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Egyptian chronology confusion

Why are there so many differences of opinion?


Published: 8 December 2020 (GMT+10)

I just read your article Did the Exodus lead to the Hyksos Invasion? and in some ways it has added to my confusion. I have tried to understand the different theories of Egyptian chronology for a couple years, and have not been able to get my arms around them all.

Your article endorses the Patterns of Evidence series, yet the article hints to me that you may not agree totally with the timeline presented in the series. You also mention the theory proposed by David Down. And I am slightly familiar with Ann Hambermil (sp?) having her own variant theory. Are they not all operating on the same basic premise, that the accepted secular Egyptian time line is in error and needs correction? Then there is the Associates for Biblical Research who gets interviewed in the Patterns of Evidence series who again seem to agree only in part with the Patterns theory. Is there any article you can direct me to that explains the differences between all these theories?

Mark J.

Hi Mark,

Let me commend you for trying to gain some understanding of this. It is understandably confusing when so many genuine Christian researchers come up with so many different ideas. The reason they do is that the standard Egyptian chronology precedes creation and the Flood. This cannot be. So, Christians are attempting to reduce the standard Egyptian chronology by hundreds of years to fit the Bible. This is where confusion reigns as there are wildly differing ideas. We actually believe there is room for a range of views, but that does not automatically mean that all of them are acceptable. I need to urge caution here when reading some of these ideas, because there is a great deal at stake, namely the formation of the Israelite nation from which the Messiah would come. As such, many researchers get very passionate and defensive about their amended chronologies because they often feel that they’ve solved all the problems. Many lay Christians also get caught up in this because they may read a thesis or book that seemingly checks all the boxes and solves all the difficulties and they can often hold this particular version of events for years. One only needs to look at some of the very disagreeable comments sent to us when we publish any articles about ancient Egypt. In short, this subject is riddled with a lot of bias.

Before you read any further, may I suggest you read my article Egyptian chronology, framing the issues? This article will demonstrate the great difficulty in dealing with the standard Egyptian chronology itself. Some Christians might reject too much of it completely out of hand where it is not warranted. This can lead them to taking wholesale liberties anywhere they like within the chronological time frame. And some accept too much of it, which can lead to biblical revisions, in the same way that people tried to add evolution and its time frames to the Bible. Also useful is Can we understand Egyptian chronology before the Exodus?

Regarding the first Patterns of Evidence movie, ‘The Exodus’ (based largely on Egyptologist David Rohl’s revised chronology), we agree to the extent that we believe the Hebrews were living under a special or favoured status in Avaris due to the promotion of Joseph, and that his family were given the best of the land to settle in. But there are differences in the timing, since David Rohl’s chronology has the Israelites departing Egypt before the Hyksos arrive, whereas we think the Exodus did not occur until after the Hyksos were kicked out of Egypt. There were Asiatic settlements in Avaris that could be compatible with either scenario. We also feel it is likely that the pharaoh who did not know Joseph and subsequently enslaved the Hebrews was probably Ahmose I, who expelled the ruling Hyksos. He was the first king of the 18th dynasty.

We do not agree with David Rohl’s attempt to shorten a portion of the New Kingdom and also the 3rd IP, which is again featured in the Patterns of Evidence ‘timeline wall’. You will find there are a lot of Christians who have gravitated to this revised chronology mainly because Rohl was one of the first to attempt a much-needed reduction. Christians knew such a reduction was necessary and, thus, adopted it in droves. He should be applauded for trying to reduce it; it’s just that we disagree about where he does it. For example read this article regarding the Shoshenq/Shishak connection in the 3rd IP which, at this stage, we feel provides a nice synchrony with the Bible. It’s called Evidence for Hebrews in Egypt.

About Rohl, Bryant Wood notes:

Rohl attempts to lower Egyptian chronology by several hundred years for the period before 664 BC. The sacking of Thebes by Ashurbanipal in 664 BC is accepted as a fixed date by Rohl and becomes the starting point for his revised chronology (119). He accomplished this by shortening the 20th dynasty and overlapping the 21st and 22nd dynasties (144, 384). Several scholars have critiqued the Egyptological aspects of his ideas (Bennett 1996; Brissaud 1996; Kitchen 1996: xlii-xlvi; van Haarlem 1997), but no one has evaluated the impact of his theory on Palestinian archaeology and the resulting correlations, or lack thereof, with Biblical history.

Wood proceeds to do just that. So Rohl’s theory not only revises Egyptian dates in areas we believe are untenable, but he also overthrows many widely accepted synchronisms between the biblical record and the archaeology of Palestine (such as the Shoshenq/Shishak identification already mentioned). Wood again in summary:

It is abundantly clear that, from a Palestinian perspective, Rohl’s hypothesis is quite unworkable. Rather than enhancing the connections between archaeology and the Bible, his new chronology would destroy the many strong correlations that exist when the standard chronology is followed.1

The tombs and effects of the New Kingdom dynasties of Egypt are the most abundant and well-preserved in all of ancient Egyptian history. We see no ability to reduce these or the 3rd IP by hundreds of years, as there are no missing kings, nor do we see the potential for any overlapping dynasties that would account for hundreds of years of shortening during these periods.

