Oct 5, 2021

The Date of the Patriarchs (Sodom Debate)

I will begin this post with a great analogy that one of my late professors Dr. Roger Nicole gave in my class (1979) that always stuck with me.  It was a military analogy but brilliant. He began by reminding us that you need to always know the location of your enemy and represent their arguments accurately. Represent the argument of your opponents correctly and do not misrepresent it so that when you drop your bombs it will land on the target, otherwise they will say I am over here and you missed me (I can still hear his Swiss/French accent). This has been true for so many debates in Biblical Archaeology but perhaps no more pertinent than in the date for the Patriarchs and the debate over The location of Sodom that I have been dealing with for over 40 years.

The largest opposition I get for The Location of Sodom is the date of the Patriarchs. And the analogy of Dr. Nicole is spot on here. They drop their bombs and miss the target because we are not where they think or assume we are. They do not represent the position of their opponents accurately and so when they drop their bombs (early or late date for the Patriarch) it does not land on the enemy. I have always, since that day, made sure that I understand where my opponent is coming from and accurately understand their position so when I drop my bomb it lands on my opponent and not out in the field somewhere. 

So lets consider the dates of the Patriarchs and the various positions of the debate. This is more complicated than most acknowledge and understand. So where is the targets located so you can drop your bombs on the target and not miss it so they say sorry we are over here and you missed me.

Chart of various dates for the Patriarchs
documented by various authors

1. Fact 36: Conservative scholars debate the date of the Exodus

The date of the Patriarchs is determined in large part by the date of the Exodus and then worked backwards. The generally accepted dates for the Exodus among conservative scholars fall into two camps: the early dates (1491[1], 1461[2], 1447[3], 1446[4], 1445,[5] 1430[6] BC LBIIA) and the late dates (1300,[7] 1290[8], 1270–1230,[9] 1260[10] BC LBIIB).[11] Collins argues for what he calls “a middle date” between 1416–1386 BC, in the eighteenth Dynasty and during the reign of Pharaoh Tutmoses IV.[12]

What is clear in this brief, and certainly not exhaustive, sampling of dates is that there is no consensus even within each camp as to the exact date of the Exodus.[13] The conservative scholar, Charles Pfeiffer, commented four decades ago with a statement, which is still relevant, that: “the evidence for the historicity of the Exodus account is decisive, but the evidence for the specific date is still inconclusive.”[14]

To further complicate the matter, conservative scholars hold to both early and late dates for the Exodus. While the early date is often categorized as the view of conservative theologians, the late date is also held by many eminent conservative biblical scholars and archaeologists[15] (see chart above).[16] James K. Hoffmeier, Professor of Near Eastern Archaeology and Old Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, states:

many conservative scholars are adherents of the so-called “early” date [1446 BC]. Unfortunately for some, this date has become a sort of litmus test for one’s evangelical orthodoxy. This is lamentable, because I believe that the 13th-century date [late date] is equally based on biblical evidence.[17]

Steven M. Ortiz, former Professor of Archaeology and Biblical Backgrounds and Director of the Charles D. Tandy Institute for Archaeology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and now Director of the Center for Archaeological Studies no Lipscomb University, also maintains a late date for the Exodus, placing it in the 13th cent. BC.[18]

The dates for the Exodus are calculated based on the statement in Exodus 12:40 about the 430 years of travel.[19] But when does this period begin and end? Wood follows the Masoretic text (MT),[20] while Collins follows the Septuagint (LXX) reading, which is supported by the MT patriarchal chronologies, the Samaritan Pentateuch (SP), the apostle Paul (Gal 3:16–17), and Josephus who claimed that the sojourn was 215 years in Canaan and 215 years in Egypt (Ant. 2.15.2).[21]

Depending on when one places the date of the Exodus, the date of the Patriarchs also moves to arrive in different periods.

To state that the early date is the date mentioned in the Bible reveals one's ignorance of the way dates are calculated and the bombs drop missing their target.

The Location of Sodom page 96.

Footnotes Fact 36

[1] Floyd Nolen Jones, Chronology of the Old Testament: A Return to the Basics (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2004), 53.

[2] E. W Faulstich, History, Harmony and the Hebrew Kings (Spencer, IA: Chronology Books, 1986), 196–200.

[3] Tutmose III would be the Pharaoh of the oppression and Amenhoptep II would be the Pharaoh of the Exodus. Hoerth and McRay, Bible Archaeology, 82; J. Randall Price, The Stones Cry Out: What Archaeology Reveals About the Truth of the Bible (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1997), 129.

