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Can we understand Egyptian chronology before the Exodus?

Charles J Sharp/wikipediaSaqqara-pyramid-of-Djoser
Saqqara pyramid of Djoser in Egypt, built in the 3rd Dynasty, conventionally dated at 2670–2650 BC, placing it 300 years before Noah’s Flood, which is clearly impossible.

Answering a question sent into CMI about Egyptian chronology

Published: 12 September 2020 (GMT+10)

Millard S. from Germany wrote into CMI with a question regarding biblical chronology as it relates to Egyptian chronology. He also asks whether we can trust the old dates proposed for the earliest period in Egyptian history. CMI’s Gavin Cox and Gary Bates respond.

Message:

I wish to understand Egyptian chronology before the Exodus (Dynasty 13). McClellan 2011 sets Dynasty 4’s rise 2082 BC, but the Hebrew Bible allows Dynasty 0-3 only 120 more years after Babel. The secular 300+ years must be reduced, but how is unclear: contemporary data are few.

One could use Samaritan/Greek values in Gen 11 or gaps in Ex 6’s genealogy, but our understanding of Egypt is likelier amiss than the received version of God’s word. Osgood 1986 cites (out of print) Courville 1971: ‘[Dynasty 6 was] contemporary…an over–ruling [12]’, but gives no proof; Clarke 2013 and Adamthwaite 2018 reject this and other Velikovsky-based schemes.

I know that creationist reconstruction of antiquity is ongoing. Are Dynasty 0-2, 3-8 and 11-13 still believed contemporary? If so, what evidence shows that the later Memphites were vassals to Thebes? If not, how should one interpret the sparse data before Dynasty 4? I would be thankful to learn what progress or hypotheses have been made in this active field.

Hi Millard,

Thanks for your question.

Regarding the earliest dates for the first Egyptian Dynasties, these are based on two very shaky pillars: Manetho’s history and Carbon dating. We suggest you read Gary’s article Egyptian chronology and the Bible—framing the issues which discusses the huge disparities and unreliability of methods upon which Egyptian chronologies are based. It also helps us understand why even genuine Christian researchers can arrive at vastly differing ideas. We still tend to think that many Christian researchers though, are still swayed by the Egyptian dates themselves, which is fraught with inconsistencies.

Manetho: manipulating antiquity

In the aforementioned article, it shows how Manetho had an axe to grind regarding proving his nation’s superiority over that of the Greeks and the Mesopotamians in his day. He did this by ‘bigging-up’ Egyptian history, essentially exaggerating it to make it seem more important, and that the Egyptians were the oldest civilization around, which they firmly believed as they had their own creation stories tied to their gods. So there would also be many examples as you allude to in your question where there were concurrent reigns of pharaohs in north and south, rather than consecutive reigns. This is more likely at the beginning of the nation, when separate tribes could well have been reigning at the same time in different parts of the country.

Dating: carbon capers

Secondly, modern archaeology has attempted to date those reigns using carbon 14 dating, which is notoriously difficult to calibrate and is assumption laden. See our article When archaeology conflicts with the Bible, specifically about 14C being used in archaeology. Carbon dating has also dramatically reduced some of the older periods of Egyptian history, but such reductions have not been viewed favourably by many Egyptologists. The main point to remember is the further one goes back in time, the less reliable 14C will be. The further one goes back towards the Flood, the greater the difference in the carbon 14/ 12 ratio would be, so there is an ever inflating false age the further back to the Flood one goes, see this chapter of the Creation Answers Book for more on carbon dating theory. So when the earliest 5th Dynasty pyramids were built, likely just a few hundred years after the Flood, any wood, or biological remains left there that could be dated would have a substantially different ratio, favouring carbon 12, compared to today’s ratio, making it ‘look’ older than it actually is because the presumptions are that the ratios have not changed significantly in history. 

New booklet by CMI on Egypt out now!

 Tour-of-Egypt-with-CMI
This little booklet provides fascinating insights into Egyptian history and its relationship to the Bible.

