^  Beno Rothenberg, "An Archaeological Survey of South Sinai," Palestine Exploration Quarterly 102 (1970): 22.


Volume 2, Number 3May/June 1996

Wood's Jericho Tumbles

The beleaguered and aging conservative Biblical archaeology regiment had been fighting a loosing battle to hold the line for Biblical historicity for decades. All would-be champions had so far failed, but Bryant G. Wood, a relatively young man and new recruit, had been polishing his weapons for several years and was eager to have a go at it. He felt he knew how to save the day—how to recapture Jericho.

They had lost Jericho, the coveted high ground, a quarter of a century previously. Though originally seized for them in the late thirties through the exploits of British archaeologist John Garstang, their glory and seeming security on the mound had been short-lived. In a stunning turn of events they had been utterly routed from Jericho by further excavations there by British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon in the fifties.

Since then, very much on the defensive, they had struggled to hold the line from their trenches and foxholes off the mound. But attrition was slowly doing them in. The situation was clearly desperate when … enter archaeologist Bryant G. Wood.

Yes, and also enter—stumbling into no-man's-land from off to the side somewhere; relatively oblivious (like most conservative Christians) of the modern battle over Jericho; surprised to find shots being fired at him from both sides—chronologist Gerald E. Aardsma.


Figure 1: Location of ancient Jericho.

In the March/April 1990 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review conservative Biblical archaeologist Bryant G. Wood argued for a redating of the destruction of the so-called "City IV" at Jericho.[1] The consensus of modern scholarship dated this destruction to ca. 1550 B.C., but Wood shrugged the consensus aside. Wood's desire was to bring this destruction into temporal coincidence with the Biblical account of the destruction of Jericho by Joshua[2] at the traditional Biblical date of the Conquest of ca. 1400 B.C. (Figure 2).

Figure 2: When was City IV Jericho destroyed? The consensus is roughly 1550 B.C.; Wood says roughly 1400 B.C.

Wood was trying to solve a serious problem in his bid to redate this destruction of Jericho. He described the problem thus:[3]

Kenyon concluded that her field work confirmed her earlier review of Garstang's work. … The destruction of Garstang's City IV, which he had dated to about 1400 B.C.E., occurred, according to Kenyon, at the end of the Middle Bronze Age, about 1550 B.C.E.

In short, there was no strongly fortified Late Bronze Age city at Jericho for Joshua to conquer. The archaeological evidence conflicted with the Biblical account—indeed, disproved it.

Wood argued that Kenyon had misdated the City IV destruction and that Garstang had been right all along. He claimed that detailed excavation reports, which had only recently become available, subsequent to Kenyon's death, showed that her date for the final destruction of City IV Jericho was flawed. He argued that: a reanalysis of pottery shards excavated from City IV; stratigraphic considerations; scarab evidence; and a single radiocarbon date all converged "to demonstrate that City IV was destroyed in about 1400 B.C.E., not 1550 B.C.E. as Kenyon maintained".[4]

As I recall, Wood's claims found their way into the popular press. They occasioned considerable rejoicing and shouts of victory in some conservative sectors.

But Wood's fellow-archaeologists were not impressed. In a subsequent issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Piotr Bienkowski attacked Wood's arguments and then summarized his assessment of Wood's claim as follows:[5]

Wood has attempted to redate the destruction of Jericho City IV from the end of the Middle Bronze Age (c. 1550 B.C.) to the end of the Late Bronze I (c. 1400 B.C.). He has put forward four lines of argument to support this conclusion. Not a single one of these arguments can stand up to scrutiny. On the contrary, there is strong evidence to confirm Kathleen Kenyon's dating of City IV to the Middle Bronze Age. Wood's attempt to equate the destruction of City IV with the Israelite conquest of Jericho must therefore be rejected.

Wood responded to Bienkowski in the same issue with a more detailed discussion of pottery shards. He charged:[6]

Bienkowski's attempt to explain away the evidence for lowering the date of the destruction of Jericho is misguided and void of substance. Assertions made without data to back them up are unconvincing. His discussion is superficial, at best, lacking both depth and precision.

And so the battle raged in 1990.


I was unaware of this battle—and much else having to do with Biblical archaeology—in 1990. At the time I was entirely focused on radiocarbon dating and its implications for the date of Noah's Flood. I had graduated from a Ph.D. program in nuclear physics in 1984. My Ph.D. program had emphasized the application of nuclear instrumentation to measuring rare isotopes such as radiocarbon. Disparities between radiocarbon and traditional Biblical chronology had become my absorbing concern.

In 1987 I joined the faculty of the Institute for Creation Research Graduate School. There I had opportunity to research these chronological concerns, at the delicate and often volatile interface of science and religion, for several years.

The Institute for Creation Research (ICR) takes the position that Noah's Flood was not only world-wide, but also a cataclysm—a violent geologic change of the earth's surface marked by overwhelming upheaval and destruction. ICR holds to the idea that a significant portion of the geologic column was formed as a direct consequence of Noah's Flood.

I had asked the research question, "What would such a cataclysm do to radiocarbon dates?" I had derived a two parameter, analytic model for the expected temporal behavior of radiocarbon following such an event, and I had shown that this model could successfully fit available radiocarbon measurements on very long tree-ring series.[7]

Two important conclusions resulted from this research. First, it became clear that modern, tree-ring calibrated radiocarbon dates were trustworthy at least back to 3000 B.C. Second—and this was a big surprise—I found that a global, cataclysmic Flood could not have occurred any more recently than about 12,000 B.C.

This second conclusion was quite disturbing. Traditional Biblical chronology places the Flood at ca. 2500 B.C., nearly 10,000 years later than my radiocarbon analysis allowed (Figure 3). Something was surely wrong.

Figure 3: Disparity between Biblical date of Noah's Flood and latest possible date for a cataclysmic flood. Several lines of chronological evidence converge to show that a cataclysmic flood could not have occurred any more recently than about 12,000 B.C.

I asked several other scientists to review my radiocarbon model, but they could find nothing wrong with it.

I decided I had better scrutinize traditional Biblical chronology to see if somehow something major had been overlooked there. I had always previously assumed the general validity of traditional Biblical dates back to Abraham. I decided it was time to be more thorough.

I quickly discovered that traditional Biblical chronology harmonized with secular chronologies only back to about 1000 B.C.—prior to that time Biblical and secular data seemed to be telling entirely different stories about history. Could a large block of time have somehow been omitted from traditional Biblical chronology just prior to 1000 B.C., producing the observed disparity with secular history and explaining why a cataclysmic Flood should be so ancient?

For a brief period, at the beginning of 1990, I attempted to interject the 10,000 years I needed to suit a cataclysmic Flood at this point. I soon had to reject that idea, however, as I found it was archaeologically impossible to expand Biblical chronology just prior to 1000 B.C. by such a large amount.

But in the process of examining that idea I had begun to study the archaeological data at Jericho for the first time. I was amazed at what was known from Jericho, and I was excited by the wealth of data pertinent to the question of the antiquity of humanity which it proffered in its well-stratified remains.

I rapidly acquainted myself with the sequence of towns and destructions which the archaeologists had exposed at Jericho. And one evening, as I was ruminating on what I had learned about Jericho, it suddenly struck me that one destruction, which had occurred at about 2400 B.C., was a tidy 1,000 years prior to the traditional Biblical date. And this thought was immediately followed by the realization that this might be the long-sought destruction wrought by Joshua if the present "480 years" of 1 Kings 6:1 had, in the autograph, been "1,480 years". And so the missing millennium thesis was born.


When I wrote my book about the missing millennium thesis in 1992, I discussed Wood's claim regarding Jericho only briefly.[8] There was no point in saying much. Basically, Wood's redating of the destruction of City IV Jericho was irrelevant to my thesis. My thesis sprang from a quite different, much earlier destruction at Jericho (Figure 4). Even if Wood's redating of the destruction of City IV to ca. 1400 B.C. should turn out to be correct, he would still have to show that destruction was due to Joshua before my thesis would be impacted.

Figure 4: Schematic cross section of the mound of ancient Jericho. Wood claims the wall labeled "MB wall" is the one which fell before Joshua. He believes this wall and its associated city should be redated to the Late Bronze Age to match traditional Biblical chronology. I claim the much earlier wall labeled "Second EB wall" is the one which fell before Joshua. Its destruction dates to the end of the Early Bronze Age III, in immediate harmony with the new Biblical chronology which results when one thousand years are restored to 1 Kings 6:1. (The stick figure provides an approximate vertical proportion; the horizontal scale is compressed by about a factor of five relative to the vertical scale.)

But there was an interesting implication for my missing millennium thesis should Wood turn out to be wrong. Wood's redating of City IV was the last possible hope for the traditional, 1400 B.C., Conquest date at Jericho. If it should be proven wrong, then my thesis would be the only remaining way of harmonizing the archaeological data with the Biblical record of Jericho's destruction by Joshua.

Was there any way of determining whether Wood's redating was right or wrong? Yes. Radiocarbon.

Wood's thesis is essentially a chronological one: Wood says City IV was destroyed ca. 1400 B.C., the scholarly consensus is that City IV was destroyed ca. 1550 B.C. (Figure 2). Such chronological theses can be tested today using modern scientific dating methods. Wood's thesis is, in fact, a prime candidate for radiocarbon analysis.

Destruction layers involving burning are generally well-suited to radiocarbon dating. Radiocarbon requires organic (once living) samples; charcoal, from burned timbers, or other charred plant remains provide just the sort of samples radiocarbon requires.

Charcoal can pose a bit of an interpretive problem, however. The difficulty is that wood retains the date each ring of the tree was formed, not the date it was burned. It is obviously possible for a tree to have grown and been cut long before it was finally burned in the destruction of a city.

This would not be a problem at Jericho; Wood had noted that plenty of charred grain was found in the excavation of City IV.[9] Grain grows in a single year, and is not likely to be kept around for more than a year or two after it has grown. Radiocarbon dates of grain found in the destruction debris should reflect the actual date of destruction quite closely.

In the early 1990's when I was writing my book, there was only a single radiocarbon measurement available for City IV. It was from a piece of charcoal found in the destruction debris. Wood used this single sample to support his claim—it had been dated by the British Museum to 1410±40 B.C.[10]

Unfortunately, this was one of several hundred samples whose dates the British Museum later retracted. They found their radiocarbon measurement apparatus had gone out of calibration for a period of time. The dates their apparatus gave during this period were not correct. They retracted all dates of samples measured during this period and published a corrected set.[11]

The corrected date for the City IV sample turned out, in fact, to be consistent with Kenyon's 1550 B.C. date. Thus, this single sample no longer supported Wood's claim. But the corrected date did not falsify his claim either—the charcoal could have come from a tree that had been cut 150 years previous to the destruction. What was needed to settle the matter was a set of radiocarbon dates on grains from the City IV destruction.

In the early part of this decade no such dates existed, but just recently the necessary measurements have been made. Hendrik J. Bruins and Johannes van der Plicht have recently published new, high-precision radiocarbon measurements on eighteen samples from Jericho.[12] Six of the samples were charred cereal grains from the City IV destruction.

Bruins and van der Plicht did not specifically set out to test Wood's thesis. Their stated purpose was to contribute "toward the establishment of an independent radiocarbon chronology of Near Eastern archaeology".[13] However, they recognized that their results had implications for several different theories regarding the destruction of City IV, and they discussed these implications briefly in their paper. Only one sentence was devoted to Wood's theory. It read simply:[14]

Further, the fortified Bronze Age city at Tell es-Sultan [Jericho] was not destroyed by ca. 1400 BC, as Wood (1990) suggested.

In fact, the radiocarbon measurements of Bruins and van der Plicht strongly support Kenyon's 1550 B.C. date, and strongly reject any date later than 1500 B.C. (Figure 5).

Figure 5: The black bars show the probable time during which cereal grains found within the destruction debris of City IV grew according to radiocarbon dates on the grains. Wood's proposed redating is rendered untenable by these radiocarbon results. (The radiocarbon dates are from Bruins and van der Plicht—see footnotes to article for complete reference. The bars show the calibrated 1σ range for the average of six samples.)

Wood's proposed date for the destruction of City IV Jericho has been falsified by radiocarbon—City IV Jericho was not destroyed by Joshua.


For those, like myself, who believe the Bible is inspired by God, and therefore inerrant, this leaves only one rational conclusion. A simple copy error has accidentally resulted in a dropped "thousand" years from extant texts of 1 Kings 6:1. The proper Biblical date for the destruction of Jericho (and the rest of Palestine) by Joshua is ca. 2400 B.C., not 1400 B.C. (Figure 6).[15]

Figure 6: The history of ancient Jericho prior to the first millennium B.C. as reconstructed from archaeological excavation. The dashed line shows when the site was only used as a campsite. Single solid lines show when it was an unwalled town. Double horizontal lines show when Jericho existed as a walled city. Radiocarbon has now shown that the walled city which existed at Jericho during the second millennium B.C. was destroyed near 1550 B.C. Thus, there was no fortified city at Jericho at the traditional Biblical date (labeled "Wood"). There was a fortified city which was destroyed exactly 1,000 years earlier, however (labeled "Aardsma"). This is the destruction due to Joshua. It dates 1,000 years earlier than traditional expectations because traditional Biblical chronology has accidentally left out one thousand years due to an easily made copy error in 1 Kings 6:1.

Readers Write

Is Imhotep Joseph?

It would certainly be fascinating to be able to identify Joseph in Egyptian historical sources; his high position in Egypt gives one high hopes of being able to do so.

I have previously broached the possibility that the Biblical "Joseph" may be the same as the vizier of king Djoser called "Imhotep" in Egyptian sources.[16] But, as I have previously pointed out, this identification is complicated by secular chronological uncertainties so that it must be regarded as a tentative possibility only.

Dr. David Noel Freedman has also expressed the need for caution in identifying Imhotep with Joseph. After reviewing an early manuscript of mine containing this tentative suggestion he wrote to me in a personal letter dated December 2, 1991 as follows:

While there may well be parallel features in the careers and life-stories of the two men, it would be very risky to identify them. Analogies are one thing, equations are another. There is no hint anywhere that Imhotep was anything but a real Egyptian, which is exactly what Joseph was not. And Joseph's Egyptian name [Zaphenath-paneah (Genesis 41:45)] is totally different [from Imhotep], in fact a name that doesn't find any similarities in Egyptian onomastica before the Saite period [ ca. 675–525 B.C.], I believe.
There is clearly reason for caution.

But this is not to say the matter is closed, by any means. What is needed at this stage are in-depth, deliberate investigations of the question using available Biblical data and Egyptian source documents in light of the new synthesis of Biblical and Egyptian history discussed last issue.[17]

There are several angles from which such investigations might be launched. For example, the Bible records that Joseph instituted a twenty percent tax during his administration, which (in common with most government taxes) appears to have persisted for a very long time.

And Joseph made it a statute concerning the land of Egypt valid to this day, that Pharaoh should have the fifth;… (Genesis 47:26)
Tracing the secular history of taxation in Egypt might, therefore, be a fruitful line of investigation. One should expect to find a twenty percent tax in force in the later part of the Old Kingdom, at least. If the pharaoh or vizier could be identified under whom this taxation was instituted, one would presumably be able to identify Joseph in Egypt very quickly. (Note also that determining the latest date this custom of twenty percent taxation was in force would set a minimum date for the composition of Genesis 47:26, but that is a separate matter.)

As I lack the time to carry such investigation forward myself, I am hoping this suggestion and the following two letters, from lay readers, will encourage other readers to take up aspects of this research project and perhaps share what they learn with us in future issues.

The first letter presents information opposing the identification of Joseph with Imhotep; the second is supportive of the identification. The possibilities raised in both letters seem to me to merit further investigation.


Dear Dr. Aardsma,

There was a time when I thought Imhotep, vizier of Djoser, could have been Joseph. Further research quickly altered this view. There existed, in the Egyptian workshops, lists and family trees of the famous chiefs of works. (See Pierre Montet, Eternal Egypt, 1964 for background.) The name of Imhotep's father is known from these lists, as recorded by Egyptian archaeologist, Ahmed Fakhry:

We do not know where he [Imhotep] was born, but a vague and brief reference by one of the classical writers suggests that the village of Gebelein, south of Luxor, was his home. A monument giving the names of his parents dates from between 495 and 491 B.C. It is an inscription in the Wadi el Hammamat. The oldest name is that of Ka-nefer, who was Director of Works of Upper and Lower Egypt. The second name was his son, Imhotep. (Ahmed Fakhry, The Pyramids (University of Chicago Press, 1961), 24-26.)

Fakhry adds (pages 4 and 5), "Imhotep was an architect, whose father also had been an architect." This fact alone rules out the identification of Imhotep as Joseph.

Pierre Montet wrote that as the King's architect, Imhotep constructed sanctuaries of stone for the gods and goddesses of Egypt—the first beneficiaries being Nekhebet, the god of Memphis, Thoth of Khnum, and Horus of Edfu. (See Peter Tompkins, Secrets of the Great Pyramid, Harper & Row, 1971).) An inscription in a crypt of the temple of the goddess Hathor, at Dendera, indicated it had been built according to the plans of Imhotep.

Imhotep's greatest achievement was the step pyramid, which was identical in design to the ziggurats of Babylon. There is every indication that he was a devotee of the Mystery Babylon religion, which had been adopted by the Egyptians. One of Imhotep's titles was High Priest of Heliopolis, city of the sun [god]. Joseph, the man of God, would have had no part in any of the activities ascribed to Imhotep.


Mrs. Beverly J. Neises
Rainier, OR


Dear Dr. Aardsma,

The major thesis of your monograph, A New Approach to the Chronology of Biblical History from Abraham to Samuel, strikes me as very convincing and important, and I wish you every success in developing and popularizing it for the glory of God.

After reading your suggestion (pp. 81–82) that Joseph, the son of Jacob and Rachel, may actually correspond to Imhotep, the vizier of Pharaoh Djoser, I became fascinated with the idea that the Egyptian name might have been adopted by Joseph at least partly because of its phonological similarity to the name his mother gave him (Gen. 30:24).

Now if Joseph were a foreign king, I suppose he would have been known in Egypt by a name that was as similar as possible to his Hebrew name within the constraints of Egyptian phonology. In this case, his name would have had little or no significance in the Egyptian language—the Egyptians would have recognized its foreign origin, and Joseph's older brothers would surely have suspected his identity without having to be told.

Since Joseph really needed a name that would pass as quite Egyptian, perhaps an Egyptian variant of Joseph simply would not do. I think it should have been more like a case I came across recently at a Wycliffe banquet. The missionary speaker that evening was named Larry in English, but while serving in Latin America, he went by the Spanish name Hilario. That is, I propose that Joseph would have chosen a name for himself that was entirely Egyptian, yet phonologically similar to his Hebrew name. He might even have done this some time after his reunion with his family, using the name selected by the pharaoh in the interim, but of course, I can only speculate about this point.

The similarity at first glance may not seem all that striking, but a little investigation reveals that there may be more to it than what is immediately apparent. First, there is a Hebrew variant of Joseph, used only in Psalm 81:5, which inserts one more consonant. Strong's Exhaustive Concordance describes this variant as "a fuller form" of the usual name.

It should be mentioned that the point of articulation of H may be a bit different in the two languages, glottal in Hebrew while pharyngeal in Egyptian, but the similarity is still close enough to be striking. Note also that P and PH are both written with the same basic letter in Hebrew. Moreover, it turns out that the contrast between the T and the S may not be so great either. Loprieno (1995: 29) notes that Northwest Semitic *soper "scribe" was written as <tu-pa-r> in Egyptian. Now this t is a palatal (not dental) stop, but again, the similarity seems rather noteworthy. Loprieno went on to suggest that the samekh, which occurs in both *soper and Joseph "originally must have been an affricate [t⁀s] in Semitic" (1995: 29). This leaves only the M without a mate in the "fuller form" of Joseph.

There is another concern that should be addressed, however. As Hurry observed, "personal names ending in the word tp and compounded with the names of certain, but not of all, gods, were common in Egypt in all periods" (1928: 190). Surely, if the Joseph we know had anything to do with it, the name would not mean "Im is pleased" in Egyptian, where Im would be the name of some pagan deity. Once again, we are not disappointed.

The name Imhotep, however, is quite differently constituted from the above god + tp compounds. In this case tp is a noun and means 'peace' or 'satisfaction'. The translation 'He who comes in peace' is the generally accepted one, although [the initial hieroglyph] may be either the participle 'He who comes' or the imperative 'Come'. (Hurry, 1928: 190)

It is admittedly a subjective and speculative piece of circumstantial evidence, but it does seem quite reasonable to me that the Joseph we know from Genesis, who was himself summoned by the troubled pharaoh to bring him peace of mind and who invited his own family to come in peace to Egypt, might have chosen such a name as Come in Peace, especially in view of the close similarities it bears to the name he first brought to Egypt.


Thomas James Godfrey
Blacksburg, VA


Hurry, Jamieson B. 1928. Imhotep: The Vizier and Physician of King Zoser and Afterwards the Egyptian God of Medicine. Second and revised edition. New York: AMS Press.


Loprieno, Antonio. 1995. Ancient Egyptian: A Linguistic Introduction. Cambridge University Press.

