Dating the United Monarchy to the 10th Century b.c.e.

From the Exhibit 2024 Let the Stones Speak Magazine Issue

When, exactly, did David and Solomon reign? In the vociferous debate over Israel’s kings and the nature of their kingdom, this is probably the easiest question to answer, and one on which there is almost total agreement. Kings David and Solomon lived and ruled mainly in the 10th century b.c.e.

More specifically, King David ruled Israel from around 1011 to 971 b.c.e. King Solomon ruled Israel from around 971 to 931 b.c.e.

The regnal information documented in the biblical books of Kings and Chronicles provides sufficient data to trace David and Solomon back, at least generally, to this 10th-century period. Further, using established dates and synchronisms, it is reasonably easy to determine specific dates for both kings.

A benchmark for these calculations is the year in which construction on Solomon’s temple began. 1 Kings 6:1 records that it began in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign. The commonly cited and widely accepted date is 967 b.c.e. Using this date, we can calculate that David’s 40-year reign (2 Samuel 5:4) began around 1011 b.c.e. 1 Kings 11:42 says Solomon reigned for 40 years, putting his death around 931.

How do we know Solomon’s temple was built in 967? What is especially unique about this date is that it has been established entirely independently, through several methods and chronological directions.

The typical method of dating biblical kings and events is to combine archaeological information with the biblical text. Several Israelite and Judahite kings are mentioned on artifacts from set periods and time-stamped to the reigns of specific Assyrian and Babylonian kings of known dates.

Of these, the most significant key is one provided by combining biblical data with the inscriptions of a ninth-century b.c.e. king of Assyria: Shalmaneser iii.

The Kurkh Monolith, depicting Shalmaneser III in worship.
© The Trustees of the British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Take Shalmaneser’s Kurkh Monolith. This stele describes his victory at the Battle of Qarqar against a Levantine alliance in “Year Six” of his reign (853 b.c.e.). One of the belligerents he mentions is “Ahab the Israelite,” who had provided troops and chariots for this effort.

Next is Shalmaneser’s Kurba’il Statue. This statue records that in his “eighteenth year,” Shalmaneser received tribute from Israel’s king “Jehu.” (Another of Shalmaneser’s monuments—the Black Obelisk—actually depicts Jehu bowing down and offering this tribute, in the context of this 18th-year campaign into the Levant.)

Thus, we have two kings of Israel mentioned on Shalmaneser’s monuments—Ahab, in the context of the Battle of Qarqar in Shalmaneser’s sixth year, and Jehu, in Shalmaneser’s 18th year—12 years apart.

Now notice the biblical account. Ahab was succeeded by his son, Ahaziah, who is credited with a two-year reign (1 Kings 22:51-52). Ahaziah was succeeded by Jehoram, who reigned for 12 years (2 Kings 3:1), after which Jehu took the throne.

Kurba’il Statue
Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP(Glasg), CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

At face value, this appears to give 14 years between Ahab and Jehu—as opposed to Shalmaneser’s 12-year gap. Which, then, is wrong—the biblical account or the Assyrian?

Neither. We know this due to the remarkable work of arguably the most-respected Bible chronologist, Edwin Thiele (1895–1986), who determined that these data points actually contain the key for unlocking and synchronizing biblical timelines. Thiele showed that this proves the kingdom of Israel was using what is known as a non-accession year method of counting reigns. This method counts the first, partial calendar year of a king’s reign as his first year. Thus, Ahaziah reigned only one full year, and Jehoram 11 full years. This, then, gives a total of 12 years separating the reigns of Ahab and Jehu.

Given that Shalmaneser also recorded that these kings are 12 years apart, Ahab must have been in his final year at the time of the Battle of Qarqar, in the sixth year of Shalmaneser’s reign, and Jehu in his first year in Shalmaneser’s 18th.

This gives us a good synchronism from which we can work backward: Shalmaneser’s sixth year, the year of the Battle of Qarqar, aligns with the last year of Ahab’s 22-year reign. From this point, using internal biblical chronology and applying a non-accession year method of counting, we can work back to the time of David and Solomon.

But when was Shalmaneser’s sixth year—the year of the Battle of Qarqar—and thus the final year of Ahab’s reign?

This can be derived from a type of Assyrian record known as “Limmu Lists.” These constitute year-by-year records, spanning centuries, of every major event in each specific year of the kingdom: conquests, coronations, disasters and—importantly—eclipses.

These lists likewise can be merged and synchronized with records of other kingdoms, including those of Israel and Judah (using the mention of the Assyrian conquest of the northern kingdom of Israel, 721–718 b.c.e.). And the records of astronomical events (eclipses) allow us to further pinpoint dates, even to the nearest day, by using the calculations of modern astronomers. Taken together, this allows us to pinpoint, with high confidence, the year of the Battle of Qarqar—year six of Shalmaneser iii’s reign—and most importantly, the last year of Ahab’s reign—to 853 b.c.e.

By working backward from 853, with the internal biblical information and a non-accession year count, the construction of the temple can be dated to 967.

Let the Stones Speak

But these remarkable pieces of evidence are only part of the story. Unbeknown to Thiele, another scholar—using a different method entirely—had already arrived at this exact date for the temple’s construction. This work was done by the Belgian scholar and priest Valerious Coucke (1888–1951). Coucke had deliberately set aside both the biblical and contemporary archaeological information and attempted to date the temple’s construction using only information from classical history.

One of Coucke’s sources was the third-century b.c.e. Greek Parian Chronicle, which stated that Troy fell “945 years” before the chronicle’s creation—putting the fall of the city at around 1208 b.c.e. Coucke then noted the first-century historian Pompeius, who wrote that the Phoenician city of Tyre was founded one year before Troy’s fall. Next, he turned to Josephus, who stated that King Hiram began to help Solomon with building the temple in the 241st year after the founding of Tyre—circa 968 b.c.e.

Coucke then double-checked this by working backward. He noted the record of the Tyrian King List, preserved through Menander, based on which Josephus gave 143 years from the time of Hiram’s assistance with Solomon’s temple to the founding of the Phoenician city of Carthage. Pompeius stated that the founding of Carthage was 72 years before the founding of Rome, which Roman classical historians set at 753–752 b.c.e. Thus, Carthage’s founding was in 825–824, placing the start of construction on the temple in 968–967.

Coucke then noted the Bible’s peculiar use of Phoenician month names in the account of the temple’s construction and concluded that Solomon and Hiram used the same Tishri-based calendar in this effort. He concluded that Solomon’s fourth year began in Tishri 968 and that temple construction started the following spring of 967.

The harmony in these conclusions is astonishing. Two scholars, working independently of one another, using completely different methods, arrived at exactly the same date for an early biblical event—in complete harmony with the biblical, Assyrian, classical and even astronomical records. In such manner, chronology alone provides powerful proof for the historicity of the biblical account in accurately relating details surrounding David, Solomon and the construction of the temple.