How to Make an Exodus Chronology

To establish a chronology one must determine the following:

1.    The major events in the series of events to be linked together.
2.    An event in the list for which we are relatively sure of the date.
3.    The amount of time between each of the major events.
4.    What are the possible margins for error
I.    The first determination is the easiest.  Here is what most scholars think the list should include:
A.    The Call of Abraham
B.    Jacob's Descent into Egypt
C.    The Exodus from Egypt
D.    The Founding of the Temple in Jerusalem
II.    Is there a date that scholars generally agree on that can be used as the historical anchor for the chronology? The one about which there is the least controversy is the building of the temple in Jerusalem by Solomon.  Usually the dates vary between 967 and 956 BC.  Any date in that range is good enough to put the stories in their proper historical contexts.  The date I use is 966 BC.  Using this date we have an error factor of only plus one or minus ten years which is low enough for our purposes.

III.    The third factor is the problematic one.  How much  time was the between the events.

A.    Abraham's Call to Jacob's Descent.  Most take this as the previously mentioned 215 years. Click HERE for a complete list of verses for creating a Patriarchal timeline.
Years in the Land of Promise
Gen. 12:4
Abraham  entered the land of promise at age 75.
Gen. 21:5
Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born
Gen. 25:26
Isaac was 60 years old when Jacob was born.
Gen. 47:9
Jacob was 130 years old when he and his family moved to Egypt

B.    Jacob's Descent until the Exodus. There are two major positions here  as to how long the Israelites stayed in Egypt.

1.    The first is that it lasted 430 years.  This will be called the long sojourn. It only covers the time spent by Jacob (not Joseph) and his descendants in Egypt.  The view is based on the Hebrew text of Exodus 12:40f.
Exodus 12:40-41  Now the time that the sons of Israel lived in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years.  And at the end of four hundred and thirty years, to the very day, all the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt. (HEBREW)
2.    The second is that the period lasted 215 years.  This will be called the short sojourn.  This figure is derived from the LXX and the NT.   Mr. Dyke does not hold to this position.
a.    The Septuagint Translation of Exodus 12:40 says,
"And the sojourning of the children of Israel, while they sojourned in the land of Egypt and the land of Chanaan, was four hundred and thirty years." (GREEK)
b.    It is contended that Galatians 3:17 agrees with the Septuagint (LXX) and includes the 215 years of the Patriarchal Period in the 430 year figure.  The promise was given to Abraham the moment he left Haran to enter Canaan and so the 430 years starts at the beginning of the Patriarchal Period.
"What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise." (GREEK)
c.    The contention is that the Hebrew text is corrupt and the LXX has the correct reading.
3.    Which position one holds to will move the date significantly, if you think 215 years is significant.

4.    Galatians does not necessarily have to be interpreted as referring to the call of Abraham.  The promise is given throughout the period and the ratification takes place as an ongoing process.  For example with Abraham it comes in three major stages (Gen. 12, 15, 17).  In fact the last time the promise was given was to Jacob as he was descending into Egypt.

Genesis 46:2-4,  God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, "Jacob, Jacob." And he said, "Here I am."  He said, "I am God, the God of your father; do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you a great nation there. "I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also surely bring you up again; and Joseph will close your eyes."
5.    Why do I hold to the long sojourn?
a.    I trust the Hebrew text more than the LXX.
b.    Using this chronology I can make some great synchronisms.  In other words I think this chronology makes the story fit Egyptian history very well.
C.    From the Exodus  to the Founding of the Temple in Jerusalem. In 1 Kings 6:1 there is the following statement:
And it came to pass in the four hundred and eightieth year after the children of Israel were come out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon's reign over Israel, in the month Zif, which is the second month, that he began to build the house of the LORD.

1.    Literal Interpretations: These assume the numnber is accurate enough to put us in the proper era for the event.  We will call this view the EARLY EXODUS view.

a.    The figure is an exact figure like the one in Exodus 12:40.
b.    The figure is a round number and thus could range from 471 years to 489 years. We do not know their methods of rounding numbers and so we have to do the greatest range possible.
c.    This would put the exodus around 1450 BC.
2.    Figurative Interpretations: We will call this view the LATE EXODUS view.
a.    Some believe that the number is based on the idea that a generation lasted about forty years and there were twelve generations from the event to the construction of the temple. 12 x 40 = 480.
b.    A variation replaces the generations with the number of judges which was also 12.
c.    Both of these interpretations assume the number is unreliable for computational purposes and should be ignored.
d.    Since the text says that the Israelites built the city of Rameses then the most logical place to put the event is during the time of Rameses the Great (ca. 1250 BC)
D.    There are those who totally ignore all of these statements and put the events anywhere they think they fit best.
IV.    The Fudge Factor (Pun Intended)
A.    Of course anytime you ignore a number then there is the universal fudge factor of allowing you to move the event anywhere you wish.

B.    If the numbers are taken as round or literal you can add or subtract two years to your total.  Why? There are two ways biblical writers measure time between events.

1.    Inclusive Numbers: When a number for a period of time is given the writer will include any part of a year as a whole year. So theoretically a number like 480 may only be 478 and a few days from the beginning year and a few days from the ending year.

2.    Exclusive Numbers: Partial years/weeks/days are excluded and so 480 years would not include what was in the beginning year and the ending year.

3.    What this means is we can wiggle our date up and down slightly if we have to make the events fit Egyptian history.  We just do not know if the numbers are inclusive or exclusive.  My intepretation does not hinge on this factor.

C.    Example: Compare Mathew 17:1 and Luke 9:28.