Biblical Chronology 101

Rule #1

I have spent several decades working on the problem of the proper harmonization of Biblical and secular accounts of earth history. In the course of my labors I have had occasion to acquaint myself with a fairly large number of schemes and theories for how this should be done which other individuals have suggested. Some of these schemes are grand theories of everything. They purport to tell the whole story from Genesis 1:1 onward. Others are much more limited in scope, dealing, for example, with just the Exodus from Egypt, or just the Flood. But all are involved in the same basic problem of trying to synthesize Biblical and extra-Biblical data.

You have probably encountered some of these harmonization schemes yourself. You are, no doubt, aware of some of the different emphases which characterize their proponents. There are secularists and Biblicists, creationists and evolutionists, old-earthers and young-earthers, global-Flooders and local-Flooders, catastrophists and uniformitarians, and so on. From Velikovsky to Stiebing to Sagan to Ross to (most recently) Rohl to Morris to Dever to Custance to Courville to Bimson to (yes, even) Aardsma to many others, each has a different story to tell about the history of the earth, in part or in its entirety.

The difficulty, of course, is in trying to figure out who is right and who is wrong. When one reads these different authors one finds that each seems able to bolster their particular story with at least some convincing factual evidence from history. Yet no two tell the same story.

Since history actually only happened in one way, only one of these authors, at best, can be correct. The theories and stories which the others have to tell, no matter how convincing they may each individually seem, must be "pseudo-harmonizations"—stories about what happened in history which do not correspond to what actually took place.

How can one tell pseudo-harmonizations from the truth?

A major portion of the answer to this question can be found by first answering another question—why do so many, individually persuasive, pseudo-harmonizations exist?

You may already have some insight into the answer to this question, because the groundwork has been laid for it in a previous class session.[18] Recall the example I used on that occasion. I took three historical facts from a single evening and arranged them in different orders to produce different accounts of the evening. I was able to tell six different stories with these three facts: from "I ate a sandwich, I went to bed, then my tent collapsed" to "I went to bed, my tent collapsed, then I ate a sandwich."

Starting from this example it is easy to see why there are so many pseudo-harmonizations of earth history available today. Elementary mathematics teaches us that n things can be arranged in n! (read "n factorial") different ways. For n=3, n!=6 as in the example above. But as n increases, n! grows very large very rapidly. We can arrange three historical facts in six different ways. How many different ways can ten historical facts be arranged?

The answer, in fact, is (10!=) 3,628,800. That's right—as few as ten historical facts can, if cut loose from their chronological moorings, be arranged in over three and a half million different ways. That's a lot of ways! One can tell a lot of fictitious stories about history with a few historical facts when chronological constraints have been removed.

Now history is made up of far more than just ten facts. It is no surprise, therefore, that so many pseudo-harmonizations—fictitious accounts of earth history—can be found.

But why do these pseudo-harmonizations each seem so persuasive? I believe there are two parts to the answer here. First, they each seem persuasive because they employ historical facts, and this use of facts lends to them an aura of veracity.

To illustrate, consider my simple example of the sandwich, bed, and tent once again. Though five of the six stories which can be told by these three historical facts do not correspond accurately to what actually took place, they can still point to the factual nature of their components to bolster their credibility. Each can say, "You don't have to take my word for it, just look at the facts—the bed has obviously been slept in, the sandwich is gone, and the tent is down."

Second, and more importantly, because real history is made up of a myriad of facts, and because one can do more things with these facts than just change their order, there is no practical limit to the number of fictitious stories which can be told about history. With such a huge number of stories to choose from, some stories are bound to exist which will look very persuasive—which will contain many apparent synchronisms between Biblical and extra-Biblical data, for example—even though they do not represent what really took place in history at all. The fact that so many persuasive pseudo-harmonizations of earth history exist is really not very surprising at all when one considers the mathematics of the matter.

So how are pseudo-harmonizations to be avoided? The answer is really very simple. The key is chronology. Please note that three—or even three million—historical facts can only be arranged in one way if they are first pinned to their proper places on the time line. And once they have been pinned to their proper places on the time line, that one, unique arrangement is, in fact, the way they really took place—it corresponds to true history. Pseudo-harmonizations only result when chronological constraints are removed.

These simple considerations lead to a very important procedural rule which those who would learn the truth about history, and avoid the quagmire of pseudo-harmonizations, must be careful to obey. I call this "Rule # 1".

Rule # 1 Chronology must precede history.

What I mean by this rule is that we must use every available means to objectively date historical objects and associated events before any effort is made to use those objects and events to tell a story about history. Pin them down on the timeline first, then see what story they tell. This is the only way to avoid pseudo-harmonizations and find the truth.

And this leads directly to a simple procedure for avoiding the great majority of pseudo-harmonizations. Pseudo-harmonizations are actually relatively easy to spot. Because sound chronology is the death-knell to pseudo-harmonizations, you will find that their advocates disparage chronological data and method quite routinely. They will tell you that the Bible's chronological data is nonsense, or that radiocarbon is a method that only a madman would use, or that trees don't know how to grow only one annual ring per year, or that Manetho knew nothing about the history of Egypt, or that pottery dating is obvious nonsense, or whatever else is necessary to protect their pseudo-harmonization from the (for them) unpleasant realities of the chronological data.

So before you bother to wade into yet another supposed synthesis of Biblical and secular historical data, ask yourself these simple questions:

  1. Does this author have a positive and respectful attitude toward Biblical, secular historical, and physical (such as radiocarbon) chronological data?

  2. Does this author give chronological data, of all sorts, precedence in his reconstruction of history (as opposed to the presentation of a mass of historical facts)?

  3. Does this author exhibit knowledge of and competence in handling chronological data of all sorts?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, wade in only if you enjoy reading historical fiction. ◇

The Biblical Chronologist is a bimonthly subscription newsletter about Biblical chronology. It is written and edited by Gerald E. Aardsma, a Ph.D. scientist (nuclear physics) with special background in radioisotopic dating methods such as radiocarbon. The Biblical Chronologist has a threefold purpose:

  1. to encourage, enrich, and strengthen the faith of conservative Christians through instruction in Biblical chronology,

  2. to foster informed, up-to-date, scholarly research in this vital field within the conservative Christian community, and

  3. to communicate current developments and discoveries in Biblical chronology in an easily understood manner.

An introductory packet containing three sample issues and a subscription order form is available for $9.95 US regardless of destination address. Send check or money order in US funds and request the "Intro Pack."

The Biblical Chronologist (ISSN 1081-762X) is published six times a year by Aardsma Research & Publishing, 412 N Mulberry, Loda, IL 60948-9651.

Copyright © 1996 by Aardsma Research & Publishing. Photocopying or reproduction strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher.

Footnotes

  1. ^  Bryant G. Wood, "Did the Israelites Conquer Jericho?" Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April 1990, 44–58.

  2. ^  Joshua 6.

  3. ^  Bryant G. Wood, "Did the Israelites Conquer Jericho?" Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April 1990, 49.

  4. ^  Bryant G. Wood, "Did the Israelites Conquer Jericho?" Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April 1990, 53.

  5. ^  Piotr Bienkowski, "Jericho Was Destroyed in the Middle Bronze Age, Not the Late Bronze Age," Biblical Archaeology Review, September/October 1990, 46.

  6. ^  Bryant G. Wood, "Dating Jericho's Destruction: Bienkowski is Wrong on All Counts," Biblical Archaeology Review, September/October 1990, 45.

  7. ^  This work was published as ICR technical monograph #16 in 1991 with the title Radiocarbon and the Genesis Flood. It is now out of print.

  8. ^  Gerald E. Aardsma, A New Approach to the Chronology of Biblical History from Abraham to Samuel, 2nd ed. (Loda IL: Aardsma Research and Publishing, 1993), 88–89.

  9. ^  Bryant G. Wood, "Did the Israelites Conquer Jericho?" Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April 1990, 51.

  10. ^  Bryant G. Wood, "Did the Israelites Conquer Jericho?" Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April 1990, 53.

  11. ^  S. G. E. Bowman, J. C. Ambers, and M. N. Leese, "Re-evaluation of British Museum radiocarbon dates issued between 1980 and 1984," Radiocarbon 32.1 (1990): 59–79.

  12. ^  Hendrik J. Bruins and Johannes van der Plicht, "Tell es-Sultan (Jericho): radiocarbon results of short-lived cereal and multiyear charcoal samples from the end of the Middle Bronze Age," Radiocarbon 37.2 (1995): 213–220.

  13. ^  Hendrik J. Bruins and Johannes van der Plicht, "Tell es-Sultan (Jericho): radiocarbon results of short-lived cereal and multiyear charcoal samples from the end of the Middle Bronze Age," Radiocarbon 37.2 (1995): 213.

  14. ^  Hendrik J. Bruins and Johannes van der Plicht, "Tell es-Sultan (Jericho): radiocarbon results of short-lived cereal and multiyear charcoal samples from the end of the Middle Bronze Age," Radiocarbon 37.2 (1995): 218.

  15. ^  For further details see my book, A New Approach to the Chronology of Biblical History from Abraham to Samuel.

  16. ^  Gerald E. Aardsma, A New Approach to the Chronology of Biblical History from Abraham to Samuel, 2nd ed. (Loda IL: Aardsma Research and Publishing, 1993), 80–82; Gerald E. Aardsma, "The Chronology of Egypt in Relation to the Bible: 3000 – 1000 B.C.," The Biblical Chronologist 2.2 (March/April 1996): 4–5.

  17. ^  Gerald E. Aardsma, "The Chronology of Egypt in Relation to the Bible: 3000 – 1000 B.C.," The Biblical Chronologist 2.2 (March/April 1996): 1–9.

  18. ^  Gerald E. Aardsma, "Biblical Chronology 101," The Biblical Chronologist 1.3 (May/June 1996): 4–5.


Volume 2, Number 4July/August 1996

Chronology of the Bible:
5000–3000 B.C.

I have previously published a time chart of Biblical chronology in the period from 3000 to 1000 B.C.[1] That period covers the Biblical historical narrative from the birth of Jacob to the reign of David. The following article extends the Biblical time chart into the preceding two millennia. It covers the period from the birth of Seth, Adam's son, to Jacob.

While Biblical history immediately prior to Solomon is being hotly debated by Biblical archaeologists at present, Biblical history before Abraham is seldom even mentioned these days. As best I can determine, liberal Bible scholars regard the Biblical narrative of this remote era as high mythology, and conservative Bible scholars are at a loss to know what to say about it.

There are several reasons for this unhappy situation. First, and most importantly, in the millennium immediately prior to 1000 B.C. Biblical historicity appears to modern Bible scholars to be visibly crumbling with every turn of the archaeologists' spades these days. They do not understand that this crumbling is apparent only—that the mismatch between what one reads in the Bible and what the archaeologists have been finding is caused by a missing millennium in traditional Biblical chronology just prior to 1000 B.C.[2] And since Biblical historicity appears to most scholars to be taking such a beating in the millennium prior to 1000 B.C., it is understandably difficult for them to maintain confidence in Biblical historicity at 4000 B.C.

Second, this portion of Old Testament history is almost entirely dependent upon the very succinct first eleven chapters of Genesis. These move through history at a very rapid pace, providing few potential points of contact with secular data. This has fostered an isolation of this portion of Bible history from secular studies, and a feeling that it is somehow not really attached to the real world.

Third, the miraculous nature of the Creation account does not naturally lend itself to scientific investigation, and the scientific enterprise at present is so strongly steeped in naturalism that few are able to think in any other terms.

Fourth, the failure of Bible scholars to identify Noah's Flood and the Tower of Babel with any actual physical remains either from archaeology or geophysics has further contributed to the view that this portion of Biblical history is simply not right or not real.

Fifth, and finally, the extreme longevity credited to Biblical individuals in this period seems preposterous and innately mythological to some.[3]

The discovery of the missing millennium in 1 Kings 6:1[4] changes the outlook for studies in this period rather dramatically. It restores Biblical chronology in this period to a firm footing, enabling meaningful comparisons with secular data for the first time in modern history. The present article is built upon this new footing.


The historical narrative of the Bible which spans the fourth and fifth millennia B.C. is naturally divided by the Biblical text itself into two major periods which I will call "Pre-Flood" and "Post-Flood" (Figure 1). Noah's Flood is the event which defines the boundary between these two periods. It is thus the most significant Biblical chronometric reference point in these two millennia. A third period, "Proto-Israel", commences near the close of the fourth millennium with the entrance of Abraham into Canaan.

Figure 1: Chronology of Biblical time periods and selected events in the 4th and 5th millennia B.C.

The Date of Noah's Flood

As recently as five years ago the date of the Flood seemed a nearly intractable problem. The difficulty was that state-of-the-art Biblical chronology computations at that time yielded a date for the Flood which was simply preposterous. They placed the Flood within a few hundred years of 2500 B.C., well within the range of the known history of a number of ancient civilizations in and around Mesopotamia—civilizations whose development carried on without interruption right through this entire period.

But the study of this problem was revolutionized by the discovery that exactly 1,000 years had accidentally been dropped out of Biblical chronological computations just prior to 1000 B.C.[5] Restoration of this missing thousand years moves the Biblical date of the Flood back near 3500 B.C. where it is not only no longer preposterous, but, in fact, where it presently appears to be successfully integrating a great deal of secular historical, archaeological, and geophysical data.

It is not difficult to calculate the date of the Flood from the Bible. I have previously shown that the proper Biblical date for the beginning of the Proto-Israel period, which commences with the entrance of Abraham into Canaan, is 3092±16 B.C. Abraham's entrance appears to have followed the death of his father, Terah, in Haran (Acts 7:4), and Genesis 11:32 informs us that Terah died at 205 years of age. Thus, Terah was born (3092±16 + 205±5 =) 3297±17 B.C.[6]

To complete the calculation from the birth of Terah back to the Flood one uses the chronological data provided with the genealogy of Shem, Noah's son, in Genesis 11:10–25. It is easier to compute the span of time forward from the Flood to the birth of Terah and then add this entire span to the date of Terah's birth, than it is to work backward a generation at a time. I will follow the easier procedure below.

Arpachshad was born 2 years after the Flood (Genesis 11:10). Assuming this figure is rounded to the nearest whole year it should enter our computation as 2±0.5. Genesis 11:12 records that Arpachshad's son, Shelah, was born when Arpachshad was 35 years old. Genesis 11:14 tells us Shelah was 30 years old when Eber was born. Eber was 34 when Peleg was born (Genesis 11:16); Peleg was 30 when Reu was born (Genesis 11:18); Reu was 32 when Serug was born (Genesis 11:20); Serug was 30 when Nahor was born (Genesis 11:22); and Nahor was 29 when Terah was born (Genesis 11:24).

Adding all of these numbers together with their estimated uncertainties due to rounding yields 222±13 years as the span of time from the end of the Flood to the birth of Terah. Adding this span to the date of Terah's birth, plus 1 year for the duration of the Flood itself (Genesis 7:11; 8:13), yields 3520±21 B.C. as the date of the commencement of the Flood.

Textual Variants

Confidence in this result is somewhat shaken by textual variants. Specifically, the numbers used in this computation are all from the Masoretic text. Most of these numbers are different in both the Septuagint and the Samaritan Pentateuch (Table 1). Furthermore, the Septuagint contains an additional name, Cainan, between Arpachshad and Shelah. This additional name appears to be endorsed by Luke in his genealogy of Christ.[7]

Table 1: Variations in some of the numerical data found in Genesis 5 and 11 in the three known families of the text of the Pentateuch. (MT is Masoretic text, LXX is Septuagint, and SP is Samaritan Pentateuch.)

If one uses the Septuagint data the span of time from the Flood to the birth of Terah is extended by 750 years relative to the Masoretic data. That is, it becomes 972 years instead of 222 years. This introduces a potential alteration to the chronology of this portion of Bible history which is very large relative to the ±21 year uncertainty assigned to the date of the Flood above.

There has been much speculation as to the cause of these variations in the ancient manuscript families of the Pentateuch, but no explanation of their origin can be given with certainty. I would note, in passing, that the only numbers in Table 1 which are the same for all three textual families are the very numbers which bear the least chronological significance. The three instances in which all three textual families agree are for Noah, Shem, and Terah. In all three of these instances one does not use these numbers to carry Biblical chronology computations into earlier times. In all other cases in Table 1 the numbers given in the table must be used. This suggests that the variants have arisen through deliberate alteration to achieve some chronological purpose, rather than through a process of accidental copy errors.

If this deduction is correct, then it is possible to speculate a little further as to what that chronological purpose might have been. I suggest the purpose might have been to compensate to some degree for the loss of the "one thousand" in 1 Kings 6:1. It seems very probable that both the Septuagint and the Samaritan Pentateuch arose after the "one thousand" had been lost from the text of 1 Kings 6:1, as this loss appears to have occurred very early on in the transmission of 1 Kings. This accidental loss reduced the apparent antiquity of both the Flood and the Creation of man by 1,000 years. I suggest that while the loss of the "one thousand" from 1 Kings 6:1 was not recognized by ancient scholars—just as it has escaped the notice of scholars in modern times—it produced an obvious conflict with what was known of the history of civilization by scholars several centuries B.C. (when the Septuagint seems to have originated)—just as it does at the present time.

Putting all of this speculation together leads to the following self-consistent view. The Masoretic is the primary text. It accidentally suffered the loss of 1,000 years of real history from 1 Kings 6:1, perhaps even as early as the latter sixth century B.C. This produced an obvious conflict between what was known from secular sources of the antiquity of the Flood and of man. Both the Septuagint and Samaritan Pentateuch originators tried to alleviate this problem by considerably lengthening Biblical chronology prior to Abraham.

In any event, all speculation aside, the superiority of the Masoretic text seems generally to be acknowledged by scholars today. My work in Biblical chronology in the second and third millennia B.C. supports this appraisal.[8] Hence, it appears most reasonable to utilize the Masoretic data exclusively as the basis for calculations in these early millennia at this stage, while bearing in mind that the textual variants shown in Table 1 may possibly call for a lengthening of the chronology in the future.

By adopting the Masoretic data as the foundation of the chronology in these early millennia, I display my belief, based on my experience to the present time, that it will ultimately be found to be the best preserved and, hence, the closest to the truth. I will be looking to bring extra-Biblical chronological data to bear on this section of Biblical chronology (as is necessary in all sections of Biblical chronology) to check and correct my textual choices as necessary, of course. But I will be very surprised if the true chronology which is finally obtained after all is said and done differs by more than a few centuries from that which the Masoretic text alone presents.

Conclusion

Table 2 shows how the dates have been calculated for the events listed in the details column of the accompanying time chart (Figure 1). The Dispersion of mankind from Babel is not shown on the time chart but is included in Table 2. The calculation of this date has been discussed previously.[9]

Table 2: Primary chain of the Biblical computation, based on the Masoretic text, yielding dates for selected Biblical historical events in the fourth and fifth millennia B.C.

When it is realized that study of even the most ancient civilizations enters a pre-historical period because of an absence of written materials from those civilizations much before 3000 B.C., the history recorded in the earliest chapters of Genesis, stretching back into the fourth, fifth and even sixth millennia B.C. is seen to be of an exceedingly rare antiquity—indeed, it stands unique and alone. Unfortunately, because of its uniqueness this history is often subjected to scoffing disbelief by modern scholars. But they need to begin to exercise greater care—the most recent work in Biblical chronology has clearly shown that it is a serious error to impute one's own ignorance to the authors of the sacred text. ◇

Biblical Chronology 101

In the September 1993 issue of The Quarterly Review of Biology Professor Müller-Hill of the Institute für Genetik der Universtät zu Köln in Germany observed:[10]

In science and elsewhere there are two types of truth: (1) The truth everybody already knows, and (2) the truth that is not yet discovered. Most persons deal in science, as elsewhere, with the first type of truth. Most scientists just analyze another homologous system, and thus simply produce more of the same. The second type of truth is different. At first it looks too bizarre to be true, and it may be as dangerous as fire. If you are not clever it may destroy you.

As you know, I have been grappling with a bit of the second type of truth for the past several years. You have been patiently hearing me out as I have attempted, first in my book, A New Approach to the Chronology of Old Testament History from Abraham to Samuel, and then in this publication, to explain and defend this new discovery of a missing digit in 1 Kings 6:1. I feel I owe you some account of its reception to the present time, and it is principally the fulfillment of this obligation which I am seeking to satisfy by the present unusual article.

While it is easy in one sense to fulfill this obligation, in another sense it is extremely difficult. Rather than trying to explain why this is, I will attempt to fulfill my obligation through a historical analogy. I hope, by this means, to convey to you as accurately and fully as possible where things presently stand and why.


Toward the latter part of the first decade of the seventeenth century after Christ, a professor of mathematics in his mid-forties, Galileo Galilei, learned about a newly invented instrument which was said to make distant objects look much closer. It was a spyglass, a first primitive telescope, the earliest forms of which were not too effective, with a magnification of only three or four. Galileo quickly built his own spyglass and proceeded to make improvements on its design until he had produced a twenty-powered spyglass. He soon used this to view the moon—and he was immediately thrown into a great conflict with the wisdom of his day, and, indeed, with age-old wisdom, by what he saw.