[4] Bryant G. Wood, “The Rise and Fall of the 13th-Century Exodus-Conquest Theory,” JETS 48, no. 3 (2005): 488; James K. Hoffmeier, “What Is the Biblical Date for the Exodus? A Response to Bryant Wood,” JETS 50, no. 2 (2007): 225–47; Bryant G. Wood, “The Biblical Date for the Exodus Is 1446 BC: A Response to James Hoffmeier,” JETS 50, no. 2 (2007): 249–58.

[5] Charles H. Dyer, “The Date of the Exodus Reexamined,” BSac 140, no. 559 (1983): 225–43.

[6] John J. Bimson, Redating the Exodus and Conquest, 2nd ed., JSOT Supplement Series 5 (Sheffield, UK: Almond, 1981), Part 2; John Van Seters, “Review of John J. Bimson, Redating the Exodus and Conquest,” The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 70 (1984): 180–82.

[7] Brad C. Sparks, “Egyptian Text Parallels to the Exodus: The Egyptology Literature,” in Out of Egypt: Israel’s Exodus Between Text and Memory, History and Imagination Conference, ed. Thomas E. Levy (Qualcomm Institute, University of California, San Diego, 2013), .

[8] Hoerth and McRay, Bible Archaeology, 83; Price, The Stones Cry Out, 130; Charles F. Aling, “Historical Synchronisms and the Date of the Exodus,” Artifax 17, no. 2 (n.d.): 19.

[9] Kenneth A. Kitchen and T. C. Mitchell, “Chronology of the Old Testament,” ed. I. Howard Marshall et al., NBD (Downers Grove, ILL: InterVarsity, 1996), 191; Kitchen, Reliability of the OT, 307–311.

[10] Kitchen, Reliability of the OT, 159, 307, 359.

[11] Rameses II (1279-1213 BC) would be the Pharaoh of both the oppression and the Exodus. Lawrence T. Geraty, “Dates for the Exodus I Have Known,” in Out of Egypt: Israel’s Exodus Between Text and Memory, History and Imagination Conference (Qualcomm Institute, University of California, San Diego, 2013).

[12] Collins and Scott, Discovering the City of Sodom, 140; Steven Collins, Let My People Go!: Using Historical Synchronisms to Identify the Pharaoh of the Exodus (Albuquerque, NM: TSU Press, 2012); “Using Historical Synchronisms to Identify the Pharaoh of the Exodus,” BRB 5, no. 7 (2005): 1–70.

[13] Omar Zuhdi, “Dating the Exodus: A Study in Egyptian Chronology,” KMT: A Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt 4, no. 2 (1993): 15–27.

[14] Charles F. Pfeiffer, “Exodus,” in The New International Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Merrill C. Tenney and James D. Douglas (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987), 333.

[15] R. K Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969), 115–16; Donald J. Wiseman, 1 and 2 Kings: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, ILL: IVP Academic, 2008), 104; Caroline Masom, Pat Alexander, and Alan R. Millard, eds., Picture Archive of the Bible (Tring, Herts, UK: Lion, 1987), 22; R. Alan Cole, Exodus, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries 2 (Downers Grove, ILL: IVP Academic, 2008), 40–43; John D Currid, A Study Commentary on Exodus, An Evangelical Press Study Commentary (Auburn, MA: Evangelical, 2000), 27–29; Richard S Hess, Joshua: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, ILL: InterVarsity, 1996), 139–43; Kitchen, Ancient Orient, 57–69; The Bible in Its World (Exeter, UK: Paternoster, 1977), 75–79; Reliability of the OT, 307–9.

[16] Ralph K. Hawkins, “Propositions for Evangelical Acceptance of a Late-Date Exodus-Conquest: Biblical Data and the Royal Scarabs from Mt. Ebal,” JETS 50, no. 1 (2007): 31–46.

[17] Hoffmeier, “What Is the Biblical Date for the Exodus?,” 225.

[18] Steven M. Ortiz, “Hermeneutical and Methodological Comments on the History of the Conquest and Settlement: The Archaeological and Biblical Support for the 13th Century,” in Southwest Regional ETS Meetings (Fort Worth, TX, 2006), 1.

[19] Paul J. Ray Jr., “The Duration of the Israelite Sojourn In Egypt,” BS 17, no. 2 (2004):  33–45; Collins and Scott, Discovering the City of Sodom, 134–36, 139; Kitchen, Reliability of the OT, 307–308.

[20] Wood, “The Biblical Date for the Exodus Is 1446 BC,” 249.

