Chronology of the Judges Period

The chart below is based on the date,Calculated from Biblical Jubilees, for the Exodus.

It is convenient to analyse the chronology of the Judges period in three sections: -
1. The three hundred year period from the conquest of the land East of the Jordan river to the judgeship of Jephtha.
2. The period from Jephtha to Solomon's fourth year, 480 years from the coming out of Egypt.
3. Finding space for periods for which there is no clear or definite chronological data, such as Samson's 20 year, Eli's 40 year judgeship and the length of Samuel's lifelong judgeship (which extended into the reign of Saul). Other pieces of the jigsaw are Shamgar's judgeship and the 40 year oppression by the Philistines.


Exlanatory notes: -
The first section, from the conquest of the land east of the Jordan to the time of Jephtha, occupies 300 years ( Judges 11:26). This is not enough to accommodate consecutively all the time periods given and still find enough time to allow, “for all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and who had seen all the great works of the LORD, that he did for Israel”(2:7). Joshua lived to be 110 and we read that it was, “a long time after that the LORD had given rest unto Israel from all their enemies round about, that Joshua waxed old and stricken in age” (Josh.23:1), so clearly there must be a sensible gap between the granting by Joshua of the inheritance to Caleb aged 85, 45 years after the Exodus, and the falling away of Israel after the death of the elders who outlived Joshua.
These elders, apart from Caleb, must have been less than twenty years old at the Exodus or they would have perished in the wilderness with that unfaithful generation (Nu.14:22-24, 29-33). They must also have been old enough to witness and appreciate God's great works. We can therefore assume a minimum age for these later elders of, say, five years at the Exodus (or even twelve years if they were to be held responsible for this witness). Thus, at the time Caleb received his inheritance, this group would have been between 50 and 64 years old. This puts an undefined yet sensible upper limit on the length of their rule.

There followed alternate periods of oppression by enemies and deliverance by judges (2:14 -19). All the Judges in this period up to Jephtha are given in consecutive order interspersed with the oppressors - with the exception of the chapter following Deborah where there is no linking “after” or “then” in the narrative (6:1). Thus, there is the possibility of an overlap here. This has been incorporated in the chart so that the time following Deborah and Barak's defeat of Sisera (Jabin's commander) in Ephraim when “the land had rest forty years” (5:31), has been made concurrent with Gideon's forty years Judgeship of Manasseh (8:28). This also requires that the 7 years oppression by Midian prior to Gideon's deliverance must have occurred during the latter part of the 20 year oppression of Jabin before Deborah and Barak's deliverance. This gives a 13 year space for Shamgar, who followed Ehud, and was contemporary with Jael (who killed Sisera) while there was still oppression in Ephraim (5:6-7)

This compression leads to a 27 year period from the entry into the land west of the Jordan to the falling away after the death of the last elder (who could have lived to the age of 86 but no longer - except that Caleb would have been 108 had he survived that long). These are sensible figures and allow for the full 80 years of Ehud's judgeship. This latter figure has been questioned because of the need to compress the data in this 300 year period (Whiston, in a footnote in his “Josephus”, suggests it should be eight years). There is no justification for questioning the accuracy of the Biblical figure but there is the possibility that the 80 year period can be interpreted differently - for example the time from the entry to the land to Ehud's judgeship. There are other possible interpretations which result in a range of values for the period to the first falling away of Israel after the conquest.

The next period, 140 years from Jephtha to the fourth of Solomon, has to include the rest of the judges, including Samuel, followed by the reigns of Saul, David and Solomon. Based on Acts 13:20 (NIV), the chart puts Samuel's judgeship immediately after the last of the judges - it appears that, apart from Eli, they were all consecutive following Jephtha. Allowing for a 40 year reign for Saul, this results in a period of 26 years for Samuel's judgeship, plus the number of years David and Solomon reigned concurrently. (1K.1).

Samuel also followed directly after Eli's 40 year judgeship, so Eli must have been concurrent with other judges. It is also convenient to consider his time to be concurrent with the 40 year oppression by the Philistines, during which period we can probably also place Samson. The Philistines were subdued all the time of Samuel (1 Sam. 7:13).

It was when Samuel was old that Israel asked for a king (1 Sam. 8:1-5) so it is instructive to try to assess his age around this time. Eli was a priest and, under the law, a priest officiated between the ages of 20 and 60 years old. Eli was still officiating when Samuel had his message from the LORD. If we suppose that Samuel was twelve years old (the age of responsibility) on this occasion, he must have been at least 50 when Eli died at the age of 98. Thus, according to the chart, Samuel would be at least 76 years old when Israel asked for a king, an age which harmonises with the Biblical record that he was an old man (1 Sam. 8: 5).

One other piece of information, which has caused doubt concerning the Biblical record, is the information that the ark abode in Kirjath-jearim twenty years (1 Sam. 7:2). Since it was moved from there by David when he reigned in Jerusalem (at least seven years into his reign), it has been said that a reign of 40 years for Saul, as testified by Paul (Acts 13:21), is impossible. However, according to the chart, the twenty years of 1 Sam. 7:2 fell within Samuel's judgeship and we read later, And Saul said unto Ahiah, Bring hither the ark of God. For the ark of God was at that time with the children of Israel (1 Sam.14:18). This was while Saul was in Gibeah of Benjamin. Therefore the ark had already been removed from Kirjath-jearim before the time of David and must have been sent back in the intervening period. This fact removes the difficulty alluded to.

The chart throws up an interesting chronological synchronism with Egypt. There is a unique and famous reference to Israel in a granite stela of Pharaoh Merenptah, Israel is desolated and has no seed... Gardiner1 gives dates of c1224 - 1214BC for this Pharaoh. These dates agree well with the seven year period of oppression of Israel by Midian (1220 - 1213BC) where we read, [the Midianites]... destroyed the increase of the earth, till thou come unto Gaza, and left no sustenance for Israel, neither sheep, nor ox, nor ass...And Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites;... (Jud.6: 4...6). The term 'has no seed' is a description used several times in Egyptian records for describing a defeated and plundered people, so it appears that this reference to Israel was just describing their current state of affairs in common with other parts of the land of Canaan (including Gaza) referred to in the same stela.

(1) Egypt of the Pharaohs, Sir Alan Gardiner, OUP, 1961.

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