Does Egyptian Chronology Prove the Bible is Historically Inaccurate?

Many Bible skeptics use Egyptian chronology as a “go to” method when demonstrating their belief that the history recounted in the Bible is filled with inaccuracies. Specifically, these skeptics point to the lack of corroborating Egyptian evidence for Biblical events that, if true, should be apparent in Egyptian history. Claims you might hear include: if there were a worldwide flood, then the pyramids should have water damage; or, there is no evidence that a large number of Semitic people were slaves in Egypt and that a mass exodus occurred. Many skeptics accept this as ample proof that the Bible cannot be accurate, however these skeptics are making a big mistake in assuming the reliability of the traditional chronology of Egyptian history. As a matter of fact, when we compare Biblical events to the correct time period in Egyptian history, we do find plenty of corroboration.

It helps if you know how the traditional chronology used for Egyptian history was developed. First of all, this chronology was developed before we had the capability to translate hieroglyphics. Jean Francois Champollion was the first person to translate hieroglyphics in 1822. Prior to this, the Egyptian chronology was pieced together based on the writings of classical authors like Herodotus and Siculus. Modern advances, however, have shown most of these writings to be woefully inaccurate.

Another source for the traditional Egyptian chronology was the Aegyptiaca, written by Manetho. Manetho was an Egyptian priest in the third century BC. The Greek king of Egypt, Ptolemy II, commissioned Manetho to compile a history of Egypt. The problem is, Manetho’s history was never intended to be a chronological account of Egyptian history. Charles Kimball points out in his book A Biblical Interpretation of World History, “Manetho’s main goal was to prove to the Greeks that the Egyptians were the world’s oldest people…” Kimball goes on to explain that Manetho was in fact competing with a man named Berosus, who was trying to assert the same claim for Mesopotamia, and Erastosthenes, who was trying to make the same claim for the Greeks.

Manetho organized Egyptian history into the thirty dynasties that are recognized today. But there are problems…big problems.

First of all, Mantho’s original text is gone. All we have are various quotes of his work from the Roman writers Eusebius and Africanus, and an excerpt from his writings from Josephus. These two versions don’t even agree on names or how years are counted. Here’s a example from Kimball’s book, “Syncellus, who copied Africanus’ list wrote, ‘The twenty fourth dynasty, Bocchoris of Sais, for six years: in his reign a lamb spoke [a short gap in the manuscript] 990 years.’ Meanwhile Eusibius wrote, “Bocchoris of Sais for 44 years : in his reign a lamb spoke. Total 44 years.’ We are left guessing whether the XXIV dynasty lasted for 6 years, 44 years, or 990.”

Kimball also points out that the names and ages that Manetho gave for the 18th and 19th dynasties (which we now know the most about) have been proven wrong at almost every comparison by evidence left by the pharaoh’s themselves. James H. Breasted, author of History of Egypt, says that Mantho’s history is “a late, careless and uncritical compilation, which can be proven wrong from the contemporary monuments in the vast majority of cases, where such documents have survived.”

I mentioned earlier than Manetho measured time differently- he used “regnal years” like all the other ancients did. For example, “in the 5th year of King So and So.” If you add all these reigns consecutively you end up with quite an inflated time line due to the addition of a multitude of nonexistent generations. Which, if you’ll recall, goes right along with Manetho’s purpose for which he was commissioned- to prove that the Egyptians were the world’s oldest people. However, instead of each dynasty succeeding the previous, some kings actually shared the throne as co-regents, and many dynasties more than likely overlapped. Kimball quotes Sir Alan Gardiner, “what is proudly advertised as Egyptian history is merely a collection of rags and tatters.”

This leads us to another issue with traditional Egyptian chronology. Historians had to come up with a way to align Egyptian regnal years with modern BC dates. So, in 1904 Eduard Meyer came up with a theory called the “Sothic cycle” to reconcile the dates. Traditional Egyptian chronology is based on this theory.

