Time Line

Early Exodus Date 1524 BC

The “480 years” comes from the Masoretic translation of the Old Testament in Hebrew. The Roman Catholic and subsequently the Protestant Bibles relied on the Masoretic text as our Old Testament source. The Masoretic translation was completed around 900 AD. The Masoretic translation was translated from the Quattuordecim, which was the primary translation made by Ezra and used by Jews at the time of Jesus. Jesus and His apostles did not use the Masoretic translation that we use because it was not made until several hundred years later.

One translation error that has occurred is in 1 Kings 6:1. The Masoretic text has 480 years; however, the Septuagint has only 440 years. This 40-year difference is a reason for a pause since the Bible tells us it is exactly 480 or 440 depending on the translation. Many put total faith in a number that appears to have the potential of being 40 years off.

Adjusting the timeline to include adequate time would require more information. This is where Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges proposes a solution:

  • “It is most likely that the 440 years of the Septuagint (LXX) was arrived at by adding together the years assigned to the several judges and omitting the other events, the oppression of Jabin, and of the Philistines. This makes a total 296 years, which with 40 years for the sojourn in the desert, and 104 between Eli and the 4th year of Solomon brings the total to 440.”[1]

The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges has a possible solution for this verse that will put the Whole Bible in harmony. They found that when all of Israel’s good years are added up in Judges, a total of 296 years is calculated. They then add 104 years for the time from Eli up to the start of the temple construction. The resulting years are 440, the same as the Septuagint. They then propose to add the years of oppression for the correct number of years.

The Cambridge Bible has a good observation: the judges’ time period has years of oppression where no judge ruled and was not added to this number. Thus, one needs to add the years of oppression to 440 to get the correct answer.

The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges does not calculate for overlapping timeframes. This method’s primary concern is the years of oppression and years of the Judges running independently, back-to-back, with no overlapping. Most historians place several of these years running simultaneously, such as two Judges governing at the same time.

The primary problem with determining that there cannot be any overlap in timeframes is that the Bible does not say they did or did not. Therefore, mandating one way or the other without further Scripture would be irresponsible.

The primary reason for adding the years of oppression to the 440 or 480 years is that it lines up with the rest of the Bible. Acts 13:20 tells us that the time of the Judges lasted 450 years. To include 84 years for the kings, 40 years in the wilderness, and 7 years for the conquest of Canaan. According to Acts, 581 years is needed, but 1 Kings 6:1 allows for 480 years, a deficiency of 101 years. Furthermore, if we instead use the 440 years, we still have a deficiency of 141 years. The years discrepancy is remedied once the years of oppression are added, making the numbers closer aligned.

One possibility as to why the years of oppression could have been left off is that, 2,500 years ago, they only included the years of self-government in the national record. If someone else is governing you, how can that be your governing?

The years of oppression mentioned in Judges occurs in 6 verses: Judges 3:8, 3:14, 4:3, 6:1, 10:8, and 13:1. The time of oppression in all six verses is rounded to whole numbers and are 8, 18, 20, 7, 18, and 40. The total of years of oppression equals 111 years. Since we are dealing with whole years, it is clear that they were rounded. We do not know if they were rounded up or down.

The dilemma with rounding 6 numbers means there is up to 6 years either added or lost. One does not know if days, weeks, or months were added or subtracted. We do not know if they counted the whole year by starting a new year, even by one day. The result of uncertainty with these six numbers is that they could be just shy of 6 years off in either direction.

The 440 years or 480 years are a culmination of all Israel’s events and may have been rounded. There are 13 dates given in Judges that equal 279 years; all 13 are also rounded, providing 161 or 201 years for the other Bible events. The good news is that the 440 or 480 are a complete set of years. However, they may not be whole numbers, meaning they could be off as much as one year in either direction.

Adding the 111 years of oppression mentioned in Judges to the 440 and 480 years, we get 551 and 591 years.

All the numbers in the Bible are now similar and no longer contradict each other. The 551 years or 591 years are better aligned with the Bible’s genealogy and are closer to the years that Acts 13 gives us, being about 581 years. The numbers no longer contradict each other but rather strengthen each other, seeing they are about 30 years and 10 years off, depending upon which one you choose.

There is one main difference between the verse in Acts and Kings. Acts 13 dates are estimations but not exact. The number given in 1 Kings 6:1 was intended to calculate down to one sum of years.

The 581 years given to us in Acts come with the disclaimer “about.” The word “about” was placed in front of all numbers given to us in Acts, implying estimates, not exact years. So they could be off by several years.

The 440 years or 480 years given in 1 Kings 6:1 calculate to an exact year. We read in 1 Kings 6:1, “It came to pass in…” This would imply an exact rounded year, not an estimation. This number would be expected to contain the correct measurement unit—in this case, the correct year. The only adjustments that need to be made are for the rounding to whole years. As a result of the numbers in 1 Kings 6:1 being more specific than Acts 13, our efforts will be concentrated around them. The final numbers for 440 and 480 with the 111 years of oppression added will be 551 years and 591 years respectively when added to 966 BC (the 4th year of King Solomon). This means the dates in question for the Exodus are 1517 BC or 1557 BC, plus or minus seven years for rounding.

[1] J. S. Perowne, The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges (Cambridge: University Press, 1896), p. 54.

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