You said “Dynasty 0-3 only 120 more years after Babel.” At the time of writing we have a multi-authored booklet that was specifically written for our upcoming tours of Egypt (now deferred to 2021), and we have a complete section, including a statistical population growth model, to show how quickly civilizations could have built up in Egypt within a very short timeframe after Babel—which is really the crux of your question. I think you will be surprised at how quickly populations can grow. If you subscribe to our Infobytes, you will be notified when this booklet is available (as we write, it is currently being printed).

Shaky archaeological foundations

One of the things we noticed is that you presumed that the Exodus took place in the 13th Dynasty. We know some Christians have advocated this period. But conventionally this dynasty has been attributed to the Middle Kingdom or even added to the 2nd Intermediate Period of the Hyksos. We would advocate a New Kingdom Exodus and most likely during the 18th Dynasty. This just highlights again how widely the interpretations vary in trying to reconcile such things. However, as shown in the aforementioned recommended article and also in our article Evidence of Hebrews in Egypt, it demonstrates that if we take the biblical date for the Exodus c. 1,446 BC it puts the Exodus within the realm of New Kingdom dates. There are other facts and events during the latter part of the New Kingdom dynasties and even the 3rd Intermediate Period which start to reconcile nicely with the Bible based upon this date. Therefore, working backwards, trying to aim for a 13th Dynasty Exodus is not really tenable.

Heagy1/WikipediaNarmer-Palette-verso
King Narmer’s ceremonial palette conventionally dated at c. 3100 BC (1st Dynasty) would place it 750 years before Noah’s Flood, to within Adam’s lifetime, which is clearly impossible.

When it comes to dynasties 11–13 at the end of the Middle Kingdom, this is also a period of some doubt as to exactly when the 2nd Intermediate Period began, which immediately followed. These Intermediate periods (IM) were usually preceded by a decline in authority, structure or of the locally economy. It would appear that around this time a large Asiatic migration occurred into Egypt which led to the Hyksos rule of the 2nd IM. As such, good records are usually scant. The Egyptians despised foreigners so they were not well disposed to recording these periods with much posterity. In short, when did the Middle Kingdom actually cease; when did the 2nd IM begin and was there a period of some sort of concurrent rule?

Beginning with the Bible

Another point to consider is that during those first dynasties there are very scant archaeological remains, which points to small and hurried beginnings, rather than a very extended history. Some even doubt the genuine existence of a 2nd Dynasty at all. So for creationists, there is greater scope to collapse the time at the beginning of Egyptian history during the pre-dynastic and Old Kingdom periods. Even possibly some parts of the Middle Kingdom rather than later, when there is far more archaeological remains and synchronies to be made with other civilisations—particularly in the New Kingdom. Keep in mind, it is not just about whether a dynasty existed at all, but whether some were overlapping—but made sequential by Manetho when he ‘cooked the books’. These are just two factors to consider among many. Based upon the information currently available, we don’t think it is even possible to be definitive about this. The only thing we can be certain about are the biblical dates and the age of the earth. It is Egyptian chronology that needs adjusting.

On this issue, we prefer using the Masoretic Texts as the LXX is known to have an inflated chronology in Genesis. We suspect that many favour it as one can insert an extra few hundred years which would help in reconciling ‘the Bible’ with Egyptian dates.

Like you say, there is much to be worked out for a biblically friendly chronology to be constructed, but it is fraught with difficulties, based upon the information we have from Egypt, because they were also masters of disinformation.

As you’ve picked up, we would all distance ourselves from Velikovsky. Gavin read his Ages in Chaos book a few years ago and was struck at how easily he took myth and legend as trustworthy eyewitness testimony. Velikovsky was universally rejected in academia. As creationists we need to do much better, and keep in mind the Bible as God’s Word, gives us a firm history from which to work out chronologies.