What is the Sothic cycle theory? Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell writing for Answers in Genesis explains it this way, “Meyer proposed that the Egyptian calendar, having no leap year, fell steadily behind until it corrected itself during the year of the ‘rising of Sothis’ [Sothis is a star we call Sirius]. The theory says that the Egyptians knew that 1,460 years were necessary for the calendar to correct itself because the annual sunrise appearance of the star Sirius corresponded to the first day of Egypt’s flood season only once every 1,460 years (like a broken watch that is correct twice a day) and that the Egyptians dated important events from this Great Sothic Year.”

This would be great if there were actually any evidence that the Egyptians actually reckoned time this way- but there isn’t. To add insult to injury, the two non-Egyptian writers who espoused this concept (a Roman named Censorinus and Theon of Alexandria) don’t agree on the starting point of the Sothic year. As it turns out this so called Sothic year is impossible to pinpoint due to this fact that Dr. Mitchell mentions, “…whenever Egyptian writings mention the rising of Sothis in connection with a regnal year, the pharaoh is unnamed, or the reference is ambiguous.”

The Hebrew chronology in the Bible isn’t the only source that Egyptian chronology is inconsistent with. The Egyptian chronology is at odds with the Assyrian chronology, the history of the Hittite people as they coincide with Assyrian history, carbon dating, and it is at odds with itself according to Egyptian records that historians now have the capability to decipher.

There are more than a few alternative chronologies that have been proposed. The first challenge to the traditional chronology dates all the way back to 1873, when Jens Leiblen, a Norwegian Egyptologist proposed that the chronologies were inflated.

Instead of going into the various proposed chronologies, I’ll cut to the chase. We don’t find evidence in Egyptian archaeology of the historical events recorded in the Bible because historians are looking at the wrong points in Egyptian history. What happens when we start looking for evidence for Biblical events earlier in the Egyptian timeline? Well, we find some pretty interesting things…

Evidence of Hebrew occupation in Egypt is found when historians look at the time period around 1450 BC, instead of the traditional date of 1300 BC. Dr. Thomas McCall (Th.M in Old Testament studies and Th. D in Semitic Languages and Old Testament) notes some interesting finds that relate to Joseph’s time in Egypt in an article for Levitt Letters titled Has Joseph’s Tomb Been Found in Egypt, “There are large peasant-type cities in Goshen, with a Semitic culture obviously different from that of their Egyptian hosts.” Dr. McCall also mentions the artificial lake named Lake Moeris, which was formed in ancient times by a canal running off the Nile River. This canal is called the Canal of Joseph to this day.

Joseph’s Canal pictured above

British Egyptologist, David Rohl, believes he may have found the possible palace, tomb, and statue of Joseph. In an area of Goshen that was occupied by a large number of Semitic people, a palace, complete with a garden and tomb, has been discovered that has an interesting combination of both Egyptian and Semitic style. The tomb located in the garden is empty. The vault with its remains have been removed. However, the damage to the tomb is careful and methodical- not consistent with the damage common to other tombs inflicted by grave robbers. Since Moses removed Joseph’s remains from his tomb and brought them out when the Israelites fled Egypt, the appearance of this tomb is thought provoking to say the least. Inside the tomb complex is an unusual statue that has been heavily vandalized. The statue depicts a man who was clearly a high ranking Egyptian authority, since he has throw-stick on his chest, which was a symbol of Pharaoh’s authority. Oddly enough, however, the statue has red hair, styled in a Semitic fashion, and wears a coat with variegated colors. Interesting indeed…

Head fragment of possible Joseph statue pictured above.

Labeled head fragment of possible Joseph statue pictured above.


David Rohl’s reconstruction of potential Joseph statue for the cover of his book pictured above.

If you’re interested in further study, Rohl has a very highly rated documentary detailing his theory of Egyptian chronology as it relates to the Biblical Exodus called Patterns of Evidence: Exodus which is available at Amazon, Wal-Mart, and most Christian bookstores.



A Biblical Interpretation of World History by Charles Kimball: Appendix I- Problems with Egyptian Chronology

Has Joseph’s Tomb Been Found in Egypt?