A geocentric cosmology prevailed at the time, as it had for a very long time before. According to this view of the physical universe, the heavens were the realm of God and the earth was the realm of men. Since the heavens were the realm of God they were regarded as necessarily perfect and unchanging. And this conception included the idea that the heavenly bodies, such as the moon, were all geometrically perfect spheres.[11]

According to the then prevailing geocentric cosmology of Aristotle, the heavens were perfect and unchanging, and heavenly bodies were perfectly smooth and spherical. The large spots visible on the Moon to the naked eye were usually explained away by ad hoc devices. One could, for instance, postulate that parts of the perfectly smooth Moon absorbed and then emitted light differently from other parts.

Now I hope you do not side with the "chronological snobs" (C. S. Lewis' term, as I recall, for those who look down their noses at others who have lived before them, supposing the advancement in knowledge which they are privileged to partake of through no merit of their own is evidence of their intrinsic superiority) and regard everybody who lived back in Galileo's day as foolish for believing such things. Galileo's contemporaries were not lacking in intelligence—they were really no different than people today in that respect. Next time you are out of doors on a moonlit night take a long look at the moon with your unaided eyes, and see if you can discern any deviation from perfect smoothness in its orb. And then see how successfully you can answer the question of why God should have created the moon with the pocked and pitted surface we have learned to believe it actually possesses. The view held by Galileo's contemporaries was of very ancient and respectable lineage. It was theologically satisfying. And it was empirically attested by every person's own eyes—until Galileo sighted his spyglass on the moon and became the first man ever to behold its majestic mountains and sunken craters.

In a letter dated January 7, 1610, Galileo wrote:[12]

… it is seen that the Moon is most evidently not at all of an even, smooth, and regular surface, as a great many people believe of it and of the other heavenly bodies, but on the contrary it is rough and unequal. In short it is shown to be such that sane reasoning cannot conclude otherwise than that it is full of prominences and cavities similar, but much larger, to the mountains and valleys spread out over the Earth's surface.

Later in 1610 Galileo published his discovery in a little book called Sidereus Nuncius, together with the further startling discovery that Jupiter was orbited by four moons of its own—an observation which conflicted severely with the geocentric cosmology of his day which held that the earth was the single center of rotation in the universe. Besides this publication he worked feverishly to produce other telescopes of high quality so other scientists could check his observations. And he wrote letters and gave lectures and carried out personal visits to eminent scientists of his day replete with late-night demonstrations of his observations.

It is well known how Galileo's discoveries were ultimately received by the religious establishment of his day—how he spent the latter years of his life under house arrest. Not so well publicized is how his discoveries were treated by other scientists of his day.

In April 1610 Galileo visited an astronomer of international reputation, Giovanni Antonio Magini, bringing his spyglass with him. He evidently demonstrated the instrument for a gathering of local scholars, and allowed it to be thoroughly investigated by them. Their appraisal was chronicled a few days later by Martin Horky, a young associate of Magini, in a letter to the now famous astronomer Johannes Kepler (eight years younger than Galileo):[13]

Galileo Galilei, the mathematician of Padua, came to us in Bologna and he brought with him that spyglass through which he sees four fictitious planets [i.e., moons of Jupiter]. On the twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth of April I never slept, day and night, but tested that instrument of Galileo's in innumerable ways, in these lower [earthly] as well as the higher [realms]. On Earth it works miracles; in the heavens it deceives, for other fixed stars appear double. Thus, the following evening I observed with Galileo's spyglass the little star that is seen above the middle one of the three in the tail of the Great Bear, and I saw four very small stars nearby, just as Galileo observed about Jupiter. I have as witnesses most excellent men and most noble doctors, Antonio Roffeni, the most learned mathematician of the University of Bologna, and many others, who with me in a house observed the heavens on the same night of 25 April, with Galileo himself present. But all acknowledged that the instrument deceived. And Galileo became silent, and on the twenty-sixth, a Monday, dejected, he took his leave from Mr. Magini very early in the morning. And he gave no thanks for the favors and the many thoughts, because, full of himself, he hawked a fable. Mr. Magini provided Galileo with distinguished company, both splendid and delightful. Thus the wretched Galileo left Bologna with his spyglass on the twenty-sixth.
(To his great credit, Kepler disregarded Horky's appraisal and, true to his own nature, accepted Galileo's observations enthusiastically.)

Another glimpse into the reception of Galileo's discoveries by his peers is afforded by the following quote:[14]

[Galileo] also received many letters in which objections to his discoveries were put forward, and answering them all was a frustrating business:
It is true that their reasons for mistrust are very frivolous and childish, since they persuade themselves that I am so rash that in testing my instrument a hundred thousand times on a hundred thousand stars and other objects, I have not known, or been able to recognize, those deceptions that they think they have recognized without ever having seen the instrument; or else, that I am so stupid that without any need I have wished to compromise my reputation and to ridicule my Prince.

It is clear that Galileo's discoveries were not well received by many of the leading men of his day. We must not judge these individuals harshly in this, however, for it is too true, as Professor Müller-Hill has pointed out above, that new truth often "looks too bizarre to be true".

I do not pretend to possess the genius of a Galileo, but I have, like Galileo, had the joy of discovering something which has previously been hidden from human understanding. I have, like him, exerted myself to communicate what I have discovered, and I have, like him, had a limited reception.

It is certainly the case that the assertion that one thousand years has accidentally been dropped out of Biblical chronology just prior to the first millennium B.C. appears, at first sight, as "too bizarre to be true"; certainly it is every bit as bizarre as being told someone has seen mountains on the moon when the whole world knows the moon is perfectly smooth.

Nor do the implications of my discovery win it many friends among the learned men of our age. For many of them it entails the loss of a lifetime of work, and a deeply disturbing challenge to their long-held beliefs about the Bible, the world, and the nature of reality and the human experience.

My simple discovery necessarily obsoletes every Bible encyclopedia, every Bible dictionary, every Bible handbook, every Bible Atlas, every textbook on the Old Testament, every Bible history book, every Bible geography book, and every book on Biblical archaeology prior to the first millennium B.C. It revolutionizes our understanding of Biblical archaeology. It dramatically impacts our understanding of Biblical history. It sheds new light on secular history. It completely reverses modern scholarly assessments of the historicity of the Bible. It severely challenges naturalism, the reigning philosophical paradigm of academia. It overthrows long-standing theories of how the Old Testament came to be. It reveals that the early books of the Bible are of a rare and precious antiquity, undeserving of the brutish man-handling they have received at the hands of too many modern scholars. And because Christian theology unavoidably flows from our perception of history, it necessarily entails an abrupt discontinuity in the direction most modern theologians have been going. And because civilization, in the final analysis, is simply the tangible expression of its individuals' theology, it ultimately confronts the whole of our current culture—how we have each individually chosen to live. So I can understand the reluctance I have found, on the part of many, to accept, or even to seriously consider, what I am claiming.

I am not sure whether the reception of my new discovery has been better or worse than Galileo's was. I have had a few encouraging signals from scholars, even some of international reputation. But I have also had my share of "Horky/Bologna" experiences. At least I have not been put under house arrest yet.

But come what may, I am determined to fight on. As I see it, there is simply too much of truth at stake not to. ◇

Research in Progress

Noah's Flood:
A Global Cataclysm?

In 1961 theologian John C. Whitcomb, Jr. and engineer Henry M. Morris claimed Noah's Flood "was a gigantic catastrophe, beside which the explosion of the largest hydrogen bomb, or of hundreds of such bombs, becomes insignificant!"[15] They argued that the Biblical text and the book of nature clearly portrayed this historic event as a cataclysm—a great overwhelming geologic upheaval. They pictured the Flood as accompanied by great tectonic events, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and tidal waves which together wreaked unimaginable havoc upon the face of the globe world-wide.[16] They claimed it produced most of the layers of sedimentary rock strata which are found around the world, some of which are over a mile deep.[17]

Many Christians today have accepted this conception of the Flood. Indeed, the entire so-called creation/science movement is built around it. But is this understanding of the Flood correct? Was Noah's Flood a global cataclysm?

Biblical Indications

Whitcomb and Morris feel the Bible guarantees this view of Noah's Flood. They claim:[18]

There is no escaping the conclusion that, if the Bible is true and if the Lord Jesus Christ possessed divine omniscience, the Deluge [Noah's Flood] was the most significant event, geologically speaking, that has ever occurred on the earth since its creation.
That is a pretty strong claim. On what is it based?

While it is easy to see how one might argue that the Scriptures teach the Flood was global, it is much less obvious why one should accept they teach it was cataclysmic. It is unquestionably the case, in apparent contradiction to Whitcomb's and Morris' claim above, that Jesus is nowhere recorded in the Bible as having said the Flood "was the most significant event, geologically speaking, that has ever occurred on the earth since its creation", and He makes no mention of earthquakes, tidal waves, volcanoes, or mile-deep sediments at the time of the Flood that I have been able to find.

The Biblical historical record of Noah's Flood found in Genesis chapters 6 through 9, where one might naturally look for such teaching, also contains no explicit reference to earthquakes, volcanoes, tidal waves, or mile-deep sediments. This is a strange silence if this event was, in fact, not just accompanied by, but, indeed, characterized by such phenomena, as Whitcomb and Morris lead us to believe. The Biblical record is, after all, quite detailed, and even quantitative, regarding the water of the Flood. It tells us where the water came from, how long the rain lasted, how it lifted the ark, how deep the water became, how it covered everything in sight, how long it continued to rise, how it receded, and how long it took to dry up. Why so much detail about the water, and complete silence regarding the claimed tidal waves, earthquakes, and volcanoes?

Genesis does say that at the beginning of the Flood "all the fountains of the great deep burst open"[19], and Whitcomb and Morris make a great deal of this phrase. They say:[20]

This must mean that great quantities of liquids, perhaps liquid rocks or magmas, as well as water (probably steam), had been confined under great pressure below the surface rock structure of the earth since the time of its formation and that this mass now burst forth through great fountains, probably both on the lands and under the seas.

Why this simple phrase "must" mean this is not at all clear to me. Certainly the context of the phrase (i.e., Genesis 6–9) provides no hint of subterranean reservoirs of molten rock and steam erupting at this time—it just talks about plain, ordinary water flooding the earth.

So I find Whitcomb's and Morris' exegesis of the phrase, "all the fountains of the great deep burst open", difficult to accept. In fact, their hermeneutical approach to the entire verse seems unsound to me. Notice that they interpret "fountains of the great deep" literally—they tell us that these mean "great fountains, probably both on the lands and under the seas". But then they go on to interpret the parallel phrase, "and the floodgates of the sky were opened", which immediately follows in the same verse, metaphorically. They say:[21]

Speaking metaphorically, the Scriptures say that the "floodgates of heaven were opened".
Surely it is not sound hermeneutics to interpret the first of a set of parallel phrases literally, and the second metaphorically, is it? If the "fountains of the great deep" correspond to literal, physical fountains, shouldn't "the floodgates of the sky" correspond to literal gates blocking water behind literal, physical dams in the sky? And if the notion of literal "floodgates of the sky" seems sufficiently absurd as to demand a metaphorical interpretation, shouldn't that immediately tell us that the parallel "fountains of the great deep" should also be understood metaphorically? Wouldn't it be far more reasonable to see in these two phrases simply the idea that the water which caused the Flood came as rain from the sky and as a transgression from the sea?

In any event, this little phrase certainly seems inadequate justification of Whitcomb's and Morris' claim that "if the Bible is true and if the Lord Jesus Christ possessed divine omniscience, the Deluge was the most significant event, geologically speaking, that has ever occurred on the earth since its creation." Yet I can find precious little else in their book, The Genesis Flood, to justify this claim.

Indeed, when Whitcomb and Morris set about to finally develop their cataclysmic Flood model for their reader, they do so, not on the infallible basis of unambiguous, explicit Biblical statements, but on the very fallible basis of human inference. Under the heading "geological implications of the Biblical record" they write:[22]

The only proper place to begin this study is with the Bible record of the Flood itself. The following appear to be legitimate inferences from the account: [my emphasis]

Now I am a scientist by training, not a theologian, so I have no intention of centering this discussion on the fine points of what might or might not be inferred from the Biblical text. I only wish to establish the point that the Bible nowhere explicitly teaches that the Flood was a cataclysm. Quite plainly, the only way Whitcomb and Morris have been able to arrive at their cataclysmic Flood model is through inference.

Now the fact that the cataclysmic Flood model can be inferred from Scripture does not mean that it must or should be inferred from Scripture. It is possible, through mistaken reasoning, to infer all sorts of things from Scripture which it simply does not teach. Please note that other Christian investigators have arrived at quite different models for the Flood from their reading of Scripture. Evidently it is possible to honestly infer a variety of Flood models from Scripture—from cataclysmic to tranquil.

My point is simply this: the cataclysmic Flood model is not a Bible doctrine by any legitimate exposition of Scripture. It is a scientific model only, on the same plane as every other model of Noah's Flood which has ever been inferred from Scripture—it can legitimately claim no special supra-scientific status. And since this is the case, it is altogether proper and appropriate to submit this model to the usual rigors of scientific examination, and to declare it false—with no consequent aspersions on the divinity of Christ or the truth of the Bible—should it fail the test.

Scientific Indications

During the past five months I have been studying geophysical data collected from Elk Lake in Minnesota and recently published by The Geological Society of America.[23] I have previously pointed out that an accurate scientific model of Noah's Flood is one of the most urgent needs at the present time for harmonizing Biblical and secular chronologies of earth history prior to about 3000 B.C..[24] I entered this study hoping the Elk Lake data might help in the development of such a model—in weeding out wrong ideas and instigating new insights. I have not been disappointed.

The Elk Lake data has both weeded and instigated. In the present article I focus on the weeding. I hope to return to the instigative side of the Elk Lake data in a future issue.

The major weeding is in regard to the cataclysmic Flood model. Specifically, there is no sign of a cataclysmic flood of any sort at Elk Lake for at least the past 10,000 years. Since Biblical chronology places the Flood only a little more than 5,500 years ago,[25] the Elk Lake data falsifies the cataclysmic Flood model. This is in agreement with the conclusion arrived at previously through the study of archaeological data in the Near East[26] that Noah's Flood was not a cataclysm.

General Background

To show how this conclusion is derived some general discussion of Elk Lake is necessary. Most importantly, as usual, we must ask about the chronology of the geophysical record at Elk Lake. How is it determined? How accurate is it claimed to be? Can the claims be trusted?

Elk Lake is located in Itasca State Park in Minnesota. While its surface area (1 square kilometer, or 250 acres) is average for lakes in Minnesota, its depth is unusual. It is a very deep lake, with a 30 meter (97 foot) depression in its southeastern end today. In the past the lake was considerably deeper—laminated lake sediments have raised the bottom of the lake in the depression from an original 50 meters (160 feet) to the present 30 meters.

Edward B. Nuhfer et al. studied the processes which produce laminated sediments in the lake today.[27] They collected sediment as it settled from the overlying water column in Elk Lake. They used specially designed sediment traps equipped with a time marking device so they could record when different types of sediment settled out. The traps were placed in Elk Lake in the late seventies and early eighties.

Nuhfer et al. found that "modern laminations in Elk Lake are created by distinct seasonal processes".[28] In other words, the sediments which are accumulating at the bottom of Elk Lake today are laminated because of the yearly cycle of seasons. This comes about as follows.

In the winter the lake freezes over. The ice cover typically lasts for about five months. During this time the water in the lake does not circulate, and organic detritus mixed with precipitates of iron and manganese settles to the bottom of the lake producing a relatively thick brown layer of sediment.

In the spring, following the melting of the ice, wind-driven circulation of the lake takes place until it becomes thermally stratified. The period of circulation is variable, depending on how warm and windy the spring is. During this brief period sediment is resuspended from shallower portions of the lake, producing a layer of redeposited sediment in the deep portions of the lake. The thickness of this layer varies considerably from year to year.

Summer stratification brings stagnation once again, which persists for another four or five months. During this period the warmer temperatures in the upper water layers of the lake cause calcium carbonate to precipitate out, producing another relatively thick, distinct, characteristically light-colored sediment layer.

In the fall the warm surface layers of the lake begin to cool. This causes iron compounds to precipitate, producing a thin, reddish-colored sediment layer. Fall winds mix the lake once again, producing another redeposited layer similar in its characteristics to the spring layer.

Thus, at the present time, five sediment layers are typically produced each year in a repeating cycle (Figure 2).

The individual seasonal sediment layers also contain a biological component which exhibits a well-defined annual cyclicity. Specifically, diatoms (i.e., minute unicellular algae with silicified skeletons) live in the lake. While these are present year round, the spring and fall circulations provide them most abundantly with the essential elements they require for growth and reproduction. Thus, the sediment layers produced at these times of the year are especially rich in diatom skeletons. In fact, in some years diatom blooms can be sufficiently extensive to produce spring or fall sediment layers which are made up almost exclusively of diatom skeletons.

Each individual type of diatom has its own unique preference for temperature and other environmental factors. Thus, spring and fall diatom blooms tend to be dominated by different diatom species.

Figure 2: Idealized portion of sediment column from Elk Lake showing two years of accumulation. [Adapted from Figure 11 of E. B. Nuhfer et al. See footnote 27 for full reference.]

While a significant amount of variation in layer thickness and composition is observed at Elk Lake, there is clearly adequate information preserved within the sediments to reveal that they are indeed due to a cyclic succession of seasons throughout.

At the present time about 2 millimeters (slightly less than one tenth inch) of sediment accumulates each year. The individual seasonal layers are, therefore, about one quarter of this amount, or about one half millimeter. Nonetheless, these are easily resolved under low-power magnification, and their entrained diatoms can be easily identified using higher-power magnification.

The counting of bundles of seasonal sediment layers, corresponding to a single year, is the basis for the chronology at Elk Lake. Such "direct counting" methods[29] of chronology building are very labor intensive. Imagine the work involved in collecting cores from the bottom of the lake (done with piston corers through holes in the ice during the winter) and then processing these cores (freezing, halving, surfacing, photographing) to enable counting the 2 millimeter thick layers through 20 meters of bottom sediment!

But the work involved is well worth the final result, yielding a chronology for the core samples, and hence the sedimentary history of the lake, which exhibits both relatively high precision and long duration.

In fact, about 10,000 bundles of seasonal layers have been counted at Elk Lake from the bottom to the top of the 20 meters of sediments which have accumulated at the bottom of the lake. Said simply, Elk Lake appears to have recorded approximately 10,000 years of history in its sediments.

Can we trust this count? Several lines of independent evidence strongly combine to say yes—despite the obvious headaches this entails for the Biblical chronology issue of the date of Creation.

First, a simple computation shows that no major counting error exists. The lake is found to have about 20 meters of laminated sediment today. Annual bundles of layers, though variable in thickness from year to year, are observed to average about 2 millimeters throughout the sediment column.[30] Twenty meters divided by 2 millimeters per year does yield 10,000 years.

Second, the Elk Lake sediment count has been checked by independent researchers using independent cores. Donald R. Sprowl has compared his counts from cores obtained in 1982 and 1983 with those which Anderson et al. found, principally from cores obtained in 1978.[31] He counted a total of 10,120 annual layers top to bottom in his cores compared to 10,400 from the 1978 Anderson chronology. The difference arises principally from difficulties in preservation and recovery of the laminated sediments for measurement (e.g., loss of material between two consecutive cores), not from identification of what constitutes an annual bundle of individual laminations.

Third, tree-ring counts yield the same overall extent. The longest tree-ring chronologies available today also extend back about 10,000 years.

Fourth, and finally, radiocarbon measurements corroborate the laminated sediment counts. Anderson et al. obtained fourteen radiocarbon measurements from organic remains from within the Elk Lake sediments. They concluded that there was "essential agreement between the two methods".[32] And Sprowl and Banerjee used magnetic properties of the sediments to compare the Elk Lake direct counting chronology with radiocarbon measurements from sediments in other lakes. They concluded that their data "clearly indicate the validity of the varve [i.e., annual sedimentary bundle] counting process and suggest an overall error in the varve counts of less than 500 years."[33]

Since lake sediments, tree-rings, and radiocarbon are quite different ways of dating the past, the fact of their basic agreement reasonably precludes any significant error in the Elk Lake chronology.

Noah's Flood Not A Global Cataclysm

The global cataclysmic Flood model pictures the surface of the earth as being scoured by water and torn apart by tectonic events during the Flood. Clearly, any modest-sized lakes which existed pre-Flood would necessarily be completely obliterated by such a cataclysm. Their surrounding earth would be eroded away until they were no more, or they would rapidly be filled and covered with eroded debris until deeply buried. It is impossible, in the global cataclysmic Flood model, for Elk Lake to have existed pre-Flood without having experienced an extreme disruption at the time of the Flood.

While Elk Lake shows clear signs of changing climatic and environmental conditions through its 10,000 year history, it nowhere shows any sign of the sort of extreme disruption which a cataclysmic flood would necessarily cause. Its seasonal sedimentary layers give every indication of having accumulated one after another in a relatively undisturbed, annually repeating cycle. The Elk Lake data renders the notion of a global cataclysm anywhere during the past 10,000 years completely untenable.

