History’s Timeline and the Old Testament

Feb 22, 2023

The Bible tells a great story starring God and man, which is the story of salvation. It is not a conventional story about ancient Israel, but neither is it an imaginary fiction about an ancestral time. Its pages speak of relevant people and events of the past that can be placed in time, and there is no lack of specific references to lands and landscapes that can be admired today in the Holy Land.

In the biblical stories about the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, we find precious narratives about nomadic clans that move through an arid land in search of water and pasture for their livestock. Both the customs alluded to, and the sociological context they denote, fit perfectly with what was happening in those lands in the second millennium BC. A millennium in which ancient history tells us, outside the Bible, of the reign of Hammurabi in Babylon or, later, of the Hyksos pharaohs, of Semitic origin, in Egypt.

In the book of Exodus it is said that the Israelites were harshly treated by the Egyptians in the construction of the cities of Pithom and Ramses. Today it is known that Pi Ramses was the capital of Egypt built by Pharaoh Ramses II, who reigned from 1279 to 1213 BC. That is to say that we can place the events related in the Bible about Moses, the departure of Israel from Egypt, the crossing of Sinai and the long journey to the Promised Land, around the middle of the 13th century BC.

It was around 1000 BC that archaeology shows the emergence of a state organization integrating the Israelite tribes. At the beginning of the monarchy,  the biblical account situates the reigns of Saul, David, and Solomon.

According to the first book of Kings, at the death of Solomon there was a split between the tribes and the kingdom was divided in two. The northern tribes constituted the kingdom of Israel, which would soon establish its capital in Samaria, and the southern tribes the kingdom of Judah, with its capital in Jerusalem.

Timeline of the Bible in Saxum Visitor Center

From then on, the histories of the two kingdoms ran in parallel, until in 722 BC the Assyrians conquered Samaria and deported the population of Israel, scattering them to all corners of their empire. It may help to frame this date in our temporal coordinates to remember that a few decades earlier, in 753 BC, the founding of Rome had taken place, and that at that time Homer was composing the Iliad and the Odyssey.

In the year 701 BC, in the time of King Hezekiah, the Assyrian troops laid siege to Jerusalem, although they did not manage to conquer it. These events are narrated in some detail by the prophet Isaiah, who witnessed the siege, and also in the books of Kings and Chronicles. But there is also a very detailed account of the same events in the Annals of Sennacherib, located in the royal archives of Nineveh.

Finally, it was the Babylonian troops who conquered Jerusalem on two successive occasions, in 597 and 587 BC, and organized the deportation of all the living forces of the city to the capital of their empire.

Almost fifty years later, the Persian king Cyrus II the Great, who had conquered Babylon around 540 BC, allowed Jewish deportees to return to their land if they wished, to rebuild the Temple of Jerusalem, which had been badly damaged in the Babylonian siege and had been without worship ever since. For about two centuries the entire territory of the ancient kingdom of Judah became a Persian province. Meanwhile, in the rest of the world, Athens lived moments of splendor at the time of Pericles, and later on, also in the Greek world, philosophers such as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle developed their activity.

Timeline of the Bible in Saxum Visitor Center

From the campaign of Alexander the Great throughout the Near East, between 336 and 323 BC, the influence of Hellenistic culture was increasingly intense. In the first period, Judah was controlled from Alexandria, the capital of Hellenistic Egypt. From 200 BC onwards, it was the Seleucid kings of Syria who imposed their bloody rule, which ended with the insurrection of the Maccabees and the establishment of a monarchy of their own, the Hasmoneans, who ruled from 167 BC onwards.

Finally, in 63 BC, the Roman general Pompey conquered Jerusalem and imposed the domination of Rome over all of Palestine. In the meantime, in Rome, shone figures such as Cicero and Julius Caesar.

Under Roman rule, a few decades later, while Octavian Augustus was Emperor of Rome, Jesus was born in Bethlehem. At that moment in history, as St. Paul says, “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption of sons” (Gal 4:4-5).

By father Francisco Varo



Skip to content