As mentioned in the article you cited above, David Down (like Rohl) places the Exodus near the end of the 13th dynasty, which precedes or is at the beginning of the Hyksos rule. According to Down, the pharaoh at the time was Neferhotep I, who is a well-attested pharaoh. However Down made this connection primarily based upon the idea that Egypt must have been in a weakened state to allow the Hyksos to walk in and take control. Please re-read that article where I explain that this assumption is not clearly supported by the biblical account, and also read the substantial comments below where I dealt with some objections. As I mentioned in that article, Down also subscribes to some of the chronological connections proposed by Jewish atheist Immanuel Velikovsky which are simply not sustainable. For example, Down and Velikovsky believe that Hatshepsut and the Queen of Sheba are one and the same. Hatshepsut was a pharaoh of the first half of the 18th dynasty. There is a lot of archaeological evidence that was left behind from Hatshepsut’s reign, but nothing indicates or fits the description of biblical Sheba. David Down is very insightful and knowledgeable about Egyptian culture but, unfortunately, we cannot accept his chronological revisions of Egypt.

With regard to the revisions of Anne Habermehl, I believe these should be summarily dismissed. There is a lot we could write but I shall just use one piece of evidence that is fatal to her view. She subscribes to the view that the famous Egyptian priest Imhotep, who built and designed the famous step pyramid of Djoser in the 3rd dynasty, is none other than Joseph of the Bible.2 We would place Joseph possibly around the 13th dynasty or at least early in the second IP, because this was the beginning reign of the Hyksos. Not only is Habermehl’s scheme a massive and unwarranted contraction of some 10 dynastic periods, but there are other problems. The 3rd dynasty is when true pyramid building began. It escalated with Sneferu who was the founder of the 4th dynasty—the same dynasty during which the Great Pyramids of Giza were built. And pyramid building continued into the 5th dynasty and beyond. Presumably such pyramid building, according to Habermehl, would also have been at the time of the Hebrew enslavement. But, in reality, large-scale pyramid building ceased by the time Joseph and his family entered Egypt. If one really understands Egyptian culture, because Joseph was the father of the Hebrews, one would not expect him or the Hebrews to be mentioned at all on any Egyptian artifacts. And they are not, because Egyptians despised foreigners/non Egyptians. Throughout Egyptian history including right up into the 3rd IP, Imhotep was revered as a healer, physician and architect. I have seen carvings and hieroglyphs in the Ptolemaic temple at Kom Ombo that venerate the man. Obviously these periods are well after the Exodus, so if Joseph and Imhotep are one and the same, it is simply unthinkable that he would be lauded in such a way by later dynasties and in particular the native Egyptian ones of the New Kingdom. Imhotep was revered so much that he developed an almost cult-like following. Such information is not hard to find. For example, on a common Wikipedia page it says:

The wab-priest may give offerings to your ka. The wab-priests may stretch to you their arms with libations on the soil, as it is done for Imhotep with the remains of the water bowl. — D. Wildung (1977), Egyptian Saints: Deification in Pharaonic Egypt, p. 34.

It appears that this libation to Imhotep was done regularly, as they are attested on papyri associated with statues of Imhotep until the Late Period (c. 664–332 BC). To Wildung, this cult holds its origin in the slow evolution of the memory of Imhotep among intellectuals from his death onward. To Alan Gardiner, this cult is so distinct from the offerings usually made to commoners that the epithet of “demi-god” is likely justified to describe the way Imhotep was venerated in the New Kingdom (c. 1550–1077 BC).

The first references to the healing abilities of Imhotep occur from the 13th dynasty (c. 380–343 BC) onward, some 2,200 years after his death. Imhotep is among the few non-royal Egyptians who were deified after their death, and until the 21st century, he was thought to be only one of two commoners – along with Amenhotep, son of Hapu – to achieve this status. The center of his cult was in Memphis. The location of his tomb remains unknown, despite efforts to find it. The consensus is that it is hidden somewhere at Saqqara.3

This also does not sound like Joseph of the Bible.

In closing, I should also point out that revisions and differences of opinion about Egyptian history are not unique to Christian researchers. For the very reasons I mentioned in my Egyptian chronology article, disagreements abound amongst secular researchers as well.

I hope these thoughts help.