We are thus faced with the fact that either Noah's Flood was not a global cataclysm, or Noah's Flood took place more than 10,000 years ago. The obvious next question is, "Is it possible for Noah's Flood to have occurred more than 10,000 years ago?"

The Date of Noah's Flood

There is only one way to date Noah's Flood at present. One must use Biblical chronology. When one does so using sound Biblical chronology procedures, one finds that the Biblical date for the Flood is about 3500 B.C.[34] This date is only 5,500 years ago—a full 4,500 years short of 10,000 years ago.

Now the process of deducing calendrical dates using Biblical data is a human enterprise, and, as such, it is not infallible. Even though the doctrine of Biblical inerrency assures us that the autographs of the Biblical text itself were error-free we must still deal with questions of textual preservation, and even if we had the autographs we would still need to consider questions of interpretation of the text which often arise in the process of computing a date from Scripture. For example, should "begot" (King James Version) in Genesis 5 and 11 be understood to imply direct descent, father to son, or might it allow one or more generations to be skipped occasionally? Human fallibility renders it impossible to guarantee that 3500 B.C. is an accurate date for the Flood.

Having said this, however, one must also face the fact that the Bible most certainly does not leave the question of the date of the Flood open to wanton speculation. It does give chronological data which give every indication of having been given so we might be able to date the Flood. Thus, while it is inappropriate to try to assign infallibility to specific dates which have been calculated using Biblical chronological data, it is entirely appropriate to ask what range of dates the text of Scripture reasonably allows for any given event.

When we ask this question in regard to the Flood—taking everything we know about the science of Biblical chronology at present into consideration—we find that it would be very surprising if the true date of the Flood differed from 3500 B.C. by more than a few hundred years, and really quite shocking if it differed by as much as a thousand years. Note that Biblical chronology checks with secular chronologies back to 3000 B.C. at least—as practically every issue of The Biblical Chronologist has shown in one way or another.[35] Thus, to accommodate an additional 4,500 years back to the Flood, one would need to find room somewhere for all this additional time in just the interval of history between Noah and Abraham. This would require the insertion of an additional eight centuries which the text does not mention for every one hundred years which it does mention.

One may safely conclude that Biblical chronology will not admit a displacement of the date of the Flood to 10,000 years ago. The idea that 3500 B.C., the Biblically derived date of the Flood, might be inaccurate by 4,500 years or more is simply unreasonable.


Was Noah's Flood a global cataclysm? Sedimentary data from Elk Lake combine with chronological data from the Bible to say no. ◇

The Biblical Chronologist is a bimonthly subscription newsletter about Biblical chronology. It is written and edited by Gerald E. Aardsma, a Ph.D. scientist (nuclear physics) with special background in radioisotopic dating methods such as radiocarbon. The Biblical Chronologist has a threefold purpose:

  1. to encourage, enrich, and strengthen the faith of conservative Christians through instruction in Biblical chronology,

  2. to foster informed, up-to-date, scholarly research in this vital field within the conservative Christian community, and

  3. to communicate current developments and discoveries in Biblical chronology in an easily understood manner.

An introductory packet containing three sample issues and a subscription order form is available for $9.95 US regardless of destination address. Send check or money order in US funds and request the "Intro Pack."

The Biblical Chronologist (ISSN 1081-762X) is published six times a year by Aardsma Research & Publishing, 412 N Mulberry, Loda, IL 60948-9651.

Copyright © 1996 by Aardsma Research & Publishing. Photocopying or reproduction strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher.

Footnotes

  1. ^  Gerald E. Aardsma, "Chronology of the Bible: 3000–1000 B.C.," The Biblical Chronologist 1.3 (May/June 1995): 1–3.

  2. ^  Gerald E. Aardsma, A New Approach to the Chronology of Biblical History from Abraham to Samuel, 2nd ed. (Loda IL: Aardsma Research and Publishing, 1993).

  3. ^  This deduction, though widespread, is rather curious. Science is certainly unable to rule out the possibility of greater life spans in the past. Decades of research on the question of why humans age has still yielded no definitive result. (See, for example, Ricki L. Rusting, "Why Do We Age?" Scientific American (December 1992): 130–141.) And some researchers involved in the quest to understand the causes of aging are openly envisioning a time in the near future when life spans will be greatly increased as a result of advances in their field. These researchers obviously do not find the idea of greater life spans an intrinsically impossible or ridiculous one.

  4. ^  Gerald E. Aardsma, A New Approach to the Chronology of Biblical History from Abraham to Samuel, 2nd ed. (Loda IL: Aardsma Research and Publishing, 1993).

  5. ^  Gerald E. Aardsma, A New Approach to the Chronology of Biblical History from Abraham to Samuel, 2nd ed. (Loda IL: Aardsma Research and Publishing, 1993).

  6. ^  Out of the seventeen age-related numbers found in Genesis 11:10–26, eight end in 0. This suggests the possibility that some of the numbers may have been rounded to the nearest decade. However, not all of the numbers end with 0 so it is clear that they have not all been rounded in this way. Nonetheless, rather than trying to reconstruct how much each number may have been rounded, I will follow the simple, uniform procedure of assuming a half-decade uncertainty in all of the father's ages used in this computation. This will not alter the computed absolute date of the Flood, of course. It will simply overestimate the total uncertainty due to round-off by a small amount.

  7. ^  Luke 3:23–38. Verse 36 contains the reference to Cainan.

  8. ^  See, for example, Gerald E. Aardsma, "Chronology of the Bible: 3000–1000 B.C.," The Biblical Chronologist 1.3 (May/June 1995): 2.

  9. ^  Gerald E. Aardsma, "Research in Progress," The Biblical Chronologist 1.4 (July/August 1995): 8–9.

  10. ^  Benno Müller-Hill, "Science, Truth, and Other Values," The Quarterly Review of Biology 68.3 (September 1993): 399.

  11. ^  Galileo Galilei, Sidereus Nuncius, translated with introduction, conclusion, and notes by Albert Van Helden (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1989), 10–11.

  12. ^  Galileo Galilei, Sidereus Nuncius, translated with introduction, conclusion, and notes by Albert Van Helden (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1989), 11.

  13. ^  Galileo Galilei, Sidereus Nuncius, translated with introduction, conclusion, and notes by Albert Van Helden (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1989), 92–93. The italicized words in square brackets are mine, non-italicized words in square brackets are in the original.

  14. ^  Galileo Galilei, Sidereus Nuncius, translated with introduction, conclusion, and notes by Albert Van Helden (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1989), 100.

  15. ^  John C. Whitcomb, Jr. and Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Flood (Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1961), 242–243.

  16. ^  John C. Whitcomb, Jr. and Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Flood (Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1961), 122–123, 261, 264–265, 268–269, 271.

  17. ^  John C. Whitcomb, Jr. and Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Flood (Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1961), 123, 265–266, 268–272.

  18. ^  John C. Whitcomb, Jr. and Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Flood (Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1961), 216.

  19. ^  Genesis 7:11

  20. ^  John C. Whitcomb, Jr. and Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Flood (Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1961), 122.

  21. ^  John C. Whitcomb, Jr. and Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Flood (Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1961), 120.

  22. ^  John C. Whitcomb, Jr. and Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Flood (Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1961), 120

  23. ^  J. Platt Bradbury and Walter E. Dean, ed., Elk Lake, Minnesota: Evidence for Rapid Climate Change in the North-Central United States (Boulder: The Geological Society of America, Inc., 1993).

  24. ^  Gerald E. Aardsma, "Biblical Chronology 101," The Biblical Chronologist 1.6 (November/December 1995): 10.

  25. ^  Gerald E. Aardsma, "Chronology of the Bible: 5000–3000 B.C.," The Biblical Chronologist 2.4 (July/August 1996): 1–5.

  26. ^  Gerald E. Aardsma, "Research in Progress," The Biblical Chronologist 1.4 (July/August 1995): 10.

  27. ^   Edward B. Nuhfer, Roger Y. Anderson, J. Platt Bradbury, and Walter E. Dean, "Modern Sedimentation in Elk Lake, Clearwater County, Minnesota," Elk Lake, Minnesota: Evidence for Rapid Climate Change in the North-Central United States, ed. J. Platt Bradbury and Walter E. Dean (Boulder: The Geological Society of America, Inc., 1993) 75–96.

  28. ^  Edward B. Nuhfer, Roger Y. Anderson, J. Platt Bradbury, and Walter E. Dean, "Modern Sedimentation in Elk Lake, Clearwater County, Minnesota," Elk Lake, Minnesota: Evidence for Rapid Climate Change in the North-Central United States, ed. J. Platt Bradbury and Walter E. Dean (Boulder: The Geological Society of America, Inc., 1993), 93.

  29. ^  Other examples of direct counting methods include tree-ring and ice layer counting.

  30. ^  Roger Y. Anderson, J. Platt Bradbury, Walter E. Dean, and Minze Stuiver, "Chronology of Elk Lake Sediments: Coring, Sampling, and Time-series Construction," Elk Lake, Minnesota: Evidence for Rapid Climate Change in the North-Central United States, ed. J. Platt Bradbury and Walter E. Dean (Boulder: The Geological Society of America, Inc., 1993), 38 (Figure 1).

  31. ^  Donald R. Sprowl, "On the Precision of the Elk Lake Varve Chronology," Elk Lake, Minnesota: Evidence for Rapid Climate Change in the North-Central United States, ed. J. Platt Bradbury and Walter E. Dean (Boulder: The Geological Society of America, Inc., 1993) 69–74.

  32. ^  Roger Y. Anderson, J. Platt Bradbury, Walter E. Dean, and Minze Stuiver, "Chronology of Elk Lake Sediments: Coring, Sampling, and Time-series Construction," Elk Lake, Minnesota: Evidence for Rapid Climate Change in the North-Central United States, ed. J. Platt Bradbury and Walter E. Dean (Boulder: The Geological Society of America, Inc., 1993) 40.

  33. ^  Donald R. Sprowl and Subir K. Banerjee, "Geologic Implications of the Elk Lake Paleomagnetic Record," Elk Lake, Minnesota: Evidence for Rapid Climate Change in the North-Central United States, ed. J. Platt Bradbury and Walter E. Dean (Boulder: The Geological Society of America, Inc., 1993) 161.

  34. ^  Gerald E. Aardsma, "Chronology of the Bible: 5000–3000 B.C.," The Biblical Chronologist 2.4 (July/August 1996): 1–5.

  35. ^  See, for example, Gerald E. Aardsma, "Mount Sodom Confirms Missing Millennium," The Biblical Chronologist 1.1 (January/February 1995): 1–4.


Volume 2, Number 5September/October 1996

"Pharaohs and Kings"
A Biblical Quest?

A new book about the chronology of the ancient world in relation to the Bible has recently appeared on the market. Pharaohs and Kings: A Biblical Quest[1] is a well illustrated volume of 425 pages. It is not intended as a scholarly volume; its author, David Rohl, tells us plainly that it is "intended as a 'popular book' ".[2]

The publisher has obviously aimed to capture a large number of conservative Christian sales. The thesis of the book—a major revision of ancient chronology—is presented to the lay public as a new discovery which proves the Bible is true in the face of scholarly skepticism. Unfortunately, having examined the book over the course of several months, I find that it does no such thing, and that the perspective of the book is not conservative Christian.

The front flap of the dust cover of the book states,

Ever since excavations in the Lands of the Bible began at the beginning of the last century, biblical scholars have systematically stripped out elements of the narratives—the stories of Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Saul, David, and Solomon—and consigned them to the realms of myth and folklore.
This is true enough. I hope you understand by now why the scholars who have done so are wrong. (If you don't, please read my book and the previous issues of this publication.[3]) The flap goes on to inform us that the author of Pharaohs and Kings has made a new discovery which "reveals the true historical setting of the biblical epics".

The wording here is rather ambiguous. To the conservative Christian, who believes the Bible is simply, historically true, it seems to say that the author will show that the Old Testament historical narratives are true, in contradiction to the skeptical scholar. But please note that this wording is equally acceptable to the liberal. The liberal believes the Bible contains some kernel of historical truth, but that it is all encrusted about with myth and unreliable tradition. To the liberal the phrase, "the true historical setting", is a reference not to Biblical historicity, but to the kernel of truth for which he endlessly searches. And "the biblical epics" are not the moving, majestic, true stories from the past which God has preserved for our instruction in the Bible, but rather the supposed semi-mythological tales about the past found in the Old Testament.

Such wording offers clear marketing advantages—nobody gets offended, and everybody buys a copy. However, it also creates some confusion regarding the book's true perspective and purpose.

Unfortunately, it is not possible to shrug this off as a mere marketing technique on the part of the publisher. When we open the volume and begin to read inside, we discover the author using the same basic come-on and exhibiting the same duplicity of viewpoints.

Rohl brings what is certainly the key issue today to the forefront in the second sentence of his introduction. He asks:[4]

Simply put, is the early Old Testament real history or just legend?
This question is phrased the way a conservative Christian would ask it. For the conservative, it is an all or nothing issue whether the Old Testament is historically true. The conservative realizes that to convict the Bible of falsehood at any point, including most especially any point of historical fact, is to destroy the doctrine of the divine inspiration of Scripture, since God cannot lie. And accompanying the loss of inspiration will also be the loss of Biblical inerrency. The conservative Christian is well aware that an errant, man-made book which passes itself off as a God-breathed book is hardly an intelligent place to rest one's faith. So to the conservative, the issue is all or nothing.

The issue is quite different with the liberal. He has already convinced himself that the Bible contains historical and other types of errors, and has somehow reconciled his faith to this notion. (I know of no logical way of doing so.) But since he regards Scripture as an admixture of truth and error, he would be expected to pose this question as, "Simply put, does the early Old Testament contain real history or just legend?"

The way Rohl has, in fact, worded this introductory question rings conservative, not liberal. So it is with some surprise that we find him, one page later, using the following language (I have provided the italics for emphasis):[5]

Perhaps I should explain, therefore, how the writing of this book came about and what it was that originally triggered off my quest to find a more promising synthesis between archaeology and the historical kernel of the stories contained in the Bible.
Now this "historical kernel" phrase is pure liberal parlance, as discussed above. Clearly there is a confusing duplicity evident here.

But the smoke clears as we continue to read.

According to the conservative Christian view history is a simple, single reality—it is simply what happened in the past. The author of Pharaohs and Kings, David Rohl, tells us something entirely different. He says, "History is not a simple, single reality but a complex, living response to the evidence of our own past."[6] In other words, history, according to the author, is not what actually happened in real time and space in the past; rather, history is the perception of the past we imagine in our own heads. History is a "response" rather than a "reality".

Such notions are diagnostic of relativism and theological liberalism—they are foreign to the Bible and to conservative Christianity. Please note, for example, that it makes an enormous difference to true Christianity whether Jesus' death and resurrection are just a subjective, imaginative "response" to some misconstrued historical evidence, or a simple reality, accomplished on our behalf outside Jerusalem two thousand years ago.[7]

Conservative Christianity also regards the Old Testament historical narrative as simply true history. Rohl clearly regards it otherwise. Here is a sample of Rohl's approach to Scripture. In the early portion of 2 Samuel 10 we read about the shameful treatment of David's ambassadors who were sent to the court of Hanun, the Ammonite king. Verses 4 and 5 record:

So Hanun took David's servants and shaved off half of their beards, and cut off their garments in the middle as far as their hips, and sent them away. When they told it to David, he sent to meet them, for the men were greatly humiliated. And the king said, "Stay at Jericho until your beards grow, and then return."

Rohl wishes to identify this account with some archaeological remains—specifically, a "substantial building" found on top of the mound of ancient Jericho—to help in his effort to corroborate his revised chronology of the ancient world. Rohl feels these remains probably date (according to his reconstruction of ancient chronology) to the reign of David. He further notes that the building seems to have been abandoned shortly after it was constructed. This fits the Biblical account (after a fashion)—clearly David's ambassadors only stayed at Jericho temporarily.

But if we assume the building was abandoned shortly after it was built because David's ambassadors no longer needed it, this implies that it must have been built specially for David's ambassadors. But this doesn't fit the Biblical account very well—clearly, the ambassadors' beards would have grown out again, removing their embarrassment and enabling them to return to the court of David, long before the construction of a "substantial building" could possibly be completed.

How does Rohl get around this problem? He does so by labeling this portion of Scripture a "strange folktale".[8]

It is necessary for Rohl to do this to preserve his desired match between this Biblical passage and the archaeological remains at Jericho of course. If it is a "strange folktale" then Rohl is free to pick out those portions of the account which seem favorable to his desired match—these must be the kernel of truth—while rejecting as later accretions those portions which are not favorable. But by so doing Rohl clearly reveals his liberal approach to Scripture.

There is a degree of hypocrisy about all of this. Is it not obvious that Rohl has done the same sort of thing the flap of the dust cover of the book seemed to condemn? Is it not apparent that he too has "stripped out elements of the narratives… and consigned them to the realms of myth and folklore"?

Rohl apparently hopes to rally conservative Christians to his cause as he affronts every scholar of ancient history and every radiocarbon and tree-ring scientist (see below) in the world with his new chronology. But the motivation for his rebellion against the accumulated wisdom of centuries of chronological research is not that he might demonstrate to the world that the Bible is simply, historically true after all. Rather, it appears to be simply that he might be the one to tell us which parts of the Bible are false.

Preliminary Assessment

But let me now leave this unmasking of the book's perspective and purpose and move on to the question of the merit of its proposed new synthesis of Biblical and archaeological data.

When a subscriber and friend kindly sent me a copy of Rohl's book several months ago, I did precisely what I have previously instructed you to do.[9] I was aware, from the letters I had received from various subscribers, that an individual whom I had never previously heard of, David Rohl, was proposing a new chronology of ancient Egypt through a large, well illustrated book and accompanying television production. These letters had informed me that Rohl claimed this new chronology harmonized some elements of the Biblical narrative with the history of ancient Egypt. I knew, in short, that Rohl was proposing a new harmonization of a portion of the Biblical and secular accounts of earth history.

Recall that in such instances I have advised:[10]

So before you bother to wade into yet another supposed synthesis of Biblical and secular historical data, ask yourself these simple questions:
  1. Does this author have a positive and respectful attitude toward Biblical, secular historical, and physical (such as radiocarbon) chronological data?

  2. Does this author give chronological data, of all sorts, precedence in his reconstruction of history (as opposed to the presentation of a mass of historical facts)?

  3. Does this author exhibit knowledge of and competence in handling chronological data of all sorts?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, wade in only if you enjoy reading historical fiction.

I began my investigation of Pharaohs and Kings with question one above, and I decided to check Rohl's attitude toward radiocarbon first. My reason for this was that I knew the standard Egyptian chronology had been independently checked and confirmed by radiocarbon. The only discrepancy between the two which is known at present is a three century offset during the Old Kingdom.[11] So Rohl would need to overturn not only the historical chronology of Egypt but also the radiocarbon chronology which derives from physical dates of Egyptian artifacts for his new chronology to succeed.

So as soon as I had a copy of Rohl's book in my hands I looked in the index under "radiocarbon" and found, somewhat surprisingly… nothing. I next looked under "C-14", and this time I was referred to Appendix C. There I read:[12]

Needless to say, in this book I have produced a chronology which is in direct conflict with modern calibrated high precision radiocarbon dates. As a result, I am obliged to give a short account of the reasons why I, and others, currently reject calibrated C-14 as a dating method.

To avoid becoming sidetracked, we must lay Rohl's concerns about radiocarbon (C-14) aside for the moment—I discuss the value of radiocarbon and its significance relative to Rohl's chronology below. The important point at present is that it is clear that this author does not have a positive attitude toward radiocarbon chronological data, and hence, question one above must be answered in the negative.

I then noticed the following note to Appendix C in the "Notes and References" section:[13]

This appendix is based on a JACF paper written by B. Newgrosh in 1992; I am grateful to Dr. Newgrosh for his kind permission to republish the arguments here in abbreviated form.

Since Appendix C is the only place any discussion of radiocarbon appears, and since not even this discussion is due to Rohl, I must conclude that Rohl does not exhibit very much knowledge of radiocarbon data or competence in handling it. Thus, question three above must also be answered in the negative.

(I should probably also add that I could find no legitimate substance to the complaints raised against radiocarbon in Appendix C; that I have never previously heard of Dr. Newgrosh; that JACF stands for "Journal of Ancient Chronology Forum" which I have never previously run across; and that David Rohl himself was, according to the back flap of the dust cover of Pharaohs and Kings, editor of this journal, in which Dr. Newgrosh's 1992 paper appeared, "from 1986 to 1992".)

Finally, Pharaohs and Kings is certainly dominated by a mass of historical facts, not chronological data. So the second question above must also be answered in the negative.

Having answered all three questions with a decided no, it appeared highly unlikely that Rohl's book was the marvelous new discovery it was claimed to be. Rather, it was, almost certainly, merely another example of the popular "pseudo-harmonization" phenomenon I have previously discussed.[14]


I have now explored Pharaohs and Kings from cover to cover. I have discovered nothing in it to alter my preliminary assessment, and much which confirms it. Pharaohs and Kings is a fine example of the historical delusions one is easily made prey to when legitimate chronological constraints are removed from any discussion of historical facts and archaeological artifacts.