Again, we would recommend our well balanced and fair article Framing the Issues which is a good summary of chronology, why it matters and the pitfalls. Our starting point should always be the Bible and not the secular dates. In the upcoming Tour Egypt with CMI booklet we mentioned, we believe we’ve made some startling discoveries with regard to the time period of Joseph, the subsequent sojourn, and the relative timing of the Exodus. These were drawn from the biblical narrative as to the depiction of the characters and the circumstances mentioned.

Also we would like to recommend a couple of articles written on archaeology and the bible and carbon dating issues. You will notice many linking articles underneath these articles recommending further reading.

I hope that helps.

Readers’ comments

Paul S.
When C14 was first proposed it was checked against objects of "known age" (and given a pass).
The oldest were - Egyptian artifacts.
Circular again.
Seathrún M.
In the paragraph below King Narmer's ceremonial palette (not in the caption!) you say that the Egyptians "were not well disposed towards recording these periods with much posterity". This seems at best awkward English, perhaps confused; it certainly confused me! How do you "record anything with posterity"? Do you mean "recording these periods for posterity"? One further, very minor, point. You misspell a writer's name; it should be "Velikovsky" not "Velikovski". I should know - though not now a fan, at one time I read everything of his I could get my hands on and I still have one of his books. In fairness, though, I think he asked some important questions that no one else dared to ask out loud - or possibly never thought of asking at the time - even if he mostly arrived at the wrong answers! I think he started a valuable discussion about Egyptian chronology, even though he omitted to give the Bible its rightful place.
Gary Bates
Thanks for the corrections. I have fixed the Velikovsky spelling errors, thanks for that. I agree that he was one of the first to openly challenged the accepted Egyptian chronology. However, if you read my article on Egyptian Chronology there were many senior and a respected Egyptologists who also saw the need for such revision.
David R.
I have always been led to assume that there was about a 400 year span from the time of Joseph and the entrance of the entire Jacobian clan into Egypt, at which time Jacob was 130 and Joseph was about 40, and the Exodus from Egypt under the leadership Moses and Aaron, when Moses was 80 and Aaron was 83. However, a review of the genealogical record of Moses back to Levi in Exodus 6:14-30 reveals there are only four generations of separation between Moses and Aaron and their great-grandfather, Levi (Levi > Kohath > Amram > Aaron/Moses/Miriam) which seems very chronological sparse to accommodate 400 years. Considering the patriarchal ages at death (133-137 years) and assuming the birth of their progeny to occur on or before they were half of their age at death, it would appear that ~200 years would be a more realistic estimate of time passage between the time of Joseph and the time of Moses/Aaron. I believe that some Bible scholars hold that the infamous ~400 year span of “Egyptian captivity” actually encompasses the time of the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 15) to the Mosaic Exodus. Your thoughts?
Gary Bates
This authors of this article and many others within our ministry have come to the view that the sojourn was only 200 years. It would not be fair for me to reproduce a huge tome for are reasoning, but if you grab our new Tour Egypt booklet it is fully explained there and I think that may solve some of your problems.
Thomas C.
Carbon dating has problems as to accuracy with real timelines. Yet it would be valuable to carbon date Joseph's and Abraham's, or Jacob's remains which are, if memory serves, located near Hebron. Then see which Egyptian carbon dates are closest to the same.\ as those obtained, if even possible to date, from the Joseph and Jacob's from the patriarchs' tomb.
Perry H.
HI Gary and Gavin,

I love your website and agree with most of what I read here. But from my limited study of lining up Egypt's history with the Bible, I agree more with the questioner, Millard. It doesn't make since that the Pharaoh of the exodus was from the 18th Dynasty, Egypt was destroyed by the plagues and their army drown in the sea. You know that 18th - 20th Dynasties were among the strongest in Egypt's history. But if you put the Exodus at the time just before the the 2nd Intermediate Period of the Hyksos, it makes sense that the Hyksos could have easily conquered Egypt at that time.
Also as far as historical synchronism the Pharaoh that took the treasure from Jerusalem,Shishak, fits much better as Thutmose III from the 18th Dynasty, than Shoshenq I of the 22nd Dynasty. Thutmose III wrote on his wall at Kamak about the treasures he took from the Kadesh, "Holy," city the golden shields and the 2 golden doors. Matching exactly the same number of shields and golden doors that Solomon had put in the temple. I got this information from David Down's book "Unwrapping the The Pharaohs." I find it very compelling evidence that the treasures taken by Thutmose III match exactly the treasures the Bible says was put into the temple. Don't you?

