The Chronology of the Pentateuch (Part 4)

11. The Life of Abraham

2006 – Noah dies (Gen. 9:29).

2008 – Abram is born of Terah in Ur (Gen. 11:26-32; 12:4; Acts 7:4).

2026 – Reu ben Peleg dies (Gen. 11:20-21).

2042? – Abram and Terah move to Haran (Gen. 11:31-32).

2049 – Serug ben Reu dies (Gen. 11:22-23).

2083 – Terah ben Nahor dies. Abram leaves Haran and enters promised land, settling in Shechem (Gen. 12:1-7). This is the beginning of the 430 years of living under Egyptian dominion. See the discussion of Exodus 12:50 in chapter 15 below.

2084? – Abram moves to Bethel (Gen. 12:8).

2085? – Abram moves to the Negev; famine sends him to Egypt (Gen. 12:9-10).

2086? – Pharaoh attacks Sarai, is plagued, and sends Abram out with much spoil (Gen. 12:11-20). Abram leaves Egypt and settles in Bethel. There is strife between Lot’s men and Abram’s, and Lot separates from Abram (Gen. 13:1-17).

Abram moves to Hebron, converts Mamre, Eshcol, and Aner. The War of the Kings ensues. Lot is captured and rescued. Abram is afraid the kings will return. God appears to him and promises him the land (Gen. 13:18; Gen. 14-15).

2093 – Sarai offers Abram forbidden fruit: Hagar. Abram accepts. Once Hagar is pregnant, she makes it clear that she will not let Sarai adopt her child. Sarai punishes Hagar, who flees. God meets her and blesses her (Gen. 16:1-14).

2094 – Ishmael born (Gen. 16:15-16).

2096 – Arpachshad ben Shem dies (Gen. 11:12-13).

2107 – In the spring God appears to Abram, changes his name to Abraham, and tells him to circumcise his household. God also changes Sarai to Sarah, and tells Abraham that she will have a child in twelve months “at this time next year” (Gen. 17).

A few days after this, God appears to Abram again, tells him that Sarah will bear him a child in the spring (“when the time revives”; Gen. 18:10 & 14; cp. 2 Ki. 4:16-17), and announces the destruction of the cities of the Jordan Circle. Abraham pleads for Lot’s life, and is given it (Gen. 18). God’s two angels proceed to Sodom and rescue Lot; then the cities are destroyed (Gen. 19). (The circumcision of the righteous is parallel to the destruction of the wicked.) Lot chooses not to rejoin Abraham, and his life is ruined.

The fouling of the land causes Abraham to leave it and move south toward Egypt, and then later into Philistine (Egyptian) territory (Gen. 20:1). By now it is summer.

These events have taken probably three months, which means Sarah must become pregnant immediately in order to have a son in the spring. Satan attacks by causing Abimelech to take her into his harem. God shuts up the wombs of Abimelech’s household, appears to Abimelech and threatens him, and Sarah is returned to Abraham. Abraham settles in Gerar (Gen. 20).

2108 – In the spring Sarah gives birth to Isaac in Philistine territory (Gen. 21:1-7).

2113 – Isaac is weaned. At the feast, Sarah sees Ishmael laughing. She perceives that his laughter will war against Isaac, whose name means Laughter. This event is the beginning point of the 400-years during which the seed will live in a land not theirs (Gen. 21:8-10; Gal. 4:30; Gen. 15:13; Acts 7:6). In terms of the theme of Egyptian dominion over the Hebrews, note that Ishmael is the son of an Egyptian woman.

Sarah requires Abraham to drive Hagar and the 13-year old Ishmael out. God appears to Hagar and tells her that He will be with Ishmael and bless him (Gen. 21:11-21).

Also during this year Abimelech covenants with Abraham at Beersheba (Gen. 21:22-34), and Abraham settles in Philistine territory for a long time.

2124 – Ishmael is 30 years old. Let us assume that his firstborn son is born in this year, and his others at two year intervals. Thus, this would be the year of Nebaioth’s birth (Gen. 25:13).

2126 – Shelah ben Arpachshad dies (Gen. 11:14-15). Kedar ben Ishmael is born (?).