Rohl's New Chronology

Figure 1 shows the heart of Rohl's new chronology as it is unveiled for us in Part Three of Pharaohs and Kings. What I have shown in the "Rohl" column is admittedly a little sparse, but this results from the fact that I could not find a comprehensive, quantitative statement in Rohl's book for this portion of his new chronology.

Figure 1: A portion of Rohl's new chronology of Egypt relative to the chronology of the Bible and standard Egyptian chronology. Dashed lines show the greater than three centuries relocation of the portion of Egyptian history displayed which Rohl's new chronology calls for.

Rohl says we should equate a military venture of Ramesses II to Jerusalem in his eighth regnal year with the military venture of the Biblical Shishak who, according to 2 Chronicles 12:1–9, plundered Jerusalem in Rehoboam's fifth year. Rohl specifies the date of this event as 925 B.C.[15] I have used this time reference to place the beginning of the reign of Ramesses II on the time chart in the "Rohl" column. Rohl concurs with the generally accepted sixty-seven year reign for Ramesses II.[16] I have used this length of reign to place the end of the reign of Ramesses II on the chart.

Next, I have used the dates for Ay which Rohl specifies on page 241 to place this pharaoh on the time chart. Rohl gives the beginning of Ay's reign as 995 B.C. Rohl has calculated forward in time from a supposed astronomical anchor point in 1012 B.C. to get this date for Ay. He gives the date for the end of Ay's reign as 990 B.C. followed by a '?' and the note "(exact length of reign unknown)". I have used 990 B.C. on the time chart as the best visual approximation to Rohl's thinking at present.

I have been unable to find any specific dates for Horemheb, Ramesses I, or Sethos I in Rohl's new chronology, so I have not shown them on the time chart. Rohl does state that Horemheb and Sethos I should be regarded as contemporaries of Solomon, and Horemheb's early reign should be regarded as overlapping with David's reign.[17] So he seems to be preserving the order that scholars believe these pharaoh's reigned in (i.e., Ay, Horemheb, Ramesses I, Sethos I, and Ramesses II).

While Figure 1 is far from a complete illustration of Rohl's new chronology, it is sufficient to show that Rohl is calling for a reduction of some 330 to 350 years in the late second millennium B.C. chronology of Egypt. This is a very large alteration relative to accepted dating uncertainties for this portion of the Egyptian historical chronology. Scholars would probably be loath to grant even a tenth of this amount.

But rather than appeal to scholarly authority, let us make our appeal directly to the factual evidence. Can any independent, objective chronological data be brought to bear on Rohl's new proposal? Is there any way one can tell whether Ramesses II should be placed near 1250 B.C., as standard scholarship claims, or near 900 B.C. as Rohl claims?

Yes. Radiocarbon dating.

Radiocarbon and Rohl's New Chronology

Radiocarbon dating has been the target of much adverse propaganda by a few Christian groups. It has been targeted because it conflicts with their own reconstructions of earth history which they have inferred from their reading of Scripture coupled with their understanding of science.

I doubt there is anyone in the world today who has looked more seriously, carefully, and sympathetically at what these groups have said about radiocarbon than I have. And in every case I have found their complaints to be simply specious.[18]

In actual fact, modern, tree-ring calibrated radiocarbon dating offers some tremendous advantages to the student of earth history (which includes every true student of the Bible), not the least of which is its independent assessment of chronological questions. I do not wish you to suppose that radiocarbon is a panacea for all chronological conundrums, for it most certainly isn't. It does have limitations and it must be handled competently and intelligently to yield reliable, high precision results—as is true of every tool which has ever been devised for the measurement of anything. But the important point is that radiocarbon is another tool for measuring elapsed time (and experience has shown we need all the help we can get in dating past events), it is independent of historically constructed chronologies, and it does yield reliable results when properly applied.

Radiocarbon cannot, so far, be used to construct its own, complete chronology of Egypt. One would need a much larger quantity of datable samples whose historical placement was precisely known than are presently available—at least one from the reign of every pharaoh of Egypt, for example. And radiocarbon lacks the precision to give a year by year chronology in any event. Radiocarbon can typically only pin the date of a second millennium B.C. sample down to within plus or minus about fifty years at best. So at the present time, historical records provide the only means of constructing a detailed chronology for Egypt.

But radiocarbon can be used very effectively to help choose between two historically derived chronologies, A and B, as in the present case. Here we are asked to choose between two historically derived chronologies of Egypt. They may both be wrong, but they cannot both be correct, since history, in fact, happened in only one way.

The design of the test in such cases is very simple. Samples are located which are known to derive from the period of history in question. They are then dated using radiocarbon. If the radiocarbon dates agree with chronology A of this period of history and disagree with chronology B then we have reasonable and objective grounds for accepting chronology A in preference to chronology B. Note that chronology A must be sufficiently different from chronology B for radiocarbon to be of any help. In the present case the separation between the two chronologies in question is 330 to 350 years, which is sufficient for radiocarbon to yield a definitive result.

The period of history involved in the present dispute involves the pharaohs from Ay to Ramesses II. Have any samples from this period of Egyptian history been radiocarbon dated? Yes. Let me elaborate.

Ramesses II is distinguished by the many buildings and monuments which have come down to the present from his reign. One such building, or complex of buildings, is the Ramesseum, the funerary temple of Ramesses II. The Ramesseum is well known today for its beautiful architecture and rich archaeological and historical remains.

A sample of reed matting was collected from the Ramesseum by G. T. Martin in the late sixties. It was subsequently radiocarbon dated in the laboratory of Rainer Berger at the University of California, Los Angeles. The sample is described as follows by Berger:[19]

Remains of reed matting used as bonding between mud-brick courses of storage magazine in northeastern corner of Ramesseum enclosures at Thebes, the funerary temple of Ramesses II of the XIX dynasty. Martin emphasizes that the sample originated from within the Ramesseum enclosure and was archaeologically well sealed.

Reeds are a preferred sample for radiocarbon dating because they grow in a single year and are likely to be used in the year they are cut. Thus they do not pose the interpretive puzzles which sometimes attach to wood, which may have grown (and thus yield a date) centuries before its use in the structure one wishes to date.

The fact that "the sample originated from within the Ramesseum enclosure" is stressed because it is important that the sample be part of the Ramesseum to ensure that it was built during the reign of Ramesses II. It is the date of this reign, after all, and not just the date of construction of the building from which the reeds were taken, which is our ultimate goal.

The note that the sample was "archaeologically well sealed" is provided to emphasize that the reeds were part of the original building, and not some later repair. Funerary temples could be maintained and repaired over the course of many centuries, so it is important to be careful to date samples which are known to be part of the original construction if one wishes to date the reign of the pharaoh who originally had the temple built.

Berger obtained an average conventional (uncalibrated) radiocarbon age of 3075±60 years BP for this sample. To convert this to calendar years, one must use a tree-ring calibration procedure since "radiocarbon years" are not equal to calendar years. I will get to this in a minute.

First, however, I want to note that another piece of this same sample of reeds from the Ramesseum was independently dated by another laboratory. The British Museum obtained a conventional radiocarbon date of 2940±100 years BP for this sample.[20]

Notice that the results of the two labs are in agreement within their specified measurement uncertainties. Radiocarbon obviously can (and routinely does) give reproducible results.

To convert these measurements from radiocarbon years to calendar years it is necessary to use a calibration table. This is a table which has been constructed by measuring the radiocarbon age of precisely dated tree-rings. The necessary table is available in computer compatible format today, which greatly facilitates the conversion of "radiocarbon years" to true calendar years. I have used the program called CALIB 3.0.3 to carry out the necessary calibration.

Figure 2 shows the output from this program for the two samples of the reed matting. I have averaged the two samples (CALIB 3.0.3 provides a convenient utility for doing this) to obtain the most accurate result. The computer has calculated a probability curve corresponding to the average radiocarbon date of the two samples. The higher this curve goes, the more probable it is that the reeds grew at that time.

Figure 2: Probability curve (from CALIB 3.0.3) for date of reed mat samples from the Ramesseum. The higher the curve, the more probable it is that the reeds grew at that date. Two samples were radiocarbon dated by independent laboratories. The sixty-seven year reign of Ramesses II is shown between vertical lines for the standard chronology of Egypt and also for Rohl's chronology. The probability that the reeds grew (and hence that the Ramesseum was constructed) anywhere during the dates which Rohl's chronology specifies for Ramesses II is seen to be essentially zero.

For the present purpose it is not necessary to consider the details of this curve. It is only necessary to know that the area under the curve corresponds to a total probability of 1 (or 100%), and to notice that the entire curve lies within the interval from 1500 to 1000 B.C. Thus, the probability that these reeds grew at some date outside the interval from 1500 to 1000 B.C. is essentially zero.

I have plotted the date range of the reign of Ramesses II as it is given by the modern standard chronology of Egypt, and also as it is given by Rohl's new chronology, on the graph. It is clear that the calendar date range which radiocarbon yields for this sample of reeds from the Ramesseum corroborates the standard chronology and testifies against Rohl's chronology.

Experience has shown that it is a little dangerous to rely on just a single sample for such determinations. Unexpected things can happen. For example, cases have been documented where two samples have accidentally been switched, either when they were collected or later in the laboratory. So prudence calls for another, independent, check.

For this purpose I have used a sample which is described as follows:[21]

Chopped straw from mud-plaster from E end of S wall of First Court of Tomb of Horemheb. Wall was surfaced with limestone blocks decorated with reliefs depicting scenes in career of tomb owner; plaster must be contemporary with building of tomb.
The radiocarbon date for this sample was measured to be 3032±57 radiocarbon years. Figure 3 shows the output of CALIB 3.0.3 for this sample. Once again the standard chronology is corroborated, and Rohl's new chronology is contradicted.

Figure 3: Probability curve (from CALIB 3.0.3) for the date of a straw sample from Horemheb's tomb as determined using radiocarbon dating. The higher the curve, the more probable it is that the straw grew at that date. The reign of Horemheb is shown between vertical lines for the standard chronology, and the beginning of the reign of Horemheb is shown for Rohl's chronology. The probability that the straw grew (and hence that Horemheb's tomb was constructed) anywhere during the dates which Rohl's chronology specifies for Horemheb is seen to be essentially zero.

It is possible to confirm these results many times over using additional samples. For example, a number of samples from the tombs of officials closely related to the reign of Ramesses II have been dated.[22] These all tell the same story as the samples I have shown above. Radiocarbon unequivocally says that Rohl's chronology is false.

Conclusion

I have discussed my findings relative to Pharaohs and Kings in some detail here, not because I think Pharaohs and Kings is especially deserving of discussion, but only because it is fresh off the press and is, therefore, the most current illustration of matters we have recently discussed in The Biblical Chronologist regarding pseudo-harmonization schemes.[23] Pharaohs and Kings is not unique; there are many similar pseudo-harmonization schemes, all of which are indefensible from a chronological perspective.

The abundance of such schemes can seem very confusing and discouraging to the lay person. They can easily lead one to despair of ever getting to the truth about history. But the existence of counterfeits only serves to accentuate the value of that which is being imitated. Press on. Pseudo-harmonizations are not that hard to spot once you have studied two or three of them. They share a disrespect for objective chronological data—either Biblical, secular historical, or physical (such as radiocarbon). (Indeed they must do so, for correct chronology is the death-knell of all pseudo-harmonizations.) They also generally share a showy display of historical and archaeological data or other such apparently confirming evidence. But their procedure is to give precedence to such data without proper regard to chronology, and then to concoct their own "chronology" to suit their "historical reconstruction". Finally, quite often the inventors of pseudo-harmonization schemes display little or no ability in handling chronological data. Learn to look for these symptoms and you will save yourself much headache and confusion.

Chronology is the backbone of history. I cannot emphasize too strongly that it is imperative to get the chronology of history right if one hopes to understand history correctly. This is tacitly shown by the Bible's own careful provision of chronological data accompanying its narrative of the earth's earliest ages. The only way we can hope to understand the Bible's history of these early ages correctly is by adhering to the Bible's own chronology of that history. Furthermore, the only way we can hope to correctly understand extra-Biblical data bearing on the Biblical account of earth history is by getting their chronology right. And all of this demands that chronological data of all types be held in high esteem, and that they be given precedence over all other factors in our attempts to reconstruct and comprehend history.

David Rohl, like many before him, has not followed this imperative. In inevitable consequence, Pharaohs and Kings contributes nothing of truth to the quest to properly understand Biblical history relative to extra-Biblical data. ◇

Readers Write

More on Imhotep

In the Volume 2, Number 3 issue of The Biblical Chronologist I published two letters from readers dealing with the matter of whether the Egyptian vizier named Imhotep might be the same person as the Biblical Joseph. The first letter was from Mrs. Beverly Neises. She listed several apparent difficulties with the identification. She noted that Egyptian historical sources record that Imhotep's father was an architect, which Jacob was not, and that Imhotep constructed sanctuaries of stone for the pagan gods of Egypt, which she felt was inconsistent with the character of Joseph which is revealed in the Bible. The second letter was from Mr. Thomas Godfrey in support of the identification. He pointed out a striking phonetic similarity between the Egyptian name, Imhotep, and the Hebrew name, Joseph.

Mr. Godfrey wrote me with a number of comments on Mrs. Neises' letter, after reading it in the Volume 2, Number 3 issue. I forwarded his letter, with his permission, to Mrs. Neises for her further comments. Both letters are published below.

The principal limitation which emerges from the two letters is that the Egyptian historical sources which tell us about Imhotep and his parentage date very much later than when Imhotep actually lived. The monument on which the claim that Imhotep's father was an architect is found was built nearly two and a half thousand years after the time of Imhotep, for example. This raises obvious concerns regarding the historical accuracy of this inscription.

The two letters raise many other interesting points as well, so I have chosen to publish them below in only slightly abridged form.


Dear Dr. Aardsma,

We can all agree that no one has proven, beyond any shadow of doubt, that Joseph, the son of Jacob and Rachel, is the same man as Imhotep, the vizier of Pharaoh Djoser, but I have not yet seen any evidence against the identification strong enough to rule out that possibility. The contrary evidence Mrs. Neises presented appears very weak to me, but perhaps it will prove to be stronger than I realize.

Although Fakhry (1961: 4) does state as a fact that the father of Imhotep was an architect, the only basis for this claim seems to be the monument erected by Khnum-ib-re in the Wadi Hammamat (Hurry, 1928: 193; Fakhry, 1961: 24-26) and mentioned by Mrs. Neises. This single testimony might merit our full confidence if erected during or near the time of Imhotep by a witness in a position to know the truth. As it is, however, we have ample justification for skepticism about its accuracy. Since practically every ancestor of Khnum-ib-re listed on the monument is said to be an architect, Khnum-ib-re was evidently intent on advertising his credentials and heritage. Yet the difference between the date of about 500 B.C. attributed to the monument and the date of the birth of Imhotep (Hurry, 1928: 4) indicates that the average gap between the twenty-five men listed was slightly more than 100 years, so we must conclude the list was at least incomplete if not largely legendary or fictitious. Can we even be certain that the names listed represent only father-son relationships? Might they belong to several different lineages?

It is probable, of course, that Khnum-ib-re and his contemporaries did have access to genealogical records or traditions that have since been lost. If it had been common knowledge in their day [i.e., in about 500 B.C.] that Israel was the real father of Imhotep, rather than establishing the reputation of its builder [i.e., Khnum-ib-re] as a great architect, the monument would have proved only that he was a great liar, so I think we can eliminate such a possibility. We are left with only two other alternatives, assuming the list was intended as a single, patrilineal lineage: 1. Khnum-ib-re might have been mistaken about Imhotep, innocently relying on faulty records or traditions, or 2. he might have been right, actually having access to accurate, 2500-year-old information proving that Kanofer was the father of Imhotep. We may never be sure in this life which alternative is correct. What we really need is such a record dated to about the time of Imhotep. This same conclusion applies to the suggestion in Hurry (1928: 196-97) that the name of Imhotep's mother (Khreduonkh) is recorded in a fragmentary document dated to the fourteenth century B.C.

Hurry (1928: 4-5) says, "we know nothing of [Imhotep's] early history, nor is there any record of his appearance in the flesh." Nevertheless, Hurry cites a suburb of Memphis as his place of birth and even specifies his birthday and names both his parents. As explained above, however, Hurry accepted very scanty and unreliable evidence as authoritative, at least in his introductory biographical sketch of Imhotep, because that was the only relevant information available. Unfortunately, encyclopedias used Hurry as their authority, and now the unsuspecting public is left with the impression that nothing could be more certain.

If Imhotep is Joseph, we should probably not expect to find public monuments or other Egyptian documents revealing the true story of his ethnicity, parentage, or rise to power. There was probably a deliberate attempt to suppress this information. Genesis 43:32 informs us that "Egyptians could not eat with Hebrews, for that is detestable to Egyptians" and Genesis 46:34 adds "all shepherds are detestable to the Egyptians". We know from Genesis that the pharaoh who promoted Joseph took immediate steps to make him appear more Egyptian. Besides the ring, robes, gold chain, and fine chariot provided as necessary signs of his new office, the pharaoh gave him an Egyptian name and wife (Genesis 41:42–45), apparently desiring to conceal as much as possible Joseph's past life as a Hebrew shepherd, slave, and convict. Joseph succeeded so well in shedding his Hebrew identity that not even his own brothers were able to recognize him.

Now what about the objection that Joseph would not have built pyramids and other structures dedicated to pagan gods? If the pharaoh had asked him to construct a building, would Joseph have declined on religious grounds, if he knew that the edifice would be dedicated to a pagan god? The Bible does not answer this question directly, but we do have some reason to suppose that he would have served the king in this way regardless. Perhaps his attitude was similar to that of Naaman, who asked permission to bow down with his master in the temple of Rimmon, in spite of his personal allegiance to the one true God (2 Kings 5:17–18). Apparently, God does approve those who "honor the king," even if it be a pagan king (1 Peter 2:13–17).

We do know that Joseph accepted the Egyptian wife, though she was the daughter of a priest and probably a pagan herself (Genesis 41:50). Further evidence that Joseph saw his mission to be "the saving of many lives" (Genesis 50:20), rather than a crusade to overthrow the Egyptian gods, was his consent to honor the pharaoh's regular allotment to the Egyptian priests at the height of the famine (Genesis 47:22).

Speaking of the famine, there is the legend of the seven-year famine "inscribed on a granite rock" near Aswan and dated to about 325 B.C. (Hurry, 1928: 8; Montet, 1964: 106). According to the legend, Imhotep, the son of Ptah [an Egyptian god], revealed to Zoser that the famine might come to an end if only he would appease the god Khnum. Montet goes on to cite a French authority, G. Maspero, who "considered it to be a pious lie, the purpose of which was to remind the king of the needs of the temple of Khnum." Unlike the monument of similar antiquity that Mrs. Neises mentioned, we have a reliable account (in Genesis) of a seven-year famine that offers some hope of separating fact from fiction in this case. I find it fascinating that this legend makes no mention of the seven years of plenty, because Joseph predicted that those years would be forgotten (Genesis 41:31).

The final point that Mrs. Neises made in her letter was that one title of Imhotep in particular was inconsistent with what we would expect if he were the godly Joseph: "High Priest of Heliopolis, city of the sun [god]" (Fakhry 1961: 24). But if the city of San Francisco elected a Protestant mayor, would we expect him to rename the place to avoid having a title that sounded so Catholic? For that matter, how many Christians continue to honor pagan deities when they name the days of the week? I see this title of Imhotep as rather supportive of identification with Joseph, who may very well have acquired this title from his father-in-law, priest of On, which is Heliopolis (Genesis 41:45,50). If we must conclude that Imhotep discharged his priestly duties any differently from what we would expect from Joseph, then I believe we need more information than just this title.

The story of Daniel and his three Hebrew friends may also throw some light on this point, since their careers were somewhat similar to Joseph's. They also received new names to replace their Hebrew names, but unlike Joseph, they apparently continued to be called by those names, even though each one, except Meshach, apparently referred to some pagan deity. Daniel's new name, for instance, honored Bel, the chief god of Babylon ( Peloubet's Bible Dictionary). How many Christians today can even recall the Hebrew names of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego?

Mrs. Neises cited a claim by Montet that "Imhotep constructed sanctuaries of stone for the gods and goddesses of Egypt" (Montet, 1964: 189). But Montet mentions only "stelae found in the subterranean chambers" as the basis for his claim. He assigned no date to these stelae, and he admitted some doubt concerning the correctness of their interpretation. Thus, before we conclude that Imhotep actually worshipped Egyptian gods, perhaps we should insist on clearer and more explicit evidence involving datable records. And if, in fact, he laid plans for buildings later used for heathen worship, this in itself is hardly an adequate basis for branding him as a pagan. He might have been obligated by the pharaoh to supervise their construction, but unable to dictate the use to which they would eventually be put. Perhaps some buildings were only ascribed to him after his death, to make them appear more prestigious.

Mrs. Neises also mentioned an inscription that claimed that Imhotep had planned a temple to the goddess Hathor (Tompkins, 1971: 168). But the Tompkins passage says the inscription reads, "... built according to the plans of Imhotep, son of Ptah." Once again, this source fails to provide us with the dates we need to use the evidence with confidence, but if the inscription itself really says that Imhotep was the son of [the Egyptian god] Ptah, we can rest assured that the official who dictated its wording was ill prepared to tell us the true religious affiliation of the historical Imhotep, who was deified as the son of Ptah many centuries after his death.