I read the linked articles and did not see any strong evidence presented for Shoshenq I or for the exodus being in the 18th Dynasty. Knowing that Egypt dating is not correct, what hard facts do you use to synchronize the 18th Dynasty with the exodus?
Gary Bates
We like David Down and used to carry his book until it was shown to us how demonstrably wrong his chronology was. Moreover, he strongly subscribed to the chronologies inspired by the atheistic Jew, Emmanuel Velikovsky. See these articles as to why his views are wrong.


The Queen of Sheba part 1.

The Queen of Sheba part 2.

You have also presumed that somehow Egypt was devasted economically due to the Exodus. Why? Where in the Bible does it say Egypt was 'destroyed' by plagues? Yes, they were affected but the purpose of the plagues was to get pharaoh to release the Hebrews and to show the impotence of Egyptian gods (the Bible does say that God’s battle was with the gods). This is often overstated. The Nile was the breadbasket of the region and Egypt had incredible mineral wealth. It could have easily recovered in just a few years as it often did in the past. You have really just made assumptions. i.e. "Egypt must have been weakened by the Exodus which allowed the Hyksos in" and all other assumption have stemmed from that. But the primary assumption is wrong. It is wrong to think that the Hyksos even invaded Egypt like some conquering army. This is another Down view. They were Asiatic settlers that grew in number and Egypt actually records it as such. The first Patterns of Evidence movie clearly shows that a semitic group lived under the special favour of a Hyksos king. It is likely that when Ahmose, the first king of the 18th dynasty, evicted the Hyksos that this was the time when the Bible says “there arose a pharaoh who did not know Joseph.”

Regarding your view that Shishak is the same as to Thutmoses III, this is another Down view that is demonstrably wrong. There are many synchronies that line up and Down's view does not fit with the Biblical view which is surely the most important one. We recently wrote about this so please read Evidence of Hebrews in Egypt and also Was Thutmose III the biblical Shishak?. In Egyptology there is a tendency for one to read almost the first chronological solution and think that it has the answer to all the problems. And when one holds two such views for a long period of time it is time to consider something else or that they might be wrong. But to make an informed decision one needs to also consider the arguments against it as well. I encourage you to do so for the reasons mentioned in my Egyptian chronology article. For me to explain why we have come to the conclusions we have, it would almost require me to rewrite everything that we have written before. Unfortunately, and I take no pleasure in saying this, our dear friend David down is out on a limb with regard to his revised chronology. I have supplied just a few links where you can see some major objections to his views. For a complete summary of our own views and why we have come to the decisions we have, you will need to grab a copy of our new Tour Egypt booklet which has only been out for a few weeks. I have supplied a link for it, and I do hope you take the time to read the other supplied links in my response. And what I used to date the Exodus is gleaned from Scripture itself which puts it relatively in the New Kingdom period. This period is the most well attested to do to the abundance of artifacts. And although Egyptian chronology is in need of reduction by some hundreds of years, there is no way it can be done during the New Kingdom. We also need to look at the description of the characters at this time. For example, we can glean that the pharaoh during Moses's is exile reigned for at least 40 years, because after 40 years in the Midian he was told to return to Egypt because those who tried to kill him were now dead. There are only two pharaohs in the whole new kingdom, that reigned for 40 years or more. One of them is Ramses II but this is the late Exodus idea and does not fit with the Biblical dates. I strongly encourage you to get our booklet as all of our reasoning is laid out, and there are particularly some fascinating insights from scripture itself that the pharaoh of Joseph's time was not a native Egyptian.

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