[21] Collins and Scott, Discovering the City of Sodom, 134–41; Collins, Let My People Go!

Fact 35: Not all archaeologists approach biblical numbers in the same way

An issue which affects chronology is the different methods of handling biblical numbers. Wood proposes a literal chronology using base-10 hard numbers.[1] Wood states that he bases his dating scheme on “a straightforward reading of the chronological data in the Old Testament.”[2]

By contrast, Collins uses a different method of accounting for numbers, also employed by other conservative evangelical scholars,[3] where he treats the years as “formulaic/honorific” or authentic.[4] He states: “I do take the number [440] as formulaic and not literal in the arithmetic sense, and I rely on historical synchronisms to link the Exodus to Egyptian history.”[5]

 Collins goes on to explain “in terms of its original cultural context. . . . Authentic may equate to literal if that’s what the writer intended.”[6]

This explains why two otherwise conservative scholars both arrive at conclusions with such a large spread between the dates of the Patriarchs.

Footnotes Fact 35

[1] Wood, “Locating Sodom: A Critique of the Northern Proposal,” 81; Eugene H. Merrill, Kingdom of Priests: A History of Old Testament Israel, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 83–96; “Fixed Dates in Patriarchal Chronology,” BSac 137, no. 547 (1980): 241–51; “Texts, Talls, and Old Testament Chronology,” 20–21; Edwin Richard Thiele, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings: A Reconstruction of the Chronology of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah, revised (Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic & Professional, 1994).

[2] Wood, “Locating Sodom: A Critique of the Northern Proposal,” 81.

[3] David Mark Fouts, “A Defense of the Hyperbolic Interpretation of Large Numbers in the Old Testament,” JETS 40 (1997): 377–87; “The Demographics of Ancient Israel,” BRB 7, no. 2 (2007): 1–10; Carol A. Hill, “Making Sense of the Numbers of Genesis,” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 55, no. 4 (2003): 239–51; Andrew E. Steinmann, “The Mysterious Numbers Of the Book of Judges,” JETS 48 (2005): 491–500.

[4] Collins, “Tall El-Hammam Is Still Sodom,” 4; “Tall El-Hammam Is Sodom,” 6.

[5] Collins, “Tall El-Hammam Is Still Sodom,” 8.

[6] Collins and Scott, Discovering the City of Sodom, 138.

The Location of Sodom page 114.

Fact 37: Most maximalists believe that the Patriarchs lived in the Middle Bronze Age

Most conservative evangelical scholars [D1] and maximalists would place the period of the Patriarchs (including Abraham and Lot) in the Middle Bronze Age (See Charts 2, 4, 5 and 6). This is based not so much on archaeological finds as on correlating characteristics in the biblical text with the cultural markers of the MB periods. Scholars who hold to a MB I period for the Patriarchs base their position on the literal biblical chronology based on a mid–15th cent. BC date for the Exodus, the antiquity of the biblical accounts (Gen 14), the geopolitical conditions and climate of the regions in the MB I period, nomadism and migration exemplified in the domestication of camels, and personal names and places identified in MB texts from Egypt, Ur, Mari, Ebla, Nuzi and Anatolia (20th–18th cent. BC).[1] Those who support a MB IIA/B date for the Patriarchs rely on the 13th cent. BC date for the Exodus, the presence of the Hyksos in Egypt, pottery in Negev, the Beni-Hasan mural (1890 BC), Middle kingdom Egyptian chronology, the geopolitical conditions (Gen 14), parallels with the MB culture and the price of slaves, and the structure of covenants.[2]

Collins explains some of the issues surrounding the question of chronology when he states:

While high, middle, and low ANE chronologies exist—tied principally to the chronology(ies) of Egypt—the differences between them consist of one or two decades, not centuries [See Chart 2]. (I am talking about the well-worked-out chronologies of mainline scholars like W. F. Albright, K. Kenyon, A. Ben-Tor, B. Mazar, A. Mazar, K. A. Kitchen, D. Redford, Wente and Van Siclen, J. Hoffmeier, J. Currid, and W. Dever; not the fringe, radical revisions of ANE chronology suggested by D. Rohl, G. Aardsma, and a few others.).[3]

Based on Chart 4 below, almost all evangelical scholars place the Patriarchs in the Middle Bronze Age, including Wood (2166–1991 BC MB I) and Collins (2000–1600 MB IIA/B). Freedman and van Hattem place the Patriarchs in the EB age, to support a SST.[4] The proponents who place them in the LB, Iron, and Persian/Greek periods are in the minority. Even Wood, who supports the idea of the EB destruction of BeD as supporting its claim on being Sodom, places the Patriarchs in the Middle Bronze I along with other scholars.[5] Wood acknowledges the discrepancy and explains:

If we assume a mid–15th century BC date for the Exodus, the date for the destruction [of Sodom] would then be ca. 2070 BC. The archeological date for the destruction of Bab eh-Dhra and Numeira, however, is considerably earlier than this. . . . This leaves a discrepancy between the Biblical date and the archaeological date of 230–280 years.[6]

The fact remains that most evangelical scholars believe that the Patriarchs live in the MB period (2nd millennium BC).