In conclusion, it appears that we are still unable to rule out the identification of Imhotep with Joseph. One day in heaven, if not through earthy digging and research, we may learn enough to settle the question forever, and when that day comes, I am confident that the Genesis record will be vindicated, regardless of whether Imhotep is, in fact, Joseph.


Thomas James Godfrey
Blacksburg, VA


Fakhry, Ahmed. 1961. The Pyramids. Second edition, 1969. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.


Hurry, Jamieson B. 1928. Imhotep: The Vizier and Physician of King Zoser and Afterwards the Egyptian God of Medicine. Second and revised edition. New York: AMS Press.


Montet, Pierre. 1964. Eternal Egypt. Doreen Weightman, translator. New York: The New American Library.


Tompkins, Peter. 1971. Secrets of the Great Pyramid. New York: Harper & Row.


Dear Dr. Aardsma,

Thank you for sending Mr. Godfrey's welcome response to my letter. He made some very good points. I was especially pleased to see how well he articulated the circumstances surrounding the Khnum-ib-re and Zoser famine inscriptions. I didn't have time to cover any of that, and could never have done so as well as he.

I didn't know about the fourteenth century B.C. document naming Imhotep's mother, Khreduonkh, but it captures my attention. We all bring different backgrounds and emphases to the study of Bible chronology. Mine just now has to be from the genealogical perspective. In building a family tree, two pieces of documentary proof are required when establishing each link in the chain. It is significant, from the genealogical perspective, that two separate records exist establishing the parentage of Imhotep.

Evidently, the Egyptians placed some importance on preserving the lineages of royal figures and notable citizens. Heinrich Brugsch-Bey was able to reconstruct large family trees for noblemen of Egypt.

Mr. Godfrey appropriately raises the question of how reliable the Imhotep documents are, but acknowledges that we cannot disprove them. That is my thinking exactly. It is my understanding that historical records are accepted by genealogists unless proven wrong. Since these records do exist, we have to contend with them. I view the Imhotep documents no differently than I would any other proof texts encountered in genealogical research. It could be that God allowed these records to survive for our benefit, if Joseph really was not Imhotep.

I appreciated Mr. Godfrey's explanation of how Imhotep's buildings (if actually designed by Joseph) could later have been converted to pagan temples. He makes a good point, and that is something I could accept if confirmed. Whereas I do agree that Joseph would have been respectful of the Egyptians in their religious beliefs, I still cannot conceive of him knowingly contributing to the construction of their pagan temples.

God's purpose was to reveal Himself, as the only God, to Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Joseph was His chosen vessel—the man for the hour. Joseph would not only have confused the message, but defeated God's entire purpose if he later allowed himself to become a tool in the Egyptians' hands for building monuments to their own gods and goddesses. Joseph had already been tried in the crucible, and he was ready to be sent as God's perfect messenger. I believe we can be emphatic when we say, if Imhotep was the architect of any of these structures, he could never have been Joseph.

Building a pagan temple would have been no small offense to God, as we see in the example of Solomon. The consequences of his actions were devastating to the nation Israel. Given Solomon's excesses, one can almost see how that happened, but we have an entirely different picture of Joseph. Unlike Solomon, the spotlight is on Joseph's exemplary character from beginning to end. In every test, he remained true to the Lord God. If we determine that he erected monuments or temples to idols, we are contradicting everything that is revealed about this man in the Scriptures. It seems to me that we need to be careful about writing in anything that isn't there. We dare not attach this to his reputation, if it wasn't so—if we have the wrong man.

Mr. Godfrey suggests that Joseph might have had no choice if under orders from Pharaoh. Perhaps, but this pharaoh doesn't sound like an autocratic ruler who would have required it of Joseph. He was a generous and goodly king, indebted to Joseph. Pharaoh recognized that Joseph was indwelt by the Spirit of God, and he considered none wiser than this man (Genesis 41:38-39). It is unlikely he would have pressed any issue against Joseph's conscience.

Mr. Godfrey's example of Naaman was good, but Naaman's circumstances were a little different than Joseph's. Pharaoh had given Joseph all the king's power, save the throne itself (Genesis 41:40). Joseph made the decisions, and everyone answered to him (Genesis 41:44). It hardly sounds like a situation where he was forced to compromise his beliefs.

I was very interested in Mr. Godfrey's thinking that Pharaoh may have concealed Joseph's true ethnicity and parentage from the Egyptian people. I really wonder if that was the case. When Jacob died, Pharaoh sent all his servants, the elders of his house, all the elders of the land of Egypt, chariots and horsemen to the land of Canaan for his burial. When the Canaanites saw this tremendous entourage, they commented that this was "a grievous mourning to the Egyptians" (Genesis 50:7,9,11). There wasn't a person in that company who wouldn't have known they were going up to bury Joseph's father.

Joseph's true identity was known from the start, by servants as well as people in high places—beginning with Potiphar. Everyone in the king's court knew he had been brought out of the dungeon. Human nature being what it is, that news would have spread like wildfire. An attempt to keep people from telling the truth about his origin would have only maximized their temptation to tell. Joseph was tremendously popular—a hero of his day. It was too great of a story to keep quiet.

When Joseph revealed himself to his brothers, he kissed them "and wept upon them… And the fame thereof was heard in Pharaoh's house, saying, Joseph's brethren are come" (Genesis 45:15-16). With emphasis on the word "fame", one can only conclude that Joseph's background was common knowledge among the Egyptians. Joseph's brothers had been given the public office of "rulers over [Pharaoh's] cattle" (Genesis 47:6), and everyone in that district would have known who they were. If the servants knew, and the officials in the king's court knew, it is a sure bet that everyone in between knew as well.

I may be wrong about Imhotep, but I must point out that in order to make this identification there are a lot of records that have to be explained away—the names of both his parents, the place of his birth, and problems with his resume. That may be an insurmountable task. As long as questions remain, however, it warrants further research. I hope others are on the case, and I will do my part to see if I can find documents of proof, not legend, concerning Imhotep's accomplishments. Perhaps God will ultimately make it plain by bringing additional documents to light which clearly reveal the truth.


Mrs. Beverly J. Neises
Rainier, OR

The Biblical Chronologist is a bimonthly subscription newsletter about Biblical chronology. It is written and edited by Gerald E. Aardsma, a Ph.D. scientist (nuclear physics) with special background in radioisotopic dating methods such as radiocarbon. The Biblical Chronologist has a threefold purpose:

  1. to encourage, enrich, and strengthen the faith of conservative Christians through instruction in Biblical chronology,

  2. to foster informed, up-to-date, scholarly research in this vital field within the conservative Christian community, and

  3. to communicate current developments and discoveries in Biblical chronology in an easily understood manner.

An introductory packet containing three sample issues and a subscription order form is available for $9.95 US regardless of destination address. Send check or money order in US funds and request the "Intro Pack."

The Biblical Chronologist (ISSN 1081-762X) is published six times a year by Aardsma Research & Publishing, 412 N Mulberry, Loda, IL 60948-9651.

Copyright © 1996 by Aardsma Research & Publishing. Photocopying or reproduction strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher.

Footnotes

  1. ^  David M. Rohl, Pharaohs and Kings: A Biblical Quest (New York: Crown Publishers, 1995). Originally published in Great Britain as A Test of Time by Century Ltd. in 1995.

  2. ^  David M. Rohl, Pharaohs and Kings: A Biblical Quest (New York: Crown Publishers, 1995), 39.

  3. ^  Gerald E. Aardsma, A New Approach to the Chronology of Biblical History from Abraham to Samuel, 2nd ed. (Loda IL: Aardsma Research and Publishing, 1993).

  4. ^  David M. Rohl, Pharaohs and Kings: A Biblical Quest (New York: Crown Publishers, 1995), 7.

  5. ^  David M. Rohl, Pharaohs and Kings: A Biblical Quest (New York: Crown Publishers, 1995), 8.

  6. ^  David M. Rohl, Pharaohs and Kings: A Biblical Quest (New York: Crown Publishers, 1995), 39.

  7. ^  See, for example, 1 Corinthians 15:12–19.

  8. ^  David M. Rohl, Pharaohs and Kings: A Biblical Quest (New York: Crown Publishers, 1995), 313.

  9. ^  Gerald E. Aardsma, "Biblical Chronology 101," The Biblical Chronologist 2.3 (May/June 1996): 10.

  10. ^  Gerald E. Aardsma, "Biblical Chronology 101," The Biblical Chronologist 2.3 (May/June 1996): 10.

  11. ^  Herbert Haas, James Devine, Robert Wenke, Mark Lehner, Willy Wolfli, and Georg Bonani, "Radiocarbon chronology and the historical calendar in Egypt," Chronologies in the Near East: Relative Chronologies and Absolute Chronology 16,000–4,000 B.P., ed. Olivier Aurenche, Jacques Evin, and Francis Hours (B.A.R., 5, Centremead, Osney Mead, Oxford OX2 0DQ, England, 1987), 585–606.

  12. ^  David M. Rohl, Pharaohs and Kings: A Biblical Quest (New York: Crown Publishers, 1995), 384.

  13. ^  David M. Rohl, Pharaohs and Kings: A Biblical Quest (New York: Crown Publishers, 1995), 420.

  14. ^  Gerald E. Aardsma, "Biblical Chronology 101," The Biblical Chronologist 2.3 (May/June 1996): 9–10.

  15. ^  David M. Rohl, Pharaohs and Kings: A Biblical Quest (New York: Crown Publishers, 1995), 149.

  16. ^  David M. Rohl, Pharaohs and Kings: A Biblical Quest (New York: Crown Publishers, 1995), 382.

  17. ^  David M. Rohl, Pharaohs and Kings: A Biblical Quest (New York: Crown Publishers, 1995), 175, 195.

  18. ^  For a brief exposé of some recent shenanigans directed against radiocarbon see the "Spurious Claims" section of my paper: Gerald E. Aardsma, "A Search for Radiocarbon in Coal," Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Creationism, ed. Robert E. Walsh (Pittsburgh: Creation Science Fellowship, 1994), 1–8.

  19. ^  R. Berger, "Ancient Egyptian Radiocarbon Chronology," Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc. Lond. A 269 (1970): 28; sample UCLA-1390.

  20. ^  I. E. S. Edwards, "Absolute Dating from Egyptian Records and Comparison with Carbon-14 Dating," Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc. Lond. A 269 (1970): 17; Fekri A. Hassan and Steven W. Robinson, "High-precision Radiocarbon Chronometry of Ancient Egypt, and Comparisons with Nubia, Palestine and Mesopotamia," Antiquity 61 (1987): 133; Ronald D. Long, "The Bible, Radiocarbon and Ancient Egypt," Creation Research Society Quarterly 10 (June 1973): 24. Sample BM-333.

  21. ^  Richard Burleigh and Keith Matthews, "British Museum Natural Radiocarbon Measurements XIII," Radiocarbon, 24.2 (1982): 161; sample BM-1370.

  22. ^  Ingrid U. Olsson and M. Farid A. F. El-Daoushy, "Radiocarbon Variations Determined on Egyptian Samples from Dra Abu El-Naga," Radiocarbon Dating, ed. Rainer Berger and Hans E. Suess (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979), 601–612.

  23. ^  Gerald E. Aardsma, "Biblical Chronology 101," The Biblical Chronologist 2.3 (May/June 1996): 9–10.


Volume 2, Number 6November/December 1996

Noah's Flood at Elk Lake

Was Noah's Flood global or local?

Two issues ago I introduced some remarkable sedimentary data from Elk Lake in Minnesota and applied it to a different question. I asked, "Was Noah's Flood a global cataclysm?" By "cataclysm" is meant an overwhelming geological upheaval in which the entire surface of the earth is torn apart in great tectonic convulsions. I showed that the Elk Lake data combine with Biblical chronology data to answer this question with a definitive no.[1]

This issue it is not the geological potency of the Flood (i.e., was the Flood cataclysmic or tranquil) which is in question. Rather, it is the geographical extent of the Flood (i.e., was the Flood global or local) I wish to probe. This latter question was, in fact, the entire reason I began to study the Elk Lake data. My motivation for launching into a study of these data was to investigate the question of the geographical extent of the Flood as forcefully and directly as possible using the data and methods provided by modern science.

Falsification of the cataclysmic Flood model falls out of the Elk Lake data with very little effort whether one is looking for it or not. Not so the question of geographical extent. I have had to labor over this one.

But Elk Lake has certainly rewarded my investment of time and mental energy. Its sedimentary data preserve a record of the past which speaks with considerable clarity to this long-debated question—once the technical chronological work has been done and the mass of available data from the lake has been digested, that is. I trust you will find the result—another new discovery of far-reaching consequence—as exhilarating and edifying as I did when, after hours of effort, and no little consternation and confusion, light suddenly dawned.


Some conservative Christian scholars have argued from the Biblical text that the Flood must have been world-wide,[2] while others have argued, also from the Biblical text, that a world-wide Flood is not demanded or intended.[3]

For example, many have noted that the text says "the mountains were covered"[4] and have gone on to conclude that this necessitates a world-wide Flood, since water seeks its own level. This seems a sound inference, and a cogent argument for a global Flood. Other weighty arguments from the text of Scripture can be added to it, as Whitcomb and Morris have capably shown in The Genesis Flood.[5]

But then, to an unbiased reader, the text does not appear entirely one way on this question. For example, the text says, "and God caused a wind to pass over the earth, and the water subsided".[6] This wind is the only mechanism for drying up the Flood which is explicitly mentioned in the historical narrative of the Flood which we are given in Genesis. (The next verse specifies that the "fountains of the deep and the floodgates of the sky were closed", but these actions merely shut off the source of the water, they play no role in actively drying up the Flood waters which had already accumulated.)

This reference to the wind comes right at the turning point in the narrative. Previous to the wind the Flood "prevailed"; after the wind is mentioned, the Flood "subsided" and "decreased". Consequently, the text does not seem to be saying the role of the wind was merely to dry up the soggy earth after all the water had finally receded in some unspecified fashion. Rather, the text seems to be saying that the wind was itself responsible for causing the waters of the Flood to decrease.

But this is difficult to understand in a global Flood context. How could wind, apart from some supernatural mechanism (which the text gives no hint of at this point), cause the waters of a world-wide Flood to subside? Wind can evaporate water, but the atmosphere can only hold a small amount of water in vapor form relative to the indicated depth of the Flood. For evaporation to cause the waters of the Flood to subside, there would need to be some place for the evaporated water to be precipitated to, and this demands a Flood which is not world-wide. Wind can also drive water from one area to another through surface friction and wave action, but here again there must be some available basin to receive the driven waters if wind is to cause a flood to subside, as the text seems clearly to say was the case with Noah's Flood. So there is this difficulty; if the Flood was world-wide, then how could a wind cause the waters of the Flood to recede?

Let me be perfectly clear that I am not arguing we should adopt a local Flood model. Rather, what I am driving at is that the interpretation of this portion of the Biblical text in regard to the geographical extent of the Flood is not a trivial exercise with an obvious conclusion—there have been dedicated men of God on both sides of the question. My point is simply that the final resolution of this matter seems unlikely as long as the evidence is restricted to the Biblical text alone. In addition to the written Word, it seems at least reasonable and appropriate, if not, indeed, essential, to hear whatever testimony can be elucidated from the book of nature.

Opening the Book of Nature

I have already shown that the Flood appears to have been active over a very large geographical area in the Old World, so that we seem clearly to be dealing with a phenomenon which has no right to be called local.[7] But the regions where archaeology and the Biblical text seem at present to combine to indicate the Flood was active—namely, Egypt, Palestine, Mesopotamia, and Ararat—occupy a fairly small area relative to the entire surface of the globe, so that the conclusion that the Flood was global does not seem justified on the basis of these data either.

It seemed to me that perhaps the fastest way to settle this particular issue would be to examine some New World geophysical reservoir for evidence of the Flood. Hence I began to study the Elk Lake sedimentary data some seven months ago.

What should the Flood be expected to look like in the Elk Lake data? An unusually thick annual layer of sediment is perhaps the most obvious expectation, but this question could not be answered with any degree of certainty when I began this study. The difficulty was that I had no fixed scientific model of the Flood available which I could rely on. Only the chronology was known. All I could say with confidence was that if the Flood was felt at Elk Lake then the Elk Lake data should show some kind of anomalous behavior within dating uncertainties of 3520±21 B.C.[8]

Do the Elk Lake data show any anomalous behavior at this date? Yes, most certainly they do, though the process one must go through to arrive at this conclusion is not a trivial one, and the implication of the result, when once it has been obtained, is not immediately obvious either.

The Elk Lake Data

Figure 1: Elk Lake annual sedimentary layer thickness for entire data set. For greatest visual clarity only the thickest and thinnest layers are plotted from each consecutive group of twelve layers. The layer number is given by the scale on the left in units of thousands. (Data supplied by Bruce Bauer, National Geophysical Data Center, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.)

Figure 1 shows the measured thickness of the annual sedimentary layers at Elk Lake over the entire 10,000+ years of the record. Those who have studied the wealth of data preserved in the sediments of Elk Lake most closely divide the history of the lake into the three stages shown in Figure 1. Roger Y. Anderson of the department of Earth and Planetary Sciences of the University of New Mexico summarizes these three stages as follows:[9]

About 14 ka [i.e., 14,000 years ago], withdrawal of the [glacial] ice sheet stranded [and buried] a large block of ice that had melted by about 3000 yr later. The ice block formed a deep lake basin in a terrain of unweathered till, clothed by coniferous forest [as revealed by pollen from the sedimentary layers produced in the lake at that time]. This early [post-glacial] lake and its environs was dominated by cold, anticyclonic [i.e., high pressure system] winds from the [glacial] ice margin to the northeast…

About 8.0 ka, after further decay of the ice sheet, cold anticyclonic winds were replaced by incursions of relatively dry Pacific air that reached progressively farther into the continental interior. In response to these incursions, the prairie shifted northeastward and there ensued a 4000 yr period of drought in north-central Minnesota [where Elk Lake is located]. The more saline mid-Holocene [prairie] lake was surrounded by scattered stands of oak, sparse grass, Artemisia [i.e., sagebrush], and some open, bare ground. The varves [i.e., annual layers of sediment] that accumulated in Elk Lake more than doubled in thickness as a result of the influx of eolian [i.e., wind borne] clay and silt. The loess [i.e., wind produced deposit] was suspended from the region to the west and was carried to Elk Lake by dry westerly winds…

Within a few centuries, at about 3.8 ka, the tropical airstream [from the Gulf of Mexico] moved northward, bringing additional moisture, and a new balance was struck between Arctic, Pacific, and Tropical airstreams. The new expression of moisture and seasonality brought pine, hardwoods, and forest soils to the Elk Lake drainage.

This brief history reveals a long-term progressive change in the climate of Elk Lake from the end of the glaciation which created the lake to the present time. This long-term change seems adequately explained by two factors: the retreat of the ice sheet, and changes in insolation (i.e., total radiation received from the sun) due to slow, long-term changes in Earth's tilt and orbital parameters. Computer simulations which take these parameters into consideration support this conclusion as the following observations from one such simulation show:[10]

When the ice sheet was large, generally cool conditions should have prevailed, consistent with the generally cool conditions inferred from the pollen data from Elk Lake for the interval 11,600–6000 varve yr. With the replacement of the glacial anticyclonic wind regime by stronger westerlies during the interval between 9000 and 6000 varve yr, precipitation should have decreased to its lowest levels during the Holocene, again consistent with the Elk Lake evidence. Finally, during the past 6000 yr, modern conditions should have developed as the seasonal distribution of insolation gradually approached present-day levels.

Most of the details of the sedimentary record are also readily explained within this overall climatic framework. For example, the annual layers are observed to be highly variable and often thick during the prairie period (Figure 1). The pollen data (e.g., of sagebrush) clearly indicate that this was a dry period at Elk Lake. Several factors can be identified which conspire to produce thick and variable annual layers when the climate is dry. First, the lake becomes surrounded by sparsely vegetated, open prairie. Much soil is exposed to the elements. The ground is easily dried by the sun, and prevailing winds, not blocked near the ground by forest, are able to pick up clay and silt from the ground and deposit them in the lake. This wind blown detritus adds directly to the annual layer thickness of lake sediments, of course, but it also adds indirectly to the layer thickness by fertilizing the lake and increasing its own biologically produced sediment load. In addition to these factors, the level of the lake reduces when the climate is dry. This enhances the ability of waves, produced by winds (again not blocked by forest) to resuspend sediment from the shallow margins of the lake and redeposit it in the deep center of the lake (from which the sediment cores were taken).

Conditions are more moist today than they were back in the prairie period. As a result, the lake is surrounded by forest, which limits production of wind-borne detritus and inhibits formation of thick annual layers. Thus the fact that annual layers are relatively thin and stable for the modern lake stage is also easily understood, and the transition from thick, variable layers to thin, stable layers which begins shortly after layer 4000 and takes several centuries to complete, is also easily explained.

