Just as an Arms Race raged between the super-powers in the 1960s, so an Age Race raged among the ancient civilizations in the centuries before Christ’s birth. Each claimed to have the oldest history. While some writers seemed interested in the truth, others were playing a game to see who could spin the biggest and most convincing yarn about the antiquity of their nation.
Greece’s history supposedly went back eighteen hundred years; Egypt’s, eleven thousand years; and Babylon’s, a whopping 730,000 years.
In the first centuries after Christ, Christians like Eusebius (the “father of church history”) tried to reconstruct an accurate world chronology, reconciling the Bible with pagan chronologies, but with little success. The ancient king lists had been so doctored that it proved impossible to sort out the truth. Ever since, Christians and non-Christians have been trying to make sense of ancient chronologies, with equal frustration.
Isaac Newton to the Rescue
No less a person than Isaac Newton, sometimes called “the greatest mind of all time,” dabbled in this topic throughout his life. He eventually collected his thoughts into a book, The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended (1728), published a year after he died.
Though he did not have the advantage of modern archaeology, Newton was so well read in the classical Greek and Latin writers that he was able to detect serious problems in the dating of ancient records before 700 BC.
His basic claims are solid:
- God’s Word is correct in every detail, including its history, so it must be our starting point.
- Except for the Bible itself, the other histories of early nations were not recorded until well after the events had passed. For example, the first historian to write about ancient Egypt (apart from Moses) was Herodotus (c. 484–425 BC).
- Most records of early history were lost or distorted as a result of repeated foreign invasions.
- Ancient peoples were not averse to making big assumptions to fill in the gaps
- Newton alludes to the Persian invasion of Egypt as an example. In 525–523 BC the Persians under Cambyses invaded Egypt and destroyed most of the historical records that the Assyrians and other previous nations had missed. The Egyptian priests were left to reconstruct most of their history from memory, and their efforts were not without guile.
Newton explains, “After Cambyses had carried away the records of Egypt, the priests were daily feigning new kings, to make their gods and nation look more ancient.” When Herodotus visited Egypt in the mid-fifth century BC, the priests had constructed a list of 341 Egyptian kings reigning some 11,340 years! Even Herodotus was dubious.
Newton points out that except for biblical history, early historians did not use absolute dates until around 250 BC. Before that time, they usually marked time by the reign of kings. The Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians assumed that an average of three kings reigned for every century, and they pigeonholed dates accordingly.
Newton asked himself, “Is this reasonable?” He then analyzed the dynasties of a dozen other known kingdoms, such as the English monarchs. To his surprise the average reign was only eighteen to twenty years, about half of what ancient pagan historians had claimed. Even in biblical times, the kings of the Southern Kingdom ruled an average of a little over twenty-one years each, while those of the Northern Kingdom reigned about seventeen years each.
Newton was particularly interested in Greek history because the Greeks were the first to record their history, and they connected many events to the Olympiads, which were held every four years. By pinning down important dates in Greece’s history, such as Jason’s expedition with the Argonauts, Newton believed he could easily connect this fixed date to events in other countries.
Applying what he learned about the average length of a king’s reign, half of Greece’s recorded history before 700 BC evaporated! For example, the Trojan War and Argonaut expedition were much more recent than is usually assumed, Newton argued. He also found that other king lists, such as the list of Roman kings, had exaggerated the length of their reigns, and so the lists should be cut in half.
Newton then proceeded to look at the histories of other nations, such as Egypt, rejecting any fictitious names or mythological eras. By his reckoning, based on the information available in his day, he calculated that only twenty-two names reflected real kings in ancient Egypt.
[Read the rest of the article at Answers in Genesis.]