2128? – Adbeel ben Ishmael born.

2130? – God tells Abraham to take Isaac into the land, to Mount Moriah near Jerusalem, and offer him as a sacrifice. Isaac is a “youth” not a “child,” so perhaps 17 or so (thus the year 2130). After sparing Isaac, God tells Abraham that he will have a vast multitude of seed (Gen. 22:1-19). This might also be the year of the birth of Mibsam ben Ishmael.

2131? – Abraham hears that his brother Nahor has had 12 sons (Gen. 22:20-24).

2132? – Mishma ben Ishmael born.

2134? – Duman ben Ishmael born.

2136? – Massa ben Ishmael born.

2138? – Hadad ben Ishmael born.

2140? – Tema ben Ishmael born.

2142? – Jetur ben Ishmael born.

2144? – Naphish ben Ishmael born.

2145 – Sarah dies at the age of 127 in Hebron, which means that Abraham had moved back into the land of promise by this time. Abraham buries her in the field at Machpelah in the promised land (Gen. 23).

2146? – Kedemah ben Ishmael born.

2148 – Abraham sends his servant to obtain a wife for Isaac, who marries Rebekah and takes her into Sarah’s tent (Gen. 24). Isaac is 40 at this time (Gen. 25:20).

12. The Continuation of Abraham’s Line

2149? – Abraham marries Keturah and begins to have six sons (Gen. 25:1-6). I shall put these children two years apart from each other, as we have done before, and the next generation will be put after 30 years, in order to get an approximate chronology.

2151? – Zimran ben Abraham born.

2153? – Jokshan ben Abraham born.

2155? – Medan ben Abraham born.

2157? – Midian ben Abraham born, the ancestor of the Midianites.

2158 – Shem ben Noah dies (Gen. 11:10-11).

2159? – Ishbak ben Abraham born.

2161? – Shuah ben Abraham born.

2168 – Esau and Jacob born (Gen. 25:25-26).

2183 – Abraham dies at 175 (Gen. 25:7). Sheba ben Jokshan born (?).

2185? – Dedan ben Jokshan born.

2187 – Eber ben Shelah dies (Gen. 11:16-17). Ephah ben Midian born (?).

2189? – Epher ben Midian born.

2191? – Hanoch ben Midian born.

2193? – Abida ben Midian born.

2195? – Eldaah ben Midian born.

2198 – Jacob and Esau are 30 years old. Let us assume that around this time Esau despises his birthright and signs it over to Jacob (Gen. 25:27-34). This means that the famine and Isaac’s sojourn in Philistine territory take about 10 years, at the end of which we are told of Esau’s marriage in 2208.

2200? – A famine causes Isaac to move to Philistine territory (Gen. 26:1-11).

2201? – Isaac reaps a bountiful harvest (Gen. 26:12).

2202? – The envious Philistines drive Isaac away (Gen. 26:13-17).

2203? – Isaac digs wells and finally finds a place to live for a few years (Gen. 26:18-22).

2205? – Isaac moves to Beersheba (Gen. 26:23-25).

2207? – Abimelech makes a covenant with Isaac at Beersheba (Gen. 26:26-33).

2208 – Esau marries two pagan wives, Judith bath [daughter of] Beeri the Hittite and Basemath bath Elon the Hittite (Gen. 26:34). In Genesis 36:2 these two women are named Adah bath Elon the Hittite and Oholibamah bath Anah bath Zibeon the Hivite. So, Judith (Praise) is also named Adah (Pleasure), and Basemath (Fragrant) is also named Oholibamah (High Place Tent). Basemath-Oholibamah was the daughter of Elon the Hittite and Anah, who was the daughter of Zibeon the Hivite. We shall have Esau bear his first two sons a year later. Esau married a third wife in 2245.

2209? – Eliphaz ben Esau and Jeush ben Esau born (Gen. 36:4-5)

2211? – Jalam ben Esau born.

2213? – Korah ben Esau born.

2215? – [Asshurim] ben Dedan born.

2217? – [Letushim] ben Dedan born.

