Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Simplified Time-line of the Old Testament

The historical narrative of the Old Testament is not uniform — sometimes the narrative flies over centuries in a few verses, sometimes it slows down and takes up a whole book to tell us about a period of thirty days. We will reap great benefits in our study of the OT if we understand this fact, and try and perceive the speed of the narrative.

The graphic below presents a global vision of the historical books of the OT (Genesis to Esther) plotted along a time-line that stretches from the Creation of the world to the birth of Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. Some key events (the Flood, the Exodus, etc.) are marked in the time-line, but the main purpose of the graphic is to show the period of time occupied by each book, and the chronological relation between the books.

To prepare the graphic I used mostly the chronological data published by M. Anstey (ANSTEY, Martin. Chronology of the Old Testament complete in one volume. Grand Rapids, Kregel Publications, 1973. ISBN 0-8254-2112-8). Anyone who has tried to study the chronology of the OT knows that some periods present great challenges — so it behoves me to point out that other chronologers will suggest different dates for some of the events mentioned (the Flood, for instance). Even so, the usefulness of the graphic remains largely unaltered, for the general relation between the parts of the OT presented here will not change substantially, no matter which chronology you follow.

There is a green bar for each of the seventeen historical books (alternating between two tones of green, to help distinguish one book form the next), with the exception of Leviticus and Deuteronomy — both these books describe a period of only one month each, and are represented on the time-line by a red line. The bars that represent each book of the Bible are drawn to scale (the bigger the bar, the more time that book occupies in OT history). If the table were printed on an A3 sheet (420 x 297 mm) each millimetre would be equivalent to ten years (Judges is taken up with a 400 year period, and it’s bar measures 40 mm when printed on A3). For various books (Exodus, for example) there is not enough space on the coloured bar to include the details of the book — for these books the details are included below the bar, and linked to it by a solid line.

The graphic illustrates clearly how God is telling us, in the OT, the history of Israel, not the history of humanity. Genesis, the book that takes us from the creation of man to the formation of the nation of Israel, flies rapidly over a period of more than two thousand years — more than all the rest of the OT!

It is also easy to see how II Samuel describes the same historical period as I Chronicles, and that II Chronicles parallels the two books of Kings.

The book of Ruth fits into the period described in Judges, but it is impossible to know it’s exact date.

Any questions or suggestions in the comments below will be gladly accepted. A high-resolution version of the graphic can be downloaded here.

© W. J. Watterson

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