Rohl: An Evaluation

peter_kirk at peter_kirk at
Wed Sep 29 15:52:29 EDT 1999

I have now finished reading through David Rohl's controversial book "A 
Test of Time" (Century, London 1995, also known as "Pharaohs and 
Kings"). I am offering the following evaluation to the b-hebrew list, 
in the light of the recent discussions on the list on Rohl's 
chronology. I am trying to keep to aspects of this which are relevant 
to b-hebrew.

It seems to me that Rohl's thesis can be divided into two. I choose to 
present them in the opposite order to that which he does:

1) He has found (or borrowed from others e.g. Bimson) a number of 
plausible correspondences between people and events named in the 
Hebrew Bible (from the time of Jacob to the middle of the Divided 
Monarchy) and archaeological finds in Egypt and Palestine, which are 
not generally accepted because the Bible apparently dates these 
considerably later than the conventional chronologies for Egypt and 
for Palestinian archaeology.

2) He has found some internal inconsistencies in the conventional 
chronology of Egypt and other Near Eastern nations, and has developed 
his own new chronology in the light of these inconsistencies. Perhaps 
inevitably, in eliminating some inconsistencies he has, according to 
his critics, introduced new ones. But with this new chronology (which 
is fairly flexible) the date discrepancies disappear for the 
correspondences which he has noted between Egypt and Palestine. One 
noteworthy point here is that, while Rohl is very sceptical about 
traditional chronologies of Egypt, he generally sticks rigidly to a 
chronology for the Israelites derived straight from the Biblical text, 
as interpreted by Thiele.

Rohl's chronology differs from the conventional chronology by as much 
as 377 years, in the dating of the start of the 18th dynasty (p.241) 
and of the start of the Iron Age (pp.173, 175). He does this by 
compressing the time from the Palestinian campaign in the 8th year of 
Rameses II (conventionally 1272 BCE, according to Rohl 925 BCE i.e. 
the 5th year of Rehoboam by Thiele's dating) to the sacking of Thebes 
(undisputed date 664 BCE) from 608 years down to 261 years. To do this 
he also has to compress the lengths of the Third Intermediate Period 
and of the early Iron Age subdivisions very severely (Iron Age IB is 
compressed from 150 years to 10!), whereas he has stretched the Hyksos 
period (so that the discrepancy between the chronologies is less again 
at the earlier end). There does seem to be a problem here.

A partial solution to the problem may be to realise that the Israelite 
chronology may also need to be reexamined. For example, it is far from 
impossible that some reigns have been omitted from the Israelite 
record so that Rohl's correspondence between the time of Saul and 
David and the Amarna period can be maintained, but with a conventional 
dating or at least one not so severely adjusted. Perhaps a later 
editor confused the invasions of Palestine by Rameses II and Shoshenk 
I and simply omitted a long period of Israelite weakness between them. 
This is of course not compatible with a literal understanding of 
Biblical chronological data, but most scholars accept that omissions 
may be made in genealogies and that such periods as the 480 years of 1 
Kings 6:1 are conventional rather than literal.

On the other hand, Rohl has provided some clear evidence for the absolute 
dating of his own scheme, independent of any Israelite chronology. The 
most impressive is his evidence of a total solar eclipse at Ugarit in 
1012 BCE, indirectly reported in an Amarna letter. If Rohl's 
interpretation of this evidence is right, the Amarna period indeed 
corresponds to that of David and Saul by the Thiele's chronology, but 
Rohl's compressed Iron Age is required.

Peter Kirk

Appendix 1: Some Israel-Egypt correspondences noted by Rohl

It may be possible to maintain these correspondences even without 
redating Egyptian chronology, by redating the Israelite events in 
accordance with the conventional dates given here. (Rohl presents no 
real evidence for his Jehoahaz and Jeroboam II correspondences, so 
these could easily be dropped). Note that this scheme allows about 320 
years from the Exodus to year 4 of Solomon, less than the 480 years of 
1 Kings 6:1 which Rohl accepts but a bit more than the conventional 
280 or so. This scheme allows 176 years for the Israelite sojourn in 
Egypt, less that the 215 years which Rohl derives from Josephus, who 
probably got this simply by halving the 430 years of Exodus 12:40 LXX. 
On this scheme Neferhotep I might quite literally have been the first 
Pharaoh who did not know Joseph (Exodus 1:8). Of course the larger 
problem remains of how to fill the extra 350 years between Rehoboam 
and Manasseh.

Event for Israel         Approx historical setting   Conventional date

Jacob moves to Egypt     Year 21 of Amenemhat III        1797
Death of Joseph          Early 13th dynasty              1725 (??)
Start of Oppression      Reign of Neferhotep I (??)      1696-1685
Birth of Moses           Year 3 of Sobekhotep IV         1683
Exodus                   End of reign of Dudimose        1621
Conquest                 MB IIB destruction of Jericho   1750-1550
Sheshai, ex-Hebron       Sheshi, 15th dynasty (??) king  1633-1525
Abimelech at Shechem     LB I destruction of Shechem     1550-1400
Battle of Ebenezer       LB I destruction of Shiloh      1550-1400
Death of Saul            Amarna letter EA 245            1380-1330
David captures Jerusalem Amarna letter EA 288            1380-1330
Solomon's Egyptian wife  Daughter of Haremheb (late)     c.1300
Solomon rebuilds Megiddo Megiddo VIII, LB IIA            1400-1300
Solomon builds Millo     Millo discovered by Kenyon      1370-1310
Year 5 of Rehoboam       Year 8 of Rameses II            1272
Jehoahaz of Israel (??)  Year 20 of Shoshenk I           925
Jeroboam II (??)         Megiddo VA/IVB                  1000-900
Manasseh of Judah        Sack of Thebes                  664

Appendix 2: Some details of Rohl's redating 
(all data from "A Test of Time")

                Conventional    Rohl            Discrepancy (at start)

Amenemhat III   1817-1772       1682-1636               135 
Sobekhotep IV   1685-1678       1529-1508               156 
End of 13th dyn 1621            1447                    174
Ahmose          1539-1514       1194-1170               345 
Akhenaten       1352-1336       1022-1006               330 
Rameses II      1279-1213       932-                    347 
Rameses III     1184-1153       c.880-853 (Omri/Ahab)   c.300 
Shoshenk I      945-924         823-                    122 
Osorkon II      874-850         789-762                 85 
Shoshenk III    825-773         762-723                 63 
Osorkon III     730-715         723-                    7 
Shabataka       702-690         698-                    4 
sack of Thebes  664             664                     0

Assyrian rulers mentioned in Amarna and Hittite letters: 
Ashuruballit    (I) 1362-1327   c.1007                  c.355 
Adad-nirari     (I) 1304-1273   (II) 911-891            393 
Shalmaneser     (I) 1272-1243   (III) 858-828           414 
Tukulti-Ninurta (I) 1242-1206   (II) 890-884            352

Ammisaduga      1702/1646/1582- 1419-1398               283/227/163 
(of Babylon, 3 alternative conventional chronologies)  

Mid Bronze I    2150-2000
Mid Bronze IIA  2000-1750       c.1700- ??              c.300 ?? 
Mid Bronze IIB  1750-1550       c.1400- ??              c.350 ?? 
Late Bronze I   1550-1400       c.1200- ??              c.350 ?? 
Late Bronze IIA 1400-1300
Late Bronze IIB 1300-1200       930-820                 370 
Iron Age IA     1200-1150       820-800                 380 
Iron Age IB     1150-1100       800-790                 350 
Iron Age IIA    1000-900        790-                    210 
Iron Age IIB    900-800
Iron Age IIC    800-600

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