2219? – [Leummim] ben Dedan born.

2231 – Ishmael dies (Gen. 25:17).

13. Jacob and Esau

The first chronological problem encountered in the story of Jacob is to figure out his age when he went to Padan-Aram to get a wife. He was 77 years old (and thus by no means a youth). We know this from the following data:

a. Joseph stood before Pharaoh at age 30 (Gen. 41:46).

b. At the end of 7 years of plenty, Joseph was 37 (Gen. 41:29-30).

c. At the end of 2 years of famine, when Jacob came to Egypt, Joseph was 39 (Gen. 45:6) and Jacob was 130 (Gen. 47:9).

d. Therefore, Jacob was 91 when Joseph was born (130-39=91).

e. Jacob had served Laban 14 years when Joseph was born (Gen. 30:25).

f. Therefore, Jacob was 77 when he came to Padan-Aram (91-14=77).

The other problem for the Jacob narrative is to figure out the ages of his sons. After Joseph was born, Jacob sought to leave Haran and was persuaded to stay another 6 years (Gen. 30:25ff.; 31:38, 41). Thus, Joseph was born at the end of the first 7 years of Jacob’s marriage. If Joseph is the youngest son born in Padan-Aram, then all 7 of Leah’s children were born during those 7 years, which is pretty much impossible. Even if we say that Dinah was born later on, which seems to have been the case from Genesis 32:22, we still have 6 sons born in 7 years.

There are two answers to this problem. The first is that it is, of course, barely possible, if Leah was passing the children on a wet nurse instead of nursing them herself (since women tend not to conceive while nursing). When we consider that Leah stopped bearing after the birth of Judah, and apparently did not conceive her last two sons until after her maid Ziplah had born two children, then we must have at least 8 children born in seven years before Joseph. This strains credulity to the breaking point.

The second answer is that this passage is not presented in strictly chronological order. The order is theological. First are described the ten “natural” sons, and then is described the birth of Joseph, the “miracle” son, born from a closed womb. Consider: first Abraham has a natural son, and then God opens Sarah’s womb and the miracle son is born. The second born is the replacement for the fallen firstborn. Consider: Rebekah is barren, but God miraculously opens her womb. Her firstborn, Esau, is bad, and is replaced by the second-born, Jacob (“Supplanter”). Now we come to Jacob. The first ten sons are born without a miracle. They are bad, and sell Joseph into slavery. Joseph is the second-born, replacement son, born after the miracle. This is the structure of the passage.

So then, what is the chronology? Leah has four sons and stops bearing (Gen. 29:31-35). This easily takes up seven years, and these four sons (Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah) are older than Joseph. Early in the seven years, Rachel gives Bilhah to Jacob, and two sons are born (Dan & Naphtali; Gen. 30:1-8). These are also probably older than Joseph. After she stops bearing, Leah gives Zilpah to Jacob, and she bears two sons (Gad & Asher; 30:9-13). These are probably younger than Joseph, born during the final six years in Haran. At some point, Leah begins to have children again and bears Issachar and Zebulun (30:14-20), again during the last six years. We are told that afterward she bore Dinah.

2239? – Teman ben Eliphaz born (Gen. 36:11).

2241? – Omar ben Eliphaz born (Gen. 36:11).

2243? – Zepho ben Eliphaz born (Gen. 36:11).

2245 – Rekebah and Jacob trick Isaac into obeying God and giving the blessing to Jacob. Jacob leaves home at age 77 to get a wife in Padan-Aram. God appears to him at the top of a ladder to heaven (Gen. 27-28). Esau, seeing his parents loath his first two wives, marries Mahalath bath Ishmael. Since Ishmael died in 2231, this was probably a child of his old age. In Genesis 36:3, Mahalath (Mild) is called Basemath (Fragrant), the same as the original name of Esau’s first wife. Possibly in this year also Gatam ben Eliphaz was born (Gen. 36:11).

2247? – Kenaz ben Eliphaz born (Gen. 36:11).

2249? – Amalek ben Eliphaz born (Gen. 36:12).

2252 – Jacob marries both Leah and Rachel.

2253? – Reuben ben Jacob born.