The Anomaly

What is not explained—what is anomalous—is the sudden transition into a thin, stable layer production mode at about layer 5300, and the equally sudden transition back out again at about layer 4700 (Figure 1). What combination of geophysical and climatic factors could have produced these unexpected 600 layers? This question surfaces repeatedly within the 336 page Geological Society of America report on the lake, but no truly satisfactory answer is ever found.[11]

The difficulty is that the data from the cores during this 600 layer interval do not seem to paint a coherent picture. For example, the average thickness of the sediment layers during this interval and their low variability are characteristics which are most closely matched by the annual layers of the modern lake stage. This implies a climate more similar to that of today than to that of the prairie stage in which these 600 layers are imbedded. But the pollen data show that there was no change in the vegetation surrounding the lake during the interval in which these layers were deposited—as far as the vegetation was concerned the lake's environment was still prairie for the entire time:

At Elk Lake the prairie period has been divided into three climate phases on the basis of diatom, sedimentologic, and geochemical data: an early xeric [i.e., low moisture] phase between 8500 and 4500 varve yr, a somewhat wetter phase from 5400 to 4800 varve yr, and a dry phase between 4800 and 4000 varve yr. The pollen record does not show this subdivision clearly…[12]
At this time the lake entered a brief phase (ca. 600 yr) that appears to have been a precursor to lake conditions characteristic of the latest stage in Elk Lake's development beginning at 3.8 ka, but differs from the more permanent change because it was not accompanied by the same changes in vegetation.[13]
To further add to the complexity of the situation, cysts from chrysophycean algae show a return to conditions which existed in the post-glacial lake during this interval:[14]
Our cyst-assemblage data indicate that limnological [i.e., lake] conditions during the mid-Holocene prairie period shifted for a period of about 500 yr between 5.3 and 4.8 ky. Dominant cysts indicate a striking return to early postglacial conditions…
How is it possible for a single lake to go on showing characteristics of three very different stages all at the same time for 600 years? This period is truly anomalous, and it is the only real anomaly in the entire dataset.

The Anomaly and the Flood

Might this anomaly have something to do with the Flood?

Getting the answer to this question obviously has everything to do with chronology. A causal relationship can only be postulated if there exists a temporal coincidence between the two events. The single most important question, therefore, is: "Does the Flood coincide with the Elk Lake anomaly?"

I have indicated the range of layers over which a detailed computation suggests the Flood should be seen at Elk Lake by back-to-back arrows in Figure 1. (The technical details of this computation are included in a separate appendix to this article below.) Clearly there is some overlap with the anomalous interval. It is appropriate, therefore, to seek a causal relationship between the two.

Curiously, however, the Flood seems coincident with the transition out of the anomalous period. One naturally expects the Flood to cause anomalies, not to cure them (other than the "anomaly" of the wickedness of mankind in Noah's generation, that is). Furthermore, the transition out of this anomalous interval seems to mark a transition from wetter to drier conditions, based on the nature of the individual layers, and this is also in the opposite direction of what one would expect from a global Flood.

The immediate impression is that the anomaly at Elk Lake has nothing to do with the Flood and that the Flood is simply not present at Elk Lake (and, hence, not a global event).

But this immediate impression is altogether wrong. A totally different conclusion presents itself when closer attention is given to the anomalous 600 layers themselves.

The Anomalous 600 Layers

I pointed out above that the data from the Elk Lake cores during this 600 layer interval do not seem to paint a coherent picture. I asked how it would be possible for a single lake to go on showing characteristics of three very different stages all at the same time for 600 years.

The answer to this perplexing question is really very simple, if somewhat perplexing itself—it isn't possible. No natural process—not even a global Flood—can bring about 600 years of the sort of self-contradictory conditions the Elk Lake data appear to testify to during this anomalous interval.

The best brief summary of the amassed data from Elk Lake that I can give of these 600 layers is that they seem to call for a sudden transition, within a decade or two, from dry wind-swept prairie to moist, still, semi-desert. This moist semi-desert episode apparently persisted with hardly a breeze and never a thunderstorm for 600 years before suddenly reverting back to dry wind-swept prairie.

But this is an impossible picture. Increasing moisture does not convert prairie to semi-desert; it converts prairie to forest. And how can the wind be turned off for 600 years in any region or climate? And how does one increase moisture while decreasing storminess? This picture just doesn't make sense—I judge it impossible. The created world simply doesn't behave in so unrational and inexplicable a manner.

Now please don't jump to the conclusion that I am saying that something supernatural happened at Elk Lake for 600 years, for I am most certainly not saying any such thing. I am not saying the mix of data which is found at Elk Lake during this anomalous interval is inherently impossible. And I certainly don't mean to question the reality of the 600 layers which the researchers identified in the core. Impossibility only enters in when one tries to interpret these 600 layers in terms of 600 years—they seem to paint an entirely coherent picture when interpreted as a unit of sediment which was deposited in a single year.

I suggest that the assumption that the 600 layers which comprise this interval are annual is incorrect. I propose that rather than recording 600 years during which 1 to 2 millimeters of sediment were deposited each year, this anomalous section of core should be interpreted as recording a single year during which nearly a meter of sediment was deposited on the bottom of Elk Lake.

The evidence that these 600 layers do not correspond to 600 years is significant. For example, radiocarbon measurements show 920±210 (1σ) fewer calendar years spanning this anomalous section of the core than the direct count of layers indicates.[15]

Also, if these 600 layers were deposited over the course of 600 years then they would be expected to show a normal pollen accumulation rate, but if they were all laid down in a single year then pollen accumulation rates calculated on the assumption of 600 years might be expected to come out rather low (provided these layers were not all composed of reworked older sediments containing normal pollen concentrations). In point of fact, "the pollen-accumulation rates are lowest for the period from 5400 to 4800 varve yr".[16] That is, the pollen accumulation rates were lowest exactly in this anomalous 600 layer interval. It appears that pollen accumulation rates which averaged[17] around 20,000 grains/cm2/yr and fluctuated up to 48,050 grains/cm2/yr for the prairie period dropped to just 1,870 grains/cm2/yr during this 600 "year" interval.[18]

This observation is difficult to explain if these 600 layers are truly annual. Whitlock et al. have suggested that this "may represent a time when slopes were less vegetated than before or after".[19] But why would slopes be less vegetated during this period which is uniformly regarded as more moist than the rest of the prairie period? And if the slopes were less vegetated, and therefore the ground more exposed, how would it be possible to have 600 years without even a single thick varve from sheet erosion during this more moist interval?

If these 600 layers are annual, and represent a change to more moist conditions, some significant change in vegetation, especially toward a higher percentage of trees, would be expected during these 600 years. If they were all laid down in a single year, no change would be expected.

The fact that no significant change in the vegetation is seen in the pollen record has already been shown above. How is it possible to increase the moisture in a region for 600 years and produce no significant change in its vegetation? Notice that a very significant change in vegetation did accompany the onset of more moist conditions at the transition from prairie to modern lake stages. As Anderson observed above for the prairie to modern transition, "The new expression of moisture and seasonality brought pine, hardwoods, and forest soils to the Elk Lake drainage."[20]

The transitions from post-glacial to prairie, and prairie to modern lake stages are all visibly gradual (Figure 1). If these anomalous 600 layers represent 600 years of climate change, one would naturally expect the transition into and out of this interval to also be gradual. But if these layers represent a single year's deposition, gradual transitions at the boundaries are not expected. Figure 1 clearly shows that the 600 layer interval in question begins and ends abruptly.

What natural climatic factors could account for such abrupt transitions at both ends of a 600 year climate fluctuation? According to Bradbury et al., the "concomitant reduction of clastic indicators suggests that climate during this time was unusually calm".[21] There would be no dust blown into the lake if there were no wind, of course. But how does one go about shutting off the wind over relatively open prairie for 600 years? And why would the wind shut off so suddenly and completely, remain off so long, and resume so suddenly again? The computer climate simulations of the Elk Lake region presented by Bartlein and Whitlock[22] give no hint of such an unusually calm interval.

Bradbury et al. go on to suggest "the rapid response is consistent with the triggering of dust suspension at a shear threshold that is determined by soil moisture."[23] According to this explanation the ground moisture rose sufficiently to inhibit dust production for 600 years. But we know what actually happens when moisture increases—one gets a gradual transition from prairie to modern lake stages lasting several centuries, as is clearly shown by the actual data of Figure 1, not an abrupt transition at a shear threshold.

The conclusion that these 600 layers do not represent 600 years seems unavoidable. The original researchers' failure to come to this conclusion is understandable, however. A one meter thick laminated annual layer must have seemed a total impossibility to them—they would no doubt have dismissed the idea, if it occurred to them, with the single question, "But what could ever have produced such a monstrously thick annual layer?"

Yes, what indeed.

Conclusion

Figure 2: Elk Lake annual sedimentary layer thickness for entire data set plotted against calendar date, calculated as discussed in the text. For greatest visual clarity only the thickest and thinnest layers are plotted from each consecutive group of twelve layers.

If we interpret these 600 layers as the stratified deposit of a single year and make a roughly 17% correction to the layer count as discussed in the Appendix then the chronology of the Elk Lake core data shown in Figure 2 results. Given this view of these data it is nearly impossible to avoid the conclusion that Noah's Flood was felt at Elk Lake. A 932.9 millimeter thick annual layer, in the midst of 10,000 annual layers just 2 millimeters thick on average is pretty clear evidence of something remarkably unusual. It is obviously not difficult to imagine how a massive Flood of extended duration could produce just such a layer. When we add to this the fact that this layer occurs at precisely the right date for Noah's Flood, the conclusion that it was, in fact, produced by Noah's Flood seems almost inescapable.

I say "almost" only because God's great creation is full of surprises—experience teaches the scientist a prudent caution. So to make what I am suggesting as precise and clear as possible while at the same time eschewing dogmatism, it seems best to frame this in the form of another in our series of Flood hypotheses.

Flood Hypothesis 5 The section of the Elk Lake core depicted in Figure 1 as lying roughly between layers 5300 and 4700 was deposited in a single year as a result of Noah's Flood.

If this claim is valid (and I will be very surprised if it does not turn out to be valid when all is finally said and done) then the further conclusion that Noah's Flood must have been a global event seems inevitable.

But, interestingly, it was not a cataclysmic event. It did not cause the entire geologic column or even any significant portion of it. It was not the cause of all the fossils the geologic column contains. And it was not the cause of the ice age. All of these relationships are shown to be impossible by the stratigraphy and chronology of Elk Lake.

The picture of the Flood which emerges from the Elk Lake data is that it was similar to what one would naturally expect of a very large, very deep body of water today. Perhaps the best modern analog is provided by the Pacific Ocean. It covers a vast amount of land to great depth, but the land it covers is not being catastrophically ripped up and demolished by the presence of its mighty waters. In fact, for the most part the ocean bottom just goes on collecting a thin layer of sediment each year. It seems probable that if a deep depression such as Elk Lake were to be located on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, it would act as a very efficient trap for debris settling out of the overlying water column. Such a model seems most appropriate for explaining the actual data at Elk Lake at the present time.

It is difficult to find a term to describe this model of the Flood. The term "tranquil" has a long history in regard to the Flood. It appears to have been used initially to simply mean non-cataclysmic, and such a connotation is certainly appropriate in the present case. But I am loathe to use this label because some have used it to mean a Flood which did no geological work whatsoever, and which left no geological trace of its presence. This extreme is physically absurd and blatantly contradicted by the Elk Lake evidence.

Since the best modern analog to the model which is emerging from the combined Elk Lake geophysical data and Near East archaeological data seems to be the ocean, perhaps "global pelagic Flood" would serve, "pelagic" meaning "like the open sea". (I am open to other suggestions.)

In any event, these anomalous 600 layers at Elk Lake—this 932.9 millimeter thick annual layer—is the first piece of geologic data to ever be chronologically synchronized with the Genesis Flood. Many other geologic events have been ascribed to Noah's Flood over the past few centuries, but this has invariably been done in either complete ignorance or complete defiance of chronological constraints. Since one cannot hope to get history right apart from sound chronology, one cannot hope for much of true value or significance from such claims, and, indeed, most have simply fallen by the wayside over the years. Because of its firm chronological moorings, the Elk Lake anomaly is unique among such claims.

As I see it, the Elk Lake anomaly is the only legitimate geological link to the Flood which is known at present. I suggest that it embodies, in an embryonic but nonetheless real state, the long-sought intersection of Genesis and geology. If my experience of the past several years of working with the new Biblical chronology in relation to the Exodus and Conquest is any guide, then this newly discovered intersection will not remain in an embryonic state for long. ◇


(The "Readers Write" column follows this appendix.)

Technical Appendix

Where in the sedimentary record of Elk Lake would the Flood be expected to be seen? More specifically, how many layers should one count back in the core samples which were taken from the lake bottom to get to the time of the Flood?

Biblical chronology places the date of the Flood at 3520±21 B.C.[24] The topmost annual sedimentary layer which has been preserved in core samples from Elk Lake (i.e., annual layer 1) corresponds to A.D. 1927.[25] Thus, if there were no counting error or dating uncertainty of any sort, 3520 B.C. would correspond to the (1927+3520=) 5,447th annual sedimentary layer from the top (i.e., layer 5,447). In fact, however, there are counting and dating uncertainties which prohibit the identification of the year of the Flood with any single sedimentary layer. These uncertainties allow the Flood to be located anywhere within a specified range of layers.

There is, first of all, an uncertainty in the Biblical date of the Flood of ±21 years (3σ). This is quite tiny, however, relative to the experimental counting uncertainty of annual layers at Elk Lake. This uncertainty is due mainly to technical aspects of preservation and recovery of the annual sedimentary layers during coring and processing by the science laboratory. Donald R. Sprowl has measured this uncertainty by comparison of annual layer counts in independent cores covering the same time interval. He has found that it amounts to about ±500 layers (2σ) at the 5,447th annual layer.[26] Therefore, if this is the most significant source of error, we should expect the year of the Flood to fall with near certainty within ±750 layers (i.e., 3σ) of layer 5,447 (i.e., somewhere between layer 4,700 and layer 6,200).

However, there is another potential source of error which significantly affects our effort to compare the Biblical chronology date of the Flood with the secular chronology at Elk Lake. Sprowl explains:[27]

The above analysis assumes that the counting errors are normally distributed with zero mean, but this is only true if the probability of counting too many varves [i.e., annual sedimentary layers] is the same as that of counting too few. Too many varves can be counted when subannual sets of laminations appear to be annual. However, varves can be obscured or left undistinguished sedimentologically or by the cleaning or polishing technique used. It is my (subjective) judgment that counting too few varves is more likely than counting too many, and I expect the errors to be biased on the low side. … Because of this expected negative bias in the varve counting process, the highest count from a given interval was used as the estimator of the actual number of varves present. Presumably, this still underestimates the actual number of varves present.

We must also take this potential loss of annual layers into consideration if we wish our comparison of Biblical and Elk Lake chronologies to be meaningful. Notice that if ten percent of the layers have been missed (which doesn't seem at all impossible judged on the basis of the measured counting precision) the layer number will be 550 years short of true calendar years by the time of the Flood (which was roughly 5500 years ago). This is a substantial offset, which cannot be ignored.

This problem cannot be solved by counting annual layers in duplicate cores because the same problem of unidentified (missing) annual layers will pertain to both. What is needed, in fact, is some sort of independent chronometer which can be applied to the Elk Lake data to help determine just how many annual layers may have been missed in the counting process. Fortunately, radiocarbon supplies what is needed in this instance.

Radiocarbon at Elk Lake

Anderson et al. report sixteen radiocarbon measurements on organic carbon from the Elk Lake cores (Table 1).[28] We would like to use these measurements to estimate how many annual layers may have been left uncounted in the Elk Lake sediment cores back to the time of the Flood.

Table 1: Uncalibrated radiocarbon dates on samples from Elk Lake.

To use these samples correctly for our purpose requires some knowledge of how radiocarbon dating works—the problem is actually not a trivial one. I will skip over the basics of the global production of radiocarbon and its subsequent distribution in various geophysical reservoirs for the sake of brevity and merely state that the most important point to be aware of in the present context is that radiocarbon dates will appear too old if carbon atoms which have not been derived from carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are taken up by the samples being dated. The taking up of such carbon is a common phenomenon in lakes because they commonly receive carbon atoms (as carbonates) from leaching of carbonate rocks and soil by rainwater runoff. Such carbon is referred to as old carbon, to distinguish it from carbon atoms derived from the atmosphere. The presence of old carbon in a sample gives it an old radiocarbon age even while it is still living. Fortunately, the problem can be corrected in many instances.

Elk Lake, which is located in calcareous glacial drift, is not exempt from the old carbon phenomenon. The trees which live around the lake do not contain old carbon because they derive all of their carbon atoms exclusively from the atmosphere. But anything which lives within the lake, such as fish or clams or diatoms, will contain old carbon. The radiocarbon dates on organic material from the Elk Lake cores will include an old carbon component, because the organic material comes from organisms which once lived in the lake.

The presence of old carbon in Elk Lake significantly complicates the task of determining what fraction of annual layers have gone uncounted on average, but, fortunately, it does not render it impossible. The old carbon phenomenon would only be fatal to our task if the concentration of old carbon in the lake changed with time (for then it would be impossible to tell whether the change in measured radiocarbon concentration in the samples was due to the decay of radiocarbon atoms with time or to different concentrations of old carbon in the lake when the various samples were deposited).

It is very likely that the concentration of old carbon did change in the lake early in its history, because freshly deposited calcareous glacial till is likely to weather more rapidly at first. It is also probable that the concentration of old carbon in the lake would change when the vegetative cover surrounding the lake changed, because of the different rate of weathering of calcareous till likely to accompany such a shift. Thus, to keep the old carbon phenomenon from invalidating our radiocarbon estimate of missing layers, it is necessary to restrict the analysis to approximately the upper 3000 layers, where significant long-term changes in old carbon concentration in the lake would be unlikely.

Nine of the sixteen radiocarbon samples published by Anderson et al. (Table 1) fall within this range. We wish to separate the constant old carbon contribution from the radiocarbon ages of these samples so we can use them to accurately measure real calendar years. There are two equations involved in this problem. First is the relationship between the radiocarbon age of a sample which lived in the lake, ALAKE(t), and that of a tree living at the same time beside the lake, AATM(t). This relationship is expressed by the equation:

          AATM(t) = ALAKE(t) - AOLD          (1)

In this equation, AOLD is the old carbon contribution to the radiocarbon age of a sample which grew in the lake. It appears without functional time dependence, (t), in the equation because it is assumed constant over the time interval to which we will be applying the equation, as just discussed.

The second equation provides an explicit relationship between the time variable, t, and the layer number, L.

          t = - ( (1 + f) L + 23)          (2)

The 23 in this equation arises as follows. Since we are dealing with radiocarbon it is most convenient to adopt the standard radiocarbon convention that t=0 corresponds to A.D. 1950. (Thus, A.D. 1940 corresponds to t=-10, and so forth.) Now L=0 corresponds to A.D. 1927, as mentioned above, which corresponds to t=-23.

The f in the equation represents the fraction of annual layers which have been missed in the counting process. It is the unknown we wish to solve for.

It is impossible to solve these two equations in closed form because the time dependence of radiocarbon age for samples which grew in the atmosphere (e.g., trees) does not correspond to any simple mathematical function. It is necessary to employ other means.

I adopted the following approach. First I chose a value for f and used it to calculate t for each of the nine radiocarbon samples. I then looked up AATM(t) in the 1993 Radiocarbon calibration issue.[29] Next I plotted AATM(t) versus the measured ALAKE(t) given in Table 1 in the "14C age (yr B.P.)" column. According to equation 1 this should yield a straight line with a slope of one for the correct choice of f. I used a standard, unweighted linear regression to compute the slope and intercept for various choices of f.

Figure 3 shows the resulting graph of slope versus f. A linear regression applied to these data yields a straight line which intersects y=1 at f=0.1696. This says that on average 17% of annual layers were missed in the Elk Lake cores. When this value of f is substituted back into equation 2 with t = -(3520+1950) = -5470 (i.e., the date of the Flood) the calculated layer number, corresponding to the Flood, is 4,649.

Figure 3: Calculated slopes resulting from various choices of f. The diagonal line results from a linear regression applied to all of the data points shown.

Estimating the uncertainty in f determined in this manner is a little difficult. It is necessary to do so, however, to get some impression of the imprecision in the Flood layer number computed by this method. I have fit two other straight lines to selected data in Figure 3 for this purpose. First, I have tried to estimate the smallest value f might reasonably be assigned by fitting just the data points f=0.05, 0.1, 0.25, and 0.3. This yielded f=0.1477 with the corresponding Flood layer at 4,737. Second, to estimate the largest value of f, I fit just the points f=0.17, 0.19, and 0.2. This gave f=0.1888 and the Flood layer at 4,574.

These results seem adequately summarized by the single statement that the Flood is expected to be seen, if present in the Elk Lake data, at layer number 4,650±100 (3σ). This is the range shown by back-to-back arrows in Figure 1.

Two additional points need to be mentioned briefly before going on to the implications of this result. First, the old carbon contribution which was found from the slope of the f=0.17 analysis was 604 radiocarbon years. This is how much apparent age old carbon in Elk Lake contributes to the date of samples which grew in the lake for any time during roughly the past three thousand years.