The Location of Sodom page 114.

Footnotes Fact 37

[1] John J. Bimson, “Archaeological Data and the Dating of the Patriarchs,” in Essays on the Patriarchal Narratives, ed. Alan R. Millard and Donald J. Wiseman (Downers Grove, ILL: InterVarsity, 1980), 59–92; Merrill, Kingdom of Priests, 47–48; “Texts, Talls, and Old Testament Chronology,” 20–21.

[2] Kitchen, Reliability of the OT, 352–53; John E. Goldingay, “The Patriarchs in Scripture and History,” in Essays on the Patriarchal Narratives, ed. Donald J. Wiseman and Alan R. Millard (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1983), 11–42; Alan R. Millard, “Methods of Studying the Patriarchal Narratives as Ancient Texts,” in Essays on the Patriarchal Narratives, ed. Donald J. Wiseman and Alan R. Millard (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1983), 43–58; Nahum M Sarna, “The Patriarchs Genesis 12-36,” in Genesis: World of Myths and Patriarchs, ed. Ada Feyerick, Cyrus Herzl Gordon, and Nahum M Sarna (New York: New York University Press, 1996), 117–66.

[3] Collins, “Tall El-Hammam Is Still Sodom,” 10.

[4] Recently Kris Udd wrote his dissertation on the subject and states in his abstract “Combining the new lower archaeological chronologies and the higher dates for the patriarchs indicates the possibility that Bâb edh-Dhrâʿ’ and Numeira could be two of the biblical cities of the plain.”  Udd applies two extreme views to propose this speculative hypothesis. Kris J. Udd, “Bab Edh-Dhraʿ, Numeira, and the Biblical Patriarchs: A Chronological Study” (Ph.D. diss., Andrews University, 2011).

[5] Wood, “Discovery of the Sin Cities,” 78.

[6] Ibid.

 [D1] See “A Chronology for the Cities of the Plain” and “Abraham and Tall Nimrin: Docs the Chronology Work?” in Collins. Sodom and Gomorrah, The earliest possible birth date for Abraham working from The Masoretic Text is 2166 BC. but all the chronological evidence (apart from the Masoretic version of Exodus 12:40. which I regard as problematic), would put his birth about 215 years later, if the patriarchal life spans are taken literal)). If they aren’t literal, but arc somehow “honorific attributions.” then the lime of Abraham is later still. But regardless of which “Biblical” date you assign for Abraham, he’s a resident of the Middle Bronze Age (ca. 2000-1600 BC the period from 2300-2000 BC is now included in The Intermediate Bronze Age). In Ibis light, one must note that the oft-proposed Sodom and Gomorrah sites—Bah edh-Dhra and Numeira were both destroyed about 2350 BC. long before the time of Abraham and Lot Although there’s a smaller Early Bronze Age village built after the 2350 BC destruction at Bâb edh-Dhrâʿ, it’s unfortified and short-lived. The Biblical description of Sodom requires that it be fortified (“Lot sat in the gateway of Sodom”), 72 n. 3.


So before you drop your early or late date bombs you may want to know were your target is located because you have missed the target, we are in a different honorific time zone.

Facts taken from The Location of Sodom.

Further Research

Sodom Research Blog to related articles and links.

David E. Graves, “Sodom And Salt in Their Ancient Near Eastern Cultural Context,” Near East Archaeological Society Bulletin 61 (2016): 18–36.

For the historic publication of the Scientific Reports in a peer reviewed publication see my PostBunch, T. E., LeCompte, M.A., Adedeji, A.V. et al. "A Tunguska sized airburst destroyed Tall el-Hammam a Middle Bronze Age city in the Jordan Valley near the Dead Sea." Scientific Reports 11, no 1 18632 (2021), 1-64.  Online article link

For my response to Gordon Govier's article in Christianity Today see my blog post.

List of all Books by Dr. David E. Graves