2254? – Dan ben Jacob born.

2255? – Simeon ben Jacob born.

2256? – Naphtali ben Jacob born; Reuel ben Esau born (Gen. 36:4).

2257? – Levi ben Jacob born.

2259 – Judah ben Jacob born? Joseph ben Jacob born. Judah was older than Joseph.

2262? – Gad ben Jacob born.

2263? – Issachar ben Jacob born.

2264? – Asher ben Jacob born.

2265 – Jacob returns to Canaan at age 99. Before leaving, Zebulun ben Jacob is born (?). Laban pursues Jacob, but is turned back by God. God meets Jacob and wrestles with him at Jabbok. Jacob meets Esau and parts from him, settling in Succoth (Gen. 33:17).

2266? – Dinah is born.

2276 – Joseph, age 17, brings back a bad report on his six older brothers, has dreams, and is sold into slavery (Gen. 37). Judah leaves his brothers and marries Shua (Gen. 38:2).

2277? – Er ben Judah born (Gen. 38:3).

2279? – Onan ben Judah born (Gen. 38:4).

2281? – Dinah, age 15?, is ravished by the Hamor of Shechem when Jacob moves to Shechem. The city of Shechem is razed by Levi and Simeon, who are cursed by Jacob (Gen. 33:18-20; Gen. 34). Jacob moves to Bethel (Gen. 35:1-15).

2282? – Jacob moves from Bethel to Eder; on the way Rachel dies giving birth to Benjamin (Gen. 35:16-21).

2283? – Hanoch ben Reuben born (Gen. 46:9).

2284? – Reuben lies with Jacob’s unendowered wife Bilhah (Gen. 35:22); [Hushim] ben Dan born (Gen. 46:23).

2285? – Pallu ben Reuben born (Gen. 46:9); Jemuel ben Simeon born (Gen. 46:10).

2286? – Nahath ben Reuel born (Gen. 36:13); Jahzeel ben Naphtali born (Gen. 46:24).

2287 – Joseph, age 28, interprets the dreams of Pharaoh’s baker and cupbearer, two years before he stands before Pharaoh (Gen. 40; 41:1). Hezron ben Reuben born; Jamin ben Simeon born; Gershon ben Levi born? (Gen. 46:9-11).

2288 – Isaac dies at 180 (Gen. 35:28). Zerah ben Reuel born? (Gen. 36:13); Guni ben Naphtali born? (Gen. 46:24).

2289 – Joseph, age 30, stands before Pharaoh at the beginning of the 7 years of plenty (Gen. 41:46). Carmi ben Reuben born; Ohad ben Simeon born; Kohath ben Levi born (Gen. 46:9-11).

2290? – Shammah ben Reuel born (Gen. 36:13); Manasseh ben Joseph born (Gen. 41:50-51); Jezer ben Naphtali born (Gen. 46:24).

2291? – Jachin ben Simeon born; Merari ben Levi born (Gen. 46:10-11).

2292? – Mizzah ben Reuel born (Gen. 35:13); Ziphion ben Gad born (Gen. 46:16); Ephraim ben Joseph born (Gen. 41:52); Shillem ben Naphtali born (Gen. 46:24).

2293? – Zohar ben Simeon born; Tola ben Issachar born (Gen. 46:10, 13). Shelah ben Judah born (Gen. 38:5, 11). If Er married at 30, and was killed by God, then Onan would have been, say, 28 when he also was killed. Shelah at that time was underage, below 20. Tamar was asked to wait for him to grow up. We are here making Shelah 14 years younger than Onan, or 14 years old when Onan was killed. See discussion below in section 14 (next issue).

2294? – Haggi ben Gad born; Imnah ben Asher born (Gen. 46:16-17).

2295? – Shaul ben Simeon born; Puvvah ben Issachar born; Sered ben Zebulun born (Gen. 46:10, 13, 14).

2296 – End of the 7 years of plenty. Shuni ben Gad born; Ishvah ben Asher born? (Gen. 46:16-17).

James Jordan is scholar-in-residence at Theopolis. This article originally appeared at Biblical Horizons