Gary Bates

References and notes

  1. biblearchaeology.org/research/conquest-of-canaan/3196-david-rohls-revised-egyptian-chronology-a-view-from-palestine Return to text.
  2. researchgate.net/publication/337651652_Revising_the_Egyptian_Chronology_Joseph_as_Imhotep_and_Amenemhat_IV_as_Pharaoh_of_the_Exodus Return to text.
  3. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imhotep Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Tour Egypt
by Gary Bates, Robert Carter, Gavin Cox, Keaton Halley
US $12.00
Soft Cover
Travel Through Egypt
by Clive & Amanda Anderson
US $15.00
Soft Cover

Readers’ comments

Janelle P.
Thanks so much for another wonderful, helpful article! I wonder if you could recommend a timeline of Egyptian history that would be more in keeping with your views than David Rohl’s, that I could use with my students in making their own simple timelines? Thank you!
Gary Bates
Sure. Our, in progress, revised timeline can be found in our Tour Egypt booklet, which we alluded to several times in the article. we also present a possible candidate for the Pharaoh of The Exodus. I've linked it for you in this response.
Robert W.
There are only two ways in which the chronology of ancient Egypt could be reconciled with a worldwide biblical flood: either (a) the Deluge preceded the first dynasty, or (b) it must have taken place at some stage during Egypt’s dynastic history, following which the area was repopulated. If the first dynasty began after the Deluge, it presumably started quite some time after 2,350 BC, as the evidence suggests there was a sizeable population at the beginning of the first dynasty. Two statue inscriptions record a battle 300 years later, in which Khasekhemwy’s forces killed 47,209 men from the northern territory. And only 100 to 200 years after this, work on the Great Pyramids had apparently started, something which would clearly have required a very large workforce. As regards (b), a large gap in Egypt’s history would, of course, arise if various dynasties were brought forward by say 450 years to accommodate the proposed reductions in the Third Intermediate Period, and earlier dynasties were then pushed back by say 300 years, as apparently required by the most recent carbon dating results. A gap of several hundred years would clearly be long enough for Egypt to have been flooded and then repopulated. The site at Giza certainly appears to mark the end of a golden age of pyramid building, the expertise of which was perhaps lost to later generations by some kind of sudden change or event.
Gary Bates
(a) The Flood must have occurred before the first dynasty. Absolutely! Your suggested (b) solution is a non-starter I'm afraid as it massively underestimates the magnitude of Noah's Flood. For one thing, the pyramids are made of limestone which is a sedimentary rock. This rock is usually formed under water. The pyramids were made of blocks taken from a nearby limestone quarry in Egypt. I've seen it first hand and the depth of the strata is staggering. It most certainly was not formed by some local flood. The blocks and the strata contain marine fossils which is evidence of the limestone being formed under sea water, i.e. the floodwaters of Noah's time. The pyramids could not have withstood the massive energy of the Flood that ultimately completely reshaped the earth leading to the continents we have today, which did most likely not exist before the Flood (in their current form). In short, the pyramids exist because of the Flood, they did not survive it. Respectfully, that renders all other arguments as redundant. The language of the Bible is clear that the whole world that was destroyed "By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed" (2 Peter 3:6, NIV). It is clear that no other humans survived except Noah and his family.

With regard to the alleged size of the population by the time of the first dynasty, this again is not a problem and not a valid reason for thinking that the Flood somehow needed survivors. In our new Tour Egypt booklet, Dr Robert Carter and myself calculated the range of variables to account for population growth, migrants to Egypt all from the Babel event. For example, we calculated what was the potential smallest population there might have been and, even then there would have been a large enough population to tackle the task of building Khufu's massive pyramid by the time the 4th dynasty came around. So having a large enough population to build the pyramids is not a problem. In the booklet, we also posit a revised chronology timeline for Egypt and a potential candidate for the Exodus pharaoh. Also, keep in mind that the further one goes back, the less reliabe carbon-14 dates become. I recommend reading the following articles.

Egypt chronology insights

Egypt chronology confusion

When archaeology conflicts with the Bible

Radiometric Dating Questions and Answers

Mark J.
Thank you so much for such a thorough reply. You have given me a lot to review, and have helped greatly in my understanding the basic differences in these dating approaches.
Diane C.
Egyptian chronology certainly has its difficulties. If one believes that the historical records contained in Scripture are historically correct, then Egyptian chronologies need to be shortened by a little more than one thousand years, not just a few hundred. My own research and teaching has been focused on this issue for more than 25 years.
Unfortunately, secular historians (and most biblical historians as well) seem to reject scripture in favor of a longer Egyptian timeline when reading the prophets. Jeremiah and Ezekiel (in Jeremiah 43-46 and Ezekiel 29-30) prophetically record an invasion of Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar that decimates the country for decades. This invasion is confirmed in a Babylonian cuneiform tablet fragment in the British Museum (number 33041). These prophecies are rejected or considered allegorical based on that long Egyptian timeline, for they view Egypt as being quite comfortable in the days of Nebuchadnezzar. But these prophets would be considered false prophets if their prophecies were false.
About 18 years ago I found that one author had done his theological thesis on this subject and had subsequently expanded that into a book on Nebuchadnezzar's invasion of Egypt. In due course the author developed an extensive revision of the whole of Egyptian history, all due to considering the Babylonian invasion to be factual.
I would commend to Mr Mark J to study this series of books that are currently published on the website Displaced Dynasties. The author is James B Reilly, who is a theologian, historian, and conversant in ancient languages. I would also recommend a series of articles by AJM Osgood published in ExNihilo Technical Journal in 1986 in volumes 2 and 3 that begins to adjust the very long archaeological ages to a biblical timeframe.

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