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Commentary on 1 Kings 6:1 [480 years from Exodus to Solomon's temple]

"And it came to pass in the four hundred and eightieth year after the children of Israel were come out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon's reign over Israel, in the month Zif, which [is] the second month, that he began to build the house of the LORD." (KJV)

Synopsis: the following commentary analyses relevant Biblical contexts to argue that the period from Exodus to the outset of the construction of Solomon's temple lasted 580 years instead of the 480 years mentioned in 1 Kings 6:1.

1 Kings 6:1 states that the period from Exodus to the beginning of the construction of Solomon's temple took 480 years. However, this stands in clear contradiction to Flavius Josephus, who states in his "Antiquities of the Jews" that the said period lasted 592 years (8.3.1). This is a significant difference, but it can be explained on the basis of Biblical contexts.

First, it is possible to determine the duration of the said period independently of 1 Kings 6:1. It can be broken down into several sub-periods, each of which is clearly defined in the Scripture: from Exodus to the division of the land, from the division of the land to the beginning of Saul's reign (the period of the judges), the length of Saul's reign, the length of David's reign + 4 years of Solomon's reign, in accordance with 1 Kings 6:1, which at this point is also in line with the text of Josephus. Thus we get 46 years from Exodus to the division of the land, 450 years of the period of the judges (see Bible Commentary on ), 40 years of Saul's reign (Acts 13:21), 40 years of David's reign (1 Chr. 29:27) and 4 years of Solomon's reign - 580 years altogether (46+450+40+40+4).

Apparently, a mistake crept into the text of 1 Kings 6:1 in the process of manuscript transcription. In Hebrew each letter has a numerical value. Dalet, which stands for number 4, is visually similar to het (number 5). If this similarity indeed was the cause of a mistake, we got 480 instead of 580 years in 1 Kings 6:1. One might object, however, that in available manuscripts numbers are written with words rather than characters, so this kind of mistake could not have happened. True, but there is no guarantee that in all copies of the original manuscript numbers were rendered in such a mistake-proof way. The oldest manuscripts available today are believed to have originated in the first three centuries AD, whereas archeological findings (e.g. coins from the Maccabean era) suggest that character-based method of writing numbers was not unknown in ancient Israel. Moreover, it was a method prevalent in the Middle East and there is no reason to believe that the manuscripts containing the book of Kings were so exceptional as to resist it. The idea that the period from Exodus to Solomon's temple lasted 580 years is compatible with contextual Biblical testimonies, as well as secular history. It seems that these arguments are sufficient. Adopting the version of 480 years leaves 350 years for the period of the judges, which contradicts both the statement found in Acts 13:19,20 and chronological information contained in the book of the Judges.

Ultimately, adopting the version of 480 years instead of 580 years is not a matter of hard facts, but a certain philosophy of looking at Biblical chronology as a continuous and reliable record of history. Some Bible researchers profess the view that the chronology contained in the Bible cannot be reconstructed, and every argument supporting this view will be welcomed by them. Thus, they will insist that the information behind 1 Kings 6:1 is correct because masoretes were flawless, and at the same time, they will point out errors in other verses relating to chronology, such as Acts 13:19,20. Whether such an approach in all its inconsistency can be taken seriously is a different matter. Bible Commentary presents the view that Bible chronology is a consistent record of history that can be reliably reconstructed. This assumption is clear from the fact that the Bible contains chronological prophecies, the oldest of which reaches back to Abraham - placing such prophesies in the Scripture would be meaningless if the chronological timeline which provides the key to their interpretation could not be restored.

God has placed in His Word an enormous amount of chronological data. Led by faith, we can assume He did so for some reason. The more so that the Bible usually provides several different ways in which lengths of particular periods in Bible history can be verified. Such is also the case with 1 Kings 6:1. The number of 480 years provided there does not stand the test of cross-examining with contextual data contained in the Scripture, thus giving way to the possibility that indeed a mistake could have been made by the copyist of the manuscript. A rejection of this trope is tantamount to saying that the Bible contained inaccurate chronological information from the outset. The question is open whether we accept the possibility of human error or rather the contention that God purposefully 'dictated' illogicalities to the authors of the Bible. Every Bible student who believes in the divine origin of the books of the Old and New Testaments will need to face it on their own responsibility.

Keywords: 1 Kings 6:1, Bible chronology
Bible translations used in the commentary:
KJV - King James Version