Second, the above analysis probably slightly overestimates the fraction of missed layers back to the Flood (and thus assigns the Flood layer range at layer numbers which are slightly too low). The analysis is necessarily restricted to the modern lake stage, but about 850 prairie lake layers are also involved in the calculation of the Flood layer. It seems probable that the fraction of layers which were missed by the researchers who did the layer counting was somewhat smaller during the prairie stage, because the annual layers are thicker on average during this stage and, hence, presumably harder to miss. It does not seem worthwhile to pursue this quantitatively however. The correction which might result seems probably only a decade or two at best, and this is adequately covered by the range of 200 layers which I have already allowed. ◇

Readers Write

The Flood

I have received more correspondence as a result of the "Research in Progress" column of the Volume 2, Number 4 issue of The Biblical Chronologist than any previous issue. In that column I showed how Elk Lake sedimentary data combine with Biblical chronology data to falsify the idea that Noah's Flood was a global cataclysm.

I am not surprised at the volume of mail on this issue. The modern creation-science movement in America has made an enormous investment in the cataclysmic Flood model. It is beyond hope, of course, that a single article in The Biblical Chronologist arguing against this notion could leave all readers feeling completely satisfied.

But I do care very much about those who read this newsletter, and I am quite concerned that your questions be answered honestly and openly. This column provides the best forum I can presently conceive of for accomplishing that goal. So I hope to publish several of the letters I have already received regarding the nature of the Flood in the next few issues of The Biblical Chronologist, and to personally address the questions they raise.

I have also invited Dr. Henry Morris, the most articulate and well known scientific proponent of the cataclysmic Flood model today, to respond to my Volume 2, Number 4 "Research in Progress" article in this column, but he has, unfortunately, declined the offer.

There is sufficient space remaining this issue for just a single letter and response.


Dear Dr. Aardsma,

I just received the July/August issue of The Biblical Chronologist, and I wish to share some thoughts and concerns regarding your research into Noah's flood. I do appreciate your desire to uphold the historicity of the Genesis account of the flood. I also grant you that Whitcomb and Morris made a number of assumptions in their flood model that are not specified in the Biblical text. However, I am puzzled by your apparent advocacy of a tranquil flood model. Even local flooding often has profound geological effects. Consider the "Channeled Scablands" of eastern Washington. It has been demonstrated that the large canyons in this part of Washington resulted from a series of local floods. How then could a flood such as is described in Genesis occur without devastating the surface of the earth?

I have visited Itasca State Park in Minnesota several times, and I fail to see how the Genesis flood could have occurred since the formation of Elk Lake. That entire region is noted for its glacial lakes and thick deposits of glacial till. Even very moderate catastrophism during the Genesis flood would have seriously eroded such a landscape, unless God miraculously protected the landscape from erosion. But would God work miracles to hide the Genesis flood from geological inquiry? I doubt it, as nature itself testifies to God's existence and power. (Romans 1:20)[30]

Of course, many evangelicals have advocated a local flood in the middle east. Such a flood model poses no significant geological problems, but it seems to me that it is ruled out by Genesis 8:4. Mount Ararat is 17,000 feet above sea level, while the Ararat plateau is 6,000 feet above sea level. Only a global flood could raise a ship to such an altitude.

If we are to take the Genesis account literally (and I do), it seems to me that we must conclude two things:
1. The Genesis flood was both world-wide and catastrophic.
2. The Genesis flood occurred prior, not only to the formation of Elk Lake, but to the Wisconsin glaciation which preceded it.

If Elk Lake is indeed approximately 10,000 years old, as the data seem to indicate, then perhaps your earlier hypothesis was correct. Perhaps the Genesis flood occurred 14,000–15,000 years BP. I realize that a strict reading of the chronological data in Genesis does not support this conclusion. However, is it possible that there are very large gaps in the early Genesis genealogies because Moses' knowledge of pre-history was quite superficial? I only propose this hypothesis as a possibility. I'm aware of some of the problems involved with it, but to me, they still seem of lesser magnitude than those associated with either the tranquil or the local flood theories.


Pastor Robert T. Helm
Orleans, IN


Dear Pastor Helm,

Thank you for your letter. Your questions and observations regarding the nature of the Flood are good ones. The task of properly harmonizing Genesis with extra-Biblical data is not an easy one; I greatly value your input and stimulus.

Let me begin with a brief comment on the "Channeled Scablands" of eastern Washington. I agree that these show that floods can do significant geological work (i.e., erode and deposit sediments), but I question whether this shows that Noah's Flood must have done a huge amount of geological work. I am no expert on floods, but from the little reading I have done in this area I get the impression that there have been many floods in recent history which, though they covered large geographical areas and were devastating in terms of loss of human life, did very little by way of erosion. Floods can cause significant erosion, but judging from modern floods, apparently most don't.

There are a number of factors which influence how much geologic work a flood does. These include the slope of the land, vegetative cover, and volume and depth of water. A brief cloudburst on the slopes of a mountain can evidently produce a raging torrent at the base of the mountain capable of moving boulders. In contrast, a week of downpour in the plains will likely only produce a lot of submerged fields and swollen streams.

As I recall, the Scablands are believed to have been formed when some very large lakes breached their natural dams and poured their water out in a torrential stream over the surface of the ground for several days. Is this an appropriate prototype for the whole of Noah's Flood? I don't think it is.

My own feeling at the present time is that the Flood was bound to have had a catastrophic effect in some local areas—wherever conditions happened to be just right. But I also think it was bound to have done very little geologic work in many if not most areas. The Biblical account of the Flood does not seem to describe a global, year-long, torrential, relatively shallow stream type of flood (a global Scablands). Rather, it seems to describe something more like a great world ocean, and as I point out in the lead article this issue, oceans are not characterized by extensive geological work in any short period of time.

I fail to see how a literal interpretation of the Genesis Flood account demands a globally catastrophic (i.e., cataclysmic) Flood. I see how one might be led to infer this, but I define a literal interpretation as accepting what the text explicitly says, not what may be inferred (correctly or incorrectly) from what the text explicitly says. The Bible explicitly says the water covered all of the high mountains which were under all the heavens.[31] We both accept this. But where does the Bible say the Flood produced the geologic column, or even a single stratum of the geologic column, or even a single fossil within the geologic column? Where does the Bible say that the Flood was accompanied by great earthquakes or tidal waves? These ideas can only be arrived at by a process of human reasoning and inference above and beyond what the Bible actually states. I see the cataclysmic Flood idea as inference only, and every indication, as far as chronologically controlled scientific data are concerned, is that the human reasoning process leading to this particular inference is mistaken.

Regarding your chronology questions: I think I have tried as hard as any person alive today to make a cataclysmic Flood model prior to 10,000 years ago work—and my effort did not succeed.

Such an effort is only justified, in my opinion, if we have objective grounds for setting the explicit Biblical chronological data of Scripture aside. Otherwise, obedience to the authority of Scripture seems to me to demand that we allow Biblical chronological data to speak in their plain sense, just as Biblical conservatives have always insisted should be done with the rest of Scripture. Five years ago there seemed to be objective grounds for setting the explicit Biblical chronological data aside. When taken at face value at that time, these data seemed to place the Conquest at about 1410 B.C. and the Exodus at about 1450 B.C., neither of which could find a shred of legitimate support from secular history or archaeology. Worse yet, these data seemed to place the Flood at about 2500 B.C., in the middle of the history of ancient civilizations which carried on with no apparent interruption in their basic culture or mode of life throughout the entire third millennium B.C. In short, Biblical chronological data seemed to yield nonsense for the bulk of ancient history when taken at face value.

It is certainly reasonable and legitimate to seek for some other hermeneutical approach to the chronological data of Scripture than the obvious, plain-sense, literal one in such a situation, and I looked for some alternative, including the possibility of the gaps you mention, as hard as anyone. But the situation changed dramatically when I discovered that one thousand years had been lost from 1 Kings 6:1.[32] Suddenly, the Bible dated the Conquest, not to 1410 B.C., but to 2410 B.C., and the Exodus, not to 1450 B.C., but to 2450 B.C., both of which found immediate, strong corroboration from secular history and archaeology. And the Bible now dated the Flood to 3500 B.C. rather than 2500 B.C., completely removing the flagrant absurdity of a Flood which didn't disturb any of the ancient civilizations of the Middle East.

In short, once allowance had been made for a scribal copy error in 1 Kings 6:1, the Biblical chronological data no longer yielded nonsense. Quite to the contrary, in fact, they suddenly made tremendous sense.

And this suddenly removed any and all objective grounds for setting the explicit Biblical chronological data aside and seeking alternative hermeneutical approaches. Every indication now was that the Biblical chronological data meant precisely what they said in the literal sense.

And this brings us to the center of your comments and questions. The basic reason why we are arriving at differing conclusions regarding the nature and timing of the Flood is because of a different hermeneutical approach to the chronological data of the Bible. I feel that sound hermeneutics now demands that we take these Biblical chronological data literally. As I see it, they are the known, explicitly given, quantities. The geological potency of the Flood, which is never explicitly addressed anywhere in Scripture, must be regarded as the unknown variable.

I also feel that I am as responsible as anyone for causing confusion on this point of hermeneutics. Prior to my discovery of the missing thousand years in 1 Kings 6:1 (and prior to the founding of The Biblical Chronologist) I published a number of items in which I tried very hard to accommodate a cataclysmic Flood prior to 10,000 years ago to the Bible. I trust the brief discussion above clarifies why I did so, and why I can no longer endorse such an effort.

Unfortunately, when we take a literal approach to the chronological data of Scripture, and a rational and honest approach to secular chronological data, the cataclysmic Flood model collapses entirely—as I have demonstrated from the Elk Lake data, for example.

In hindsight, it is clear that this outcome was more or less inevitable. I have previously pointed out that any approach to harmonizing Biblical and secular data which minimizes the significance of chronological data is a recipe for disaster—that one inevitably winds up with historical fiction when historical facts are assembled to tell a story without regard for their proper placement on the time line. (Recall: Rule #1 Chronology must precede history.)[33] As I now go back and read Whitcomb's and Morris' influential book, The Genesis Flood,[34] some twenty years after I first read it, what strikes me is how cut off from any and all chronological control their synthesis of Biblical and secular data is. Chronological data is only ever discussed in their book to explain why it should, in their opinion, be set aside. This is true not only of the secular chronological data, but of the Biblical chronological data as well (see their Appendix II). No model of earth history, erected on such a foundation, can long endure.


Gerald E. Aardsma, Ph.D.
Loda, IL

The Biblical Chronologist is a bimonthly subscription newsletter about Biblical chronology. It is written and edited by Gerald E. Aardsma, a Ph.D. scientist (nuclear physics) with special background in radioisotopic dating methods such as radiocarbon. The Biblical Chronologist has a threefold purpose:

  1. to encourage, enrich, and strengthen the faith of conservative Christians through instruction in Biblical chronology,

  2. to foster informed, up-to-date, scholarly research in this vital field within the conservative Christian community, and

  3. to communicate current developments and discoveries in Biblical chronology in an easily understood manner.

An introductory packet containing three sample issues and a subscription order form is available for $9.95 US regardless of destination address. Send check or money order in US funds and request the "Intro Pack."

The Biblical Chronologist (ISSN 1081-762X) is published six times a year by Aardsma Research & Publishing, 412 N Mulberry, Loda, IL 60948-9651.

Copyright © 1996 by Aardsma Research & Publishing. Photocopying or reproduction strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher.

Footnotes

  1. ^  Gerald E. Aardsma, "Research in Progress," The Biblical Chronologist 2.4 (July/August 1996): 9–14.

  2. ^  See, for example: John C. Whitcomb, Jr. and Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Flood (Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1961).

  3. ^  See, for example: Arthur C. Custance, The Flood: Local or Global? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979).

  4. ^  Genesis 7:20.

  5. ^  John C. Whitcomb, Jr. and Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Flood (Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1961), 1–35.

  6. ^  Genesis 8:1.

  7. ^  Gerald E. Aardsma, "Research in Progress," The Biblical Chronologist 1.1 (January/February 1995): 6–7; Gerald E. Aardsma, "Research in Progress," The Biblical Chronologist 1.2 (March/April 1995): 6–8; Gerald E. Aardsma, "Research in Progress," The Biblical Chronologist 1.4 (July/August 1995): 6–10.

  8. ^  Gerald E. Aardsma, "Chronology of the Bible: 5000–3000 B.C.," The Biblical Chronologist 2.4 (July/August 1996): 2–3.

  9. ^  Roger Y. Anderson, "The varve chronometer in Elk Lake: Record of climatic variability and evidence for solar-geomagnetic-14C-climate connection," Elk Lake, Minnesota: Evidence for Rapid Climate Change in the North-Central United States, ed. J. Platt Bradbury and Walter E. Dean (Boulder: The Geological Society of America, Inc., 1993), 45–46.

  10. ^  Patrick J. Bartlein and Cathy Whitlock, "Paleoclimatic interpretation of the Elk Lake pollen record," Elk Lake, Minnesota: Evidence for Rapid Climate Change in the North-Central United States, ed. J. Platt Bradbury and Walter E. Dean (Boulder: The Geological Society of America, Inc., 1993), 288–289.

  11. ^  J. Platt Bradbury and Walter E. Dean, ed., Elk Lake, Minnesota: Evidence for Rapid Climate Change in the North-Central United States (Boulder: The Geological Society of America, Inc., 1993).

  12. ^  Cathy Whitlock, Patrick J. Bartlein, and William A. Watts, "Vegetation history of Elk Lake," Elk Lake, Minnesota: Evidence for Rapid Climate Change in the North-Central United States, ed. J. Platt Bradbury and Walter E. Dean (Boulder: The Geological Society of America, Inc., 1993), 258.

  13. ^  J. Platt Bradbury, Walter E. Dean, and Roger Y. Anderson, "Holocene climatic and limnologic history of the north-central United States as recorded in the varved sediments of Elk Lake, Minnesota: A synthesis," Elk Lake, Minnesota: Evidence for Rapid Climate Change in the North-Central United States, ed. J. Platt Bradbury and Walter E. Dean (Boulder: The Geological Society of America, Inc., 1993), 318.

  14. ^  Barbara A. Zeeb and John P. Smol, "Postglacial chrysophycean cyst record from Elk Lake, Minnesota," Elk Lake, Minnesota: Evidence for Rapid Climate Change in the North-Central United States, ed. J. Platt Bradbury and Walter E. Dean (Boulder: The Geological Society of America, Inc., 1993), 247.

  15. ^  This result is calculated as follows. Lines 9 and 11 of Table 1 (above) show the published radiocarbon ages for annual layers on either side of these 600 layers. For layer 2,731 (modern lake stage) the radiocarbon age is 3,510±90 years B.P. and for layer 5,654 (prairie lake stage) it is 5,290±100 years B.P. The old carbon contribution for the prairie lake stage is not known. However, it seems unlikely that it would differ by more than one or two hundred years from the modern lake stage. For the present calculation it is adequate to approximate the old carbon contribution for the prairie lake stage with the value computed for the modern lake stage (i.e., 605 years; see Appendix). Subtracting an old carbon age of 605 years in both cases and calibrating the residual radiocarbon ages using CALIB rev3.0.3 yields calendar dates of 1092±163 B.C. and 3489±138 B.C. Thus the calendar difference in these two layers computed using these two radiocarbon measurements is (3489±138 - 1092±163 =) 2397±214 years.

    The layer number difference is (5,654 - 2,731 =) 2923, but it is not appropriate to use this difference in the present calculation since it is shown in the Appendix that approximately 17% of annual layers were missed in the layer counting process. Excluding the 600 layers in question from this readjustment yields a layer count difference of (1.17×(2923-600) + 600 =) 3,318 layers.

    Thus radiocarbon shows (3318 - 2397±214 =) 921±214 fewer calendar years spanning this anomalous section of the core than the direct count of layers indicates.

  16. ^  Cathy Whitlock, Patrick J. Bartlein, and William A. Watts, "Vegetation history of Elk Lake," Elk Lake, Minnesota: Evidence for Rapid Climate Change in the North-Central United States, ed. J. Platt Bradbury and Walter E. Dean (Boulder: The Geological Society of America, Inc., 1993), 259.

  17. ^  J. Platt Bradbury, Walter E. Dean, and Roger Y. Anderson, "Holocene climatic and limnologic history of the north-central United States as recorded in the varved sediments of Elk Lake, Minnesota: A synthesis," Elk Lake, Minnesota: Evidence for Rapid Climate Change in the North-Central United States, ed. J. Platt Bradbury and Walter E. Dean (Boulder: The Geological Society of America, Inc., 1993), 312 (graph).

  18. ^  Cathy Whitlock, Patrick J. Bartlein, and William A. Watts, "Vegetation history of Elk Lake," Elk Lake, Minnesota: Evidence for Rapid Climate Change in the North-Central United States, ed. J. Platt Bradbury and Walter E. Dean (Boulder: The Geological Society of America, Inc., 1993), 256.

  19. ^  Cathy Whitlock, Patrick J. Bartlein, and William A. Watts, "Vegetation history of Elk Lake," Elk Lake, Minnesota: Evidence for Rapid Climate Change in the North-Central United States, ed. J. Platt Bradbury and Walter E. Dean (Boulder: The Geological Society of America, Inc., 1993), 259.

  20. ^  Roger Y. Anderson, "The varve chronometer in Elk Lake: Record of climatic variability and evidence for solar-geomagnetic-14C-climate connection," Elk Lake, Minnesota: Evidence for Rapid Climate Change in the North-Central United States, ed. J. Platt Bradbury and Walter E. Dean (Boulder: The Geological Society of America, Inc., 1993), 46.

  21. ^  J. Platt Bradbury, Walter E. Dean, and Roger Y. Anderson, "Holocene climatic and limnologic history of the north-central United States as recorded in the varved sediments of Elk Lake, Minnesota: A synthesis," Elk Lake, Minnesota: Evidence for Rapid Climate Change in the North-Central United States, ed. J. Platt Bradbury and Walter E. Dean (Boulder: The Geological Society of America, Inc., 1993), 318.

  22. ^  Patrick J. Bartlein and Cathy Whitlock, "Paleoclimatic interpretation of the Elk Lake pollen record," Elk Lake, Minnesota: Evidence for Rapid Climate Change in the North-Central United States, ed. J. Platt Bradbury and Walter E. Dean (Boulder: The Geological Society of America, Inc., 1993), 275–293.

  23. ^  J. Platt Bradbury, Walter E. Dean, and Roger Y. Anderson, "Holocene climatic and limnologic history of the north-central United States as recorded in the varved sediments of Elk Lake, Minnesota: A synthesis," Elk Lake, Minnesota: Evidence for Rapid Climate Change in the North-Central United States, ed. J. Platt Bradbury and Walter E. Dean (Boulder: The Geological Society of America, Inc., 1993), 319.

  24. ^  Gerald E. Aardsma, "Chronology of the Bible: 5000–3000 B.C.," The Biblical Chronologist 2.4 (July/August 1996): 2–3.

  25. ^  Roger Y. Anderson, J. Platt Bradbury, Walter E. Dean and Minze Stuiver, "Chronology of Elk Lake sediments: Coring, sampling, and time-series construction," Elk Lake, Minnesota: Evidence for Rapid Climate Change in the North-Central United States, ed. J. Platt Bradbury and Walter E. Dean (Boulder: The Geological Society of America, Inc., 1993), 40.

  26. ^  Donald R. Sprowl, "On the precision of the Elk Lake varve chronology," Elk Lake, Minnesota: Evidence for Rapid Climate Change in the North-Central United States, ed. J. Platt Bradbury and Walter E. Dean (Boulder: The Geological Society of America, Inc., 1993), 72.

  27. ^  Donald R. Sprowl, "On the precision of the Elk Lake varve chronology," Elk Lake, Minnesota: Evidence for Rapid Climate Change in the North-Central United States, ed. J. Platt Bradbury and Walter E. Dean (Boulder: The Geological Society of America, Inc., 1993), 74

  28. ^  Roger Y. Anderson, J. Platt Bradbury, Walter E. Dean and Minze Stuiver, "Chronology of Elk Lake sediments: Coring, sampling, and time-series construction," Elk Lake, Minnesota: Evidence for Rapid Climate Change in the North-Central United States, ed. J. Platt Bradbury and Walter E. Dean (Boulder: The Geological Society of America, Inc., 1993), 41.

  29. ^  Minze Stuiver and Bernd Becker, "High-precision decadal calibration of the radiocarbon time scale, AD 1950–6000 BC," Radiocarbon, 35.1 (1993): 57–65.

  30. ^  "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse." (NASB)

  31. ^  Genesis 7:19.

  32. ^  Gerald E. Aardsma, A New Approach to the Chronology of Biblical History from Abraham to Samuel, 2nd ed. (Loda IL: Aardsma Research and Publishing, 1993).

  33. ^  Gerald E. Aardsma, "Biblical Chronology 101," The Biblical Chronologist 2.3 (May/June 1996): 10.

  34. ^  John C. Whitcomb, Jr. and Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Flood (Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1961).

 
 
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